Monday, January 26, 2015

Why You Should Play - Weird Wars Rome

Hold fast, recruit, for a word from your Decanus!

I welcome you all to read this post, but note that it is definitely targeting those folks in the Savage Worlds community (Savages) who have yet to purchase Weird Wars Rome, or who may have Kickstarted the project but never opened the PDF files.  That said, if you are a fan of historical games, but have yet to play Savage Worlds, you should stick around too!  

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Over the last few years, I’ve come to love the Savage Worlds community, not only because it is full of really terrific people, but also because most Savages love eclectic games and crazy mashups.  Just like me!  Even better, the developers of Savage Worlds, Pinnacle Entertainment Group and their many licensees, constantly release products catering to the wants and desires of their fans.  Truly, in 2015 it’s a great time to be a fellow Savage!

Want to play in a Flash Gordon-type universe, with bird men and clunky robots?  We got it!  Want to sail the high seas as pirates from different ages in history, teaming up with squid-faced gents and man-sized crab-navigators?  Yeah, we’ve got that too!  Don’t even get me started about the Weird West and the Wasted West!  Dark Fantasy, Steampunk, Cthulhu, Pulp Adventure, post-apocalyptic sentient Twinkies… Savage Worlds does just about everything and anything.  I’ll go a step further and repeat a bold statement that I mentioned last week during the first Savage Worlds portion of our Quattro con Carnage campaign:  

“Hands down, Savage Worlds is THE BEST action-adventure role-playing game I’ve ever played.”

And now Savage Worlds does Ancient Rome!

Actually the word “now” may not be entirely accurate, as Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s product line for Weird Wars Rome started rolling out in the fall of 2013 at the conclusion of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.  But I still think that there are a lot of Savage gaming groups out there who have never tried Weird Wars Rome, and definitely a lot of non-Savages who probably don’t even know that there is a terrific option to recreate their favorite gladiator movies.  

Because everyone likes gladiator movies, right?

I’m a fanatic for good, gritty, bloody Roman history.  I’ve read historical texts as well as fiction, and treasure my copy of the AD&D 2nd Edition Glory of Rome supplement.  During a long drive, you can find me listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts. The Punic Nightmare episodes are definitely my favorite!  HBO’s Rome was a pretty decent show, but I could spend another thousand words discussing Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the follow-up seasons.  Manu Bennett as Crixus is probably as badass as sword & sandal adventure gets!  Let’s face it, just writing this post makes me want to boot up Rome: Total War on my PC when I get home later.  

To share this love of all things Roman I’ve enjoyed running Weird Wars Rome for anyone willing to sit down and give the setting a spin.  Just after the Kickstarter I ran a one-shot called “Hannibal’s Wake” about a team of Celts trying to survive in the path of Carthaginians as they trek through the Alps.  

Three words on that:  Undead War Elephants!  

At Gen Con 2014 I ran “Appian Slay”, an adventure featuring Roman soldiers dealing with Spartacus’ undead legions coming down off of the crosses along Rome’s most travelled roadway.  I even ran a short campaign for some friends that took place during the Gallic Wars, with Vercingetorix’s forces using Werewolves.  Some of my long-time readers may remember those, since I blogged the play reports back in mid-2014.

But you don’t have to be a fanatical, Cold-Steel training gladius owning, Titus Pullo worshipping, “I am Spartacus” shouting fan of ancient Rome to play Weird Wars Rome*.  So let me share my top three reasons why YOU should play Savage Worlds - Weird Wars Rome.  

*By the way, if you DO happen to be a fanatical, Cold-Steel training gladius owning, Titus Pullo worshipping, “I am Spartacus” shouting fan of ancient Rome, I salute you, and offer to run this game for you on Google+!  

The view from my side of the screen at Gen Con 2014

Historical Fantasy

If you love the fantasy genre, but have become bored to death by the typical High Fantasy settings on the market, you may find Historical Fantasy to be a very refreshing change of pace.  Gone are the elves, goblins, and dragons of Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons.  As a game master you get the chance to dig through myths and legends that were rumored to exist in this era.  Actually, you could take the “fantasy” out of the setting completely, and there is enough risk and reward for any group of players.  The ancient world is full of dark and terrible mysteries, and while that map of the Mediterranean may look relatively safe from within the confines of a warm Roman villa, danger lurks all about.  If you were a Roman facing Hannibal’s army, those war elephants were definitely fantastic monsters.  

Facing a Hate!

But giving ancient Rome a twist of mythology really makes the Weird Wars Rome setting shine!  All of those old wives tales told by Roman mothers to their sons when leaving for war become a lot more interesting when they are real.  Weird Wars Rome features fourteen pages full of new threats to encounter while on the march, from druids to dryads.  There are mummies in Egypt, Strigoi (vampires) in Dacia, and of course my favorite Germanian Werewolves.  One of the most interesting monsters that I featured during my games was the “Hate”.  Essentially a cloud of vengeful souls, this massive undead fog incites rage in anything it touches and yet can only be destroyed by spells or by the souls’ weapons left behind on the battlefield.  Weird Wars Rome is designed to balance the realities of ancient Roman society with the mythology, but a game master could certainly ratchet up the supernatural should they choose.  

Fight like a Roman

Weird Wars Rome makes the assumption that all player characters will belong to one of the legions.  While this is not completely necessary, and I have already stated that I ran a session featuring Celts as player characters, most of the edges and hindrances are built for the legions.  But I certainly don’t want to give the impression that this is a negative, as it is not.  In fact, building a team of legionaries, or a “contubernium”, is quite immersive.  Player characters have several roles to choose from, such as the standard legionary, a decanus (sergeant), or perhaps a foreign member of the auxilia.  Even gladiators may serve alongside the legions, according to Weird Wars Rome.  While running the Gallic campaign this past summer, it was fun to roleplay the relationships between the different characters and the legions’ commanders.  Since our campaign featured both a foreign auxilia and a gladiator slave, how they interacted with the other characters made for some interesting dialogue.    

But it’s the edges and equipment that really make the soldiers of this game feel different from your typical axe wielding fighters of other fantasy settings.  As an example, the edge “Shield Wall” grants a +1 parry to any adjacent characters who also have the edge.  So if you have three legionaries, all armed with massive shields and with the Shield Wall edge, the two outer legionaries gain a +1 parry and the middle legionary gains a +2 parry.  In game terms, when my players were fighting werewolves, they quickly learned to “form up” to take down significant threats.  Just like in all those gladiator movies!  Since a Weird Wars Rome session is also supposed to focus on the legions themselves, including rules for camp life, other edges help mitigate some of the drudgery of being on the march.  Making camp at the end of a march could fatigue a player character, but having the Aquilifer edge means that soldier carries the Aquila (standard) and is relieved from the toils of setting up massive tents and building fortifications.  

Join the Legion

Actually, all of these camp activities lead into my third reason why you should play Weird Wars Rome: Praescripta Mundi.  Don’t speak Latin?  According to page 27 of Weird Wars Rome these are the setting rules.  Whereas most Savage settings use two or three additional setting rules, here are all the cool and amazing options you have when running Weird Wars Rome:

  • Awards and Promotions
  • Naval Actions
  • Sieges
  • Spoils
  • Testudo
  • Travel
  • Volley Fire

Read through those again.  Notice anything?  Almost all of these setting rules involve players taking part in some of the great battles of ancient history, or perhaps starting some new legendary conflicts of their own.  Savage Worlds already has rules for mass combat, giving game masters and players a quick, light, but nuanced way to showcase entire armies going to war on the battlefield.  But Weird Wars Rome takes this a step further, allowing game masters to “zoom in” on certain pivotal points in the conflict to showcase the individual legionaries on the field.  

For example, as a game master I could set up a battle between six cohorts of Roman legionaries and eight units of Gallic werewolf-reinforced barbarians defending a ridge.  I could run two rounds of combat using the existing Mass Combat rules in the Savage Worlds Deluxe corebook, but then for the last battle at the ridge zoom in to the players and their contubernium.  For that scene, the players may have enough NPC’s to form a Testudo (tortoise formation), while I allow the Gallic forces to use their arrows to create Volley Fire.  

It may not be “Roman”, but imagine the battle scene on the beach in the movie “Troy”.  Want to be the Roman version of Achilles lobbing pila (heavy javelins) while storming the barbarian gates?

In Weird Wars Rome this is the kind of epic action you get… in every game!

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Are you ready to pledge your service to the Republic?  You can pick up the Weird Wars Rome PDF at DriveThruRPG or at Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s website.  You can also get the print version from either PEG or  When you do decide to make your purchase, keep in mind that there are other materials out there to support your Roman game, from a GM screen/adventure combo in print, to quite a few inexpensive PDF’s for figure flats, new creatures, and pre-gen characters.

Have you already taken the next step to battle the forces of evil across the Mediterranean?  Let us know your thoughts on the system, your campaign, and Weird Wars Rome in general!  

Hail Caesar!

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