Sanctum: Imperial Romeby Dan Bayn
Sanctum: Imperial Romeby Dan Bayn
Sanctum: Imperial Rome
For Rome, the first four centuries A.D. are the beginning of the end. The Varian Disaster has finally made the Romans pay for their ceaseless expansion in blood. The democracy of the republic has given way to a string of megalomaniacal emperors such as Nero and Caligula. Rebels from the Christians to the Visigoths threaten to tear the empire apart from within. After Constantine, there is no turning back.
This is the era most often depicted in classic films. Its grandeur and decadence appealed to film makers for its sheer spectacle. See "Ben Hur," "Spartacus," and "Cleopatra;" Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" is a more recent example. Their historical accuracy is nothing to emulate, so games in this genre should aim for an epic tone. Characters should be larger than life: wealthy senators, invincible gladiators, generals and centurions, etc. Their machinations should determine the fates of nations.
Romans can be found all over the known world. The western empire dominates southern Europe and Gaul, reaching as far north as the British Isles. Free Germanic tribes still haunt the mist-shrouded forests of western Europe, fighting off any Roman generals who dare to challenge them. Egypt is little more than a Roman province. The Holy Land is a powder keg of rebellious Jews and (eventually) Christians, bordered in the east by a still mighty Persia. Entire adventures could be set on the waves of the Mediterranean itself.
The empire provides a similarly broad palette of scenarios to choose from: Play politics in the Forum, fight the power in Jerusalem, delve into Egyptian occultism, defend the Empire from barbarian invaders, wander the globe as a free trader, do battle in the gladiatorial arena... the list is just about endless. Rome was sacked more than once; the chaos that ensued would make an interesting backdrop for any one-shot or short series of adventures. (If Nero played while Rome burned, so can you!)
When you're looking for a fight, you won't have to look far. The Coliseum sports chariot races, gladiatorial matches, and Christians getting eaten by lions. The agora is always filled with crowds of bystanders: merchants and their carts, street performers, beggars, slaves, & thieves. PCs could find themselves on a Roman galley as passengers or slaves; either way, they may end up fighting in the cramped quarters below decks or between two boats a' battlin'. (The basic naval tactic of the day was to ram your enemy's ship with a metal spike attached to your hull!) Temples can be found all over the empire, dedicated to gods from Zeus to Anubis, and a few feature statues big enough to support a fight scene all their own!
As the Republic slips inexorably into the dark ages, Sanctum is the last flickering spark of a more enlightened time. It has hidden itself inside the mystery cults of Mithras and Pythagoras, among the marginalized Roman senators, and within the ranks of the slaves and gladiators who must often share the streets with demoniacs. Its members exalt mankind's rationality and see the soul as the source of human intellect.
Demons, on the other hand, are considered little more than malign illusions. They distort our perceptions of reality, confound our thinking, make us wrong. Those who have been influenced by Christian and Zoroastrian moralists cling to the idea of demons as the root of all evil, but most members of Sanctum Imperium consider this an antiquated notion.
Being a Roman senator ain't what it used to be. The Emperor holds all the power, now. He can remake the senate as he sees fit, even overturn its decisions if they rub him the wrong way. Faustus is a throwback, a politician who considers it his duty to represent the will of the people. He uses his wealth and influence to help Sanctum fight back the rising demonic tide, but he prepares for the day when he'll have to use Sanctum's resources to take back democracy... for the people!
Senator Avitus' weapon of choice is a masked gladiator known as The Champion. In the arena, he spills human blood for the adoration of the crowd. When inhuman predators prowl the streets, he dispatches demons to protect the ignorant masses. He is an exceptionally resourceful combatant, as deadly with a wooden chair or galley oar as with a gladius or trident. However, his reputation stops most fights before they start (and gets him free drinks all over town). He is a warrior, a celebrity, a champion of the people.
Magic is not the sole province of warlocks and mystics. The Pythagoreans are a mystery cult of philosophers who use the deep magic of mathematics (pi, the golden ratio, etc.) to control the immaterial sphere. Master Varinius can ward off demons, heal the sick, and even predict the future. He can also ply a vast network of spies and occultists to gain information via more mundane means. A cunning man, he delights in pitting warlocks against each other, then sending his Centurion allies after the victor while it's weak.
Once the engine that drove the expansion of the Republic, the Roman Legion has gone on the defensive, fallen into decline. The mystery cult of Mithras still thrives within its ranks and it is through this occult connection that many Centurions and Legionnaires end up working for Sanctum. However, they rarely work alone.
One on one, Roman soldiers are little better than their barbarian opponents. It's only when working in groups that their tactical training makes them an unmatched military force! They use full-body shields and formation marching to transform themselves into the human tanks of the ancient world. Their short swords (the famous "gladius") tear through opponents like the blades of a wheat thresher. Strict discipline allows their commanders to apply maximum force against strategic targets. Less well-trained, poorly organized forces stand little chance against them.
To really drive home the importance of squad-level tactics in Roman warfare, you can allow a single player to run a Centurion and the Legionaries under their command. They can declare actions for the entire group, acting as one very powerful character. Hopefully, your game of choice prescribes bonuses for collective actions. In heroic games, you may just be able to assume that working as a group is what makes the PC so much better than normal folks. (In a Wushu game, it just changes the Details you use to describe your actions.)
Roman warlocks should personify the forces arrayed against the empire: hubris, corruption, and barbarism.
When Julius Caesar fell under Brutus' knife, the only way to continue his rise to power was to overcome death itself. His ambition consumed his soul and his demons created a disembodied spirit tied to the office of the Emperor and his personal guard. It has haunted every Roman Emperor, urging them to consolidate more and more power in their office. Caesar has become the personification of the empire itself!
Surprisingly, his only real power is his incorporeality. It makes him both immortal and invulnerable. As long as the Empire exists, so shall he. This means that the only way to vanquish him is to dismantle the office of the Emperor... a feat that would vex any Greek hero! Of course, most members of Sanctum would see the restoration of the Republic as the best solution, but a more achievable goal might be the complete destruction of the empire. After all, internal corruption and foreign invaders are already doing most of the work.
Crossing this insidious warlock necessarily means cross the Emperor of Rome, so few are willing to take overt action against it. Instead, Sanctum uses its political operatives to thwart the shadow's machinations behind the scenes: rigging votes, feeding the Emperor false information, subverting his soldiers and henchmen, etc. It is a delicate game with high stakes, and it may take generations to play out...
The cult of Dionysus is not as strong as it once was, but its notorious Bacchanals have enjoyed a dark revival. A trio of warlocks calling themselves the Bacchae have begun using them to create more of their kind. The wild frenzy of hedonistic disinhibition pushes people to indulge their base impulses. Recruit enough likely candidates into each orgy and you'll produce one or two new warlocks every time.
Each of the Bacchae is a master temptress who specializes in using either Music, Drink, or Sex to corrupt the innocent. Through their intoxicant of choice, they can whip others into murderous frenzies, lull them to sleep, convince them of false truths, or win their fanatical (if temporary) loyalty. Those who become aware of the Bacchae's true purpose (to control them) are able to mount some resistance, but the unwary are like puppets on strings. This makes them extremely dangerous when approached in or near large crowds.
Thus, they try to keep a low profile, often acting through ignorant pawns or their warlock apprentices. Sanctum operatives could encounter them while tracking an outbreak of warlocks or mob violence to its source. Expect things to go poorly the first time around; only once they've figured out the nature of their powers will your heros be able to fight the Bacchae. They could also encounter them while trying to break up a bacchanal, but this is dangerous for several reasons. Besides the fact that the revelers are infamous for tearing interlopers to shreds, the Bacchae will use their own dark desires against them...
Slaughtering an entire Roman army in the Varian Disaster wasn't enough for this germanic barbarian. He sold his soul for the ability to turn Rome's greatest pride against it: the highways. All roads lead to Rome for one very simple reason... the Romans built them. In the days of the Republic, they were economic lifelines of unparalleled power. They carried Legions out to the far corners of the world and brought back the spoils of war. Now, however, barbarian raiders use them to strike at the empire's very heart!
The Highwaymen sells them his services for a share of the loot, but his real reward is carnage, plain and simple. He can sense anyone and anything happening on a Roman road at any time. He can teleport himself and/or anything in his sight from one point on the highway to any other point on a connected highway. Finally, he can warp space and time to seal off sections of road, trapping his enemies in an endlessly repeating stretch of "Moebius road." Off the highways, however, he's as weak and defenseless as any mortal man.
Again, Sanctum operatives need not go toe to toe with this warlock (though he'd make an excellent villain for a sacking game). Perhaps they have valuable information to deliver and the Highwayman is hired to delay their arrival. Or maybe they need to find someone else who's traveling the highways, or get to a distant city in the blink of an eye, and only the Highwayman can help them. What price might an enemy of Rome demand of people who belong to one of its most powerful secret societies?
Christian rebels represent an ever-growing threat to Rome. The most terrifying among them is an immortal known as Longinus. He was the centurion who stabbed Christ with his spear and, after his conversion, the guilt drove him mad. He turned his self-loathing outward, swore revenge on the empire that condemned Christ to death, and let his wrath consume his soul.
Now, he possesses an affinity for blood. He can smell the blood in his victims' veins and track them across great distances. When he approaches, any wine in the vicinity instantly transubstantiates (turns to blood). Those who stand in his way are overcome with soul-wracking guilt and fall to their knees, weeping crimson tears. He kills by turning his enemies' blood into dust.
The hunt for Longinus would be a truly dangerous mission, but Sanctum operatives need not act against him directly. His spear, the weapon that spilled the blood of Christ, has supposedly become a talisman of incredible power. Reports are not clear on precisely what that power is, but it's said that an army that carries the "spear of destiny" becomes invincible. Any number of factions could be searching for it, from Christians to visigoths to the Emperor himself! Longinus may also be on the hunt, or he may be hunted as a clue to the spear's location. Depending on their plans for the spear, Sanctum operatives may want to capture, kill, or protect the warlock and his infamous weapon.
Next Stop: The Great War, for Horror in the Trenches!