Thursday, 21st June, 2012, 05:22 AM #1
Defender (Lvl 8)
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Review of Servants of Gaius by Bedrock Games
While there have been all kinds of role-playing games out there on the market, one of the rarer types you’ll run across has to be termed the Alternate History Role-playing Game. A lot of game designers prefer to create their own fantasy settings, generating a unique world setting separate from our own mundane one, and are free to change it as they please. Other designers create an alternative timeline based upon real historical events, and then set down characters in the timeline of a new parallel world, containing elements both familiar and strange. But then there are a few publishers that create a tiny pocket of time for their alternative history, but then have the timeline continue normally thereafter.
It’s been a while since I ran across an example of the latter type, where the characters are made part of major historical events, but yet somehow leave the timeline intact. My experience with this type of game usually involves time travelers making sure history doesn’t get changed, such as Timemaster, Rifts, and GURPS (Time Travel). But recently, Bedrock Games published a new role-playing game in which we learn that the mad Emperor Caligula wasn’t really mad at all, and that a terrible force, which was invading the Roman Empire, was stopped in the nick of time by the Servants of Gaius!
Servants of Gaius
- Designers: Brendan Davis
- Illustrators: Michael Prescott (Cover & maps); Samantha Fanti, Jackie Musto & FCIT (interior)
- Publisher: Bedrock Games
- Year: 2012
- Media: PDF (117 pages)
- Cost: $9.99 (PDF from RPGNow)
The production quality of Servants of Gaius is fair to good, with excellent writing but in a format which was not always easy to follow. The material was presented in a fairly logical fashion in the game book, but chapter order and chapter titles made it sometimes a chore to read through the content. For instance, there is a chapter entitled Character Creation and another later in the book entitled Characters, which actually have nothing to do with each other, the latter being a listing of Roman NPCs. And the PDF lacked bookmarks for navigation, but did have a table of contents, but the aforementioned chapter title issue made it less useful for moving around the book.
The artwork was a mixed bag of black and white line drawings, some of which were quite good, while others were mediocre in quality. However, I would say that the use of illustrations throughout the book was quite generous, and was an overall enhancement of the reading process. And the maps of the Roman Empire, which were done by the cover artist, were very nicely rendered in an antiquarian style which meshed well with the historical themes in this book.
Servants of Gaius RPG
As mentioned in the introduction, Servants of Gaius is an alternative historical fantasy game in which the Roman Empire is under attack from a shape-shifting alien menace called the Minions of Neptune (umm, god not planet).
Chapter I of Servants of Gaius provides a general overview of the game and some back ground. The true nature and source of the Minions, whether sent by an angry god, created by magic, or even are supernatural alien entities like something from a Cthulhu Mythos story, is left entirely in the hands of the Game Master. But regardless of their origin, the infamous Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus AKA Caligula discovered this horrible enemy, and created a secret order to find and destroy the evil invaders. The characters take the role of the Servii Gaius (Servants of Gaius) to investigate and defend Rome and the Empire from this strange menace.
The second chapter of the game book jumps right into character creation, allowing players to design a persona which might be found in Rome during Caligula’s reign. Servants of Gaius RPG uses the Network System for character creation and combat resolution, with various attributes, defenses and skills having dice pools of d10s to resolve a wide array of actions and combat during game play.
Character creation is both simple and detailed, allowing characters to find themselves in a wide array of occupations which feel fairly authentic to the Roman Empire of the day, and based upon the fairly rigid social standing of the Empire’s caste system. Characters might be a Slave Gladiator or Scribe, or they could choose to be a Senatorial Politician or Soldier. There are five social classes, and 24 occupations, although some social standings prohibit occupational choices. Skills are selected from a list of nearly 40 possibilities using 12 points, and they can be trained up to three ranks to create a 3d10 dice pool. A couple of Vices can be taken to allow for two more points, but obviously characters begin with a modest selection of skills, with room to grow. A full explanation of skills and their uses is found in this section as well. There are also plenty of little details here in how social standing and occupation offer certain perks and rights within the Empire, and the author does a good job of explaining these during character creation. Other detailed information regarding character naming, religious and secular titles, and a system of contacts and allies is provided in this section as well.
Another feature of note is Auctoritas, which is sort of a Roman Empire version of Recognition and Reputation from other games. It represents influence that a character has over social situations, ranging from calling in favors to dealing with the legal system. Given the secretive nature of the Servii Gaius, and their mandate to destroy the evil forces invading Rome, it’s likely they could end up on the wrong end of the legal system with a certain regularity, and will have to depend upon their Auctoritas, or their comrades, to avoid serious ramifications of their actions.
Chapter III lists details about equipment used in Servants of Gaius, and there is some nice detailed information about armor and weapons prevalent to the time period. Characters earn an income on the side from their occupations, and there is a primer on Roman coinage and value at the start of this chapter. There are also listings of commonly owned gear, clothing, and the costs for transportation, so that characters and GMs have a handle on costs incurred while the Servii are guarding the Empire.
The fourth chapter details the skill and combat system, which uses the dice pools to either hit a particular target number, or as an opposed check again another pool. Combats are fairly quick and nasty affairs, with combatants having only to take three wounds before becoming incapacitated. Each wound reduces skill and combat checks by 1d10, so you can definitely get a case of the deads in this game fairly rapidly. Armor reduces damage from lethal to non-lethal, but once incap’d, you can still be taken out without aide from an ally. Wounds heal naturally in a week, but the Medicine skill can heal a single wound in a day, so having a Physician in your posse is a definite advantage!
Chapter V offers some advice to the Game Master on how to run the game, and how to decide exactly what the Minions of Neptune really are. There are several suggestions here ranging from supernatural to alien, as well as advice on how to involve characters in real historical events during Caligula’s reign. Some of the mad Emperor’s stranger activities might well be explained as actions taken to destroy the invading evil forces poised to take over the Empire. There are certainly some interesting possibilities here for characters to participate in Roman life, and in the history of the time. There are also a filmography and bibliography of material which might he useful for GMs to use while running the game.
Chapter VI discusses the activities and organization of the Servii Gaius, although I was disappointed at how short the contents were here. There’s only about three total pages of material written about the Servants of Gaius, and I would have hoped for some greater and more extensive explanation on the organization, and of details for setting up a Servii Gaius cell. Overall, it’s probably enough to work with, but just barely.
The eighth chapter of Servants of Gaius discusses important NPCs in the Roman Empire. There are details about their stats, their personal histories, and how they meet their end. Clearly, this information will be useful when planning adventures around these historical figures, and even suggest which ones will be replaced by the shape-shifting minions of Neptune.
Chapters IX and X offer statistics on the Minions of Neptune and other threats a character might encounter while trying to stop the evil invasion. The Minions range from cultists to strange monsters, and can have whatever origin the GM decides, from actual servants of an angry Roman god to aliens from another planet – or even time! Other statistics are given for bandits, soldier, and other individuals which might come into conflict with the Servii Gaius. There is even a list of animals, like tigers, bears, and lions, so it is even possible to run gladiatorial games or punishments in the Coliseum as part of an adventure!
Chapter XI offers an overview of the Roman Gods, and various cults active in the Empire, and Chapter XII goes into great details about the Roman Empire itself under Caligula’s rule. The author apparently consulted with three PhD level experts during the creation of this game, so the detailed information here is both interesting and likely to be of great use when creating adventures. There’s also a really nice listing of the various Roman Provinces, with information about their resources, leader, languages, and peoples, as well as several maps showing their locations in the Empire itself.
At the end of the game book, the author provides copies of character sheets, which can be reprinted for use at the gaming table.
Overall Score: 3.75 out of 5.0
As games go, I have to say that I find Servants of Gaius to be very intriguing, offering a very different play experience than your typical swords-and-sorcery FRPG experience. The character creation is simple and straightforward, but has a lot of nice details to design characters which feel like they could be part of the real Roman Empire. The skill and combat system is quick and dirty, but more than adequate to create excitement and interest at the gaming table. The premise itself is a bit like the X-Files meets Spartakus meets Call of Cthulhu, and without a doubt, there are plenty of options for adventure and intrigue while the Servii Gaius fight to save the Empire from the strange invaders hell-bent on taking it over. . Portraying Caligula as a hero rather than a psychotic monster is quite a twist, but somehow it really works for this game. And the game is priced very reasonably, offering a complete package for a modest price, even if the package is a bit plain – it still works just fine.
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 3.25
- - Design: 3.0 (Decent design; simple and straighforward; PDF bookmarks would have been helpful)
- - Illustrations: 3.5 (Good artwork overall; there were a few lackluster pieces; cool ancient style maps)
- Content: 4.0
- - Crunch: 4.0 (Good and crunchy; nice and simple indie multi-dice mechanics; easy to play)
- - Fluff: 4.0 (Tons of Roman fluffy material; very cool adaptation of real history to a RP game)
- Value: 4.0 (A complete game for a cheap price – can’t complain about that!)
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Lama (Lvl 13)
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Thanks for the review Neuroglyph!
I was wrong about 5E
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Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
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Reported.Originally Posted by Easepaysteapy
'Can a magician kill a man by magic?' Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. 'I suppose a magician might,' he admitted, 'but a gentleman never could.'
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