Alea Iacta Story Hour: A Mythic Rome Campaign (Baby Announcement: 8/17)
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  1. #1

    Alea Iacta Story Hour: A Mythic Rome Campaign (Baby Announcement: 8/17)

    Welcome to the Alea Iacta Story Hour! Author’s Note: Alea Iacta (Latin for “Thrown Die,” from Caesar’s saying “The die is cast”) is an episodic D&D game set in a mythic Roman Empire. While the history, cultures, geography, and inhabitants are largely equivalent to the early 2nd century CE world of the Roman Empire, all the magics and gods believed in by the Romans and their barbarian allies and enemies are true and impact the lives of the characters in various ways. Within the Roman sphere of influence, arcane magic is acknowledged but disapproved of; a modern equivalent would be low-level use of minor illegal substances in one’s youth.

    Divine magic is available largely to the wealthy and those of devout faith. Among the tribal peoples such as the Celts and North Africans, who have accepted less of the Roman culture, both arcane and divine magic are ubiquitous, powerful forces that shape everyday life.
    In practical logistical matters, the game meets for a weekend of about 12 hours of gaming, about once every three months, and is currently about to have its twelfth session. Also, certain aspects of the first session are indebted to Rosemary Sutcliff’s book Three Legions. All other characters and dialogue are the sole creations of their players and myself, the GM.
    Last edited by Orichalcum; Wednesday, 23rd August, 2006 at 08:49 PM.

  2. #2

    First Session: Eagle's Flight. First post: Haven't you always wanted a monkey?

    My name is Shast. I want to write, or at least dictate, the great North African Roman novel. But with all the traveling and dangerous missions lately, time and papyrus have been somewhat lacking. So I thought I’d keep myself in practice by noting down a few stories about what my partner and I have been doing lately.

    Prosaic stuff, really – what the agora wants is more stories about nubile maidens being kidnapped by pirates and sold into the harem of the Parthian King of Kings – but my mother always told me that monkeys should write what they know.

    Let’s start with me. I’m about 10 inches tall, short golden hair, bright brown eyes, winning smile, and let me tell you, my tail can curl around just about anything. I met my partner, Meloch the Pygmy, about 10 years ago, in a brothel on the island of Cyprus. We’d both been purchased to entertain the customers while they waited for whatever it was they came to the brothel for. Meloch juggled, I scampered around the place and balanced winecups on my tail.

    Degrading, yes, I know, but the food was good. Meloch has much more of a problem with the whole concept of food-for-service than I do. The way I see it, the client and I are both getting what we want out of the deal. Anyways, Meloch and I realized something about each other – he wasn’t a normal pygmy (North African tribe, short side for humans, understandably terrified of the giant cranes who invade them every year) and I was quite a bit brighter than the average monkey. After the first few times when the juggling balls stayed up in the air when they had absolutely no reason to do so, I realized he was a sorcerer. Then he grabbed me and hid away in the cellar for a couple of days, and at the end of that, we could talk mind-to-mind.

    This is often useful. Hopefully, it’ll save me from the goat’s fate. See, Meloch also always keeps this goat, named Kaspar, which he rides around on and treats as his trusted comrade. Only, the big secret is, there’s no one Kaspar. Soon as Meloch is traveling somewhere where a goat isn’t convenient, or even sometimes when he’s just hungry, he kills his helpful friend and eats him. We’re currently on Kaspar the Eleventh. So I figure this mental bond is my insurance. Meloch starts looking at me like he’s hungry, I give him a headache bigger than his you-know-what. Oh yeah, that’s the other reason Meloch keeps getting jobs, besides the juggling. Apparently, pygmies are both great at mating and they help other humans have more babies somehow. I don’t really understand this.
    Last edited by Orichalcum; Sunday, 4th May, 2003 at 06:59 PM.

  3. #3

    First Session: Eagle's Flight. Second post: Duty calls away from warm baths.

    So anyways, Meloch and I spend a couple of peaceful years being sold around the Empire before winding up as this thirteen-year-old girl’s birthday present from her mom at the absolute ends of the earth in Northern Britannia, in the Roman fort of Eburacum. Now, I have nothing against Cornelia, that’s the young one – she gives me lots of extra treats and scratches my head without using her hands, a trick she learned from Meloch. Her mother, Licinia Luculla, on the other hand, the Roman noblewoman who sent us to Britannia, maybe out of guilt for having abandoned her mate and child several years back, she’s terrifying. But more on that later.

    So, it’s been about three years, and the only thing keeping me from freezing my tail off in Britannia are the horrific little plaid wool jackets and booties that Cornelia’s nurse, Nanna Alma, knits for me. One day, Cornelia’s father, G. Cornelius Crispus, who’s a big military man, Legate, or 2nd in charge, of the Sixth Legion, Valeria Victrix, of Rome, invites some guests over for dinner and a meeting. Meloch and I are there doing our juggle-and-scamper routine.

    The one who seems most like the alpha is the youngest and most befuddled, one Quintus Caecilius Metellus, a Tribune of the Legion from a very noble family. (Later we find out that he’s second cousin once removed to the Emperor.) Then there’s a big, older fellow, retired Centurion Marcus Alexandros, who you’d expect to be in charge if these were monkeys, but the humans have more complex ways of establishing their dominance. Last is a young Briton in his late 20s, decked out in the uniform of a Roman auxiliary engineer, Marcus Tacitus Llyr, known as Spearmaker to his family. (He’s apparently also a Prince of the local Brigantes tribe, but this is somehow less important than the Roman ranks.)

    After a pleasant supper (imported figs! I love figs), the Legate informs the three Legionaries that he is relieving the first two of active duty and calling the third back to duty, for a special mission. Seven years ago, the legion stationed in Eburacum was not the VIth Victrix, but the Ninth Hispana. The governor at the time, down in Londinium, heard reports that the northern tribes were attacking the garrisoned forts of Bremenium and Tremontium, north of Hadrian's Wall, and sent the Ninth north of the wall to regarrison the forts and deal with the problem. Not one man of the Ninth ever returned.

    More importantly, neither did the Eagle, the standard of the Legion.
    Without an Eagle, the Ninth could not be reformed, and its remaining members, wounded or on other duties at the time of the northern expedition, were folded into other Legions. One of these was Alexandros. He seems pretty upset at having lost his whole Legion, which seems rather like a 6000-large tribe of monkeys.

    The Legate has summoned them because merchants and traveling
    doctors have informed him both that the northern tribes seem to be massing for war again, and that the Eagle has been seen, somewhere, north of the furthermost Wall. At this point he pulls out an elaborate and accurate map. The relevant highlights of the map are as follows: the province Caledonia, which was never conquered
    permanently by the Romans, Valentia, to the south of Caledonia, which was once a Roman province, but was largely abandoned 26 years ago, the Antonine Wall, a rough wall of turf which once marked the boundary of Valentia from Caledonia , Hadrian's
    Wall, which separates Valentia from the established Roman province, Trimontium and Bremenium, the two eastern forts along the old Roman roads that the Ninth was going
    to garrison.

    The Eagle is supposedly somewhere in southeastern Caledonia. The mission is to go north, find out what happened to the Ninth, why it happened, and, if at all possible, retrieve or destroy the Eagle. I get all this explained to me later by Meloch, especially about this Eagle, which turns out not to be exactly a real eagle, but a statue of an Eagle, carried as a banner in war, which made Alexandros and all his fellow Legionaries really eager to fight and good at it. Apparently, Alexandros can’t re-form his tribe without the Eagle, and on the other side, if the Caledonii have it, they can use it against the Romans as a powerful magical artifact.

    This all sounds like it will make a nice exciting story for my memoirs when the three Legionaries get back, or a brief tragic elegy about the young Metellus’s senseless death. Then the truly awful thing happens. The Legionaries decide they want to disguise themselves before trooping up into tribal lands and ask if they can borrow Meloch to aid them in their disguise as magical trinket sellers.

    And that sweet girl Cornelia says yes! And then Meloch tells me over the mental link, as I screech, that I have to come too, despite the fact that it will be even colder in Caledonia and I won’t be able to take a nice hot bath every day. Maybe Meloch’s right in the disadvantages of this whole slavery thing.

    About this time, a local blacksmith and spirit-worker, a large dark-haired man named Heilyn, arrives. The Legate, afraid for the Legionaries' success if they have only swords against the Druids' evil powers, tries to enlist the
    blacksmith by offering him a. an exclusive metalworking contract for the
    Ninth if it's reformed and b. no more commissions from the VIth Legion ever if he refuses. He accepts, reluctantly. The Legate also mentions that the group should keep an eye out for a traveling vates or philosopher-sage, Wena of the Iceni, whom the Legate sent north to gather information.

    The next day, Cornelia runs away from her father and the warm baths, for no good reason, and uses the stuff she’s been picking up from Meloch to cast a spell on Tribune Metellus to persuade him into taking her along, on the argument that she may have useful knowledge about the Celts and can speak to their women. The Tribune initially accepts, but later can't believe he was so stupid and resolves to protect her at all costs or throw himself on his sword due to the dishonor. By then, it's too late to send her back.

    This means that Cato, Cornelia’s owl, with whom she has a mental contact, has to come along too. Furthermore, since Cornelia doesn’t want the incredibly naive Metellus to know she can do magic, Cato has to ride on Meloch’s other shoulder and pretend to be his other partner. This is nearly the last straw. I burrow into the saddlebags and proceed to ignore Meloch and everyone else.

    Oh, and did I mention that the smith Heilyn brought along an enormous wolfhound and two small yippy dogs with the combined intelligence of a desert rat? Of course, everyone pays them more attention, because they can “get food.” I could get food if we were living in a sensible climate with fruit on the trees, but no. We have to be riding a doomed goat through Caledonia.
    Last edited by Orichalcum; Sunday, 4th May, 2003 at 06:57 PM.

  4. #4

    First Session: Eagle's Flight. Third Post: Enter, pursued by a bear.

    On the first day of traveling beyond Hadrian’s Wall, leaving the Roman- controlled lands and all hope of warmth forever, life seems fairly peaceful as we ride along the road, built by the Romans back before they abandoned this province in search of the finer comforts of life.

    Suddenly, a tribesman, brandishing a spear, runs across the road in front of them, panting. He is followed shortly by an enormous, long-nosed bear, running at a startling speed. The Tribune, Metellus, rides forth to bravely face it, and is mauled nearly to death for his courage. Then the smith, Heilyn, runs forward and yells something at the bear. Peeking out of my saddlebag, I think he’s addled, until the bear looks confused and just stands there, blinking.

    Perhaps Heilyn can talk to the spirits and animals – he’s certainly never bothered with me though. So I decide to make his life miserable until he acknowledges how superior I am to all the other nonhumans. It appears this may take a while.

    While the engineer, Llyr, loads his one-man ballista, the others ride
    forward. Some miss; Cornelia, on Llyr's instructions, fires the ballista and grievously wounds the bear. With a final stroke, the Tribune chops the bear's head off. This is the beginning of a long pattern. Metellus doesn’t seem all that good at actually fighting, but somehow he always performs the actual kill. This probably relates to those complex human hierarchies.

    The hunter whom they have saved falls at their feet in gratitude and introduces himself as Guern. After all catch their breath, he suggests they make camp and share the fresh bear meat. (I decline the bear meat – too smoky.)

    During the companionable meal, the Legionaries begin to notice several odd things about Guern - he speaks Celtic with a slight accent, his beard shows the markings of a long-worn chin strap, and he bears a faded brand of Mithras, the bull-god of many soldiers, on his forehead. They ask probing questions which he evades. When he tries to sneak away during the night, he trips into one of Llyr's carefully laid rope traps, and the group springs upon him. I go back to sleep, figuring I can hear the details from Meloch later.

  5. #5

    First Session: Eagle's Flight. Fourth Post: Guern's Story.

    Guern’s Story (I think this might be publishable all by itself, but Meloch says that the Romans don’t like stories of cowardice and desertion. Of course, I see Guern’s actions as simple common sense. These Romans are all crazy.)

    Upon interrogation, Guern confesses that he was in fact once a Centurion of the Third Cohort of the Ninth. He says that the Ninth made it as far as Voluntiae, a fort on the Antonine Wall, without direct attack. Along the route, however, they were beset by strange mists and eerie sounds, by animals that attacked out of nowhere, and morale fell dramatically. By the time they reached Voluntiae, everyone was terrified.

    Two tribunes he remembered, Lysias and Minucius, did nothing to help. Lysias was convinced that the Legion was doomed; Minucius kept trying to convince everyone that it was the Prefect's fault. And admittedly, the
    Prefect was only slightly less imbecilic than he was well-born.

    At Voluntiae, the Legion made camp, and set up watch. But in the
    middle of the night the tribes, hundreds of them, came storming through a breach in the walls, massacring most of the soldiers inside. Marcus Flavius Aquila, the primus pilus centurion, took the Eagle and led a retreat back towards Trimontium. Guern was wounded in the leg, and fell by the wayside, to be rescued by the women of a local village and slowly, painfully healed.

    Fearing execution as a deserter, he never returned. He knows nothing of the Eagle, save that, if anyone would have it, the Ouenikones, the tribe near Voluntiae, would, and that their holy place is called Ituna.

    Guern then asks what has happened in Roman Britain, in the last seven years, and what the fate of the impulsive governor who ordered one under -strength Legion north was. No-one seems to be able to remember.
    Indeed, neither they nor Guern can even remember the name of the governor in question, surprising particularly given Alexandros' eidetic memory.

    After pondering this, Metellus and Cornelia remember a rarely used
    sentence, that of "damnatio memoriae,", proclaimed by the Emperor for those who have offended grievously against the Empire. Those who suffer "damnatio memoriae" have their names erased from official inscriptions. Any statues of them have their heads cut off and replaced. Their sons' and daughters' names are changed. And, most frighteningly, the very existence of them is wiped out from everyone's memory, with some sort of magic performed directly by the Emperor himself. Neither Metellus nor Cornelia can remember damnatio being pronounced on anyone within their lifetimes, but then again, they wouldn't. The group wonders at this news, although Alexandros decides it is a fitting punishment for such rash behavior.

  6. #6
    Just thought I'd begin the player introductions. I play Marcus Alexandros, the retired Centurion from the IXth. Marcus Alexandros's family is part of the ethnically Greek population of Alexandria (in Egypt). After spending his 20 years in the Legions, Marcus settled down to run his farm in northern Brittania. As a retired legionary, he received a plot of land from the government (essentially as a pension). Because he was a centurion, his plot is fairly large.

  7. #7
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    And I'll join CP in introducing myself as a player (and in congratulating Ori for this very cool story hour!)

    I play Cornelia Crispa. Unbeknownst to everyone except Meloch, Shast, Cato (and probably her mother), 16-year-old Cornelia is a sorcerer. But her mother lives all the way in Rome, and the other three aren't talking, so she's pretty sure that her secret is safe for now. She also really does know a lot about Celtic lore and language, thanks to the stories told to her by her old nurse, Nanna Alma.

    None of this is appropriate behavior for a proper Roman maiden, of course - in fact, most women Cornelia's age are already married. Nor is defying her father's will to go on a dangerous expedition beyond the Wall, or casting a spell on a tribune to do it. But a girl can pick up some unconventional ideas, living out here on the edge of the Empire...

  8. #8

    First session: Eagle's Flight. Fifth Post: The Ghost Legion

    With this information, the Romans forcibly draft poor Guern as their local guide, and travel onward, soon reaching Trimontium, the deserted legionary fortress. Along the way, they meet Wena, the female wandering philosopher whom the Legate had asked them to watch out for. She informs them that the Ouenikones are rumored to be having a major religious festival soon. I like Wena – she doesn’t charge brazenly into danger the way the rest do. I’m worried that this group of people are a bad influence on Meloch, encouraging him in reckless acts of daring.

    By day, Trimontium seems bereft of either information or interest, just another Roman fort laid out in a square grid with a central dais and marching field, like the one back in Eburacum, or Cyprus, or anywhere, really. At night, it's a different story. As the last rays of light fall, the first watch sees ghostly spirits patrolling back and forth through the barracks. The Ninth is back - at least part of it.

    To Heilyn, the spirits are perfectly
    clear; to the rest they are vague and indistinct. Alexandros tries to speak to one, only to have it pass right through him, leaving him weak and dizzy. Cornelia, who may be impetuous but is fairly clever, has the idea to make proper Roman funeral offerings of wine and wheat to the spirits. They become clearer to her, and she can speak to them, briefly. Together with Heilyn's help they discover that the primus pilus centurion reached here, but with the tribes close behind, and that he gave the Eagle to "the Second."

    Llyr notices, meanwhile, that a ring of 12 pairs of Legionaries are pacing around the central dais of the fortress, forbidding passage. When Heilyn examines them, he realizes with Alexandros' help that they are all from
    the First Century, under Aquila's command. Wena and Llyr track the path of souls out beyond the south gate of the fortress, about half an hour, to where it peeters off, in faded bloodstains against a huge rock.

    Meanwhile, Heilyn finds some tribal spirits and speaks to them. They say little, save that they were under the command of Aeduana, the Chief Druid of the Ouenikones, and that they died here fighting the Red Helmets. The Romans proceed to mock the Chief Druid’s name, which doesn’t seem very intelligent to me when discussing a potentialy deadly enemy. Cultural imperialists.

    The next morning, the ghosts disappear, and Llyr begins investigating the dais. Putting his knowledge of Mithras together with his
    engineering expertise, he figures out that the two cylindrical holes in the dais can be used to hold javelins, which can be turned. As Mithras is
    the god of the sun, he turns them according to the movement of the sun,
    and the dais opens, revealing a small tomb with the body of the primus pilus centurion inside. While they leave his personal decorations, Alexandros takes the small eagle brooch Aquila wore, deciding to wait to put it on until a more appropriate time.

  9. #9
    Magsman (Lvl 14)

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    Good story hour! We could use a few more non-traditional settings around here, IMO. And, although I'm not a Latin expert, I'm pretty sure the phrase actually means "the die has been cast" (specifically "cast the die is" if you translate it literally) rather than "let the die be cast." And of course, although the quote is famously attributed to Caesar himself, he was, in fact, quoting his favorite poet Menander at the time. Not that it really matters.
    Last edited by Joshua Dyal; Monday, 5th May, 2003 at 03:53 AM.

  10. #10
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    Seconded - what he said.

    Ancient Rome has been plundered for use in many campaign world, nice to see that it works perfectly fine by itself.

    I'm glad to see that the most intelligent member of the party is keeping the journal, 'these Romans are crazy' - or so goes the rumour...

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