So we played The Legion the other night. Originally intended to be a one shot, though due to some timezone constraints we played through about half of the scenes and will continue for a second session in another week. Everyone was keen to go on, so I presume that is a good sign.
The Legion is a Fate Accelerated game set during the Roman invasion of Britain which began in the year 43AD. I based it largely on the 43AD rpg (which is a fantastic resource for the era). It was also heavily influenced by the Age of Arthur rpg, which provides excellent roman era maps and later Romano-Briton cultural information.
The Roman Legions are an institution and a bloody brotherhood to men from across the reaches of the Empire. Drawn from the beyond the sands of Egypt, the mountains of Sparta, and the forests of Gaul, the Second Legion marches under the great General Vespasian, and against the rebellious and barbaric natives of Britannia.
You are a team of specialists tasked with finding the rebel king Caractacus and his raiders who are hidden somewhere among the hollow hills and haunted lands of Salisbury plain.
You must travel light and fast, to the very edges of Roman allied Belgae lands, to find the rebel king and somehow halt his escape…at least until the body of the Second Legion and Vespasian himself arrive in five days time.
Setting out from the Belgae market town of Venta Belgarum, you are instructed to contact Centurion Gaius Antonius Tiberius at a small Roman fort that watches over the strange barbarian town of Aquae Sulis.
You have heard dark whispers of sorcerous magic and vengeful spirits that inhabit the temple valley and it’s surrounding hills. It is from these very hills that Carctacus harries the soldiers of Fort Minerva, yet seems to fade back into the mists, never leaving a trace…
One of the main things I wanted to do with this game was see how Fate handled a relatively gritty historical setting. I mean, I know Fate works great for cybernetic gorillas, psychic monks, and evil aliens, but would it capture a real life historical setting without getting too pulpy?
Well, I was very happy with the results. The short answer is: if your story and character aspects are gritty and historical, then that’s pretty much how your game will play; gritty and historical. It’s a testament to how powerful aspects really are in defining a Fate game’s style and setting.
Anyway, onto the play report:
Two of our players created their own characters and the other two picked out some pregens I made.
One of the first things I asked the players was “What do you want from this game? Are you here for a laugh or are you keen on recreating history? Or somewhere in between?” So everyone said they were playing for a good time. Some said they knew a bit about ancient Roman history, some said it wasn’t really their thing.
Good. No pressure on me for historical accuracy.
Mind you, I love the history. I love flavouring a game with authenticity. But it was good to know that we weren’t going to let faithfulness to historical reproduction hamper any potential fun.
Next, borrowing an idea from Dungeon World, I asked everyone a few starter questions. I find this a great method to get players engaged with a one shot setting, and even better, get them to contribute to the setting and story itself.
1. You have all been selected for this mission from the Victorious Second Legion. How did you prove yourself worthy during Vespasian’s first successful foray into Britannia? Write an aspect if you wish.
2. Look to your left and to your right. You know both of these legionaries well. What is your relationship with them? Do you know anything about about their history? Have you stood together in battle? What do you think of them? Write an aspect if you wish.
3. How well do you know the territory you are about to enter? What is the most dangerous thing about these lands?
4. What do you know about Fort Minerva? Do you know any legionaries there?
5. What do you know about Aquae Sulis? What do you fear the most about that place?
6. What rewards await you if this mission succeeds? What if you fail?
As it turned out most of the characters had served together in some capacity under Vespasian’s Second Legion. Notably Tamura and Rhys were outsiders from the normal soldiery of the Legion, and Decimus and Aulus were more “rank and file” Legionaries. Rhys was a slave to Decimus, the Optio (Sergent-Major rank). Some characters feared the ancient spirits of the land they were about to cross, other just saw another mission. One particular fear was of a Briton warlord who roamed these lands attacking whoever he might come across, cutting off and wearing their ears as a trophy. Some characters expected death by crucifixion if they were to fail, others expected demotion and more years of toil under the Legion. Most of them saw a bright future of promotion and independence if they were to succeed.
It is always interesting to see how the answers to these questions change the story as it’s written. Notably, it set the tone for the first scene, and changed one of the npcs I had prepared earlier into the ear-collecting warlord that one of the characters was so afraid of.
The first scene started with the characters leaving Venta Belgarum and making their way north across lightly wooded hills. I compelled the Heavy Mists story aspect to declare that the players get lost amidst the woodlands and the grey, featureless skyline. What better way to start?
As night was closing and they saw no hope in finding their way before dark they decided to find a secure campsite for the night. Aulus and Decimus went about creating the advantage of Secure campsite. Later, during first watch they see an axe-wielding figure, illuminated momentarily by a flash of lightning. A second later and the figure is gone. Sent up to investigate, Rhys is shaken by a low murmur of chanting he hears rising above the drumming rain. Tamura scouts to the right spying a group of tribes-men chanting a battle hymn and working themselves up for a fight. One spots Tamura and charges her, the others crest the hill closing on Rhys. Aulus runs up the hill into the fray and Decimus shouts commands from the rear. After a pitched battle the team kill their attackers and take one for questioning. After a few menacing words from Decimus the captive reveals he is part of Cunovindos’ warband – the ear wearing Siluruian warriors from across the Sabrina sea. He also reveals that Cunovindos is here to help the rebel king, Caractacus.
The next morning the party decides to head to Fort Minerva, taking their captive along for further interrogation. Upon arriving at the Fort, the characters notice that a rag tag Century garrisons the fort. They look over their walls nervously as if fearing imminent attack.
The characters soon meet Paulus, the Optio, who now leads the Century at Fort Minerva. It appears that the Centurion is recently dead; killed by disease. It doesn’t take long to see that the Century has lost a number of it’s men recently to disease and battle. Their spirits are accordingly bleak. Paulus, however, is able to convince the characters that all is in good hands.
Later that night, Tamura goes scouting around the fort and spots a messenger leaving. After a brief, but dangerous scuffle, she apprehends the young local man and removes a vellum scroll from his possession. It bears the seal of Fort Minerva’s Century but is a damning a conspiratorial note informing the warlord Cunovindos that one of his men has been captured and is held in the fort.
At exactly the same moment, before Tamura has a chance to share her findings, Rhys and Aulus march up to the Optio Paulus’ tent, bottle of wine in hand (stolen from Decimus’ pack). They fast talk their way past the guards and greet the Optio with a proposal. Paulus riles at Rhys’ suggestion that his Century leave Fort Minerva to pursue Caractacus out amongst the country side. It looks like Paulus may reate by doing somehting extreme. Before things get too out of hand, Decimus steps through the tent flaps at the last moment, scolding his manservant and attempting to make amends with the Optio.
Paulus’ ruffled feathers are settled soon enough, leaving the three characters to consider the Optio’s motives. He seemed to be hiding something. Also to contemplate was the Optio’s choice of manservant – a gaunt looking fellow in robes, standing in the shadows of the tent beside a table which showed signs of recent religious offering.
Thus endeth session one.
After playing with these guys, I’ve got no doubt the second session will be just as good, if not better!