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 Post subject: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 7:12 pm 
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Ok, I’v recently been able to get a bit of gaming in with a group that’s not my regular one. When I was in Ephesos, some grad students heard about my gaming hobby, and quizzed me about it, and finally, we tried it out – a short campaign with me as referee, set in the ancient city of Ephesos and actually played within its ruins (unbeatable for atmosphere). One of the guys wanted to try his hand at refereeing himself, and as he’s very familiar with Lovecraft, he cobbled together an interesting premise:

It’s the time when Octavian and Marc Anthony vie for control of the Roman Empire. Anthony is in the East, and here he falls under the spell of Cleopatra – quite literally, for Cleopatra is herself High Priestess of the Black Pharaoh, an avatar of Nyarlathotep, and she is trying to erect an Empire of Darkness. To that end, she has utterly corrupted Anthony and his lieutenants, who are now all craven and depraved worshippers of the Black Pharaoh.

The campaign is set again in Ephesus, in 32 BC, the year before the Battle of Actium and the great naval defeat of Anthony. War seems inevitable, and Anthony is marshalling his armies at Ephesus, where he is presently being joined by Cleopatra and her Egyptian forces. The characters are all people with access to Anthony and supportive of him, but who are not deep enough in with him to know about the Black Pharaoh stuff. The campaign was about the discovery of the black depravity Anthony has sunken to by Cleopatra’s agency, and about what the characters would do about it.

My character was Marcus Valerius Aper, a Roman knight.


In 37 BC, hostilities between the “allies” Octavianus and Marcus Antonius were silently simmering. Antonius, at the time clearly more powerful than Octavianus, was preparing a huge campaign against the Parthian Empire. Octavianus knew that such a campaign, if successful, would make Antonius not only so fabulously wealthy but also so popular with the people and even many as of yet undecided senators that Antonius would be able to simply brush aside Octavianus – and so Octavianus did his utmost to sabotage Antonius’ preparations. Octavianus cleverly delayed and withheld troops and supplies due for Antonius, all without in the public eye appearing to do so. And he pressured the private bankers to whom Antonius turned for funding to withhold it as well.

A banker who would not be intimidaed by Octavianus was Marcus Valerius Aper, a Roman knight, head of a consortium of investors and by himself easily the wealthiest private citizen of the Empire. Valerius Aper and his friends provided two hundred million sestertii for Antonius campaign – as soon as Antonius, the greated living general, would have conquered Parthia, this investment into the war would yield obscene profits.

But Antonius lost and was harried back to Roman territory. With Antonius defeat, his fortune and that of Octavianus had reversed – now, it was Octavianus who had the upper hand.

Valerius Aper and his friends had already invested to much into Antonius to simply cut their losses – Aper might have been able to afford it, but other within the consortium would have been utterly ruined. So Valerius Aper and his friends, who had furthermore antagonized Octavianus with their support for Antonius, threw their lot in with Antonius all the way. To get Antonius’ ship back on an even keel and to salvage their previous investment, they provided ever more money for Antonius, to the point of having to borrow themselves to free cash for the use of Antonius.

With the passing years, the rift between Antonius and Octavianus grew ever deeper. Armed conflict looms on the horizon, and Aper and his friends, who have been funding Anonius right to the brink of bankrupcy, wish dearly that they had never thrown their lot in with him. But now it’s too late – either Antonius comes out on top, in which case it will be riches the likes of which Crassus has not dared to dream about for Aper, or he will loose, in which case it will be abject poverty and quite probably death by the agency of Octavianus. In any case, Valerius Aper has recently found it prudent to remove himself physically from Rome and to seek out Antonius in the Asian metropolis of Ephesus. Here, Aper has rented a luxurious townhouse as his residence, where he is holding court – all on borrowed money. For all his fabulos wealth, the funding for Antonius has by now bled Aper dry, and it is becoming increasingly and desperately hard for him to find investors who are still willing to forward him money. Marcus Valerius Aper’s financial empire is beginning to come apart.

Marcus Valerius Aper is 40 years of age and the scion of ancient Roman nobility, but of the type who did decide not to make politics and wars their arena, but the world of high finance. His youth was spent in a way typical of wealthy Romans of his generation – partying the nights away with senators’ and knights’ sons, painting the town red, leaving no vice untried and squandering several kings’ ransoms on mistresses and other pleasures. And like many of the irresponsible young men of his generation he actually had a core of steel.

At 28, he married Ulpia, a nineteen year old senator’s daughter, who bore him his only son, Lucius, now ten. The couple seperated after a few years, and Marcus did then marry Domitia, a daughter of the preeminent senator Domitius Ahenobarbus, one of Antonius key supporters. Domitia bore him Valeria, now four years old. When Valerius Aper decided to travel to Ephesus, Domitia flatly refused to accompany him – she, who had long been living her own life, stayed with relatives in Rome, and Marcus isn’t missing her. After all, he has his lovely Greek mistress Acte to keep him company, a ravishing freedwoman of 27. With her, his two children, several freedmen and some fifty slaves he has taken up residence in Ephesus.

Marcus is a cooly calculating and utterly pragmatic businessman with winning manners, a shrewd mind and a healthy body. He is very fond of good living, but he does not allow the pleasures to rule him and can go without them if need be. He pursues wealth because he’s good at it, and because he has learned that it is power and that, ultimately, power is security. He thinks that everybody has a price and is quite the cynic. He has no qualms doublecrossing somebody, provided his reputation is not tarnished thereby – it is important to him that he is regarded with respect as a man of impeccable honour.

He loves his children (though slightly more out of dynastic thinking, duty and habit than genuine fatherly affection) and is wondering whether he may be genuinely loving his mistress, Acte. He does not believe in gods, higher causes or indeed any values naturally inherent to life or the world.

Marcus Valerius Aper was (because of my previous refereein for the group) built on 18 Insight, i.e. with A, B, C, D, D, E Picks.

A-Pick: Social (not actually a senator, but richer than 99% of them and mingling freely with them)
B-Pick: Skills (Merchant 6 & Courtier 7)
C-Pick: Attributes (39)
D-Pick: Proficiencies (4)
D-Pick: Gifts/Flaws (none)
E-Pick: Race (Human)

Attributes:
ST 3
AG 3
TO 3
EN 3
HT 4

WP 5
Wit 5
MA 5
Soc 5
Per 3

Reflex 4
Aim 3
Knockdown 3
Knockout 6
Move 5

Skills:
Appraisal 5
Body Language 8
Dancing 7
Diplomacy 4
Etiquette (Nobility) 5
Forgery 8
Gambling 6 (replaces the less apropriate Games)
Intrigue 5
Law 5
Persuasion 4
Orate 6 (bought with MA)
Read &Write 6
Ridicule 6
Riding 6 (bought with MA)
Search 9
Sincerity 5
Speak Latin 5 (native, free at 10-MA)
Speak Greek 6 (taken instead of Secret Languages)
Stewardship 5 (bought and improved with MA)
Streetwise 7
Swimming 6 (bought with MA)

Proficiencies: Gladius & Shield 4

Spiritual Attributes:
Conscience 0
Destiny: Die the richest man in the world 2
Drive: Regain investments and become filthy rich 3
Luck 2
Passion: Love Acte 0

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:31 pm 
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This is great stuff! I wish I knew how it went! :)

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 1:27 am 
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I'll second that -- the master playing to his strength I suspect.

What though of the other characters? :)

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:06 am 
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Thanks. With all this flattery, how could I fail to oblige you? ;)

There were three other characters, all played by grad or postgrad students of classics, archeology or ancient history who’ve known each other for years but who had only limited role-playing experience. Over a pint, Alexander, the future referee, told me that he would like to give it a shot, mixing Cthulhu mythos and ancient Rome in an adventure set in Ephesos (which he and his prospective players know intimately). Thinking about how Octavianus made a big deal of how the East and especially the “evil witch” Cleopatra had corrupted Marcus Antonius, I suggested the Celopatra as Cthuluhu cultist, remembering that one of the many avatars of Nyarlathotep had been venerated in Egypt as the Black Pharaoh. Alexander took it from there.

Veronika, the referee’s girlfriend, played Glauce, a ravishing Greek woman in her mid-twenties who had formerly been Marcus Antonius’ mistress (he was quite the Casanova and used to have a string of them), now discarded but still a hanger-on of his “court”. Even though hurt, she was still very much in love with Marcus Antonius – or the man he used to be once upon a time – and bitterly hated Cleopatra.
SAs I remember were Love for Marcus Antonius, Hate for Cleopatra and Conscience.

Bernhard played our only “warrior”, Quintus Caecilius Macro, a centurion of Marcus Antonius’ Praetorian guard. He was in his mid-thirties, had risen through the ranks because of valour, a cool head under stress and trustworthiness. Macro was a tough as nails and honourable Roman through and through, very loyal to general Marcus Antonius, whom he believed to be Rome’s best hope for order and peace.
SAs I remember were Loyalty to Marcus Antonius, Faith in the Roman pantheon, Patriotism and probably also Conscience.

Andreas played Lucius Terentius Cotta, a Roman senator in his early thirties, who had started his career as a supporter of Marcus Antonius in Rome, and with the latter’s backing. Currently holding no office and with Rome becoming a little bit too hot for him, Cotta has travelled to Ephesus together with my guy, Aper. What he has since then seen of Marcus Antonius made him long for an opportunity to switch allegiance to Octavianus – and to dearly wish he hadn’t in a recent public speech on the forum insulted and ridiculed Octavianus’ beloved sister Octavia.
SAs I remember were Ambition, Patriotism, Luck and some kind of Destiny to rise to political power.

For an inexperiecend refree’s first the campaign went surprisingly well, though of course far from perfect. For my own character I lament that his budding love for his freedwoman mistress Acte didn’t come into play, even though I had explicitly told the referee that I was very much interested in this aspect of the character when he asked me why Valerius Aper had an SA for Acte but not for his children. But c’est la vie, non?

The opening scene was a great banquet given in Marcus Antonius’ residence in Ephesus in honou of the arrival of Cleopatra. All the characters were present, and the action got going by the confidential account of Marcus Antonius’ thoroughly drunk and terribly frightened head haruspex (an expert in interpreting the future from the entrails of sacrifical animals) among the guests who told of about live maggots (!) infesting the liver of the horse sacrificed to give thanks for Cleopatra’s save journey – an unheard-of bad omen he believed to be a direct sign by the gods of the underworld that Cleopatra was cursed and a curse herself. The guy than staggered off to the latrine, where he was of course murdered.

That was the jump-of point for some snooping around (especially as centurion Caecilius Macro had on that evening been in charge of security) that first led us to the Egyptian priest with whom the haruspex had spoken immediately before us, and from then on to the discovery that Cleopatra was into some unwholesome practices.

That in turn led to some nice conflicts within the group. Glauce was all for telling Marcus Antonius to drive a wedge between him and Cleopatra, my guy wanted to hush it all up as he wanted to prevent any rift between Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra that might weaken Marcus Antonius and thus diminish his chances to regain his investments, senator Cotta wanted to investigate further to be able to provide Octavianus with intelligence that might allow him to switch sides, and centurion Macro was torn between loyalty and loyalty – he had discovered important facts about his master’s mistress, but to reval them would require him to concede that he had spied on her.

After some bickering we decided that we still knew too little and would try to get some more info before making a decision. It were mainly my guy and senator Cotta who pressured for this course of action, mine to stall, Cotta because info was what he was after anyway. A trusted freedmen of my guy was dispatched with all haste to 130 km distant Pergamum, after the fire at Alexandria housing the greatest library of the time, to do some research on this unknown deity Cleopatra’s court seemed to worship.

End of Session One.

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 9:36 am 
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Session Two opened five days of game-time later with a meeting at my guy’s residence, where the returned freedman reported his finds at the library of Pergamum – a typical assortment of dark hints, plus a 250 year old account, from the time when the Ptolemies ruled Ephesus (which they did for about a century), of a temple of this dark deity somewhere near Ephesus. It was decided that we would try to find and investigate this place. Locating it proved very easy – local priests new legends of a nearby temple built by the Ptolemies, now falling down and shunned by the country populace, who believe it haunted and tell tales of travellers spending a night there and dying or going mad.

We travelled there to have a look around ourselves, a trip of just a few hours. We found a falling-down temple ostensibly once dedicated to Isis, but with several clear hints (defaced murals, bloodstains, disconcerting devotional figurines) of darker going-ons.

While in the temple, we were surprised by the arrival of a group of burly black slaves accompanied by an Egyptian-looking officer and a eunuch in Egyptian dress. We couldn’t get away unseen, so we tried to hide, but as the eunuch started to direct the slaves to clear the rubble, we were soon discovered. By that time we were certain that we had seen both the eunuch and the officer with Cleopatra’s retinue, and had reason to believe that they would also recognize us, atleast vaguely. Negotiating or swindling our way out seemed out of the question, as we did not want word of our visit here to get back to the congregation in Cleopatra’s retinue, so combat to the death ensued.

We overcame the slaves and the officer, and a spear cast by centurion Macro brought down the fleeing eunuch. We tried to question him, but as he was bleeding to death he thought we had nothing to threaten him with – until senator Cotta callously stuck his dagger repeatedly into the eunuch’s liver and the Egyptian changed his mind. He howled mad stuff of the kind that Cleopatra was High Priestess of the Black Pharaoh who would sweep us and all of Rome aside, and that the world would see his greatness and grovel before him, the way Marcus Antonius was already doing.

Another discussion ensued. Glauce and centurion Macro refused to believe that Marcus Antonius had sunken so low as to worship a dark Egyptian god and renounce the Roman ones, and my guy, still anxious not to weaken Antonius’ position in any way and thereby endanger his investment, unscrupulously backed them up, while senator Cotta pressured for some snooping around Marcus Antonius’ residence to see whether the triumvir was really up to something decidedly un-Roman – which he of course wished, so that he could take word and preferably proof of it back to Octavianus for him to use in propaganda against Antonius. Cotta cleverly swayed the other two by appealing to Glauce’s love for Antonius and to Macro’s loyalty to his general – if Marcus Antonius was in danger of sliding into Cleopatra’s vile practices, proof of the full extent of their blackness must be found and brought before Antonius, in Antonius’ own best interest. So as to have influence on the further developments (and to possibly sabotage the fact-finding mission), my guy agreed to go along with this plan.

End of Session Two.

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Mon Aug 30, 2010 9:06 am 
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Session Three commenced with Glauce and centurio Macro, who both spent their days in Antonius’ – and Cleopatra’s – residence rolling to see whether they could find out anything about clandestine going-ons in Cleopatra’s retinue. They indeed found out that there was some commotion about the disappearance of a eunuch and that some kind of nocturnal ceremony to be held at the temple of Isis was being secretly prepared.

On the day of this ceremony, the four of us stole into the temple of Isis, hid and waited. We witnessed the appearance of many slaves and Egyptian courtiers and of Cleopatra herself, arriving secretly in a palanquin – accompanied by Marcus Antonius and a few of Antonius’ most tursted senators and officers. A truly vile ceremony – the referee did really good here – presided over by Cleopatra played out, beginning with a desecration of the statue of Isis and encompassing the ritual sacrifice of a baby and culminating in the appearance of a talking column of smoke. This column answered the questions of Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius, first some concerning Octavianus’ preparations for war, then some pertaining to the disappearance of the eunuch-priest. Luckily, the answers were cryptic and circumspect, but clearly pointed to Antonius’ own retinue – i.e. to us.

At this junction, we were discovered in our hiding place by a sole Egyptian, who was quickly dispatched by centurio Macro and senator Cotta, but not before his warning cry alerted the congregation to our presence. In the incense-infused semi-darkness of the temple we fled unrecognized, but pursued by several of Cleopatra’s henchmen and Romans from Antonius’ retinue. A lengthy but rather cool chase through nocturnal Ephesus ensued, in the course of which we first lost pursuer after pursuer and then doubled back to waylay one of them, a young senatorial officer who had clearly gotten a good look at us and recognized at least some of us. We grievously wounded him, but instead of killing him off decided to drag him back to my guy’s residence and question him.

Again with some encouragement on senator Cotta’s part, the guy told us of how the Black Pharaoh would sweep aside not only Octavianus and the senate, but also the weak Roman gods and establish his dominion over the world, with his faithful believers as his governors. As we woud have needed a physician to keep our prisoner alive and didn’t want to risk involving one, Cotta and one of my guy’s slaves dispatched him far from the house in a sewer – and Cotta also murdered and mutilated my slave to cover up any possible leads. What we did other did not know at the time was that Cotta had retained the young senator’s seal ring and secretly forged a letter he sealed with it before also secretly throwing it into the sewer near the corpse. This should become important later on.

At this junction, my guy bought off his Drive to regain his wealth and replaced it with a Drive to stop the Black Pharaoh to gain dominion over the empire. This was questioned by the other players as opportunistic, so we talked some more about SAs, with the result that Veronika replaced Glauce’s Passion for Antonius with a Drive to break the Black Pharaoh’s hold over him, and Bernhard replaced centurio Macro’s Passion of loyalty to Antonius with a loyalty to Rome.

The session was closed with another discussion how to proceed. With senator Cotta oddly passive, it was decided that we would try to assassinate Cleopatra.

End of Session Three.

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Mon Aug 30, 2010 7:04 pm 
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Whoa! The plot thickens. I'm very much enjoying this! :D

But not knowing about Cotta's letter, you mean the characters, not the players, as players don't have secrets about their characters doings in this style of play?

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Wed Sep 01, 2010 6:29 am 
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higgins wrote:
But not knowing about Cotta's letter, you mean the characters, not the players, as players don't have secrets about their characters doings in this style of play?

No, I really mean the players not knowing it. When I refereed for this bunch, I stressed that everything should be played out openly, but Andreas, Cotta's player, did obviously feel that this was too sensitive stuff, and Alexander obliged him.

Session Four opened with the quick realization that assassinating Cleopatra would only be possible in plain sight, in the presence of Marcus Antonius. Poison seemed out due to the elaborate food-tasting of the Ptolemaic court, and a “private” attempt on Cleopatra’s life was impossible because of her own guards, who generally made her unapproachable and were only dismissed when Antonius’ guards took over – that is when Antonius was present.

As it looked like a suicidal mission, my guy sent away his children and his mistress Acte, back to the safety of Italy. Acte refused to leave Aper and would share his fate, the only powerful appearance she had in the course of the game.

While we waited for an occasion when centurio Macro would be in command of the guard on duty, we tried to recruit allies to our cause. Senator Cotta carefully fished around among the high-ranking other senators, to no immediate avail, but with the result of being made one of Antonius’ fleet admirals; this was again part of a double play by Andreas. Both Glauce and Macro were more successful in ferretting out people dissatisfied with Antonius, and brought them to my guy, who ably persuaded them to join our cause.

During this time we also had a tight spot when Antonius wanted to – apparently – casually know why my guy had sent away his children and let on that he knew that he had recently entertained a lot of guests. Aper could offer convincing reasons, but we were alarmed nonetheless. We would have to act soon.

Luckily, another banquet with Macro on guard duty was imminent. The plan was that centurio Macro would approach Antonius as with a report and run Cleopatra through. We other, including the guard officer and the haruspex newly recruited to our cause, would be placed strategically around the hall to prevent or at least delay any interference, should Macro need time for more than one blow to finish the queen off.

And so Macro’s blow fell. Antonius, lying next Cleopatra on the eating couch, was prevented from tackling Macro by senator Cotta, who threw himself down on Antonius, shouting “Protect the consul” and ostensibly shielding him with his own body. We others “accidentally” tripped people rushng to Cleopatra’s aid or merely got in their way.

By now, Cleopatra had received two lvl-5-stabs to her body – the only ill effects of which seemed to be that she was pissed off and had taken on a decidedly unhealthy coutenance, degenerate human-and-something-else-halfbreed-style à la Lovecraft. Desperate and shocked, Macro decided that he would try to decapitate the only demi-human queen, who was trying to get away from him.

To buy Macro more time, we others started to fight the would-be rescuers of Cleopatra in earnest. Cotta, on the other hand, followed Marcus Antonius’ order to get off him, allowed himself to be shoved to the ground and crawled to safety rather ignobly.

The short of the long is that we were all cut down, Macro by his general Marcus Antonius himself.

All, save Cotta, that is. The senator slunk away, raced to the harbour and boarded the fastest courier ship of the fleet, which he, as an admiral, had ordered to lie in waiting for him. In a kind of epilogue, we decided that Cotta made it to Rome and there gave Octavianus an account of what had transpired and handed him the letter he had forged and sealed with the deceased cultist-senator’s seal. This letter, supposedly written to Amrcus Antonius, in passing mentioned some of Antonius’ atrocious plans – fabricated by Cotta – for the Roman Empire once he and Cleopatra would rule in the Black Pharaoh’s name. We decided that Cotta’s account, backed up by the letter, was enough evidence to bring practically all as of yet undecided senators firmly in Octavianus camp and collapse Antonius’ political base in the senate. Cotta was not only reconciled with Octavianus, but also honoured by him, and would go on to make a great career under the future Augustus.

End of the campaign.

Not perfect, but I think that for a first-time-referee with only three previous sessions as player under his belt, Alexander has done great – as have the other players. Even though not done in quite my own gaming style, it was an enjoyable campaign, both for me and the other participants.

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Mon Sep 06, 2010 2:19 pm 
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Nicely tied in the historic events and all, plus Cleopatra ignoring level 5 wounds must have been creepy :) The ending was quite abrupt however. Is that usual in your style of play?

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Tue Sep 07, 2010 6:48 pm 
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higgins wrote:
The ending was quite abrupt however. Is that usual in your style of play?

Well, it wasn’t my usual group and not exactly my usual style of gaming. Alexander, the referee, had only partaken in a short three-session introductory campaign I had of course aimed to be resolved quickly, so maybe he was influenced by that.

That said I still do not consider the end overly abrupt, only slightly so. We are once again touching upon the difference in our style of gaming – you consider much of what I do “skipping”, while I consider it cutting right to the juicy parts.

Still, had I been the referee, I would probably have let on the info about Antony and Cleopatra sooner – let’s say two sessions instead of three for the characters to get the entire picture – and would have drawn out the characters acting upon this info – let’s say two sessions of this instead of one. I would have probably done this by making Antony and especially Cleopatra more active opponents and have them, directly or indirectly, threaten the characters; this would for instance have been an opportunity to play upon Marcus Valerius Aper’s love-Passion for Acte. What I would not have done – and this is probably where we differ most – is complicate the planning and preparation of the assassination attempt. I have often likened role-playing to adventure movies, and in adventure movies, as opposed to artsy movies, which I enjoy as well, I like to see things happen, not to see them being prepared.

Anyhow, and once again, I think that Alexander has done great for a first-time referee with so little actual gaming experience.

On a side note, the game was the “nerdiest” I have ever partaken in. Imagine playing in Middle-Earth with a bunch of freaks who have painstakingly studied Middle-Earth for many years and who have all taken the pains of actually learning Elvish, and you get a picture of this bunch of grad students of classics playing in the ancient world. Less complicated parts of character dialogue were frequently actually spoken in Latin… :ugeek:

With more practiced role-players and a different style of refereeing probably an Immersionist’s wet dream. :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: M. Valerius Aper, Roman Knight
PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:14 am 
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Grettir wrote:
On a side note, the game was the “nerdiest” I have ever partaken in. Imagine playing in Middle-Earth with a bunch of freaks who have painstakingly studied Middle-Earth for many years and who have all taken the pains of actually learning Elvish, and you get a picture of this bunch of grad students of classics playing in the ancient world. Less complicated parts of character dialogue were frequently actually spoken in Latin… :ugeek:
Haha, I indeed imagined all of it, except for the Latin speaking parts :shock:

Grettir wrote:
With more practiced role-players and a different style of refereeing probably an Immersionist’s wet dream. :lol:
Tough requirements though :)

And Alexander indeed seems to have done a splendid job for a first-time referee :)

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