As a fan of the RPG Fvlminata and alternate Roman history in general, I was quite excited to finally have the chance to review HinterWelt Enterprises' Roma Imperious (or RI, as it will appear through this review). This review will not be a compare and contrast of RI vs. Fvlminata, as both games are worthy enough in their own right and with their own separate styles. Rather, I'll be concentrating on Roma Imperious itself--and believe me, Bill Corrie's work in this book gives us plenty to concentrate on.
Weighing in at well over 300 pages, Roma Imperious gives the reader a well-presented look at a world in which Rome had not fallen but flourished seven centuries after the first of the Caesars. In this alternate world, magic has replaced Christianity in many forms; Constantine's victory over Maxentius with the help of druidic magic truly begins the infusion of magic into the Roman world. As far as the treatment of (no) Christianity in this setting, I'm a Christian and found no subject matter that could be considered offensive. (Come on, it's alternate history--that's what we're paying for).
This book also stands well on its own as resource book; customs, titles, and offices of Roma are exhaustively covered and ensure the player will feel no surfeit of authenticity in playing a Roman campaign. The geography of Roma and its neighbors is also extensive; each province is provided with plenty of background places, which makes play in provinces further from Rome (such as Dacia or Aegyptus) not only feasible, but simple. Roma's neighbors (and rivals), such as the Asiatic Jade Empire or the far northern reaches of the Skandians, are also detailed and available for play. Key characters are also introduced, ensuring the NPC slate isn't blank. In terms of scope, RI has one of the larger game settings I've seen, and it's too their credit they manage to fit as much detail in about such a far-flung and varied land. Indeed, the sheer amount of background information contained in RI compares quite favorably to that present in the voluminous Iron Kingdoms series from Privateer Press.
There are, of course, monsters and magic aplenty in this book, but it certainly wouldn't stop someone from running a Roman-flavored game of political intrigue or a detailed power struggle. No, indeed, for considering the epic scale of Roma, there is room for adventures ranging from exploration of a wild frontier to cloak & dagger city missions. The traditional trappings of Rome-- senators, emperors, and legions--are here, but mix with druidic magic and fantastic creatures to provide playability in more than just a singular type of campaign.
The entirety of Roma Imperious, especially when presenting historical and cultural matters, is well-written with an eye towards lucidity and presentation. The history & backstory of RI should be just as popular and accessible with the antiquity crowd as well as folks who simply enjoy a good yarn.
HinterWelt games use the (evolving Iridium) system. As is a main HinterWelt tenet, setting & system are separated in this book. This makes Roma Imperious the sort of book you can buy for setting even if you are married to d20, Savage Worlds, or any dozens of other systems. However, the Iridium system is still within, and though it isn't my favorite system, it is perfectly serviceable. A further intro to Iridium itself may be found here.
Earlier reviews point to some issues with untrained skill checks, and this is certainly a valid point. Since untrained skill checks default directly to your attributes (which generally scale up to 20), even easy tasks can sometimes see no more than a 15% chance of success. Houserule? You betcha.
Combat is a little lengthy, but once you have the gist of it it actually flows quite nicely. Combat is basically a roll vs. your target's defense, then a chance to parry, then a targeted area roll, followed finally by a damage roll. A little lengthy? Yes, but it provides solid, fairly realistic combat results.
The characters available in this game range from what you'd expect, but there really are quite a few gameplay options. There are, of course, straight-up Warriors, Bards, Mages, and the like, but there are also intriguing classes such as Praetorian Guards (sort of a fighter-thief), Augurs, and my personal favorite, the Artificer, which can only be described as sort of an alchemical mystic blacksmith. as with all HinterWelt games, on online character generator is available, complete with login/password capability for storing/retrieving characters.
Another chapter gives ready-to-go templates of the character classes, each with a pretty good backstory. This was one of my favorite features of the book, and coupled with the pre-made adventure in the back of RI, it could cut down on the prep time needed for someone new to the game.
I've decided to go with an RPGnet-esque ratings system for this one, as I'd like to address each area separately:
You won't find many RPGs with a better written history than Roma Imperious. The story and sheer amount of consideration for detail in this first part of RI are alone worth buying. RI is at home playing role role of campaign setting, resource book, or whole RPG with equal ease. The Iridium system suffers from a few minor mathematical errors in the examples, and the skills system can be a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.
In both layout and art, Roma Imperious is about as good as a black & white product can get. The art is evocative of the setting but does not intrude, the maps are an alternate history buff's dream, and the writing style manages to be riveting while maintaining clarity and remaining informative. To be honest, in most aspects, RI is just amazingly well-done.
In closing, the amount of care and detail HinterWelt is putting into its products couldn't be more evident than it is in Roma Imperious. Online and customer support is excellent. Roma Imperious is the sort of game gamers can feel good about buying, and HinterWelt the type of fan-oriented company one can feel good about supporting. As far as Roma Imperious itself, it remains a great setting, a great resource book, and a great game.