Best known to ICE fans as the creator of Rolemaster Rome, Arion Games is also the publisher of quality paper miniatures, role play gaming accessories and the Maelstrom RPG.
When ICE asked me to put together a short article for the website, I thought long and hard about the focus of said article. I could of course have simply written a page about how good Rolemaster Rome is (!) or how much I love Rolemaster and High Adventure Role Playing (HARP). Eventually I decided to do all of these things, and talk a bit about my roleplay gaming background, and how that led to ICE and Rolemaster Rome.
I started role play gaming way back in 1982, with Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and Red Box D&D, before progressing onto AD&D. This seemed to be our staple tabletop roleplaying game for quite some time, although our group did dabble with many other RPGs. One of these was the purple boxed-set of Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP). Purchased from my local FLGS, this game seemed to be a world apart from any other game I had. The cardboard fold-up miniatures were superb, the 20-sided D10’s have remained the only dice I will use when playing an RPG and the rulebook was…..arcane. The art was evocative, the layout disorganised and the rules almost incomprehensible, taking us about a year to work out! Despite the slow start, we had a huge amount of fun with MERP, and then in 1989 we added a new player to our gaming group, who introduced us to Rolemaster.
That first Rolemaster adventure is still imprinted on my memory. I created a common man Bounty Hunter, who with my youthful enthusiasm charged at an Ogre guarding a bridge, only to find out none of my companions were as keen as me! One of the other characters came to a sticky end when he jumped down a slide into the basement of a deserted house, only to roll down and break his neck. We played weekly for some time as part of an ongoing campaign, but never seemed to pass level 5.
Rolemaster very quickly banished AD&D and other RPGs to boxes in my parents garage, and we usually played twice a week, across a whole range of small campaigns. One however lasted more than 10 years, starting when we were still at school, encompassing years of university and even jobs. When the group moved all around the country (and even abroad), we continued to meet 4 times a year and would play for 30 hours straight. Eventually coming to an epic and apocalyptic end, this still stands as the highlight of my gaming life.
Fast forward some years, with Rolemaster as our primary (if infrequent) role playing game, and I started Arion Games. Initially producing paper miniature sets, I then branched out into actual RPG’s by taking on the Maelstrom RPG license and producing new material for this and other games. As my business and confidence grew, I decided to approach ICE about the possibility of writing a Rolemaster book, without much initial hope. Tying together my love of Rolemaster and history, I proposed a Roman setting for my favourite RPG, and was overjoyed when the proposal was accepted!
I decided to go for a fairly alt-historical setting, where any magical or supernatural elements were based on beliefs at the time, meaning that the game in play would feel “Roman”. I think that the feel of the game is far more important than absolute historical accuracy, and to this end tried to weave Roman concepts into workable rules, such as patronage and Dignitas. I put in Training Packages, a concept taken from RMSS/FRP as they allow an almost “lifepath” character creation. During playtests, this was demonstrated when one of my players created a character born a Patrician, sold into slavery at a young age, becoming a galley slave, being sold as a Gladiator before recovering his family fortune and entering the Legions as an Officer. The training packages are also not exclusively combat orientated, featuring slaves, craftsmen, petty thieves and professionals. Roman society was very much based around what you were, not what you do, if that makes any sense!
I also adapted the existing Rolemaster weapons and armour to provide their Roman counterparts, added some Roman skills, races, magical traditions and special abilities, and a huge chunk of setting information. In homage to earlier Rolemaster material, I also added a settlement creation system and some rules for running a business! In play, these changes really give the game a Roman feel.
Our plans for Rolemaster Rome are to publish a series of setting companions, effectively covering the rest of the Roman world. The first of these will be the Egyptian companion, covering the eastern half of North Africa, and the Northen companion, covering Gaul, Germania and Brittania. These will have rules and setting information to allow the campaign to travel into those areas and experience the wonders of ancient world tourism!
I feel that I have a lot more Rolemaster material in me yet, and with Rolemaster in the safe hands of Iron Crown Enterprises, the future is looking good for this Classic(al) RPG.