The Legions Have Left You
The Emporers Forgotten You
The Barbarians Surrounded You
Can You Keep Civilization Alive?

A Primeval Press Game
by Jasper L. McChesney

Playtest Rules 2.e


In the early fifth century, the legions of Rome withdrew from the province of Britain to defend the heart of the Empire from invasion, leaving behind only a skeleton garrison. The situation was said to be temporary. Beset by Saxon raiders, the people of Britain sent envoys to request legions for their protection. In 410 AD, Empower Honorius made his final reply to the citizens of Britain, and instructed them to provide for their own defense. You are among those citizens. And now, against the darkness that is uncouth barbarity, you are alone.

ABSQVE ROMA, or Without Rome, is a game about saving civilization. It is about community, values, and drive. Set at the fringes of the Roman Empire during its slow demise, it deals with the attempts of loyal Romans who must provide for themselves, or lose everything. In this, it is historically inspired, but need not be strictly accurate. It is the themes of play that matter most.

ABSQVE ROMA has rules that focus on these themes, on character goals and values, and on shared player power—power to craft a compelling tale, and to explore the world presented.

About These Rules

This version of the rules (2.e) is a public playtest release. It is incomplete and most of the mechanics are explained in a minimal way. Examples appear in italics, and informal notes to playtesters are included in .

If you have comments about the game, please send e-mail to .

You may save and print this document for the purposes of evaluating and playtesting it within a small group. You may not run demos at a public venue (including a store or a convention) without express permission. You may not modify its contents or redistribute it online or in print. All rights reserved, Jasper L. McChesney, 2004.

What's New in This Version

The following sections have been revised since the previous release (2.d):

Additionally, an extensive running example has been added throughout section II. Characters.

I. Player Powers

All the players in ABSQVE ROMA are responsible for a positive play experience for everyone else.  This means coming up with interesting ideas, playing characters well, and doing a number of other jobs. It also means playing in a way that meshes with what the other players expect from the game (in a general sense: it certainly doesn’t imply predictability).

Each player has certain powers, or jobs.  It is both his privilege and his responsibility to use them and use them well.  None of these jobs are autocratic positions, and using one is somewhat like being a chairman at a meeting: it requires gauging the opinion of everyone present, finding a compromise if necessary, and announcing a final decision.  It will, however, often fall to the player to exercise a power more or less by himself using his own best judgment and creativity.

Every player has the power of proposition, which is to suggest things to the group.  Whoever has the relevant power will enact the idea if there is assent to it.  Every player also has the power of transference, by which he can lend any one of his powers to another player.  Beyond these universal powers there are several types of player, each having its own powers and responsibilities.

The Game Master

There is one Game Master.  He has three main jobs, which will be fairly familiar.  The first is to have an idea of the back-story and to come up with interesting challenges for the group.  This does not mean that he is the exclusive creator of challenge, or that he must (or should) keep all knowledge of the back-story secret from the other players.  Rather, he is there as a basic source of ideas, particularly in case the players find themselves at a creative loss.

The GM’s second job is to frame scenes.  This means deciding when the current scene should end, what the next scene should be, and then describing it.

His third main job is to control most the characters of the world: in fact any character not controlled by another player falls automatically to  him.

Additionally he ensures that everyone else knows what jobs they have, and he gives out Vis (see below).

The Other Players

The other players also have specific powers.  Everyone controls one main character who they will play much of the time.  They also will each have several minor characters who are played occasionally, and are probably related to the main character in some way.  These characters are always controlled by this player if they are in the current scene (unless he transfers the ability to play them to someone else).

Besides this, players will often be making propositions for various things, notably the introduction of background facts a characters in order to create new challenge.  Players can also spend Vis to temporarily take over several of the GM’s powers, which he does not normally transfer (see below).

The Red & Blue Stones

One player at a time holds the Blue Stone.  This player defines tasks.  He sets the difficulty scale, and QQC (see task definition). He also determines what values and skills are applicable if any.

Another player gets the Red Stone.  This player determines the results of tasks, describing the immediate effects of their conclusion.  He also gives out Animus and Romanitas to characters for important value-related decisions and for the completion of Commitments.

At the beginning of each session the red and blue stones are randomly given out.  They cycle clockwise at the beginning of each scene. (Alternately, the group could choose some other time, as it sees fit.) A player can spend one Vis to immediately acquire either of the stones, or if he already has one, switch the stones.  He can also spend one point to immediately cycle the stones clockwise.

Players cannot make decisions about a task if their own characters are directly involved. If the character belonging to a character with one of the stones needs to undertake some action, the player must pass the power of the stone to another player; generally whoever is sitting to his left (as long as there is some regular order). Players who already have stones should be passed over in this transference of power. If there are no available players whose characters are not involved in the task and who do not have stones, the power devolves to the GM.

Games with a small number of players (three or fewer) should not use the normal stone rotation rules. At the group’s choice, either one or both stones need to always be held by the GM, or the GM should be included in the rotation so that he always has one of the two stones.

The Green Stone

One option that the players have is to dispense with a permanent GM entirely.  In this case, a third stone – the white stone – is introduced into the game.  It is cycled much like the other stones.  Whoever holds it assumes the regular GM powers of scene-framing and character creation and distribution mid-game.  All the players must share equally the duty of coming up with a unified back-story.  They may do this individually, and then attempt to interweave their different ideas, or brainstorm over it outside the game.

Yet another variation is to play “non-rotating green,” which means that the green stone is still used to replace the GM, but it is taken out of the mid-game rotations that the red and blue stones go through: instead it stays with one player for the course of a given play session.  Under this scheme, all players still share some responsibility for back-story (potentially a lot), but the green-stone player for each game takes the job on one session at a time. The green-stone’s character is then either set aside with some convenient in-game excuse or taken up and played by the other players for the course of the session.


Vis is a “meta-resource” held by players, having nothing to do with characters.  It is awarded by the GM with strong input from the whole group.  It is given for playing a character well, proposing a good idea, or using some other power in an exciting or interesting way (basically a catch-all reward).  Usually one point is given at a time, though more can be awarded for really amazing play.  It should generally be awarded on the spot, immediately after a player does something worthy.

Besides being used to shift around the stones (as described above), Vis can also be spent to acquire several of the GM’s normal powers.  Specifically: scene framing, the introduction of background facts, and the creation of characters.  By spending one point of Vis, a player can frame the next scene in basic outline, or he can describe an already proposed one.  If he spends two he can do both.  A single point can also be spent to alter the world through introduction of a fact, or to create a new character in the current scene.  If a new character is created,  the player then has control over it: he can keep it or give it to another player including the GM.  There is no particular limit to the impact these Vis-based changes have on the game, and the players should feel no less constrained than the GM (of course, both are constrained though by what the other players think is appropriate).

It is recommended to keep track of Vis with some small chit or stone, like Go pieces or even pennies.

II. Characters

Every player in ABSQVE ROMA controls more than one character.  Everyone but the GM has one main character and several minor characters.  They may also temporarily acquire other characters to play as the GM hands them off.  The group may also hold some minor characters in a more or less collective pool, which are controlled occasionally by everyone.

I’d recommend one to three minor characters per player, fewer with a group pool.  These should probably be other people within the Civitas (the main characters’ community). Family or co-workers work well, since they’re tied to the main characters and thus to whatever big events are going on, but it’s also sometimes nice to get a change of pace by playing someone totally different (like in the Babylon 5 episode where instead of following the main characters, all we see are some dock workers and other ordinary people living on the station).

Within this section, we’ll follow the example of Brian, Hank, and Liz, who are in the process of creating their characters. They have decided to each have one character who they will nominally control, plus two other characters who will frequently be controlled by the person who made them, but not always.

Basic Character Concept

To begin making a character, you should think up a basic concept of who you would like him to be. Think in terms of what would be interesting to play while keeping in mind the need for strong motivations, and what plac the character will have in the civitas. Particlarly if the civitas is being founded as play begins, discuss what connections the group’s characters have with one another.

Most characters will probably be of predominantly Roman background, but what this means depends on when the game takes place (see section III). Many characters will also have military backgrounds, though thy may also have developed trade skills as well, perhaps after retiring from active service (wherever that might have been). Of course, characters who are from foreign lands, or who are of a more Celtic bent are also possible, partcularly for minor characters.

While most characters should be firmly committeed to the civitas, it’s also possible to throw in a black sheep or two–who’s place there is mostly self-serving, or who might even have ill thoughts towards it. Such a player can be controlled normally, or could be left to the GM after being jointly created, as the group sees fit.

The group has discussed their basic character concepts. Brian is to have a retired Legionary originally from Britain—where the game will take place—who has now returned to make a life for himself. He is followed by Hank’s character, who is a soldier from Dalmatia; his own home town ruined by plague, he accepted his friend’s offer to help him start a farm. Finally, Liz will play the wife of Brian’s old friend and commander, now dead. Born of noble stock, she now controls a large amount of land and wealth in Britain. It is Liz’s character who forms the initial idea of creating a civitas, and who’s financial backing will make it possible.

Animus and Romanitas

Animus and Romanitas are aspects of a character that describe his basic inner drive and sense of purpose; his confidence; and his will. In theory all of a character’s actions stem from his Animus and his Romanitas.

Romanitas is translated as the Roman way of life, and to have it is to be Roman. In ABSQVE ROMA, Romanitas describes how grounded a character is in the ideals and beliefs of Roman civilization. A character with Romanitas will see himself as Roman; as civilized. A character with no Romanitas is either unfamiliar with Roman ways (is a barbarian) or allows himself to be guided by other forces... Romanitas is particularly focused on the values of the character’s immediate community, his civitas. The civitas is discussed more in later sections.

Animus accounts for the remainder of a character’s drive and sense of self. It is based on ideals and beliefs that are not central to the character’s civitas. These may still have their origins in larger Roman civilization, but they may also be pagan, or entirely personal. The key factor is that Animus is personal, while Romanitas relates the character to his community.

The dividing line between what is Romanitas and what is Animus depends entirely on the character’s civitas. At the beginning of play, when the civitas is created, key values for it are created. All the key characters then have at least some of the civitas’s values as their own, thus forming the basis for their Romanitas.

Animus and Romanitas are both numerical ratings. Each represents roughly how much R or A a character has. They go up when the character accomplishes something which would increase his sense of self in some way. Romanitas goes up when a character does something that supports his Roman ideals. Animus goes up when he does something to fulfill an emotion or compulsion. Both can both then be spent to support other actions that a character attempts, and do many other things besides. Everything that a character does ultimately rests on “Animus et Romanitas,” or AeR. A character with no drive, no sense of self, no will, cannot accomplish very much.

AeR’s first potential use is in creating characters. Like in many other games, points are traded for abilities, representing the time and effort the character has put into becoming good at something. Mostly this gives players some rough idea of how experienced their character might be relative to everyone else in the world, and particularly to the other main characters. The costs for each character aspect are listed in each relevant section.

Point-based character creation is optional however. Even if it is used, nothing says that every character need be made from the same amount of AeR. Some people are just cut from better stuff. After character creation, AeR can be used during the game to modify the different aspects of a character, including giving him greater abilities and new Values. The various uses of AeR are discussed later in a section devoted exclusively to AeR.

Especially for your first time playing the game, you may want to keep track of AeR in character creation at least to see how things work, even if you don’t give out a specific amount to use.  120 points total might be a reasonable starting point for a main character (these can be used for either A or R).  You can give the same for secondaries, or less—maybe 60 to 100.


Skills define abilities a characters has; things he is good at.  In a formally defined task, characters get as many dice as their most relevant skill.  Five points of AeR can be used to buy or increase a skill one level.  Generally, most skills can be purchased with Animus or Romanitas.  Depending on your game, the character’s background, and how the character views the skill, it might only be appropriate to use one or the other.  Typical skill levels are as follows: 

Skill Training   Skill Heritage
1-2 Basic 0 Normal
3-4 Professional +1 Gifted
5-6 Highly Trained +2 Highly Gifted

The skills are as follows:

There are also innumerable trade skills. A few common examples are: Boat-Building, Carpentry, Cooking, Masonry, Painting, Smithing, Weaving. Add whatever others you feel are necessary.

Hank is making his character Aetius, a recently retired auxilliary soldier in the Legions. His main skills thus have to do with soldiering: Combat 4, Command 3, Tactics 4, Riding 2, and Survival 2. Having grown up on a farm himself, he also has Agriculture 1. He’s somewhat one sided, but that will be a challenge.


Values describe strong motivating factors that give impetus to a character’s actions. They are based on, and simultaneously fuel, Animus and Romanitas. But whereas AeR are numeric ratings, Values describe specific ideas and emotions. They may generally be divided into several broad categories for convenience: virtues, passions, beliefs (including ideas of fate), and compulsions. Virtues are beliefs about what is morally right and appropriate. Passions are any strong emotion –and not necessarily love. Beliefs are other thoughts a character has about the way things are, or the way things must be, e.g. the idea that one is fated for a bad end. Finally, compulsions are strong tendancies that a character has, and which often may seem irresistable.

Thus values do not need to be beneficial to a character when acted upon; in fact they could be ultimately destructive. This will serve to enrich a character though, and will still in fact make him more potent in whatever he chooses to do (at least until the destructive Value gets out of control).

Each value must belong either to Animus or Romanitas, so that it is either a Roman Value, or a Personal Value. While personal values are created individually, Roman values are made during the process of making the civitas, and in ocnjuncture with the other players. Every civitas has certain virtues that describe what it values. Each character may then select from among those virtues when making his own Roman values: he cannot have a Roman value that is not also a virtue of the civitas. Since there are only a handful of virtues, characters will tend to share many of their roman values.

Values come in varying intensities, and so are rated numerically. A character can have no more than fifteen total levels in values. To gain or raise a value, it takes four AeR per level.

On any relevant task, a value can be used to give a bonus, and for various other purposes. Consult the section devoted to values.

Hank, Brian and Liz have decided that the Civitas is going to be created during play, so their characters only have Personal Values at this point. Hank gives Aetius “fulfill all promises” at level 1, “loyalty” level 2, “love of the Celt Briana” level 2 and “enjoys stout spirits” level 2—a temptation Aetius has never been able to avoid.

III. The Civitas

The Civitas (town or society) is wherever the main characters call home: it is their bastion of civilization amidst a world strife. It can be some sort of complex that is literally secluded from the regular world, or it can merely differ from those around it in temperament. A physical Civitas might be a town, a collection of villas, a newly established complex or farmstead, a Celtic hill-fort, or a colonii of settled Roman soldiers.

Depending on what is desired, the civitas may already exist when play begins, or may be in the process of being created. There are roughly four situations possible. The players should choose one for their game:

If the civitas has been foudned already, then it will need to be created by the players before play begins. Otherwise it can be defined as things move along.

As we said earlier, Liz, Brian and Hank decided that their Civitas will not yet be founded when play begins, though their characters have discussed it in very vague ways and Liz's character has been mobilizing her capital.

Civitates (pl. of Civitas) have several attributes to describe them, many of which mirror character attributes.


Virtues name what the people in the Civitas care about and how virtuous they are by their own standards. Each Civitas has its own virtues, though only the six most important ones are kept track of via the rules. Often they comprise accepted Roman virtues, but they may be newly created or adopted virtues as well.

A Civitas should select what six most virtues are most important to it. These are then tracked numerically as time goes on.

Civitas virtues mirror the Roman values of characters. Every character who has Roman values (and it would be a rare exception not to) must select his from among his civitas’s virtues. Thus, by choosing virtues, a group is also choosing what its own characters may feel is most important. Since there are only six virtues, the main charactes will always have some Roman values shared in common.

If a virtue ever reaches zero it has been wholly abandoned by the community. Characters with that virtue as a value must change it from a Roman one to a Personal one. The civitas must then gain some other virtue, derived from its circumstances. If it lost the virtue because of a growing Celtic influence, perhaps it should gain a Celtic-inspired virtue. If it is simply slipping into moral degenracy and decay, it may gain a “virtue” like “ambition” or “greed.”

Virtue & Character Actions

The virtues of the Civitas are absolutely central to play, because they represent the Romanness of the characters’ home, and thereby civilization. Should its virtues reach zero, then civilization is over. Virtues will rise and fall as the game goes on. They will fall for a variety of factors: both from specific events that harm the Civitas, and as a result of the general recession of civilization around it (see section XI). Virtues can be raised up by specific character actions that bolster the community, both in terms of its identity and its actual ability to survive. Of course character actions can have a negative impact on Civitas virtues as well.

The leaders of the civitas have suddenly grown worried. Brian’s character Dexion, havnig just returned from a long journey, sees an increasing moral laxity on the part of its citizens, with petty crimes taking place, and a general lack of order. Taking matters into his own hands, he sacrifices what free time he has to personally check in with all the citizens, house by house, and has his best man look into every robbery that has taken place. When several theives are eventually caught and ejected, everyone seems more at ease, at the Civitas’s “orderly” virtue goes up.

The most significant changes to the virtues that come about due to character action are simply handled logically, like any other task or series of tasks: if moral is flagging due to recent military losses, the characters may need to score a victory. However, the characters in Absve Roma are generally major figures in the Civitas, and even if not, they may be able to promote Roman virtue just by way of example. Or, conversely, they may do the reverse.

If a character accomplishes some truly significant and noteworthy task, which supports the virtues of the Civitas, the relevant virtue will be raised by one point. The action must also be widely known of within the Civitas that it might inspire the people. Accordingly, the actual accomplishment need not be alter the future course of the Civitas, but it must still be uncommon and have a strong basis in the virtue. If it is showy and grandiose, so much the better. In fact, the action need not necessarily be successful: a noble sacrifice can have exactly the same effect.

Conversely, a character who accomplishes some noteworthy and high-profile action in support not of his Roman values but his Personal values, risks decreasing the Civitas’ virtues. This does not necessarily indicate a direct correlation, whereby the people are disheartened or disillusioned because of the character; but the character’s actions become indicative of a general trend in the same direction: away from Romanitas, towards Animus. Actions that support personal desires, in particular at the expense of other obligations, warrant a one point reduction in the most closely opposing virtue the Civitas has (if there really isn’t one, choose any virtue).

In the cases of both increasing and decreasing virtues through action, it is the player with the blue stone that makes the decisions.

Hank’s character Aetius is riding out to meet a local group of Celts who have been reasserting themselves now that the Legions have gone. While treating with their king in the woods, Aetius is insulted by a brash warrior. Knowing that his mission is more important, he deals with the warrior as best he can withotu inciting violence. On his return home, everyone commends him on a successful deal, and his soldiers relay how he behaved. The civitas’s virtue “duty” is raised by one.


Like characters, the Civitas has Wealth but it also has various other ratings, called Subsidii that describe how self-sufficient it is and what it’s capable of doing.   Different groups may wish to emphasize different kinds of resources, but there are a few basic ones that are always important:

All of the above can be split into numerous sub-categories, and some probably should be for added detail.  I’m sure there are other things I haven’t thought of yet as well: this part of the game is most seriously in development.

The Civitas’s Subsidii really come into play when a character needs to accomplish something within the Civitas itself: either something small for himself (when he has no access to the outside world) or some larger project that involves a lot of resources

Aetius feels that his soldiers need better weapons. He talks with Dexion and Liz’s character Justina, and they agree that although their supply of iron is not great, it’s worth using. Their “iron” subsidii is thus reduced from 5 to 3.

IV. Tasks

Defining Tasks

A task is anything a character wants to do but might not be able to.  Tasks are defined in terms of the following items, which need not be stated explicitly but should be generally known.  The player with the blue stone defines all aspects of tasks:

Marcus is traveling through a rough part of England making his way to Londinium.  The journey is perilous, and Marcus needs to get to the city quickly.  (This is a fairly large scale task, with an emphasis on quality and timeliness.)  If he fails, he may become lost, not reach the city in time, or even fall prey to the elements.  The difficulty will be 2 plus 2 dice.

Quinta is trying to negotiate a good deal on some supplies with a merchant.  If she fails, the colony will have to go without some critical items, and her role as a useful member of it will seem less solid.  (This is a small to moderate scale task, with efficiency based stakes.)

Resolving Tasks

In every task, one skill is chosen for use. This is whatever skill is most relevant and what the character will be relying on. Many of the skills overlap in what they deal with: if more than one is relevant, choose the higher of the two and add 1 or 2 to it (decded by the player with the red stone). Occasionally more than one skill can be used if they cover different areas that are both highly relevant, in which case they are simply added together.

Deciding what skill to use when more than one seems relevant can be resolved with the idea of a requisite skill that is logically necessary for the task, though its specific level is more or less irrelevant.  For instance, when a blacksmith tries to teach blacksmithing, whether his blacksmithing skill is a 4 or a 5 doesn’t much matter: his teaching skill does.

To determine the outcome of the task dice are rolled. This roll accounts for the unknown factors that may affect the task and variable performance on the part of the character.

To succeed at a task a character needs to have “successes.” A success represents one positive unit of effort and result on the haracter’s part (and other factors that went in his favor). It is calculated via a die roll: the character’s player takes up a number of six sided dice equal to the character’s skill and rolls them. High rolls are preferable: every die that comes up as a 3 or 4 is counted as one success. Any that come up as a 5 or 6 coutns as two successes.

For example, if we have a skill of 5 in a task, we roll 5 dice. Let’s say we roll 1,3,6,2,4. The 3 and the 4 are counted once each for 2 successes. The 6 counts as tow successes, for a total of 4 successes.

The character is victorious in the task if the number of successes equals or exceeds the task’s difficulty. The “margin of success” is the difference between the two. If the margin was a 0 or 1, it is a normal success; if a 2 or higher, the character does better than he had hoped for and a more positive narration is warranted. “Margins of failure” work in the same way, with 1-2 being a minor failure and 3 or more being a serious one.

The difficulty of a task is determined by the player with the red stone (as per the scenario outlined by the GM and the general sentiments of the group). Often difficulties are static numbers, but sometimes they are unknown, and a character/player will not know exactly what the chance of success or failure is. In these cases, the red-stone-player rolls dice as above to add randomly to a base difficulty. How many dice he rolls depends on how unpredictable or unknown the difficulty of the task is.

AeR in Tasks

Players can choose to spend AeR to improve their characters’ chance of victory in a task by providing additional successes. These successes are bought for a flat rate depending on the scale of the task: one AeR buys the following number of successes:

Scale Bonus
Minute 6
Small 4
Medium 2
Large 1
Very Large 1/2

(Very large tasks require 2 AeR to be spent in order to get one extra point put towards the total result.) The use of AeR in a task must be declared before the final roll, but can be made after the difficulty is announced by the player with the blue stone. The binus that can be provided by AeR on a single task is the level of the skill being used, plus all relevant values.

Marcus is a carpenter and needs to build a new grain storehouse before the coming winter. He’s using his carpentry skill of 5 to make something solid and water-proof. The difficulty is 8 though, and he needs to succeed badly: he decides to spend 3 Romanitas. It is a large scale task. He rolls: 2, 3, 5, 1, 6. Five successes. He adds the three additional successes he bouht, he ha sa total of 8. He just barely succeeds!

Neither Animus nor Romanitas can be spent on just any task: both have their own role in a character’s actions. Romanitas can only be spent towards things that are generally associated with civilization: with the character’s Roman Values, with the Civitas, with helping other Romanized peoples, or with Roman ideals and civilization in general. The use of Animus is similarly, though much more loosely, constrained: it should be spent to on tasks that relate to a character’s individual goals, especially his Animus-related Values, and life-or-death situations.

There is always some overlap between what tasks are covered by Romanitas versus Animus, and some tasks will relate to both. There is much more leeway available when spendign Animus however, for anything of immediate imotional importance to a character naturally relates to his Animus. However, when spending either on a task that is only partly related to it, the cap on the maximum bonus provided is reduced to one-half the relevant skill’s level – values not related to whichever kind of point is being spent do not increase this. This cap may “waste” some portion of the regular bonus that a character is supposed to get from spending Animus at a given scale.

Marcus sees that one of the grain barns has been set on fire! He needs to find help in putting it out, and fast. Unfortunately, he’s flat out of Romantias to spend, which would be a natural choice since he’s defending a resource of the Civitas. He does have 5 Animus though. He’s using his Command skill to organize a bucket brigade – it’s at level 2, so this restricts his Animus bonus to +1 success.

Victory and Defeat

After the roll is made, it falls upon the character with the red die to narrate the results of a task.  He should describe exactly what the character did and what happened.  This is especially necessary if the scale was large and most of the details were thereby left undefined initially.  The consequences of the task should also be described based on the stakes of the task and the QQC. 

Stakes often do not need to be spelled out by the blue stone player, only to be taken up word-for-word by the red stone player: usually the latter is the only one who needs to think about them in very definite terms.

In his narration of consequences, the player with the red stone has some flexibility in how much he wants to do.  Potentially he can describe a lot, or he can leave the more far reaching consequences for the GM.  Of course, he can also hand the power off to anyone he cares to nominate (including the GM and the player whose character was involved in the task).

Andre holds the red stone, and describes the construction of the storehouse: “Marcus has a hard time gathering together enough high quality wood.  Construction is very slow at first, and everyone worries that the foundation won’t be finished in time.  Marcus wakes up at dawn every day to go to the site though, and is hardly seen otherwise.  But day by day, the building steadily rises, and before anyone fully realizes it, it’s nearly done.”

A player who provide a really good narration should be awarded a point of Vis by the GM.


If two characters are matching their skills, there need not be an intrinsic difficulty to the task. Rather, each rolls his dice and their respective successes are compared: whoever has more wins.

Brutus is fighting a Celtic warrior. He uses his combat skill of 4; the warrior does the same. He rolls and gets 3, 1, 5, 2 for a total of 6. The warrior rolls and ends up with an 7, winning the fight....

An intrinsic difficulty makes the task harder for both parties in a matched-skill task by reducing their margins of success, making a mutual loss possible.

In most cases of character-character competition, both characters will be using the same skill.  However, not all characters have the same skills: if the character with no highly relevant skill has a related one, he can roll one or two dice.  Otherwise he must spend AeR to get dice or automatically fails.


A Danger rating means that a character may become injured even if he wins a task: if the task has a danger rating of 0 or more, subtract the danger from the margin of success: the character is injured by this amount.

Conversely, if a character fails, he will also become injured if the safety rating isn’t sufficiently high: subtract the safety rating from the margin of failure to again find the amount by which the character is injured.

Every injury a character gets is initially untreated.  Untreated injuries will get worse: if a character has more than three, then he gains a new injury roughly every six hours (perhaps more with strenuous activity and serious injuries).  A character’s current injuries can be treated with a medicine task, with difficulty equal to the total untreated injuries (or each one can be treated individually).  Once an injury is treated, a letter “T” is written next to it on the character sheet.

A character’s injuries (both treated and untreated) negatively impact his performance of tasks.  Whenever the character performs some action that an injury might logically impact (like running with a broken rib), the difficulty is raised by the injury’s level.  Also, for every three total levels of injury a character suffers from, he gains one level of pain: pain also causes a loss of successes, but does so for every task regardless of its nature.

Injuries heal slowly over time: one total level per week.  If a character has three or fewer injuries in total, these heal as long as there is basic medical aid.  If there is none, the character can instead spend one AeR per level to heal (still at the rate of one a week though).  More severe injuries, greater than three in total, require both medical aid and the spending of one AeR per level to heal.  If there is no medical aid (or the doctor fails at the task), the character can spend three AeR per level.

If a character finds himself injured with no AeR to spend, he can make up the difference by receiving a permanent niggling injury that cripples him in some way, like a bad leg.  This is done by reducing a skill or value.  Every point it is reduced by, the character gains one Animus (not Romanitas).

If a character ever has nine or more injuries he is rendered unconscious.  However, he can spend a point of Romanitas or Animus to remain conscious for a day at a time.

Obviously, it’s better to buy off an injury rather than just staying conscious, but if you only have a little AeR and are far from medical aid, it can be the only way.

Most of the specific values in the injury rules are very much up in the air, for instance the cut-off point of 3 total injuries, or the amount of AeR needed to heal.  If it doesn’t seem to be working, try choosing some values that seem more reasonable to you–it may depend on the style of game you want.

...Brutus loses to the Celtic warrior. His total of 6 compared to the warrior’s 7 makes it a narrow victory though. Brutus takes one injury: he decides it’s a small cut to the arm. He can shake it off in the next few days. Unfortunately, he’ll suffer a -1 in all tasks that involve that arm.

V. Values

Values describe ideas which give extra impetus to a character’s actions. They can be morals, passions, ideals, ideas of destiny, and so on. Values generally inform the players of a group about what a character cares about, his personality, and what kinds of actions he will take. There is no rule that forces a player to act in a particular way, even if some action might be interpreted as being supported by a value, but there are advantages to doing so when it is appropriate. Mechanically, values deal with consequences of actions.

Whenever a character accomplishes something that is in-line with one of his values, he is rewarded with Animus or Romanitas, depending on what kind of value it was: either a Roman value shared by the civitas, or a personal value. The type of event that merits AeR should not be trivial, but it does not have to be tremendous in its importance either. For example, it is expected that a character with pietas should normally behave respectfully towards his superiors, and so this garners no AeR. However, supporting those same superiors in their darkest hour, when everyone else questions them, would.

The amount of AeR that character gets for accomplishing something depends on the size of the accomplishment (specifically his contribution to it) and the intensity of his value. Generally a character should get anywhere from one-half to two times the level of the relevant value. (Remember that most values will be around level three.) Accomplishments that take a long time to bring about, which require resources, or which threaten the character in some way should reward more AeR than those that do not. Whoever has the red stone makes the final decision of how much is awarded.

Brutus has three values: protect Roman women and children (3), loyalty to commanding officers (1), and belief that the old gods exist and needs his help (2).  At one point, he is fighting back-to-the wall while a Roman maid servant cowers in fear of some thugs: in the fighting task that he rolls for, he gets 3 extra dice.  Later, he decides to leave the Roman army to instead preach in favor of the old gods.  The Andre awards him 5 Animus for this decision.

Since the main characters in the game are by nature devoted to the civitas and its survival, aiding it and its people naturally ranks very high on the list of important accomplishments a character could achieve. Generally, when the fulfillment of a Roman Value directly beenfits the civitas, award an additional amount of Romanitas equal to the value’s level.

Accomplishment Award
Minor 1/2 value
Significant value
Major 2x value
Some benefit to civitas + 1/2 value
Greatly benefits civitas + value

Modification of Values

Values can be modified during gameplay. They can be decreased or completely disolved at a player’s will, indicated that the character no longer believes in that value any more. If a decreased or disolved value was a roman value, the character gains four times it level (or the amount which it is decreased by) in Animus; if it is a personal value he gains Romanitas. Obviously then, players can also freely shift levels between a Roman and a personal value.

Although there are no circumstances when a player is absolutely made to lower one of a character’s value, it occasionally makes sense and might be suggested by other players. In particular, if there is a situation where by his inaction a character would significantly harm one of his values, and he does not even attempt any action, a value reduction may be called for.

A value can be increased by spending four AeR per level. Unlike with other expenditures of Aer though, each type has a different use: Romanitas must be spent to increase a Roman value, and Animus for a personal one.

Romanitas versus Animus

While Romanitas and Animus are in many ways equal but different, and may sometimes work towards the same results, they also oppose one another.  Animus is individualism, self-interest, and beliefs and goals that are not Roman.  Thus, it should often be the case that achieving something very notable on the Animus side of things will tend to create complications or outright problems concerning Romanitas.  This should not be brought about artificially, but it is a good theme to keep in mind.

Carralus has strong superstitions about local pagan deities.  Owing to some legends he heard, he decided to go to great lengths to erect a shrine and sacrifices to a particular spirit in order to rid the civitas of the horrible agricultural problems its been suffering. Doing so would give Carralus Animus.  However, if others in the civitas find out about, it may alienate them.

VI. Goals

Goals describe major plans of a character that he is significantly emotionally invested in.  They can be created at any time via the expenditure of AeR to reflect a character’s ambitions.  They must be created around non-trivial plans that will take some planning and effort to bring about – even if the character does not immediately know how he will bring it about.  For instance, “slaying this enemy” is too short-term for a goal.  Similarly, “have an exciting life” is too broad.  A goal must have an identifiable end-point, at which it could be judged whether the character has succeeded or not.  If it is entirely open-ended, it may indeed be important to the character, but it should not be an actual goal.

Goals are rated numerically based on how much AeR was spent to make them. If a goal is successfully accomplished, the character gets back twice the Animus or Romanitas he spent on the goal in the first place (200% return). The goal fails if the goal cannot be reached or the supported entity ceases to exist. In this case, the invested AeR is lost. The maximum size of any given goal is 20.

Level 10 goals are pretty normal.  5 or so is minimal, while a 20 should be a major part of the character’s life.

Marcus is working to construct a meeting chamber for the colony’s newly formed council.  This is a monumental event, and of great significance for everyone.  Marcus invests 10 Romanitas into the job.  Laboring for many months, he completes an amazing structure, more worthy than even he thought possible.  His goal completed, the goal dissolves and Marcus gains 20 Romanitas.

The important distinction between goals and values is that values recommend specific actions based on emotions that push a character towards those actions on a moment to moment basis.  Goals on the other hand do not say anything about means but merely ends.  They are long term; the “delayed reward” that a character makes himself work towards.

VII. Social Interaction

Whenever two people interact, the nature of their dialog depends on their natural reactions to one another, past history, and known stances on major issues.  The standing relationship between any two characters is kept track of numerically: a relationship rating describes what one character thinks of another, and influences how they will interact.

One character’s opinion of another begins with his values: if the other person shares similar values or acts in a way that supports the first character’s values, the first character’s relationship with him will increase.  Specifically it will go up by the level of whichever value is lower (his or that of whomever he is interacting with).  Other relevant personality traits the characters possess can also influence their reactions, generally by +1 for something fairly significant.

Relationships in Tasks

In any socially-oriented task where the quality of interaction between two people is in question, the relationships between those people modify the task’s difficulty.   If the characters like one another the difficulty is decreased in any task where mutual accord and understanding is required, while it is raised if they do not.  Conversely, in situations where discord is actually the aim (e.g. when intimidating someone), the modifications to difficulty are reversed.

The relationships ratings held by player-controlled characters are absolutely not hard and fast: they can be modified by the player as he thinks appropriate for the character; the calculated value does serve as a starting point and guideline though.

Quinta needs to arrange some discrete matters with a Roman officer’s wife, named Cucilla.  Cucilla has the value “loyalty to husband” level 3.  Since Quinta is asking Cucilla do go behind her husband’s back, this creates a -3 reaction.  Further, Cucilla is described as being very formal, while Quinta is straightforward and blunt, so Cucilla’s reaction to her goes down another -1 to -4.  Quinta’s reaction to Cucilla is not so important.  She rolls for a task to convince Cucilla: her roll is at a -4 penalty....

The spot on the character sheet for relationships should probably be used for what the other character thinks of the player’s character
not the other way around.

VIII. Wealth

Wealth describes the sum of a character’s material possessions and money: it equates with buying power and economic influence, and works similarly to skills in allowing a character to accomplish things. Characters have two Wealth ratings: one for moneys and holdings in the larger Roman world, outsie the Civitas, and another for access to goods and supplies within it; Roman Wealth and Civitas Wealth, respectively.

Both scores are numeric values, and describe what a character is able to do with his wealth—rather than literally how much wealth he has, which is some times a fine distinction. For both scores, the player should write a brief description of where the wealth originate (trading investments, villas, a government salary, and so on). The initial cost of wealth, in terms of AeR, depends on how far into the process of developping the civitas the characters are—nominally it will not yet be founded, or will be in the process of being founded, when the game begins:

Time Roman Civitas
Civitas not yet founded 3 NA
Being Founded 3 6
Recently Founded 4 5
Well Established 10 or NA 4

Like skills, Wealth can be used in tasks. The difficulty of purchasing something, or getting something done indirectly through wealth, is assigned a difficulty as usual, and a roll is made to see whether the character succeeds. If the task has to deal with the world outside the Civitas, then Roman wealth is generally used, though Civitas wealth may be as well—depending on the nature of the exchange—but usually with an increased dificulty or with protracted negotiations and the necessity of bartering with goods that must be transported. On the other hand, Roman wealth may be good for purchasing some things from people within the civitas, but for gaining access to whatever supplies its people hold in common, Civitas wealth is generally required.

Marcus needs to procure some heavy draft animals for the colony.  He’s in Colchester trying to find a buyer.  To see whether he has enough money, he rolls a task with his Wealth, level 6 (“access to colony finances”).  With difficulty 3, he easily purchases several teams of oxen.

Wealth can be spent permanently to succeed in some very important task: each point that is going to be spent lends five dice to that single task, after which it is lost forever.

Wealth also describes a character’s general standard of living and the common things he has access to. A total wealth of 1 indicates peasant status, while 2 to 3 would be typical for a freeman, who would have a small house and access to basic clothing, a few tools, and simple food. An aristocrat or important figure in the civitas may have much higher wealth scores, perhaps up to 20.

Exchanging Wealth

The two forms of wealth are not totally separate, but can in fact be inter-converted with some difficulty. Exhcanging Civitas wealth for Roman wealth is comparatively easier, and in real-world terms simply invovles selling goods from the civitas for Roman coin. Like any kind of task, this exchange can be handled on any kind of scale. However, as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to accomplish, as money becomes scarce (see The Decline of Wealth in section IX). Accordingly, the difficulty of such a task should rise steeply with time.

Converting Roman coin and other wealth to civitas wealth takes two forms. First, it can involve improvement to the civitas and its subsidii by purchasing things externally and bringing them into the civitas. Depending on how easily such a purchase can be made, increasnig subsidii is easy, and the correlation is generally 1 to 1. This does not necessarily raise the character’s individual Civitas wealth. However, if a person spends a gret deal of his money on the Civitas, he will often be respected for it, and his access to resources will increase, even if unofficially. If this is deemed appropriate, his Civitas wealth should go up by one for every three levels of Roman wealth he exchanges.

To simply raise one’s Civitas walth, without contibuting to the Civitas’s subsidii, is much more difficult, and depends wholly on individuals in the Civitas being willing to accept money or other goods. Even if they are, these goods will have to be transported. If a characte has a lot of Roman wealth, it will generally be tied up in land and other investments, and so cannot be transferred withotut a great deal of effort, and as the Roman economy collapses, it becomes entirely impossible.

IX. Civilization’s Decline

All civitates must face hard times as the structure of local Roman life disappears around it, allies become scarce, barbarian raiders and settlers close in, and ordinary problems become nigh-insurmountable. In fact, the central theme of ABSQVE ROMA is the maintenance of civilization in the midst of civilization’s otherwise universal decline. Thus, as time passes in the game world, threats to the characters and their civitas must mount steadily. There are several specific processes that bring this about. The rate at which they function will be addressed afterwards.

The Decline of Wealth

Unfortunately, monetary wealth is only good in the economic world of the Roman Empire and other sophisticated states. With the Empire’s slow withdrawal, regular economic routes close quickly. As things get worse, currency will devalue and fewer people will accept money as payment. Far away business connections will be severed, and trade ventures will fail. On all accounts, the effective wealth of a character will slowly decline.

As wealth’s effectiveness decreases, reduce all characters’ Roman Wealth ratings one point at a time. The rate at which this happens can vary, but might begin at one point per year.

The rate at which wealth declines can vary a lot. I wouldn’t suggest getting rid of the feature though, since it helps to make the Civitas’s self-sufficiency more and more important. When you realize that you can’t go out and buy a sword any more, it dawns on you that you need to get some good weapon smiths and get them some forges and good metal. In some games it can be very slow though, while in others you could have all resources be next to worthless right out the gate.

The Decline of Virtues

When a civitas is first established, it inherits its virtues from the populace around it and from the nature of those who dwell within it. Generally, a civitas will never have lower virtues than the area around it.

As Romanization gradually undoes itself though, Roman virtues will decline and be abandoned in society at large. As things become desperate, the rule of law will be replaced by the power of violence. At the beginnig of play, the GM should make a note of what level the virtues of the civitas are at in the surrounding area. As time goes on, these levels will begin to fall.

If the players’ character do nothing, the virtues of their civitas will reflect those of everywhere else, and so wil also decline. Thus the characters must always fight to keep the civitas Roman. If they fail, there are two general results. The first is that they will cease to gain Romanitas from the civitas. The second is that the subsidii of the civitas will also begin to fail, as it loses cohesion and ceases to function as a community.

External Threats

While the Roman legions once offered internal stability, their withdrawal means that the civitas will sooner or later be faced with serious threats from outside its borders. Raiders Northern Europe, Africa, or elsewhere may attack and try to plunder its resources. Similarly there will probably be gangs of disaffected Roman citizens, jealous of the civitas’s relative prosperity.

As time goes on, such threats will increase in frequency and severity. While they might initially only threaten travel and trade, they will eventually make even basic survival hard-fought.


All of the destructive processes outlined above should be presented as players come up with challenges and narrate task resolutions. However, more than just simple events, the problems faced by a civitas become part of its Doom: the inescapable fate brought about by changes in the world at large.

Doom quantifies the ravaging effects of time and history and thereby dictates the rate at which the various effects of civilization’s decline should affect the civitas. Doom is represented by a pile of black stones that sit on the table near the GM. Every session at least one stone should be added to the pile for every main character in the game. More stones should be added as time passes in the game world.

A reasonable rate of increase is one stone for every month of game-time, but this can be altered in response to the needs of the specific group, and the details of the backstory. Doom stones are added to the pile by the GM or by any other player—in which case an explanatory narration is probably in order.

Black stones are “used up” and removed from the pile when some harmful turn of events assaults the civitas. A single stone use should bring about one of the following:

All of the above can be causes by a variety of factors. They could also be the result of slow changes that finally begin to have a visible effect, or sudden events. In any case, the exact reason should be narrated by the GM or whoever else proposed the use of a stone – or perhaps it remains a mystery to the characters.

Whenever a negative events (any of the above or something else) is proposed, one or more of the stones can be used. Note that black stones are not required to produce conflict in the game, since not all conflict directly involves the civitas, and even that which does can come about rather naturally – stones are only used for fairly significant, and unexpected, evils.

It is advantageous for the characters if the stones are used up rather than alowed to build up. If 10 stones accrue, then something truly awful must befall the civitas very quickly. It must threaten its very existence, and do so urgently, such that all the characters must turn their attention immediately to it or risk everything.


This concludes v. 2.e of the playtest rules for ABSQVE ROMA.  It has been the product of many months of work, but I am under no illusions concerning the roughness of this document.  Nonetheless, I hope that if you’ve gotten this far, it was in some way interesting.  If you have comments on the rules, and/or have a mind to run a game of it, please let .

My thanks goes to The Forge online discussion forum, and its members, who have given me useful advice in the design of AR.

– Jasper McChesney
Primeval Press