Tuesday, September 16, 2014


When we released Servants of Gaius once again in PDF it did surprisingly well compared to its initial launch, which is leading us to consider further support. We have a great mystery adventure already to go and that may be the first. We may also touch up the original book in terms of physical presentation. But right now I'd like to talk a bit about the concept and the design for those who are not familiar with the game. 

Servants of Gaius is set in 38 AD during the reign of Caligula. It is an alternate history RPG where the central conceit is that Caligula was never crazy or wicked but rather an enlightened god and the target of a supernatural conspiracy. Though we leave the nature of this conspiracy up the Gamemaster, Caligula believes it is a mystery cult devoted to Neptune. He establishes a secret order of Romans to wage a silent war against the god and his minions: the Servants of Gaius. 

When Bill and I started Bedrock Games we knew we wanted to do a Roman RPG at some point (well I knew I wanted to do one and Bill was happy to indulge me). I am a massive fan of the I, Claudius miniseries and the early Roman Empire has always been my favorite period of history. When I was younger my father gave me a copy of Caesar and Christ, the third volume in Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization series. That had a huge impact on me. I immediately took an interest in sword and sandal films like Spartacus and tracked down books on Rome and its emperors. I developed a particular fondness for two: Caligula and Marcus Aurelius. The first was evil and probably insane, while the other was widely regarded as one of Rome's better emperors, sometimes even lauded as the first true "philosopher king". Caligula was a villain, a mad and wild villain of the sort you see in films starring Gary Oldman. Marcus Aurelius was a stoic and capable leader, he also wrote a book called The Meditations which offers an intimate description of his stoic beliefs. I don't know why but both figures fascinated me. 

Then I discovered I, Claudius. I don't recall what path led me to it, but I ended up borrowing VHS copies from the library. It is a 12 episode series and I stormed through it in a few days. I thought the writing and acting were tremendous. It was old (even back when I first watched it) but it held up well. It also had a number of surprises for the young geek that I was, including a terrifying performance by Patrick Stewart as Sejanus. But John Hurt's Caligula was the most memorable of all. He was evil and mad but there was a little more there. It wasn't a sympathetic 90s villain, but he was believable and human despite all his other outrageous qualities. The episodes covering Caligula's reign were by far the most enjoyable of the series and the relationship between Caligula and his uncle Claudius (to me) was the heart of the show. When we got around to Servants of Gaius, I knew I wanted Caligula to play a major role, but that presented some issues in terms of how close player characters could reasonably get to him. The historical Caligula was pretty liberal with executions and no sane party would deal with such a man if at all possible. It was also forced. It didn't feel like a natural fit. So we had to think on it some more.  

Before Servants of Gaius we had published Terror Network, Horror Show and Crime Network. Of these three Terror Network was the most successful. I tried to isolate what we had done right with it and why it had worked. I felt the reason it worked was because Terror Network was primarily an investigative game where players were part of a special or even secret organization charged with protecting the public. Bill and I agreed we should try to port this concept into our Roman RPG because it worked so well. 

At first the premise was more real history. The players were part of a secret order established by the mad Caligula to fight an imaginary threat. But that didn't really work. It was more of a running joke than anything else. Then I remembered another game, Colonial Gothic, which Bill and I had written an adventure for. That game employs secret history where past events are explained through the supernatural. I figured why not apply that to Rome 38 AD? No reason we couldn't change history. Rather than a madman claiming to be a god, Caligula really would be divine. Once that was established, everything else fell into place pretty smoothly. I also liked it because the supernatural realities of the settings were based on claims Caligula had made in life (at least according to sources like Suetonius). 

The design of Servants of Gaius was quite manic. Bill knew it meant a lot to me so he took a lighter hand in terms of critiquing material I came up with, at first. This allowed me to work faster. He and I still had many meetings and debates. We also started consulting with Dan Orcutt for the first time as a tertiary designer (which led to him being a co-designer of Sertorius). Then once it was all done, Bill would come in with that ability of his to find the weak spots and suggest improvements. I recall a particularly heated discussion over our poison rules, which led to a much better subsystem than the one I originally designed. Over the next several months we play-tested and tweaked and play-tested more. 

Right at the tail end of the project I got sick again (I had come down with some Crohn's Disease complications the year before and and once again would require surgeries). So there was this strange gap where I went for a bunch of surgeries and then moved to a new place before we resumed work on Servants of Gaius. By this time we were on to the art and layout phase. For me this established a marker in our timeline as a company where I think of pre-Servants of Gaius Bedrock and post-Servants of Gaius Bedrock. 

The end product was a delight to run. We immediately launched a campaign and my first adventure would later be turned into The Secret of Actium (a module still in the pipeline). Mysteries really suited the early empire setting. And the range of places was nice. My party tracked down a murderer through the streets of Rome, eventually finding themselves in Alexandria where intense political riots were breaking out. Later they would face werewolves in Germania and end up in a island on the back of a giant sea turtle. The ability to dial up or down the myth and supernatural was what made it work. The fact that I could port in monsters from Horror Show pretty seamlessly also helped (and the latter came in handy because the monster list in Servants of Gaius didn't include things like werewolves, it had mainly focused on Roman creatures and in particular the Minions of Neptune). 

The other thing that was important with Servants of Gaius was it showed me and Bill that the network system would work with a fantasy game. We had never run Network outside the modern era and were concerned it might not adjust to the needs of an ancient or medieval setting. Servants of Gaius demonstrated that this wouldn't be an issue. We were able to move into Sertorius with more confidence after Servants of Gaius. 

I think as a concept Servants of Gaius is one of our strongest.

You can find Servants of Gaius in PDF here: SERVANTS OF GAIUS PDF
It is also available in print here:  SERVANTS OF GAIUS PRINT
The Guide to Aegyptus is available here: POMPONIUS MELA'S GUIDE TO AEGYPTUS

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