Brendan Davis, one of the minds at Bedrock Games behind titles like Terror Network and Horror Show was kind enough to agree to do an interview for us and let us in on the secrets behind Servants of Gaius – a new game set in an alternate Ancient Rome where Caligula is a god at war with Neptune. You play members of a secret order (the Servants of Gaius) and work to root out Neptune’s Minions before they do harm…
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Q: It’s obvious at the depth of detail in Servants of Gaius that there’s a deep love of Roman history at Bedrock Games. How did that love of Ancient Rome mix with alternate history to spawn SoG? And who did all the research?
BD: I have been a Roman history buff for ages and was finally able to put that to some use in Servants of Gaius. It came about very deliberately when I just decided it was time to do a Roman setting. Before starting work on it though, I asked myself “what does Bedrock Games do well and how can that be applied to ancient Rome?” Looking at Terror Network and Crime Network, it was obvious to me that we specialize in games where the player characters are part of a covert group or order with clear enemies. You could say it is really a blend of the counter-terrorism elements in Terror Network, ancient Rome and the supernatural. From that point it was really a matter of identifying the threat facing the PCs and creating their secret order.
I did most of the research but had a lot of help. Ben Pew, a member of one of my regular games, assisted me by obtaining books from Boston library and doing bits of research here or there (he was particularly helpful with many of the Province entries). I also contacted my old history Professor, Michael Weber for feedback and advice. If you look in the credits of the book you will also see Arthur Eckstein (PhD) and TammyJo Eckhart (PhD) listed as advisors. Arthur gave me tremoundous feedback on the initial drafts. So most of the early development I relied on his recommendations. TammyJo helped me mainly in the second stage of development and went beyond the scope of advisor. She took a strong interest in the project and I think it shows. Joe Wolz helped me really hammer out the Client-Patron system and my friend Dan Orcutt (who knows Latin) gave me a hand with the latin terms. On top of that we received help from readers and playtesters.
In college I studied history and tried to use those tools in making this book. Servants of Gaius is only 117 pages or so but for every paragraph I had to do lots of research. That doesn’t mean the rulebook is educational. Above all, this is a game. As I say in the introduction, we are game designers not historians, but I have real respect for the craft. I didn’t make assumptions lightly or alter fact willy-nilly. In a way, this was much harder than anything I had to do for a history class, because the needs of a GM are very specific. A gamemaster really has to know how some of the finer details fit together because players experience Rome at the street level. You can’t gloss over anything. It is probably a bit like the kind of research that goes into making a movie or TV show set in
Q: Why choose Caligula, one of the darker chapters of Roman history?
BD: John Hurt is probably the main reason for this. I am a huge I, Claudius buff and think his performance as Caligula in the series is one of the best on-screen villains of all time. I love villains, and there is always this pull between making the villain sympathetic and making the villain terrifying. Usually it seems people go too far in one direction or the other (a wimpy cry-baby or a pointless slaughtering machine). Hurt nailed it, got the balance just right and this had a huge impact on me. Most of the humor, drama and creepiness are in the Caligula episodes. I think it worked because he was portrayed as genuinely mad, he really thought he was a god and so his actions made sense.
I knew off the bat I wanted this to take place in Caligula’s Rome. At first I was going to go with a much more straightforward “Caligula’s crazy and starts this weird order to wage his war on Neptune”. Then I realized it made a lot more sense (and was just a lot less bizarre) if Caligula really was a god and Neptune was actually trying to ruin his reign. Once I went down that road, things just fell into place. The great thing about it, is it allows you to still have this strange character at the heart of the game, but he is a hero rather than a villain because the game accepts his point of view as reality. But he hasn’t really changed all that much. There is just more justification.
It is a dark period of history, but I think it works. It isn’t a grim-dark setting. Not at all. In fact I deliberately avoided that angle. It is a game where gods are real and walk among men. This is a luminous setting, not a dark one.
Plus, I think there is always an appetite for ancient Rome. If you love stuff like Ben-Hur or I, Claudius,you will want to play this game.
Q: Up to now I’ve not had an opportunity to explore the Network System before, but it seems amazingly suited to a skills-based game such as is necessary for SoG. Were there any difficulties in adapting the system for a world that includes magic alongside politics, intrigue, and combat?
BD: It was actually quite easy. We had already explored supernatural mechanics in Horror Show, so by the time I started Servants of Gaius, we knew the system could handle it. In fact, it was much easier to tailor supernatural mechanics to a specific setting like SoG, than it was to create them for a generic Horror Toolbox like Horror Show. All we had to do was follow the Romans.
Magic in Rome is a lot more subdued than a game like D&D so we didn’t run into any major issues. The hardest part was fitting the gods into the game so they could have an impact on the world. We did this by creating a mechanic for rituals and giving gods concrete powers (they are not limited to the powers listed, but this is a starting place for the GM). I also put up some additional rules on the Bedrock Blog to handle divine favor.
Q: As more of a world guy than a system guy, I couldn’t help but think that SoG would work great for a campaign set in ancient Ireland along the lines of Roar (an old TV show on Fox starring Heath Ledger). Have any campaign ideas from fans of your game surprised you since the book was released?
BD: It would be pretty easy to port Servants of Gaius into other ancient settings. You mention ancient Ireland, and I think that would be a nice fit. Characters could certainly move further east and do something interesting in Parthia. You could also turn back the dial of time and do an Alexander the Great campaign. Most of the responses I have had so far, deal more with focusing on interesting places for adventure. I am surprised by the number of people who want a campaign tying the early Christian movement to the Servants of Gaius. It is alt-history so the possibilities are quite endless. Maybe the most intriguing suggestion I received was doing a Hercules and Xena style game with the system. This would work but you would have to the Epicus Character Option, which gives characters more health.
Q: Are you playing a campaign using SoG currently? Can you describe some of the current stories you’re exploring?
BD: Yes, I always play my own games and Servants of Gaius is no exception. We had two Servants of Gaius campaigns going for a while, but now I am down to just one. Right now the players just found a relic called the Skull of Antaeus by going to the island of Thule and tricking a city of Amazons. It got pretty crazy by the end of last session. The campaign started a bit more low-key with a murder investigation in Rome, eventually leading them to Aegyptus, Mauretania and Thule (They even spent some time with an obscure cult in Iberia). Some of the stuff that really worked will be incorporated into our first Servants of Gaius module “The Secret of Actium”. Most of my adventures tend to be non-linear investigations though. The Skull of Antaeus campaign was my attempt to inject a bit of Indiana Jones into the game.
Next session the players will be in Belgica looking for minion activity among the legions.
I think it is very important for designers to play their own games. If you don’t play them, you really can’t write material for them. Even when I take a break from game to play another (which I have to do because we have four lines now) I have to re-read the rules and play a few sessions before I am comfortable working on it again. So if I haven’t played Terror Network in a few months because I have been running Servants of Gaius, I need to time to re-aquaint myself with TN before writing new material. This is key to how we develop games.
At the same time we make room for other systems because we are gamers first and foremost. We recently started a monthly one-shot game for systems we don’t normally get to use (for whatever reason). This is great because I can finally run some RPGs I bought but never managed to talk people into playing for a full campaign (getting folks to do a one-shot is much easier). In fact if any readers want to suggest a system, by all means contact us and let me know.
Q: What’s next for Bedrock Games? Will we see more supplements for SoG exploring some of the alternate history aspects? It seems that between Caligula and his successors there is plenty of room to explore.
BD: We have a lot of stuff planned. Next up is Pomponius Mela’s Guide to Aegyptus (pretty self explanatory I suppose). That will be followed by the investigative adventure “The Secret of Actium”. The Aegyptus guide is complete and I am just putting it through some finishing touches. We’ve also started thinking about the next province book (likely Iberia or Gaul). Next year I would like to put out other sourcebooks (covering cults, the army, etc). This is a line that has me pretty excited.
We are working on some other projects as well. Arrows of Indra is an India-inspired old-school fantasy game by RPGPundit and is currently in development. Orlando’s Guide to Organized Crime is nearing release. It is an underworld sourcebook for Crime Network. We also started work on a revision of Terror Network, continue to work on Sertorious (our evolving high-magic Network game) and new project called Rapture.
Q: If there’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but are dying to answer – what would it be? Curious minds want to know!
BD: No has asked me why we changed the timeline for Rome’s fall. In Servants of Gaius the empire falls in 79 AD after the eruption of Vesuvius and this is to make the actions of the players matter. Without the effort of good player characters its over in about forty years. So after several campaigns, you reach this point when Vesuvius erupts and the GM needs to take stock of how the players have altered the timeline proposed by the rulebook.
A huge thank you goes out to Brendan for answering my questions. I wish him and the rest of the gang at Bedrock Games all the best!
For more about Bedrock Games, Servants of Gaius, and the rest
of Bedrock Games’ books check out the following links:
- The Bedrock Blog
- The Bedrock site
- Servants of Gaius at RPGNow
- Servants of Gaius print copy at Studio 2 Publishing