43AD is a gritty military-style game with a slice of dark horror running through it. Life is grim and the world of the native Britons is painted in dark and horrific colours. Britain is a place of fear and death, terrors and torments, and the Iron-Age tribes live with these horrors. Celtic priests, the druids, contain them in lakes and pits and forests. When the legions step onto British soil, they step onto a land of ancient horrors of which they (as yet) know nothing.
Geek Native reached out to Paul Elliott of Zozer Games to ask for a look inside the game after it was nominated for Best Roleplaying Game of 2012 at the UK Games Expo. He kindly supplied some art and shared game quotes from Ben Counter who also writes Warhammer 40K stories for Black Library.
43AD has been picked up by Chronicle City and can be found here in their shop.
Their orders had been simple. Hold the ford until were relieved. Cnaeus had set out with a handful of legionaries and auxilia to do just that.
Things had rapidly become more complicated.
Cnaeus leaned against a tree to catch his breath and get a good look at the men who had fled with him. The Gaul he knew, a filthy and foul-mouthed creature even by Auxilia standards. He wasn’t mouthing off now, though – he was bent double spluttering for air. The boy was an adjutant to one of the officers and it seemed to be Fates’ own warped will that the youth had made it when so many had died. The last man was a bearded Briton who had started gibbering nonsense the moment everything had started to slide to Hades.
‘One of us has to make it back to Luguvalium and tell them what happened,’ said Cnaeus. ‘If any man lags behind, he dies. Understand?’ The youth nodded, terror in his eyes. The Gaul just spat on the ground. Another man had joined them. He had jet-black skin and was spattered with blood.
‘You!’ said the man in thickly accented Latin. ‘You’re from the legion. They live?’ Cnaeus shook his head. ‘Just us. You’re from the Numidian cavalry, yes?’
‘I am.’ The Gaul grinned bleakly. ‘You’re a bloody long way from Numidia, mate.’
The crash of bodies through the trees reached them. The enemy were whooping in that damned animal tongue of theirs. The Briton whimpered at the sound.
‘It is not so different from here,’ said the Numidian, drawing his spear.
A military scenario benefits from a strong central goal – fulfil the mission assigned to you! Obey orders! Work with your team-mates, use the equipment and intelligence provided! As such, the Band of Brothers-style campaign can be easy to organise and run, it can be focussed, exciting and actually mean something in the grand scheme of the war. Players are never at a loss for something to do – orders are handed out at the start of each game, and the players have leeway in meeting the mission objectives. In addition, every Game Master will be familiar with the military genre, and missions for a small unit of Roman soldiers will be relatively easy to create. We’ve seen countless examples in war movies over the years! In fact, the Roman army was the world’s first fully professional standing army; because of this, many, many scenarios, situations and missions that armies in later historical periods carried out, are just as applicable in 43AD.
Ex quocumque facere poteris te sauciabit, nihilo comprehenso
Anything you do can get you killed, including nothing
Veni, Vidi, Voratum (I came, I saw, I was devoured)
What will the Romans make of these terrors? They will do as their historical antecedents did and continue the placations and endless offerings – once units of toughened legionary veterans have gone to their deaths screaming and whimpering in a forest glade, or lost in the woods, close to their fort – the administration will actively promote the continuance of offerings. These things are wild, ancient and unstoppable. There are many horror movies that have touched upon the merging of the horror genre with that of the military, and that have isolated the protagonists and then shown them the uselessness of their feeble weaponry. Look to The Keep, Aliens, Dog Soldiers, The Bunker, and Predator. Legionaries, cut off from their fort at an outpost or in the wilderness, must fend for themselves when they come face to face with a monster that intends to wipe them all out.
Skinchangers: There are ancient clans out on the fringes of the wilderness haunted by ancient curses. The Skinchangers are cursed with two forms, one beast, one human – they are were-creatures. During the day the clan members go about the business of farming and herding livestock, but at night they transform into the clan’s animal form, yet it is a hulking brute of an animal – a monstrous unnatural version of that animal. Perhaps they become wolves, badgers, pole-cats, bears, rats, foxes, wild boar or wolves. They actually climb out of their human skin, leaving them hung up from the rafters of the roundhouse to return to them at dawn. In the wilds around the round house there may be some evidence of this curse, perhaps burrows, or bone deposits, or droppings containing human teeth and nails. It goes without saying that these Skinchangers are also cursed with a hunger for human flesh!
Longinus – Undead Centurion: Tradition names the legionary that put Christ on the cross – Longinus. It does not say that he was actually cursed for his efforts and now walks the land as an immortal. He was killed in Germania six years later, but dug his way out of the grave and fled the legions – insane. Now he is in Britain, perhaps the sinister lieutenant of Hadrian, or Septimus Severus or a governor without scruples (do any have scruples?). He cannot be killed and is fearless in battle. Longinus may have his own motives for helping the Roman legions, he might have heard that the Holy Grail is hidden away amongst the Tribes somewhere, or the Spear of Destiny (that pierced Christ’s side while he hung from the cross). Both or either might rid the undead centurion of his curse, the spear may be the only thing that can kill him (does he wish for suicide, or to destroy it?), while the Grail may restore his sanity. His enemies will certainly want to get their hands on the spear! Weapons do not like to strike Longinus, they all do 1 HIT (maximum), never severing arms or head etc. Poison, fire … all turn away from his tainted flesh. At the most he will appear dead, but enter a coma, and then dig his way out once he awakens… very Rasputin-like …