From The Gladiator to Britannia. A Grimdark Empire of Magic and Adventure
Francesco Nepitello: Something else we had to consider from the beginning is that in these years novels, comics, movies and videogames (but also other board games) have enriched the collective imagination about Ancient Rome with new, less classical interpretations.
For example, when we worked on the first edition of Lex Arcana, the movie references that came to mind were Jesus of Nazareth and Ben-Hur. Today, the audience is more familiar with The Gladiator, Spartacus, The Eagle, Rome, and the very recent Britannia. One way or another, the “Ancient Rome” genre is more popular than ever before and well known worldwide, although a bit ‘distorted’ and artificial… This makes our work easier on one hand, but also pushes us to modernize the rhythms and themes of the game.
Today, TV series and movies set in ancient Roman times are action-packed and violent, with narration focusing on hidden agendas, plots and political conspiracies. The perception of the Roman world derived from Hollywood is of a period of power, blood and, sometimes, even perversion. These things are often strongly denied by history, compared to the standards of the age, and to the great social and cultural achievements of Rome.
So how can Lex Arcana be credible, while being understood by new players and those who only know Rome from TV screens? It’s not a simple question…
Marco Maggi: First of all, we decided to take a step back. In addition to films, TV series and novels, we studied role-playing games with a similar theme released in recent years such as Cthulhu Invictus, Rome: Life and Death of the Republic, Weird Wars Rome, Imperial Rome.
We tried to understand which part of these titles gamers liked best, how they interacted with the imagined Roman, but also what kinds of weaknesses they attributed to those same games. We did this specifically to understand how the Roman world is seen in RPGs, but also to avoid making common mistakes.
We discovered players do not like when typically horror and fantasy elements are inserted without reason in the Ancient Roman setting. Another common mistake is to leave out political conspiracies, mysteries and plots for power, all of which are perceived as radically connected with Ancient Rome.
From our research it appeared to us that the Rome of Lex Arcana is no longer what it once was… it has become a more treacherous and complex place. Conspiracies and secret plots now undermine the empire. Battles, action and black magic are more present, as are investigation and exploration. In other words, our classic Ancient Roman genre is now wrapped in a grimdark atmosphere: a change we have embraced as a new and interesting challenge. We are sure you will like it!