A Live Role-Playing "Game"
Date: July 24, 1999         Gamemaster: Scott Martin

What Happened at the Game!

This Page
The Premise
Why the Quotes?
The Tone

Other Pages
Making a Character
List of Characters
Game Conventions
Role-Playing Tips
Roman Society

The Premise
It is the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Gaius Domitius. Two months ago the emperor's adopted son and heir, Germanicus, was killed while fighting on the frontier, and the empire now stands without a clear line of succession. Both the Senate and the imperial family are pressuring the emperor to quickly name a new heir, but there are a number of candidates and no obvious favorite. On the 24th day of the month of July, at an intimate dinner for the imperial family and their guests, Gaius is expected to choose and announce his successor.

Imperium takes place in the city of Rome during the Julio-Claudian Dynasty (approximately the middle of the first century AD). Though set in a historical period, Imperium will have no specific historical characters -- the Roman imperial family will be fictitious characters, created by the players, who fit "thematically" with the period. (See Tone, below.)

The events of the game will occur at a feast in the imperial palace. Players will include the emperor, his family, their invited guests (close friends, important Roman officials, and visiting dignitaries), and a host of servants to feed and entertain them. See Making a Character for more information.

Why the quotes?
While Imperium will be a "game", it will differ drastically from other games in one major detail: There will be no rules! That's right, no rules. No skills, no abilities, no game mechanics of any kind. Just a detailed background, some very detailed characters, and your own personal abilities. It's still a game because your character will have goals, but those goals can be achieved solely with the natural talents you bring to the game. Thus the plots will center on information, politics, and deal-making.

In many ways Imperium is at the extreme end of live gaming that overlaps with improvisational theater, with complex characters in dramatic situations. While the characters may have any number of divergent goals, the real goal of each player should be to portray his or her character as well as possible.

The Tone
Imperium is an attempt to create true drama in role-playing. While that does not in any way preclude humor, characters should be designed with an eye toward enhancing the possibility of drama and emotional conflict. Ideally the final game will capture the essence of a dramatic theatrical play, one in which you can be both the cast and the audience!

More specifically, Imperium is meant to capture much of the look and feel of the BBC series I, Claudius. The Roman imperial family is fraught with rivalries, power politics, and deadly intrigue, and the plots will reflect this. This is an age when ruthlessness was rewarded and the bonds of family and friendship were used primarily to advance one's personal power and prestige. Even the most unambitious Roman aristocrat would be seen as a power-mad tyrant by modern standards, and players will be expected to play this to the hilt!

Imperium is the second "no rules" live game I've run, following last year's successful A Family Affair. Based on that game I've created some tips on full-immersion role-playing.


The game will take place between 7 pm and midnight on July 24. (Slave characters will need to show up one or two hours earlier to help set up.) The game will be held at the home of Alex and Angel. Players should arrive at the appointed time in character. There will be no pre-game lecture; just walk in and start role-playing!

An authentic Roman feast (based on Apicius's The Art of Cooking) will be served during the evening. Players will be asked to contribute $20 ($10 for slave characters) to cover the cost of food and drink, though you'll probably have the chance to take home leftovers. I'll try to keep costs down and will cut the price if we can make dinner for less. One slight departure from history -- diners will have the option to imbibe grape juice in addition to copious amounts of wine.

Initial character concepts (just a line or two) are due on June 7. Full character write-ups will be due on July 5. While the game will have a detailed background, there are a variety of "levels" available for character depth depending on how much work people want to put into it. If possible, I'll also try to organize a "costume-making party" in advance to help people put something together.

Page updated 7/26/99, Scott Martin