The following information is for everyone to orient themselves in the alternate history setting of the upcoming D&D 5E campaign. It should be helpful for creating characters since it gives a rough idea of the campaign world.
As a real world setting, the religions and languages are all taken or adapted from human history. All D&D 5E races exist (and I’m open to create more on request) and the selection of classes follows the standard rules for the edition. Everyone starts with two class levels that they may put into one class or split between two different classes (multiclassing).
Refer to the 5E Player’s Handbook (PHB) for the specifics on the mechanics and options that will be used in the campaign. For some idea of these options, here is a summary of the various races, classes, and class specializations available:
There are 10 races available in 5E, some with distinct subraces. For this campaign, every character receives two languages (Latin and one other Roman language), in addition to one other Roman language if their chosen race normally provides a language. Other traits that race provides are vision enhancements, weapon/armor proficiencies, skill proficiencies, +/- 5 ft. move, and special racial powers (e.g. fire breath, luck).
- Dragonborn (+ 2 STR, + 1 CHA)
- Dwarf (+ 2 CON), with subraces Hill Dwarf (+ 1 WIS) and Mountain Dwarf (+ 2 STR)
- Elf (+ 2 DEX), with subraces High Elf (+ 1 INT), Wood Elf (+ 1 WIS), and Dark Elf (+ 1 CHA)
- Genasi (+ 2 CON), with subraces Earthsoul (+ 2 STR), Firesoul (+ 1 INT), Stormsoul (+ 1 CHA), Watersoul (+ 1 WIS), and Windsoul (+ 1 DEX)
- Gnome (+ 1 INT), with subraces Forest Gnome (+ 1 DEX) and Rock Gnome (+ 1 CON)
- Goliath (+ 2 CON, + 1 STR)
- Halfling (+ 2 DEX), with subraces Stout Halfling (+ 1 CON) and Lightfoot Halfling (+ 1 DEX)
- Half-Elf (+ 2 CHA, + 1 to two abilities)
- Half-Orc (+ 2 STR, + 1 CON)
- Human (varies)
- Tiefling (+ 2 CHA, + 1 INT)
Classes & Specializations
There are 12 classes available in 5E, each with at least two distinct specializations that provide different paths for leveling your character. Regardless of class, every character gains ability score increases at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19 but can sacrifice any of these increases to gain a Feat (otherwise a character gets no feats!).
A good summary of the classes and specializations can be found here
Some changes to the general rules of character creation in 5E have been added to the campaign. The primary change is the choice of a mechanical advantage and a roleplaying advantage for every character. Each advantage is up to you, the player, to decide (with my input on making your idea balanced) and (obviously) with this decision flowing smoothly from your backstory.
In particular, the “roleplaying” advantage is just a fancy way of making sure that everyone’s social status in the setting is balanced while still allowing people to have highly advantageous positions in Roman society (part of this balancing can involve attaching “responsibilities” to the advantage, not in the sense of tedious duties but in the sense of checks on how the advantage can be used). Similarly, a “mechanical” advantage can be balanced by “flaws”. Both advantages can be considered “Background features” for the purposes of fitting them into a 5E system (in fact, roleplaying advantage is just a more extensive version of the background feature in the PHB).
Some examples of Mechanical advantages (quite tentative):
- Teleportation 30 ft. as a (standard) action.
- Telekinesis in 40 ft. as a (standard) action for objects up to 50 lbs.
- Sensitivity to a common phenomenon (e.g. detect magic, type and direction, within 200 ft.).
- Some number of 1st or 2nd level spells that are normally unavailable to your class or class specialization.
In general, consider 3rd to 4th level spell utilities, with the advantage acting as a passive form or look at class features you may want up to level 6 (note that “spell” level is different from “character” level – the former goes to 9 and the latter to 20 to give some idea).
Some examples of Roleplaying advantages:
- A high political status in the campaign setting (e.g. Justice of the Peace or Praetor for the entire province) with associated responsibilities.
- A high military position in the campaign setting (e.g. Commander or Legate of the legions of the province) with associated responsibilities.
- Connections within a major local group (e.g. a religion, a guild, a society, an academy – ask for details).
- Extensive knowledge of native customs in the campaign setting (i.e. in the islands around the province) with associated contacts among some natives.
- Ownership of a ship with its own crew.
Another central house rule is the expansion of tool proficiencies. In short, 5E gives most classes the ability to use certain trade tools or instruments, with a bonus, as a form of specialized skill check. Among these tool kits are thieves’ tools and alchemist’s tools.
One ancillary change to the rules for tools is that you, the player, are free to suggest your own ideas for a tool set. It is worth reading the PHB to see what already exists before starting to invent tools. Either your background or your class can be made to incorporate this invented tool proficiency.
The primary change to the tool rules is that tool proficiencies can be developed over the course of this campaign. By paying some cost and succeeding on certain challenges (varying with the tool) your character will be able to acquire new ways of using their tool proficiency. The extent of this improvement will be made roughly equivalent to 3-4 class levels (keeping in mind that these gains come at some cost and at some risk of failure). Part of the idea for these tool features is to add some aspects of what existed in older editions with Prestige Classes, without many of their drawbacks (as was done to an extent with class specializations).
Since new tools are designed to meet this standard, the tools in the PHB have been combined or expanded to keep pace. A full list of the standard tool options goes as follows:
- Thieves’ tools (can also disable traps, pick locks, and pick pockets!)
- Charlatan’s kit (e.g. disguises, swindler’s games, sleeping pills)
- Healer’s kit
- Sailor’s tools
- Wilderness kit
- Musical instrument
- Mount (probably a horse)
- Alchemist (includes poisoner’s and herbalist’s kits)
- Bowyer ($)
- Brewer ($)
- Carpenter ($)
- Jeweler ($)
- Machinist (see below)
- Painter ($)
- Philosopher (see below)
- Potter ($)
- Scholar (encyclopedias, notes, etc.)
- Weaver ($)
(Artisan’s tools marked with a $ indicate the skills sets and accompanying tools whose advantage for leveling is likely only to lie in a better ability to make money, although player creativity in finding other uses is encouraged)
Other tool kits may be suggested by the players. With that said, a few examples of tools that have already been homebrewed may give a better idea of how far this addition can be taken (keeping in mind that most tool proficiencies can go in multiple directions depending on the desires of the player):
- Machinist’s Tools: Small hammer, nuts, bolts, eyeglass headpiece, screwdriver. Used for repairing and maintaining machinery such as orreries, artisan’s machines, crossbows, and other machines of war common in the campaign setting. At higher levels, can be used to create and invent new machines, even for use in battle.
- Philosopher’s Tools: Some variety of measuring instruments and observational tools (e.g. telescope, caliper, clock, numerical reckoner). Used for performing experiments and observations, as well as doing advanced mathematics. At higher levels, can be used to learn new spells as a spellcaster (but not gain more spell slots!), to impress the natives by predicting solar eclipses, or to analyze magical phenomena in a way that regular checks (arcana) cannot achieve.
For some of the Artisan skills, becoming sufficiently proficient can be used to gain renown within the campaign world (making discoveries or contributions that revolutionize your chosen field of expertise!). The possibilities for where to take these proficiencies are up to the players (with DM contributions and approval).
Alternate History Setting
In this history, Marcus Aurelius adopted a young Greek boy, Sulla, as his heir and Commodus did not live to rule alongside him. Over the next few centuries, the Roman Empire went on to conquer the territories of Scotland, Ireland, Ethiopia, and Germany up to the Vistula River. During this time, Roman scholars were conquering nature through advances in astronomy, medicine, geology, algebra, chemistry, and mechanics. By the 21st century in the Roman calendar, the domain of Rome extends to the jungles of Africa, the mountains of Persia, the deserts of Arabia, and an island in a new world across the Atlantic.
Roman society has returned to some of its republican roots, with the popular assemblies regaining their political importance, but an emperor still holds certain powers and the Senate continues to supply the majority of public magistrates (including emperors). After a recent civil war, the Republic is undergoing dramatic socio-political change as the franchise spreads to all Roman nations and citizens (men and women alike).
Below is a map of the Roman world before the reign of Marcus Aurelius:
Below is a map of the Roman world in 1900 AUC, 115 years before the campaign:
These provinces are grouped into nations within the Roman Empire, each led by a Consul (President of the Nation) with certain administrative powers limited by the Senate. A list of the nations and their provinces is as follows:
- Italia, also known as Patria (the Fatherland), consisting of Sicilia, Sardinia, Corsica, Melita, Alpes, Raetia, and Noricum.
- Gallia, consisting of Gallia Narbonensis, Gallia Lugdunensis, and Gallia Aquitania.
- Hispania, consisting of Hispania Baetia, Hispania Lusitania, and Hispania Tarraconensis.
- Belgica, consisting solely of Belgica.
- Magna Britannia, consisting of Britannia, Caledonia, and Hibernia.
- Germania, consisting of Germania Varinensis, Germania Marconensis, Germania Gothica, and Cimbria.
- Dacia, consisting of Dacia, Moesia, Sarmatia, and Odrysia.
- Illyria, consisting of Dalmatia and Pannonia.
- Magna Graecia, consisting of Achaea, Epirus, Macedonia, Thracia, Phrygia, Lycia, Bithynia, Creta, Galatia, and Pontus.
- Syria, consisting of Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, and Cappadocia.
- Judaea, consisting solely of Palestina.
- Arabia, consisting of Arabia Petraea, Arabia Rubricana, and Arabia Deserta.
- Ægyptus, consisting of Ægyptus, Cyrenaica, and Nubia.
- Æthiopia, consisting of Æthiopia Rubricana and Æthiopia Aksana.
- Armenia, consisting of Armenia and Mesopotamia.
- Africa, consisting of Africa Deserta and Africa Carthaginia (formerly known as Africa Proconsularis).
- Mauretania, consisting of Mauretania.
- Gana, consisting of Gana and Gauum.
Magic & the Fantasy Setting
Over the course of the 20th century in the Roman calendar, strange effects slowly began to manifest in the empire (and, as Romans soon found, in the rest of the world). Starting in the 1940s, miracles started to be regularly (and accidentally) performed by the clergy (e.g. blessings would heal the sick or wounded). Next, philosophers of nature began to discover unprecedented yet controllable phenomena, to the extent that an entirely new science needed to be devised to account for the plethora of new natural laws. By the 1960s, the majority of people had transformed into a strange humanoid creatures and just recently the plants and animals of the world have begun to undergo similar transformations.
The empire is weathering these drastic transformations in its people and knowledge but, at the time of this campaign, magic is still barely understood and objects imbued with magic are rare and mostly man-made. “Natural” magic items are exceptional artifacts and are highly sought after for both private and public interests.
Backdrop to the Plot
You are a citizen of Rome in 2015 of the Roman calendar. Within the last decade, there has been an influx of citizens to the new province of Atlanta, an island in the New World. In this region, artifacts of unique magical power have been discovered – a stone that now sustains the emperor seemingly indefinitely, an inexhaustible black powder, a ring that brings its wearer good fortune – and the desire for more has driven thousands across the Atlantic to procure their own for power or wealth. At the same time, the Legion has begun to sink its own hand into this search – a troublesome duty of slogging through jungles often with violent tribals in pursuit of vague objectives (as it is for adventurers seeking these objects for more private reasons).
For the original party:
Going to this unexplored region alone is dangerous and most people have taken to traveling in groups for security, despite the implication of eventually sharing the spoils. You are one such person and have managed to meet a few other people with this interest on a boat to the New World. What is your interest in the artifacts? What else brings you from the known world to this unknown region? Who are you leaving behind in the Old World? These are the questions to ask as you prepare for this adventure.
For new players:
You have accepted a request by Senator Titus Caecius Infernus to go assist a team of adventurers that he has formed in the New World to search for artifacts that might help Rome and for information on a foreign power in the New World that threatens to overwhelm Roman society. This adventuring group is already deep within the empire of these Toltecs and needs your help.
- Being cosmopolitan, a city within the Roman Empire could realistically be home to someone from any cultural or ethnic background.
- The only province in the New World is Atlanta, what is known to be a large island far off in the Atlantic Ocean with other barely explored, unclaimed islands known to be all around this landmass.
- The main city on Atlanta – known formally as Roma Atlanta – is known to be a bustling port town of hundreds of thousands of citizens but it still lacks the grandeur and charm of Roman cities in the Old World.
- The only other city of note is Primaterra – known formally as Colonia Atlanta Primaterra – which is also located on Atlanta. Colonists have also set up unofficial settlements farther into the island.
- The Legion is constantly patrolling around the island and tries to discourage citizens from straying too far from the cities (especially in search of artifacts) but they can only block people from walking farther inland and cannot actually forcefully remove citizens they find (being a Roman citizen is basically license to go wherever the f**k you want, outside private property or exclusive public property, without being molested).