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Good & Evil, Incorporated


Social Fu

A while back, possibly before I completely "got" Wushu I tried my hand at a Republican Roman conversion using Structured Chargen (see here for the original RPGnet thread). Inspired by both the excellent Rome by the BBC and HBO, and also Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series, I wanted something that would allow you to make electioneering, debates in the Senate, court cases, rabble-rousing and lots of things besides combat to be the focus of the "action". Wushu's approach to conflict allows just that.

Now I could just say "here's your three Traits, be off with you". I'd use exactly that approach now. But not only does that not work for everyone, if you have players less familiar with the rich background they might need a little guidance. Besides which, there's a danger of losing what is actually important in the setting if it's completely freeform.

What Mattered
In Republican Rome, there were essentially three things that mattered. Family, Wealth and Dignitas.

Family determined your social status (which was of vital importance to Romans - every free man knew his class and tribe), and also those deeds attached to your name that people would assume were as much a part of your character as anything you had done yourself. Your social status was not fixed; it had to be maintained, and any true Roman would try to better the prospects of themselves and their gens (the "spirit" of your ancestors). It could also fall as the fortunes of your family floundered and stuttered.

Wealth was often linked to family - the eldest son would inherit the title of paterfamilias (head of the household) from his father on the patriarch's death. This gave him control over his family's entire estate, including power of life and death over every man, woman and child in his care. There were strict rules over what was an appropriate source of income for those of the highest social status - senatorials and patricians. Breaching these could lead to that mans expulsion from the Senate by the censors. This could carry consequences for the man's sons as they might also be barred from the senatorial roll.

They were forbidden to be "in trade" running a business of any kind. They might be a sleeping partner, investing on their capital for someone else to manage, but even that was frowned upon (not to say that it wasn't common). Senatorials were supposed to earn their income from land and their estates, and indeed there were property requirements for membership to the Senate.

Dignitas is a difficult-to-translate word conveying the sum total of a Roman man's personal reputation, honour, integrity, authority, self-belief and self-worth. The goal of any Roman in public life was to maximise his dignitas by excelling, improving both himself and his city. The man with the greatest dignitas, who had so distinguished himself from his peers was the First Man in Rome. It was for this epithet that Romans vied for position and power, which ensured that if you did not always have an eye to your security, one of your rivals would force your downfall. No man was above scrutiny or reproach (though a magistrate in office couldn't be prosecuted until his term had ended) and the greatest fear of the upper classes was the return of any hated "king".

There were three recognised paths to greatness, which were intermixed to a degree. Politics, specifically advancing up the ranks of the cursus honorum to gain ever-higher political office for that pinnacle of achievement, the consulship. This could only be achieved within the Senate, and required great wealth to grease the wheels of the elections. These men were magistrates, judges, in their term of office.

Advocacy or legal practice was another recognised path, as any Roman had the right to try any other in a court of law. Often a man's patron would be the one to bring a case, and it was through this system that order was maintained. There were no police in Republican Rome, the social order was expected to prevent violence. It was common for a man who had done too well in his term of office to be prosecuted by his enemies on his exit. Thus advocates were in great demand, and the best of them were respected men. Court cases didn't observe much by way of modern procedure and could be seen as a form of ritualised popularity contest with the verdict going to the advocates who were most entertaining (and bribed most heavily).

The final path to glory was in warfare. Men who defeated Rome's enemies and increased it's evident superiority over other nations were respected. This was tied to political office, for only the most senior of magistrates were trusted with command of an army. Only a consul or praetor could be a general, and a man must at least have been a quaestor to be a legate - a general's second in command. A man who sought glory through warfare above all else was known as a vir militaris (Military Man), but even they must climb the ranks of the cursus honorum if they were to secure independent command. Gaining a command was as much a result of political skill and alliances as it was any genuine ability to lead troops.

Character Creation
As before, characters for Social Fu are created using a Structured Chargen method that is a little more directed than Wushu-as-written.

Chi is replaced by Dignitas, but otherwise functions the same. It is the sum total of a man's worth. When it is high your word carries weight, men note your bearing and actions, and you are a force to be reckoned with. When your Dignitas runs low, you begin to doubt yourself, people wonder at whether you are worthy of respect. When it's all gone and your last supporters have deserted you, it's time to open your veins and at least salvage some modicum of dignity.

Three major Traits are Politics, Rhetoric and Warfare. These are the three recognised means by which any senatorial man should seek reputation and distinction from his peers. A senatorial who does not engage in one of these fields is a nobody of little merit resting on the laurels earned by his ancestors.

Each Trait has three sub-Traits underneath it, forming a 3x3 matrix thus:

Politics is all the connectedness traits:
Wealth (the more you have, the richer, if you have Rich as Croesus 5, you're loaded)
Contacts (the more people you know and are in your clientage, the greater your clout)
Family (your familial reputation, and how much of a liability they are)

Rhetoric is the catch-all social skill:
Oratory (standing up in front of people and talking, and legal practice)
Charm (interpersonal stuff, might be Big and Mean Looking 3)
Erudition (sophistication - which can be a double-edged sword)

Warfare is the catch-all physical skill:
Combat (personal fighting ability)
Physicality (physical presence, for manual labour and intimidation, also craft skills)
Command (ability to lead armies, organise big things, run logistics and so on)

You might note there's no "education" type trait, and this is deliberate. Romans valued oratory and prose, but not necessarily academia for it's own sake. Contests are unlikely to be in the realm of "who is more intelligent". Physical attractiveness is player choice; being good-looking might aid your prospects with women, the Masses and some men, but it's also viewed suspiciously by the people who count.

Players are encouraged to interpret these as widely as possible. Someone choosing Command for example, need not be a skilled warleader, but might instead have a brilliantly organised mind, well suited to management of people. Wealth could represent landholdings, or people who owe you debt, or simply commercial skill (being "in trade" is most unsenatorial, but didn't stop people doing it).

Starting characters get five abilities in any of the nine areas they choose at 3, but only one per category. Then they get six (6) points (GM might want to give more) to customise. Each point may be used to raise a new Trait at 3, or raise an existing one by one point (max 5). Players are encouraged to specialise in certain areas to make their characters distinct.

They must also choose a Weakness against one of the abilities (usual stat at 1), which might be a profligate relative, an enemy, being a poor rider and so on. You may if you wish take one additional Weakness, for another point, but no more. Weaknesses can apply to areas of competence - a man who is a skilled archer might be poor in a stand-up fight, for example.

There are two unrated characteristics which must be chosen, Urge and Motivation. Urge is the dark driving force in their personality, that which when all human morality is stripped away is what makes them carry on. It might be Fear of Rejection, Hunger for Dominance, Desire for Approval, Joy of Opposition, Glory in Levity, Avoidance of Effort and so on.

Motivation is what the character's single most important goal is. It might be Lead Armies to Victory, Amass Great Wealth, Be Loved By the People, Come Top of Every Poll, See All My Enemies Laid Low.

Finally you'll need a good Roman name, using proper Naming Conventions. Made up of three parts, though most people only have two - a praenom which is only used in friendly company, a nomen gentile which is the family name, and some have a cognomen, which is a nickname. Especially auspicious personages may have more names, attached to familial, or even personal deeds. Those adopted from other families would change their name.

Slaves who become freedmen, and foreigners who become a Roman's client have their own naming conventions.

Example Character
And an example character, Cato the Younger (Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis):

Wealth: Comfortably Well-off 3
Contacts: Aligned with the boni 4
Family: Respected Heritage 3

Oratory: Harsh-toned Hectoring 4, Filibuster 3
Charm: Bluntly Honest 1
Erudition: Stoic Austerity 1

Combat: Served in the Legions 4
Physicality: Well-built 4
Command: Natural Organiser 3

Motivation: To live up to the standards of Cato the Elder.
Urge: Never bend, never sway, never be influenced.

An Example Campaign
The following is a Campaign One-sheet for a Republican Roman game, as an example of how you might conceptualise a game.

Setting Name: The First Man in Rome

Setting Description: Political machinations, exploration of strange lands, plots and intrigue, danger and commerce in the era of late Republican Rome. It's 78BC and the ex-dictator Sulla has just died. Will this mean a return to personality feuds that spill over into bloodshed on the streets of Rome, or is this a new beginning, the burgeoning of hope for every good Roman?

Inspiration: Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series of books, HBO/BBC's Rome TV series, Alfred Duggan's Three's Company.

License to Kick Ass: You're a True Roman (or at least you know one!) pursuing your destiny, be that by military glory, political success, advocacy or perhaps even in trade or crime.

Chi Is: Chi is replaced by Dignitas, a difficult-to-translate word conveying the sum total of a Roman man's reputation, honour, integrity, authority, self-belief and self-worth. Remember that there are no "hit points" in Wushu. When your Dignitas is high, you are well-respected and taken seriously in the important circles. The man with the greatest Dignitas of all is the First Man in Rome.

When your Dignitas runs low, you begin to doubt yourself, people wonder at whether you are worthy of respect. When it's all gone and your last supporters have deserted you, it's time to open your veins or fall on your sword and at least salvage some modicum of dignity.

Sample Character Concepts: ex-Centurion, young senatorial, merchant prince, famous advocate, foreign diplomat, pirate agent, historian of the Republic.

Typical Tasks: Leading the prosecution in a court case, tracking down the person that start the foul rumour about your patron, brawling in the Forum, persuading the foreign dignitary to sponsor your bid for office, electioneering, desparate fights in back alleys.

Suitable Traits: Veteran of the Legions, Regular on the Campus Martius, Olympian, Dirty Fighter, Forum Brawler, Soldier of the Sand (Gladiator), Lanista, Big Bruiser, Peerless Horseman, Just a Quiet Word, Silver-tongued Rogue, Everybody Knows Me Everybody Owes Me, Who Would Suspect Such a Man?, All Your Well-learned Politesse, Connections in Low Places, Intimidating Presence, Rabble Rouser, Skilled Orator, Legal Advocate, Merchant Prince, Administrative Aptitude, Housebreaker, Siege Engineer, Well-Travelled, Reads the Auguries.

Suitable Weaknesses: Epicurean, Austere, Drunkard, Indebted, Hotheaded, Bad Reputation, Familial Enemies, Gambling Addict, Too Handsome to be Trusted, New Man and it Shows, Wife with Lavish Tastes, Too Many Mistresses.

Mooks: Bureacrats, bodyguards, foreign soldiers, the Masses, juries in the courts, local election campaigns, skirmishes with native bandits.

Nemeses: Senators, foreign nobles, important witnesses, consular election campaigns, wars against rebels and wandering tribes.

Example Description: Quintus Servilius drew in a deep breath and modulated his voice to carry well, so that even the people towards the back of the Forum could hear him, if faintly. "Quirites, hear me." He said striking an oratorial pose. "This proposed reform of the grain dole is unjust and penalises the common man." There was a growl of affirmation from the crowd. "I say it must stop, and if you elect me Tribune of the Plebs, to be your representative in the Senate." He says pointing at the temple used as the Senate house. "I will ensure it does not pass. Quirites, are you with me?" Servilius is greeted by a roar of approving voices, cheering him on.

Using Trait "Rabble Rouser"

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Page last modified on June 06, 2006, at 06:57 AM