WIR-S1E03–Ordines Civitatis

A good Roman citizen knows their neighborhood.

Salve, caniculae!

The first two episodes of this series introduced the two “prime sets” for the Cortex Primus game When In Rome (WIR): Distinctiones Romanorum (Distinctions) and Do Ut Des (pledges to the Gods). This post completes the “prime sets” with Ordines Civitatis—lit: “the rank of the city” or “the ranks of the state.”

Due credit where credit is due, the third WIR prime set is inspired by Pete Woodworth’s Eagle Eyes • A World of Adventure for Fate Core (which is really for FAE), available on DriveThruRPG and itch.io. I recommend that you follow those links and buy this book before reading any further.

Fig. 1. PWYW on DriveThruRPG and itch.io

The Social Orders of Rome

Roman census classified male citizens by ordines (orders, ranks), affording an electoral weight proportionate to their net worth. Accuracy would track ordines for citizens only and add other dimensions of social standing (Patrician-Plebeian, military rank, patron-client, etc.) and for non-citizens (wealth, links to Roman families, etc.).

Fortunately, historical authenticity imposes lower demands. WIR cuts across the many divides of Roman society with a prime set of Affiliations (CPGH:48) called, for flavor, Ordines Civitatis (the “orders of the City”), in partial reference to ordines, but not coinciding with them.

  • Patricii (the Patricians). The hereditary ruling class of Rome had a quasi-monopoly on higher magistratures—including the censor who assigned ordines—and on the Senate.
  • Plebs (the Plebeians). The mass of Roman citizens, from ultra-wealthy Senatorial families to the ultra-poor capite censi—were represented by the same magistrates, the tribuni plebis.
  • Peregrini (the Foreigners). With less legal protection, no representatives, but also fewer social constraints, they had unique usefulness to the Senatorial class.
  • Servi (the Slaves). Essential to the Roman economy and social organization, they ranged from highly sought-after specialists (bodyguards, private teachers) to manual laborers.
  • Legio (the Legion). After the Year of the Consulship of Loginus and Marius, and the Marian Reforms, the Roman professional army became a microcosm with its own rules beyond Roman society.

I’d recommend Eagle Eyes‘ 1-page summary for each of the above (link in Fig. 1), the Chapter II of GURPS Imperial Rome, or any of the Wikipedia links, in that order. There is more about Ordines Civitatis, but it depends on interplay with WIR subsystems yet to be introduced in future episodes. And so, it’s time for a taste of things to come.

Interlude: Scope, Itinera Vitae & Tabula Rerum Timendarum

WIR campaigns can have four scopes: Orbis Terrae, the known world; Imperium Romanum, or Rome-the-State; Urbs or Rome-the-City; and Vicus (the neighborhood). Ordines Civitatis ratings should express the PCs’ relations to Patricii, Plebes, Peregrini, Servi et Legio relative to their standing in Rome-the-City (Urbs), regardless of the game’s scope. 

The ratings of Ordines Civitatis are determined at “Session Zero,” by completing the Itinera Vitae (I.V., lit: “the paths of life”), WIR’s pathways, which also build a Tabula Rerum Timendarum (T.R.T., lit: a “slate of things to fear”), WIR’s Threat map. The setting elements introduced in the I.V. and the T.R.T. would match the campaign’s scale.

More generally, an “adventure” or a “campaign” in WIR has no plotted storyline, but a T.R.T. zooming in on events of a chosen scope and focusing on how relations across social divides (in Rome-the-City) creep in at the chosen scope for the adventure or campaign. Vicus-level being the recommended starting scope, the setting elements and game mechanics below reflect it.

Ordines in a 107 BCE Vicus

In WIR, each of the five Ordines is an Affiliations to a Faction with an Agenda (lit: “[things] to be enacted”) determined during the I.V. session. Each Faction has access to GMCs and Resources and grants special benefits to PC that belong to it. Accordingly, each of the descriptions below includes:

  • An Agenda for (around) 107 BCE, reflecting historically authentic aspirations. 
  • T.R.T. Resources and GMCs, reflecting the Faction’s presence at the intended starting scope (Vicus).
  • Special perks accessible to PCs who start as members of that Faction..

Pages numbers are to Cortex Prime Game Handbook (CPGH), print or .pdf; links require a registered Cortex account.

Patricians

Agenda: Set Gaius Marius to fail, Take back the levers of power. Gaius Marius has outmaneuvered the Senate to bring his reforms, with the help of the Tribuni Plebis. The Patricians want the Senate back in charge.

On a Vicus T.R.T. Patrician patrons, possibly a Senator or two, as Major GMCs or Bosses (CPGH:114, 118); a wealthy domus (town mansion) as Location GMC (CPGH:116); a political alliance, as Faction or Org (CPGH:119).

Perks: Military Rank, elective Magistrature, clients, as Signature Asset (CPGH:64) or Ressources (CPGH:56); relation to political Factions or Orgs, as Reputations (CPGH:55).

Plebeians

Agenda: Support Gaius Marius, Secure the levers of power. Gaius Marius has outmaneuvered the Senate to bring his reforms, with the help of the Tribuni Plebis. The Plebeians want Tribuni Plebis to stay in charge.

On a Vicus T.R.T. Wealthy Plebeian patrons, possibly a Senator or two, as Major GMCs or Bosses; a domus for a wealthy Plebeian family, and insulae (condominium) for everyone else, as Location GMCs; a collegium, as Faction or Mob (CPGH:117). 

Perks: Military Rank, elective Magistrature (other than censor), clients, a Patron, as Signature Asset; relation to collegia or street gangs, as Reputations.

Foreigners

Agenda: Business, as usual; Stay ahead of the politics. Gaius Marius’ new professional army is hungry for supplies and gear—but Patricians don’t like him.

On a Vicus T.R.T. Wealthy merchant, as Major GMCs or Boss; a domus for a rich merchant, and insulae (condominium) for common migrants, or a copona (wine bar with food, board games, and, more rarely, sex workers) operated and frequented by migrants, all Location GMC; a foreign cult, as Faction; a “protection” gang, as Mob. 

Perks: Business connections, Patrician silent partner, as Signature Asset; relation to foreign cult or community, or street gangs, as Reputations. Some unique Signature Assets may be available, depending on origins.

Slaves

Making slaves PCs available to players, and allowing them to live a half-decent life, is not endorsing the view that “after all, slaves were not that ill-treated in Rome.” They were. We may choose to ignore the worst and magnify the acceptable, while we play. But let’s not confuse a game with a lesson about historical reality.


Agenda: Earn autonomy; Stay in the city. Slaves in Rome-the-city had more opportunities to save money and buy their freedom than rural slaves and could sometimes have a social life outside of their masters’ dwellings.

On a Vicus T.R.T. Masters, Minor, Major or Boss GMCs; residencies, in domus or insulae; places of socialization, like popinae (lower-class than coponae, but otherwise offering the same services), all Location GMC. Possibly a collegium or a street gang they’d have links to.

Perks: Slaves were “socially invisible” and could enjoy a “specialist authority” limited to their expertise (as teachers, bodyguards, accountants), both can translate into Signature Assets.

Legion

Agenda: Prove they’re not mere pack-mules; Survive long enough to retire. The professional legions embody the social disruption wrought by Marius and the Tribuni Plebis, but veterans from the volunteer legions are still around.

On a Vicus T.R.T. Officers and Centurions as Major or Boss GMCs; barrack, camps are outside of the city, but officers may have family dispensations and live in insulae; they’d visit coponae and popinae during permissions; all are Location GMCs; a veterans’ collegium, ad Mob, or Org.

Perks: Muli Mariani (Marius’ Mules) have their standard-issue equipment as Signature Assets but cannot wear arms within city limits. Reputation are a natural choice, earned as volunteers before 102 BCE, and in the professional legions afterward.

Ordines In A Character File

In WIR, all prime sets refer to details introduced during the Itinera Vitae (pathway). The Ordines Civitatis tie the PC explicitly to the Tabula Rerum Timendarum. Leaving the details for future episodes, I’ll consider an example based on a simplified version of Scorpio’s story, as it’d come out of an I.V. session.

“The year of the consulship of Longinus and Marius finds Gnaeus Crespus Scorpio, a young pleb of merely twenty, already both a veteran and an orphan. Scorpio earned his cognomen in Numidia, in service of his patron, P. Rutilius Rufus. He inherited a modest domus on the Aventine—a gift to his father from Rufus, for saving his life—but owes to the Collegium Numidicum, a veteran’s association his father started, the money for his father’s burial rites. A regular at the Anser Capitolinus, a tavern popular with Rome’s Gaul workers, Scorpio often meets there with Borsus Rutenus, a former Gaul gladiator and ludus operator, and somewhat of a father figure to him. To help him repay his debt to the collegium, Rufus recommended Scorpio to former consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus, a powerful Plebeian whose family is nonetheless aligned with Patrician politics, to handle a delicate matter discretely.”

Fig.1. G. Crespus Scorpio, made with the Cortex Prime Character File Generator
https://tamas-rabel.github.io/cortex/sheet.html

The information recorded on the character file is repeated below for ease of reading.

  • Patricii. Scorpio discretely settled a private matter for the former consul Q. Caecilius Metellus, following a recommendation of his patron.
  • Plebes. Scorpio is a client of P. Rutilius Rufus who gifted his father a modest domus on the Aventine for saving his life in Numidia.
  • Peregrini. Scorpio is a regular at Anser Capitolinus, a copona popular with the Gaul workers in Rome, where he often meets Borsus Rutenus, a former gladiator and father figure to him.
  • Servi. Scorpio practices armatura daily with the gladiator trainees at the Ludus Rutenicus, operated by Borsus Rutenus.
  • Legio. Scorpio owes money to the Collegium Numidicum for his father’s overpriced funeral rites.

Each of the boldface phrases is an element placed on the T.R.T. P. Rutilius Rufus and Q. Caecilius Metellus Numidicus are genuine historical figures, both Plebeian, but with opposite politics. Metellus Numidicus was consul in 109 BCE, and enacted a pro-Patrician agenda. Rutilus Rufus would be consul in 105 BCE, continuing the Marian reforms. All the others folks and locations are imaginary, and could in principle be located in Scorpio’s vicus.

Conclusio: Longino Marioque Consulibus

In When In Rome, the intended form of an “adventure” or a “campaign” is not a plotted storyline but a Tabula Rerum Timendarum. Although a plot is possible, it should not be necessary unless you want one—for instance, one that follows a particular chain of historical eventsIn principle, all you’ll need to play When In Rome is a starting date and a scope at which to play.

That last statement may seem somewhat disingenuous. Indeed, the GM should have some notion of Roman history to turn a date into an agenda for the Factions corresponding to the Ordines Civitatis. Then again, future episodes will cover how to acquire the notions.

Beginning with the next one, which will cover the Itinera Vitae—the road’s beginning, anyway, for we all know where it leads to, don’t we? In the meantime,

Valete, caniculae!

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