Year 476 Common Era: In the fifth century CE, the final collapse of the western Roman Empire closes a chapter of history that lasted more than a thousand years. Gods and heroes are forgotten, and with them the dream of a nation unifying the known world...

1229 Ab Urbe Condita: In the thirteenth century since the foundation of Rome, an Emperor still watches over twenty provinces and the different peoples inhabiting them. Ruling with the help of divinatory powers, the Emperor grants stability to a world threatened by supernatural phenomena and dark omens.

Lex Arcana is a historical fantasy roleplaying game, set in an alternative 5th century CE where magic exists. In this divergent timeline, the Roman Empire managed to steer away from the course of events which led to its historical collapse, thanks to the mastery of the arts of Divination. By being able to see beyond the barriers of time, the Roman Emperors have kept their enemies at bay for centuries, outside the borders of the Empire as well as within.

Lex Arcana RPG: history, mythology and legend mixed in an unique setting.

The English version of the best-selling Italian RPG of all time, published by Quality Games and distributed by Ares Games, brings the unique setting merging history, mythology, and the legends of Ancient Rome, in a 256-page full-color hardcover volume, with incredible and original illustrations. Originally published in Italy in 1993, the game was designed by an exceptional team of authors: Dario De Toffoli, Leo Colovini, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello. For the new edition the same team was reunited under the creative direction of Andrea Angiolino, keeping the still fresh and elegant core rules and mechanics but also including important innovations.

In the year 1229 AUC, the streets of Rome, Alexandria, and Carthage see Greek philosophers mingle with astronomers from Babylon. Germanic warriors enter service in the legions alongside Gauls and Sarmatian nomads. Every citizen of the Empire speaks Latin and is equal under a common law. But the world of Lex Arcana is also fraught with danger, as within sight of the tall walls of the Roman cities lie demon-riddled deserts and dark, impenetrable forests, inhabited by fantastical beasts and murderous folks who defy the rule of the Emperor.

The Empire’s stability has allowed it to strengthen itself for decades and has not suffered any drastic changes, invasions or the breaking up of its territory. Economic growth has brought greater wealth to all the population and many peoples outside its borders are considered Roman citizens, protected by the invulnerable Pax Romana (the Roman Peace). But the Empire’s mighty and invincible legions and divinatory rituals are no longer enough to protect the Empire. Other powers are at work, hidden behind the veil of tangibility: ancient demons, dark magic, witchcraft, and monsters from forgotten depths.

A map showing the provinces of the Empire.

While the historical elements featured in the game are well-researched by the designers, Lex Arcana does not require a degree in Roman history to play. The world has taken a different turn from what is written in history books. Roman imperial legions clash with barbaric hordes on the field of battle, while ancient monsters, mystical powers, and nameless cults threaten the rule of the Caesars from within.

In Lex Arcana, players take on the role of Custodes (wardens) of the Cohors Auxiliaria Arcana, imperial agents sent on missions to the most distant and dangerous corners of the Roman Empire and beyond to search and study any supernatural phenomena. Its mission is even more specific: to identify and possibly stop any occult and magical activity. All Custodes are defined in the game by their personal data and by a set of attributes, Virtutes and Peritiae.

The Virtutes (sing. Virtus) quantify the innate capabilities of an individual, and are grouped in three pairs, identifying them as virtues of the Body, of the Mind, and of the Soul. The Peritiae (sing. Peritia) are values quantifying how much a character is proficient in six fields – Combat, Magic, Physical, Nature, Knowledge, and Social, achieved through study, experience, and/or training.

Players choose who will be the Demiurge, the game master. The others (or other) take the role of Custodes and see their choices translated into actions undertaken by their characters. In several occasions, a die roll is required to determine the outcome of an action. How easy or difficult an action can be, and its consequences, are adjudicated by the Demiurge. Players get to decide the combination of dice to roll: different combinations may present bigger risks and bigger rewards or give them a more “predictable result.”

Magic has a key role in Lex Arcana.

A key role in the game is played by Roman Magic. In this alternative timeline, Rome has avoided its end by using its haruspices, sages and oracles, escaping the sequence of events which in actual history brought to its fall. Since the foundation of the city, the magical might of the Caesars has revolved around the art of Divination, ritual practices aimed at foretelling the future, descry past events, read portents and interpret the favor of the gods. Roman magic is used to gather information and not to harm or destroy.

The art of Divination can be performed in two ways: either by carrying out a ritual or by interpreting omens. Among the various items that are considered part of the standard equipment of Custodes is a pouch, usually made of leather, containing several thin metal tablets with inscriptions. These tablets, called “sortes,” are used by the superstitious members of the Cohors Arcana to find out more about their destiny during a mission.

The Lex Arcana Core Rulebook includes everything needed to play one-shot sessions or a whole campaign, presenting full rules and the world to play in, 12 pre-generated Custodes, rules to make and advance them, advice for the Demiurge, the ancient world bestiary and two extensive introductory adventures: “The Long Winter Nights” and “The Mothers of Cenabum”.

Encyclopaedia Arcana: the definitive Lex Arcana setting compendium.

Other volumes bring further contents to the game. The Encyclopaedia Arcana, the definitive setting compendium, brings your adventures to a whole new level of detail. It describes the 20 Provinces of the Empire and communication routes, the structure of Imperial organization, bureaucracy and legions, Roman culture, economy and society, detailed entries on Medicamenta, Poisons and Potions, new secrets linked to Divination, Magic and Prophecies, and more than ten new maps showing military camps, harbours, and other locations ready to be dropped into your next adventure.

Adventure books will add new possibilities to play. The first of them is “Mysteries of the Empire I”, a collection of all the short adventures with a wide range of dangerous tasks, epic deeds and world-shaking missions perfectly suited for both one shots or as part of something larger, designed and assembled by the Demiurge. The volume presents 10 adventures created by some of best authors in the RPG world, such as Mark Rein Hagen, author of “Vampire the Masquerade RPG” and of all the “World of Darkness”; Francesco Nepitello, author of “The One Ring RPG;” and Gareth Hanrahan, author of the “RuneQuest“ setting, “Traveller Core Rulebook,” and recently also “The One Ring RPG”.

From misty Britannia to the immense rivers of Babylonia, from the Egyptian deserts to the beautiful beaches of Italia, the adventures awaiting the Custodes are as numerous as the Empire the Cohors Arcana must defend is large. For the glory of Rome and the Empire without end!

This article was originally published by Game Trade Magazine, issue 247 - September 2020.

For more information about Lex Arcana RPG, visit the Roleplaying Games section.

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