In place of the hundreds of kits available in 2nd edition, the game now offers thirteen backgrounds that, with tweaking as necessary, can cover the range of character origins in the Roman world.


The Roman world is full of priests, who might or might not be clerics or other spellcasters. Roman flamines are elected from among the citizenry, with no regard for magical ability or even personal piety. Priests of the Imperial cults and priests of other state cults (such as the Osirian triad in Egypt) hold similarly prominent social roles. Priests of established mystery-cults, such as the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter, the cult of Cybele and Attis, the widespread cult of Isis, Orphism, Mithraism (though it did not become popular until somewhat later), and the Dionysiac mysteries, are typically more devout, and are more likely to also be clerics. Cults with a more popular base, such those of Dennari, Dubana, Jesus, and other local and not-very-influential deities, often have wandering charismatics as priests, who travel among various communities of devotees of the same god, passing on traditions and teachings and working miracles (casting spells) to the benefit of the community.


In addition to the common sorts of tricksters and con artists, most "magicians" in the Roman world live the lives of charlatans. Charlatans pretend to be able to foretell the future, predict and control weather, cast charms, blessings and curses, or speak with the dead in order to bilk or intimidate the gullible. By convincing upper-class Romans of supposed magical powers, a charlatan can gain access to wealthy households or the patronage of wealthy equestrians and powerful senators. 


Although Roman criminal law is harsh, Roman police procedures vary from nonexistent to slack, so only a thief who is caught in the act of stealing or tracked down by private investigators has much to fear! Besides stealing, the run-of-the-mill thief often becomes involved in highway robbery or running protection rackets, victimizing small businesses. This is safer but less lucrative than robbing rich senators and equestrians. In the turbulent politics of Rome, criminals can supplement their income by working for public figures as professional spies or assassins.


Public spectacles, including theater, races, and fights, were to the Roman West the equivalent, in terms of public appeal, what participatory competition was to the Greek East. The Romans were great spectators, and flocked to these spectacles in enormous numbers (the Colosseum in Rome, which opened in AD 80, was designed to hold 50,000, while the Circus Maximus held 250,000 spectators).

Public theater presentations consisted both of classical-style comedy (much preferred over tragedy) and of the so-called pantomime, which involved an actor miming and dancing as musicians played and sang the story. This form of "opera" set the musical fashion of the day, with popular songs being derived from the pantomime. Tickets were free, but apparently hard to get. The actors were all male, and considered to be a scandalous lot indeed. The public had, by AD 45, become disinterested in tragedy, despite theater owners' attempts to woo them with door prizes and other enticements.

On the street, however, another kind of theater flourished, called simply mime. This was closer to theater as we know it, with spoken lines, women playing women's roles, and a slapstick style of humor. 

The races of the circus and the gladiatorial combats of the arena are well-known. Athletes, actors, racers, and gladiators are the stars of the Roman world, rarely going anywhere without their train of admirers. The variant entertainer (gladiator) is of course a natural fit here. Gladiators are trained to fight in a specific style. The player should pick appropriate proficiencies for one of these styles: 

  • The Mirmillo, Thracian, and Samnite styles all use the gladius (short sword) or spatha (long sword). They also wear special gladiator armor and carried shields. 
  • The Retiarius use the trident, net, and dagger, and wear special light gladiator armor. 
  • The Dimachaeri carry two gladii (short swords) or siccae (scimitars) and wear heavy armor. 
  • The Essedari fight with javelins from chariots. 
  • The Eques fight with spatha and hasta (spear) from horseback.

Folk Hero

Folk heroes are defined by their devotion to the cause of the oppressed common people in the face of tyranny. Thus, this background is ideally suited to characters in the Roman provinces whose opposition to Roman occupation has brought them notoriety among their fellows. The character might also be a slave or former slave, perhaps the leader of a small-scale slave uprising.

Guild Artisan

The Roman precursors to the medieval artisan guilds are "confraternities" (collegia), which are free, private associations of people (men and women, slave, freed, and freeborn) with a common trade or religion. They are local institutions, comprised, perhaps, of all the town's weavers, or a number of devotees of the god Serapis. Like medieval trade associations, they provide certain services for their members, most notably funerals. More importantly, though, they meet to share banquets. These organizations tend to be the center of men's social lives. A character can use this background to represent membership in any collegium, even a religious one, and gain the feature of guild membership. 


Several eremitic traditions in the Roman world produce mystics and ascetics who strive after union with their deity in the wilderness. They usually have no connection to any priestly hierarchy, or are even persecuted by their hierarchies, but serve their deities in their own individual manner. Even followers of philosophical doctrines often pursue ascetic lifestyles. Hermits do not interact much with the broader populace. They are sometimes sought out for guidance or miracles, and on occasion their deities send them into civilization with mysterious purposes known only to the deities and the hermits themselves. They are reclusive and secretive, and do not often turn to adventuring. Hermit communities include Buddhists in Alexandria and the east, the Jewish Therapeutae and Essenes, and various schools of Platonic and Neopythagorean philosophers. 


A character with this background might come from a senatorial or equestrian family, or else claim descent from the pre-Roman nobility of the provinces (possibly including the Hellenistic empire). 

The child of a senator has significant social obligations and must take orders from the senator parent. The character might be on the cursus honorium, the "road of honor" of political duties that might eventually lead the character to a position on the Senate. This path includes winning election to junior government posts and possibly doing military service as a legionary officer.

The equestrian order is the upper middle class of wealthy businesspeople. The children of equestrians might be sent into the military to better themselves, and might gradually take on greater and greater responsibility in preparation for taking over the family business.

Despite the name of the equestrian order, such characters are not "knights" in the medieval sense, and that variant noble background doesn't fit in this campaign.


This background is ideal for characters who hail from the remote parts of the Roman provinces—or beyond. Barbarians from Gaul, Britannia, Germania, Sarmatia, and Africa crowd in on the Empire's borders. In general, the farther one's home is from the great centers of civilization in Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, the more likely one is to share the attitudes and talents of the outlander.


Scholars and sages hold positions of great respect in the Roman Empire. A sage might hold some connection to one of the great libraries in Alexandria, Antioch, or Pergamum. The character could be employed as a tutor in the household of a well-to-do family, or connected with a philosophical society. The character might even be a member of a thieves' guild who is driven to steal bits of information, historically interesting artifacts, and tomes of ancient lore.


The fundamentals of life at sea are little different in the Roman Empire than in other historical eras. A character with this background might be a member of the Roman Navy, a Phoenician merchant, or a slave chained to the oars of a ship. 

Piracy is also a viable, if dangerous, option on the Mediterranean, and certainly will rake in a profit—if death at the hands of Roman patrols can be avoided. Also lucrative would be the Red Sea (intercepting the monsoon trade between Egypt and India) and especially the Black Sea, and perhaps the English Channel (though at this point it has more than its share of Romans around).


A character with this background could be a member of a Roman legion (if a Roman citizen) or one of the provincial auxiliary legions. After twenty-five years of service in an auxiliary legion, a soldier could earn citizenship. Auxiliaries are usually missile troops, scouts, or cavalry, including the following:

  • Cretan archers (professional mercenaries)
  • Numidian cavalry from Africa
  • Balearic slingers from the Balearic Isles near Spain
  • Gallic and German cavalry


Urchins are found in the streets of every city across the empire. This background might also reflect the class of socialite we used to call "bathrats," characterized by their social mobility, their social skills, and their leisure time. The baths are the social clubs of the Roman world, open to everyone for "a few coins" (3 cp). They provide a luxurious setting, with sculptures, mosaics, painted decor, sumptuous architecture, and—importantly, in the colder months—heating. Besides the baths themselves (both hot and cold), there are promenades and fields for sports and games. In the baths, one can "mix with the crowd, shout, meet people, listen to conversations, spot and tell stories about odd characters, and show off." People play ball games, board games, and dice games (one place where gaming proficiency might pay off), and drinks and snacks are available. The opening of the baths in the morning was announced with a gong.