Pleasure and Leisure

This campaign is (obviously) not set in medieval Europe. A few words are in order about the characteristic leisure activities of the Roman Empire, quite different in some ways from their medieval descendants.

Taverns tended to be disreputable places, at least in the eyes of the Žlite whose writings are preserved. They were places to meet travelers, have one's food warmed (since the poor did not necessarily have ovens in their homes), flirt with waitresses and waiters, play board games, and gamble with dice. Roadside hostels did exist to put up travelers for the night, but these spots are known as dens of iniquity, very disreputable places, where orgies, drunken brawls, and thievery were commonplace. Similarly, it was thought to be "morally healthier to eat at home," rather than in a restaurant. Taverns on the whole were not places for the well-to-do to show their faces.

More reputable places did exist, however, for the more dignified traveler who could secure a letter of recommendation from local government authorities. Such letters indicated the business of the traveler, and made some assurances regarding his or her moral character. These might be procured through the aid of a patron with contacts. . . .

All hostelkeepers were expected if not actually required by law to note certain information about their guests, including their names, nationalities, business, and so on, and to keep an all-night vigil for the safety of their guests.

Incidentally (or perhaps not), the "bar" is not a Roman architectural design. Taverns were designed as long halls with tables, with the owner seated at the far end from the door. Slaves, of course, did most of the work in terms of serving and cooking.

Confraternities (collegia) were free, private associations of people (men and women, slave, freed, and freeborn) with a common trade or religion. They were local institutions, comprised, perhaps, of all the town's weavers, or a number of devotees of the god Serapis. Like medieval trade associations, they provided certain services for their members, most notably funerals. More importantly, however, they met to share banquets. These organizations tended to be the center of men's social lives.

The baths have been compared to modern beaches. Not simply for cleanliness, they were the social clubs of the Roman world, open to everyone for "a few coins" (the 3cp listed in the PHB, p. 68, as the price for a bath). They provided 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 were promenades and fields for sports and games. In the baths, one could "mix with the crowd, shout, meet people, listen to conversations, spot and tell stories about odd characters, and show off." People played ball games, board games, and dice games (one place where gaming proficiency might pay off), and drinks and snacks were available. The opening of the baths in the morning was announced with a gong.

The baths were also a place for serious athletics, and players wishing to emulate the Competitor kit without the social role of a professional athlete in Greece and Asia should consider a background in the baths for their characters (see the Bathrat kit).

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 were the stars of the Roman world, rarely going anywhere without their train of admirers (and not all teeny-boppers, either).

The Circus Maximus was the most popular place in Rome, a place to meet friends, have drinks and snacks, or just gamble on the chariot races. The racecourse was open 240 days a year, with about 40 races a day! Charioteering races were either with 2 or 4 horses per chariot; it was difficult to steer them around the course (and occasional obstacles put in the way). Charioteers were mostly slaves, but sometimes almost worshipped for their skills. Charioteering was not the only required skill; other feats of horsemanship such as riding standing up and picking up scarves from the ground while racing were asked for daily. The accidents and casualties were high, which only pleased the Roman crowd. Rewards were high as well, though; one charioteer retired with the equivalent of several million dollars after less than a decade of work.

Not much need be said about gladiating. Gladiators fought each other and wild beasts, including elephants, crocodiles, and (especially in the Imperium Romanum) even more fantastic beasts. Gladiators may have been slaves, prisoners of war, or even volunteers.

As a final note, religious festivals provided an additional excuse, if one was needed, for serious partying and feasting. Invariably, religious ceremony involved sacrifice, and sacrifice meant feasting (since the gods only took part of the slaughtered animal). Religious festivals occurred frequently in the calendar, with much geographical variation, so they are somewhat unpredictable.