How would a modern army stack up against Ancient Rome? It’s a killer hook that is explored with aplomb in Jonathan Hickman’s Pax Romana; a comic series about a near-future Vatican plot to save the Catholic Church by sending an army to Rome on the eve of Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge. It’s a great set-up that could be the foundation of a fun campaign. Doing my best not to spoil the series, I’m going to try to suggest a few elements that GMs can thieve from this fine, fine book.
Now Pax Romana is chalk full of plot twists, turns and payoffs, so if you haven’t read it yet I strongly suggest you go down to your local comic shop and pick up a copy before reading on. Then again, if you aren’t a spy bot and you are reading this, I’m just plumb delighted.
The gist of the premise is that in the mid-21st Century, the Vatican gets access to technology that will allow them to send a certain volume back in time. Beset on all sides, they opt to secretly assemble a genetically enhanced military force (led by a Church Cardinal) to go back in time to the days just before Constantine the Great’s unification of the Roman Empire. The plan is to support and guide him (and his heirs due to the soldiers’ enhanced life expectancies) in such a way that the Empire will not fall and the Catholic Church will never be seriously threatened in Europe and the Near East.
Needless to say, this plan quickly goes off the rails; primarily due to differences in philosophy between the force’s military commanders and their spiritual leader. The survivors of this internal dissent then begin to forcefully impose their agendas upon antiquity and the series charts the consequences of both their decisions and the what happens as their individual agendas begin to diverge.
Now the takeaway from the book, for me, is to provide both a great hook for a one-shot or short campaign and to give a solid example of a high-level campaign where the players have the power to dramatically change the world.
As a hook, it would be easy enough to just run a game where the PCs are the leaders of this expedition (or a similar one to another time or world). Give them limited, but powerful resources, a vague mission statement and let them go nuts.
Similarly, as a campaign example it illustrates a few possibilities as to how to keep things interesting when the players represent the biggest single power in your game world. You can still push their agendas against each other, introduce other travellers with a similar remit and have them deal with plots by the very people they are there to help.
Regardless, I strongly recommend you pick up Pax Romana, give it a read and take everything you can from it for your game!