Romans gambled. They gambled on horse races, battling gladiators and all manner of games of chance. It finally dawned on me today that some of these games might work well as a small encounter in a role-playing campaign.
A little Google-fu and I came up with a nice site that lists not only the setup for some classic Roman games, but the rules as well. Best part is that these ancient games used many of the same pieces (tokens and dice) that every gamer already owns. A little preparation and you can easily work one into your game world. Give the players something to do in the tavern besides fight and drink.
Aerobiological Engineering (Roman Board Games)
There are 13 games listed, but a couple I think these three are more appropriate for RPG integration than the others.
This is the only game listed I already own. Amazing what they sell at “Toys R Us.” The game components are just beans or tokens and some circles/pits to contain the tokens. This one does not have rules listed, but here is a link to some game rules . I am quite fond of this one because it is incredibly simple, but the strategy is quite complex. It is also very fast, so it is a good “filler” game for an encounter. Also has the added benefit of not using dice for a change of pace.
This one really surprised me because game/book writer repeatedly reference it in tavern and city descriptions but never explain the rules. You will need to print out the scoring system as it is a bit complicated. It reminds me a bit of Yahtzee combined with poker. Every gamer has the base components, four d6. Dice are nice, but throwing real bones could inject fun bit of reality in your game. I found a site that sells replica sheep bones for gaming, since I assume the real thing would smell…poorly.
A bit more complicated and requires more preparation before giving it to your players, but the game board just looks cool. The fact you can throw sticks instead of dice looked amusing also. Straws are a good alternative to prevent poking someone’s eye out. I also found this site with a better rules explanation. The closest modern equivalent is backgammon.
There are several other games listed, including one that looks as complicated as “Go .” Though more complex, they are worth checking out. I doubt you will get much RPG use out of them, but they might be fun for a rainy night.
If anyone has any other suggestions or ideas, please drop me a comment or two.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer