Centurion Ruminations

A discussion elsewhere has led me to consider choices made in designing Centurion – one of my games that was not inspired by other systems but was wholly independently designed. Centurion: Legionaries of Rome, as its title implies, is a game about Roman legionaries, and more specifically the kinds of special troops that might find themselves in a testudo facing raging barbarians, but which are more likely to be in advance of the legions, scouting out the activities of those barbarians or even infiltrating the camps or cities of rival civilizations. The development of Centurion seems so long ago (I guess 2012 was a few years back), but I had some very clear design goals.

For a simple system with a strong focus on narrative, Centurion’s dice mechanics are somewhat complex, certainly much crunchier than the other aspects of the game. This was the result of an intent to develop a relatively light game that still required a level of strategy – or, to be more true to the definitions, tactics. Since it was a game about legionaries, the idea was to incorporate the kind of tactical thinking required when you were in a legion. Legionaries had to make decisions for themselves – when to receive attacks and when to strike – but these decisions also had effects on their squadmates – when shifting a shield for a strike, one left the legionary to one’s right vulnerable. So the decisions made on who to build one’s hand to best counter the GM was intended as an extension of the decisions required of a legionary.

In a Test, the GM must assemble their hand of dice first – the character’s stats are based on a number of d6, and these can be used to buy larger dice or used as d6s, and this collection of dice is the player’s “hand” – and this gives the PCs a decided advantage. This was not an unexpected result but was the goal of that design decision. PC s are intended to have an advantage – actually, a few – and the major advantage is the ability to respond to the GM’s hand. This is one way to mirror the incredible professionalism and level of training of the Roman legionaries in comparison to almost any foe that they faced. While PCs had certain other advantages, this one was the primary way in which the training of the legionaries was modelled.

Centurion is certainly not the most popular game that I have designed, but I think it is the one about which I am most proud. This was something that I designed completely from the ground up with a very strong idea about what I wanted it to do. I really believe that I accomplished that, though others might disagree.

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