The Pendragon Chronicles – Vol. 8 – Imperium (Part 1)

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Where previous games in the COIN series cover a few years, or at most a couple decades, of history, Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain spans more than a century of the history of Britain, from the waning years of the Western Roman Empire (c. 360 AD) to the thorough fragmentation of the island into warring proto-kingdoms of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds (c. 500 AD). Naturally, such drastic political, institutional, and cultural changes over such a long period mean that conditions and objectives underwent significant evolutions during that span of time. In game terms, this translates into the necessity of the evolution of the very rules and victory conditions during the course of the game! This is captured in Pendragon’s Imperium Track. Now, this evolution was not necessarily preordained, but to a large extent the product of the actions and aspirations of the involved historical players, and so it will be in a game of Pendragon

Imperium Track (playtest graphics)

From the very beginning of the work on Pendragon, it was clear that one important feature that had to be represented was the evolution of the political and institutional contexts: as the civilians try to wrest ever greater autonomy from the central government on the continent, and the military and administration find it increasingly difficult to raise taxes, reconstitute army units, maintain the road network, or simply maintain their authority, the game parameters and even rules need to be adjusted as the game progresses.

Imperium Stage  

To capture the evolving institutional framework, the Imperium Track is divided into three Imperium stages:

  • Roman Rule means that the diocese (group of provinces) of Britannia still recognizes the authority of the Western Roman Emperor, be it currently residing in Rome, Ravenna or Milan. This is the historical situation at the start of the period covered by the game;
  • Autonomy represents a situation where the British provinces no longer answer to any imperial court on the continent, and handle their own affairs, either through a breakaway British Empire, or some confederation of the major tribes under a High King. This is the historical situation that prevailed on the island for a number of decades after the Rescript of Honorius (410 AD);
  • Finally, Fragmentation depicts a condition where all semblance of a central authority, whether based on the island or across the Channel, has disappeared, leaving a melee of tribes and proto-kingdoms to fight it out. This is the historical situation at the end of the period covered by the game.

Political Dominance 

Among the Romano-British (or Britons), the key issue, as long as a central authority existed, was what group would be controlling that central authority, and reap the benefits from that position. To keep matters simple, this is reduced in the game to the rivalry between, on the one hand, those who derive their legitimacy from the imperial institutions, i.e. the provincial administrations and the army, and, on the other hand, the tribal and city elites, who are the heirs to the nobility of the traditional local tribes. When the first group holds the upper hand, we speak of “Military Dominance”; when it is the second, of “Civilian Dominance”.

Political Dominance is only relevant under Roman Rule and Autonomy: if the island has sunk into Fragmentation, there is no meaningful central authority left fighting for.

As a result, a total of five different Imperium statuses are possible: Roman Rule with Military or Civilian Dominance, Autonomy with Military or Civilian Dominance, and Fragmentation.

Impact of Imperium Status on the Rules

This is fundamental as various rules will apply differently, or even not at all, depending on the current Imperium Status:

  • Briton Cooperation: under Roman Rule and Autonomy (any Dominance), the two Briton Factions (Dux and Civitates) will fight together against Barbarians (note that they can always fight against each other…);
  • Imperial Taxation: under Roman Rule, the Imperial Court will levy taxes on Briton Revenues during Epoch Rounds, right after revenue is computed, before any other expense; the amount is slightly reduced (20 Resources instead of 30) under Civilian Dominance;
  • Military Preemption: under Roman Rule (any Dominance) and under Autonomy (Military Dominance only), the Dux Faction may use Briton (Civitates) Resources as they wish; under Autonomy with Civilian Dominance, they only can with the Civitates’ express authorization;
  • Roads Maintenance: under Roman Rule, the Roads are automatically maintained (these taxes are not entirely wasted…); under Autonomy, the Dux Faction must pay 10 Resources during Upkeep Phases to maintain them (note that once the Roads have not been maintained once, they can no longer be reinstated); under Fragmentation, the Roads are no longer available;

Note: the interruption of maintenance of the road system does not mean that the physical roadways necessarily become useless, but rather that the support infrastructure around it (relay posts, stables, staff, informers, etc.) ceases to function.

  • Cavalry Casualties: alone in the game, Cavalry units are not returned to their Available box when removed from play: they go instead to the Casualties box, from which a fraction only is returned to the Available box during Epoch Rounds’ Upkeep Phases. This fraction is 100% under Roman Rule with Military Dominance and Fragmentation, but only 2/3 under Roman Rule with Civilian Dominance, and ½ under Autonomy (any Dominance);

Note: following the reforms of Diocletian, military careers, like all other professions, became hereditary, in order to guarantee the continuation of all trades. However, this proved usually distasteful to many soldiers’ sons, and the reality of the enforcement of this rule varied directly with the strength of the government.

  • Prestige gain: when the Dux Faction holds (Military) Dominance during a Revenue Phase of an Epoch Round, they are awarded extra Prestige: +5 under Roman Rule, or +2 under Autonomy;
  • Invite Foederati: the Invite Feat, which is common to both Briton Factions, is no longer available under Fragmentation;
  • Recovery: during Recovery Phases of Epoch Rounds, Prosperity cubes may only be placed back on a Region’s top row (Full Recovery) under Roman Rule; under all other statuses, Prosperity cubes may only be placed on top rows by a Faction action or Event, not during Epoch Rounds’ Recovery Phases.

Note:  the decay of central authority, and the resulting decrease in overall security and trust led to a marked decline in long-range trade, and of the large-scale workshops and villae (agricultural enterprises) that thrived from it. As local economies turned inward, prosperity faded.

In a similar vein, the current Imperium Status can be a pre-condition for some Events.

Impact of Imperium Status on Victory Conditions

Since controlling any central authority is essential for both Briton Factions, holding Political Dominance (Military Dominance for the Dux, Civilian Dominance for the Civitates) is a necessary condition for them to be eligible for an Automatic Victory (unless under Fragmentation): no matter how far they may be above their victory condition (Total Prosperity added to Prestige for the Dux, Total Briton Control for the Civitates), if they do not hold Dominance, they cannot win! Even during the final Victory tally of a game (if no Faction won an Automatic Victory), the Briton Faction not holding Dominance will suffer a hefty penalty to its victory margin.

Beyond Political Dominance, the victory conditions for the two Briton Factions vary with the status of the Imperium: this is both to reflect the preference, especially among the Civitates, for Autonomy and rejecting the sometimes heavy hand of Rome, and to calibrate the thresholds to the various phases of the game. Obviously, when the island struggles to recover from the growing chaos, the measure of what constitutes success has to vary!

The  Dux Faction experiences a more drastic change in its victory conditions when the Imperium falls down to Fragmentation: at this point, any pretense of enforcing any kind of central authority is dead, and so stability of the island as a whole becomes irrelevant. Instead, the Dux Faction now vies for territorial Control, just like the Civitates and the Saxons, though they still benefit from what is left of their Prestige.

At the same time, the Saxons, who initially can win either through building Control or accumulating Renown, lose that last option when the Imperium falls to Fragmentation. The reason for this is a difference in nature in what a Renown-based victory means for the Scotti and the Saxons: the Scotti leaders are trying to build up their Renown to make themselves preeminent at home, where the Saxon leaders aim to place themselves as the key power brokers behind a Roman or post-Roman state. When central authority fails, this option disappears, and only naked land grab remains as a victory condition for the Saxons…

Stay tuned for Part 2! Coming soon…

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8 thoughts on “The Pendragon Chronicles – Vol. 8 – Imperium (Part 1)

  1. I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the release of this game (Pendragon). I would make one recommendation regarding the playtest graphic of the Imperium track: I would select a more contrasting color to distinguish the three levels (Roman Rule, Autonomy, Fragmentation). The current yellow line is hardly appreciated given the background color. This problem of insufficient contrast unfortunately also happened on the event cards of Cuba Libre when certain factions have a halo around their symbol to indicate a specific matter when played by bots.

    • Thank you Eddy ! 🙂
      I take good note of your suggestion; I do agree the yellow line is not obvious enough. The final art for this table is yet to be done (it is nearly the last significant bit that remains to be done for the map), and we will make sure this very important element is well done. As you can see, there’s a lot of information that has to be crammed into that table…
      Regarding the halos, again I agree and this is why more recent COIN games have eschewed these in favour of specific symbols.

    • Obviously I can only answer for that part of the work that is within my and Volko’s hands, but we are on schedule to deliver all the game material to the production team in line with the 4Q target release date.

  2. Hello again. Just speaking from the graphics above, the double-sided arrow separating the two Political Dominance states, seems to suggest some intermediate category when “Wealth – (minus?) Prestige” = 6-to-9. I hope that is what is intended, or it should be changed to imply better what is correct. The color of the arrow changing gradually from Red to Blue suggests a gradation of value.

    • Indeed, if the difference between Wealth and Prestige is 9 or less, but more than 5, there is no change to Dominance. In effect, this provides a “stability” benefit to whomever currently holds Dominance: for instance, the Civitates need a 10+ advantage in Wealth to establish Civilian Dominance, but only 6+ to maintain it.
      As for the gradual color, this is only my attempt to show the transition; Chechu is yet to work on the final layout/scheme for this table. Thanks 🙂