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I've made a Roman Empire campaign that consists of a lot of writing I did myself. I love roman history and put tons of details into it, including assigning domains and portfolios to roman gods (the more important ones, not the stupid domestic ones). I've figured out ways to keep the players on their toes even though most of them can quote the book from memory, which was quite a feat.

My new problem is that no one is taking my bad-ass theme seriously, and aren't bothering to learn about their environment. I pretty much expected this from one of the party members because he's very casual. But my good players and party leaders that actively engage the party in role-playing to some degree just aren't diving into the content. They wouldn't even notice it was roman if it wasn't for the -ius they jammed on the ends of otherwise normal names.

I'm doing flavorful description when I can, without going more than two sentences for the most part. Longer than a few sentences and it gets a little long winded. The players are having a blast from the looks of it. We're now 4 sessions into the new campaign, so I don't know if I'm expecting too much too soon. I was hoping that the players would notice and indulge in little things (food, sayings, etc) from the overall culture, and that the cleric would explore the pantheon a bit more. It's a pretty cool pantheon.

Long Text Wall Made Short: How can I get my players to engage in the authentic roman atmosphere I've created?

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Before we get started, have your players explicitly and specifically indicated that they want this "bad-ass theme"? Have you asked them? –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 5 at 4:55
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Well I originally created this theme because most of the party expressed interest in going historical, and told me to "surprise" them. –  Julia Feb 5 at 5:00
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How can I get my players to engage in the authentic roman atmosphere I've created?

This reminds me of a well known author who said (paraphrased) that if they spend weeks researching it, there'll be a whole chapter on it!

So, slow it down and give them little bits to digest. Let's go with food as an example: a friendly NPC invites the PCs for a dinner party where NPC plans on impressing the local governor. Sadly, a day before the dinner the provisions get stolen/burned/whatever. So, the NPC asks the PCs for help: find me food and chefs to cook/prepare it! By the end of this short adventure, the PCs will know more about Roman food than you expected. Of course, this leads to the temple of X where some priests find that the NPC has "offended the gods" and took to humbling said NPC. This leads in to exploring religious dogma and theology as a follow up.

In addition, you can set up some mysteries that require in-world knowledge to solve. For example, knowing that a legion always travels 20 miles a day is vital in planning where the PCs need to flee from the Barbarian horde wanting to skin them alive. Another example, the guy offering to help the PCs might not take too kindly to be laughed at because he carries a wooden sword. Just make sure that your players know about those facts or can find them.

So in a nut shell: Make it small and relevant to the PCs. The players should then run wild with it.

In addition, I would look at your surroundings: music, lighting, snacks, and so on. What can you do to make this more Roman? You do have olives as snacks, right?

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This in combination with the other answers was helpful. Between the maps, roman events players can take part in for rewards, and maybe just starting off with a simple senator's dinner or something... It should be enough to hook them. It's obvious by this point that force feeding them lore isn't working anyway. –  Julia Feb 5 at 15:10
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I think maybe the issue here is that a lot of your fluff is, well, too fluffy for them to engage in at first (and don't get me wrong, I would probably love to be in that game, history nerd that I am). Instead of having them taste dormice and go to vomitoriums (I can never keep up as to whether those were actual things or not), take them to a Roman senator's trophy room, the room where all the busts of their ancestors sit, and show them through plot just how conniving and ruthless these guys can be when they want to exert their power. And/or put them in position to put down a slave rebellion (or start one!), or face off against some of the scary, unknown barbarian hordes to the north. Have them search for the standard of the Lost Legion, maybe...

And by all means, use the backdrop to hook the characters. Eventually of course you'd prefer, I'm sure, for the characters to have their own sense of agency, but when folks don't actually know about the world you may need to lead them on a little bit at first. For instance, instead of waiting for your cleric to explore the pantheon, let the pantheon explore the cleric. Maybe there's a big schism in the temple of Sol Invictus or something. Maybe, after the characters get a little successful, somebody gets scared of them and tosses a lawsuit at them or tries to have them murdered in the street or both. I'm a little afraid to mention the gladitorial arena because it might be cliche, but if the players are into that, then great (and in reality, IIRC only around 1 in 8 gladiators actually died in their matches, so it's not quite a win-or-die situation, of course... and the gladitorial training centers are a great place to meet your world's equivalent of Spartacus...).

I do think that the "little things" help out a great deal in any genre, be it tightly historical or vanilla Forgotten Realms, but ultimately those kinds of things are going to be taking at best 5th or 6th place to the cool adventures the characters engage in. In fact, you could even have a Roman-esque world with internecine politics, brutality, and a slow realization about just how large the world is without even actually straying from classic fantasy. That you've chosen to actually change the genre itself is fantastic - like I said, it sounds like a lot of fun - but I think "thematically Roman" is in the end what's going to hook most people more than "using lots of Roman stuff".

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Yes, a vomitorium is a real thing; no, it has nothing to do with puking. –  David Richerby Feb 5 at 11:55
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Lead the horse to water and give it waterwings

A way to engage players with a more immerse subject is to bring it to them.

Combat is a pretty bad mechanism for immersion generally, after all (especially in D&D clones) smacking an orc in the face is pretty much the same as smacking a guard in the face except one is green**.

You can't force feed them massive amounts of lore and expect them to run with it, what you can do is make parts of required for the plot, don't go too heavy handed with it all but you can feed it in with things like:

  • Finishing a certain ritual requires knowledge about $dietys history or practises.
  • Working for a religious agent who insists on doing certain rituals daily with the party.
  • Finding a particular food for a monster that is a historical speciality.
  • Give them bonuses for religious festivals if they perform certain rites.

Bonuses are a big draw for people; say the priest is a priest of Dionysus, then if they can locate certain blessed wines and drink them as they cast "bless" then the spell lasts longer, for example.

** Unless they're brown, red, purple, etc

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I see what you did there with the opening line (and a +1 for the emphasis that combat isn't the best translator) –  CatLord Feb 5 at 14:22
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First off I might recommend a detour into this recent question. Even though the problem is analogous to yours I think some of the core elements are important. After all, you can only lead a horse to water.

As far as the religious immersion, I had a DM who used only the Greek deities for all characters - none of the standard ones associated with D&D as it was her world. Every character no matter what level of piety they possessed had a deity assigned to them if they didn't choose one. Characters would feel uncomfortable if in the realm of an opposite deity and the converse was true as well - peripheral deities (and we had some of the more obscure ones than the standard Dodekatheon and thus needed to compare) led to feeling comfort in some appropriate fashion.

When it comes to the setting itself, your biggest help is what visual aids come into the game. A lot of players - especially the more experienced ones - already have an idea of what a game of D&D should entail no matter how you describe your setting verbally. Have tokens, insignias, flash cards for important NPCs, and structure the way things are accomplished. The "video game" experience can make players only think of the abstract actions that it requires to obtain something: Give shopkeep money. Approach NPC, get info. Attack monster, get XP. So if you give them more to it than "John-ius wants to see a gladiator fight" the flavor isn't just different color frosting on the same cake.

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I like the idea of bringing in multimedia (visual, but perhaps also audio if it can be found) aids to the game. –  NotVonKaiser Feb 5 at 5:28
    
Like making better maps or bringing minis that engage the players? I know I like 3-D minis. –  Julia Feb 5 at 5:36
    
Maps, especially those with sketches of the art/carvings/statues can definitely be a flavor. If you have enough theme appropriate minis, have fun. –  CatLord Feb 5 at 5:42
    
+1 for the last sentence; Don't just have the setting detail there, make it important to the game somehow. –  GMJoe Feb 5 at 6:07
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It has been my experience that player's often don't realise just how involved they are getting in the campaign until they say "Remember that Centurion we bumped into a few weeks back..." and then they sit back with a bemused expression.

Buy in to a campaign is fostered through verisimilitude and consistency. Surround your players with the lore and let them pick it up at their own pace. By being consistent with names, geography and customs (and I suspect you are being very consistent in that regard) your players will naturally pick up the lore.

Once they begin discussing your pantheon and your fluff, you'll know they are hooked. I occasionally would shorten an adventure (say make it a day in town chasing a lead on an assassin) and then have a barbecue (we call it a braai :D) to let the players hang out, have a few drinks and chat about the setting (I actually themed the braai as a night on the trail, making their own food - sadly I couldn't coax any dire wombats into an encounter). During the course of the evening jokes would be made about "That blacksmith with an accent" or serious discussion on what to do next time they encountered that "darn dragon that keeps eating my horse."

It's a wonderful feeling when that happens, you know they've bought into the world you've crafted. Give it time, and give them a chance!

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