A game pitch for "Smallville does HBO's Rome"
AD 65. The mad emperor Nero holds Rome in the grip of terror and debauchery. Rome burnt while he fiddled. People are elevated to the highest positions on his whim, to be cast down just as quickly (and violently). His displays in the arena, the theatre, and the more depraved ones in the Palace have made him a laughing stock with both the patrician and plebian classes. But his funding of bread and circus keep the plebs on his side.
The Palace and Senate are full of rumour and conspiracy. He's already murdered most of his family, including quite a few wives and mistresses, to eliminate rivals. Factions vie for his favour, or seek to deflect his anger, all the while settling rivalries between themselves. Generals demobilised from the recent Parthian war are looking for something to do with their now-redundant legions.
After the fire, he's planning a huge rebuilding project that will reshape Rome in his image. It might be popular with the plebs, but it will bankrupt the Eternal City.
And Senator Piso would like to have a chat...
For tone, I'm after something like HBO's Rome series, with lots of sex to go with the violence, and the fate of empires dependent on the personal relationships of a small number of people. It's also going to be a purely 'mundane' game, with no superpowers, magic, or similar.
What's happening in Rome
The default date is something like AD64-5-ish. Nero is around 26 and has been on the throne for ten years. He executed Agrippina, his mother, about five years ago and has been consolidating power into himself ever since. The Great Fire of Rome was within the last year. Rebuilding is starting; work has started on Nero's Domus Aurea (Golden Palace), an extensive palace and garden, though it's increasingly obvious that there isn't enough money to complete it. Christians were officially accused with starting it, though there are rumours that Nero did it himself to clear the way for his palace.
Nero's been singing in public for about a year. It's an attempt to increase his popularity with the plebians, though the patricians consider it an awful faux pas.
The five-year Pathian war ended two or three years ago with a negotiated settlement. Boudicca's Revolt in Britain was brutally put down four years ago. Tensions are increasing in Judea and the First Jewish-Roman War will kick off in about a year.
There have been rumours and conspiracies to execute or remove Nero, including plots by his mother. Senator Piso is gathering support for another attempt.
The conspiracies around Nero are only the starting point for characters. It opens up many possibilities: PCs could be conspiring against Nero, either to reinstate the Republic or for their own power; they could be supporting Nero, either out of duty or because they owe their position to Nero's patronage; or they could be someone with their own power base (such as a general with several battle-hardened legions with nothing to do), whether their ambition is real or imagined.
By default, PCs will be patricians, the Roman upper class: senators, consuls, governors, generals, that kind of thing. It allows PCs who aren't beholden to others in power and are able to make things happen. While Rome was a patriarchal society, wives, mothers, and other women very often very powerful behind the scenes (witness Nero's mother, Agrippina, getting him to the throne).
Nero, however, will be an NPC.