With Strange Aeons: Rome vs. The Evil Dead (An Aquitanian Apocalypse AAR)

Author: Discix
Published: 2018-08-23, edited: 1970-01-01
A little WIP AAR for VIc2 using the Aquitanian Apocalypse mod, a combination of Heirs to Aquitania and Apocalypse 1836, wherein we command the Roman Empire in its struggle for survival against the relentless undead hordes.

Part of the campaign:

With Strange Aeons

Welcome, one and all, to a little AAR I cooked up while playtesting 'Aquitanian Apocalypse', a custom mod I mashed up that applies the infamous zombie invasion mechanics of 'Apocalypse 1836' to Savloainen's brilliant 'Heirs to Aquitania' alt-history total conversion. Hopefully I don't get lazy and actually finish this one this time around...
It is the 7344th year of creation, and the Eternal Empire still stands, but only just. Rome has lost much of its grandeur and glory to the ceaseless march of time, and the past few decades have been especially unkind. Persia and Egypt control three seats of the Pentarchy, and perfidious Armenia has laid claim to much of Anatolia. In the West, Roman influence over the Balkan states wanes as the Latin powers expand into the region.
While most citizens of the Empire are united in language and faith, three distinct subcultures have emerged over the centuries: the dignified Rhomaioi of the imperial heartlands, the shrewd and fiercely independent Hellenes of Attica, Morea, and Macedonia, and the simple, but honest Anatolians of Asia Minor. Though they share a language and most customs, the political trials of the future may exacerbate their differences...
Among the non-Greek βάρβαροι, one might find the rugged Arbenoi (Albanians), martial Boulgaroi (Bulgars), and pastoral Vlachoi (Aromanians). The vast majority of the empire is united beneath the Orthodox banner, save for small urban Sephardic communities, and although the empire is still chiefly agricultural, the winds of change may sweep in soon...
It is on this fateful day that an urgent missive arrived from Roman traders in the west, warning of a mysterious illness in Daufinat, a prosperous Latin state. While plagues were not particularly uncommon, rumour spread that this disease was the dreaded Solomon Virus of old, a malady of unthinkable malice and decrepitude said to presage the coming rapture. Needless to say, most were unsettled by the news.
High upon the slopes of Mt. Athos, hermits and monks are aroused from their slumber by the ravings of a maddened Cenobite, who did nothing but recite the same passage from Zechariah until he was physically restrained by the monastic guards. While word of the incident reached the imperial court fairly quickly, its significance did not become apparent until much later.
While the upper echelons of the imperial court remained skeptical of the reports, the aging emperor appointed Georgios Kallimakhos, a prominent physician-turned-politician, as public face of the administration to assuage the fears of the public.
Kallimakhos was a physician of humble Greco-Vlach origins who caught the eye of the court through both natural talent and charisma. His habit of touring the countryside and tending to wounded farmers and soldiers has done much to endear him to the commonfolk, and the imperial court hoped to leverage this popularity to prevent a mass panic. Kallimakhos's first act as chief minister was to issue an official statement dismissing the rumours as incredulous heresay unsupported by medical science- a statement the public was all too relieved to hear.
Secretly, however, preparations were already well underway to levy fresh new troops to secure the borders against any refugees who may be harbouring the deadly illness. While the Roman public was weary of endless wars against Armenia in the east, the hardy Anatolian hill-folk who dwelt in the borderlands were more than eager to secure their land against their perceived foe.
To preserve the facade of normalcy, the court also sponsored the scientific expedition of a noted member of the Imperial Academy of the sciences.
Halesca was a cold and bitter backwater in the farthest reaches of the North, first colonized when Hispania was at the height of its imperial power. As such, it was deemed a perfect place to draw public attention away from the trouble brewing elsewhere in continental Europe.
Alas, no amount of censorship and court-sponsored misdirection could quell such momentous news for long. Mere months after the rumours first spread, news arrived that Turin, the largest city and industrial capital of the Duchy of Dauphinat, had completely collapsed, its streets clogged with masses of the rotting dead.
In a fit of desperation, the Ducal Army was assembled and commanded to enact a general purge of the streets of Turin, with orders to terminate anyone, living or dead, still roaming the streets. The cold brutality of the order was matched only by the ferocity of the public backlash- the end result only weakened both parties and left them easy prey to the shambling hordes.
Public outcry reached fever pitch in the streets of Constantinople, where the populace clashed against imperial gendarmes over their leadership's flagrant betrayal of the public trust. Although First Minister Kallinikhos was safely escorted to his private manse, he was found dead the next morning- whether by an assassin's hand or his own, we may never know.
As the regional gendarmes and constabularies were being overwhelmed by popular revolts, Roman high command dispatched the Imperial Army to quell the revolts, with the ultimate goal being the reinforcement of the western border, where Latin refugees were expected to arrive from.
The Roman military had changed much since the days of Marius- long gone were the legions of old, replaced by regional Thematic levies supported by mobile response Tagmata regiments, not unlike the limitanei and comitatenses of Constantine. The regional Themata were deployed to the Danubuan border first, while the Imperial Guardsmen quelled the various uprisings along the way.
In an effort to regain public trust, the imperial court nominated Dimitrios Tzavellas, a popular gendarme captain famed for resolving several riots non-violently, as the new Protomagistros of the empire. Though he possessed little in the way of political aptitude, he served as an able mouthpiece for the court, and his first decree was to formally recognize the existence of the Solomon Virus and assure the public of steps to be taken to ensure the Empire's safety from it.
While the grumbling public begrudgingly laid down its arms, it soon found new cause for alarm. With the deployment of the Imperial Army to the Danubian frontier, the border with Armenia was left sparsely garrisoned. Word soon arrived of numerous Armenian armies amassing near the border.
Alarmed, the imperial court dispatched numerous emissaries and diplomats to the court of the Armenian leader, Sha Mushegh, hoping to defuse the situation. Fortunately, it was found that the Armenians were just as concerned about the coming of the rapturous plague as the Romans were, and promised to withdraw troops to their eastern front in exchange for a mutual guarantee of border security. The diplomatic victory won much appeal for the new Protomagistros.
Such good tidings did not last long, however, and a mere month later, ill tidings came afoot- the dreaded plague had arrived. A refugee ship had slipped past the imperial blockade, and although it was successfully run aground before it could reach the industrial center of Thessalonica, reports indicated that the disease was beginning to spread in nearby Edessa.
A quarantine order was swiftly placed and several galleys were repurposed as hospital ships to contain the afflicted, and contain them they did, for Roman physicians of the time had no knowledge of how to treat, much less cure, such a horrifying disease.
As Roman authorities continued to crack down on their borders, the rest of Europe continued to burn. From balmy Hispania, home of the Revolution, to the dour marshes of Pinsk, the undead hordes sowed chaos and reaped ever larger harvests of conscripts for the legions of the damned. In northern Italy, plans for a military alliance were salvaged and the disparate city states united in a new confederation, pledged now to defend against the restless dead instead of their Neapolitan neighbours.
Public fears were further inflamed by the arrival of an ill-timed blight that ravaged potato harvests across the Mediterranean. What even in simpler times would be seen as an ill portent of famine was now seen as nothing less than a harbinger of the Third Horseman of the Apocalypse and a sign of the impending, deathless doom that awaits beyond the grave.
Desperate for any advantage that could be used both against the risen dead and the living desperate to escape, Roman military high command concluded a secret deal with Aenglisc merchants, exchanging vast quantities of high-grade bullion for Saxon gunsmithing techniques.
The new caplock mechanism was much smaller and more reliable than traditional flintlock designs, and the imperial court's dedication to its mass production and updating of old equipment is widely credited with the state's military survival in such difficult times.
In addition to military pursuits, the Empire devoted a great deal of resources to medical matters, hoping to find a means of at least staving off the deathless plague, if not a complete cure.
Alas, the time for preparations would soon draw to a close as the first hordes were sighted in the Carpathian basin, nearing Rome's Transdanubian client states.
The first overtures of war began on a positive note for the Empire, with imperial troops cleansing the streets of the early risen and suspected carriers before they were even able to form a proper horde.
While many contemporaries, particularly native Edessans and local gendarmes, resented the brutality of their orders and the cold efficiency with which they were carried out, many now consider the Imperial Army's harsh actions as necessary sacrifices that permitted the security and stability of the Empire during the early stages of the conflict.
Meanwhile, the imperial governor of Wallachia sent an urgent missive to the imperial court desperately requesting aid as thousands of undead pour forth from the Transylvanian wilderness unto his demesne. His pleas fell on deaf ears however, as garrison commanders were ordered to tighten security along the frontier and prevent anyone -living or dead- from crossing the river Danube.
It is now the 7346th year of creation, and in two short years the world order has been torn asunder by winds of chaos and the dread plague they whisk to and fro on malevolent gales. With the Emperor growing ill and mass panic seizing the fevered imaginations of the commonfolk, drastic action had to be taken- the Megas Domestikos, the supreme commander of the imperial military, declared an empire-wide state of emergency and placed all civilian authority and national resources under the direct command of the Emperor, with himself as acting regent. Thousands of men were pulled from their farms and workshops, handed a gun, and unceremoniously shepherded to the banks of the Danube, across which the sickened cries of the undead echo forth with the dull, monotonous regularity of the gravekeeper's bell.

Can the Eternal Empire withstand the threat that lies before it? How can mere mortal men hope to surmount a foe who has conquered death itself? Only time can tell...

[Thanks for reading! Apologies that not all that much actual combat happened here, I have a tendency towards purple prose and this was getting a bit long, so it seemed a good spot to put on hold. I've put a link to the mod in the R5 comment below, and if there's enough interest, I may put out the next parts (which are a fair bit more interesting , with less boring exposition and more combat). Cheers!]

Next chapter:

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