Via Romana
Via Romana

Via Romana

Being a well-kept road leading from light into darkness across the planes of Law.

The Via Romana travelling through Arcadia

by Synjyn the Exile, a shade who’s been planewalking and living in Sigil for a long time

The wizened githzerai with the punctuation in his name sat at his accustomed small table in his accustomed small bub-house within the Lower Ward. He shuffled through the sheaves of scrolls in his hands, speaking occasionally to the silver skull sitting in the candlelight before him.

The nearby bubbers tried not to eavesdrop too intently when the skull spoke back.

The evening sauntered lazily towards anti-peak as he contemplated his notes. The shadows around him grew long and thin as the candle grew short and fat.

Eventually, one of those shadows shimmered loose from its waxy tether. It pooled and congealed in the chair opposite the yellowed old chantmonger, deepening and thickening like a cloud preparing to rain. When the shadow reached out to strike a match against the argent skull, the flaring light revealed a gray, gray man sitting across the table.

“Voilá!” he exclaimed.

The githzerai looked up from the inscribed ki-rin hide he had been deciphering and muttered, “Here now, Synjyn, there’s no need to shout. My head holes aren’t stuffed up and I know me own name.”

“Well,” replied the gray, gray man, lighting a thin cheroot, “If you insist on looking like a dodder, you oughtn’t be boggled when folk treat you like one.” His relatively youthful features twisted in a wry smirk as he rapped his gloved knuckles on the skull. “Or do you plan on withering away ’til you look like your famous mimir, here?”

Voilá! just snorted in reply. He gazed piercingly at the shade seated in front of him and said, “I haven’t heard your voice in the chanting much lately, Synjyn. What happened — did you get exiled again?”

The gray, gray man shrugged. “Hipped in the Abyss for the last year. You’d think at my age I’d be peery enough not to pry into Blood War business. But the garnish she dangled was top-shelf. I couldn’t pass it up.” Smoke thinner than a Taker’s conscience trickled from from his gray nostrils as he contemplated some recent memory.

“But that music’s been paid and you didn’t call the tune, so we’ll leave it at that,” Synjyn finished. His gray, gray stare turned once more to the githzerai.

“So, why are you here, then?” asked Voilá!

“The reason I first sought you out was to cull a bit of chant about an old leafer I’ve picked up. But no sooner have I barred the cage around me than I find that you’re garnishing sods for their chant!” An incredulous tone crept into the shade’s modulated baritone. “You! I was flat jangled, and that’s no ‘loth’s vow.”

The shade shook his head slowly. “To see you like this… It’s just not like it was in the old days, Voilá!”

The elderly githzerai rebuked him sharply. “Oh yes it is,” he hissed. “You’ve just chosen to forget!” A withered yellow claw of a hand dropped the scroll it held to reach out for the skull on the table. A tap and a word from its master set the bone-box to singing,

“Garnish for Gossip, Chant for Pay, Jink for Darks, To Lighten Your Day!”

The baritone voice it sang with echoed hauntingly for a moment. Had it been possible for the gray, gray man to colour with embarrassment, he would have. Voila! sat back with a smug grin on his face.

“Well,” Synjyn muttered, and cleared his throat. “Times were harder when I sold you that one.” Voila! answered, “That’s not entirely true either. But then, your truths have always been a bit…” He paused for a more friendly smile. “Gray.” The gray, gray man laughed as well.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, then,” said the shade, his laugh still ebbing. “Chant has it that you’re peering into the darks of the planar pathways about the Great Ring. Is that so?”

The githzerai nodded.

The shade continued. “Tack some ears onto that too-full bone-box of yours and I’ll lann you the dark on a planar pathway that most cutters in the cage have never even heard of. No gray in this chant, I’ve walked it myself. Pure dark, and nothing but. If you like what I’ve said, you’ll lann me what you know about this leafer I’ve sacked away. What do you know about the ‘Malenomicon’, eh?”

Voilá! sucked air between his aged teeth, whistling in shock. He said, “That had better be top-shelf chant on that pathway, blood! No one howls about the Malenomicon and lives long to tell the tale.”

“I’m sure what you’ve got in your bone-box about that book isn’t howl then,” said the shade. “Have we a deal?” Voilá! thought for a moment and then nodded. “But keep the cant short,” he said. “I want a tale so clear even the clueless can follow it.”

The gray, gray man smiled and waved to the barkeep for fresh bub. As he sat forward to tell his tale, he remarked, “Seeing as how the path was built by the clueless for their own use, it’s only fair.”

This is what he had to say to Voilá!’s mimir that night….

The Via Romana

If you want to travel the lawful side of the Great Ring, what’s the fastest way to get around? Olympus and Yggdrasil don’t touch down there and neither does the river Oceanus. The River Styx only goes so far as Acheron, and it’s right dangerous riding that river on that plane.

What’s a cutter to do? Walk?

Well, that’s exactly right. If you’ve got a guide, or are fast enough, you can walk the Roman Road. The Via Romana is the only planar pathway I know of built by mortals, and it’s designed to take advantage of their prime method of getting around: feet on the ground.

For those planars not in the know, it seems that there is, or was, a prime world nation known as the Roman Empire. Ah, I see you’ve heard something about it. That’s right, the columns and civilisation and armies and conquering and bloodshed and such. “Ave, Caesar!” as they say.

The Romans were big on a couple of things, but mostly they’re known for their roads and their organisation. Roman armies and roads are the very models for a lot of the more advanced such items you can see today. Their roads are top-shelf in efficiency and durability, and their armies… well, let’s just say that even the Blood War would take notice if the Roman Legions decided to enter the fray.

You can find the Roman Empire, or a version of it, on more prime worlds than you can easily count. In a lot of those worlds, and out here in the planes, it seems that culture’s in decline, but don’t make the mistake of counting the Empire out. It’s still going strong in the prime, and some places out here as well.

Most of those places are in the Planes of Law. And all of those places where the Romans have been and built, where their armies have conquered or march in waiting, are joined by the Via Romana.

The Via Romana’s a road, plain and simple. It’s 300 feet wide, all along its length, regular as a modron’s stride. A fifteen foot high colonnade runs alongside both edges, with columns three feet wide and fifteen feet tall. The columns are evenly spaced ten feet apart.

On top of the left colonnade is an aqueduct, through which drinkable water flows. (although it tastes a bit metallic, no matter where on the road you may be) The Via usually seems flat as a board, and it’s a mystery where the water comes from, or how it stays flowing. But flow it does, even on the parts of the Via that run across Baator. Every mile, a fountain is connected to the aqueduct, and travellers can refresh themselves with ease.

On top of the right colonnade is a series of mirrors and lenses. Presumably, the Empire used them in some way for passing messages, but I never learned the dark of it.

The Via Romana is paved, every step of the way. The flagstones vary depending on what land or plane the road is crossing, but they’re always cut square and regular. The weather and temperature on the Via Romana is always like that of a prime world’s more pleasant parts. It’s usually somewhat warm and sunny. Rains can occur, but never for very long. Oddly, the skies above the Via always perfectly reflect the plane or prime world’s skies that the road is travelling across, even if the weather on the road is vastly different.

Magical conditions on the Via Romana mirror that of the Prime Material Plane. Magic items made elsewhere function as if they’ve been brought to the Prime and most magical spells are unrestricted in their usage. Priests cast spells as if on the Prime as well. In fact, the only magical restrictions that apply are those the Road imposes itself. Flying simply is not possible on the Via Romana. Even natural flight fails utterly. Flap, float or levitate all you like, you won’t get off the pavement. Beholders hate it. Other magic dealing with movement in any way also fails. Haste, Slow, Run, Plane Shift, Teleportation, etc; all are useless. Boots of Speed, Spider Slippers, and all other sorts of movement related magic items will not function on the Via Romana. Spells and magic items which conjure or summon creatures or things from elsewhere in the multiverse also fail. The only entry or exit from the Via Romana is on its own terms. Finally, magic used to block or impede passage on the Via also fails, unless it is used by a citizen of the Roman Empire.

The Via Romana theoretically has only one endpoint: Caesar’s Villas. However, there have been many Caesars throughout the ages, and not all of them took their country houses to the same place when they died.

Practically, the Via Romana travels from the Caesar’s Villas within the city of Dis, on the second layer of Baator (where dwell some Caesars who make Caligula look like a nice, congenial fellow) to the Caesar’s Villas perched on Jovar, the sixth layer of Mt. Celestia, where, it is said, Julius and Augustus rule beside Jove himself.

Along the way are uncountable exits, opening out onto all the layers of all the lawful planes in between (I know the Hardheads aren’t too happy about the Via’s presence on Nemausus, but there’s little they can do about it) and to many prime material worlds. In every place that Rome’s influence has ever been felt, one may find a branch of the Via Romana.

Exits from the Via are nothing more than passages between two of its columns. The columns through which a passage appears are marked in Roman writing and are easily noted. Unlike most portals, a traveller on the Via Romana can clearly see what lies on the other side of a portal. Exit requires only that the traveller walk between the proper columns.

In the spaces between columns which are not exits, travellers on the Road will notice an embankment leading down to a ditch. The ground there resembles whatever plane the road is traversing at the moment, which in some cases can be quite dangerous. However, natural impediments render the ditch impassable in the direction the Via travels. If a traveller scrambles up the other side of the ditch, he finds himself arriving on the far side of the Via from the point where he left.

Entry to the Via Romana is a slightly different proposition. There is no indication that a portal to the Via is anything other than a pair of columns. Portal sense is required to detect that the portal exists, along with the proper key. Also, some remnant of road is required for a portal to the Via to remain active, and the columns must be in at least a moderate state of repair. The ‘road’ may be a mere foot or two of flagstones, the tops of the columns may have tumbled away, and the passage may be clogged with underbrush. But so long as that exit has not been actively destroyed, by time or malice, the Via Romana may be entered upon there.

To enter, however, you need one of two keys: a willing roman citizen or a roman coin. If you’ve got a guide, a true citizen of the roman empire who wishes to enter onto the Via, then you’ve nothing to worry about. Even if your guide doesn’t know what the Via Romana is and you’ve stumbled onto it by accident, you’ll find yourself walking onto the Road. Obviously, it’s better to have a guide who knows what she’s doing! But a charmed guide is useless — she won’t even be able to see the gates to the Via.

If you’ve snuck onto the road with naught but coinage, then you need to be fleet of foot. For the Empire patrols the Via Romana relentlessly.

Perhaps you’ve heard that old soldiers never die, they just fade away? Well, old Roman soldiers, who’ve walked the roads of the Empire most of their lives fade away to the Via Romana. There, they’re formed up into the Via Legionarius, the Legion of the Road.

These ghostly soldiers walk the road continuously, ensuring its impregnability and the safety of travellers. They patrol in centuries, i.e.. in numbers no less than 100, led by a centurion. These spirits are essentially einheriar, save that they are lawful in alignment, not good, and that they uniformly use Roman weapons and tactics. Slain legionnaires are replaced by the next day.

Should a large invasion be encountered, or a threat that one century alone cannot handle, they use the messaging system to call for higher level reinforcements. Large fights are rare, as most who travel the Via know too well the efficiency of the Roman Legions.

Once a day, travellers on the Via Romana will encounter a century of these troops. The centurion will enquire as to the legitimacy of the travellers, and can tell innately whether or not an authentic roman guide is among them. If a traveller has no guide, the centurion will ask for payment. Any roman coin will do, but the centurion will confiscate ALL such coinage the unguided travellers possess, once again knowing innately whether or not every coin has been delivered. The legion then marches off down the Via, leaving the travellers free to walk the road.

Until she meets up with the next century of the Legion, a day later, who will enquire once more for a roman guide or payment.

If travellers have no proper coinage, or refuse to part with it, they are escorted bodily off of the Via, at the nearest exit, wherever it may lead. Lethal force is not used unless a legionnaire is slain. If that occurs, the century will attempt to kill the travellers, one for every soldier of their own who was killed. I strongly recommend flight if this occurs.

The Legion of the Via Romana offers no other aid or assistance, even to roman citizens. As spirits, they have no interest in anything save their mission to guard the Road.

Travel on the Via Romana, then, is one of two types: a safe, guarded journey, or a hurried flight from a well-organised, deadly army. Those travelling under the latter conditions should know that one day’s travel is usually sufficient only to cross one layer of one plane that the Via traverses. Exits to prime worlds can be found all along the Via, but a fugitive running the Via as a means of travelling the Great Ring must evade capture by the Via Legionnaires for days to cross from one plane to another.

There’s remarkably little chant to be heard about the Via Romana, or about incidents upon it. If you know some regular travellers, you might hear that there are bandits who spend short careers upon it, bashing travellers for their coinage or extorting safe passage.

More dangerous are the roman press gangs, which rob travellers of their guide or coinage in an attempt to force them to their bidding. These evil folk are normally found only in the Acheronian or Baatezuvian parts of the Via.

Supposedly, there are Harmonium patrols trying to enforce tolls and taxes on the Via where it crosses Arcadia. I never saw them, and can’t say what the dark may be.

There’s also the screed that the Road was built by the baatezu as a way to drain power from Mt. Celestia, but anyone who’s walked the road knows that’s less likely than the howl about the Hardheads.

Still. Stranger things have happened.

The only chant about the Via that I know is true is that told about the Greek Powers. Seems the Greek Pantheon despises the Via Romana, and wants to eliminate it from existence. Proxies and priests in the know habitually attempt to destroy any entry to the Via they can find. It seems Zeus and his crew don’t care much for Rome or its creations, and the feeling from the Empire is mutual. Greek vandals are hotly pursued by the Via Legionnaires, and are never simply shown to an exit.

Where can you find the Via Romana? Like I said before, the main entries onto the Road are in Dis and Jovar. There’s rumoured to be villages of “virtuous pagans” settled on Avernus, which are likely to have an entryway. Dozens, if not scores or hundreds, of Acheron’s cubes sport a portion of the road travelling across their face in a well-protected furrow. The Labyrinthine Portal on Mechanus is known to have several entries to the Via. And it links right in to the many roads of Arcadia, hardly noticed in the profusion of highways and byways. The only exit I know of personally on Mt. Celestia is one on Lunia, the first layer. The Via enters onto the Mount from an outlying island, and then crosses over Justinian’s Bridge to the bucolic roman town of Beautopolis.

It seems to go nearly everywhere on that side of the Ring, but I’ve never had the time to walk its whole length. I’ll leave that to any cutters listening to this Mimir.

So what should you do the next time you need to walk the planes of law? That’s right: Ave Caesar!

Source: John T. Wright,

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