Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gladiators on Tekumel

It was bound to happen. A few days into playing my Roman Gladiator solo campaign, I found my thoughts—and game-designing urges—wandering over to the Five Empires of Tekumel. Victor Raymond's comment yesterday was the tipping point.

For the uninitiated, gladiatorial spectacle is as much a part of Tsolyani (the setting's default starting country) everyday life as it was for the Romans. In the Empire of the Petal Throne cities sport massive Hirilakte arenas.

The importance of Hirilakte arenas in gaming Tekumel is underscored with a big, fat black marker in the EPT rulebook—where it gets an entire section (Sec. 800) and some scattered related rules--and following canonical material.

But while it gets emphasis and some supporting detail info on what goes in in the arena still has some large unpainted corners—and the obvious tantalizing mini-game that could be spun out of it. 

Barker teases us by pointing to a long out-of-print, now nearly-impossible to find set of English gladiator mini rules and to his marginally easier to find, but hella expensive War of Wizards board game. Flashing Blades-designer Mark Pettigrew also took a stab at this bitd (now found in the Pettigrew Selections), but it's one of the few sub-systems that he put together that I don't like over much.

Which, of course, adds up to awesome for tinkering souls like us that want to make Tekumels of our own. Bumping its way now up to the top of the post-Borderlands project list is now a Hirilakte gladiator mini-game built open-game design right here on the blog.

Not one for delayed gratification let's get a jump on it in the here and now.

First, let's start with what we know about things gladiatorial on that hot, isolated planet before we dive into what kind of game we want. Keeping with the spirit of Victor's “drive it out of the EPT box” approach I am going to contain this to the rulebook itself and mostly ignore the other material that followed. (Which is fairly easy as it gets the most extensive treatment in EPT proper, perhaps a comment on the unfortunate move away from “gamey” Tekumel in later years.)

So whadda we know?

Arena Size. When I said earlier that the arenas were massive, I wasn't exaggerating for dramatic effect. On the Jakalla city map included in the box set, the arena takes up a whopping five hexes (750 feet) lengthwise by three hexes (150 feet) wide. By comparison the famous Colosseum of Rome, which could seat 50,000, extends 615 feet. So we are talking very large affairs capable of seating over 50,000 in the major cities.

The immense size and extended oblong shape of the arenas seem too awkward in providing sight lines for spectators especially for small one-on-one matches. An "educated" guess is that perhaps the larger one such as Jakalla's would be sub-divided for multiple, simultaneous matches.

Our rules will have to make sense of the size, shape, and possible sub-division of these arenas for its ground scale.

Champion Warfare. We know from EPT that the arenas aren't just blood-lust entertainment, they also play a social function as both ritualized warfare between nations. War in the Five Empires is portrayed as highly-static and conservative affair that invariably ends in stalemate. (A notion smashed on the rocks by the highly-decisive and volatile wars advanced by canon in later years—something akin to the shenanigans of Greyhawk's late-canon Götterdämmerung—but I digress.)

According to EPT: 
“Open warfare has thus been replaced to a great extent by 'champion warfare,' a phenomenon which suits the need for ritual, display, and social stratification of the nations of Tekumel. At designated cities throughout the four major empires, therefore, champions come to do battle and win (or lose) not only great sums of money for their patrons, but also great glory for themselves and the groups they represent.
The four great empires each put up their own official champions, and lesser patrons--nobles, temples, clans, and other groups--spend their fortunes to procure, train, and present their own gladiators. Opponents come from neighboring lands to take up these challenges and win glory for their homelands.”
Further we know from the intro that:
“Every major city has an arena, and safe passage is guaranteed for these ritual warriors. Battles are normally to the death, although fist-fighting can be arranged as a side event. Wizards and priests also come to fight magical duels.”
Ever have that real-world fantasy that wars would be decided by putting a few aggro members of each nation into the ring? Well here's your chance to make it so (at least as much as you can in fantasy gaming.)

Make a note for rules for ritualized warfare in the game. Also make side notes that we should include rules and guidelines for unarmed combat, magical duels, and patronage.

So far plenty to mull on. I will extend our analysis and working notes for Hirilakte in Part II either later today or tomorrow.


  1. Are building a ludus and then later building arenas phases of the Domain Game?


  2. Exactly. And you are all my gladiators. (Did I say that out loud?)

  3. @ckutalik: If I may comment on your digression:

    (A notion smashed on the rocks by the highly-decisive and volatile wars advanced by canon in later years—something akin to the shenanigans of Greyhawk's late-canon Götterdämmerung—but I digress.)

    May I politely disagree with this? The late civil war in Tsolyanu was indeed highly-decisive and volatile, but it was fought on interior lines of communication within Tsolyanu itself. The borders of the Five Empires all have terrain features that make full-scale invasions very difficult, as the Salarvyani have found in their stalemated invasion of Kerunan and the Mu'uglavyani have also found in the Chakas.

    Wars on exterior lines of communications have always been difficult on our part of Tekumel, as the Professor designed his world for maximum 'play value' over time; he favored, from a very early point, long 'campaign' adventures over quick and fast game scenarios.

    You've already mentioned Tony Bath's book on how to run wargame campaigns; may I suggest two books that the Professor introduced me to:

    "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire" by Edward N. Luttwak

    "Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army" by Donald Engels

    Might be useful for domain game work... :)

    yours, Chirine

  4. @Chirine
    I certainly defer to you on these matters. I was thinking of the decisive Mu'uglavyani invasion and occupation of Livyanu in Lords of Tsamra more than anything and your point holds up for the rest of the wars (stalemate that is).

    Looking back at this I think I also made an unfair comparison to later Greyhawk. In that case it was pure cataclysm with whole nations disappearing brought on by marketing decisions by people who were removed from its creation. The political events in Barker's world have more internal logic.

    That said I did get the feeling from the later novels that the Five Empires were building to some kind of world-shattering climax. But perhaps that's just an illusion and the wheel will turn back to the ageless stability of that setting.

    Thanks for the book suggestions, I am always, always hungry for that kind of stuff. You can't read much military history without seeing a quote or three from Luttwak though I have still yet to read one of this works. Guess this is my chance.

  5. @ckutalik:

    Point taken! The Red-Hats' incursion into Livyanu went very well to start with, and pretty much trashed the place. It's turning into a quagmire for them, at the moment, as they only have the four legions of logistics specialists available and those lads can't handle both offensives. The Mu'uglavyani have slowed down quite a bit, and I'd expect a strategic stalemate on that front as well in the near future.

    I'd agree that the Professor was moving along his primary story arc; he'd been developing it since the 1940's, and I think we have yet to see the conclusion.

    I think you'll enjoy the Luttwak book; it's very good, and can be applied to all sorts of settings!

    Getting back to a day at the arena, you are indeed correct that the various areas of the audience are treated to a variety of bouts that take place in front of them. This gives the 'stage managers' time to set up the central 'spine' with the special layout for the wizards' duels, which are billed as special attractions. The gladiator bouts can be run as simple fights or as tournaments, with frantic betting on how long a favorite warrior or team will last. There's also light entertainment, such as jugglers and tightrope walkers, and the betting on these acts can get just as intense.

    We've built a modular arena model, and we've had some quite entertaining games fighting duels; we have a batch of suitably dressed 25mm gladiators, which get occasional outings. I took photos, and I'd better get them up on the Photobucket page for you!

    One of these days, maybe as a convention game, I'll run a full 'day at the arena' with all the trimmings; noble duels, tournaments, jugglers with torches, wizards' duels, and general mayhem all with lots of side bets!

    yours, Chirine