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.