Friday, September 9, 2011

Back to the Arena

Let's take back up where we left off in riffing on what might go into a gladiator mini-game set in Tekumel's Hirilakte arenas.

Jeff Berry, who can't seem to make a comment here without getting my attention, added some colorful details on what a day at the Hirilakte arena would look like in the original campaign:
“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.”
Adventure Hooks. Since this is primarily an RPG blog we should have an eye for hooks for Hirilakte action as a hook generator.

The most obvious route is the all-important missions chart, which provides the barbarian PCs stuck in the sealed zone of the Foreigners Quarter opportunities to interact with the broader Tsolyani society.

Being approached by a patron to become a champion in the ring is one of the 11 available missions that the rulebook lays out to get refs up and running with scenario ideas.

The matching sub-table that gives different identities for the patron from local officials to merchants to foreigners creates enough subtlety that each may have an entirely different motivation—and a different scenario in the baking.

It's not a stretch to riff other hooks out of play activity. Players get into hot water with a major gaffe, a common occurrence in the byzantine system of mores and etiquette of Tsolyani society? Why not have them enslaved--rather than merely impaled—and forced to win back their freedom by dint of becoming popular and wealthy in the arena. And there there is always the possibility of a duel (see below).

Higher-levels yield even more options. According to the rules, “Citizens of the Empire (beings of 6th or
higher level) may hire and sponsor their own fighters.” Given the chances for all kinds of intrigues around symbolic warfare (see back to Champion Warfare) this opens up all kinds of in-game possibilities.

Long and the short of it we will definitely want to provide guidelines for how mini-game activity can feed back into an ongoing EPT campaign: rules for handling PC activity as champions; generating relevant adventure hooks; etc.

We will also want guidelines to help higher-level PCs with the purchase, training, equipping, and advancement of their sponsored gladiator. And why not some suggestions on how to handle opposing owners whether they be individuals, clans, temples, factions or the like?

Duels. Like champion warfare the arenas also serve another function as an internal safety valve by providing a big-ticket venue for duels between citizens. Such duels are “common” according to the text—a fairly normal outcome of negative reaction rolls.

We will need some guidelines for affairs of honor (as opposed to the arranged gladiator matches).

Equal Footing and Honor. Unlike the Romans more Tsolyani spectactors seem to put more emphasis on ritual, honor and an equal fight than purely bloodlust entertainment. The rules state explicitly that “opponents are evenly matched” in level ability or equivalent hit dice ability if it a non-human or animal. Other sources (I cheat a little here) also state that the weapons and armor should be similar or equal.

According to EPT:
...Gladiatorial battles are under the strict control of the Charukel, the hereditary clan of major domos of the arenas, and fouls or unfair advantages are swiftly and permanently punished, to the great delight of the crowds. All battles are to the death, although an occasional round of fisticuffs is accepted as light relief, and the loser's dead or unconscious body is auctioned off by the winner to the former's relatives or friends . It is considered good manners to permit the loser's kin to have the body in return for a small fee, and crowds have been known to stone an over-greedy winner.”

I would imagine that this rules out “dirty tricks” like kicking sand in an opponent's eyes, a common tactic in Roman times. Our game should reflect this set of values in generating or matching opponents—and in meting out punishment for transgressors.

Betting. Betting on just about anything that happens in a Hirilakte arena is a reoccurring theme. In fact it's one of the few features that get explicit mechanical treatment in the rules. (Note that the rules explicitly state that players do not get experience points for kaitars won in bets at the arena—though they do win experience points for leaving behind a trail of broken bodies.)

Mostly I'd use these straight from the book with some extension to cover events other than one-on-one combat bets. I would also throw in some modifiers or a sub-table based on some of the factors we have been discussing here.

What Else? On the big-ticket list is an elegant, but crunchier set of combat and sorcery rules to give more tactical options to the otherwise quick and abstract OD&D-based rules. Something that will model tactical maneuvers, types of attacks/parries, and the fireworks of offensive/defensive magic in a way that doesn't go too far afield yet yields a more satisfying tactical mini-game.

I love also to see any number of other campaign guidelines like the different levels of arenas from the backwater towns to the main attractions in the major cities.


  1. Commendable. While I can't feign that I have read Barker's works I am curious to see where this endeavour takes you.

  2. While Guardians of Order's TEPT didn't have lot to recommend them to Old School types, the combat system might be good a laugh if turned into a stand alone Hirilakte gladiator game; loads of special moves and combat tactics.