5 Tips for Running Epic Gladiator Arenas
Updated: Mar 4
The chanting of the crowds, the stench of sweat, blood, and fear, and the howls of the dying fill the arenas of the Dungeons and Dragons world. Those with the courage to step on the field can find fame and fortune or brutal defeat. Death looks on in hunger, waiting to snatch another soul from the crimson sands to feed to its dark mistress. In the face of doom, the gladiators fight, time and again, to test their might against their rivals and against terrible beasts thirsty for the spray of hot blood. Such contests are the stuff of legend, worthy of bold adventurers and fortune-seekers.
This episode explores tips for running exciting and fun gladiatorial matches from behind the screen, giving you everything you need to send your player characters into the arena to claim the prize of victory.
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5 Tips for Running Epic Gladiator Arenas
A combat in an arena is still a combat. One or more characters square off against a foe or foes. Both sides roll initiative. and both sides take turns using good tactics and spectacular powers to defeat the enemy.
Yet, important differences exist, too. An arena encounter is a controlled environment. It doesn't (usually) spill beyond the battlefield's parameters. Since most characters fighting in an arena aren't likely to have more than one match in a single day. the arena combat can and does eat up more resources than does a normal combat encounter. Add to this the presence of the crowd, the sheer variety of opponents, and the rewards of fame, gold, and baubles, and the gladiatorial contest evolves into something more than a simple fight between good and bad. It becomes a contest of blood and glory.
A match in an arena comes in a variety of forms. It’s this variety that can make the arena an exciting and engaging encounter.
A duel pits one opponent against another. It can occur in any venue, from fighting pits to a coliseum, and any hazards or traps threaten both foes. The larger the venue, the more important the duel needs to be to attract a crowd. Duels in large venues feature famous gladiators, terrifying monsters, interesting gimmicks, or a combination of these. Since only two combatants are involved, only one player gets to participate. Because of this, our first tip is focused on duel style arena.
During duels, and other gladiatorial arena matches where there are players that are unable to participate. Either due to death or the encounter setup, allow them to run monsters, traps, hazards, or even weapons, such as catapults. Not only does this make the game much more dynamic and strategic, but it makes it unpredictable as even the Dungeon Master doesn’t know the outcome of the actions the other players will take.
Team contests feature groups of gladiators fighting against each other. These are the best solutions For adventuring parties since the encounter allows the group to take advantage of teamwork tactics, and it allows for far more complex and interesting encounters.
During team matches, capitalize on the group tactics. The arena should change and evolve during battle. For example, an arena where the floor falls away every round into a chasm of spikes. In this example, not only is the arena shrinking as the battle continues, but the hazards grow the longer the battle ensues. Allowing for clever positioning and tactics to leverage it to a strategic team's advantage.
The grand melee is a variation on the team contest. In this event, the PCs are part of a large number of combatants. A free-for-all battle. Considering that the player characters are on the same side, these contests can see the PCs fighting against one another. However, since a player can choose to knock out an enemy reduced to 0 hit points instead of killing it, PCs can participate without players fearing the loss of their cherished adventurers.
The grand melee is likely one of the few arenas where roleplay will be heavier. There should be a lead-up to the battle that focuses on short-term alliances and politicking to deal with much stronger and dangerous foes. For example, if the party members are only level 5, a monster such as a fire giant that is a CR is likely going to be a threat, and everyone will know it. So the groups may form alliances for bringing down the fire giant, while at the same time planning with others to take down another ally once the fire giant is dealt with.
Change the victory conditions. Arena competitions end after one side is dead or dying, but this need not always be the case. Arenas feature all sorts of competitions, such as races, fights to the first blood, and the tried-and-true deathmatches. The following victory conditions map out the basic sorts of objectives for common competitions.
Aside from the dangers gladiators face in the ring, there are dangers outside the ring, too. Include the crowd as much as possible! A crowd in the throes of bloodlust can be every bit as rough as a wild beast, and, if angered, they might fling rubbish onto the field, distract gladiators with insults, or pluck an unwary warrior off the field and rip him apart in the stands. Gladiators learn that appeasing the crowd is as important as fighting well, because a crowd won over can be a useful ally if things go bad.
A simple way to include this is to use performance checks and to treat the crowd as a lair action that affects the battlefield based on a disposition. We recommend using the bless and bane spells to start, but you can get as complex as you want. If some of the characters aren’t in the match, you can have them roll Persuasion checks to work the crowd in their allies' favor as well.
The chanting of the crowds, the stench of sweat, blood, and fear, and the howls of the dying fill the arenas of the Dungeons and Dragons world. With these tips, the players will cheer the encounters like the crowds of the arena.
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"Blood is bound tallow this day. I warrant it will be yours!"
A rare few gladiators enter the arena to right a wrong. As unusual as it sounds, sometimes getting down and dirty in the fighting pits is just what's needed to get back at the people who have crossed you. To such a gladiator, fighting in an arena is a means to an end. The target of hatred might be another pit fighter,
someone who works the games, a patron who keeps a stable of gladiators, or a raving fan of the sport. A gladiator driven by vengeance might resolve a dispute after a single bloody match. Another might ravage
the enemy financially or emotionally first, perhaps defeating the target's personal champions one by one.
Such a careful plotter only faces the real foe once everything else has been taken from that foe.
Battle-Scarred Veteran Gladiator
Lost Features: Damage and Condition Immunities, Telepathy, Magic Resistance, True Sight, Multiattack down to two attacks from three.
Veteran Experience. When the gladiator rolls a 1 or a 2 on the d20 for an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, it can reroll the die and must use the new roll.
Tactical Insight. When the gladiator finishes a long rest, it rolls two d20s, the GM records the numbers rolled. The gladiator can replace any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check made by a creature that it can see with these tactical insight rolls. The gladiator must choose to do so after the roll as its tactical insight allows it to predict the best course of action to take.
Each tactical insight roll can only be used once. When it finishes a long rest, it loses any unused tactical insight rolls.
The gladiator can take 3 Legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. The veteran regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
Attack(Costs 2 Actions). The gladiator makes one attack with its longsword or longbow.
Tactical Awareness. If the gladiator has already used its reaction, it can roll a d6. On a 5 or 6, it regains use of its reaction.
Features of Note, Longsword with multiattack 3 and poisoned tipped longbow arrows. Parry.
Dakuadu Thron (F, elf, noble) has ordered House Arryn to take a more active role in the conquest of the region. Unfortunately, Lord Jarid Arryn's (M, human, spy) homelands are rife with House Varrin supporters. You have been asked to sneak into their homes study and plant a small orb imbued with the arcane eye spell. This will allow House Arryn to find Varrin sympathizers easily and bring their piece of the region under control.
Weapon (Net), Uncommon
This unique and small net has weights entwined on the ends, making it easier to throw long distances. In addition, the weights tend to wrap tightly around a foe, restricting their movement.
The unique design of this net allows its range to increase to 40/60 feet. As a bonus action you can speak the item's command word and lightning springs from the net to deliver a shock to a creature touching the net. The target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 2d4 lightning damage, and it can’t take reactions until the start of its next turn. On a successful save the target takes half damage and can still take reactions..
Dungeon Master Tip:
As with any adventure, those centered on arenas should have a quest to involve the entire party. Unless
you use a heavy hand and force the adventurers to fight for their freedom, arena adventures have a hard
time keeping the characters involved. Thus, building quests for your players requires finding ways to keep them invested in the outcomes of particular duels and matches until the situation is resolved. For example:
Cheating. The characters might investigate a particular venue to follow tip on suspicions of cheating.
Cover. The arena might conceal a sinister enterprise involving cultists, criminals, or possibly a political uprising.
Missing. People are disappearing all over the town, never to be seen again. Looking into these
vanishings, they discover a criminal ring drags them to a distant location where they fight in deathmatches.
Murder. Each day, for several days, gladiators turn up dead—and not from fighting in the pits. The sponsors fear their stables are going to be wiped out,
Player Tip: Don’t be a Dick
Turn a curse into a boon!
Cursed items are often a huge threat to you as a player. This comes in the forms of altering personalities, giving an adventurer one or more vulnerabilities, or one turns an adventurer's face into a horrifying visage. While these can seem like a terrible “curse” and a huge inconvenience, don’t forget you can make these items available to the enemies. Whether it’s through a sophisticated bluff, brutish intimidation, or a more tactile suave persuasion. If you can find a way to convince an enemy to utilize the cursed item, it can greatly benefit your heroes in their work!
From Star Shine
After a long day of adventuring, nothing beats a night at the tavern!
"A Night At The Tavern" focuses on all of the activities that can be found in a tavern. From services such as accommodation and recruitment to traditional tavern games such as Shove Ha'Penny and Smite.
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