Gladiator Campaign

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Hervé
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Gladiator Campaign

Postby Hervé » Mon Jun 18, 2007 8:36 am

Long time ago there was this old D&D boxed set called "Dawn of the Emperors", a roman empire like setting. I recently unearthed two modules for this set that could be easily converted in an Argossean gladiator mini campaign. Both were written by the excellent John Nephew and don't focuse too much on dungeon bashing. The first part, "Arena of Thyatis", is really good, mixing bloodied fights, political intrigue along with a supernatural element. It is quite open and could be adapted to the Conan RPG with only a few modifications. The second part, "Legions of Thyatis" would require a little more work but this might be worth the effort...
DDA01-Arena Of Thyatis
DDA02-Legions Of Thyatis
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Postby Clovenhoof » Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:25 am

If you like that, be sure to check out Gladiators of Messantia in S&P 38. You may have an easier time converting those D&D boxes to Conan if you take that S&P article as a basis.
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Postby Hervé » Mon Jun 18, 2007 1:10 pm

Thanks Clovenhoof but I would not miss a S&P issue for the throne of Aquilonia...
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Postby Yogah of Yag » Mon Jun 18, 2007 6:20 pm

Since we're mentioning 1e & 2e D&D materials to flesh out Hyboria, I could recommend

Glory of Rome: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=946&

and

Age of Heroes: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=948&

Both are fluff/flavour-heavy and have lots of great tidbits for inspiration for Argossean or Corinthian campaigns (and Nemedian?).
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Postby Jeffreywns » Tue Jun 19, 2007 2:07 pm

I recall a pastiche about a Stygian city with a strong Corinthian influence that brought gladitorial games to Stygia. The Messantia box set and S&P article make it seem like a hyborian culture pastime, at least where organised matches and grand arenas are concerned. Another pastiche alluded to illegal matches in a border town between Aquilonia and Nemedia. Pit fights and bloodmatches aside, would a traveling stable of gladiators (adventurers) be welcome along the Road of Kings or is it frowned upon in certain hyborian lands? The Mitran religion seems to represent diffrent values, would " diffrent" sects of that hyborian view (Zingara ?) or Koths non-Mitran take be more likely to support a Gladiator culture? The Vanir in our group has been showing a tendency to show off his stuff and an invatation from a prospective "manager" sounds fun to me.
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Postby Yogah of Yag » Tue Jun 19, 2007 2:48 pm

Gladiators/Pit Fighters were most likely "pressed" into service, being slaves, POWs, the dregs of empire, and so on. I would imagine that the overwhelming majority of such in history had no choice in the matter. It is likely that freemen would not volunteer for these events for the obvious reasons, no more than regular joes today would want to prepare and be a part of octagon death-matches.
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Postby Clovenhoof » Tue Jun 19, 2007 3:37 pm

Indeed.
Facts about historical gladiator/arena fights, particularly in Ancient Rome:

- Gladiators were slaves by default. It did happen that a particularly successful gladiator was set free, but that was very rare. It required a large "fan" community, which could only develop if the gladiator survived many fights and also delivered a cool show.

- Arena combat was, by default, lethal. I always find it funny when RPGs implement mock fights, where the combatants only fight until first blood or use bated weapons or something like that. The audience wanted to see people die, the more the better. These were not enlightened people of the modern age. And here I also think that the "Gladiators of Messantia" setting is way off target.

- If you lost a fight you died. Again, the only exception was if you were particularly popular among the audience, and they want to see more of you. But you might first have to win 50 fights and still couldn't be sure to be granted quarters if you lost the 51st.

- This kind of, ahem, turnover could be easily afforded because as I said, gladiators were slaves, and there was an abundant supply of slaves in the Roman Empire. They really didn't need to spare any.

- A gladiator was not such a handsome sight to behold: they tried to gain a considerable layer of fat underneath their skin. This was nothing less than a personal meat shield. Many fought unarmoured and so that layer of fat was the only thing that could prevent a weapon from cutting apart their muscles or internal organs.

- the "kiddy matinee" of an arena day was pitting convicted criminals against each other, unarmoured and armed with swords. Never assume that the victor of one such duel was pardoned -- he just had to fight another convict. And another, and another, until he'd finally get killed himself.

- the long and short of this is: a human life wasn't worth much. It could easily be measured in silver coins or entertainment value. There were simply no scruples at all that kept anyone from sacrificing human lives for an entertaining afternoon.

Of course you can handle it all differently in your game. But IMHO those "harmless duels" contradict the genre. These concepts of reason and mercy rely on the basics of humanism and enlightenment -- neither of which has a place in a barbaric and corrupt world. Thank you for your attention.
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Postby Krushnak » Tue Jun 19, 2007 4:20 pm

actually most gladiatorial fights didnt end with death unless by accident. professional gladiators are just worth too much money to throw away so carelessly, prisoners and pit slaves however were only worth anything when they died.

the distinction that must be made is between professional gladiators and pit slaves and also between high profile fights usually conducted during festivals and would be several days long or what were really public training and "friendly" matches between different schools. deaths were common in the festival fights but usually only occured by accident during the weekly sparrings.

it has actually been found that a decent amount of professional gladiators were actually free-men who sold themselves to a school/owner to pay off debts or to simply improve their lot in life. gladiators were the top athletes of those days and success brought fame, riches and women.

it has nothing to do with reason or mercy, but economics. to train a gladiator to put on a proper show and not just get slaughtered like an average slave required alot of time, effort and money.
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Postby Jeffreywns » Tue Jun 19, 2007 6:23 pm

And as REH based his cultures on the neo-historical ones that would mean Etruscan/Roman Argos,Koth, maybe Zingara(Spain?) would support an Arena culture? Did they build small ones in Britain or Gaul? Or is that where the bad asses came from? The only thing I have Game-wise are the old TSR Dark Sun novels. Somewhere..........
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Postby Axerules » Tue Jun 19, 2007 8:53 pm

Krushnak wrote:actually most gladiatorial fights didnt end with death unless by accident. professional gladiators are just worth too much money to throw away so carelessly, prisoners and pit slaves however were only worth anything when they died.

the distinction that must be made is between professional gladiators and pit slaves and also between high profile fights usually conducted during festivals and would be several days long or what were really public training and "friendly" matches between different schools. deaths were common in the festival fights but usually only occured by accident during the weekly sparrings.

it has actually been found that a decent amount of professional gladiators were actually free-men who sold themselves to a school/owner to pay off debts or to simply improve their lot in life. gladiators were the top athletes of those days and success brought fame, riches and women.

it has nothing to do with reason or mercy, but economics. to train a gladiator to put on a proper show and not just get slaughtered like an average slave required alot of time, effort and money.
I think you are right. It was for economic reasons. When some Roman politicians (during the later Republic) or Emperors sponsored thousand fights to the death, it meant they had huge political ambitions, a LOT of money to spend (after succesful war campaigns or because they had huge amount of personal wealth) and/or the need to calm the people. And it were really RARE events.

In Rome, it was decided before the beginning of the fight if it had to be to the death or not. If a gladiator died in a fight that was supposed to end at first blood, his price had to be paid to his owner and like Kruhsnak outlined it, a well trained fighter is highly expensive.

Not that the Romans didn't expect to see blood in the arena. Many convicts, war prisonners (and later some christians) were crucified, sent to fight against wild beasts or otherwise slaughtered.

Some archeologists discovered, in a cemetery near a gladiatorial school, that the members of this school had some of the best medecine available at the time provided to them. Their owners just wanted to protect their investment.

But IMHO, you don't need to be totally "historically accurate" in Hyboria. REH made his world "grittier" than real history. I think that this whole gladiatorial thing don't need to be like it was in Rome. You can always decide that in Hyboria, with a lot of warlike cultures, you have a supply of trained fighters that is so important that all fights can be to the death.
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Postby Clovenhoof » Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:45 pm

Well, I remember _reading_ about this first-blood or exhibition fight thing in some history/reenactment magazine, but I don't trust everything I read there. I have a friend who is a historian/archeologist, and iirc (we talked about this like a year ago), he said that this is all nonsense, and they had plenty of supply, and could easily afford a couple of mortal combats in one show.
I find it pretty difficult to find a reliable source; another source I read today stated a mortality rate of 10% (i.e. 100 duels with 200 duelists resulted in about 20 deaths).

Of course we need to differentiate between random cities in the Roman empire and Rome proper. The emperors sunk a LOT of money into Rome. Does the term "Panem et Circenses" ring a bell? Rome in its heyday had about a million citizens, most of which did not work for their living but still had to be fed. Rome could afford that through its tremendous wealth, raised from the exploitation of its provinces, and it had to afford it in order to avoid riots. Same thing with the Games: keep the people fed and entertained and they won't storm your palace with torches and ptchforks.

To give you a relation here: Rome had a military budget to maintain up to 20 Legions, each 6.000 soldiers strong plus retinue. Each legionary required equipment, food, and pay. This is still not counting the Auxiliares because these were supplied by the provinces.

So you can imagine that's a pretty large sum. And yet this figure is dwarfed by the expenses for "social security": just the amount the Emperor had to spend for bread as gift to the Romans was up to ten times as much as the entire military budget.

Picture this: if the Emperor didn't have to provide free bread, he could have paid up to _two hundred legions_. Considering these numbers, I find it hard to believe they were too cheap to afford a couple of mortal combats for each arena day.

Then again, the number of such events varied a bit over the time. First they were privately sponsored events, then public-financed, and then they mutated to be the privilege of the Emperor (and his expense). However, if mainstream sources are reliable, they took place only up to three times a year, over several days each, to a total of about 10 days per year.
And some Emperors were indeed more scrupulous, one decreed that only bated weapons were allowed, another (Marc Aurel) prohibited fights to the death, while his son repealed all these rules and went for the gusto.

So... looks like things really just changed over the time, so you can't put a flat so-and-so tag on gladiator combat.

Anyway, for a Conanesque game I'd opt for fight to the death by default, to show the players they are up for no joke here.
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Postby Jeffreywns » Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:49 pm

Thanks for all the info, like I said I could only recall the Messantia box and the Argos/Zingara book talking about Arenas. That and with the couple of pastiches lead me to think Ill have them in Argos, Zingara, Koth and Corinthia. The other Hyborian kingdoms will frown upon bloodsports in general.
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Postby Axerules » Wed Jun 20, 2007 12:09 am

Hello Clovenhoof,

In your last post, you talked about "a couple" of fights to the death. That's not what you said earlier: "Arena combat, was, by default, lethal".

Of course my post was (also) simplistic and without shades. :wink:

"It changed over time", is far more accurate.

There's a difference between a ludi and a munera. The Etruscan funerary rites are the origins of gladiator fights. During the Republic the fights were NOT, "by default, lethal". Their armor, the use of the shield and what we know of their techniques suggest that the fights were made to last : who would like to see a combat over in a few seconds ? They were highly trained, often better than the Legions (even a very late source, Vegetius, in Epitoma rei militaris used the gladiators skills as an example for motivating the Legions) and, as I said before, had access to the best medecine (see the study made by the Austrian Professor Karl Groschmidt on 67 bodies of gladiators). It seems that the gladiatorial fights became more deadly LATER. They were often to the death during the IIIrd century AD (?) (if I my memory is correct).

The christian tradition condemned gladiatorial fights and the peplum/hollywood movies did further portray as a brutal mass murder what was first a religious rite, then a (bloody) sport and only lately a slaughter. But most of the historians who wrote about this subject during the last 20 years don't have anymore this simplistic view.

BTW, I'm sorry and I apologize if I sound like a "know-it-all". Antiquity has always been my favourite period in history.

To get back to Conan and RPG stuff, a historical thing that could be used in games is the names that were found on gladiators epitaphs like Flamma (the flame), Ursius (the bear), Fulgur (the quick). Some mythologics names were also used. So it is possible to name your Hyborian gladiator Bori or something along those lines.
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Postby Axerules » Wed Jun 20, 2007 12:11 am

Hello Clovenhoof,

In your last post, you talked about "a couple" of fights to the death. That's not what you said earlier: "Arena combat, was, by default, lethal".

Of course my post was (also) simplistic and without shades. :wink:

"It changed over time" is far more accurate.

There's a difference between a ludi and a munera. The Etruscan funerary rites are the origins of gladiator fights. During the Republic the fights were NOT, "by default, lethal". Their armor, the use of the shield and what we know of their techniques suggest that the fights were made to last : who would like to see a combat over in a few seconds ? They were highly trained, often better than the Legions (even a very late source, Vegetius, in Epitoma rei militaris used the gladiators skills as example for motivating the Legions) and, as I said before, had access to the best medecine (see the study made by the Austrian Professor Karl Groschmidt on 67 bodies of gladiators). It seems that the gladiatorial fights became more deadly LATER. They were often to the death during the IIIrd century AD (?) (if I my memory is correct).

The christian tradition condemned gladiatorial fights and the peplum/hollywood movies did further portray as a brutal mass murder what was first a religious rite, then a (bloody) sport and only lately a slaughter. But most of the historians who wrote about this subject during the last 20 years don't have anymore this simplistic view.

BTW, I'm sorry and I apologize if I sound like a "know-it-all". Antiquity has always been my favourite period in history.

To get back to the RPG, a historical thing that could be used in games is the names that were found on gladiators epitaphs like Flamma (the flame), Ursius (the bear), Fulgur (the quick). Some mythologics names were also used. So it is possible to name your Hyborian gladiator Bori or something along those lines.
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Postby Clovenhoof » Wed Jun 20, 2007 12:19 am

In your last post, you talked about "a couple" of fights to the death. That's not what you said earlier: "Arena combat, was, by default, lethal".
Yes. The difference is that in my last post I was referring to a written source at hand, and in my previous post I referred to what my friend told me. Basically, I trust my friend more than some Wikipedia article or similar. ;)
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Postby Axerules » Wed Jun 20, 2007 1:01 am

Clovenhoof wrote: Yes. The difference is that in my last post I was referring to a written source at hand, and in my previous post I referred to what my friend told me. Basically, I trust my friend more than some Wikipedia article or similar. ;)
About Wiki, I noticed that the French (and the few articles I have read in Deutsch also) seems far more reliable than the English Wiki. Not that Frenchs or Germans are more knowledgeable than English-speakers, but the sheer number of articles submitted in the web main tongue is almost impossible to check and control.

But I also don't trust 100% Wiki or other websites. A serious book written by an historian will always be a better source.

BTW, after your post I checked the Wiki article about gladiators auf Deutsch. The Epitaph (Grabziel) about the gladiator who survived 30 fights, with 21 victories, 9 draws and who was 4 times spared is something I have read in a history book (or studied) 10 years ago.
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Postby Hervé » Thu Jun 21, 2007 10:23 am

****ATTENTION****SPOILERS AHEAD****

Here's a summary of DDA01 Arena of Thyathis. Although some names have been changed, the text comes almost directly from the module (I'm not sure I have the right to do this, as the text may be protected by copyright. If I don't just let me know...)

Background
Octavio Ostero, a powerful Merchant Prince, with the help of the sorceress Kephira, has been using the Stygian drug zonga to manipulate the arena gladiators, on whose matches great sums of money are bet. As far as Ostero is concerned, the plan works excellently; but he does not realize all its implications.
The gladiators are the bearers of an ancient secret: That there exists an ancient cavern network of unknown proportions right beneath the teeming streets of Messentia. Gladiators who are members of the Order of the Sands are sworn to the guarding of this dungeon’s entrances, to prevent the inhabitants of the underworld from ravaging the city; the greater Order assists in this project, particularly by supporting the legal and financial interests of gladiators. Since the zonga drug entered the Coliseum, chaos has followed. Besides skewing the arena contests, it has led to the general degeneration of the gladiators and guards. Addicts are virtually enslaved to Kephira, who provides them with their drug; in exchange, they are instructed to introduce specific individuals to the drug—preferably before crucial matches. This often results in a new addict; or in the gladiator’s death, when he attempts to defend himself on the sands. What has caused more concern among the gladiatorial ranks, however (since most remain naive about zonga’s abuse), is the increase in monstrous incursions from below. Many recent deaths attributed to monster attacks have been zonga-connected as well, but there has in fact been much more activity beneath the coliseum. Some gladiators fear that the restiveness indicates an impending invasion from below.
One person who has lost a lot of money and gladiators is Proximo, a man of many talents, who some would call a criminal. Proximo is actively seeking vigorous new gladiators to recoup his losses and replenish the ranks of his sponsored fighters; and he is increasingly willing to transgress laws even more than usual.

Adventure Synopsis
The characters begin in Messentia. They are invited to a lavish feast thrown by Octavio Ostero, the head of one of the most wealthy merchant families in Messentia.
Willingly or not, they are impressed into gladiatorial service by Proximo. The Messantian is certainly breaking the law—but he has the connections to give it all the appearances of legality.
The first task that the new gladiators must surmount is their own initiation, which consists in depositing them in the caverns beneath the Coliseum, to see if they can find their way out alive.
After this the party is accepted into the gladiatorial ranks, and they see the day-to-day life in the Coliseum: training, the games, and the odd incursion from below. When a fellow gladiator falls ill, the PCs must take his place—and they win!
That night the characters find their cell left open: they are given the opportunity to escape! In fact it is a plan to have them captured and punished as runaway slaves, in retribution for their arena success. The gladiator who was ill was meant to take a fall, and the characters’ success caused Octavio Ostero to lose a healthy wager. Thugs hired by Kephira (on Octavio’s behalf) subsequently waylay the party.
Things come together at the domus (house) of Proximo. Kephira is to be found there, working out plans to double-cross Octavio, swayed by Proximo’ promises of greater wealth and power, and a chance to grow the precious zonga drug in Messentia itself . . . beneath the Coliseum. When the character party cleans up at the Domus Proximo, they have no reason not to think that they’ve wrapped things up. Ostero remains in the background, however, shrouded at the root of all the intrigue.

The adventure is well written (as most of Mr Nephew products) and needs only minor changes to be adapted to the Hyborian world. The "dungeon" part (through rather small in the original adventure) needs some rewriting.
I was thinking to replace the classic D&D monsters with a race of cave dwellers, degenerated offsprings of some older race... For the rest, a few name changes, some stat blocks and you're in...
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Postby kintire » Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:38 pm

It sounds plausible, although I'm not quite sure why Argos would entrust the guarding of a warren of mysterious catacombs to a motly bunch of slaves and outcasts...

Also, the drug has to be renamed. I am never going to make it through a session involving a drug called "zonga" :D


On a general note, lets not forget the Gladiator supplement from some people called "Mongoose". I thught it was pretty good.
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Postby Etepete » Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:55 pm

From the synopsis, the whole underground thing doesnt seem to crucial. Having said that im sure it can be done right: instead of an "Order of the Sands" there might just be a common understanding among the veteran gladiators to keep an eye on the piece of infested warrens (and we have already seen that these abound under Messantia) in question.

Zonga? Maybe Raksheesh, or Rageseed, or Afi, or Redflower, or Baalum
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Postby Hervé » Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:47 pm

Zonga sounds pretty exotic to me (but then again I'm french...), so I kept the original name (although it was spelled zzonga in DDA01). In my campaign the drug is brewed by stygian from a rare underground plant of the Black Kingdoms.

I feel the same as you about the whole "Order of the Sands" stuff. In my mind the order should be a kind of small unofficial sect (that makes the gladiators feel more important and flatters their egos..). King Milo doesn't have to know about the whole stuff, or maybe he's quite satisfied with the situation. He might even grant freedom to a member of the order for his services.
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