The dust and heat blow across the arena floor, the caked dirt already spattered with bright crimson. The clash of steel echoes into the packed amphitheater and sunlight gleams off bronze helmets and the sheen of muscle as the combatants gauge each other, their strikes testing one another. A splash of blood, a cry of pain, the roar of the crowd. A thumb turns, and both live to fight another day — or die, to be forgotten in a mass grave. This is the world of the gladiators, the kings of the arena.
Gladiators are unique to developed urban areas, usually displaying their skills in large arenas, though occasionally more crudely constructed pits or circles of rope, or wood, or iron are used. Gladiators may be orphans taken in by gladiator schools, prisoners, or citizens who have been sold into slavery to pay off a large debt.
Some may know no other life than arena combat, while others savor the fighting lifestyle and the perks of being a lethal showman. Skilled gladiators who last long enough to establish a persona and reputation may become famous and acquire various rewards for their renown. They may find employment as bodyguards for the wealthy — after all, being guarded by a famous killer is discouraging to many would-be assassins – or as masters of arms for young warriors, trainers in exotic weaponry, protection for taverns or more illicit establishments, and occasionally as proxies for matters of honor (in other words, duels). Gladiators are managed in ‘stables’, since an owner often has several and does indeed treat them much like sporting beasts.
They are usually well-fed, since they undergo rigorous physical training, often have a communal bath, and are occasionally allowed to keep trophies, though these are often kept by the stable’s owner instead.
Role: A Gladiator is more than just a warrior. He is a specialist in unusual, often foreign weapons, wears highly personalized armor, and employs unorthodox tactics not merely to defeat his enemies, but to provide a thrilling spectacle while doing so. A gladiator (or gladiatrix, as female gladiators are known) may have experience fighting other skilled warriors, dangerous beasts, even rare and unusual monsters — but always in an arena, not in the creature’s natural environment.
Thus, while a gladiator is a tough and dangerous warrior, he is unfamiliar with the wilderness; he makes his career in towns and cities large enough to support an arena and so has few survival skills. However, he is often intimately familiar with the urban environment and makes a point of knowing the local merchants, nobles, and social patrons, to better play to them in the crowd.
A wealthy sponsor is a much-sought-after resource for a gladiator and, in the case of slave gladiators, the best chance at freedom.
Alignment: Special. While a gladiator may have any alignment except for lawful good, they are usually neutral in alignment. In addition, the persona a gladiator portrays in the arena may be a certain alignment, or at least generally good or evil even if the gladiator is of a different alignment.
Hit Dice: d12.
The gladiator’s class skills are: Bluff (Cha), Diplomacy (Cha), Disguise (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (local) (Int), Knowledge (nobility) (Int), Perception (Wis), Perform (act) (Cha), Perform (disguise) (Cha), Perform (oratory) (Cha), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex).
Skill Ranks per Level: 2 + Int modifier.
All of the following are class features of the gladiator.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency Gladiators are proficient with all simple and martial weapons, light and medium armor, and with shields (except tower shields). Also see below.
The gladiator uses a variety of unusual weapons in his bloody career and the wide variety of ethnic and national backgrounds among gladiators leads naturally towards extensive cross-training with the tools of their trade. It is worth noting gladiators will only rarely learn or use ranged weapons except for exotic ones. At levels 1, 5, 9, 13, and 17, a gladiator gains a bonus Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat in an exotic weapon of his choice.
Gladiators gain expertise with melee weapons quickly and have a good innate understanding of how various types of weapons function. This presents earliest with the common tools of their trade, but as time goes on, becomes more broadened.
At 2nd level, the gladiator gains Weapon Focus: longsword as a bonus feat, Weapon Focus: cestus at 4th, Weapon Focus: scissor at 6th, Improved Unarmed Strike at 8th, Improved Grapple at 10th, Improved Shield Bash at 12th, and a bonus combat feat of the character’s choice at 14th, 16th, and 18th levels. These bonus feats cannot be used for ranged weapons or attacks of any kind (though feats gained from advancing a level can be used for ranged weapons or attacks).
A gladiator starts out (2d4+2 x 100) gp in debt to his stable for food, training, gear, or any prior debts, and he cannot adventure or acquire additional gear until the debt to the gladiator stable is paid off. It can be paid off by another person, who may very well have their own terms of repayment or via their winnings in the arena. The most unscrupulous of stable owners may also charge for healing (GMs should endeavor not be unreasonable on this) to keep the gladiator in virtual enslavement via constantly mounting debt.
Gladiators gain a +3 circumstance bonus to all Acrobatics, Stealth, Climb, and Survival checks in urban terrain; i.e. cities and towns (including arenas). Castles, fortresses, villages, and other small or isolated settlements provide no bonus or penalty. However, wilderness, dungeons, and other undeveloped or ruined areas invoke a -3 circumstance penalty to all Acrobatics, Stealth, Climb, and Survival checks.
A gladiator develops a reputation during his career, and the reputation can go up and down throughout that career. Reputation is used to determine the DC of the gladiator’s Perform skill checks during combat. The higher the gladiator’s reputation, the lower the DC, representing a well-loved gladiator’s ability to easily get a crowd on his side.
A 1st-level gladiator’s reputation is 10 + 1d3.
Reputation increases by 1 point each time the gladiator advances a level, each time he wins a fight, and sometimes at the GM’s discretion (for acting in persona outside of the arena, for instance). Reputation decreases by 1 point for each fight the gladiator loses, for each time the gladiator acts out of persona (beginning at 3rd level), and sometimes at the GM’s discretion (for refusing to meet adoring fans, for example).
Reputation can also affect how others treat the gladiator outside of the arena. Shop owners may give a highly reputable gladiator a discount, while tavern owners might jack up the price of ale for a much despised gladiator.
The gladiator receives an additional +1 bonus to these skill checks at 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th levels.
In addition, combat maneuvers such as trip, disarm, feint, and sunder — maneuvers that provide a distinct edge in battle but do not directly hurt one’s opponent – all get a +1 bonus at the same levels, as they add more variety than just hammering one another with blows. Such techniques draw out the spectacle and showcases the gladiator’s skill and prowess more fully than a quick kill would, and give the audience a better show for their entrance fee. Likewise, a gladiator will often extend a fight by resorting to grappling if possible.
A gladiator may add his Charisma bonus to his CMB if he makes a successful Perform (act) skill check (DC based on the gladiator’s reputation). The Perform check is made each round of combat as a free action on the gladiator’s turn. The character then fights dramatically, including feigning injuries or fatigue, making flashy moves, brandishing weapons, taunting their opponent, and other impractical but entertaining techniques.
In addition, the gladiator may make a Bluff roll against their opponent as a standard action. The Bluff is opposed by the opponents Sense Motive. If successful, the Bluff provokes an immediate attack of opportunity from the opponent, which must be taken and which counts towards the number of attacks of opportunity the opponent gets in a round.
Exerceo is a method of mock combat for exhibitions instead of life-and-death battle. A gladiator rolls a Perform (act) check (DC based on the gladiator’s reputation) instead of normal attack rolls to execute a wild series of swings and parries of his opponent’s weapon, sometimes with acrobatic flourishes.
This may be done while using wasters (wooden swords designed for drill and show), but very often exerceo is performed with real weapons. A successful roll means that his techniques are convincing to the observer.
However, a successful Sense Motive check by the crowd (DC is equal to the gladiator’s Perform check total) will reveal that even had the techniques not been parried, the gladiator’s weapon would never have made contact with his opponent.
Ideally, the gladiator uses exerceo against an opponent who is also using exerceo, for an exciting but completely fake encounter, dragging out the fight for the benefit of the crowd. Using exerceo against an opponent genuinely trying to do one harm is extremely risky, with no benefit, and gives the opponent an extra attack of opportunity each round exerceo is used.
When using exerceo, failed Perform checks require an immediate Dexterity check (the DC equals the opponents AC); if that check is failed, the gladiator has accidentally struck his opponent and must roll for damage as usual. If the result of the Dexterity check is a natural 1, the gladiator scores an automatic critical against his opponent.
Starting at 3rd level, a gladiator develops a distinct persona in the arena, with signature moves, personality, and appearance. As such he must make a successful Perform (act) or Perform (oratory) check (and, if he has an elaborate costume, a Disguise check as well) before entering combat or suffer a -3 penalty to all combat rolls. The DC of all skill checks is based on the gladiator’s reputation score.
His persona must have a name, a developed appearance and style, even it’s own alignment, all of which can be different than the gladiator’s, and must be maintained to stay in character. If a gladiator violates his persona, he must make an immediate Charisma check (DC 25) or lose the audience’s favor. Loosing the audience’s favor results in a -3 penalty to all rolls (including damage) for the duration of the combat. The gladiator’s reputation also goes down by one point if the Charisma check fails.
When the persona is first developed and every four levels afterwards (at 7th, 11th, 15th and 19th levels), the persona evolves, developing a new trait that is in effect only when the gladiator is successfully in character. The first trait chosen at 3rd level must be either Face (representing the good guy/hero) or Heel (representing the bad guy/villain).
A signature move is a particular combination of moves that is used time and again by a gladiator, which the crowd comes to expect from the gladiator. The signature move is a combination of a move action (usually acrobatic in nature) greater than 5 ft. and but no more than double the gladiator’s normal movement rate, a combat maneuver, and a single melee attack. The gladiator could also choose to make his signature move a move action followed by two combat maneuvers, or two combat maneuvers and a melee attack also.
When the signature move trait is chosen, the gladiator picks the specific types of move actions, combat maneuvers and melee attacks that make up his signature move. An example might be to Tumble up to the opponent, make a Trip attempt, and then strike with a cestus. The signature move combination cannot be changed once it is determined without taking the signature move trait a second time. The signature move trait allows the gladiator to take all three actions as a full round action (even though normally all three could not be taken in a round) once per combat.
The gladiator receives no bonus to any attacks beyond normal bonuses from successful results of the signature move (for example, if the gladiator successfully trips his opponent, the opponent is treated as prone for any melee attacks that follow.
At 20th level, the gladiator is essentially a living battle-god. Their fame is such that they are practically worshipped by fans. So strong is the devotion that in fact gladiators actually draw strength from their cheering spectators. When the gladiator first enters the arena, the roar of the crowd is so overwhelming and filled with such power that he benefits from two of the following powers for the duration of the combat (roll randomly or choose):
Gladiators generally start with minimal equipment and, due to their circumstances, no money. At first level, a gladiator has a longsword, cestus, scissor, javelin, light or heavy shield, and a suit of basic gladiator armor. Once they are out adventuring, they may acquire money and treasure as per normal adventurer. A gladiator who works in the arena can win a share of the arena’s take, earning 2% per level of experience in areas they are well known, 0.5% in areas they are not. (GMs, to determine the take, roll 3d6 x 10 gp for tiny arenas, roll 2d6 x 100 gp for small arenas, 5d6 x 100 gp for medium arenas, and 3d4 x 1000 gp for a large arena; apply the gladiator’s percentage to that to determine what the gladiator earns; it may be as little as a handful of silver to as much as a few thousand gold pieces) Gladiators are generally scheduled to fight once per week to allow for healing and recovery. More experienced gladiators with a larger draw may only fight every two weeks or maybe even only every month.
Section 15: Copyright Notice – Paths of Power
Paths of Power. Copyright 2009, 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming; Authors Sean O’Connor and Patricia Willenborg, with Connie J. Thomson and Robert W. Thomson.