December 10, 2010

Dark Sun: The Complete Gladiator’s Handbook

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.
The sourcebook we’re looking at today is The Complete Gladiator’s Handbook (CGR2) published in 1993. It is softcover and runs 128 pages. The book is divided into 6 chapters, with an appendix.


Chapter 1: Character Creation
The chapter immediately goes into character kits. Character kits are the 2E version of character themes, however, they bring little mechanical bonus and are more of a background or to aid role-playing. Altogether there are 8 character kits. As kits are not compatible with 4E, you will not be able to bring them directly into a 4E campaign, but they may provide some ideas you can use.

Beast Trainer- One who takes beasts and makes them ready for the arena. This could be considered similar to the Beastmaster Ranger build from Martial Powers 1.
Blind Fighter- This is less about fighting without sight (a 4E Feat could cover that), but more about gaining enhanced abilities with your other senses. There is a nice germ of an idea for a paragon class here.
Arena Champion- The 4E paragon class Gladiator Champion should cover this.
Convict- This is a multiclass/hybrid with the 4E rogue class. You could also simply take the rogue class and then the Gladiator theme on top of it.
Professional Gladiator- This is covered by the 4E Gladiator theme.
Jazst- This is covered by the 4E Jazst Dancer paragon class.
Montare- Mounted gladiators. Just take a few feats that involve mounts and you have this kit covered. There are some special things a Montare can do, such as impaling or drive-by attacks, so it is possible to expand this to a paragon class.
Reaver- They capture creatures for use in arenas. They do not actually participate in arenas but simply supply the creatures for contests. Dragon magazine 391 just came out with an article discussing these for 4E, Monster Hunters of Athas. This article provides a nice overview of this concept, with feats, gear and rewards to allow a person to play this kit with the 4E rules.
Gladiatorial Slave- Again the 4E Gladiator theme, with a slave background, will work for this.

The chapter next goes into Arena Managers and their duties. Also mentioned are Arena Necromancers; those who raise the dead to perform again in the arena after they die. Mention is made of the former Necromancer for Tyr before Kalak fell.

Next up are a couple of Renowned NPCs of the Arenas. This is a listing of the two most prominent gladiators on Athas, one from Balic and one from Draj. Stats are listed, which are useless, but they each get an extensive background, so including them in an adventure is easy to do.

Chapter 2: Gladiator Abilities
This short chapter provides some abilities for a gladiator. Armor Optimization, Unarmed Combat and New Proficiencies (skills in 4E) are all mentioned. These are covered by the 4E Gladiator theme. A savvy designer might be able to glean a morsel or two as an extra power choice, otherwise there is nothing here for a 4E setting campaign.

Chapter 3: Combat
The chapter opens with a list of new, Dark Sun-centric weapons. Every one of the weapons is listed in the 4E setting book, so no conversion is necessary.

The next section covers armor, specifically the concept of wearing armor piecemeal. Basically a character purchases and wears armor that only covers certain portions of their body and the more they cover the more overall AC they have. The section references the core Dark Sun Rules Book for 2E and so the rules are not mentioned in this sourcebook; only a chart is included of the various values. This is an interesting idea that 4E has not embraced yet.

Next is an extensive section discussing combat. It gives a lot more options for combat than 2E had previously. A lot of these options are already included in various 4E powers; such things as knocking someone unconscious, shield bashes, pins, pulls, etc. As written the combat options can’t be used in a 4E game, though to be honest, most are already covered in 4E powers.

The combat section is expanded to include Martial Arts (more types of 4E powers), Bleeding Damage (4E ongoing damage), and Hit Locations (for which 4E has no analogy). The information is of no use in a 4E campaign.

Chapter 4: Arenas of Tyr
The next chapter focuses on the physical arenas of the various city-states. Each city gets a 2-page spread. One page gives a detailed description of the city’s arena, its layout, size, how it feels for a gladiator, and anything special about it. The second page consists of two maps for the arena, one a side view showing depth and the second is the traditional top-down look. Between these two, it is much easier to get a good picture of them. The 4E Dark Sun Creature Catalog lists 3 Arena Hazards for three cities; these help to add a little something to each arena. Overall, this section can only enhance any arena confrontations and it is of good use.

Next is a short list of Arena Variations and Obstacles. These are unique fight enhancements that make for the non-standard fight. The 4E setting sourcebook lists many of the same encounters under their Encounter Building section starting on page 200.

Life in the Stands is the next section and describes what it is like to be a spectator at an arena match. This can add a lot of color and detail for those times the player characters find themselves viewing an arena match (perhaps for a clandestine meeting) instead of being in it. Topics covered include Status Seating, Arena Fashion (by social strata), Concessions, Arena Banners, Chants and Cheers, the Sun Seats, Mercy, Mob Rules, and Magic.

The chapter now begins to cover a wider range of information including Dirty Tricks (unusual things that can be used during a match), the Royal Containment Field, Fan Culture, and Gambling on the Games. The information presented here is rich in detail and can be used either as background information (the players witness a landowner gambling his estate on his gladiator slave) to adventure seeds (the players become involved in a corrupt gambling ring that is fixing fights).

Next is a close look at the potential opponents a player may face in the arena. Specifically it goes into the various races and how they generally act within the arena. It covers all the major races and lists such things as Strengths, As Partners, Weaknesses, Weapon Choice, Armor Choice and Favored Tactics. This is all good information for color and the tactics portion can help a lot for bringing to life an opponent.

Next is a short section on the topic of Arena Animals. It lists a few creatures and how these creatures act within an arena. Unfortunately of the 8 creatures listed, only 4 can be found within the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, leaving half the information useless until someone comes up with the stats for the missing monsters.

The chapter ends with the topic of using the Arena as Court, wherein it is mentioned that at times fights may be arranged between templars of governmental factions when issues arise. There is a nifty story of Raam and her Queen, which would make for a nice background story to be told by an NPC during a game session.

Chapter 5: The Gladiator Campaign
This lengthy chapter goes into what can happen if the arena becomes the focus of a campaign. It supposes the players are all gladiators, or even those who run gladiators. It starts by going into what its like to be a gladiator covering such topics as Living Conditions, Stables, Free gladiators, Training, Awards and Rewards, Punishments, Escape and Revolt, Social Life, Keeping Score, Fame and Infamy, Patrons, Trading Gladiators, Games Outside the Cities, and Expenses.

Of note is that under the Training topic there is an extensive list of training exercises built as encounter challenges. Obviously since this is 2E and not 4E, the encounters are not written up in the format for 4E but they could easily be done so and would make for an interesting challenge near the beginning of a gladiator campaign. In addition, they could be used as ideas for any time you need an adventure that calls for a unique physical test.

Also of interest is the Fame and Infamy section as it provides a detailed listing of how to determine if a player character gladiator becomes famous (or infamous) and the consequences (Status) thereof.

The information presented in this chapter goes a long way to bringing to life a campaign based around the gladiator way of life. Even if a GM decides not to run such a highly focused campaign, there is still a lot of information that can be used either as background or for when the player characters do end up getting mixed up in an arena setting, even if it’s only for an adventure or two.

Chapter 6: Running Tournaments
This chapter gets into the nitty gritty of the various matches that can happen on game day. There is a brief description of various types of matches and then it goes into a few Advanced Games. The advanced games relate how certain city-states augment their matches with something unique. IF running an arena match in one of these cities for the players it will make such a match more memorable and exciting.

The chapter ends with a look at what happens after the match ends.

This consists of a couple of tables that give charts for using the new forms of combat, specifically one for Punching, Wrestling and Martial Arts. Since they are based in 2E and are completely incompatible with the 4E rule set, they are of no value in a 4E game.

There are 29 pictures to be found in the book. Virtually none can be used to set a scene, but some can be culled and cropped to show a potential opponent to be found within an arena. These could be used to add to the description of such an opponent.

Overall: All of the mechanical stuff is mostly useless and there is a fair amount of it in this sourcebook. However, there is also a lot of detailed background information and fluff. The fluff portions provide a lot for a GM to work with and can add much to a 4E setting campaign.

Dark Sun is billed as ‘The World is Savage’. Nowhere can this be more readily seen than in the arena, where brutality is the order of the day. Adding the arena to a campaign helps to bring that theme to the fore and this book definitely enhances such an effort.

1 comment:

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