So right now, two of the books I’m working on were to feature gladiators in some shape or capacity. At least that was my original intention…I am now nearly 99% sure there will be no gladiators in either one.
I’ve written before about my mixed feelings on gladiators. On the one hand I love ‘em, and I have no idea why…maybe for the same reason I dig the NFL. Quite possibly I was some sort of ancient Roman fan in a past life…perhaps a bookie of some sort. Who knows…I seriously doubt I was a gladiator or I’d probably have very different feelings (and nightmares!) about the “sport.”
ANYway, in working up a gladiator class for B/X, I’m inclined to look at a variety of sources, including BECMI’s Thyatis campaign book, Bard Games’ The Compleat Adventurer, 2nd Edition’s Dark Sun campaign setting…hell, even the gladiator prestige class from the 3rd edition splat books. After reviewing everything, as well as a little thoughtful consideration (if not careful deliberation), I come to the conclusion that the gladiator as class doesn’t need to happen.
In B/X, a gladiator is a fighter. Period.
Strangely enough, in the end it comes down to a matter of game balance. Now personally I’ve never given much of a rip about game balance, at least not as a hard science (c.f. the last 2 editions of D&D). But as an idea…well…
The B/X fighter fights. He/She uses all weapons, wears all armor, rolls D8s for hit points, and advances in attack and save progression every 3 levels. They can build a fortress at any time, but any followers/hirelings/retainers need to be found and hired. There are no “gimmes.”
So then what’s a gladiator going to be?
Well, gladiators have used all types of weapons and armor. Hit dice should probably be D8. I can’t see their attack progressions as higher or lower than a standard fighter. And even slave gladiators may one day free themselves and buy a castle (as with the fighter, no “gimmes” seem appropriate). So what sets gladiators apart?
So glads can fight with two weapons, or exotic weapons, or have Greco-Roman wrestling skills, or receive bonuses to AC when wearing certain armor pieces, or receive some bonuses to certain maneuvers or something?
Um…that just ends up being a “Fighter Plus.”
If that’s what a gladiator would be (a fighter plus bonuses) why would anyone play a fighter? Are the gladiators limited in level? Human classes aren’t normally limited in B/X. Do they have a penalty to XP? I can’t believe it would be very much…dwarves are only 10% more for a host of abilities, languages, and save bonuses. And elves are double, but cast spells as a magic-user of the equivalent level.
In the end, I just can’t justify making gladiators anything “special,” even though it might be fun to come up with various “level titles.” Gladiators are fighters…just like boxers are. Just like fencers were as recently as the 20th century (and, yes, professional fencers referred to themselves as “fighters” just like prize-fighters…check out the autobiographies of Aldo Nadi).
Much as I like the idea of a gladiator class, I’m afraid I’ll be leaving it on the cutting room floor of my B/X workshop. Damn it, B/X! Why do you have to be so un-forgivingly perfect in your system symmetry?!