Many D&D players find Gladiator: Fight To The Finish appealing because you quickly identify with your fighter and his or her fate. Wouldn’t it be fun to have group combats?
Well, although the game is very well suited to tournament play (see the suggestions below), I’m a bit of a stickler for historicity – and gladiators did not fight in groups.
But what about all those images showing several pairs of gladiators fighting at once, while some even lie bleeding on the ground?
19th and 20th century images (like the most famous one, by Gerome, shown in the Thumbs post) are more interested in depicting what they want than what actually was. And they certainly do convey a lot of drama with their imaginative recreations. If you look closely at ancient portrayals, however, you’ll notice they depict the same gladiators at different stages in the fight – or one gladiator and his many victims over an entire career – or just fill the available space with various dramatic moments. Matching multiple pairs of gladiators at once would probably make about as much sense to the Ancient Romans as simultaneous championship boxing matches would for us today.
But isn’t it true that the Romans staged giant battles and even naval encounters? Yes, indeed, and they must have been astounding spectacles. But those poor combatants would have been condemned prisoners or captives – perhaps hoping that putting up a good fight might win them some clemency.
There were some exceptions to the rule. Sometimes a single retiarius would be positioned on a little raised platform (pons, bridge) and pitted against two secutores. (The retiarius was the guy with the net and trident – we will be presenting him in a later expansion of the game.) If nothing else, this arrangement shows us a dark gift for innovative entertainment.
Seutonius tells us of an instance when Caligula ordered five retiarii to fight five secutores at once. The retiarii refused, and Caligula ordered them all killed. Hearing this story, we should bear two things in mind. One, that Seutonius’ intent was to paint Caligula in a bad light. And two, that if the event did indeed take place, the fact that the retiarii refused to fight only proves our point. The gladiators faced off two at a time – evenly matched, but with distinct characteristics – just as the Ancient Romans liked it.
This fresco from Pompeii is sometimes used as evidence of many gladiators fighting at once, but in fact it portrays a public riot at the amphitheater in 59 CE. You can see that people are fighting in the street as well as in the arena. Note the cloth awnings suspended over the top edge of the arena – another feat of Roman engineering.
Tips for Tournament Play
Because a bout of GLADIATOR lasts only as long as the actual combats probably did – 15-20 minutes – the game is easily played in various tournament styles. With three people, one may act as the Editor, or Presider of the games, narrating the action and rolling the dice, especially in the case of a missio. She may then play the winner, while another takes on the role of editor. With more players, it becomes possible to place bets on the fight. Or there may be several matches at once, where winners play winners round-robin style. One may also want to create his own familia of gladiators, and decide which to send into the arena. With the Retiarius/Secutor expansion, the possibilities for excitement increases considerably!