The gladiatorial arenas of Rome evoke contradictory ideas: romance and brutality, defiance and obedience, violence and entertainment. The image of the warrior-showman is an enduring one, and today we present a fighter path designed to capture that in D&D. This path is great for use in Robert’s gladiator campaign article last week.
Gladiators are trained to adopt distinct personas and fighting styles to impress the crowd. At various times in their career, they will be taught in one or more of the three methods below:
The Scutarius was actually a broad class of gladiator, including the famous murmillos and secutors. They were armed similarly to the Roman Legion, including the iconic rectangular shield, the scutum, from which the name derives. These choices could be used to represent a fighter trained in shield formation fighting outside of the arena as well.
The famous Retiarius fought with a net or lasso (see the end of the article), alongside a trident and a dagger. They were usually the lightest armored and most mobile of the gladiators.
Dimachaerus means “bearing two knives,” and gladiators who were skillful enough to go without the protection of a shield fought in this style. It is often used in television depictions due to its flashy nature; here, I have made it a style adept at fighting multiple opponents.
At 3rd level when you adopt this archetype, you choose one of the styles of the arena that you have been trained in from those below.
Scutarius: While wielding a shield, if a creature misses you with a melee attack, you have advantage on the next melee attack you make against that creature before the end of your next turn.
Retiarius: When you wield a trident, net or lasso, it gains the light and finesse properties. A net or lasso you wield also functions as a one-handed melee weapon with a reach of 5 feet that deals 1d4 slashing damage. You may make additional attacks during the same turn that you throw a net or lasso.
Dimachaerus: When wielding two weapons, once per turn, when you hit with an attack, you may deal additional damage equal to your Strength or Dexterity modifier to all enemies within 5 feet of you that you can accurately perceive.
You learn to use new weapon and armor combinations easily. Beginning at 3rd level, at the end of a long or short rest, you may change the option you selected for your Fighting Style class feature to a different one.
Work the Crowd
At 7th level, you gain proficiency in Charisma (Performance) checks, or another skill proficiency from the Fighter class list if you are already proficient in Charisma (Performance).
When you roll a natural 20 on a Charisma (Performance) check or an attack roll, or when you reduce an enemy to 0 hp, you gain temporary hit points equal to 5 + your Charisma modifier.
Advanced Arena Combat
At 10th level, choose one of the following options. You can choose the same style you selected at 3rd level or a different one.
Scutarius: While you are wielding a shield, you have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage from non-magical weapons.
Retiarius: The DC of the Strength check the creature makes to escape a net or lasso you threw becomes 8 + your proficiency modifier + your Strength or Dexterity modifier. Additionally, you maintain a hold on the line of nets and lassos you throw, up to 15 feet away, and you can use a bonus action to attempt to shove a creature held this way (moving it towards you or knocking it prone).
Dimachaerus: When wielding two weapons, when you make an attack of opportunity, you may attack the creature who provoked the attack twice (once with each weapon).
Additional Fighting Styles
At 15th level, you can choose a second option from the Fighting Style class feature. This can be changed with your Adaptive Style feature.
At level 18, you are recognized as a veteran of the arena and granted a special badge of honor (in Rome, this was a wooden rod or practice sword, known as a rudis or rudem, and the gladiator was also freed from slavery when this was awarded). You are of course still welcome to fight, and are very popular with crowds, able to demand very large purses and favors. You may also be called upon as a referee or trainer of new gladiators.
Additionally, choose one of the following options. You can choose one of the same styles you selected previously or a different one.
Scutarius: While wielding a shield, if a creature misses you with a melee attack, you may use a reaction to make a melee attack against that creature.
Retiarius: Once per turn, when you hit a creature who is restrained or prone with a weapon attack, the attack deals an additional 1d12 damage.
Dimachaerus: While wielding two weapons, if the attack granted by your bonus action hits, you may make another attack with the same weapon.
Some additional notes on gladiator equipment:
Gladiators rarely wore heavy armor, as the crowd liked to be able to see wounds, and heavy armor was too hot and exhausting for the flashy fighting style. The manica, helm, greaves and belt worn by most gladiators would be equivalent to studded leather, while the very light armor without a helm used by the retiarius would be the equivalent of cloth armor. Some gladiator types were given breastplates or a mail shirt, usually when matched against multiple opponents. At the DM’s option, in a setting designed to emulate ancient Rome, such characters would not be proficient with heavy armor, but would be proficient with shields. Granting the character an additional skill proficiency would be a possible substitute for the feature.
Lassos were employed as well as nets for fighting both beasts and other gladiators. A lasso functions as a net, but requires only 2 points of slashing damage to free a trapped creature. It can be fashioned from rope; two lassos can be made from a 50 foot length.
Most gladiators fought with light weapons in one-on-one fights, such as short swords, daggers, and the sica (scimitar). Spears, javelins, and of course tridents were also relatively common. In larger mock battles, the full range of military weaponry, including bows and horses, would be employed. One emperor famously had a naval battle staged, with fully-crewed boats fighting in a water filled arena.