A few months ago, while preparing a D&D Fight Club article for the website (I'm the web developer for the D&D pages), I wondered how PCs would stack up to these creatures. So I decided to create some guidelines to put my friends' PCs to the test. Over the past few months, these guidelines have turned into an arena setting, complete with NPCs and a few adventure hooks. You can use this arena with our D&D Fight Club creatures and with the November Map-a-Week arena layout.
What Is the Arena?
In larger cities of any setting, the arena is a place where warriors of all skill and experience levels battle for fame and fortune, or to simply hone their skills. Each night characters can find a different special event taking place there, such as a wizard's challenge or an amateur night. Every arena has its own ranking structure and ladder system for advancement. Some arenas even have backers that sponsor one or more fighters, known as stables. For more background information about arena combat, check out our excerpt from The Glory of Rome Historical Reference campaign sourcebook.
How Do I Use It?
The arena is the perfect companion to our regular D&D Fight Club online feature. Its operators could sponsor an open competition against various monsters once a month, with characters coming in to challenge the monsters and become ranked as well.
How do you start? The DM should first create a ladder using various creatures from D&D Fight Club (a sample ladder is provided later in this article). The DM should then decide the following before the player characters enter the arena:
The ladder is a scoreboard for tracking how well a character has performed in the arena. Combatants move up the ladder for wins and down the ladder for losses. A combatant's ladder rank eventually may be used for seeding during tournaments.
Ladder points for monsters start out the same as the creatures' challenge ratings. Characters new to the arena start out with half of their level (rounded down) in ladder points; as PCs gain levels as adventurers, word about them gets around, and their reputation precedes them at the arena. Characters may choose to enter the arena incognito; these characters start at zero (0) ladder points.
Below is a sample ladder based on the current D&D Fight Club articles (each creature is offered at several levels, so all the versions appear here). I have included "Lemmy," my half-orc 5th-level barbarian/4th-level rogue for reference. As you can see in the sample ladder, the multiclassed Lemmy (ranked 13) counts as having 9 levels. Half that number rounded down is 4, giving him 4 ladder points (LP).
Combatants score 1 ladder point for victory. And because it's worth more to beat a more seasoned foe, victors score an additional 1 point for every 2 full ladder points by which their opponent's total exceeded their own point total at the start of the combat. A loss subtracts the same number of ladder points from the loser. For each match, the winner gains points and the defeated combatant loses points. It makes no difference if one of them is an NPC or monster fighting a PC.
As an example, let's say that Lemmy (ranked 13) takes on the CR 7 goblin vampire (ranked 10) and wins. He starts out with 4 ladder points. He gains 1 point for the victory and an additional 1 point because of the 3-point difference between himself and the goblin vampire:
1 victory point + (LP 7 — LP 4 = 3 divided by 2 = 1.5 rounded down to 1) = 2 ladder points
The goblin loses the same two points following the match. Lemmy now has 6 ladder points to the goblin's 5.
Characters who fall to a ladder value below zero (0) are removed from the ladder and may not return till they have gained a character level. NPCs that fall from the ladder are out of this competition. If a DM wishes to return NPCs to the ladder after a few months, their starting ladder points should be half their CR. Monsters killed in combat should be removed from the ladder.
Each character receives xp as determined by the Dungeon Master. DMs may decide that these contests aren't equal to training and are worth only 75% of the creature's listed xp value. Alternately, they can modify the value based on the length of the combat: A 1-round contest might be worth only 10% of the creature's xp value, as the victorious character learned little from such a quick combat.
If the competition involves an entrance fee, DMs should award prizes for victories; a typical first prize is roughly equal to ten times the entry fee (e.g. 1,000 gp entrance fee results in a prize of 10,000 gp). In addition, other perks might be available to those holding the top-ladder positions. These are for the DM to determine, but examples include an audience with the lord of the city, gifts of fine weapons, free accommodations, etc. For information about historical rewards to victorious gladiators, see our excerpt from The Glory of Rome Historical Reference campaign sourcebook.
Types of Competition
1. Basic Ladder
The basic combat against our creatures from the D&D Fight Club forms the standard ladder, as described above. Player characters may challenge any of the monsters on the ladder; if the DM allows it, they may challenge each other as well. I suggest allowing only one challenge per month, so as not to distract the PCs from your regular campaign.
Instead of the regular evening's entertainment, the arena's owners might hold a tournament. This competition usually requires the participants to pay an entrance fee, and a sizable award should go to the victor. These competitions might have restrictions such as no magic, or barbarians only.
A basic single-elimination style tournament starts with up to 16 combatants. Winners of each round advance to the next round, while the losers go home (if they were lucky). The DM must decide how much time to allow between rounds and rule on the availability of clerical or herbal healing for combatants between rounds.
If the tournament revolves around a specific ladder, combatants appear on the roster (see below) based on their ladder rankings. They gain and lose points as normal for victories and losses; however, the tournament's overall victor should get an award of an additional 2 points over his regular award.
Stables and Backers
Stables are groups of fighters who work for a backer. Fighters who catch the eye of a stable backer may be asked to join the stable. Stable combatants enjoy luxury accommodations at the arena, are provided a place to train, fine food, and even individual sleeping quarters if they so desire. The backer pays their entry fee into tournaments and receives a percentage of their winnings.
While team competition is not uncommon, I suggest that you not offer it as a choice at your arena --- your party should be cleaning out dungeons or playing adventures! However if an adventure's plot leads you to run a team competition, total the ladder points of your PCs and select a team of creatures with the same total ladder points for them to fight.
The D. H. Hewlett Memorial Arena is a circular building with nearly 8,000 seats for spectators. Beneath the seats lie several rooms and storage pens, as well as deluxe accommodations for the arena owners and stable bosses.
The Hewlett was named for its founder, Delbert Horatio Hewlett, a wealthy adventurer with no heirs. Hewlett created the arena so he might find an adventurer worthy to inherit his great fortune. Sadly, he died before the arena was completed. His fortune remains unclaimed to this day.
Populate the sample arena above with the roster of sample NPCs below. Their race and level appear here, as well as a few roleplaying hooks. Full stats are left to the discretion of the DM.
A DM can find many things in the descriptions of the NPCs above to start an arena-based adventure. Here are a few ideas that might be of interest.
About the Author
Mark A. Jindra has been a fan of Dungeons & Dragons for 20 years. After five years of organizing RPGA Network events for more than 75 Midwestern conventions and game days, he landed a job as a web developer for Wizards of the Coast. He is currently the developer of the D&D website. Mark has authored or coauthored various tournaments for the RPGA Network, including the Living CitsThe Eye of the Storm and the combined roleplaying-miniatures MechWarrior/BattleTech event Falcon and the Wolf.
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