Playing a race with a little bite? A dragonborn or kobold, from Races of the Dragon; a minotaur, from Savage Species; or a ambush drake, from our Creature Incarnation series? Feral races make for exceptional warriors--and become even more ferocious when taking on the Thayan gladiator prestige class, as its designer, Wil Upchurch, explains.
The Thayan gladiator prestige class from Champions of Ruin turns an already fearsome creature into a more lethal conveyor of death. They hone their ability to fight with their natural weapons, eventually gaining extraordinary powers thanks to the arcane rituals of their masters. They alternately chafe against the bonds that force them to fight, and revel in the glory and adulation they win from appreciative crowds. When a Thayan gladiator is unleashed on the world at large, his presence causes fear and awe wherever he appears.
Playing a character race with a natural attack? In the following article, we examine the creation of the Thayan gladiator, a powerful prestige class for any such race to take on.
When I was asked to write for Champions of Ruin, I jumped at the chance because I saw the opportunity to look at the Forgotten Realms as it had never been looked at before--through the eyes of evil player characters. Sure, there had been books on evil in the Realms (i.e., Lords of Darkness) and books about evil NPCs (Villains' Lorebook), but they weren't exactly geared toward allowing players to cause mayhem across the continent.
When I began to think about prestige classes for Champions of Ruin, I wanted to differentiate them from something you might find in a book for typically heroic PCs. One concept that arose out of my brainstorming was that of a powerful monstrous fighter that utilized natural weaponry to shred his foes. If you judge by recommended alignment, there aren't all that many cool monstrous humanoids you can play if you want to be heroic, and even the good or neutral ones certainly face a social disadvantage in most areas of Faerun. Evil, however, opens up a menagerie of options that has me rubbing my hands together gleefully whenever I think about it.
From Concept to Execution
I had the basic idea in hand, but how was I going to make it come alive into an exciting class? More importantly, how was I going to tie it explicitly into the Realms? I knew I wanted the class to grant the character's main natural weapon extraordinary abilities. Minotaurs with flaming horns? Check. Lizardmen with blindingly fast talon strikes? Heck yes! Since this PrC's focus was going to be purely offensive, and offense does no good if you can't survive, I threw in some bonuses to natural armor to go along with superlative hit die to make sure these gladiators could survive in constant melee.
The Thayan gladiator's abilities basically come from two sources: his training as a gladiator, and the evolution of his body's natural gifts. The first source presented no inherent problems (beyond it possibly being difficult to justify that training in the middle of a campaign), but I also wanted the latter to have some justification. I don't like spontaneous magical transformations as a result of class levels, so I needed this to be the result of something--transformative draughts, prayers and sacrifice to elder spirits, or maybe even the effects of a magical location. I found an answer in the Red Wizards of Thay that fit both thematically and was very appropriate for the setting. Let's look at how and why the Thay connection works so well:
This last was important in developing the class's background--why exactly would the Thayans develop a ritual for transforming their slaves in this manner? Ego, greed, political and social stratification... right up the alley of your average Thayan power player. Of course, the Zulkir of Transmutation wasn't averse to growing his power and wealth by creating the ritual that gives the gladiators their abilities.
Becoming a Thayan Gladiator
This prestige class is perfect for players who want to be in the middle of the action all the time, every time. You're tough, potent, and have flashy abilities that draw attention to your character. You're the party's meat grinder, and there's nothing you love better than wading into a sea of enemies to spill their blood. Here are the prerequisites for becoming a Thayan gladiator:
In order to enter this prestige class, you must focus on combat training and readiness, with an emphasis on one of your natural weapons. This natural weapon is the one that will be enhanced by the Zulkir's ritual. It might seem like barbarians are the best route to get the prerequisites taken care of, and a strong argument could be made that their rage and fast movement abilities complement the Thayan gladiator's melee prowess quite well. But, don't overlook the fighter as a viable alternative. The bonus fighter feats you gain make it less burdensome to meet the Thayan gladiator's prerequisites, and your base attack progresses at the same quick rate. Perhaps most importantly, fighters wear heavy armor, which can significantly increase your survivability rate against tough or numerous opponents. As a ranger, you may also be interested in the path of the Thayan gladiator. You can use your stealth and high Wisdom to take full advantage of your ability to study your opponents, and then use your enhancements to neutralize enemies before the alarm can be raised.
Of course, you've still got to worry about how you're going to find someone to sponsor you for the ritual that causes your body to transform. Not to mention the fact that you, as a Thayan gladiator, are a slave to one of Thay's elite politicians or Red Wizards. Some might be willing to trade your temporary services for access to the ritual, or allow you to buy partial freedom for a certain amount of gold. You may be asked or allowed to leave for other reasons as well, but the specter of your former master will never quite leave you. He can reenter your life at any time, and complicate matters for yourself and those with whom you travel.
Playing a Thayan Gladiator
People who play effective Thayan gladiators usually keep the following in mind:
Do What You Do Best
You have a high base attack bonus, great hit dice, and a savage melee weapon that can never be taken from you... so get out there and use them! Look for opportunities to join melee combat whenever possible.
Know Your Limitations
Spellcasters can be your bane, thanks to your weak Reflex and Will saves, so avoid direct confrontations with them if possible. You aren't going to have many skill points to spend, so use them wisely (movement skills such as Climb and Jump are your most effective choices, especially to offset the penalties for wearing armor).
Be Aggressive but Selective
Your primary asset is your ferocious melee ability, no doubt about it, but you're far from invulnerable. Traps that incapacitate you without relying on damage, such as pits, can take you out of combat long enough for the rest of your party to be taken apart. Clever magic-using opponents will also try to neutralize physical threats with area and mind-affecting spells, so making yourself a big target right out of the gate can do more harm than good. The same can be said for advertising obvious magical enhancements such as flaming or shock. It's best to let opponents underestimate you (if that's possible) for as long as possible.
Once you engage in combat, however, let nothing stop you from wreaking havoc in the ranks of your enemies. You've got plenty of hit points to withstand front-line engagement, probably more effectively than anyone you're adventuring with, and in your case the best defense is definitely a good offense.
Even though you're a mighty force, it's not always wisest for you to try to take on the most powerful opponent by yourself (especially if that opponent is a spellcaster). You do have friends, after all, and they can hold their own as well. In large encounters, it's sometimes more beneficial if you wade into a group of lesser monsters or minions, keeping them off your companions, who can then gang up on a more powerful foe. Being in the midst of minions also protects you against area attacks (from all but the most dastardly of villains), and to an extent ranged attacks as well, letting you fight your enemies on your own terms.
Some Key Equipment
Thayan gladiators pride themselves on using their bodies to dispatch opponents, but that doesn't mean they can overlook their equipment entirely. Here are a few things to keep in mind when spending your hard-earned gold:
Defense First: Although at higher levels it's good to supplement your natural weapon with a powerful melee alternative, you should be thinking primarily about how to stay in combat longer. If you wear armor, which you should, then you should add as many enhancement bonuses as you can afford. And choose a cloak of resistance over something like a cloak of displacement... you're more worried about spells and special abilities taking you out of the fight than damage.
Mobility is Key: Items that aid you in getting to the battlefield and then maneuvering around it will help you utilize your strengths. Try to find boots of striding and springing and a ring of freedom of movement, and keep a potion of fly on your belt for getting into and out of really tricky situations. Anything that helps you hide or otherwise gain surprise, such as shadow armor or potions of invisibility, is also a handy addition to your arsenal.
Backup Melee Weapon: This would be most folks' primary weapon, but you've got something better. This might be the weapon you used before becoming a Thayan gladiator. Even though it would be stylish to match your weapon's special qualities to those of your natural weapon, it makes more sense to use your backup weapon to fill in the gap (perhaps making it a ghost touch weapon or giving it elemental damage that your natural weapon doesn't have).
Any additional advice you would include for this prestige class? Let us know, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Wil Upchurch is co-author of the acclaimed Midnight campaign setting, and a contributor to the Forgotten Realms and Dungeons & Dragons. There's pretty much nothing he won't write for money, and pretty much nobody who will pay him to do so. So, he spends most of his free time playing Dreamblade and evangelizing Nickel Creek.
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