Friday, August 27, 2010

Building a gladiatorial arena (brainstorming)

My proto-Dark Sun campaign is going to feature a gladiatorial arena as the primary tactical encounter area for the first several sessions. I'm a huge fan of building props for games, and have a large amount of hobby supplies that are devoted to building terrain... I've got a hot wire foam factory kit, modelling epoxy, flock, ballast, Hirst Arts molds, stacks of scrap styrofoam... the whole thing.

So, I need to plan out the arena, since it's going to be where all the 'action' happens. First things first, I want it to be large, but not terribly unwieldy... it would be nice if I could transport it, for instance.

So step one will be to design the basic arena. It will need to be large enough to support reasonable mass combat, or to handle a gargantuan beast with room to maneuver. So my first thought is to make it rectangular/oval, with the tactical surface being roughly 30"x50".

The base will be a thin, strong surface... possibly chipboard. I'll need a surface slightly larger than the proposed arena floor, so that I can build up walls and gates around it. The actual arena floor will be made from 1.5" thick pink styrofoam. I will use this, because it will allow me to put some 'subterranean' features onto the arena floor. The basic arena floor will be featureless, but with two large 'pits' situated near each end of the long edge of the oval. These will be cut out of the styrofoam, revealing the chipboard beneath. I will have at least two modular pieces that can plug into these holes... the first will be narrow grates (suitable for walking over), the second will be wide grates (that a model could conceivably fall through). Finally, there will also be modular floors that can be put in, removing the pit entirely.

This will allow each side of the arena to have three options... flat floor (no game effect), narrow grates (steam, gas, tentacles, etc can enteract with those on the grates), wide grates (same issues with environment, but now you get to make acrobatics checks while walking across or risk falling in... or being pushed in... or being grabbed from below), or open pits (again, nasties can be inside, or they can just be areas to be bullrushed into...).

So, our basic arena will have a large tactical suface, two modular environmental areas, walls with gates for entry points of combatants. that's a good start.

The first major piece that will be added will be a 'King of the hill' pyramid. This will be a modular pyramid consisting of 1"-thick pink styrofoam in the following default configurations:

2"x2" 'Crest' or the top, level 1
4"x4" level 2
6"x6" level 3
8"x8" level 4
10"x10" level 5
12"x12" level 6

I will make 2 each of these sizes, so that a ziggurat style pyramid of up to 12" in height can be formed in the middle of the arena floor. This will allow for the following configurations...

12-8-4, 1 layer each. Allows for a 3" 'hill' with relatively gentle slopes. Climbing to the next level is simply difficult terrain. Being pushed from the top would result in little to no damage.

12-10-8-6-4-2, 1 layer each. This creates a 6" hill (30' to scale). Going down a level is difficult terrain, up a level difficult terrain that requires an easy climb check. Being bullrushed off the top could result in significant falling damage.

12-10-8-6-4-2, 2 layers each. This creates a 12" hill (60' to scale) with 10' high walls between levels. Climbing up requires a moderate climb check, and getting bullrushed off the uppoer levels will be decidedly unpleasant.

These will be the basic configurations, with others possible. In addition to the basics, there will also be 'floor' and 'wall' traps that can be mounted... spike strips, climbing poles in the walls, arrow traps, etc... with various triggers, so that players can experiment and use the traps as offensive weapons.

The nice thing about having this arena is that with just these relatively simple pieces, you can already create dozens of configurations to keep the tactical battles fresh. It also will give me a strong basis for fights while still allowing me to build a 'terrain feature of the week' that I can spring on the players as the nefarious arena masters come up with new things to keep the arena exciting.

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