Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Inspiration: New Spartacus in old Mystara

From a 'barbarian'
to criminal to
slave to celebrated
gladiator to
Okay so Starz came out with a series called Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and is currently doling out the flashback series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. Aside from all the nudity, all the sex, and all the over-the-top violence and gore, it's very well written dealing with issues of hubris, passion, fate, freedom, and interlocking character motivations, plots, schemes and counter-schemes. And it's also a fantastic point of view of Roman culture different from the very idealistic version we've seen in the past. (The series Rome also did something like, this, more on that in another post.)

We can mine it for the Empire of Thyatis in Mystara, of course. And there are many things to mine!

Slaves and Servants

Slaves can be wed
to others in same
household, according
to the series.
Since gladiators start off as slaves and servants, the first thing to get used to is that they are property. And the show really drives this point home multiple times -- their lives are forfeit should their master wish it, and are only safeguarded by the opinions of their masters (are they too valuable to kill? can I sell them if they're bad? what would my peers think of how I treat them?). Forget 'inalienable human rights here'.

And I can see how Christianity became a 'disruptive' influence in the Empire. A religion that argues that all human lives are precious -- Gentiles, Jews, servants, free men, women, men -- will find some traction in the difficult and numerous lives of the many of the non-citizens of the Empire, not just the slaves with finely honed skills in combat and tactics. But that's another story.

Favorites of a
dominus or
domina can
enjoy protection
and benefits --
but woe to those
who betray that
The life of a slave or servant can be good or bad depending on the character of the master (or masters) in a household, on the pecking order of the household servants (based on position, seniority, and trust in the eyes of the masters). The prideful and the haughty would have to be exceedingly skilled or cunning to last long without curtailing attributes and activities that their masters would find distasteful.

Interestingly enough, the racial and cultural backgrounds of the servants are varied due to the reach of the Roman Empire. In like manner, an interesting starting point for a campaign would be as servants and warriors of a Thyatian master -- they could come from all corners of the Empire, with various skills until they find themselves shipwrecked on the Isle of Dread...


Some slaves with
potential are chosen
to become gladiators.
The second thing we can tackle is the arena and the gladiators. In the Thyatis-based module DDA1: Arena of Thyatis, we get a glimpse of what Gladiators do in Thyatis and their secret role in policing the underground caverns beneath Thyatis.

Gladiators are a more elevated type of servant, with a potential to become true citizens if they do well enough -- but that's like someone becoming a movie star out of all the actors in Hollywood. And Gladiator wanna-be's are thoroughly hazed until they become part of the brotherhood. And before that they must be thoroughly skilled in the arts of fighting and killing with and against all kinds of armor and weaponry.

But even before they gain superstardom in the arena, minor stardom can net them fans, special status, and wealth from their masters.

Injured in epic battle, but
highly skilled Oenomaus
finds himself elevated to
the position of Doctore,
trainer of gladiators.
Of course, like many athletic professions there is a certain ceiling to one's career. Assuming one doesn't get killed or injured, a gladiator will eventually have to deal with age -- and consequently a change of career. But if one realizes early on that he doesn't have the skill or the flair to gain praise in the arena, he might want to find ways out of his servitude. Perhaps pushing to be traded as a soldier or guard for a caravan bound for the Grand Duchy of Karameikos?

Others may find themselves elevated in status within a household, and rowdy adventurers may be shocked to learn that that servant they're pushing around is a veteran of many arena battles, skilled at fighting despite many disadvantages and pain.

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That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.