With a Turned Thumb Playtest 1

The scene: A provincial ampitheatre somewhere in the Iberian countryside. Terracotta roofed houses cluster around the arena’s wooden walls, the crude logs of the main entrance opening out onto a bustling forum, thronged with market traders and overloaded shoppers.
Blue and red awnings shield the crowd from the scorching sun, as the opening act squares off on the sand.

Before the main event – a beast fight where the region’s greatest gladiator squares off against an angry rhinoceros, the organizer has staged a comedy match.

A murmillo, wrapped in heavy leathers and chain mail, is going to fight an unarmoured boxer, with only his iron-shod fists for both offense and defense.

AAR Profiles

To make up for the disparity in points, we’ve given the Cestus a couple of skills to make up for it. Mighty Blow allows the fighter to deliver a knock-out punch, at the cost of their stamina. Brawler reduces the penalty for fighting against longer reach weapons.

The gladiators start facing each other, approximately 12″ apart. 6″ behind each fighter is an exit, barred by an iron-studded door.

The turn begins by each gladiator rolling 1d6 to determine which will act first. The Murmillo rolls a 1, and the Cestus rolls a 4.

When activated, a gladiator may take 2 simple actions or 1 complex action.

The Cestus takes a movement action, moving 4″ towards his opponent. For his final action, he chooses to adopt an aggressive stance adding +1 dice to all attack actions and reducing the dice added to parry actions by -1.

The Murmillo changes his facing by 90 degrees and moves 4″, in attempt to circle around his opponent and attack his unprotected flank.

There’s no need to make any morale checks at this stage, so we move straight onto
discovering how the crowd are favouring our combatants.

Both gladiators make a Guts check with at TN 1.

The Cestus gets 3 dice and rolls 1 success. He doesn’t gain any favour from the crowd.

The Murmillo gets 3 dice and rolls 2 successes. He gains 1 point of favour. This can be spent to add +1 dice to a morale check, or +1 dice to any combat action or remain on their feet if a combat attack would incapacitate them.

With this step complete, we start the next turn.

Both gladiators roll of again, with the Cestus taking action first.

The Cestus adjusts his facing, pointing towards the circling Murmillo, and taunts his heavily armoured opponent. Both gladiators make a guts check – if the Cestus scores more successes, the gladiator must charge him next turn.

The Cestus gets 2 successes to the Murmillo’s 1.

The Murmillo activates next and is forced to immediately charge. He rolls 1d6 and adds his movement of 4″. He rolls a 1 and moves 5″ towards the Cestus. Because of his encumbering gear, he adds 5 exhaustion.

Combined with the 2 he accrued last time, the Murmillo has a total of 7 exhaustion.

If his exhaustion ever exceeds his endurance, the Murmillo must reduce his combat strength by the distance between the two.

With no morale checks to make, both gladiators roll to accrue favour, this time at TN 2.

The Cestus gains 1 favour, and the Murmillo gains none.

Both gladiators roll to see who acts first, with the Murmillo finally seizing the initiative.

With his opponent within easy striking distance, he launches a charge as a complex action. He accrues an additional 5 exhaustion, pushing him over his endurance threshold. This will reduce his combat strength by 3 unless it can be reduced.

The charge initiates a close combat with the Cestus. As the combat begins, we have the Cestus with a combat strength of 9, against the tired Murmillo’s 5.

We’ve got to consider the difference in weapons between the two fighters – the Murmillo’s gladius is an average reach weapon, while the reach of the Cestus’ fists is extra short. Normally, this would impose a -2 combat strength to the Cestus’ combat strength.

The iron cestus reduces this penalty by 1, and the brawler skill reduces it further, meaning that the Cestus begins the combat with 8 combat strength.

As the Murmillo engaged from the front, he gains the benefit of his heavy armour and large scutum. The armour allows him to re-roll 2 successes from any close combat action, and the scutum confers +2 dice to all parry actions.

Both gladiators pick a card from their close combat deck; the Cestus chooses an attack action, utilizing his mighty blow score to add an additional 3 dice to his Skill at Arms score.

The Murmillo unwisely chooses to feint, expecting his wild charge to put his opponent on the defensive.

Both gladiators reveal their cards simultaneously and compare the interaction between their choices.

The Cestus makes an independent skill at arms test, adding the 3 dice from his mighty blow skill. This will cause him to gain +3 exhaustion, but means he rolls 8 dice.

As the Murmillo chose to feint, he does not test and must reduce his combat strength by the number of successes the Cestus rolls.

The Cestus rolls 5 successes, which would immediately incapacitate the hapless Murmillo. He chooses to spend his favour point to remain on his feet with 1 combat strength.

As the Murmillo lost 5 points of combat strength, he must make a morale check at TN 5. Despite succeeding on all 3 dice, he breaks and dashes for the nearest exit.

Because he has broken, he reduces his combat strength by half in any close combats and will continue running on subsequent turns unless he can rally.

Following his blistering assault, the Cestus chooses to charge again, engaging his terrified opponent from the rear. This would normally reduce his combat strength by -2, but since the Murmillo is already at 1, it cannot be reduced any further.

As he’s been attacked from the rear, the Murmillo gains no benefit from his armour or shield.

The Cestus chooses to feint, expecting his opponent to shelter behind his heavy scutum. The Murmillo, in a vain attempt to collect his shattered strength, chooses to parry.

The interaction between the feint and parry means that the Murmillo does not test, while the Cestus reduces his combat strength by the number of successes rolled on an agility test.

He scores 2 successes, incapacitating the Murmillo with another stinging blow.

With the resolution of the close combat, the turn ends. As he is incapacitated, the Murmillo may not attempt to gain favour. The Cestus tests against TN 3, scoring 2 successes, thus not gaining any favour.

Both sides roll for initiative again. The incapacitated Murmillo wins the roll-off.

Incapacitated gladiators may only move half their listed move, so the Murmillo crawls 2″ across the sand, and then attempts to recover. He must make a toughness test at TN 1, and fails to score any successes.

As he has failed his recovery test, he remains in his incapacitated state until he can test again the following turn. His toughness score reduces by 1.

The Cestus makes a simple move action to move into base contact with the fallen Murmillo, and attempts a Coup de Grace. As he has a higher favour, there is no need to test to see if the crowd protests.

He must make a skill at arms test opposed by the fallen Murmillo’s remaining toughness. He scores 5 successes and bludgeons his opponent’s blood-spattered face until it is reduced to shattered fragments.

The bout is over.

Learning Points:

  • It’s too difficult for gladiators to gain favour after the first couple of turns. Initially this was to represent the crowd getting bored if a fight dragged on too long. The rules need to allow gladiators to gain favour throughout the match, beyond the scope of special stances and the Ham it Up action.
  • The toughness test to get back up after being incapacitated is far too easy – currently it is based on the number of turns the gladiator has been incapacitated. On the first turn, this makes it a TN 1 test. As most gladiators have a Guts of 3 or more, the base TN of this test needs to be adjusted.
  • There needs to be a way for gladiators to recover their combat strength outside of combat, as a single close combat could decide the outcome of the battle.
  • Mighty Blow is a hugely powerful skill for unarmoured fighters as they have a naturally high endurance – meaning a single use of the skill has no negative impacts but can instantly change the balance of a close combat.
  • Exhaustion needs to be balanced further – it is punishingly debilitating to heavily armoured fighters at present.

I’m going to go away and make some adjustments to the rules. I’ll run another bout with the revised set in the next week and we’ll see where things develop.

I hope this has been an interesting read and you’ll follow along with the game’s development.

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