Gladiator Rumble – Story Citadel

As part of our Game Design course taught by Jesse Schell at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center we were required to create a tabletop RPG. The following is an adaptation of the document detailed Gladiator Rumble, the game I submitted for this assignment.

A brief description of the process you used to create your adventure. Include any brainstorming notes, etc.

I begun the process of creating my adventure with a theme/fantasy. I had a number of ideas including:

  • A sports adventure theme
  • A wild west themed game
  • A game with vampires

I settled on doing something set in the time period of the Roman Civilization. In particular I loved the setting of the movie Gladiator so my intention was to recreate a similar storytelling experience.

Next I searched for an interest curve that roughly mapped onto what I wanted to create.

Next, based on the five point on the interest curve I imagined the main scenes of the story with a brief description of what I wanted to achieve in that scene, and the main story beats.

  1. Capture – I wanted the player to be captured.
  2. Training Ground – A scene in the gladiator house of them learning skills and familiarizing themselves with their new world
  3. Gladiator Battle 1 – First gladiator battle, high intensity
  4. Villanus Mansion – A more social situation, with a puzzle
  5. Gladiator Battle 2 – Last gladiator fight, high intensity, kill the boss to win one’s freedom, or kill each other.

I was inspired by the game Shadow of Rome, and wanted to find a system that support combat and social situations. I could have used the roleplaying 101, but I instead chose to use a system from a tabletop RPG game I had played before called Vampire The Masquerade (VTM). More specifically I used Vampire: Dark Ages (medieval setting) for their armour, and weapons.

To flesh out my world of I needed to perform significant research, namely:

  • Be aware of the different types of gladiators to give my players and generated enemies some grounding in the world
  • I also wanted to include animals at one points so I found applicable stats.
  • Made a list of important characters and some of their traits to help me roleplay them.
  • Each scene needed a map so I drew one, including details about who was in each scene.
  • Refamiliarize myself with VTM’s leveling scheme, social and combat systems.
  • Found example stats to base my NPC’s on.

There were also a number of things I did not do:

  • Also thought of adding in some currency and letting players by equipment but thought this might add too much added complexity.
  • Thought of adding special sections such as chariot racing but left it out due to the added complexity.

All of this I compiled into a long supporting document I used whilst DM’ing that I will include in the following section.

Gladiator Rumble

All notes, maps, illustrations, descriptions, etc. that you created for the purpose of running your adventure.

Vampire Dark Ages – http://darkagesvampire.wikidot.com/

Systems & Drama – http://digilander.libero.it/diservizio/vtm/vtm08.html

Characters

  • Mortals have 31 points to spend in total
  • Characters get 4 willpower

Freebie point spending rules:

http://darkagesvampire.wikidot.com/freebie-costs

Characters can level up, and if so they are given 3-5 exp points which can be spent with at the following rates:

http://darkagesvampire.wikidot.com/xp-costs

Attributes

http://darkagesvampire.wikidot.com/mechanics:attributes

Physical

  • Strength – throw, swing
  • Stamina – health
  • Dexterity – aim, and dodge

Mental

  • Perception
  • Intelligence
  • Wits

Social

  • Charisma
  • Intelligence
  • Manipulation

Talents

http://darkagesvampire.wikidot.com/mechanics:abilities

Character Sheet

https://mrgone.rocksolidshells.com/pdf/DA/DarkAges_Mortal_V20_1-Page_Interactive.pdf

Rules

http://digilander.libero.it/diservizio/vtm/vtm07.html

Multiple actions, subtract one from dice pool

Character v character – (difficulty is set by trait) and done by number of successes subtracted from each other to decide who wins

Combat

  • Difficulty 6 for damage always – adjusted by fighting conditions
  • Damage can never be botched

Combat Summary Chart

Stage One: Initiative

– Roll initiative. Everyone declares their actions. The character with the highest initiative performs her action first. Actions can be delayed to any time later in the order of initiative.

– Declare any multiple actions, reducing dice pools accordingly. Declare Discipline activation and Willpower expenditure.

Stage Two: Attack

  • Unarmed close-combat attacks, roll Dexterity + Brawl.
  • Armed close-combat attacks, roll Dexterity + Melee.
  • Ranged combat, roll Dexterity + Firearms (guns) or Dexterity + Athletics (thrown weapons).

– A character can abort to a defensive action (block, dodge, parry) at any time before her action is performed, as long as you make a successful Willpower roll (or a Willpower point is spent).

Stage Three: Resolution

– Determine total damage effect (weapon type or maneuver), adding any extra dice gained from successes on the attack roll.

– Targets may attempt to soak damage, if possible.

Armour

If damage rolled is double defense rating, armour applies then is destroyed

http://darkagesvampire.wikidot.com/mechanics:armor

Shields:

  • Lowers difficulty of active parry (defensive action) of the shielder, the lighter the shield, the lower the difficulty to parry. For example, a small round shield (a buckler) lowers this difficulty by 2.
  • Gives passive defence against melee and/or missile attacks against the shielder by raising difficulty of the attacks. This is essentially the same as being behind a cover. For example, a kite shield increases difficulty of attacks with both melee and missiles by 1.

Weapons

http://darkagesvampire.wikidot.com/mechanics:weapons

NPC’s

http://documents.tips/documents/vampire-dark-ages-storytellers-companion.html

Page 58-60

Animal Stats

http://dreamburrow.digitaldreaming.org/stats.html

City Guard, Knight, Cutthroat, Levy Bowman, Entertainer, Noble, Scholar, Mercenary Footmen – adjust to make stronger and weaker depending on what you want

Story

Players, spend their 31 points, make their character sheets

Capture

Game begins with you all in a town, unknown soldiers come and capture you all. You cant do anything cause you are weak.

No weapons

Where are players?

Harvest finished, town celebrating

What are they doing?

Celebrating, bit drunk, fistfight, gambling etc

How many enemies attack

Infinite – Must get captured

  • Cityguard
  • Knight
  • Level Bowman
  • Hunting Dogs

Slave Pen

You wakeup in the gladiator house, explains that you have been caught, and been forced into slavery and are being taken to a gladiator arena.

  • Details about gladiator arena:
  • In a slave trading hub off the coast of Galatia (modern Turkey)

Main scene moments:

  • Wakening of characters
  • Mentus dialog
  • Training
  • Then rest with option to talk to other slaves and build rapport, and gain info for day ahead

USE INFORMATION AS A REWARD, GIVE HINTS ON MECHANICS OF GAME, AND HELP IN THE FORM OF NEXT ROUND

When players are getting bored introduce the drillmaster who forces you on your feet, starts the training process

Players are:

  • Introduced to weapons

What weapons/armour can players choose two items:

  • Armour – Light armour, light helmet
  • Axes –  Hatchet
  • Blunt weapons – club/cudgel,
  • Long weapons – Javelin, pitchfork
  • Blades – Knife, dagger, Saber
  • Shields – Small shield

Main scene moments

  • If players have tried to escape once, the guard will warn them they will be shown no mercy this time
  • Players then go through combat training in the form of choosing weapons, then gaining skills points to spend because of experience?
  • Slaves are then ordered to sleep – in this players can talk to other slaves for info.
  • When sleeping players are given a stat boost
  • They can try to escape off the gladiator grounds but are caught by riders and dogs again they face a tough fight, chances of survival super low. If they survive can go onto a town where the continually chase them romans find them again.

Round 1

Actions killing other people in the slave house for points gives you better equipment but makes them not want to help you.

All players gain stat boosts at the end of the round.

Main scene moments

  • Starts with being in a gladiator hallway that leads to the arena
  • You see a bunch of faces of people
  • Then enter arena which has immediate combat, three teams of slaves enter there against pro team who are well equipped, requires teamwork of chained people to survive
  • Characters are chained to each other, and are forced to fight a bunch of slaves from another slave house
  • Mentus helps you here (chained to the odd player if even gets free of his own chained person who dies)
  • Once you kill all the enemies Villanus talk, and treats you like animals who fight for the entertainment of civilized folks.

Enemy Equipment & Stats

Pro Team

One heavily armoured with sword and shield (city guard)

Heavy armour, Full Helm, Footmans shield, Broadsword

One lightly armoured with bow, and dagger (levy bowman)

Bow long, dagger x 2, light armour, 12 arrows  

One lightly armoured with two swords (cutthroat)

Light armour, light helm, saber x 2

One heavily armoured with long spear (city guard)

Composite armour, Light helm, poleaxe

One lightly armoured with one handed spear and net (cutthroat)

Light armour, light helm, spear one handed, net

Slaves

All equipped randomly with last gear

Post Round

Conversation + Gain bonus equipment, stats, got favor points which allows you to buy gear.

Main Scene Moments

  • Again in the Gladiator house where a celebration is going on. Players are forced to serve guests.
  • Social situations.
  • Players can try kill.
  • Players can try gain favor or help with some person there – maybe they play music, or have a good conversation with someone – reward is some special item in the next round or some allies you can command.
  • One of the senator gives you a puzzle to do in this level, retrieve a land deed that Villanus has in exchange for help in the next level, the thing is a deed to a property that Villanus stole from this senator.
  • Villanus’s room has a secret room which means an environmental puzzle to solve.
    • Way to solve:
      • Unlock door to room, key is with a sole guard or can try pick the lock
      • Unlock the door then have to search for clues of where the secret room would be:
      • When you find the secret room it has a two things that need to be found, that are hidden in the room somewhere
      • Note on the table can give you a clue
        • One is in the eye socket of a statue head of villanus
        • Other is in the mouth of a tiger
  • Once you get deed and you return it to the senator he helps you with additional help in the next round could be in the form of equipment, or in the form of allies such as bribing archers to help you out in last scene.

Round 3

Start with equipment selection – This round you can choose anything you want, you can carry upto four items depending on your strength

By this round you are stronger and have support either due to fear (you have less and they are less reliable) or because you helped them before that is why killing the boss is possible. Mentus gets killed here by boss, maybe?

Player can try convince others to not fight and kill Villanus.

Free for all / boss

With angry animals

  • Elephant (boss on elephant)
  • Bear (controller by trainers) if both trainers are lost then there is a chance the bear goes berserk
  • Croc swims in pool
  • B – Bowmen (based on level bowman) – light armour, and short/long bows with daggers
  • S – Swordsmen – some light armoured, some heavy armoured with sword and shield
  • A – Assassins – some light/some heavy with double weapons/net
  • S – Spearmen – some light/some heavy with long spear
  • H – Horseman – knight with long spear (lance), heavily armoured
  • Trainer – Like assassin
  • Croc – Based on stat

Finale – Orders you to kill each other

You can refuse – then sends out enemies, which means a boss (slave master) with helper or without depending on number of people left, then orders archers to fire – but leaves door open

When Villanus is killed his mercenaries flee and you win!

Player Classes

You get to customize yourself –

http://www.unrv.com/culture/roman-gladiators.php

Assassin

  • Dimachaeri – Wielded two swords
  • Retiarii – Net, trident, and dagger
  • Laquerius – Light armour, short sword or spear and a noose
  • Thraces – Lightly armoured, had a small shield and curved scimitar like sword

Tank

  • Paegniarii – Lightly armored with sword
  • Samnite – Fully armoured, word a styled greek griffin on their chest, carried a large shield and long spear

Archer

  • Sagittarii – Archers, powerful reflex bow with short sword
  • Velites – lightly armoured with spear

Characters

Make character sheet

Mentus – mentor figure

  • Stats – Strength 3, Dexterity 3, Stamina 3, Charisma 3, Appearance 2, Perception 2, Intelligence 3, Wits 2
  • Abilities – Dodge 2, Leadership 2, Melee 2, Willpower 3

Villanus – main villain, greedy, fat, wimp

  • Stats – Strength 2, Dexterity 2, Stamina 2, Charisma 2, Manipulation 2, Appearance 2, Perception 2, Intelligence 2, Wits 2
  • Abilities – Etiquette 3, Expression 1, Leadership 2, Linguistics 2

Slave Master – Boss

  • Stats – Strength 4, Dexterity 3, Stamina 3, Charisma 2, Appearance 2, Perception 2, Intelligence 1, Wits 1
  • Abilities – Dodge 2, Intimidation 2, Melee 2

Discoverable Reward Mechanics

  • Crowd can throw in weapons if you please them (noble who bought special ticket)
  • Weapon cache in a map (arrows and long bow)
  • Traitor bowman in last level

Playthrough

A step-by-step narrative detailing what your players did during your adventure.

Capture

At the beginning of the scene all the players are in the makeshift celebration area.

Player 1

  1. Drank
  2. Went off to dance zone
  3. Tried to ask a girl to dance and failed
  4. Then went out to the forest
  5. Saw two figures chasing after player 2
  6. Tried to intimidate the figures and failed, they started chasing after him
  7. He managed to climb and tree and they got bored of him
  8. Soonafter a pack of hunting dogs and a fat trainer were at the bottom of tree
  9. Eventually got down from tree of the tree and got knocked out

Player 2

  1. Was an outsider of the village, so arrived outside of the celebration area
  2. Arrived at the drinking tent
  3. Drank
  4. Went out to explore the forest forest
  5. Noticed shadowy figures at the forest’s edge
  6. Tried to hide from incoming soldiers but failed
  7. A horse rider appeared from the forest edge, who chased after player 2
  8. Player 2 attempted to run into the tent for cover
  9. The horseman reached and knocked player 2 out, and captured them

Player 3

  1. Drank
  2. Convinced the waitress to bring a lot more booze
  3. Drank it all and got plastered
  4. Went of to the toilet
  5. Passed out there
  6. Almost died because toilet tent was set on fire, and failed to rouse themselves
  7. Was saved by a stray villager
  8. Stray villager was killed and player 3 was captured

Training Ground

At the beginning of the scene Mentus talks to all of them and explains the situation they are in, They ask him a bunch of questions, he answers and then leaves them

Player 1

  1. Tried to find something sharp and failed
  2. Then talked to someone to make friends
  3. Leveled up and selected gear

Player 2

  1. Talked to people, gained info about scene, and made some friends
  2. Leveled up and selected gear

Player 3

  1. Tried to find a way to escape but was unable to
  2. Talked more to mentus and got more knowledge about being gladiator and knowledge about the estate
  3. Leveled up and selected gear

All players ended the round with meeting the Slavemaster and being shown an inventory of light gear (2 items per player) they could choose from. At that point they do auto training for the rest of the day and receive exp points.

Round 1

In this round players were introduced to a Gladiator stadium which combat took place in.

Player 1 and two were chained together so they worked together for the round. The third player was chained to Mentus who helped and coordinated them.

Player 1 & 2

  1. Established an attack and survival strategy
  2. Since one had a shield and a cudgel, the other had armour and a long spear so one would defend the other would attack.
  3. Played cautiously allowing others to go first
  4. Worked together to make a number of gruesome cool looking kills using the spike pit
  5. Tried to get others to fight, and benefited off the outcome

Player 3

  1. Got chained to mentus
  2. Had a moment where Mentus used his leadership to inspire
  3. Since mentus is a strong character (played by DM) Mentus did a lot of the heavy lifting of fighting
  4. Worked with player 1 and 2 to win the day by killing other other gladiators and enemy slave tag teams

Villanus Mansion

Players were brough to Villanuses mansion as servants to serve at a party to celebrate the gladiator battle.

Villanus Mansion First Floor

Players 1 and 2 and 3

  1. First tried to burning the building down and escape
  2. At two points I had to use the environment to stop trains of thought from proceeding in a direction I didn’t want e.g let’s burn the building down, lets escape the compound
  3. Then forced them to talk to a senator who instructed them to recover a land deed the senator lost to Villanus. The deed was located on the second floor of the Villa.
  4. The players accepted and made their way to the second floor of the Villa escorted by two guards
Villanus Mansion Second Floor
  1. Then they convinced two guards to betray their master
  2. They went to Villanus room and had the guards to distract the guard who was posted there who unlocked the door for them
  3. The players entered Villanuses office and began searching for clues
  4. Then they used their abilities to search more carefully
  5. Found the safe behind the painting, and an opening for a key and spherical object
  6. Searched again for more clues this time more specifically about the key
  7. Found a note and diary that gave them hints about both
  8. Found the lock and the spherical object (one of the eyes in a Villanus statue)
  9. Used them to open the door
  10. Found the deed and some money
  11. Took the deed and money
  12. Gave the deed to the senator, and money to the guards to keep them quiet
  13. Senator promised assistance
  14. Ended the level

Round 2

  1. Players had an opportunity to talk to Mentus in the slave pen and select new equipment before starting round 2. The equipment options were much larger this time.

Player 1

  1. Played as a tank character
  2. Selected heavy armour, a sword and heavy shield
  3. Played as a defender
  4. Coordinated melee units to defend archers
  5. Had to fight a crocodile and was almost killed but succeeded

Player 2

  1. Selected light armor and two swords
  2. Tried to flank incoming units
  3. Nearly did but the incoming units were wiped out due to bad rolls and player 3
  4. Backed off to safety after that
  5. Performed a miracle assassination of the main assassination which ended the game

Player 3

  1. Chose to be an archer with a long ranged bow, arrows and daggers
  2. Played cautiously
  3. Killed several units mainly focusing on other archers with good shots
  4. Killed one horseman who was charging towards the group
  5. Stayed in defensive positions and was protected by player 1

Puzzle

A description of the puzzle that was part of your adventure, and an analysis of how effective it was.

Puzzle Description

The puzzle was set in Villanus Villa more specifically his office. The puzzle started with a quest giver who told the players to collect a land deed from a safe located in Villanus office. When the players arrive at Villanus office they encountered an environmental puzzle. Players had to discover clues about the location of a safe, and then when they found the safe needed to find a key and socket shaped object (eyeball in Villanus head) which were hidden around the room. On finding the key and eyeball they opened safe, collected the deed and returned it to quest giver for a promised reward later on.

Effectiveness

Players managed to solve the puzzle fine, and in fact had some interesting encounters that I allowed for that made the puzzle more interesting such as convincing the guards to help them get to the puzzle which the players enjoyed as it was a very different approach than just combat. One player considered the section a high point of the game.

On the other hand I think I as DM held their hand a little bit too much, because I needed them to complete the puzzle to make the last scene easier to do. If it was an optional puzzle I might have let them fail. Another point is that players found the reward disappointing because I believe my phrasing of the reward could have been better. I wanted to leave the reward vague because I wanted the assistance in Gladiator Battle 2 to be a surprise which it was, but at the time it wasn’t received too well. Giving the players exp at the end of the scene helped a little with this issue.

Interest Curves

An interest curve that illustrates your predictions about how your adventure will play out. Label points on the curve to correspond with events in your adventure. Create this curve before you run players through your adventure.

An interest curve that illustrates how your adventure did play out. Create this after you run players through your adventure.

Three interest curves, given to you by the players you led through your adventure. Players can feel free to draw these on paper, they do not need to be digital. Neatness doesn’t count. Players should be urged to create these based solely on their personal point of view about their own personal interest curve, regardless of the other players’ experiences. Players should also be urged to be brutally honest.

Player Interest Curves

Player 1

Player 1

Player 2

Player 2

Player 3

Player 3

Thoughts & Reflections

Your thoughts and reflections about what worked well, and what worked poorly in your adventure. This post-mortem analysis is the most important part of this assignment. Consider questions such as:

What surprised you?

How long the combat sections took was one of my biggest surprises. The total run time was 4 hours 15 minutes broken down in the following manner:

  • Capture – 30 minutes
  • Training Ground – 20 minutes
  • Gladiator Battle 1 – 1 15 hr
  • Villanus Mansion – 40 minutes
  • Gladiator Battle 2 – 1 30 minutes

Secondly what surprised me is that players did not murder each other when they could have at anytime! Infact I explicitly said this was possible but at the same time I attempted to design situations where cooperation was encouraged and lo and behold it happened!

Do your predicted and actual curves differ at all?

Yes there were significant differences namely:

  1. The high and low points were less pronounced
  2. The puzzle had a higher interest level than expected
  3. The ending failed to have the expected impact, and interest levels dropped during the ending

Why?

  1. As time went on players became more invested in the game so their base interest rose. An indication of this was players cared about dice rolls and often made suggestions for favourable outcomes
  2. I thought people would have lower interest in the puzzle, but one playtester enjoyed it the most out of the whole experience saying it because of how different it was from what they had been doing
  3. The end scene was supposed to be the most fun, but because the session had already gone on quite awhile because the number of units used was big, and the time taken to evaluate one turn took a long time so that’s why I expect that players interest dropped.

How about your player interest curves?

All players agreed the ending needed work, it needed to be made shorter.

  • G1 – Had a rising interest rate throughout with no dips until the puzzle. This playtester enjoyed combat the most.
  • G2 – Was more pronounced with relaxation periods in the training ground as they felt that section was limited in what could be done. They enjoyed the puzzle the most which was different from G1.
  • G3 – Followed the curve of the playtest most closely, but again the curves were less pronounced than I expected.

Lessons Learned

Did this experience teach you anything about interactive storytelling? Deep thoughts about lessons learned are very welcome here.

This assignment provided a great experience to draw from when learning about interactive storytelling. I gained insight and lessons into the following variety of aspects.

Surprise

Players enjoyed surprises, and giving them new unexpected ways to interact with the world is a great way to get ones players to enjoy themselves. For example when they convinced the puzzle guards to turn on their masters was a great moment for players. They also liked the surprise introduction of a strong yet hidden opponent that is different from the ordinary. In particular they enjoyed the crocodiles, and the bear who fought each other.

Complexity & Time

This point stemmed from a clear understanding that players felt the game drew out too long at the end.

A number of issues compounded this, particularly the complexity of the system I was using. For one the system had an inbuilt way of avoiding bad rolls, which could derail the success of players in a significant way, but since understanding the basics of the system was difficult they did not employ this ‘willpower mechanic’.

What I learned from this was the kind of game that I designed was not made to be played in one session. Each scene could have been an entire three hour section. Since players reported scenes to be really intense, particularly Gladiator Battle 1, unless they were utterly engrossed they are likely to get burned out eventually by such high intensity action. I see a little better now why experiences such as games and movies are often designed to be consumed in chunks. Perhaps that is why many books and games are chapter oriented.

Given now what I know, and the constraints of the assignment. I would have chosen a simpler system to use such as the one from Roleplaying 101.

Variety

I intentionally designed the experience to have interspersed social and combat sections and it was clear that players appreciated that.

Combat for example was designed to be different from Gladiator Battle 1 to Gladiator Battle 2. Gladiator Battle 1 had an element of cooperative action to it, but players were constrained to only what they could do. In Gladiator Battle 2 players were stronger, given more weapons, had the opportunity to command groups of units, and introduced large animals all of which playtesters liked.

The effectiveness of variety actually surprised me as I thought combat would have the most interest given I designed it to be more intense. It seems though for one player the puzzle was actually the highest interest point of the game.

Investment

As the game progressed and players became more invested in their survival a sense of camaraderie built in the players and they tended to stick together and help each other. This can be displayed from how players in the Capture scene initially went their own way but towards the end, particularly in Gladiator Battle 2 worked to defend and help each other win.

Understanding Sentiment

DM’ing for the first time has helped me get a better sense of players sentiments, namely I should:

  • Focus on what’s relevant to the player. Players were bored when I was resolving combat for groups not related to them
  • Let the players roll the dice. Initially I was rolling for enemies but eventually I let my players roll and they felt more involved
  • Surprise works well when players are bored
  • Players will ask you sometimes for what they want (often a favourable outcome for themselves). Sometimes you should given in and sometimes you shouldn’t with the goal of creating an enjoyable experience. In my opinion one shouldn’t do one or the other all the time as not giving in enough means a lack of satisfactory rewards, and giving in too much dilutes the given reward till they become meaningless.

Efficiency Improvements

From this experience I found a number of helpful changes in efficiency that could improve the experience:

  • Paper cut outs of my units would help
  • Avoid large scale battles unless you have a method of quickly dealing with combat outside of the immediate players vicinity because players care about things that relate to them in some manner.

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