d6 Arena Combat Ideas From Your Fellow RPT GMs

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1090

I recently posted ideas to help a reader about to GM a combat with a hydra in an arena setting.

You emailed me back with great additional ideas and tips. Thank you!

Here’s what I received that might help any combat you run in the future:

Effective Crowd Control

From Jack Shandley

I love the idea of having the crowd’s favor play into it. Maybe the crowd responds to exciting maneuvers and tactics by throwing “favor tokens” of some sort, and the PCs can put three tokens into a device in the arena for a random consumable.

This gives players an incentive to use their imaginations and have some fun.

If the crowd gets bored, perhaps they can call for the Master of Ceremony to enchant the hydra with a breath weapon.

Have the arena be prepared with knee-high water, to add some complexity to the fight and give the hydra a little edge. Then add a “phase 2” when the hydra gets to 1/3 health, where the floor drops out and the fight now takes place fully in water.

Stage a Reenactment

From Mark of the Pixie

I had an interesting trick that might help in this hydra fight.

Give it paralyzing venom: no save, only effects the struck limb, no magic cures it.

A PC hit in the leg drops prone, unable to stand on the afflicted leg.

A PC hit on the arm drops their weapon or shield and can’t do spells with gestures.

The PC can still fight and act, but each blow from the hydra really bites into what they can do.

This makes the fight feel different from the “I hit it” routine (a big problem for arena fights, which are often toe-to-toe slug fests).

PCs have to change tactics on the fly.

The fighter can’t use a weapon? What is he going to do? The Assassin gets hit in the leg? Now they can’t get into position to backstab. The wizard goes down prone? She can still cast spells, but now the hydra is barreling towards them with a trample attack.

Another idea may be to make the battle a reenactment.

Roman gladiators often had to reenact historic battles. They would be given the weapons and armour used and the fight would be set up to favour one side or the other.

Perhaps the PCs are told to recreate the fight of a local hero. A farming village defending itself from a hydra was saved by a boy who went on to become the hero. Give the PCs no armor (dressed as peasants), with rakes and pitchforks for weapons. These do small damage, and break on a natural roll of 1-5. If you use a stat bonus to get extra damage, you break it right away. Mages and clerics are only allowed first and second level spells.

The Monsters Know

From Brian Bilz

Hey Johnn,

I don’t know if you’ve heard of this site before, probably so, as I cannot remember from where I heard about it.

But this guy does in-depth analysis on different [D&D 5E] creatures and suggests tactics for how they would fight to their best advantage.

Thought you might want to suggest it to your readers, if you haven’t already.

Take Away Their Toys

From Hannu Kokko

Make them fight without armor or with very awkward armor — wizard in platemail, the tank with only a shield.

Make them fight with unfamiliar weapons or with impromptu weapons.

Tie part of them down here and there in the arena and require the rescue of them.

Make the arena a maze that spectators can see but characters cannot. And let characters and hydra loose from different locations.

Make time count — they need to eliminate hydra by x rounds or something awful happens.

Force them to do hard choices — defeat the hydra or rescue a friend being assassinated in the audience.

Drug them to make them slow down or hallucinate.

Make them bleed (like in Gladiator).

Scatter them across the area and let the hydra attack them.

Tie their best hand behind their back.

Trap the area.

Make them fight from small boats in a water-filled arena. And let the hydra range free and attack while submerged — surprise is good.

Take all the components of spells away.

Kidding Around

From Jason Alexander

Here’s another possible surprise. The hydra is pregnant!

The party’s kill shot hits the abdomen causing it to explode. Nearby victims suffer thunderwave damage, acid splash damage, gaseous cloud effects and/or poisonous cloud damage for a few rounds.

When the fog clears, 3d6 baby hydras ooze out and hungrily attack the nearest foes. If the party is nearly depleted, the DM can have some of the young attack each other to ramp up how frenzied they are.

Crazed spectators or handlers might jump into the fray to try and seize the rare younglings, or a powerful sorcerer might want one for his lab experiments.

Perhaps a group of acolytes from the Cult of the Reptile God jumps into the arena to save its idol from destruction.

Something to Chew On

From Robert Creedon

Hydra teeth from the movies can be thrown out, forming skeletons as minions. We use them in our campaign this way.

These skeletons attack the nearest foes but not its mother hydra.

A keeper can throw them out to make the battle interesting, especially as heroes need to switch weapons from slash to blunt.

Teeth could fall out as heads hit ground.