Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

A friend and I were thinking about doing a Colosseum battle to the death with our group, for game sessions when not everyone was there, or just to let people test out character builds.

What we were considering was a system where everyone carried an extra 5th level character with them, and we'd let said characters duke it out for fun. Getting past all the rules we decided on for the specifics, we kept coming across a single problem.

How do we create a scenario that is equally beneficial/hindering to two characters, regardless of base-class?

Obviously, predisposition to combat will aid any character. However, given that all classes can be min/maxed for combat, we want to create an environment that won't favor one type of combatant.

Example issues:

  • Fighter vs. Rogue: without cover, fighter has clear advantage. With cover, fighter is suffering unfair negative.

  • Wizard vs. Fighter: at close range, fighter has clear advantage (can close distance quickly and disallow spellcasting). At long range, wizard has clear advantage (time to cast spells and prepare for fighter approach while harassing fighter and maintaining range)

We want to make the environment as minor a factor as possible in this, with dice-rolls, strategy, and character-effectiveness being the deciding factors.

Any suggestions on how to accomplish this? Can it even be done?

share|improve this question
You could, instead, just not worry about imbalances. Consider that "winning" isn't actually worth anything concrete in these sparring matches, but the player at a disadvantage is going to learn a lot from the unusual challenge. They're actually going to get more lasting value from the sparring than the one with advantage. – SevenSidedDie Feb 2 '13 at 22:32
up vote 10 down vote accepted

I'd say that creating a controlled, artificial scenario that accurately demonstrates cross-class character effectiveness is impossible.

The reason for this is that a great part of what makes a character (class) powerful is that character's ability to choose his own scenarios. In other words, creating a "fair fight" will ignore characters' ability and willingness to create an unfair fight, and is thus not a good measure of overall character power.

If I were to do this kind of tournament, I'd drop the combatants off in a large arena that includes multiple types of environment. The combatants would then have to use their own methods to find and kill their opponents. If you find that "pure" fighting classes do poorly under such circumstances... well, I'd call that a sign of the character's class being weak.

share|improve this answer
+1 for allowing combatants to attempt to force their favored ground. Also, for echoing my Hunger Games reference in a much more useful way. – KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 16:18
Indeed, it's always crappy for one of the combatants no matter how you skew it: if there's cover in the ring, it's unfair for the Fighter because the Rogue can hide, but if there's no cover, it's unfair for the Rogue because the Rogue isn't a toe-to-toe combatant and can't use Sneak Attack. The concept of pit-fighting is one that wass designed for Fighters and other martial types to go toe-to-toe against each other. – Lucas Leblanc Sep 11 '15 at 17:07

I do not think so.

The balance in Pathfinder, which is largely unchanged from 3.5, is very close to non-existent. Really, your basic premise is flawed: it has little to do with terrain. If a Cleric or Wizard knows what to expect, they can manage at the very least to create situations where the odds are, as they say, forever in their favor. A Fighter or Rogue does not have that ability.

Level 5 is low enough that it may be difficult for a Wizard who loses initiative to guarantee victory, but he can pump initiative and he can make sure, in one turn, that his opponent will be zero threat to him. He in fact has numerous options for doing so prepared at any given time. Any foreknowledge or preparation time can give him easy victories.

It literally comes down to mundane classes relying on the failure of those playing magic classes to do everything they could be doing. Played well, magic classes can and will win nearly every time.

I know this because many such arenas have been run in the past, always with the same general results. Data from bouts like these, as well as from comparing abilities and contributions in cooperative gauntlets, informs the Tier list. Empirical data, from hundreds of matches, backs this up. I'd recommend looking up the Test of Spite for what was probably the largest and most serious set of such matches. It was 3.5, but Paizo changed only a few details, nothing fundental.

share|improve this answer
So no attempting to have fun for you! – mxyzplk Jan 31 '13 at 13:00
@mxyzplk This answer is entirely relevant to the question "Can this be done?". It could be better at helping the OP achieve his goal of running Arenas, but it certainly isn't a Your Having Fun Wrong answer. – Simon Gill Jan 31 '13 at 14:33
@mxyzplk To be honest, you have a fair point and I'm aware that just because of the systemic problems with this idea does not mean it could not be run in a way that's fun, particularly for a naive group. I just view "being the guy who will tell you the hard mechanical reality" as a part of my function on this site. – KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 16:19
@KRyan Do you know if there's a summary or something like that of the Test of Spite? It looks really interesting, but I don't really have the intestinal fortitude to sit through hundreds of pages of forum posts. – Tacroy Feb 2 '13 at 6:16
@Tacroy I'm not sure but I tend to doubt it. Test of Spite was a game first, and various analysis done of the results was an after thought. – KRyan Feb 3 '13 at 0:32

As others have said, the classes are balanced for different purposes. Were I to do something similar, my first instinct would be to give a varying coliseum. There is also no such thing as a fair fight. Put two fighters in tight a enclosure, arm one wiht a dagger and the other with a polearm. Chances are, the polearm fighter will likely hit first, the dagger fighter will land most/all of the other hits in the combat. Since you can't make the arena 100% fair, the only way to make the fight "more fair" is to give each class a few areas where they will excel.

To set up the arena I would include:

  • Open ground, at least 30 feet square, maybe on a smooth rise (king of the hill mini-game?)
  • areas of partial cover, on all four sides of the open square, "rubble buildings" work well for this.
  • areas of full cover, on at least 2 of the sides of the open square. Partially destroyed buildings work well for this.
  • other areas that are open but not "large". Give the 2-handers more than one area to fight.
  • If it's your thing, maybe even an area that is open, narrow, but long for those wanting to do mounted combat.
  • overall size that would enable a missile-range fighter could engage at medium range (a heavy crossbow has the largest range increment of 120 feet), so maybe 150 feet if available??
  • I would also include interesting things like flammable stuff for the wizards who love fire, etc.
  • Uncertainty. I would set up a separate/spare battlemat (if applicable) for the arena but after every week it gets used, I would change the layout. I would change as much as possible so no one can preplan what they want to do once that mat gets unrolled.
share|improve this answer

Alternate Approach is to go at this as a group 2v2 or 3v3 or even 2v3 if the 2 person team has the stronger members.

Also, I don't remember the source book but one of the 3.5 splats (I know tag is Pathfinder but the idea fits both systems) mentioned having a fighters arena for your melee characters to duke it out and having a separate "arena" for your casters. It also mentions a game of summoners chess for casters to test their wits by summoning monsters onto chess board (no fighting in this one at all)

Another thing to remember is that in Roman times they frequently made the fights unfair intentionaly.

One last thought is to combine the idea of them grouping together, but instead of fighting eachother they can fight a group of NPCs! This way you have full control of how level the field/arena really is.

(Editing from phone is always a pain)

share|improve this answer

Add numerous different types of challenges

Here are some examples:

Include NPCs in this battle royal. The weaker rogue can trick them into becoming allies, while the big dumb barbarian just walks right over them.

Add traps. The big dumb barbarian walks through them, and barely notices them, the rogue rewires them to his advantage.

include high/low ground The wizard needs a place to run. Just make sure it's not too easy, if nobody can ever reach him, it's unfair again, make sure he has to keep moving, and his movement is slowed, so eventually he needs to run away.

scatter useful items across the map, but to the wrong character Give the rogue the barbarian's greataxe, the barbarian the wizard's staff, the cleric the rogue's poisons, and so on. And make the players think about what they use, and if they just throw them away.

Add terrain pitfalls much like traps, these will pose a danger to everyone, so combat will often need to stop, if one character has an unfair advantage bc of their class. Just don;t abuse this, if the player picked a bad class, let them really sweat for a bit first, they deserve it for making your life harder(jk).

Of course this would require a huge map, as in a giant mountainous forest, probably surrounded by a magic barrier bc of the game you are playing. The large world will probably require help from two DMs, and you'll be a "referee" DM for pvp action.

This will allow ALL strengths of each class to come through

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.