So you’re the big dumb guy in your party. You’re the sort of bloke that swills ale, beats nine kinds of hell out of the monsters, and laughs at rocks. (Heh…silly rocks.) You’re also exactly the kind of meathead most likely to run into the ring so as to prove that you’re the baddest dude on the block. Unfortunately, this kind of activity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Bust up enough monsters and, after a while, even the meat-headiest amongst us will begin to recognize a pattern. “Hang on just a tick… I seem to hit harder than anything else. My armor is stronger. My aim is truer. This isn’t a proper challenge!”

The dictates of game balance mean that, for a satisfying experience (read: one you have a chance surviving consistently), you’ve got to fight opponents that are weaker than you. As soon as you’re going toe-to-toe in the mirror match or trying to duel above your weight class, one-on-one fights turn into roll-up-a-new-guy fights awfully quick. That means gladiatorial rings and similar often bring out the nerf bats, magically dealing knock-out blows rather than fatalities. For the warrior out to prove his mettle, this too lacks the savor of a proper challenge. Ignoring for a moment the fact that watching one guy roll dice against a GM is less than exciting for the rest of the table, there’s the very real problem that this trope is hard to do properly.

My advice to all the meatheads out there? Find another way to show off your studliness. Or if you really have to put on your best pair of gladiator pants, make sure that it’s only for special occasions. The conceit of the emperor sparing your life (Announcer Voice: Thumbs up? He never gives the thumbs up folks! You’re watching history on the field!) is much more interesting when it’s a special occasion rather than the de rigueur facts of the killing pits. “Oh sure. They’re just called killing pits. Haven’t had a fatality in 197 days and counting.”

I dunno. Maybe I’m just jaded from watching a few too many dull hack-fests in a few too many fictional colliseums. Do any of the rest of you guys have ideas for spicing up one-on-one combat? Let’s hear it in the comments!


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