I just watched the video for Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”. If you haven’t seen it, watch it here because I’m going to throw spoilers your way.
The video is, essentially, an illicit underground (literally) arena for Muppet fights. You heard right, Muppets fighting. It’s a fantastically fun, albeit somewhat creepy, concept that could easily lend itself to a neat application in your RPG of choice. Watch the video and then head back to finish reading.
Well, how’d you like it? Neat, huh? Told you you’d dig it.
So how does this apply to my game, you ask? Great question. I’ve got several ideas:
1) Capture! If you wanted to be literal about it, your characters could stumble upon an abandoned barn, taking refuge there for the night. They find the entrance to the secret arena and venture down only to be captured and imprisoned. To achieve their freedom, they need to produce a competitor to fight (and win) in the arena. This will require a little bit of setup, as you’ll need to ensure that your characters have something they can use for their surrogate in the arena. If your druid has a pet, your wizard a familiar, or your barbarian a pet wolf, all of these could work.
Alternately, you could provide the party with a method to transform themselves into arena participants.
2) Constructs. Another alternative is that during the course of an adventure, they stumble onto a laboratory and arena complex. Their, they’re forced to create miniature likenesses of themselves and imbue these constructs with some of their life essence in order to better survive the arena. The arena battles take the form of a sub-game within the main game; they occur while the party is still adventuring so it’s a simultaneous experience. Each character has to give a part of himself/herself to the construct in order to aid it but whatever is given to the construct is taken from the character for the duration of the adventure. It could be hit points, attack bonuses, AC bonuses, magic resistance, etc. The character then has to spend the rest of the adventure with those penalties on them. The construct gets to benefit from whatever is given and, therefore, has a better chance of surviving the arena. The reward for winning (or penalty for losing)in the arena needs to represent something compelling enough for all characters to want to sacrifice something for it.
3) A Quest. A final idea is to have the arena be the subject of the quest. The party is tasked by the local constabulary/magistrate to shut down the arena and arrest its head. During the course of their investigations they can either be shocked by what/who fights in the arena or can be lured into its depravity by the fortunes that can be made. In going undercover to infiltrate (or even participate) the arena, they may get embroiled deeper than they imagined and find it hard to get out. Or, perhaps they won’t want to get out. The lure of gold can be a powerful force.
Just some quick thoughts from a cool video. Love to hear what you think or if you’ve ideas of your own.