This is a lot like Latin Clue!, which was a fun way to end exploring Roman housing, but really only a one-off activity. The Gladiator Game, however, is much simpler, has faster game play, and is more likely to be repeatable. My students did this 2-3 different days over a couple weeks while exploring the topic of Roman gladiators, and reading Rūfus et arma ātra, as well as Rūfus et gladiātōrēs. The basic idea is for students to choose a gladiator’s actions during a fight. In this game, you can take on more of a GM (Game Master) role for no-prep, and maximum flexibility, or set up some things during your planning period beforehand and run it during class.
Either way, you’ll need to determine some details. I’ve found that VERBA cards serve this purpose nicely. Otherwise, determine a list using basic storyasking strategies (e.g. “should there be a lion, or giraffe?”), write them on the board, assign a number to each, and anytime you’d “draw,” instead just roll dice and choose from the list. Perhaps this is best to do after a few times when students have a better sense of the game. How many details? Try 5 for each category and see how long you can play the game. You’ll need…
– gladiator type & name
This could be optional, but also a good opportunity to learn some common gladiator types. Have students decide their type. There’s the thrax, rētiārius, secūtor, murmillō, hoplomachus, scissor, etc. Teams can personalize their character with a name.
Set aside VERBA cards that would make suitable opponents (e.g. animals & people). My suggestion? The funnier, the better. Rather than going for the expected Roman solider, set aside the mouse.
Find the VERBA body parts, and set them aside. As for values, wounds could be determined on the spot with you playing the full out GM role, or a standard -1 per hit. For example, from the pile of body part Verba cards, draw one, and project, saying “minus X puncta!” whereas X is whatever you want.
This is how many hits the gladiator can sustain. You could set a number for the whole class, or have each team roll individually. You could also determine WHERE gladiators can sustain the hits. For example, gladiators could take a total of 9 points and still win glōriam, but if they receive just 2 to the head, or 3 to any one limb, they’re mortuus.
For more of a role-playing game (RPG) feel, print off character sheets with pre-determined spaces for wounds (e.g. 3 for the limbs and torso, just 2 for the head. I adapted one from something you can buy on Teachers Pay Teachers. Keep in mind that it’s from a History teacher (fun, but definitely in need of a bit of editing if you choose to use the resource as-is). If you’ve done this before, and are going for total points as described above, print out these, and have students draw their own gladiator (which then becomes instant Picture Talk content after the game, and maybe even story-ready depending on the events of the fight).
These should be the most fun to determine. You could have students write their own attacks the day before during a Do Now, or the last 5min. of class, then type and edit. These can serve as the narratives for both attacking, as well as hits when being attacked. Consider making conditions like “if you’re X gladiator type, you evade the attack.” However, for a super simple way to do this, turn once again to VERBA by setting aside objects that could be used in a fight (e.g. shield, fork, baseball).
**Rolling & GM Notes: You can pretty much roll dice for everything, and you probably should (except for the opponent since it applies to all teams). For example, instead of randomly drawing just one card for a wound, draw two, and then have the team roll to see what they get. This also has the benefit of more input as you describe what’s going on. As the GM, you might also want to decide which attack option will result in a negative outcome before even presenting them, and teams just have to roll a high number to avoid that negative outcome, instead getting the positive one. I had one student say “so it doesn’t matter which attack we choose, it’s all based our roll for the outcome.” He was right, and it took him out of the game element for a moment. So, if the opponent is a ferocious animal, and one of the attack options is to run towards it, you might decide that any team choosing that isn’t really thinking about safety and should receive a wound. Therefore, rolling for everything, making common sense decisions, and keeping things unpredictable is the role of a good GM. You’ll have to practice this during your prep time before getting comfortable with that kind of game mastering.**
You can print the following gameplay (filled in with attack options and outcomes), as well as a basic gameplay template, here.
Gameplay (more support)
1) Announce opponent(s)
Randomly draw (or “randomly” draw)
2) Attack options “vīsne…”
– iacere X ad Y?
– calcitrāre Y?
– pulsāre Y [with] Z?
– exspectāre Y?
– currere ad Y?
– salīre super Y, et Y pulsāre?
3) Gladiators choose
Teams (or individual) choose their Attack
4) Roll dice for outcome (or decide ahead of time which attack will have a negative outcome, and have students roll a high number to avoid it)
– iacis X ad Y. Y cadit.
– calcitrās Y. Y vulnerāta/us est.
– pulsās Y [with] Z. Y exclāmat!
– patienter exspectās Y. Y ad tē currit, sed cadit.
– exclāmāns, curris ad Y. Y perterrita/us est.
– salīs super Y. Y cōnfūsa/us est. ergō, Y pulsās.
Negative + draw wound:
– iacis X ad Y, sed Y tē pulsat.
– calcitrās Y. iam, Y īrāta/us est, et ad tē iacit X.
– pulsās Y [with] Z. Y, autem, sē dēfendit, et rīdet. Y tē pulsās.
– patienter exspectās Y. Y ad tē currit, et tē vulnerat.
– exclāmāns, curris ad Y. Y, autem, tē ēvādit, et tē calcitrat.
– salīre super Y conāris, sed frūstrā. Y nōn cūrat, et tē vulnerat.
5) Draw any wounds
e.g. “mūs caput tuum pulsat! -2 puncta.”
**Pro Tip: When using the above gameplay with more support, place two markers on the corresponding positive and negative outcomes once you’ve presented the attack options to teams. This makes it easier to look down and narrate the outcome without having to remember what the options were during gameplay.**
Magistra Whitney selects the first VERBA card, a lion, from the opponent pile. She puts the card under the document camera, saying “pugnās in leōnem.” Then, she draws two attacks (1. throw, or 2. kick), and a VERBA card, a shoe, from the object pile. She asks the class “vīsne iacere calceum ad leōnem, an leōnem calcitrāre?” Pairs, or small groups of students choose what their gladiator does. Then, Magistra Whitney has everyone roll for success. Since there’s a lot of class time left, each team goes one by one instead of all at once. Teams have a 10-sided die, so Magistra Whitney decides that anything over a 5 is successful. She starts with teams that chose to throw the shoe. The first team rolls a 6. Magistra Whitney looks at the list of positive outcomes, and says “iacis calceum ad leōnem. leō cadit.” She’s confident with speaking Latin, and adds “exclāmantēs, spectātōrēs fortiter plaudunt.” The next team rolls a 2. Looking at the list of negative outcomes, however, Magistra Whitney realizes that the opponent is an animal, so anything with “hits” doesn’t quite sound right. She improvises by saying “iacis calceum ad leōnem, sed leō tē vulnerat.” Then, she draws a VERBA card, an eyeball, from the wound pile, and says “leō oculum tuum vulnerat! minus ūnum punctum.” Someone on the team then marks a big X on one of two head spaces on their character sheet; another hit to the head the next round, and they’re dead. After all teams are done, the next fighting round begins. Magistra Whitney draws a new opponent, and gameplay continues.
After a few rounds, Magistra Whitney gets into a flow and begins to draw 3, then 4 attack options. She also adds conditions to positive commands, like “You do kick the alien. However, if your gladiator is a rētiārius, the alien hits you in the face. -1 point!” Then, she begins to make up her own attacks, and wounds on the spot because students want to keep playing, and the options have been recycled several times. N.B. one way to avoid this is to have larger groups (4-5?) control one gladiator character.