Ave Imperator – Design Journal – 01 – Historical Accuracy

I wanted historical accuracy to be important to this game; as such I did a fair amount of reading on the period and the reality of gladiators and their life. However the more I learned about the reality of how things were the more I realised that changes would need to be made. There’s no point clinging to historical accuracy when it gets in the way of fun or in some cases the basic premise of the game.

I’ve tried to strike a balance where the major changes are made at the background level so the day to day activities i.e. the meat of the game is as realistic as possible. The biggest ahistorical element is, as mentioned, the basic premise. Historically there weren’t a huge number of ludi (gladiator schools) and they generally weren’t competitive. Obviously as the entire premise of the game is bringing one ludus (singular of ludi) to fame and glory this had to go. As such in the game ludi function much like sports teams in modern times (interestingly historically there were rabid gladiatorial fans, including rioting etc. but they were fans of individual types of gladiators rather than “Teams”). Related to this is the fact that most games were made by one ludi, not a variety of competing one’s. Again this competition, while ahistorical, is a key aspect of the game. So in it goes.

Another change was the frequency of the games, in the period of time the games cover there were only two games allowed per year. As I wanted more of a balance between the management and gladiatorial games portions of the game I expanded this to four times per year. Though I’ve tried to centre the four yearly games on authentic Roman festivals.

There are some other minor changes e.g. not all of the gladiator types planned for the game were active at the same or popular during the time period of the game but are included anyway. But the changes mentioned above are the major ones.

There are also some changes which are still up in the air. Gladiatorial games were highly structured in terms of which types of gladiator fought one another. At the moment I’m including that setup/restriction but that may change down the line.

While some of the changes were necessary for the game as I envisioned it they’ve ended up creating more work. One example is how games are staged which is mentioned briefly above. Normally an editor (generally a rich nobleman, as laws about who could hold games changed so did the nature of editors) would sponsor the games; he would contact a lanista (owner of a ludus) and contract him to arrange gladiators and other entertainers for the games.

While there was some haggling involved generally the editor would pay more or less whatever the lanista charged (within reason). This was because excessive spending on games was lauded and as they were primarily held to garner public and political support for the editor this meant that in some ways been known to charge excessively was better for a lanista.

Obviously as the premise for the game is competing ludi the negotiations with the editor are a confrontation between the player’s lanista and any other lanista in the area. So price does become important (and thankfully, gameable) e.g. Do you offer your prize gladiator at a loss (and it could be quite the loss because if he should die you would be getting paid less than he’s worth) in the hope that he will garner more fame for you or do you prioritise your budget?

The highly structured nature of the gladiatorial games program of events helps to shape this section of the game. The need for the lanista to compete for the editors favour lead me to reconsider removing the “politics” layer from the game. A decision which is to some degree still unmade.

To digress slightly, as envisioned the game plays out broadly in yearly “turns”. During each turn there will be four gladiatorial games and four management periods. However there are aspects that don’t fit neatly into either section and in many ways straddle both. The politics which affect a lanista’s relations with potential editors is one example and the “private lives” of the gladiators themselves is another. While these could be handled “behind the scenes” or by random events I would prefer if they were more explicitly addressed so they integrated more naturally with the game. However that adds more work and increases the scope of the game. Which is why I’ve been flopping back and forth on whether to include it or not. For the moment it’s in though.

To be honest I think it’s almost necessary as it (hopefully) adds a richness to a game which otherwise might run the risk of feeling rather dry. After all who doesn’t want their star gladiator to be under threat of surreptitious assassination in the arena because the husband of the noblewoman he’s been banging has caught on and is none too pleased?

To drag this back on topic there are also some areas of history which are debateable or which there’s simply not a lot of information on. Two relevant areas are the day to day lives of gladiators and female gladiators. While we have a good general understanding of a gladiator’s daily life the fine details are missing. Which to be honest is probably a good thing. There’s enough to model to make the game interesting without getting bogged down in minutiae. Female gladiators certainly do appear to have existed but there isn’t a lot of evidence about a) their existence, b) how they were perceived, c) what roles they took, etc. I’ll almost certainly include them but exactly what role they will play isn’t confirmed.

So that was a (unfortunately rambling) look at issues of historical accuracy. Next week I’m hoping to get down to specifics, either on the flow of gameplay or the mechanics underpinning the system.

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