Last Updated on January 22, 2023
“You should see the Colosseum, Tiefling. Fifty-thousand Orcs… watching every movement of your sword… willing you to make that killer blow. The silence before you strike and the noise afterwards. It rises. It rises up… like a storm. As if you were the thunder god himself.”
Whether you’re a freed slave drenched in the blood of a thousand foes, a flamboyant luchadore in shiny golden hot pants, or just another meat sack destined to bleed out on the sands of the Colosseum, the Gladiator background is a great source of narrative color for your character in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit, one type of musical instrument
Equipment: An inexpensive but unusual weapon, the favor of an admirer (love letter, lock of hair, or trinket), a costume, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: By Popular Demand
Your years spent in the arena mean that you can always find work performing in any venue that features combat for entertainment — perhaps a gladiatorial arena or secret pit fighting club.
When you perform in such a place, you receive a free bed in which to sleep, food of a modest or comfortable standard (it all depends on the quality of the venue), and possibly other perks which likely depend on your success in the arena.
As long as you perform (fight) every night, you can continue to stay there for free, and your nightly appearances make you something of a local celebrity. Strangers in the local area may recognize you, and are usually disposed towards taking a liking to you – assuming they didn’t lose a large sum of money the previous night betting you would lose.
Putting on a Show
Strangely, the Gladiator background in D&D 5e – which is actually a variant option for the Entertainer background – has a lot more in common with real world gladiators from the heyday of the Roman Empire than the way such fighters tend to be portrayed in films.
In real life, a gladiator was an expensive investment, a local celebrity who might one day ascend to become one of the most famous and beloved people in the empire.
As such, very few bouts between gladiators actually ended in a kill, and the classic image of the adjudicator delivering a death sentence would probably have been reserved only for emperors.
In antiquity – as well as in D&D – gladiators actually had more in common with modern-day professional wrestlers, working together on a lavish, violent show to entertain the crowd – even if the warriors in the arena are all seen later getting a bite to eat together and discussing the next day’s match.
Whether gladiatorial combat in your campaign is more sequined tights and staged piledrivers than relentless bloodshed (I think you could have either, depending on the areas you visit – which could lead to some hilarious miscommunications), stealing special moves, personas, and storylines from modern-day pro wrestling is definitely going to give your Gladiator a touch of much-needed pizazz.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to slaughter a dozen rampaging goblins or dancing around with sweaty men in fantasy lycra: you gotta give the crowd a show.
As an alternative, I also really like the idea of an incredibly famous Gladiator who’s trying to leave it all behind for a life as an adventurer. Obviously, no one takes them seriously, remembering only their days in skintight leather and a shiny cape.
When you choose the background, you get to choose a costume and an usual (but inexpensive) weapon to be part of your act. You might select traditionally exotic gladiatorial weapons like a Net or a Trident, or something even stranger.
Your costume also likely determines a lot about what kind of Gladiator you are (not to mention what kind of life you led before embarking upon a life in the fighting pits) and how you go about “branding” yourself in the arena.
You could choose a particular animal or monster to be your emblem, wearing it emblazoned upon your armor and shield – or perhaps donning a crude helmet in its likeness.
Whatever you choose, work it into your “pro wrestler” persona, play it larger than life, and build that fantasy brand. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get a movie deal out of it.
Whatever costume (and weapon) you choose, make it distinctive; it’s how your loving audience picks you out of a crowd.
When you choose the Gladiator background, choose a Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond, and Flaw.
In the basic rules, the Gladiator uses the same Suggested Characteristics available to the Entertainer. You can choose from that list by clicking the link to our guide here.
However, if you want something a little more… gladiatorial, you can pick from the tables we’ve written below, or roll dice to randomize the process. Alternatively, you can make up your own.
|1||I never miss an opportunity to be the center of attention.|
|2||I speak about the battles I reenacted in the arena as though they were real.|
|3||My one true love is my fans.|
|4||This Gladiator speaks about themself in the third person.|
|5||People might get annoyed about the fact I constantly sing my own theme song, but they can’t deny it’s catchy.|
|6||My weapons and armor are meticulously polished at all times.|
|7||I’m haunted by the things I did to win my freedom.|
|8||I’m never quite sure if people are acting or not.|
|1||Beauty. When I fight, I bring joy to thousands. (Good)|
|2||Tradition. The sands of the arena tell a thousand stories, and it is an honor to continue the legacy of those who fought before me. (Lawful)|
|3||Creativity. The crowd loves a surprise. (Chaotic)|
|4||Fame. If there’s no adoring crowd to witness my epic deeds, what’s the point? (Neutral)|
|5||Cruelty. I “accidentally” killed more than a few competitors when we were just putting on a show. They want a show? I’ll give them a show.|
|6||Loyalty. Those who fight beside me in the arena or in the dungeon are comrades I’ll stick by no matter what. (Any)|
|1||My blade is my most treasured possession. By its edge, I won my freedom.|
|2||Slavers took me from my home. Some day I’ll get back to my family.|
|3||I want to be famous, whatever it takes.|
|4||I idolize a hero of the old tales and measure my deeds against that person’s.|
|5||I will do anything to prove myself superior to my hated rival.|
|6||I would do anything to bring down the person who forced this life upon me.|
|1||I’ll do anything to win fame and renown.|
|2||I’m a sucker for a pretty face.|
|3||I am so far from my home that I know not how to get back.|
|4||I killed another gladiator by mistake, and now their master wants my head. It was a mistake that I will likely repeat.|
|5||I have trouble keeping my true feelings hidden. My sharp tongue lands me in trouble.|
|6||A lifetime of mock battles failed utterly to prepare me for the real thing.|
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.