Doom of the Drow
The Fighting Pit of the House of Bastards
- by Brendan Weinhold
The House of Bastards is known for their pleasures, and no where is that clearer than in their fighting arenas.
Slaves who are raised from birth by the Matron Mother and her brood are trained not only to be capable warriors, but also to take pleasure in both the blood they wring from their enemies and in the blood their bodies spill.
Their pit is 15 feet deep, and with raked seating that can hold 500 to 600 comfortably or about 1,000 standing and smashed together. It is in near-constant use, but rarely filled to capacity.
Beneath the seating of the pits are cells 10 feet by 10 feet for the fighters who are regularly called to fight. Some slaves who have become champions have lived in their cells for decades, and have acquired enough favor that they are comfortably furnished, and are free to come and go mostly as they wish. The pits are guarded by 20 bribable house soldiers, though the bribes must be high enough to doubly compensate House X'Larraz'et'soj for all calculated damages. A veneer of stoicism serves these soldiers well, as bribes tend to be higher if the one doing the bribing is unsure. A delicate balance must be found, because it must always seem just barely easier to bribe than to simply assassinate.
Most days feature non-lethal fights between the slaves of the house or potentially but rarely lethal fights between slaves and one or more beasts. Occasionally, other houses will enter slaves in competitions there, but only against beasts or slaves from other houses, unless the other house pays a very high fee. X'Larraz'et'soj knows better than to risk a slave against an untrustworthy foe without recompense.
On the high holidays, entire battles are staged. These can be lethal, but any combatant lying unconscious is left alone and most survive to fight another day.
The potential for gaining worth for a slave is most keen when the danger is greatest, in lethal combats against another house's slave or even freeman.
The last day of the month is set aside for valued members of houses to compete. The day is full, and this is one of the few times that non-lethal matches are well-attended. The betting is heaviest on these days as well, and the entrance fees are high. Most entrants are desperate for one reason or another, often because they are faced with losing status or are in desperate need of some major sum of money.
Very rarely, the X'Larraz'et'soj house arena will be chosen as the venue for death match between two nobles. While assassinations are much more common, sometimes there's something to be said for spectacularly and publicly disemboweling your enemy. When this is done, it is rarely a fair fight. The more politically powerful of the combatants ushers in the one to be sacrificed, demonstrating their supreme power over their enemy by forcing them into this ritual. Only once in a century does the expected sacrifice prevail, usually with unexpected manipulations – unforeseen allies strengthen them. Songs are sung, and they are lofted into positions of power. Usually, everything goes as planned and the powerful grow ever more prestigious.
The arena is a major source of income for the house:
* The house acts as the bookie for all public bets and it arranges the odds so it takes in ~5-10% of all bets. Most common spectators do not make public bets, for the minimum is relatively expense, but it is a sign of nobility (and wealth) to publicly declare support for a fighter. The honor to the house, win-or-lose, of that public declaration of support is not insignificant. Private betting is forbidden, but happens anyway, and is mostly ignored, unless punishing the careless individual is politically convenient.
* For the privilege of fighting in the pits, and to cover the loss of a beast, the house of an entrant pays a fee.
* "Cheating" is not discouraged, but rather is paid for. There is no shame in being wealthy enough (or having a wealthy enough patron) to afford the best equipment. The house weapons master judges the benefits of the equipment the fighter brings and raises the entrance fee accordingly. To be well-equipped means to be well-regarded, and the well-regarded can expect their performance to be well-rewarded by the spectators, who are encouraged to toss small items of value to the winner after the match.
* All fights tend to be rowdy events for the spectators. For nobles who don't want their excitement seen, private boxes are available for a fee.
* Vendors pay a modest fee to hawk wares inside the stadium.
In one of the most famous matches in the pits, a great champion, Qar'tol, child and slave of the Matron Mother, half-minotaur and half-drow, was bribed enough to throw a fight in a lethal competition with a petty noble of the ruling council. His death brought great wealth to House X'Larraz'et'Soj, and the Bastard House tells stories of the look of ecstasy on the face of his decapitated head. The events that match set in motion were used to loft the house from the ranks of the common houses into the lower houses of nobility.