Harpastum Players ( D&D 5E Bonus Content for ‘In the Footsteps of Hercules’)

Michael O. Varhola

Characters might end up encountering or even walking alongside all sorts of people on the road, and those in the playtest group for Skirmisher Publishing's In the Footsteps of Hercules universal sourcebook kept running into a bunch of rambunctious young athletes who play a rugby-like ball game called harpastum that was popular throughout the Classical world. Those ball players were not exactly villains, and individually could be alright, but they tended to act like hooligans when they were in a group and reinforcing each other’s bad behavior through goading and bullying. 

In our playtest game, for which we use the D&D 5E rules, the characters encounter a group of five basic harpastum players, semi-professional teenage athletes from nearby Sparta, during the first leg of their journey — corresponding to Hercules’ battle with the Nemean Lion — and defeat them in a grudge match (commemorated in our “Tiryns to Nemea” live-play episode). Then, a few months later, while they are passing through Nemea again, they engage a mixed group of ten of them in an epic battle at the bathhouse there (commemorated in our “At the Baths of Nemea” live-play episode). No deaths occurred on either side in these frays. 

Following are three sets of D&D 5E statistics that can be used to create teams of such characters and encounters with them. It bears mentioning that any sort of sport appropriate to the setting can be substituted for harpastum. Likewise, our teams were mixed gender and about 80% male and 20% female but storytellers can vary this as they see fit. 

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Harpastum Player
Medium Humanoid (Human), neutral (lawful evil)
 
Armor Class: 11
Hit Points: 13 (2d8+4)
Speed: 30 ft.
 
STR             DEX             CON             INT               WIS              CHA
13 (+1)         12 (+1)         14 (+2)         10 (+0)         10 (+0)         10 (+0)
 
Skills: Athletics +5, Intimidation +2
Senses: Passive Perception 12
Languages: Common (Greek)
Challenge: ¼ (50 XP)
 
Athletic. As a semi-professional athlete, a harpastum player is trained to use his body in ways that go beyond what normal people are able to do. He adds double his proficiency bonus to Strength (Athletics) skill checks and up to once per day when he fails a Strength or Constitution check he may attempt it again.
 
Actions
Unarmed Strike. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 2 (1+1) bludgeoning damage.
Dagger. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d4+1) piercing damage.
Harpastum Ball. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 2 (1+1) bludgeoning damage.
 
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Variant: Varsity Harpastum Player
A Varsity Harpastum Player is a more experienced sort of ball player that is a bit tougher and more experienced than the most basic character of this sort and which has a CR of 1/2 (100 XP), 19 (3d8+6) Hit Points, and the following trait:
          Second Wind (1/short or long rest). A Varsity Harpastum Player has a limited well of stamina that it can draw on to protect itself from harm. On its turn, it can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d10+3.
 
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Harpastum Player Captain
Medium Humanoid (Human), neutral (lawful evil)
 
Armor Class: 12
Hit Points: 26 (4d8+8)
Speed: 30 ft.
 
STR             DEX             CON             INT               WIS              CHA
16 (+3)         14 (+2)         15 (+2)         10 (+0)         10 (+0)         13 (+1)
 
Saving Throws: Str +5, Con +4
Skills: Athletics +7, Intimidation +3
Senses: Passive Perception 12
Languages: Common (Greek)
Challenge: 1 (200 XP)
 
Athletic. As a semi-professional athlete, a Harpastum Player Captain is trained to use his body in ways that go beyond what normal people are able to do. He adds double his proficiency bonus to Strength (Athletics) skill checks and up to once per day when he fails a Strength or Constitution check he may attempt it again.
 
Leadership. A Harpastum Player Captain can direct the activities of his teammates and can use up to one of the following maneuvers on each of his or her turns if the conditions for them are met:
          Directed Strike. When he takes the Attack action on his turn, he can forgo one of his attacks and use a bonus action to direct one of his companions to strike. When he does so, he chooses a friendly creature who can see or hear him and that creature can immediately use its reaction to make one weapon attack, adding 1d8 to its damage roll if it hits.
          Maneuvering Attack. When he hits a creature with a weapon attack, he adds 1d8 to the attack’s damage roll and chooses a friendly creature who can see or hear him. That creature can use its reaction to move up to half its speed without provoking opportunity attacks from the target of her attack.
          Bolster Ally. On his turn, he can use a bonus action to bolster the resolve of one of his companions. When he does so, he chooses a friendly creature who can see or hear him and it gains 1d8 temporary hit points. This effect cannot be used again on the same creature while it still has temporary hit points received from it previously. 
 
Second Wind (1/short or long rest). A Varsity Harpastum Player has a limited well of stamina that it can draw on to protect itself from harm. On its turn, it can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d10+4.
 
Actions
Unarmed Strike. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1+3) bludgeoning damage.
Dagger. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d4+3) piercing damage.
Harpastum Ball. Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1+3) bludgeoning damage.