One of my favourite subjects to write about is how systems, especially broken or corrupted systems, can define a character or a conflict. My favourite example is Javert from Les Miserables, an unrelenting, scrupulous Paladin of an utterly dysfunctional system of Law.
In my next Domains of the Chosen novel, I am delving into how the systems that have evolved around the Grand Championships of the Great Games can draw a series of characters in and change their lives. The novel begins with how these people react to hearing that the event will take place, their feelings, the plots they hatch, and the hopes they have and follows them through to the end.
For those of you who have not read my books, the Great Games are a mixture of bloodsports, magic, and politics, and the Grand Championships determine who is worthy to join the Chosen, immortal rulers of the Domains. (You can read a bit about the Great Games in my free short story.)
The Grand Championships are a huge event, on the scale of an Olympic games or the Fifa world cup. They are usually held every fifty years, but if a Chosen dies they are the tournament is held sooner to find a replacement. In my new book, a Chosen has died very soon after the previous tournament was held, and everyone is caught off guard and left scrambling as the new Grand Championship is held. Over the years tradition, politics, corruption and plain old opportunism have led to an elaborate set of mechanisms surrounding the games. Let me break it down:
The Core of the Grand Championships (the basic system)
- Location: The Grand Championships are held in the Grand Arena of the city of Krass, only during the summer. Krass is the Capital of the Empire, an enormous port city analogous to New York/Rome/London as the focal point of a dominant power. The Grand Arena seats over five hundred thousand spectators, a truly fantastic amount of people crammed into one place. This last part is more important than you might think, unless you understand food services, event planning, or sewage. Since the event is always held in the same place, the Grand Arena is the focal point of the Games, almost a place of pilgrimage for true fans.
- Selection, Part One: Before the event is held the Gladiators must be selected. Selection begins with fans from all over the Domains coming for the cast their votes for their favourite Master Rank (50+ fights & 10 ranking tests passed) Gladiators. The Hundred Gladiators with the most votes make the short list. It is important to note that this is at least partially a popularity contest. A skilled, but boring Gladiator will often lose out in the voting to a fighter with a more compelling story or more fan support. This works to Gavin’s favour in Bloodlust: Will to Power, one of my earlier works.
- Selection, Part Two: The short list of one hundred Gladiators picked in the open vote must now be narrowed down to fifty fighters. The voting for this part of the selection is limited to members of the highest Popular Assembly and the Council of the Chosen. The politics and horse-trading at this stage is intense, as each faction tries to find the candidates that have the best chance of winning while trying to sabotage the efforts of rivals both in and out of their factions. They must do so without annoying the people as a whole, who will riot if a big favourite is dropped from the shortlist.
- The Planning and the Parade: Once the final selection is made and the event is booked, preparations for the Grand Championships begin. The people of the Domains are so mad for the Great Games that work more or less ceases, especially in Krass, around the time of the event. This means that anyone doing anything important, such as shipping ammunition or even waging war, must plan around the Grand Championships or suffer some disruption. The event itself begins with an enormous day-long parade winding through the streets of Krass and ending in the huge parade ground in front of the Grand Arena. The Logistics of this parade are impressive, and also surprisingly important (more on that in part two)
- The Qualifying Round: Most of the matches fought in the Grand Championships are against other Gladiators. However, many fans consider the very essence of the Great Games to be their favoured fighters facing ferocious monsters. Also fifty is an unwieldy number for a single elimination tournament 😀 Thus every single Gladiator must face off against a monster in the qualifying round. The devil is in the details in this round, where some competitors might end up facing tougher monsters than others and the scoring system is often criticized.
- That One Little Wrinkle: The rest of the Grand Tournament is surprisingly simple. The remaining Gladiators face off against each other in single elimination matches. However, various exceptions and rules can change the nature of each match. A Gladiator can declare Ut Nex before a match, forcing his or her opponent to agree to fight to the death or forfeit the match. Some Gladiators use this as an intimidation tactic, although you can see how it might backfire.
- That Other Little Wrinkle: It is not impossible that someone is killed or drops out of the Tournament. If this happens a new Gladiator is taken from the selection. Often this causes a riot, and the Gladiator added to the tournament is sometimes picked just to appease the rioters. Sometimes the riots are goaded on purpose for just this reason.
- Cheating, and Exploits: It is very hard to just cheat at the Great Games, especially at the Grand Championships. But, with so much riding on the line, it is more than worth the risk. Illegal weapons, bribed officials, banned substances, and everything else you might think of can and will be tried. Much worse than overt cheating, however, are those who exploit the rules of the arena to their advantage. More on that in part two.