One of the running themes of my musings on this blog are how structures and systems can become the enemies of people, and how this can make for great genre fiction. I find it interesting how modern escapism is often apocalyptic in nature: in some ways we often end up pleased when the Zombies or that Meteorite come along and finally wipe out the monumental systems that dominate our lives. No matter how horrible the walking dead gets at least they don’t have to worry about debt, work, taxes, or unrelenting boredom.
One of the problems with my early D&D games, and other works is that when I put effort into world-building I often created these clockwork societies and systems that never changed. Much of this is because I wanted to preserve my work. Sadly, I found that these eternal structures were lacking because they did not change. Imperfect beings create imperfect things, and that includes institutions, cultures, and even beliefs. Only those that acknowledge their imperfections and take steps to adapt and change can really stand the test of time. (Change just for the sake of change doesn’t count — that is just another system in a way. I’m looking at you new WordPress UI.)
Last week I outlined the basic system of the Grand Championships. This week I will illustrate the sort of corruptions that have changed this system over time. Think of this as an example of how systems can change over time. There are exploits, and then regulations put in place to halt those exploits, then there are corruptions that become popular changes, almost an evolution of the system.
Here are some examples, using the structure of the Grand Championships from last week’s post
- Location: The Grand Championships are always held in the City of Krass. How can this be exploited? well for one, any Gladiators who have easy access to the City of Krass have a kind of home-field advantage. While people come from all over the Domains for the Grand Championships, the largest significant group in the arena crowds will be from the City. Gladiators who spend time wooing the people of Krass thus have a significant advantage in a show of thumbs.
- Selection Part One: Part one of the selection is a general vote open to any citizen in Krass. The system here is the same as gaming the system in any Democratic election. Skilled Gladiators will often lose out to more interesting or popular fighters. In a sense this is the original corruption of the games. It was supposed to pick the best fighter, but popularity soon became a factor.
- Selection Part Two: This part is utterly corrupt. The Factions and the Chosen trade favours and butt heads over the previously selected candidates. The only oversight is that the people will riot if a favourite is left out. Exploits here include getting rid of fighters who might be a danger to your Gladiator, changing patrons, and so on.
- The Parade: On the surface the parade is the least important part of the Grand Championships, merely a way for the Gladiators to present themselves to the people. And yet it becomes surprisingly important, since Gladiators who make a great impression here can sway the crowds of Krass. I like The Hunger Games for understanding the importance of presentation in a contest of this sort with Katniss and her flaming gown. There are other exploits in the parade as well. Most importantly: who gets to provide food and drink and who gets other important contracts for parade day. The parade is a huge holiday in Krass, and very few places are open. Those that are given contracts to provide services during the parade gain wealth and reputation, at least if they don’t mess up. Getting these contracts becomes a matter of great importance with all sorts of wheeling and dealing.
- The Qualifying Round: Each Gladiator faces a monster in the qualifying round. Judges score how each Gladiator fares and the lowest eighteen fighters are eliminated. Judging is fraught with corruption, of course, just look at Olympic figure skating. However, it is also possible for a Gladiator to be put up against a monster that is too easy or too hard.
- That One Little Wrinkle: Ut Nex, the challenge to a Deathmatch forces the other Gladiator to make a split second decision on whether or not they will put everything on the line. Deathmatches tend to gain the attention of the crowd, which allows a less skilled fighter willing to risk more a secondary path to victory. Few Gladiators will turn down Ut Nex, mostly due to pride, so one must make sure one can win. Interestingly enough Ut Nex in the qualifying round is another way for a Gladiator to show show mad courage.
- That Other Little Wrinkle: Assassinating the other Gladiators is just plain ol’ cheating. However the politics of such a manoeuvre would likely be very interesting
- Cheating and Exploits: Anything that can be abused to gain an advantage will be abused to gain an advantage. The Gladiators have to be on guard. The Deliberative have to monitor everything. And yet all of these people are human with desires and needs that can be pried at to gain advantage. A lusty Gladiator might be lured into a late night dalliance before a crucial match that leaves him strangely drained. A lucky pre-fight meal at a favourite restaurant might be drugged. Last minute advice on how to exploit an opponent’s fighting styles. An accident on the training grounds. The sudden death of a loved one. There are many possibilities for exploitation, and the best of them are the head games that mess with the psychology of individual fighters. After all, at the highest levels of competition, it is often focus and the will to win that carry the day.