Medievia Mudslinger

October 7th, 2001

Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part VI - By Excrucior

Size Revisited

The scale of your tale is something to consider deeply. What sort of elements are you going to have in it? The forthcoming mob factions sweeping across the continent is a prime example of this - I can see my inbox filling up with tales of how people fought against massive numbers of foes and still they kept coming...

Would that work as a tale? Not really. You see, you have to have elements of different size as the tale progresses - start small (unless you're very good) and increase the scale as you go along. Maybe your characters start with fighting groups of undead in the graveyard and move on, as characters do in their careers, to greater things - acolytes in the Xezadha Cathedral, Soldiers in Shadowclaw, various nasties in the Warrens of the Moshata. Your tale should be like that - not in plot (a single story should be a small snippet from some player's existence, not his or her life story), but increasing in intensity to a final climax.

Don't start with the main climactic battle (you can cheerfully start with a fight but not the main one) - it needs introducing with an appropriate amount of text. Think of all the films you've seen - there are usually many scenes of characterization with a few actions scenes. Starting with a large battle is difficult to get away with as to increase the tension for the climax you have to justify the greater forces involved later on. You could end up with ludicrously sized forces doing battle against each other. It loses all believability at that point. I'll cheerfully admit that you can get away with something like this - Saving Private Ryan being a classic of the example - but I wouldn't advise trying it unless you're very good.

The Battle of the Five Armies came nearly at the end of Lord of the Rings when many skirmishes had taken place. The Death Star exploded at the end of Star Wars after many Tie Fighters and X-Wings had exploded in several scenes before the final assault. The savage sword of Conan hewed mostly the standard mercenary types until it took out the main bad guy at the end of the tale. The Last Starfighter was only tested its 'death blossom' attack at the finale of the film. See the common thread?

Another aspect of scale is the length of the tale. Remember that you're writing what should be a short story. Can you justify what you're trying to get over in that length of text? It's hard to work an army into that context.

Then there's the size of the forces involved. Read most novels and you'll see the tried and tested method of taking on the forces of darkness (or good - depends how you feel) - the small group of people following destiny and against all the odds (usual cliches - you've heard them before). Try and stick with small group against big odds as advice - it's worked in novel after novel, series after series for a long time. It allows characterization and the chance for the audience to empathize with the protagonists. The plucky band of rebels in Star Wars are sympathetic characters, the anonymous stormtroopers are just symbols of the massive Imperial machine and a viewer often felt good about their destruction. The smaller group allows the element of stealth to be used, another method of generating tension. Is this the best method of all? It certainly seems to be the most common and it fits with the style of the game itself.

You could try the solo mission against all odds, but that often leads to a very flat "I did this, I did that," sort of style. It's far better to have a group of folk who can work together and complement each others' skills. Use them to work off each other for characterization to add depth and human interest. Try reading some mainline fantasy and thinking about what scales of forces they use.

Can you use massive forces in your tale? If you can justify them, sure, but remember that we really want a short tale with interest for the reader. We also want tales to be Medievian in nature - there are no real armies in the game, players do not experience this. Getting a justification for that which I would accept would be more than a little difficult.

Also, you need to take into account the size of each scene in relation to the others. Get your scales in order here. Is the scene important? Make sure it's a decent length. Is it a piece of minor relevance? You can get away with a small mention then. Make sure you keep this in mind because of the type of story - we're looking for a short story and that forces you to take out a lot of padding that you can get away with in the longer novels.

There is one other consideration of scale here - equipment and cash in the game. Just how are you going to deal with these issues? Gold is heavy, we all know this. In the game, you can finish a trade run and obtain a million gold coins. How do you transport this? You can withdraw massive amounts from the bank, but in reality how can you carry this much? Scaling it down is one way to make the tale credible, but even better is to not mention amounts at all.

The teller smiled at me as I handed over the cash requisition slip with the details of my account. She probably smiled that way at everyone withdrawing that much, but if I was paying the dragons for all my clan to fly to Trellor, I couldn't afford take her out to dinner.

Hmm, a redhead.

Maybe next time.

I don't mention how much, but I certainly suggest that there's a large amount involved.

The merchant sniffed as he looked into the back of the wagon. He named an amount. Excrucior suggested more than half again. The merchant snorted in disdain. Excrucior threatened to set his imps on the fellow. The merchant sniffed and looked at him with disdain. Excrucior brought out Mank, imp extraordinaire, and the merchant fetched his gold chest with unseemly haste.

Silly, but I felt like it. A short piece denoting haggling and pointing out that people regarded the goods as of some value. Again, I don't mention how much, but I mention scales of relative value.

Think about equipment as well. It comes in many forms, and most players will have a rather unusual set of gear. Do you describe someone as wearing an insect's legs on the arms, a squawking parrot on their head and holding a dragon's tooth? It would make a rather unusual picture to say the least, especially if everyone else has similar equipment. It's best to ignore these sort of elements and try and describe characters as being in ordinary armor and wielding normal weapons (unless trying for comedy, of course). Having just one magical item on a person makes it much more valuable than having valuable equipment festooned from every extremity, especially equipment that really should be scarce. A MudSlinger author once wrote, "How many hands did Vecna have, anyway?" Think on that when describing your characters.

This is rather related to the next aspect we'll be considering - what is a game system element and what is a fictional element.


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