October 7th, 2001
Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part VI - By Excrucior
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
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
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
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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