In chapter 10, things are coming to a close in the Arenas.
The chapter opens with Nameless’ acceptance for the Ascendance trials, which is the only way out of the fights for anyone who has been condemned to the Sands. I drew heavily on actual history when I decided to set this chapter up, trying to give it a sense of reality without taking the story too far off course, or making it unbelievable.
There’s a little back story that went into this, which I didn’t write into the actual narrative. When setting up the Trials, I wanted to have the accepted fighters have a natural progression of selection. I wasn’t sure how many would be reasonable for entry, though the story itself indicates anyone can be put forward, so long as their master has enough prestige, they are sponsored by a runner (though a few exceptions are made from time to time), and the fighter’s schedule is almost impossible to fill because no one wants to go up against them. This ensures that recognized champions are the only ones who escape, and that the strongest, meanest, and toughest are skimmed out of the Arenas to keep the fights entertaining. Similar to Roman gladiator fights where the champions can fight their way to freedom, or earn enough gold to buy their way out of the bloodshed.
However, once I knew there could be only one survivor from the fights, I was able to build a ladder-style ranking back down to the quarter final level. So, this chapter starts with the broader candidate pool, and winnows it down through a series of fights to the 16 remaining fighters who enter the quarter finals.
With that in mind, I also had to figure out how to set up the trials so the fighters would actually make it to the end, yet not be unbelievably exhausted. For this, I went through a huge amount of information on the big Roman circuses, looking specifically at the multi-day ones hosted by the Ceasars in celebration of birthdays or anniversaries. Most of those indicated the fighters were sent out against untrained opponents early in the day, and the skill levels increased as the day progressed. Rather than have the Trials cycle on a daily basis, I decided to have the matches run straight through, from unskilled into the skilled. I knew that the fighters would need to have some rest (and food) during the event, and so this was set up with the rest rotations occurring after the fighter came back in from a fight. This let them face the unskilled with the most rest, then start to wear down their endurance as the skill levels of the opponents improved and the pool of candidates thinned. On paper, at least, it would appear the rest times did not increase, as the fight lengths should have increased as the skill levels became closer to matching. However, in reality, how often does the paper schedule actually translate the way you expect it to? It didn’t in this case either.
As the skill levels between the fighters came closer to parity, the fights became shorter. Since only one fighter left the Arenas, this also meant there were fewer fights to stretch the time as well.
I know, I’m being mean to the fighters. The culture is even worse, though for the moment only a glimpse of how ugly it is has been seen.
Once the unskilled fights were out of the way, the next step was to figure out how to structure the last rounds. For this, I sat down with Excel, dice, and the list of fighting styles I had established. I had 16 matches to set up for the quarter finals, which meant 15 styles to select. I also wanted to set up the approximate times, so I knew just how exhausted the fighters were. A little more research brought to light that even a long gladiator fight usually was no more than 15 minutes (quarter glass in the book), so that meant the quarter finals would consume 4 hours. That’s a long time when you’re waiting on a fight. Since I had established how each of the candidates were superbly conditioned for an extensive series of matches, I then quickly worked back through the math to find out how long they would have been on rotation to this point. I was stunned when I realized it only equaled 8 days. That much bloodshed in such a short amount of time.
I also worked through the math for what type of schedule the remaining 16 fighters had seen to make sure they hadn’t gone over the typical six to eight matches in a given 12 hour period. Up to this point, if I remember my spreadsheet properly, I was still in the clear. Now, it was time to really start turning the screws on these poor fighters, and put them out of their misery. And, so with the styles selected, the times set up, and the ladder ready to go, it was time to start rolling the dice for the first pairings, and the winners of the quarter final matches. That’s how come there are some strange pairings at this point. It was rather interesting to figure out how the victor could have won when you have a spear vs a net, or a trident vs a sword.
After the quarter finals, the semi-finals were up for grabs. This time, at least the pairings were a little more selective, and so those scenes were a little easier to wright. However, here I had to take into account just who had how much rest since their last match. This is when the general exhaustion of the preceding days finally comes into play. Knowing that the fighters are tired, means I know they will be making mistakes. Once again, the dice came into play to help establish what types of mistakes they made. The more mistakes, the more injured. The more injured, the more mistakes. What a wonderful cycle of destruction I got to wage on these fellows.
Everything finally wraps up in preparation for the actual final fight with Nameless still on his feet, but much of his “vim and vinegar” knocked out. The remaining fighters are given a large meal, a chance to sleep, and a Healing so they can provide the maximum amount of entertainment before the victor leaves the Arenas forever.