Oct 25

Trollbabe and Scale: Examples of Heroic Power, Part 2


TalesOfAGM Dice Sq SmA fourth look at the ideas of Ron Edwards expressed in his game Trollbabe.



Today I shall complete the series on the ten scales by giving examples for the final five.


Scaled Examples

As with the previous article, to illustrate the principles of scale, I shall offer four examples of each scale in action. To put these examples into the context of the game, I shall use three archetypal characters: a rogue, a mage and a warrior. My final example will be aimed at the GM, and consider the types of plots that each scale suggest.


For the social- and skill-based examples we shall be following the career of Anlaf, a young rogue. The combat examples will show Theano as she increases in power. Finally, the magic examples will be taken from the career of Ragnarr the Storm Mage.


Ten Scales

trollbabeSo what are these scales? Trollbabe only has seven scales, but I have extrapolated upwards to expand the scope to fill all the likely options for a game. The examples are given for a fantasy game, but the principle also remains true for modern and SF games.


This article considers the last five of this series of ten scales.


6 A City

Or a large army.


Anlaf the rogue has expanded his control even wider at this scale, and could be the crime boss who effectively controls an entire city. Perhaps he is the leader of a pirate settlement, a fantasy version of Tortuga. He may even be a charismatic leader of a city, risen from the ranks of commoners to hold a position of power on the basis of his oratory alone.


Theano the warrior might be a noble now, with a fiefdom to rule. She could be the greatest general in the kingdom, who leads the King’s armies in battle. Perhaps she is a mercenary captain with an elite regiment of troops that are the equal in battle to a less experience force of greater numbers. The film 300 is an example of this scale.


Ragnarr the Storm Mage could now take the classic role of the Grand Vizier who is the power behind the throne for a city state. He may even rule a city in his own right, establishing a magocracy, a government by magic. Ragnarr’s spells are now truly epic, capable of mass effects, or extensive duration.


For the GM, the potential plots at this scale match the possibilities outlined above. The stakes are now city-wide, which suggests a formidable antagonist. A rampaging dragon, or a large army could threaten the city. Likewise, a branching conspiracy may seek to take control of the city. Political rivalry is a good way to set the stakes high, but in a context where simply killing the opposition is rarely a good response.


7 A Country

This scale represents a large geographical area, perhaps a few cites and associated towns and villages.


Now Anlaf is a powerful figure on a national stage, taking an active role in the Royal Court. He could have undue influence over the Queen, and thus his Thieves Guild can act with impunity. Perhaps his songs or plays are now the height of fashion, and he can subtly influence national politics through the subjects he presents at Court. Or possibly he is just a notorious thief who has stolen the Crown Jewels and the entire army is scouring the kingdom for his hideout, while all the time he lounges at noble banquets in the role of an idle fop. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a good example of a rogue at this scale.


Quite simply, Theano can be a warrior queen at this scale. She has risen now from leading a kingdom’s army to ruling it. Perhaps she is the power behind the throne, a king maker who has the military might to take the throne, but no wish to sit upon it. As a lone hero she is the match for even mighty dragons who could otherwise lay the kingdom to waste.


At this scale Ragnarr the Storm Mage is capable of the greatest spells. He could be the Royal Wizard who tends to the magical welfare of a kingdom. His is the power to summon a storm to blight the crops of a rival kingdom, or thwart the actions of a rival Royal Wizard. He will be counsellor to monarchs, and privy to the greatest secrets of the realm.


The potential plots for the GM grow ever more epic at this scale. Kingdom-wide threats and invasions offer a steady backdrop of drama and conflict. Palace intrigues could have an equally large impact on the setting, but with a tighter focus. Whatever role the Heroes have achieved at this scale, there will always rivals who seek to usurp them. Or perhaps it is the Heroes who are leading a rebellion against a corrupt queen.


8 A Continent

This scale indicates a collection of countries, more than a geographical area. It could also equate to an empire.


Once more Anlaf’s reputation spreads even wider. He could be the crime boss of a criminal empire that spreads across a continent. A network so large that the resources of a single country could not close it down. Perhaps he is the leader of a huge network of spies and informants who know the inner workings of every Royal Palace.


Theano is now at the tip of a great empire, perhaps Empress herself, or the Supreme Commander of the imperial armies. She could be the leader of the equivalent to the Praetorian Guard, the elite body of soldiers who often chose the next Emperor. Or she could be the leader of a barbarian horde so vast that nothing on the continent can stand in its way.


Ragnarr the Storm Mage can now enchant objects of immense power, or cast permanent spells. He might be the dominant voice in the Imperial Palace. Perhaps he is the Head Sage at the greatest library on the continent, a beacon of learning to rival the legendary Library of Alexandria.


The plots keep on expanding in scope. Imperial politics have a wider impact than just national ones, but the logistics and communication problems expand too. The number of factions involved likewise increases as conflicting cultures and nations are added into the mix. Plots at this scale are the epic tales of history, clashing empires and the fall of civilization.



9 A Plane

For most fantasy settings, this scale represents the entire world. For a SF game, then it could be a planet and its satellites.


Now Anlaf is the most famous person in the world, the subject of endless ballads and folk tales. He will have supernatural levels of skill, which appear magical to most people. He could be the head of a clan of ninja-thieves, who can pick any lock, hide in any space and steal whatever they want. In some ways, Anlaf is now rather bored, for there is nothing in the world that can challenge his skills. Anlaf may then turn to travelling the planes to steal artefacts from across the Cosmos.


Theano faces the same problem, she is all powerful and the stuff of legends. Indeed, she may be plagued by young blades seeking her out to prove their worth. For many doubt that the great warrior can be as invulnerable as she is in the tales. She has the skill and power to conquer an entire world, if only she can keep her bickering generals from fighting each other. Or stabbing her in the back.


Alternatively, Theano could send her armies out across the planes. Is the famous Blood War still raging? Or perhaps she wants to carve out her own slice of paradise on another world. She may even be petitioned by a higher power to join their noble cause. Theano may now be the champion of a deity, fighting for the greatest causes in the Cosmos.


Ragnarr knows all the secret lore of the world, and likely besieged with petitioners seeking his wisdom. He has become Elminster or Gandalf, with the fate of the whole world in his hands. He is now the ultimate power in the setting, and we all know the temptations of ultimate power.


In a multi-planar game, Ragnarr may seek to build himself a sanctuary away from the plots of his enemies. This would likely be on the Plane of Storm, as he is a Storm Mage, or perhaps on a demi-plane of his own construction. At this scale he could be consorting with demons and Elemental Lords as he bargains for ever greater power, or just information about his rivals.


Just as the Heroes at this stage resemble some of the most famous characters in fantasy literature, so too can the plots. Pick and choose story elements from your favourite books, and throw them at the Heroes. Yet, it does not have to be all about saving the world from yet another Dark Lord. Individual power at this scale will bring its share of personal dramas and intrigues that even the mightiest blade cannot slay. Vary the tempo of your game by highlighting the emotional dramas of the heroes too.


10 The Cosmos

This marks the largest scale for a story, this is where the gods walk.


At this scale the power of our Heroes is so immense that the differences between them as individuals start to disappear. They are now vying with the gods of the setting for power, and their stories move closer together. While the examples for each scale could apply to any of our three Heroes, at this scale there really is only one story: the journey to god-hood.


After battling fiends and planar armies, our Heroes are now set to battle the gods themselves, and stake a claim to immortality. Whether this is by snatching the crown from a current deity, or completing a sacred quest beyond the veil, this is the final challenge. Each of out Heroes is likely to seek a different portfolio of powers, but the duties of being a god and caring for their worshippers will be very similar.


So now it is time to bid farewell to our Heroes. The cosmos echoes to the endless partying of charming Anlaf, God of Wine, Women and Song. Mighty Theano, Goddess of the Righteous Blade stands guard at the portals to the City of Light. Meanwhile cunning Ragnarr, God of Lightning plots from his Fortress of Storm.


Aside from the transitional plot of attaining immortality, the stories at this scale are similar to the previous scales, only writ ever larger. Nameless creatures from beyond that seek to destroy the fabric of reality, or armies of rival gods all line up to challenge our Heroes. As power is so great at this scale, you may want to wrap up the campaign fairly soon.




Of course, you now have some excellent setting creation details to draw upon for the next campaign. Who could resist playing a new Hero who worships a previous character? Enter Roha the Navigator, Icel Frost Axe and Dardanius the Alchemist. What will be their stories?


Due to the length of this series, I split it into two parts. This final part dealt with the scales that are the stuff of epic tales. However, the principle of scales applies to games set at all levels, as I hope the first part illustrated.


What examples of scale have you found in your game? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Happy Gaming

Something for the Weekend next week: Elf or Scroll, Handling the Infodump


2 pings

    • SimplerSimon on October 26, 2014 at 5:54 am
    • Reply

    I am currently seeing a cause of scale gone wrong in a game I’m playing. The GM had us destroy an army one session, then get trounced by a pack of goblins in the next, only to wipe out their entire village after we awoke. I was having trouble explaining the problem to him, but I think I may just point him here. Hopefully, he’ll catch on. The overall story has me hooked, but I think we could all benefit from the technical improvements.

      • Phil on October 26, 2014 at 7:11 am
      • Reply

      Hi Simon,

      Yes, that does sound like a scale issue, which then leads to the Players being confused about what is expected of them.

      This is exactly why I think scale is such a clever concept by Ron Edwards, and something that needs a wider audience. We are all playing with scale in our games, but without it being explained to us, it is too easy to make the same mistakes you are seeing.

      I hope the issue is soon resolved for you.

      All the best

  1. […] The fourth in the series completed the examples of scale with the last five scales. […]

  2. […] Trollbabe and Scale: Examples of Heroic Power, Part 2 […]

Leave a Reply