Picture, if you will, the following scene. It is fight day down at the coliseum, and the crowds are bigger than ever. The undefeated champion of the ring, victor of twelve fights, and most beloved fighter of the city will be facing off against Captain Lucien, a war veteran of four battles. Why Lucien is fighting the Champion no one knows, sentencing for a crime perhaps? It does happen, after all. However, no one is wondering why the fight is happening, they just want to know how the Champion will win this time. The fight starts, and quickly the cheering of the crowd turns into gasps of horror as Lucien neatly slays their hero. Throughout the crowd a question erupts, how could this happen?
Sport vs. Life & Death
Continuing the trend from yesterday, the answer to the above question is the bold text right above these words. The reason why Lucien is able to beat the Champion, and in record time, is because Lucien has learned - mastered really - fighting as a form of survival. To Lucien, a fight is a matter of life and death. The Champion on the other hand is a sportsman. Yes, people do die in the ring, but what is more important is putting on a show and entertaining the crowd. Unfortunately, when you are putting on a show, you give your opponent chances and openings. A fighter who only fights for life and death, will of course capitalize on these openings, and then...well, the fight is over.
We still have this today. Look at MMA on television, or professional wrestling, and then compare it to what you know of real fighting. If you can't do that, then a cheap - and loose - approximation can be found in the movies. Take a look at how the one on one fight against the big bad differs against the fights against hordes of minions. Against the minions, short and brutal moves are used to drop them quickly, so the hero can move on to the next one. Against the big bad, the fight goes back and forth, parries and dodges are all over the place. Both fighters perform feats that can only be called 'eye candy'. This is fighting for sport, to entertain.
Flash vs. Substance
Looking at it another way, the Gladiator's fighting style is full of flash. Flash is what entertains the folks in the seats, makes them get all riled up and then throw down money afterwards. Substance is what actually wins the fight. Now, in any conflict there is a presence of both Flash and Substance, the question is simply where the person is favoring. Are they leaning towards flash? Or are they leaning towards substance?
Looking back at our example from yesterday (Batman vs. Kick-Ass), Batman's take down of the room is leaning towards flash. He is putting on a show (we'll talk about for whom tomorrow), and while he is taking the room down - and is capable of pure substance - in this case he is more focused on the show than the actual fighting. That is why he gives everyone their "Oh Crap" moment when he arrives, and why he lets them come to him. Kick-Ass, on the other hand, is leaning towards substance. There is very little flash to what is going on in his (and his crew's) take down of the room. They literally just walk in and dispense beatings with baseball bats.
The point to this entry is to show that both have their uses, and their place. As I said above, I'll go into what the players can really get out of Flash tomorrow, and substance is self evident. However, the key thing here is for you as the GM to remember that both have their places. A person who isn't leaning towards flash, but is prize fighting, is going to quickly find themselves unpopular and not making as much money. Why? Because their fights aren't entertaining, and if the fights aren't entertaining, it won't draw a crowd or bettors to bet on it. Then, no one is making money, and the fighter is going to quickly find themselves without a gig, or much much worse.
On the other hand, someone who is showboating during a chase, is likely going to end up losing. Why? They're taking unnecessary risks in the interest of showing off, and increased risk means that it is much more likely for everything to go wrong. You don't want to be trying to show off a cool move when the other guy just wants his knife in your ribs. That is, unless you don't mind dying before showing off your cool moves.
Tomorrow, we're going to look at the uses of theatricality, and why your players may want to use it. More to the point, it may give some ideas on how to react to the use of theatricality, and the lack there of.