Weekly Wins 17 and 18: the Sisters get wheels, and a two-part build on the never ever

Time is of the essence, so I’ll make this quick.

A few weeks ago, I started going through my cupboards, dragging everything out, and trying to get on top of my backlog. It’s been kind of fun so far, but this week it became useful…

I’ve been wrestling with a new Basilean list for a tournament next week in an attempt to field a lot more infantry than usual. After a few iterations (and really bad losses in test games) I now have a list that does have more infantry (although this is starting from a base of a single individual, with the Wings of Honeymaize), but also required a Sisterhood chariot regiment (which I didn’t have). Wanting to spend no money I had a wandered through the steaming piles of backlog and came across a GW set that would get me far enough towards a suitable proxy.

Now the kit in question is one of my absolute, all-time favs. Also, I wanted to include one of my fav Mantic models, the new(ish) abbess on foot. I love having her in my lists, although she usually represents a priest. Because it was a case of fav model meets fav model, with the potential for a diorama style multi-base, my imagination started off twenty to the dozen. Soon I had amassed a pile of all sorts of additional models that could be added to the scene, and a backstory had been written (in my head).

 It was going to be EPIC… until reality interrupted and reminded me, I simply didn’t have enough time. My plans were redrawn. I’m not going to go too much into what I had in mind because I really want to see if I can build it as it’s absolutely in the spirit of my current mission. So, I’ll just show you what I’ve got so far… only time will tell if I actually manage to revisit a perfectly serviceable regiment?

See you all soon.

Weekly Wins 14, 15 and 16(ish): angry dwarfs, whiffy Basilean feet, doubles, and a sort of sad goodbye

Time flies when you’re having fun, also when you start a new job and have to run around the south of England for… reasons.

The last few weeks have been just a little on the busy side and it’s resulted in a fair few trips to the best of all the service stations (Reading, natch). All in all life is pretty sweet. Painting hobby has taken something of a back seat, but I have now completed all my outstanding Abyssal Dwarfs and can field an entire horde of Decimators, so the odd win is on-going.

In addition to finishing off my plastics I also painted up a very fetching new addition to my Basilean army (the one in the middle with the big pointy stick). “But that’s not a Basilean,” I imagine you’re currently screaming at your screen.

Calm yourself, no-one’s mentioned the withdrawl changes for at least three minutes. Allow me to explain. I did my first doubles tournament earlier in the year and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, I, and The Lazy Pirate, headed off to Hemel Hempstead for another session, courtesy of the Kings of Herts. At both events I’ve fielded my Basileans and have taken to adding models representing friendly forces to my own ranks. This Northumbrian Tin Soldier mini was added to one of my Elohi hordes.

The event itself was of the excellent standard expected from the Kings team and we managed a healthy 5th with our Dwarf and Basilean combo. We had a narrow loss to the Moonrakers in the first round before grabbing some well fought wins in the second and third games. A special mention goes to the final scenario which was written by Mark Cunningham and was absolutely cracking, I’ll probably be giving it a run out at Tree Thugging in February.

With the doubles out the way I’ve started thinking about what I’m going to take to the Birmingham Bullrun, part deux, on 4th November. I’ve decided as I’m snapping away wildly at the heals of the current incumbent of the Basilean’s first in faction to take Basileans (stranger things have not happened, but they might). After a lot of thought I’ve decided I want to take a more infantry-based army. I’m currently putting a new list through its paces, and pretty much losing at every available opportunity. There is now only one more trial game to go, the list has become sillier, the spear horde that has been charged and waivered in 100% of its test games has been dropped, and Julius (who I really didn’t want to take) is being called up from the dug-out. I guess it’s a case of only time doing the telling now.

Spear horde prepares to be waivered by a troll regiment…

Finally, I just wanted to share a couple of snaps of my lovely Genestealer Cult army that I waved off in the post the other day. It’s the first time I’ve actually sold on a full army. It’s been in the cupboard for quite sometime and used a grand total of 3 times, make of that what you will. Whilst this is a predominantly Kings of War blog it is a wholly and completely hobby blog, so I thought I’d share a few picks for the last time.

Now I need to dust off my diary and work out when I’ll next be able to lift a brush.

Oh, and the completed model count is up to 41.

Weekly Wins 13: Halfling support toads and reaching rock bottom with Rats

This week has been, well, erm… interesting. I took my ratkin out against the mighty undead on Sunday night. I wasn’t expecting a win as I’m still very much trying to get my head around the army once again, but I also wasn’t expecting the table to collapse somewhere around turn 4!

In fairness to my opponent, by that stage the game was going firmly his way after a lucky shot from a Balefire Catapult took out my Tangle in turn 2 and my front line was wavered in turn 3 (which would have been fine had the Tangle and its Aura of Fury still been alive). I was very fairly and squarely out played by the time the ground literally disappeared from under my rats’ feet. Once it was established that the few breakages could be easily glued back into place, it was time to retreat to my lair and plan my next assault on the world above.

The list I played on Sunday gave me a chance to try out a Vermintide Legion and Birthing Daughter. As with so many Ratkin units neither of these are outstandingly great individually, but together they are quite interesting. The Birthing Daughter has a Strider Aura for trashy units like Vermintide, and the Legion has no less than 36 attacks (albeit with Melee 5). In addition, the unit has movement 6, nimble and D3 wild charge (made more interesting by giving the unit Brew of Haste), all of which presents reasonable opportunities for shenanigans. Of course, the 240mm by 80mm base does mean any shenanigans must be carefully considered in advance!

Its first outing proved to be rather disappointing, which was entirely down to me. Despite that though I have the bits to make up a Legion (having used a very sparce proxy for the game) and have decided to give them another go, maybe they’ll play better if they look better. This has also helped reduce my backlog by another 13 models.

Will this lot ever make it to the Ribbit Rumble?

And finally… the toads. I am slowly adding to my Halflings. I have a bit of a theme I want to explore with this army which means I’ll be bringing in a number of non-Mantic models. The first of these additions are 4 battle toads who will be added to various multi-bases for a bit of character.

The toads bring the week’s total painted up to 17 and gives a year-to-date total of 31.

Have a great week everyone.

Weekly Wins 12: Sisterhood scouts shoot fish in a battle, a return to rats, and more Basileans.

This week I’ve managed to sneak in 2 games and I’m feeling pretty damn smug about it! On Tuesday I took a Basilean force, consisting of predominantly foot troops, into battle against the Trident Realms. It was a really close fought game and the Basileans just about claimed the day. My spear horde had a good run, taking a Coral Giant and horde of Water Elementals off the table, before bringing their unit strength in to claim the dominate circle. The stars of the show though were the three regiments of Sisterhood Scouts. Very much cast in the Gladestalker mould these ladies saw off a regiment of Tidal Swarm, a horde of Water Elementals, a Thuul Mythican, and harassed a Coral Giant. What’s more two regiments survived to tell the tale.

My foray with the rats was considerably less successful, however, this was expected, and it was just as fun. Ratkin are my favourite faction in Kings, but my move from second to third edition has been… extended. Over the past year I’ve been keeping an eye of Simon Brand’s progress with the little bundles of cuteness. This has categorically proven that rats are most definitely a strong army, and they don’t rely on any spam builds to deliver those knock out blows. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m expecting the same results, but with a little practice I might be able to get the odd win in.

This week’s game saw them pitched against the mighty Rift Forged Orcs. I hate playing orcs purely because they just look, and play, like a massive slab of green aggression. I decided to give a mixed arms, MSU army a whirl and whilst I came in a solid second I was happy enough with the army performance. This is definitely the start of the journey and I’m looking forward to making some progress (hopefully).

And finally, how’s that pile of painting going? Well, I managed to get another 7 models completed. 5 Sisterhood Scout kit bashes and two test models for my Paladin Foot Guards. Not sure what the plan for next week is yet, but there will be rats on the table on Sunday.

This week sees the Sisterhood Scout regiments completed and the foot paladins started… I’ll leave you to guess how many regiments of those are in the cupboard!

I hope everyone at the UK Clash of Kings has an absolutely fantastic weekend. I have so many great memories from last year at Cardiff, and hope to do another one in the not too distant future.

Models completed so far: 14

Weekly wins 11: Basileans, boats, and tournaments (although not in that order)

It’s been a very busy week all in all. I started the week on Saturday (for the sake of argument let’s just go with it) hosting an 18 person Kings of War Tournament in Bristol. It was the second event I’ve hosted and went swimmingly. I’m settling into my tournament organiser role quite well now and really looking forward to getting stuck in again next year.

I already have two Kings of War events booked in for 2023 (February and July) and look forward to opening the doors to them. What’s especially great about the events is seeing so many people from the local Bristol King’s scene in attendance. Bristol has a number of regular players (and the occasional one with an unhealthy relationship with Soulflayers*) so it seemed a shame for there not to be events in the town, especially after Matt James stepped back from running them after the pandemic having built up a number of successful tournaments over the last five years or so.

After a very busy Saturday, the best way to unwind seemed to be by having a go at Black Seas. This is the Warlord Games navel system that Mantic’s Armada is based on. Armada is making some waves (oh yeah) at our club so I thought this would be a great way of checking out some of the mechanics to see if it’s something I would consider jumping into.

To be honest I’ve never really gotten excited about vehicle type games, whether it’s boats, planes, or tanks. I don’t know why, it’s just a me thing. Sadly, Black Seas didn’t ignite any sparks (even though I thought the tiny boats were pretty cute). However, whilst I don’t see any little ships in my immediate future, I get why people are enjoying the game. Yes, there are a number of differences between Black Seas and Armada, but the core of the rule’s engine is the same and frankly rules wise there was nothing to fault. It played smoothly, it was quick to get the hang of, and there is clearly considerable depth. If you like boats, I would definitely recommend giving it (and/or Armada) a try.

But what of the pile – I hear literally no ask (which is to be expected because I am in an empty room as I type). Well, this week I managed to complete 7 archers for my Basileans. Having had it pointed out to me by an elf player (because I am that short sighted) that Sisterhood scouts are very similar to Gladestalkers (very probably after making some disparaging remarks about a certain flavour of Elven scouts) I am now firmly of the belief that multiple regiments are the way forward. I’ve brought two to the table and had great success, so an extra regiment can only improve things further (right, maybe another three).

A new regiment is founded… if only they weren’t irregular.

The only issue with this is securing the models. I have a handful of the official models and am bulking the rest out with men-at-arms kit bashed with Oathmark human archer arms. I’m definitely looking forward to giving these an outing next week against some fishy foes.

In addition to the 7 painted models getting their completion I have also managed to off load a few books I no longer need – so there is a tiny bit of space starting to be seen in the cupboard. I’ve also decided that this column needs some sort of tally, which I will start this week, just to see what sort of impact I’m actually having. So, on that basis I will leave you with my best wishes for a great weekend and the number 7.

Backlog completed so far: 7

*More than 4 regiments per army.

Weekly wins: 10

The observant might notice that my weekly updates are a little out of synch with actual calendar-based time. This is because I have been on holiday for several weeks far away from my models and paints, so I decided to cut myself some slack and suspend the counter.

Having some time out has been really invigorating, and now I’m back with enthusiasm and ideas. I still have far too many projects on, but variety is the spice of life. The best thing that’s happened though, is that I finally have an idea in mind for how I want to theme my halfling army – and it opens up the possibility of including some of my much-loved Northumbrian Tin Soldier models. I’m not going to dwell on this too much as I’m planning on putting some blogs together on the army as I start to firm up exactly what I’m doing.

Inspiration for this has no doubt come from managing to take my gnomes out for a cheeky mid-week game of Frostgrave. I love Frostgrave because of just how much drama the rules allow. This week my barbarian was magicked to the top of a bell tower by my wizard, only to be pushed from the tower by enemy magic that sent him flying 19” across the table. He landed with, unsurprisingly, serious injuries only to find himself being eyed up by wild dogs and an ice toad. Fantastic fun.

For this week I’ll leave you with my finished Iron Beast and Sauceror that I managed to complete.

Finally, I just want to wish anyone reading this who is coming to the Mean Squeaks of Bristol, Kings of War tournament, a safe journey down. I look forward to welcoming you all.

Ripples across Amzharr: the origin of demons

It’s said that the demons of Amzharr, and the Eternal Abyss, were created with a wish. It is but a fanciful story, for the truth is that it took three wishes.

Once upon a time one of the great immortals was travelling through a forest and happened upon a sprite. The sprite granted the immortal three wishes. The immortal wanted, more than anything, to have a servant who would be faithful to him for all eternity and do exactly what was requested of it, anytime of the day or night.

The sprite giggled as the immortal’s first wish brought a zombie into existence. Disgusted by the rotting, shambling aberration and annoyed that he considered his first wish to be wasted, the immortal tried again. Trying to make better use of his second wish, he did his utmost to detail exactly how his ideal servant should look, act, and revere him. Flushed with the anger of his previous mistake, desperate to bring into existence exactly that which he desired, and keen that his third wish might be used to deliver another of his ambitions, he was unable to focus clearly on what he really wanted. As a result, his second wish quickly became confused and contradictory. Even the sprite, who had heard many wishes in her time, was not quite sure what the immortal really wanted.

To this day there is no name for what that wish called forth. Both the immortal and the sprite recoiled in horror at the awkward, broken creature that appeared before them, whimpering in irritated anguish. Almost as soon as the creature emerged from the cloud of magic in which it had formed the immortal drove it off into the trees.

In a fit of rage, rational thought now an impossibility, the immortal was about to use his final wish when the sprite raised a hand and politely silenced him.

“Have patience,” the forest spirit said gently. “Do not rush. There is no limit on how quickly you need to use your final wish. Take some time to reflect on exactly what it is you want. Then you might find that your wish fulfils your desire.”

The sprite’s words calmed the immortal. Relieved that he could take time to perfect his final request, he made himself a comfortable seat by the side of the road and sat in thought for a year, a month, a week, and a day. The sprite sat beside the immortal, as she was now bound to him until his final wish had been used.

On the morning of the final day of his contemplations the immortal rose with the sun. He made his wish, speaking clearly and confidently. There was a flash of green light and the very first demon stood before him.

The immortal was pleased with the creature. The creature seemed keen to serve, it reassured its new master it needed little rest. It also revealed that it could shapeshift and adopt any form its new master requested of it. The more the demon spoke of its capabilities and qualities the more the immortal began to congratulate himself on how well he had woven the words of his final wish. As soon as the demon finished talking, the immortal immediately began to list the tasks he wished the demon to undertake. The demon listened patiently, and when the immortal had finished politely outlined the payment it would expect in return.

The immortal stood in stunned silence. He could not find the words with which to respond. He could not believe the creature’s ungratefulness, its arrogance… its hubris. Enraged by the thought that any servant should expect greater payment than to bask in the glory of its master, the immortal grabbed the creature and threw it to the ground. Such was the rage that fuelled the assault, that as the demon hit the earth a great fissure began to open. The demon fell into the dark. The ground continued to open before it for many leagues before it finally stopped, and the demon crumpled on the rock-strewn ground. Trapped alone in the dark, far from the light of day, the demon made two promises to itself. It knew that it had been created to serve, and it felt no shame in that because it knew instinctively that service had worth. Consequently, it promised itself that in the future it would only serve those who were prepared to pay for the full value of its assistance. Furthermore, it would only ever respond to its name: because it knew the importance of names. And so, in that moment demons were born, and the Eternal Abyss was created.

On the surface the immortal continued to rage.

“Why have you tricked me?” he demanded of the sprite.

“I have not tricked you. I have said nothing to you, other than to offer you your wishes. I am afraid that if you believe a creature created from the same magic as yourself would willingly accept a life of slavery simply because you called it into existence, then it is you who has tricked yourself,” the sprite said with a smile, before disappearing into the trees.

Aged twelve Gerald is separated from his mother. Alone in the world he is coerced into committing a theft. Once the theft is done, he hides himself away to wait his death. Seventy years later he is still in hiding, terrified of the world outside his sanctuary, but his world is changing. He must now venture out into the world once more to face the consequences of this actions.

What inspired The Rose of Amzharr

The earliest books I remember reading were myth collections written by Roger Lancelyn Green.  Norse, Egyptian, and Greek gods and heroes were my go-to reading until I discovered fantasy. Like so many people I eventually found myself amongst the pages of The Hobbit, before diving into Fighting Fantasy books and a whole range of novels where humans, dwarfs and elves spent their days roaming desolate plains stabbing things. It was great.

As much as I enjoyed the Hobbit I couldn’t get into the Lord of the Rings and, what I’d call, other serious fantasy didn’t really appeal. Then I stumbled upon Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I was absolutely smitten. His stories were accessible, amusing, and thoughtful. For me his books were the very definition of the enjoyment of reading, and I worked my way through them with relish.

There wasn’t anyone else quite like Sir Terry writing at the time, and I’m not sure there ever will be. His writing changed what I wanted to read. I wanted to be engaged, entertained, but most importantly I wanted something a bit different. It was around that time I read The Miller’s Tale and the Pardoner’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales. Despite their age something pulled me in. I found myself drawn to similar story collections, such as The Arabian Nights, and other folk tale collections. Writing this now I realise that it may seem strange that my quest for new reading material would take me back in time. I can’t quite put my finger on what I enjoyed about these stories, but I’m not sure it really matters that much.

Today I read a range of, predominantly, fantasy and horror titles, but when it came to settling down to pen my first proper book it was the likes of Sir Terry, Chaucer, and the unremembered story tellers of old that inspired me the most. I wanted to write something that would be a joy to read, didn’t take itself too seriously, indulged the opportunity for creativity that fantasy offers, but also paid homage to the storytellers of old whose tales are the only evidence of their existence. I would love to think that The Rose of Amzharr is the sort of tale at least one of them would have told to a captivated audience on a cold winter’s night.

So, at its heart The Rose of Amzharr is a classic questing story, however its protagonists do their best to stray away from the more traditional fantasy archetypes. It is a first part, an introduction to a new world and a new journey. And an attempt to resolve that seemingly unspoken desire from the literary world at large for more anthropomorphic moles and talking squirrels.

Weekly wins: 9

Attempting to work through what I have in the cupboard is helping to force some previous avoided decisions. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been rescuing some knights, but I wanted a break from that and so the box of Halflings came out.

I’m having a bit of time with them, if I’m honest. I got interested in them because of the rules Mantic developed for them for Kings of War. Admittedly, the models also appealed. However, the moment I sat down to try and figure out what to do with them on the table I looked at the rules and just felt confused. That then impacted on my enthusiasm to get them painted. Add to that my general confusion as to how to make multi-basing look good meant I had all the excuses in place to not do them.

Looking at them in their box led me to consider a part of this project I had not really thought too much about – what if I don’t want to paint something? It’s such a simple question, but I hadn’t really considered it. After a bit of consideration I’ve decided that the answer is just as simple as the question – if I’m not going to paint it, it goes.

This gave me the sort of poke in the bum this project was designed to deliver. I had a think, which I’ll talk a bit more about later on – and they’re staying. So, I’m happy to report that there has been progress in the shape of a freshly based Captain on Winged Aralez and three lancers ready for a multi-base.

It’s nice to have taken a decision on what the basing is going to be. It’s also made me want to work out how to paint faces better. Now I just need to paint up a few more and get a workable army list together.

That’s it for this week.

The Immortal Question

For me the best part of writing fantasy tales is the scope it provides to play with ideas. When I sat down to write the Rose of Amzharr a theme I really wanted to explore was immortality. It’s a pretty common thing in fantasy books. Afterall, so many stories are rooted in ancient history or lost times, and so often there is at least one protagonist who is in the story from its very beginning. Not only that, but gods, spirits and demons are also regulars when it comes to casting both heroes and villains of most other worldly dramas.

It’s not surprising that immortality has always been a feature of both fantasy storytelling and mythology. Afterall, so many plots revolve around the interplay between humans and superhumans. When considering what a being more powerful than a human might be like, the capacity to defy aging is a rather attractive ability for them to have. It opens the door for characters to accrue power, knowledge, and wealth far beyond that of any mortal, if only because they have had more time in which to do so.

From a story telling point of view there is another clear advantage to being able to fashion mighty heroes and fiendish villains who can withstand the test of time – it avoids the need to worry about timelines, which were probably less of a contentious issue in the days before social media. More importantly though it means that popular characters can simply go on and on without the need to create new ones.

Of course, immortality is all very well for those characters who have a busy diary, but a question that’s increasingly bothered me over the years is what if you’re immortal and you’re not busy? It might sound a bit antagonistic, but I’ve always believed that good fantasy writing is about making the bazaar and the far out relatable and finding new ways to explore existing stereotypes. Part of that process, for me, is about flipping the script and asking what will make my characters a bit different, whilst still remaining accessible.

Now you could argue that immortal characters should always be busy, after all they are often intended to be the stars of the show, but the older I get the less I find that to be a satisfactory answer. When we’re young I think it’s much easier to identify with immortal go getters out to make the world a better (or sometimes worse) place, because we feel we have a shot at doing the same sort of thing. But as I get on a bit and become more jaded, I start to understand how those most admirable intentions of our youth get blunted and seep away. Ambitions to rule the world have long since cooled, and I’m pretty pleased with myself if I know what’s going on around me from one day to the next. As my age increases, so to does my understanding that we all experience limits, both internally and externally, and that starts to shape our world view and what we choose to do. Interestingly, or maybe ironically in this case, age and mortality are two of those limits. I find myself asking how would the limits we stumble across as we age translate into the immortal experience?

I’ve found it particularly interesting to see how other writers and film makers consider in their work whether life eternal is all it’s cracked up to be. The first time I started to think about this was watching Dogma (a funny, but thoughtful consideration of some of the issues around Catholic beliefs and traditions by Kevin Smith). In the film two angels are kicked out of Heaven and are faced with spending eternity on Earth, and when the world ends having to sit outside the pearly gates forevermore. So how do they spend their time? Watching daytime tv and couples reuniting with each other at airports after time spent separated. There is something wonderfully poignant and desperately sad about this, all at the same time.

The next big thinking moment on the subject for me came whilst reading Brian Catling’s amazing trilogy The Vorrh. Similarly, to Kevin Smith’s vision, he writes about a number of angels who have been excluded from divine service. However, set between the two world wars there is no daytime tv to keep them occupied and instead they literally lie down and do nothing, letting the world grow around and over them. Once I started to think more deeply about these stories, I found myself with a question to consider – it’s all very well being an immortal with purpose, but what happens when that purpose is lost, or taken away?

Over the years it’s led me to ask a whole series of other questions about how immortals, particularly where they are part of a society of immortals, would be impacted by the life events that frustrate and restrain us real life folk and, occasionally, cause us to question our very reasons for existing. To put that into narrative terms – what happens to the elf that really wanted to be a mage, but just couldn’t get the grades no matter what they tried. Surely, they can’t all become super villains, or even not great villains – don’t any of them just spend eternity sat in their parent’s basements feeling a bit down? And if not – why not? How does elf society support these individuals? Disappointment can be a real demotivator for someone with a limited lifespan, why would it not be much worse for someone who has to spend the rest of forever feeling that they just aren’t good enough? I should make it clear that I’m not suggesting I want to read stories about elven mental health provision, but I think these are legitimate lines of consideration when developing immortal characters.

The theorising doesn’t just stop with the underachievers – what about the overachievers? What about the hero who slays their arch nemesis? What if there isn’t another arch nemesis whose as good? Surely, they’d get bored and spend far too much time thinking about the glories of the past with a bucket of ice cream in their lap and a tear in their eye. So, what happens to our hero after a few years of ice cream consumption and very little exercise?

I genuinely don’t ask these questions to be flippant – as a storyteller I’m intrigued, and I think that’s so important when it comes to moving fantasy story telling forward. So how does this relate to my own efforts in The Rose of Amzharr? This thinking has definitely shaped the way that I’ve started to build my world and my characters. It’s created some really interesting philosophical questions for my main character Gerald, who mysteriously stops aging but would have happily embraced old age and an uneventful passage to the afterlife. It’s also driven some interesting dynamics between long-time friends who risk being driven in different directions because of the impact of their differing lifespans.

The best thing about this theme is that there is just so much to explore, and the book represents the tip of the iceberg. I’m looking forward to exploring the relationships between immortal and mortal populations in the future, and how they differ to the nature of relationships between immortal and mortal individuals. It has also driven out another very important issue that deserves at least as much consideration, namely the relationship between immortality, injury, and death. Writing fight scenes has meant the impact of injury on immortals has already started to come up. I have decided that different immortals are able to manage pain and injury in different ways, but that’s far from the topic covered, so it seems sensible to leave it there for today.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this my latest novella is now available:

You can also read the first chapter for free here.