Book Review: Wonderland

What is it?

The front cover sums it up best – An anthology of works inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Who’s the writer?

It’s edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane. Contributing authors include M.R. Carey, Lilith Saintcrow, Juliet Marillier, Jane Yolen.

What’s it about?

Its fair to say Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland inspires a mix of reactions. From the sheer joy of the nonsense and word play, to more reserved reactions to the violence and uncertainty of Wonderland.

It is a book that has inspired all manner of retellings and spin offs. From a Disney cartoon, to the twisted, murderous Old City of Christina Henry’s Alice universe and even Batman villains.

This anthology brings together a wide variety of short stories that demonstrate just how much Alice has been welcomed into the creative psyche of so many authors. With so many fascinating and engaging stories its hard to pick any favourites, so I’m not going to.

Is it any good?

If you embrace all things Alice; the nonsense, the wonderment and the dark this is a great read. With sci-fi, horror and fantasy rooted takes on Lewis Carroll’s leading lady there is something that is bound to intrigue those who look for any opportunity to jump back down the rabbit hole.

The Fyrefur Clan goes Mantic: Part 1

Rats. They’re great. Rats were the first army I really wanted to collect when I got into fantasy wargaming 30 odd years ago. Since then, I’ve collected a couple of armies, the most recent being my Fyrefur Clan, which I started when I got into Kings of War in 2019.

Over the last couple of years things have really changed for Ratkin with more lore, a revised list for third edition and now their very own Mantic range.

Whilst I’m a big fan of Kings of War as a game, and the community, my relationship with Mantic’s models is an evolving one. I’m a gamer first, enjoyer of fluff second and in a very distance last place comes painting, basing and prepping models.

Mantic’s older plastics (gargoyles, Basilean mounted paladins, etc.) made me think twice about building a full Mantic force, but the new plastic kits and resin have won me over. As the new Ratkin range will largely consist of these its game on.

The plan is simple, although somewhat dependent on Covid. I’ve come up with a list I quite like the idea of. Over the next 12 months I’m going to get it built and blog about it. So, if you’re planning on starting a Ratkin army it might give some insights into how the rats work (I’ll leave you to decide how interesting and/or helpful they are) and if you already have a Ratkin army it might make you shake your head and mutter, “No, that’s just wrong”.

I should probably add that I don’t have any crazy aims, like winning best painted trophies, tournaments or even games. This is just about having fun with Ratkin.

The (starting) List

As I’m hoping there will be some tournaments in 2021 I’m going for 1,995 points. I have no doubt this list will change over the course of the year, after all theory and the reality don’t always make for perfect partners. The list should also keep me focused so I don’t suddenly find myself working on that Salamander army I definitely have no interest in.

Warrior Horde with Plague Pot

Shock Troop Horde with Plague Pot and Brew of Sharpness

Vermintide Regiment

3 Hackpaw Regiments, 1 with Boots of Striding

2 Mutant Rat Fiends

War Chief on Fleabag


Twitch Keenear

It’s fair to say this is quite an elite list. Traditionally, rats are a grindy swarm army, but I’m not one for tradition. I am, however, one for big beasties and hard-hitting stuff hard, which the rat list has some great options for. I’ll talk more about units and list choices in future instalments.

Get Building

The first couple of weeks have been pretty productive, with a basing design decided on and the first models making their way to said bases. Fair to say, I’m pretty happy with the results.


I love scenic bases, but I’m new to building them and there’s so much to explore in terms of materials, concepts and my own limitations of both capability and patience. After more than a few failed experiments I’ve created something I’m happy with.


My first regiment/half a horde is one rat away from completion. Preferred model count is definitely the order of the day, leaving space for a cheeky Plague Pot. Warriors are one of my favourite blocking units in the army. Whilst they don’t dish out a lot of damage, I quite often think people underestimate just how hard they are to shift, especially with a well-timed plague pot and a bit of rally to up the nerve score. They are also the cheapest unlock. Yes, the unit strength isn’t as good as the spear warriors, but I’m not expecting them to make it to the end of the battle, so it doesn’t really matter. Finally, having rally themselves means they provide really useful support for more fragile units in the early turns.

Twitch Keenear

Twitch would have been a perfect fit for my second edition army, so it will be interesting to see how he performs when we finally return to the tables. Whilst Hex isn’t the most exciting spell, I think Banechant and Eye of the Abyss special rule (allowing a Banechanted unit to re-roll their to hit and to wound dice) is a great fit for this list. For me elite builds are all about certainty of outcome, so whilst Banechant (3) means its highly likely extra strength will be available Eye of the Abyss gives you that second chance when you really need to take an enemy unit off the table, ground a flyer or knock thunderous off some knights. Yes, it’s not going to get used every turn, or even every game, but think it will impact the way I use Banechant.

That’s it for the first instalment. Back with more in a couple of weeks.

Book Review: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

What is it?

A modern fantasy adventure set in London in 1983.

Who’s the writer?

Garth Nix is an Australian fantasy writer specialising in novels for children and young adults.

What’s it about?

Susan Arkshaw’s search to find her father leads her to the home of crime boss Frank Thringley. A late-night attack on Frank’s home results in Susan fleeing mythical monsters with a mysterious young man called Merlin.

Merlin is one of the Left-Handed Book Sellers of London. The book sellers are an ancient family of investigators and enforcers dedicated to protecting the mundane from the mythical. Susan very quickly finds herself embroiled in a mystery far greater and much older than she could have ever imagined.

Is it any good?

More of an adventure than a thriller, it is a beautifully written book. Nix is clearly a skilled story-teller, who has created a beautiful and intriguing other-world where the creatures of myth and legend live in parallel with, and occasionally in, our own. It’s a feel-good fantasy that goes perfectly with a mug of tea and a chocolate biscuit.

2020 – A miniature review

I’m not an enthusiastic painter. Never have been, don’t really ever see me being so. Despite that, I believe a painted mini is always better than an unpainted one, and a completed warband, or army, is always greater than the sum of its individual parts.

2020 was a bit of a weird year (anyone else get that vibe??). The apocalypse meant my main engagement with the hobby was painting. To begin with I worked on completing armies, but that was only ever going to last so long. Eventually, I found myself starting to think about painting things just because I quite liked them, exploring new techniques and even doing the odd bit of scenery.

Some things didn’t work out quite as planned, but a few things exceeded expectations. I have an army I really hadn’t planned to build, and I bought from some great companies I wouldn’t have tried under more normal circumstances. I also have a couple of new skills I wouldn’t have bothered learning had a I spent more time playing games. So, I thought I’d share some of my favourite models from 2020.

Phoenix and Helfane by Mantic

Comfort zones are made to be moved out of, apparently, but only if you really have nothing better to do. The Phoenix definitely pushed me out of mine. I’ve never been happy with the results of any fire I’ve painted, so contemplating the flaming chicken of death (or life?) was more than a little unnerving. After doing a bit of research (asking Twitter) I found a technique I was happy with (slapping Contrast on it). I couldn’t be happier with the results and it’s because I completed it, I felt comfortable taking on the Helfane at the end of the year as big models aren’t something I generally have the patience for.

Anything Burrows and Badgers by Oathsworn

There has been quite a bit of anthropomorphic animal awesomeness painted this year. Mono-pose metal has become a welcome respite from multi-part kits that look fantastic having been in the hands of pro-painters (the really good ones, not the ones that believe dipping things in orange before putting them on e-bay increases their price exponentially), but generally cause me concerns when I start painting them and realise the bits left on the sprue were actually needed.

Night Folk by Northumbrian Tin Soldier

I’ve always been attracted to the quirkier side of fantasy aesthetics and these models have it in spade loads. Mono-pose metal, fab. Weirdly, for me, I bought these guys without a game in mind. But as the collection is growing, and I’ve just signed up for the recent kick starter, that’s something that will have to change pretty sharpish.

Dwarfs and scenery by Bad Squiddo

Yes, technically dwarf, but I don’t care – love her and have a few more I’m hoping to get on the paint table in 2021. I’ve also done a fair amount of scatter terrain this year which has been easy to work with and produced some really enjoyable results.

Plastic Abyssal Dwarfs by Mantic

Having been thoroughly unexcited by Mantic’s oldest plastics I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this kit. I was wrong. It’s a great example of Mantic’s new plastic line infantry kits (I’ve previously painted Basilean Men at Arms and now working on their rat sprues). Detailed, durable kits that lend themselves to batch painting. I was so happy with the results it made deciding to do an army a really easy choice, even though it meant painting another 40 of them.

Inferox by Mantic

Saving the snowflake that started the avalanche for last. Mantic’s resin is just lovely. Their new sculpts are so characterful and bring their universe to life so well. Infernox is one of those models I just fell in love with, but would have avoided buying under normal circumstances because I don’t have an army to field him in. Completing him as a one-off project, combined with how much I enjoyed working with the line infantry, really meant a full army was the only logical next step.

So in summary – 2020 didn’t quite turn out the way I had expected. It was the year I almost got excited about painting. It was the year I found a way to paint fire that I’m happy with. And because of all of the above it makes finding a positive about 2020 a lot easier than I had originally thought. Happy new year.

The army I really hadn’t planned on

Book Review: Night Watch

What is it?

A thoughtful, fantasy, comedy about policing and time travel.

Who’s the writer?

The late, great Sir Terry Pratchett.

What’s it about?

Commander Vimes is the boss of Ankh-Morpork’s city watch. On the 25th May, the anniversary of a Glorious Revolution, he is caught up in a magical storm whilst chasing one of the city’s most psychotic criminals. He wakes up naked, in the back streets of the city, a mere 30 years from where he started, and its all about to kick off.

Terry Pratchett had an amazing talent for using his fantasy world to tell a story, whilst holding a mirror up to our own. Night Watch is no exception. A fantastically funny story about time travel, policing, oppressive regimes and revolution where the Discworld setting serves up its own brand of reflection and light relief. This story was made all the more poignant given the events of 2020.

Whilst it is a comedy, the story inevitably wonders into the darker aspects of human behaviour, which Pratchett does not shy away from or try to play down. He handles them exceptionally well, creating sombre, emotionally charged passages which reinforce his brilliance as a writer.

Is it any good?

I sometimes wonder if there is much point reviewing books that were written almost 20 years ago. Especially when they were so popular and widely read at the time of their launch. But rereading Night Watch has convinced me its as valid as reviewing any new publication. Once a book is out there its fixed. The story and sentiments will never change. Yes, they may be retold by others, in a range of different formats, but the book that started the story will stay the same. The world, however, moves on. Views and values iterate and evolve, we hope for the better. Rereading older books is a great way of checking in with our favourites and seeing how they, and to an extent we, are holding up.

I’ll always have a special love for the Ankh-Morpork Watch, it was this collection of individuals that really cemented my interest in, and enjoyment of, the Discworld. How much has changed since I last picked this book up? Turns out very little. Its easy to remember the Discworld novels as funny and thoughtful. Night Watch showcases Terry Pratchett’s range as a writer; equally able to tackle the dark and sombre as well observed witticisms. Night Watch is as good, if not in some ways better, today as it was when it first made its way to my bookshelf. What’s more it’s rekindled my love of the Discworld, and I have a feeling it won’t be long before I revisit the streets of Ankh-Morpork with my favourite local constabulary.

Book Review: Cursed

What is it?

A collection of short horror stories.

Who’s the writer?

Loads of great wordsmiths. This a collection of 20 short stories (with a couple of poems) from a wide range of successful authors including Neil Gaiman, Charlie Jane Anders, M.R.Carey and Christina Henry.

What’s it about?

This is a fantastic collection of scary shorts covering a broad range of subject matter. Zombies, ghosts, curses and trolls. There really is a scare for everyone. The writers draw on a wide range of inspirations. Twisted traditional tales, inspired by Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood, sit comfortably alongside more modern takes on terror.

For me, the two stand out stories are Wendy, Darling by Christopher Golden and The Merrie Dancers by Alison Littlewood. Golden’s take on Peter Pan offers a darkly novel and disturbing interpretation of an instantly recognisable classic. By contrast Littlewood’s tale draws on much older legends, planting them in a modern setting with no less a terrifying twist.

Is it any good?

As with any short story collect there’s likely to be some you’ll love, some you’ll hate and a couple that you’ll just be very meh about. Fortunately, this is a really well curated anthology, so I found way more of the loves than the mehs and maybe one than verged on an exceptionally mild dislike.

Book Review: Looking Glass by Christina Henry

What is it?

A collection of short horror stories.

Who’s the writer?

Christina Henry is predominantly a horror writer who creates gruesome and chilling worlds from stories we are likely to know from our childhoods. The Mermaid is an exception, as a beautiful historical fiction set in P.T. Barnum’s museum. Her book Alice, which this short story collection links to, was one of Amazon’s best Science Fiction and Fantasy books in 2015 and came second in the Goodreads Choice awards for Best Horror. In short, her books are well worth investing some time in if you like a scary read.

What’s it about?

In 2015 Christina Henry released the first book of her Alice duology, which was followed by Red Queen. These books created a dark, new interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In Alice, Christina Henry distilled all the quintessential elements of Alice in Wonderland and turned them into a horrifically dystopian world that is the everyday reality for the citizens of the Old City. She found new homes and new careers for the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat placing them at the heart of a rotten city utterly corrupted and without mercy. Red Queen then moves the story on, exploring the no less lethal world outside the city.

Looking Glass is a collection of short stories that gives further insight into Alice’s terrifying and brutal reality. Each story introduces new characters and moves on the timeline, and our understanding of the main characters. Each story is a self-contained episode, but readers will get so much more out of this book if they have already read Alice and Red Queen.

The book shows off Christina Henry’s capabilities as a horror writer and adds to our understanding of Alice’s disturbing and violent world. Most interestingly for me, we get our first real insight into the New City, which until now we have had only the briefest of glimpses, and Alice’s family.

For fans of Alice this book is a fantastic expansion of a world that you are unlikely to love, but will be hypnotised, horrified and intrigued by. I’m also very hopeful that the new characters we meet will be seen again soon in their own stories. Alice’s world has been painted so vividly it draws you in and I hope it won’t be too long before there is another opportunity to visit.

Is it any good?

Yes. Creepy, twisted and, at times, just flat out bloody. Whilst readers would benefit from reading Alice and Red Queen, this is a perfect Halloween read.

Battle report: Ratkin vs Herd

Burn the stumps

One of the great things about Kings of War is the level of balance across the army lists. This means its possible to build a range of solid lists that explore different aspects of all the different factions. Personally I’ve always favoured elite armies, but playing the same build can get repetitive so I decided to have a go at a more grind style rat list, and after a few iterations I thought it was in a good enough place for a battle report.

BTW the narrative for this game is the second part of Stealing Shards, so definitely worth a look if you haven’t already.

To the table. Raze. 1995 points.


The Fyrefur Clan

1 – Shock Troop horde with Plague Pot and Brew of Sharpness

2 – Shock Troop horde with Plague Pot and Caterpillar

3 & 4 – Warrior regiment with Plague Pot

5 – Spear horde with Plague Pot and Blade of Slashing

6 & 7 & 8 – Vermintide regiment

9 – Strayrat – Master Scurrier with Pendent of Retribution

10 – Night Terror with Blade of the Beastslayer

11 – Old Mother Cinderpaw – Mother Cryza

12 – Warlock with Boomstick

13 – Kiitsch Sparkthrower – Warlock with Banechant

14 – Tangle

The Herd

1 – Spirit Walkers horde

2 – Hunters of the Wild regiment

3 & 4 – Gur Panther regiment

5 – Harpies troop

6 – Guardian Brute horde with Blessing of the Gods

7 – Lycan horde

8 – Beast of Nature with wings and 7 attacks

9 – Beast of Nature with noxious breath and 7 attacks

10 – Moonfang

11 – Druid with Banechant and Conjurer’s Staff

12 – Gladewalker Druid with Blizzard

Set up

Turn 1

Cinderpaw drifted in and out of consciousness for what felt like an eternity. Long periods of dark nothing stretched out, punctuated by odd moments of lucidness. There was mud and violence. The rancid whiff of fleabag fur. The discomfort of being carried. Deep, deep slumber. Damp. Nothing.

The body surged forward. Thin and ragged like broken sticks covered in a sheer grey sheet of flesh long passed its prime. The chest shot up, arching the back, throwing the dead weight of the head up so violently the eye lids opened and the dull green balls rolled back. A breath stirred.

Strayrat knelt over Cinderpaw’s broken corpse and watched it fall back to the ground. He uncorked the small black vial again. The acrid smell scratched the inside of his nostrils. Carefully he tipped the next drop into the broodmother’s open mouth. One drop to wake them, two drops to get them up, three drops to take them away forever.

The second drop hit Cinderpaw’s tongue and her heart murmured. Muscles unused for maybe a day, maybe more, contracted and the black blood started to pump.

“How goes it?” said Sparkthrower, entering the cave with his apprentice by his side.

“She is responding.” Strayrat replied without looking up.

“Can she hurry up? This distraction does little for my apprentice’s education. Are we carrying a corpse back to the tunnels? Or will it carry itself?” Sparkthrower asked, irritation in his voice.

Strayrat shot the warlock a look as sharp as any of the knives that hung from his belt. Sparkthrower reigned in his frustration and reminded himself Strayrat was a rat he now needed to make a friend of, or least ways not an enemy. How many years had that runt led the hackpaws, disguising himself as a lowly tracker and outrider, all the time concealing his true position in the clan?

Sparkthrower was still trying to work out what he found harder to come to terms with. That he, the chief warlock of the Fyrefur clan, was not privy to the identity of the clan’s master scurrier, or that Old Mother Cinderpaw was so vital to the clan that Strayrat had been instructed to reveal his identity so that Cinderpaw’s carcass could be retrieved.

“The corpse will do exactly as it pleases, just as the chief warlock will do exactly as I please.” Cinderpaw’s chill voice spoke, “And what I please is that we take our vengeance on this malignant forest.”

Sparkthrower looked uncomfortable, he had heard about Cinderpaw’s encounter with the spirits of the forest. He did not want another such abject failure haunting his reputation.

“Come chief warlock.” Said the ancient brood mother grabbing up her staff, seemingly growing in vigour with every passing second, “We have the woods to wake up.”

As the triumvirate of rat leaders, and the apprentice, made their way out of the cave the sound of massed ranks of ratkin became increasingly apparent. Drums beat, horns sounded. In the clearing beneath the cave small groups of warriors ran around busying themselves in the undergrowth.

“What are they doing?” Sparkthrower asked.

“Searching for the stumps.” Cinderpaw replied.

“I’m assuming there is more to this than digging out lumps of dead tree?” Sparkthrower continued.

“Of course. These are special stumps. Consider them akin to the remains of ancient heroes.” Cinderpaw explained, before turning to address Strayrat, “How many have the found?”

“Eight, my queen.” The scurrier replied.

“Then they have found enough. Call them back to their ranks. I will summon the forest.” Strayrat motioned to a runner stood by the entrance of the cave to take Cinderpaw’s message to the warriors. The brood mother raised her claws, yelled defiance at the sky before sending a lightening bolt hurtling towards one of the eight tree stumps the rummaging warriors had cleared.

“What are you doing?” Sparkthrower asked, already guessing the answer was unlikely to involve polite conversations over mugs of wine.

“Getting their attention.”

Sparkthrower was about to share his thoughts on Cinderpaw’s clearly questionable line of thought, particularly given her recent near, or possibly actual, death experience at the hands of the forces of nature, when he noticed eyes on the opposite side of the clearing. A lot of eyes. He shuddered.

The Hunters of the Wild were the first to break cover on the left flank, although the hill protected them from the prying eyes of the enemy. On the right, Strayrat ran forward making himself as visible as possible to the hidden foe. Sparkthrower shook his head as he, Cinderpaw and his apprentice made their way to the left side of the field. How had he not guessed that idiot was what passed for a master spy, scout and killer these days. Clearly there was the need for a new leader of the clan, a more subtle and refined one. One that did not lead suicide missions against angry trees and their ilk. Repeatedly.

The spell casters took up position as the beasts of the herd moved cautiously forward. Cinderpaw sensed the running of wolves on the right. Clearly, they hoped to claim the unprotected stumps before turning and trying to slash their way behind the vermin lines.

An eldritch storm of ice and hail seemed to whip up around the Spear horde on the hill. Chunks of ice rained down bludgeoning several warriors to death who were not been quick enough to raise their shields against the weather.

“Make the forest bleed.” Cinderpaw yelled in a wicked, rasping voice that seemed to Sparkthorwer had a new youthfulness he had never heard in his lifetime.

Wicked squeaks and beaten shields responded and the rat legions advanced as quickly as possible towards the warriors emerging from the trees ahead of them. The Spear horde and Vermintide on the hill broke off to face the wolves on the right. Strayrat ran from the Gur Panthers that stood in front of him, shooting at the Lycans by way of token aggression, allowing the Night Terror a clear path to charge the cats. Unfortunately, the panthers had moved around the slide of a lake and the terrain under claw was wet and slippery. Whilst the Night Terror reached its target the wet ground made it difficult to get purchase and the creature lashed out blindly, unable to hit any of the cats.

In the centre the priest on the Tangle cast weakness on the Spirit Walkers in anticipation of the combat that was to come.

Rage barely contained, Cinderpaw lashed out at the Beast of Nature in the centre of the herd lines with her lightening. Sparkthrower and his apprentice joined in. The creature reeled from the bolts that struck it, bloodied but unbowed it lowered its head to charge.

End of turn 1 …ish… spot the monster move that pre-empted the photo:)

Turn 2

The lightening struck Beast of Nature, crashed into the exposed flank of the Spear horde. Vermin bodies were broken and tossed aside, but the horde remained. The Gur Panthers pulled back from the Night Terror and ran towards the Spear horde eager to join the fight. As Moonfang and the winged Beast of Nature also turned their attentions in the direction of the Spears, the Lycans charged the Night Terror. Still struggling to find a grip on the slippery lakeside the creature was rapidly torn apart by the wolfmen who were more at home in the varied terrain of the out-of-tunnel.

The hill on the left of the field, combined with the ratkin’s battle order restricted the movements of the warriors of the herd leaving them with little option but to charge what they could see. The Brute Guardians and Hunters of the Wild charged a warrior regiment whilst the Spirit Walkers ran into the central Shock Troops. The warrior beasts found their targets wreathed in filth, reeking of fetid water and putrid flesh. The stench shredded their heightened senses, breaking their concentration, making blows miss their mark or slip off shields. On the hill the herd’s sheer weight of numbers broke the Warrior regiment. The Shock Troops, however, escaped any real damage from the Spirit Walker’s charge as the plague pots and weakness blunted their effort. The few casualties we easily absorbed and the ratmen readied themselves to fight back. The response was brutal. The Warriors to the right of the Shock Troops joined the fray. Still engulfed in filth the Spirit Walkers choked and spluttered, seemingly unable to raise their blades in their own defence as the ratmen went gleefully about their slaughter. The Vermintide nearest to the central Shock Troops charged the Hunters of the Wild to prevent them from lending any assistance to their friends whilst on the far left, the other Shock Troops charged up the hill, into the Guardian Brutes. Jagged blades ripped through animal flesh and feathers leaving bloody pulp where noble beasts had once stood. Freed from the distraction of the brutes the Shock Troops set to hacking at one of the stumps until all that remained was a hole in the ground from which torn roots protruded.

On the right the Spear horde continued their advance, moving away from the frenzied beast gorging itself on their former companions. They charged into the Gur Panthers, sending them scattering and set their spears, readying for the inevitable charge from the Lycans that had turned to face them. The Vermintide ran towards the winged Beast of Nature, scurrying around its feet, small teeth sinking into its flesh, preventing it from flying for the moment.

Strayrat engaged his target, a flurry of blades sought ways around and through Moonfang’s preternatural blocks and dodges, but could not find an opening through which he could land a killing blow.

In the centre Sparkthrower and his apprentice eyed the Beast of Nature feasting on the dead ratmen. The creature seemed oblivious to the fact it now sat within the rat lines. Blocked in by fighting to is rear and one side whilst the casters and the Tangle completed the circle. Sparkthrower raised his claw, a blue glow emanated from it and sparks danced like fireflies around it. The thing was almost pitiable the Warlock thought, but what relevance has pity to a battlefield? Sparkthrower discharged the energy that had built up in his claw. It hit the beast making it jolt and shriek. Sparkthrower’s apprentice raised his boomstick and followed his master’s lead and finally gouts of flame shot from the Tangle with an intensity and heat that stripped flesh and melted bone into the forest floor. She wanted to make the forest bleed, I guess this is the next best thing, Sparkthrower thought.

End of turn 2

Turn 3

Cinderpaw smiled as she surveyed the left side of the field. On the far left the last troop of Gur Panthers snapped ineffectively at the Vermintide that swarmed round their feet, avoiding their jaws and nipping at their legs with dirty, diseased teeth. Meanwhile the Hunters of the Wild were tied up with their own vermin issues. Try as they might they could not push the squeaking swarm back, let alone break it.

On the right flank the wolves were very much is ascendance. Moonfang lashed out at Strayrat. The Master Scurrier tried to dodge away from the blows, but he was not fast enough. Moonfang’s claws made contact with his chest slicing deep channels through his leather armour and into the flesh below. Adrenaline pumped, numbing Strayrat to the injury and making him question his choice of targets.

With the Gur Panther’s routed the path was clear for the Lycans to strike at the Spear horde. The wolfmen let out a near paralyzing howl. Some took to all fours, whilst others ran upright on their hind legs, but all leapt and fell as one upon the Spear horde. The ratmen had broken open the seals on their plague pot, but the noxious fumes did little to stop the frenzied onslaught of the dog men and their attacks, which combined with the losses the horde had already suffered were enough to send the remaining warriors running from the field.

Grounded by the Vermintide the winged Beast of Nature could do little but swot at the tiny beasts until they finally broke. In a desperate show of defiance of the ratkin the harpies on the left flank landed beside Moonfang, having secured two of the stumps with magical charms that would hide them once more from the eyes of the evil vermin.

Driven to the height of blood lust by their destruction of the brutes and the desecration of the stump the Shock Troops on the left charged further up the hill and into the flank of the Hunters of the Wild. Already hemmed in by the Vermintide the spindly forest fighters could do little to resist the storm of seemingly insatiable violence that enveloped them. The forest was beginning to bleed.

Damaged by the charge of the Spirit Walkers, and a localised blizzard conjured by the Gladewalker Druid, the central Shock Troops pulled back denying a charge to all but the bloodied Lycans. The remaining warrior regiment spied another stump and marched towards it, blades brandished eager to garner favour from Old Mother Cinderpaw.

Strayrat had pulled back from Moonfang. The brute was powerful and unbelievably fast. He was concerned he had met his match. Seeing the harpies coming into land just behind the beast Strayrat made a break for it. He turned and twisted away from slashing claws until he faced the bird women, but his exertions escaping the werewolf meant his attacks on the harpies fell short, failing to do anything except confirm in their minds the ratman was not a friend.

Encouraged by the destruction of the Beast of Nature Sparkthrower sought new targets. He pointed towards the Lycan horde, squeaking instructions immediately lost to the din of battle. His apprentice raised the boomstick whilst the Tangle turned to face the dogmen and seconds later they were bathed in lightening and flame. The heat and the shocks were too much for the creatures who scattered from the glade, tail between they’re legs.

End of turn 3

Turn 4

With much of the herd either dead or routed the Beast of Nature with Wings made a final attempt to save one of the stumps. It flew into the rear of the Warrior regiment that had set about removing another stump, but it was too late. Thin faces grinned with nervous excitement and tails twitched with glee at their destructive endeavours, driving the beast into a rage. It rained down furious blows, claws rending, fists pummelling until nothing recognisable remained of the rat warriors. The beast turned to face the Shock Troops on the hill only to feel the hacking of axes in its flesh as the Shock Troops in the centre charged its flank and ran it to ground before turning to face the central stump, their path to it now clear.

The harpies jumped and flapped, talons grabbed at Strayrat, but failing to connect in any meaningful way. Surrounded by the vicious, pecking, tearing bird women the Master Scurrier decided that discretion was the better part of valour and withdrew from the fight.

Moonfang surveyed the battlefield. The rats had visited the woods before. The trees had told him. He didn’t need the trees to tell him they were a plague, a filth, a cancer. He stalked forward anger and vengeance driving him on. Having seen the power of the rat creatures’ magic users he moved cautiously, skirting the base of the small hill the cowards hid behind. He felt the shot in the back first. A burning sensation from the assassin’s pistol, but such was his mood the bullet, if it penetrated at all, did not slow him. The Tangle shuffled into view, releasing a great gout of flame. The werewolf continued to stalk towards the rats. Finally, the lightening bolts came, scratching his skin but not deterring him.

End of turn 4

Turn 5

Moonfang picked up the pace as he saw the two casters ahead of him. He bounded towards the first. It raised some kind of stick, but whatever it was intended to do failed to happen and creature’s brittle body snapped in Moonfang’s claws. Anger still coursing through his veins he leapt to the next robed rat jaws tearing its throat clean out as the thing looked on in shock, not noticing what had happened until it was too late.

The harpies followed Moofang’s lead and swooped on the assassin once again. This time they managed to pin him to the ground. Deciding he had contributed enough to the battle Strayrat manged to pull a stone pendant from around his neck. Its shiny stone setting distracted the bird women long enough for Strayrat to roll away leaving the neckless in his place. The harpies crowded round the hypnotic gem, quite forgetting the ratman, and then in exploded, shattering into a million pieces that flew around embedding themselves in the harpy’s flesh, weakening, but not killing them. Snapping them out of their trance.

On the right flank Cinderpaw watched as the Gladewalker Druid ran for the woods preparing to unleash another tiny blizzard. The old brood mother knew instantly the danger this creature presented. The Shock Troops in the centre were badly wounded. It wouldn’t take much, even surrounded by their brethren, to send them scurrying from the field. Cinderpaw signalled to the central Vermintide regiment and together they charged the caster. The woods hindered their efforts, but a single blow caught the wizard, distracting him from his next spell.

End of turn 5

Turn 6

The central Shock Troops had reached the centre stump, noticing another not far away they ran to secure it. The Tangle advanced into the centre claiming the final stump and releasing a gout of flames that drove the harpies from the field.

Angry, alone and powerless Moonfang howled in a final act of defiance, before retreating to the safety of the trees.

In the aftermath of the battle Cinderpaw stood over the bodies of Sparkthrower and his apprentice.

“Best thing for traitors.” Strayrat said, appearing at the broodmother’s shoulder.

“I’ve always believed treachery is an action rather than a thought. Until it happens it is at best ambition, at worst indecision. Besides, I see dark days ahead for the world. The Halpi Mountains are crying out to the world, something is trying to escape, a book is needing to be opened. Nothing good ever came from a book that needed to be opened. Sparkthrower’s ambitions are for my position, its not personal. Besides, all good leaders should have someone capable for their duties to fall on, when they inevitably fall.” Cinderpaw mused reaching into her robes and producing a tiny black vial. “Who knows, maybe this experience will finally teach him a little humility.”

One drop to wake them, two drops to get the up.

End of turn 6

As the dust settles

The game was a 4:2 victory for the rats. As I mentioned in the introduction this is a new list for me and the aim is very much to understand more about how the Tangle and plague pots work as I’ve never felt they have a place in my usual rat builds. So here are my final thoughts:

Perseverance – my previous attempts at this kind of list have failed miserably. I first tried the Tangle and a more infantry heavy list at the beginning of the year against a similar herd list and got shredded. Even the previous iteration got itself pretty much tabled by the Kingdoms of Men. The key thing is perseverance and listening. I’ve got some really experienced opponents whose advice went a long way to moving the build forward, and of course I have to thank the Facebook Rat group for the Master Scurrier Crystal Pendant suggestion. I think rat assassins are an iconic part of the army and I think this build gives him a place. I very much believe Kings of War is a balanced game, allowing loads of different options to play armies in a variety of ways, but thought and practice still need to go into different builds to make them as effective as possible. I’m looking forward to playing with this list again soon.

Have a plan – I can find scenario play quite difficult. I tend to get wrapped up in the battle and start thinking far too late about how I’m going to achieve the objectives. In this game I actually went in with a plan that played to my strength. Because rats work best close together (primarily because of rallying) I decided from the outset I would look to secure the objectives on my left and the centre, whilst trying to prevent my opponent from accessing his. This meant I was able to concentrate my forces over a smaller area taking advantage of rallying and cloak of death support as much as possible, but also allowing relatively short range spells like fireball and banechant to be easily deployed where they were needed.

Rat of the match

I never thought I would say this, but the Tangle. I know this tiny titan has had glowing reviews from so many rat players but my traditional approach to rats has just meant the Tangle, and plague pots, have not been part of the equation. Now I get it. It is a perfect multi role tool that provides so many useful options. From using weakness to blunt the Spirit Walker’s charge to using fireball to supplement the lightening bolt shootiness I would go as far as to say this construct played a part in virtually every key moment in the battle.

Book Review: The Trouble With Peace

Who’s the writer?

Joe Abercrombie, a UK author and general master of modern fantasy fiction, who has written two previous trilogies and a couple of stand-alone books all based in the same setting. According to his website he’s done quite well, with previous books making their way to the upper reaches of the Sunday Times and New York Times Hardcover Bestseller Lists. He’s also quite good to follow on twitter, if you like that sort of thing.

What’s it about?

The Trouble With Peace is the second instalment of his latest trilogy, The Age of Madness. The story picks up a little while after the first book ends. The central characters, investor and daughter of the head of the King’s inquisition Savine Dan Glokta, newly crowned King Orso and the recently hailed hero of the Union, the Young Lion, weigh their next steps in a rapidly changing world.

Joe Abercrombie’s world has all the classic fantasy elements of wizards, barbarians, flatheads (chunky humanoids with big teeth and a penchant for hammering bits of metal into themselves) and suchlike. However, his treatment of the world and people in it is far from the traditional fantasy tropes. Whilst each book set in the world focuses on the characters that drive and shape key events his collection of work continually moves the timeline forward. This gives even the mightiest hero a transitory aspect as the inevitability of age and time wear on them before casting them into the mud and memory.

The Age of Madness finds the Union well entrenched in an industrial revolution. There are clear parallels to our own, as investors reap the financial rewards of new machinery and sketchy ethics. Not to mention the wilful blind eyes turned to the horrendous conditions for the working poor in slums, created by the shift of work to cities, and polluted by the factories those impoverished communities are built around. Its no wonder unrest is brewing.

The central story focuses on the ambitions of the main characters as they manoeuvre for power. The industrialisation of the Union, and the impact on citizens from all walks of life, is a backdrop that increasingly imposes itself on their privileged detachment and personal agendas.

Although modernisation is coming to the word there is no sign of fantasy or magic passing easily away. The Magi are still very much the puppet masters of the world, whilst in the north the prophetess Rikke must divine the best path for her people.

Joe Abercrombie handles the characters and their stories with his usual dark humour, bringing the book to a close on yet another glorious cliff hanger. Bring on the next instalment.

Is it any good?

Yes. Abercrombie’s work has a dark, thoughtful edge to it with an equally dark sense of humour. Grimdark it isn’t quite, but heroes are very much of the moment, and moments pass.

Burrows and Badgers battle report: Smashing Dumpkins

“We, the villagers of Warren Percy, will not stand idly by…”

I’ve been a massive fan of narrative battle reports, with just a little bit of tactical stuff, since picking up my first White Dwarf in the early nineties. Hence, in part, the blog. I was introduced to Burrows and Badgers about a year and a half ago. Oathsworn’s offering is pretty powerful; characterful miniatures, a simple and engaging ruleset and consistently high quality in everything they do. I haven’t played as much as I would like, but Warren Percy (the new two player campaign) seems like a great opportunity to change that. So, with my mainly mole mob, the Velvet Underground, it’s time to seek out new adventures in Northymbra.

The first scenario, the Hiring Fair, is divided into 3 mini games. Though short, they each create a great narrative so I will give a blog post to each of them. In the first mini game there are 5 dummies in the centre of the table and the warbands have to destroy them as quickly a possible.


Skills and equipment listed are in addition to any the creatures have naturally.

Velvet Underground (Free beasts)

Jasper Garotte (mole leader) – light armour, sword, blunderbuss, 4 lots of superior black powder

Cardinal Burrowsdeep (mole second) – gifted (natural magic), lightening

Maria (mole) – sword, light armour, light shield

Anya (mole) – cure

Felix (mole) – 2 hand axes, 2 lots of pain poison

Pedro (mole) – zweihander sword, light armour

Rex (honorary mole, actual massive hound) – mace, light shield, light armour, mace, magic ring level 1 speed

The Severed Claw (Wild beasts)

Sir Shrewsalot (shrew knight errant leader) – sword, light armour, light shield, lance strike

Orm the Toothless (small bird second) – sword, crossbow, buckler, light armour, 1 broadhead arrow, fast shot

Jo-Zerker (shrew) axe, light armour, light shield

Bufo Rhin (toad) – axe, mage’s pouch, elf bolt

Shrewbert (shrew) – sword, light armour, light shield

Smashing dumpkins

The five dumpkins, an awkward combination of sticks, sacking, root vegetables and straw that couldn’t conceivably be mistaken for anything other than an awkward combination of sticks, sacking, root vegetables and straw, had been assembled in the middle of the heath. Rex stood alone, as was so often the case before any type of confrontation, staring beyond them at the motley crew of assorted beasts gathered on the other side. He strained his eyes, closed them, shook his head a little and blinked them open. In the midst of the group a pennant fluttered in the breeze. As the members of the warband started to fan out, aligning themselves roughly to a dumpkin each, it became apparent the pennant was attached to a lance, held by what appeared to be a fully armoured shrew riding a stag beetle.

Rex stifled a giggle at the sight of the buffed and polished little creature as it wheeled around neatly to face the far right dumpkin. What will these little’uns think of next? But as he hefted his shield into place and felt the reassuring weight of his mace in his paw, a hazy memory floated through his mind. Somewhere in between the drinking and brawling of his old life, before he had been welcomed into the Underground, there had been stories. Hushed conversations, and rumours, and information on the good authority of the less than sober, passed on by the even less than sober. Somewhere amongst the mess that passed for his memories there were tales of a knightly order of shrews dedicated to slaying the massive beasts of Northymbra; but it was just a story, hopefully. He pushed the memory away as he noticed a small hole opening up in front of the central dumpkin and something metallic glinted in the freshly exposed sunlight.

Dumpkin 1

Sir Shrewsalot cantered, or the closest approximation one can undertake on a stag beetle, to the right of the heath. He steadied his mount. On the far side of the dumpkins the shrew could see moles in various styles of battle gear climbing out of their tunnels, preparing to cover the remaining distance to their targets. He started to ride forward. There was the ear-splitting bang of a black powder weapon being discharged. He continued, mount and rider unphased by the loud crack.

He glanced, for just a moment, towards a massive hound in the distance that seemed to be staring at him as only a dumb dog could.

“Let’s make this look good.” Sir Shrewsalot said to his mount, “It’s good for petulant pooches to witness the art of combat as it should be. Precise and elegant, rather than the clumsy thrashing around they seem to think passes for skill at arms.”

He returned his focus to the dumpkin, lowered his lance and spurred his mount to a charge. The lance and stag beetle’s antlers hit the not-quite-a-scarecrow at the same time. The impact caused the thing to explode. Cloth ripped, root vegetables flew through the air. The dumpkin was no more.

“Verily.” Quoth the knight, “That is the appropriate means by which one attains victory, whilst concurrently demonstrating and educating the colossal canine classes.”

Dumpkin 2

Whilst Sir Shrewsalot educated Rex, Orm The Toothless relaxed on a bale of hay that had been set down to show combatants the area in which the trials would take place. Preferring to fight at a distance, ideally from a comfortable perch, he loaded his crossbow rapidly firing off a pair of bolts. Both hit the target square in, what someone with the best of intentions had probably meant to be, the head. Starting to whistle a ditty he couldn’t remember the words for he reloaded the crossbow. This time the bolt was longer than the previous ones, with a tar-soaked rag wrapped around it. He lit it using a stick and nearby oil lantern that had, until this point burnt inexplicably at his feet. He squeezed the trigger. Seconds later flames ignited in the probably-was-intended-to-be-a-head of the dumpkin and the smell of roasting turnip mixed with the smell of burning straw.

Dumpkin 3

The first bang rolled out across the heath and several shards of assorted metal embedded themselves in the central dumpkin. The haphazard structure of the dumpkin was certainly shaken by the shot, but there was undoubtedly an argument it had also been strengthened in the process. Jasper Garrotte lowered his blunderbuss and started the well rehearsed process of reloading. It was only when he returned the weapon to his shoulder to take aim once again that he saw Shrewbert making a dash for the target, sword raised. Smirking at the thought of reducing the target to dust before the little creature’s eyes he pulled the trigger. There was a clunk, followed by a phlut. Jasper swore under his breath, before taking solace that the shrew was charging at the dumpkin and not him. To his right he heard the familiar battle cry of his comrade Pedro. He turned and watched as the mole warrior raised his zweihander above his head.

Shrewbert made it to the dumpkin first, stabbing at it with his sword. Seconds later the dumpkin collapsed as Pedro’s massive blade sliced through the base of the post holding it up. Pedro found himself face to face with the shrew as it worked through the events in its head. The old mole was sure he noticed a look of disappoint on Shrewbert’s face as it became apparent Pedro would take credit for destroying this dumpkin.

Dumpkin 4

After his momentary uncertainty at the presence of the shrew knight, Rex ran forward as the rest of his crew emerged from their holes. The moles might not have been the fastest, or most aggressive of fighters but their enthusiasm, combined with the mobility their tunnels afforded, meant he often felt he was the last to every fight. Keen to get stuck in he headed towards the nearest dumpkin where Bufo was readying to swing. Rex worked his legs as hard as he could, hoping to land a killing blow like Pedro had before him. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Rex’s blow landed before the toad’s obliterating the left side of the dummy, but it was not enough to claim a victory. Rex growled, trying to recover as quickly as possible and launch another furious blow. The toad, by contrast seemed so relaxed, winking at Rex he let his axe fall. The timing was perfect. The single, simple blow collapsed what remained. Bloody shamans.

Bufo lets Rex put the hard work in before finishing the job off.

Dumpkin 5

Jo-Zerker ran up to the final dumpkin and started hacking away. Emerging from his hole Felix watched the shrew busying away. He watched the axe falling and rising, carefully choosing his moment. As the dummy started to sway he sauntered over and slammed his stone axes into the back of the dumpkin. The force of the blows redirected the swaying dummy, causing it to fall onto the surprised shrew. Felix retrieved his axes as the shrew screamed out a volley of curses and abuse, pinned under the dumpkin.

As the dust settles

This is a very straight forward scenario that the Velvet Underground scraped a 1 point win. Not surprisingly, there are no great tactical takeaways, but it illustrates perfectly the depth and strong sense of narrative Burrows and Badgers creates. Now let’s see if the spell casters are ready.

Back soon…