A little reflection then a big jump in…

Basileans Vs. Ogres

It’s fair to say this blog hasn’t worked out the way I’d planned. There just never seems to be enough time. After a period of reflection, also known as a pandemic lockdown, I’ve decided to give this blog another shot. I’ll be writing across a range of subjects, all tied together by the fantasy theme. In addition to reading, I enjoy writing and playing tabletop games. The last two tie up quite nicely with games providing material for writing (writing is way easier when you don’t have to invent a story). So without further ado I present my first post – the telling of a battle between the knights of Basilea and some ogres.

The battle is fought using Kings of War rules with 1,995 points aside and the scenario is Invade.

The armies

Sha’leis’ Mission

1 – Sha’leis – Priest with Shroud of the Saint

2 & 3 – Ja’y’ll and Sa’y’ll – 2 Ur Elohi

4 – Phoenix

5 – Ogre Palace Guard horde with Brew of Sharpness

6 – Ogre Palace Guard horde with Jesse’s Boots

7 – Paladin Knights regiment with Caterpillar Potion and Aegis Fragment

8 – Gur Panther regiment

9 – Paladin Defender regiment with Brew of Strength

10 – Spearmen horde

The Ogres

1 & 2 – 2 Ogre Battle Standard Bearers

3 – Kuzlo and Madfall

4 & 5 – 2 Siege Breaker hordes

6 & 7 – 2 Boomer hordes

8 – Warrior Chariot regiment with Caterpillar Potion

9 – Red Goblin Slasher

10 & 11 – 2 Red Goblin Scout troops

12 Red Goblin Rabble horde

Starting places

Turn 1

Sha’leis stood between the ranks of Palace Guard and Spearmen. She clutched her hammer tightly as she read aloud from the pages of the Shining Road. Despite the darkening clouds overhead the light from the mighty Phoenix illuminated her pages. The mighty creature towered over her. An inferno wreathed its body and flowered from its feathers, but Sha’leis never felt more than a comforting glow no matter how close she stood.

The din of growls and drums from the other side of the plain focused her mind on the ogres and goblins that stood half hidden by the hill that also protected her own forces. A great beast with a giant crossbow strapped to its back let out a hungry, guttural roar which seemed to be the signal for the horde to advance.

On the left of the field, standing to the right of a pyramid Ja’y’ll, one of the Ur Elohi sent to guide and protect Sha’leis, looked across at the chariots slowly moving into position. He noticed movement, followed by the unmistakeable celestial ripple of magic. A goblin on a giant lizard had launched an attack on the Gur Panthers. He heard them roar in pain and confusion as they seemed to be grabbed and dragged forward, but the spell seemed to wear off before it could do any lasting damage. Angered by the impudence of the midget magician Ja’y’ll took to the skies. It wasn’t only him who hurried to the aid of the panthers. Seconds later both Ja’y’ll and his brother Sa’y’ll crashed into the goblin caster. Burning swords fell, bringing the diminutive magician’s tricks to an immediate end. Seeing the angels push forward drove the panthers to action. They charged into the chariots. Little damage was done. If the panthers had considered their action it was, at best, a selfless act intended to protect those who had protected them.

In the centre of the field Goblin Scouts crested the hill on either side of the Slasher. The Slasher loosed a bolt into the Paladin Defenders but it clattered harmlessly to ground somewhere behind their ranks. The response to the appearance of the goblins was immediate. The Paladin Knights and one of the Palace Guard hordes charged up the hill and smashed into the monster. Lances puncturing its thick skin and heavy ogre blades chopping at its legs, cutting it to the bone, making it shriek in pain. It bucked and thrashed trying to find a way to escape. Its goblin riders were thrown to the ground, and not much later the beast found its way out, stampeding from the battlefield desperately searching for some way to make the pain stop. The Slasher’s rout left a hole in the skirmish line which the Phoenix sought to exploit by launching a series of fireballs at the goblin Scouts. Shocked by the heat of the creature’s magic and disgusted, even by their own standards, by the sight and smell of two of their number being melted caused the troop facing down the Palace Guard to waiver.

End of turn 1

Turn 2

On the left of the field the panthers ran from the charioteers, unable to resist the ferocity of the drivers’ blows or the lashes of their cruel whips. Sa’y’ll saw the remaining cats break and flew into the chariots, snuffing out any intentions they had of joining the main battle before they even had the chance to kindled in their minds . Ja’y’ll’s first instinct was to follow his brother, but he sensed his help would be needed in the centre. He turned to see a horde of Siege Breakers stomping up the hill and bludgeoned they’re way into the Paladin Knights. Scimiters and heavy shields swung into horses caving skulls, snapping necks and sending fully armoured riders flying. Ja’y’ll moved to intervene but he reached the fight too late. The knights had been destroyed.

Despite being too late for the Knights Ja’y’ll’s charge brought confusion to the ogres. Only moments before they had destroyed their enemy and expected a momentary lull in the fighting as they eyed their next target. The angel used the confusion to his advantage. He sliced through shield arms and hacked at flesh that rolled out between ill fitting armour plates, but on his advantage was quickly lost, and he drew back as the Siege Breakers started to regroup.

On the right side of the battlefield the Rabble ran towards the Spearmen stopping just short of the tips of their weapons. There seemed to be an audible sigh of relief from the men. It was sharply dismissed by the loud crack of hand cannons opening fire from the Boomers standing behind the goblins. The Spearmen braced expecting the worst. As the sound dissipated, turning into ringing in their ears, they started to mutter thanks to the Shining Ones under their breathe as the damage seemed to be minimal.

As the Spearmen surveyed the scene it quickly became apparent that the ogres’ shooting had been split. Whilst the Spearmen had largely been untouched, the Palace Guard on the hill had taken heavy casualties. A handful of guards stood waivered on the hill, surrounded by bleeding bodies slumped in broken armour.

Sha’leis surveyed the carnage the guns had wrought. Undaunted she put her faith in those that had led her to the hill. She raised her voice and begged the Shining Ones for aid. A familiar warmth coursed through her body. It channelled itself through her and into the broken Basilean ogres restoring flesh, bone and metal, restoring the horde to its full compliment.

The damage and subsequent healing of the guards on the hill spurred the other horde of Palace Guard and Spearmen into action. They charged together into the Rabble which disintegrated under their boots.

End of turn 2

Turn 3

The Siege Breakers on the hill now separated with one horde charging into the Palace Guard in front of them with the goblin scouts. The other horde, that had been badly damaged by Ja’y’ll, decided to find an alternative target to the angry angel and ran towards the Paladin Defenders. The Defenders held their own against the weakened Siege Breakers striking back with cool, deliberate hammer blows that found their way between the gaps in their mighty shields and smashed what little resolve they had left. On the hill the Palace Guard faired less well, with many returning to the mud for the second time that day.

On the right the Boomers and their army standard bearer charged the spears and remaining Palace Guard. One horde of Boomers and their standard bearer traded blows with the Spearmen, neither side gaining any real advantage. Next to them, however, the Palace Guard quickly put the other Boomer horde to the sword. Swift punishment for their impudence.

In the sky the Phoenix wheeled gently before bearing down on the remaining scouts, fireballs driving them from the field.

End of turn 3

Turn 4

Having waivered the chariots in the previous turn Sa’y’ll now raised his sword in silent triumph over their burning remains. He turned to see Ja’y’ll dodging the heavy blows of an ogre standard bearer, struggling to make his own connect.

The rest of the battlefield was starting to thin out now. The remaining Boomers had gained an upper hand against the spearmen sending them running from the field, whilst the Boomer’s standard bearer made a brave, but ultimately disastrous attempt to hold up the Palace Guard. Whilst a charge was prevented the Palace Guard trampled the banner bearer into the ground as they advanced on the real threat. In a move that echoed the bravery, or stupidity, of the ogre banner bearer the Phoenix descended to the battlefield and settled in front of the remaining Siege Breakers bathing them in fire.

This was unlikely to end well

Turn 5

The Boomers charged and hacked at the Palace Guard, but their moral was failing. Despite taking some damage the guard fought back, breaking the Boomers before turning to see the flames of the Phoenix extinguished. Clearing the way for the final show down.

Sensing the end drawing near Sha’leis once again channelled the Shining Ones to ensure the Palace Guard were best placed to stand against the final, inevitable charge of the Siege Breakers.

Turn 6

Sa’y’ll and Ja’y’ll had turned from the body of the broken banner bearer before it hit the ground. They heard the Siege Breakers smash into the Palace Guard. Dust and noise obscured the melee. The Ur Elohi held each other’s gaze for mere moments. There could be no waiting for this combat to be resolved. Ja’y’ll looked his brother up and down. His beautiful brother was wounded, the blood of ogre and angel slicked his armour, mixing with the desert dust. “Stay.” Ja’y’ll said before taking to the skies and barrelling into the rear of the Siege Breakers.

Of Ogres and Angels
End of turn 6

The dust settles

 This was a close game. Had the Palace Guard horde not survived the Seige Breaker’s charge it would have been unlikely a win could have been salvaged even in if it had gone to a seventh turn.

Whilst a win is always welcome, it’s still worth picking out some learning points. Basileans are a new army to me and this was my first outing at 2,000 points. Retelling the battle, even in a narrative form highlighted a few things to bear in mind for the future:

Must improve my deployment – the Paladin Defenders blocked up the horde of Palace Guard with Brew of Sharpness in turn two limiting their charge options. Given the circumstances they probably ended up going the right way, but its nice to have choices! Also, putting the Spearman horde opposite the Boomers was not the best plan, I was lucky my opponent decided to split their fire in the second turn. Losing the spears too early would have opened up my right flank to those cannon toting maniacs. I should really have had an Ur Elohi hanging around on the right somewhere, or even better tried to the match the spears against the chariots, with the panthers and the Ur Elohi facing the Boomers.

Paladin Defenders probably aren’t the best fit for this army – one of the reasons I went for Basileans was because I wanted an excuse to use these models (more about them in a future blog). I love ’em, but I just don’t think they fit my play style. Yes, they’re sturdy and can hold objectives, but so can my Ogres, Spearmen and Ur Elohi, so I think its time to do a bit of soul searching…

Credit where its due

Yes, there was some stuff that wasn’t great, but there was a win though so that means more stuff went right than wrong! So, what went right?

Angels of the match – Ja’y’ll and Sa’y’ll worked together brilliantly. Between them they kept the chariots away from the main battle lines, killed Kuzlo, killed a standard bearer, assured the destruction of both hordes of Seige Breakers with flank and rear charges and ensured there was a scoring unit in the enemy half. Not too bad a showing.

The Phoenix – the Flaming Death Chicken, as its known locally, definitely needs a name. I think support pieces can be quite difficult to get to grips with, but I feel like I’m getting there with this one and had a better idea of when to use heal and when to use fireball. Still more to get to grips with though before I can claim to be a Flaming Death Chicken master though.

BTW – everything I write are my own opinions and interpretations, no matter how misguided or flat out wrong they may be. They definitely don’t reflect the views and opinions of anyone or anything else. Anything meaningful, useful or otherwise worthwhile is purely co-incidental.

Happy New Year is a state of mind.

I love a good calendar and the smell of a brand new diary, but its not enough to make me want to hold hands with a stranger and sing Auld Lang Syne.

I find New Year, the celebration as opposed to the inevitable flow of days, problematic. I think there is something massively disingenuous about forcing myself into the party spirit simply because I’m getting a new calendar. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good calendar and the smell of a brand new diary, but its not enough to make me want to hold hands with a stranger and sing Auld Lang Syne. Aside from anything it makes visits to WHSmiths and the Calendar Shop really awkward.

Add to this personal experience. Usually, I seem to get hit by a double whammy of sickness and ridiculous work requests that makes January feel like the dumping ground for the previous year rather than start of a new adventure.

However, one of the great things about the human condition is our capacity to learn from experience and create change. Whilst a frustrating pattern has, for me, built up around New Year I still think having a period of reflection and renewal every so often is incredibly helpful. The changing of the calendar is a helpful prompt. So, over the past couple of years I have come to accept that the start of January isn’t my time for this and that’s okay. That it happens is far more important than when it happens. Consequently, my New Year is now late January to early February. In previous years, finding time to reflect on my previous 365 days on the planet and set some goals for the next 365 days has not only given me a sense of achievement, based on actual achievements, but also helped me get excited for the year ahead.

So, what about this year ahead? What’s going to get me through? This year is very much the year of the blog. Expect to see more of my brief thoughts I really want to share. And books, books will continue to be a big thing.

To be a bit more specific Christina Henry has two titles coming out this year. In early March (I want to say the 3rd) a dark fairy tale will appear in a short story collection called Cursed, alongside work from the likes of Neil Gaiman (I’m sure I know that name from somewhere) and Charlie Jane Anders. In April (21st apparently) we get the chance to return to Alice’s dark and disturbing world with the release of a novella collection called Looking Glass.

But because I believe you can get as excited about books you haven’t read as shiny new titles I’m also looking forward to:

  • Starting the final book of Andrew Caldecott’s Rotherwierd trilogy Lost Acre.
  • Having just finished Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King and started Half a World one of my goals is to get up to date with his work with Half a War and A Little Hatred.
  • I also have on order a “new to me” author Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon The Ninth.

So, whilst the first few days of this new year could be charitably described as a write off, one calmly reflective blog later and I feel confident I can finally say “Happy New Year”.  

Golden opportunity? You might think it sucks, but it might be best not to bite!

True Mina isn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lara Croft…

There can be nothing more exciting for an author than having a movie made of your book. It must genuinely be one of the best feelings to think you have produced a story so compelling it’s worth transitioning into a completely different media (not to mention spending millions of dollars on doing so). I would certainly be excited. Admittedly, I am still to complete the first step in this process: writing a book! Despite the excitement for the author, there is an all too familiar concern raised by readers – what if the film isn’t any good?

Earlier this year I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time. It is, I admit, the first time I have read a book after watching the film, in this case the Francis Ford Coppola version. I remember loving the film, with its tagline of “Love never dies”. Oldman, Ryder, Hopkins and Reeves led the cast guaranteeing some fantastic acting. What grabbed me most about the film was the use of the Count’s origin story and his pursuit of Mina to create a character that was almost sympathetic. This complexity made this film much more than a simple good vs. bad vampire hunting flick.

However, as I read through Bram Stoker’s opus, excited to see this love story played out in its original state it became apparent that it wasn’t there. There was no great love story stretching across the ages. In fact, I would go as far as to say there were no redeeming features to the Count. He was simply a bloody beast of legend and superstition. However, the more I read the more I understood that this book was not simply a clash of good and evil. Far more than that, this is a tale about the confrontation of old and new, science against superstition. Mina’s role becomes far more interesting in the book than the film. Rather than playing the love interest, her relationship with Jonathon Harker is more of a partnership. Her engagement with, and enjoyment of, new technology marking her out as a modern woman. True she isn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lara Croft, but her role in the book is central and multi-faceted. Its no surprise that at the end of the book it is Mina, the men of science, the lawyer and the former soldier turned businessman that stand triumphant whilst the Count and the Texan hunter fall; the modern world wins.

The book truly intrigued and excited me. I found myself wondering if I had been blinded by the shiny special effects of Hollywood and a few big names? I did the only thing I could do, watched the film again. It was still awesome. I have written about retellings of stories before, and now more than ever I stand by those thoughts. Using the same characters the storytellers have created very different stories, both of which are compelling, complex and well suited to the media they have been told in.

Yes, it’s easy to spot the difference between most films and the books they have been inspired by. What is difficult, particularly with books we love, is seeing the story told differently to what we expect. If I ever get around to writing that book, the one someone wants to turn into a film, I think I will be excited. However, when I turn up for the premiere, I will probably do my best to forget what I wrote. That way I can enjoy the film for what it is.

What exactly do you mean by that?

“…there is an important distinction between words and stories.”

There’s an inevitable range of opinions that crop up when the question gets raised about what a story is trying to say. Suggestions can range from nothing (it’s just an entertaining story), to deep analysis of each individual letter, not to mention the number of full stops used, to try and decipher the writer’s intention.

The more I’ve mulled over the best way to address this topic, the more an allegory seemed the right way to do it! So, without further ado…

Once upon a time there was a stick. A man picked up the stick and took it home. It was a dry stick that would be great for lighting a fire. When the man got home, he broke the stick up and set the fire in his hearth. He cooked his evening meal and enjoyed it in the fire’s warming glow. The man was so happy he had found the stick. He started to feel sleepy and eventually he dozed off. The fire was left untended and it was not long before a spark jumped into the room, landing on a chair. The chair caught fire. The man woke up just in time to escape from his burning house. As he stood outside watching the flames devour everything he owned, he wished he had never found the stick.

I am hoping you’ll have already guessed the stick represents words. I think there is an important distinction between words and stories. Words are tools we use to create stories and its these stories that are then released into the wild in the hope someone will read them.

Some stories, or indeed any piece of writing, contain clear and obvious messages. Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen and Heroes by Joe Abercrombie both talk starkly about the realities and waste of war, obscured by the pomp and pageantry of patriotism.

However, not every story offers such clear insights into writers’ intentions. There are undoubtedly those who set out purely to entertain, whilst others set out to deliver a message that is less obvious in its delivery (whether by intention or not). Even if you are writing to entertain its always worth considering the themes and tropes your work includes, because you never know who will read your work and pop a comment on social media!

Of course, if you’re not sure your message is as clear as you want it to be you could always take a leaf out of Shakespeare’s book and include a disclaimer:

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here,

While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding than a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend:

If you pardon, we will mend.

A tale better in the retelling?

We’ve all found a story we love brought to life by a fantastic writer. It’s great, engaging and somehow makes the world a better place for every minute spent lost in it. Then someone else decides to write their own version. Or, they decide the characters would be great in a completely different situation, or a completely different stage in their lives. How do you react?

Just to be clear, for the purposes of this post I’m using retelling to describe any time a writer has either rewritten a story in their own style, or taken key elements of a story (characters or events) and presented them in a very different light; not to mention anything and everything between these approaches.

There are a range of reactions, and it’s an understandably personal thing. From refusal to acknowledging the retelling has taken place, to giddy excitement about a new take on a story you love by an author you love (or could end up loving if they just get this right). I tend to err towards giddy excitement, even if it’s an author I don’t know, because I like the thought that it somehow keeps stories, and characters I love alive and relevant. Let’s face it, it’s also a natural part of story evolution, a practice that could be as old as the second story ever told!

Whilst a retelling is likely to get me reaching for the bookshop shelf, my enthusiasm can quickly wain if I can’t find that all important spark. The reason why the author thought it would be a good idea to tackle a retelling rather than work on something new. And this is the challenge of retelling, meeting readers’ expectations. Every version of a story that has gone before shapes readers’ views of what the story and characters should be.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every retelling needs to be a fastidious, blow by blow, copy of the original. Equally there isn’t a requirement for a revolution; a trouncing of the old to justify the new. It’s simply a case of understanding those key elements of a story that readers expect and building the narrative around those.

So how much change justifies a retelling? For me the answer is simple, provided there’s a balance between meeting expectations and hearing the author’s own voice I don’t see how anyone can go wrong! Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Christina Henry’s Alice are great examples of retelling. Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a straight retelling enhanced by his exquisite pros. Henry’s version of Alice is very much at the other end of the spectrum. The backdrop and characters have sizeable makeovers, yet through the turbulence and blood (a hallmark of many of her books) it is still unmistakably Alice.

What is this all about?

It’s not the right kind of fantasy fiction.

If someone had asked me a few years ago what a decent fantasy fiction book needed my answer would have called for an elf, a dwarf and some goblins. Not to mention a muscle bound, sword swinging hero with the medieval equivalent of a t-shirt bearing the legend “Good Guy” plastered over his armour defining chest. With such a narrow definition it’s no wonder I got bored and drifted away from the genre.

Recently I found myself browsing through one of the few remaining book shops on my local high street. Leafing through books in the Sci Fi and Fantasy section. I wanted something to read, but what? There were numerous titles that featured assassins, wizards, evil kings and noble knights, firm indicators they were my staple reading fodder of old. None of them appealed. Helped by a staff recommendation I paid my money and left with a copy of The Vorrh by Brian Catling, a book and author I had never heard of.

There were no goblins or elves in the book, but there were angels, cyclops and a living forest. A manageable variance in my eyes. Thankfully the book drew me in from the first page. It had me firmly in its grip thanks to Catling’s excellent wordsmithing and intriguing plot. But… it was set just after World War One and this, more than anything else, made me ask – is it really fantasy? For some reason, despite the abundance of clearly fictional creatures, and a touch of the magical, I had a problem getting past the era it was set in. However, I am a great believer of “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

I finished The Vorrh and then moved onto more books set in more modern times, forcing me out of my comfort zone. Books where swords have been replaced by guns, and noble steeds by cars or bicycles. With each title I read I found myself challenging the definition of fantasy fiction I had previously constructed for myself.

Frankly its been one of the best quests I have ever undertaken in the literary realms. Journeying far and wide through the minds of Pratchett, Abercrombie, Catling and Henry, has brought a wealth renewed enjoyment to a genre I had once seen as a bit stale. The most difficult question I face now is “What sort of books do you like to read?”. Its taken a while, but I think I’m getting closer to an answer, “Great books, with just the right amount of weird in them.”