Wednesday, 26 July 2017

In Print

Any excuse to use this again!

As you might know if you ever look on this blog, I'm writing a series of novels, the first of which, The Wake of Manadar, is now available in print like a proper grown-up book as well as the new-fangled eBook version. You can find it, should you be so inclined, at the link in this text or by clicking the ad in the top right of the blog. It's not incredibly cheap, but it's a fat book that should pass more than one evening and double as an emergency defensive weapon in a pinch.

This has been quite a long, often frustrating, journey so far and it's one that's hopefully still beginning. I'm well underway on the second book and believe me I'll be making some noise about it when it's done!

A few observations- firstly, whilst I remain unconvinced that it's worth spending the frankly quite mad amounts of money I've seen quoted for an editor when self-publishing (£4000?) it's certainly well worth commissioning an artist to do your cover. I originally knocked up a better-than-terrible one myself but eventually commissioned the very talented Sean Harrington, whose rates are very reasonable and who didn't get wrapped up in minutiae over rights. Not using an editor does mean, however, that you're going to have to proof-read your work a lot- and I mean a lot. One author I talked to recently recommended having a text-to-speech tool read the book back to you, which is something I'm going to have to try.

Anyway, I'd like to thank everyone who's supported me so far and anyone who buys the thing, and should you happen to run into me carrying a copy I'll be happy to sign it.. once my signature recovers from those infernal 'touch-sensitive' pads every delivery driver seems to carry these days. I'm working on it!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Finding new battlefields

This isn't an especially 40k-related post despite the title, but it touches on it a bit.

Recently it has been announced that the creators of Game of Thrones are working on a new series called 'Confederate' which is set in an alternate reality where slavery is still legal. They say it details the events leading up to a Third American Civil War, in an America where the southern states successfully ceded from the Union. The BBC has a piece on the reaction to this announcement and the almost inevitable backlash.

Now here's the first thing, and it's the thing that most directly relates to 40k too if you like- just because a writer or other creator chooses to set their story in a particular world doesn't mean that they think that world is a good place to be. We've all read the occasional obnoxious chin-stroking think-piece by a hack journalist desperate for some clicks who suddenly comes to the universe-shattering conclusion that the Imperium is a Fascist dictatorship and therefore assumes that anyone who plays 40k must be a KKK member or jackbooted wannabe blackshirt. The point of a setting is that it's just that- a setting, a stage, a place you can tell your story, and often the worse things are in that setting, the more story hooks are lying around.

The converse is also true- there are some stories where a world that is obviously meant to be 'better' than ours comes under threat. When the writers of Star Trek have the Borg turn up and assimilate an entire Federation planet, or the Cylons wipe the Twelve Colonies out of existence, the writers aren't saying this is a great thing to have happened- they're saying it's an interesting story. Big, crucial, difference. All but the most trivial (or very, very weird) stories need some form of conflict or crisis to drive the narrative, and that means that something good will be threatened, or something bad will need to be challenged.

There's a second, more insidious argument being deployed by the critics of 'Confederate' though, and it's the one which, as an aspiring writer, I find most chilling. Several people (check that BBC article for examples, I'm not linking them) have complained that 'two white guys' can't tell a story about slavery because they aren't black. Well excuse the hell out of me, but as a white male I'm going to write stories about who and whatever I damn well please. In fact, there's a cute little Catch-22 waiting for us here- for some time now, people have been complaining that there aren't enough strong female characters in big Hollywood movies, or enough black characters, or enough of whatever particular group you'd care to mention. But by the previous rule- that you have to be member of a particular group before you're qualified to write stories about it- that means all those white male screenwriters or novelists aren't allowed to write those stories. And of course if you're a white woman, you can't write about black women. If you're a black man, you can't write about black women. And so on and so on. "Only a Ginger..."

Of course I'm applying reductio ad absurdum here. After all, if we applied this 'rule' that strictly no one person could ever write a book at all unless it was set in a very odd society indeed. (and of course such a book would immediately be open to flak for 'lack of diversity') But the simple fact is that this argument is absurd. My own novel, The Wake of Manadar, features plenty of strong female characters and I was fully aware when writing it that I wasn't female, which is why I got women to read it and call me out on anything that wasn't quite right. I'm sure most other authors do the same thing, even if it's just checking with their partner or their editor. The idea that a major TV series on HBO might get all the way into full production without plenty of input and feedback from all manner of diverse people is patently daft. And yet, in the increasingly angry, judgmental, holier-than-thou world we seem to be living in, some people see fit to criticize a creative work based solely on the premise and the race of the people behind it.

There's a word for that. It begins with an 'R'.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Open War!

Firstly a quick apology for the lack of recent posts. Our family business recently took a direct hit from lightning and it blew up all sorts of kit, including our Internet, so things have been a little chaotic recently. Mostly sorted now though.

Anyway, though there have been various interesting looking things appearing recently, like the slug-like Nurgle Plaguecrawler and all those scary-looking new Primaris Marines, the thing I've been most taken with is the new Open War cards. I think these are one of the most interesting things to happen to 40k since Maelstrom Missions, and yes, I am counting 8th Ed in general in there.

Simply put, the Open War cards increase the number of potential 40k scenarios to 1,728. That's not a typo, and it assumes two armies of equal Power. Not only that- and this is something I really appreciate as someone who lugs his armies around on buses- it means that all you need to play rules-wise is the core game rules and the Open War deck.

Where do I get that big number from? Well, there are 12 Objective cards, which tell you what you're trying to do to win, 12 Deployment cards which define the deployment setup (no shocks so far, I know) and 12 Twist cards that alter the game, sometimes quite dramatically. So that gives us 12x 12x 12 potential scenarios. Some of these can be pretty major- several of the Deployments have points or even entire borders where the two players deployment zones touch, meaning you could start the game with armies 3" apart, for example. One army could be surrounded in the middle of the table, or split between up to four zones.

The Twists take this further and really shake things up. There's one that forces a more 7th Edition style of deployment, where one player sets up first and gets the first turn if they aren't seized on, and others that cause troops to heal, speed up or slow Movement, impair shooting, etc. Combine that with objectives that can range from Power-based Kill Points to sudden death victories for controlling several Objectives at once, and it becomes a real challenge to successfully play to the scenario.

I've not talked about the Ruse and Sudden Death cards yet, because since they only come into play with unbalanced forces I think they're less likely to be used, but they're still quite interesting. A player who has less Power then their opponent gets a Ruse, and these are usually fairly minor, like a redeployment, a bonus to certain actions, or ignoring Morale. Sudden Death cards are much juicier, and take effect if one player has half or less their opponent's Power. Building on an idea from Age of Sigmar, they introduce a secret win condition for the underdog player which will win them the game immediately if they achieve it. Since they vary from killing the most powerful enemy unit to driving the enemy out of a specific board zone, in such a game the player with the more powerful force is going to be pretty nervous to say the least, and the underdog will have some interesting options as far as bluff and double bluff goes.

"Oh please don't go over there and take my Objective, B'rer Fox" [Wins next turn on Drive Them Out card]
It's fair to say that Open War probably won't find a home in competitive tournaments- certain combinations can make things very tough on one player or the other. For example, I played a couple of games with them at the weekend and in the first my Tyranid-playing opponent was unfortunate that we drew the Kingslayer objective card, which means you have to destroy more Power than your opponent and Warlords count double. Since his Warlord was the Power 15 Swarmlord who was on his own due to the point level and I was playing Dark Eldar with splinter and Dark Lances, he was some 30 Power down very quickly and would have been nowhere near parity even if he'd killed my Power 7 Lelith. Overall, though, I think the fact that they force you to deal with situations outside of the norm makes the cards interesting and a good tactical challenge.

Are they perfect? No, and I think the most obvious silly thing is the card backs. For example:

As you can see, the backs of the various types of card are clearly different, but not all that different. Each type of card has a moody greeny-grey grim-dark face on it, it's just a slightly different moody greeny-grey grim-dark face. Since the cards are printed in full colour, I'd have liked to have seen each type of card with a different coloured back to make sorting them into their respective piles nice and simple. But that's a minor gripe, and one which shouldn't dissuade you from trying them out. I certainly plan to get plenty of mileage out of mine.