Battle Tactics: The Battle of the Bastards (TV version)

(SPOILERS for Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire)

I am not a huge fan of the later books in GRRM’s A song of ice and fire, so I have not really delved into the TV show, with the exception of when there is a major battle to watch. This most recent season had the famous battle of the Bastards which was one of the most visually spectacular and exciting battles out there. I loved it.

Mostly.

I have a serious problem with the way that Bolton’s spear wall is portrayed. Take a look at the following pictures:

BoB 1

Big shields and a wall of spears… a strong shield wall ha turned back many a barbarian horde hasn’t it? Note that men can easily fit between the spears and despite the length of the weapon it is only braced by two men.

BoB 3

Some unlucky Wilding gets too close to the shield wall and gets an ugly surprise. Note the long length of exposed wood on these spears.

BoB 2

The size of the forces involved. What happens if all of the Wildlings, fearing death, push in one direction?

.

BoB 4

Another view showing the relative size of the forces involved. The reaction of any force being squeezed like this is to push back at some point in a desperate attempt to survive.

So the Bolton Spearwall is an odd duck.

  • The shields are enormous individually, but do not gain the strength that a smaller shield overlapping with a neighbors shield would.
  • The spears are a long as some pikes but only have one set of extra hands bracing them and absolutely no support from spears further back in the formation. The main deterrent from pushing into a phalanx is that one is always exposed to more rows of spears, there is no safe channel for men to flow through to get to the shields.
  • Several of the Wildlings are shown making it to the shields. One opens up and delivers a swords thrust to keep the man back. This is great TV, but terrible tactics for a spearwall where it would be far better to ward the front rank with more spears. The sword thrust appears to come from the man in the second rank, which is a pretty long lunge, and that oversize shield looks awful clumsyand hard to get back into place.

I would argue that the Wildlinsg would push back against the shields of the Bolton men. The spear density is just too sparse to stop them and the enemy ranks are too thin to prevent a breakout. Once the mass of bodies is pushing against the shields (which is inevitable, one way or another) it is very hard for the front man to move his shield aside for the man behind him to thrust with a blade. The Romans used shorter, wider shields that they could thrust over.

Some would argue that the Bolton spearwall bears some similarities to medieval spear units, the Roman Legion, or even that the Bolton men are so good or the Wildlings are so unused to formation fighting that they could not get up to the shields to push back.

Fine. What then stops the Wildlings from doing exactly the first thing that leaps to mind when I look at that spearwall: What stops the Wildings from grabbing the spears or hacing the points off? In a true Phalanx the secondary spears could thrust out to prevent this. Nothing at all prevents it in the battle of the bastards. No matter how stupid and fearful the Wildlings are eventually someone is going to hack the head off of one of those spears, or, worse yet, grab them and pull. It would only take three men pulling to overpower the two men holding the spear in the Bolton formation.

The Macedonian Phalanx

The Macedonean Phalanx. One of the pinnacles of formation warfare. The pikes are braced by numerous men and defended by row after row of spear tips that could thrust forward to ward off anyone pushing into the formation. 

Even then a true fanboy could argue that I am wrong and it does not have to turn out that way. A particularly cynical chap might say that they were overawed or low on morale, ready to be slaughtered like animals.

Ok. So what then happens when those spears start pushing into the mass of men and getting weighed down by bodies. Each of those spears would rapidly become useless as it pushes into the packed Wildlings. After it impales a few it becomes a liability as the rest can easily surge over the encumbered weapon and get into the Bolton line before it reforms. In a true spearwall the additional spears could be used to push bodies off, but more importantly they provide immediate replacements when the front spear gets broken, pulled away, or becomes unwieldy due to impaled bodies, there are immediate replacements already in place.

I admit I am being picky. Fans loved the Battle of the Bastards. The problem is many of those fans, like my own stepson, will go on to write their own fantasy tales/shows/games and I do not want to see them compound on this error.

Total War Warhammer: Eye for an Eye Beastman campaign review

Beastman DLC

A fun DLC, if not exactly essential for every player.

I am a big fan of Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer. I make no secret of the fact that I feel it carries the banner of GW’s The Old World long after it was ruined in a bizarre business decision. You can read my fawning fanboy review of the base game here.

Call of the Beastmen is the first DLC for Total War: Warhammer. The Eye for an Eye campaign is the mini campaign included with the DLC, which also adds the beastmen as a playable faction to the all-important grand campaign.

The big sticking point for many players was the cost of the DLC at ~20$ and a few important units (Gorgon/Jaberslythe) that were not included. While I can understand that, I am happy with the DLC overall.

The Eye for an Eye campaign has the player take control of Beastlord Khazrak as he seeks revenge against Boris Todbringer for blinding him in one eye. It is one of the more pivotal rivalries in Beastman lore from the tabletop.

The campaign is fun, and does a good job of showcasing the unique mechanics available to the Beastmen. There were some epic battles and interesting choices for a medium length game and I got my money’s worth for sure. On the downside, it does not allow the player to control any leader other than Khazrak and does not quite have enough depth of factions to offer much replay value.

While the Eye for an Eye campaign does not quite knock it out of the park, the Beastman as a faction more than make up the difference. The units offer interesting variations in each crucial role, focusing on mobility, ambush, and charge mechanics. The minotaurs and centigors, in particular, were a joy to use in battle. The roster, despite criticisms, had decent depth.

I did like that Khazrak could get a chariot mount, but you need to focus quite a bit on any chariot to get the best out of it in TWW.

The main difference between the Beastmen and other factions is how they play out on the campaign map. Beastmen are a horde faction (no cities) that have a very unique set of stances. Their basic movement stance has a chance to trigger an ambush battle on the attack, while their encampment stance allows them to hide from all but the most astute of pursuers. They can also raid for money and bestial rage (Bestial rage is similar to the orc WAAAAAGH! mechanic in that it summons a supporting army if you collect enough). Their forest path movement stance works similar to the underways used by the Dwarves and Orcs, but allows access to different areas and map battles.

The stances make for a faction that can survive by guile deep in enemy territory. Where the other horde faction, Chaos, works as an unstoppable juggernaut led by the baddest of the bad the Beastmen are a defter instrument, able to attack in a variety of ways but lacking the same level of brute power. Like orcs, they are very reliant on support character for buffs to give them the edge in a stand up fight. Gorebulls in particular give some nice bonuses.

Ultimately what made the faction for me though is the moon phase mechanics. Every six turns or so the player must choose from four blessings of the Chaos Gods. Each blessing is a bonus combined with a hefty penalty. Depending on the phase of the moon, these can change the character of your horde for several turns. One allows massive casualty replacement, but at the cost of horde growth, for example. Choosing the right bonus can turn a terrible situation around. Choosing the wrong penalty can really screw you. Once I understood it, I really enjoyed it and began to plan my attacks around it. With a little refinement, mostly in making the penalties more consistent (some are easy to avoid), it could become one of the great thematic mechanics of the game.

Overall I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the Beastmen. Eye for an Eye is good, but it is really a prelude to using them in the Grand Campaign.

Game Review: X-Com 2, sequels, rebellions, the rule of cool, & verisimilitude (guest starring: BACON)

This week I actually found time to finish X-COM 2! I will scribble some thoughts here, which will serve as my review.

XCOM 2 header

But first. This week I came to a realization. Bacon is becoming ubiquitous. I see it as a donut garnish, marmalade, as burgers flavoured with three types of bacon with a bacon-maple sauce. As I stood in the supermarket staring at bacon flavoured breath-mints, I realized that this saturation level has made it less of a treat, less special, and somehow offensive. I still love bacon, but enough is enough.

X-COM 2 is the second installment of the modern reboot. It was released on Feb 4 and has already sold 750,000 copies on Steam alone. It departs from the familiar tropes of the older games and the first game of the reboot in that instead of encountering, then fighting an alien invasion, the aliens have already won and the player is leading the resistance. They do a decent job of connecting the story and update the game-play with some interesting elements. Overall I enjoyed the game, but I found that it did not correct all of the flaws of the previous version, nor do I think that all of the changes will appeal to fans of the first reboot. With that in mind I will start with the cons.

Cons: What I did not like, or thought needed improving.

  • The Scamper System (major): The scamper system where when an enemy or group of enemies sees the player and gets a free action to seek cover is back from X-COM: Enemy Unknown. This is, by far, the weakest mechanic in the new series: it leads to a style of play where the best tactic is always to advance slowly so as to only activate one enemy pod at a time, kill it, rinse and repeat. Enemies in the first few versions of X-COM seemed to activate in a more organic fashion, open to a variety of tactics. In X-COM 2 they patch the holes in the scamper system by adding timers to many missions, forcing the player to move at a faster pace (this is mostly illusory, I rarely ever triggered more than one pod, save through my own stupidity) and reinforcements which drop enemies in the midst of the players with a turn of warning. They also allows players to scout with a concealment/stealth mechanic. While these patches do make the scamper system more interesting, it is still polishing a turd. I feel that the game would be better served by removing it entirely because the right thing to do is always to move forward as cautiously as you can, given mission parameters.
    • I contend that the scamper system could be used for rooms in a dungeon game, but for triggering larger encounters instead of single pods.
  • The Resistance & Verisimilitude (minor): In X-COM 2 the players are guerrilla fighters waging a shadow war against a victorious enemy, at least on paper. In reality the game does not really play like that, save for a few conceits and mission types. There is very little defense, stealth, and scavenging and far too much insurgency and attack. In the end the way the game plays is very much at odds with the idea of a beleaguered resistance. Weapons and armour are a good example, with the player able to research and manufacture their own superior weapons over time. The idea guerrilla force with the ability to manufacture experimental high tech weapons… just breaks verisimilitude. I would have preferred a more low tech response like customizing old tech and salvaging higher tech weapons directly from fallen aliens. Examples like this are why it does not feel like a resistance and steps on verisimilitude.
    • Guerrilla factions spend a lot of time fighting for hearts and minds. This is obvious from modern warfare as well as successful guerrilla insurgencies in the past. This is not well represented in the game. People just kind of rise up at the appropriate moment. It was a waste of the advent speaker character, as well — why make the guy if I can’t counter his propaganda.
    • Guerrilla resistances spread slowly from specific locations, relying on local relationships. The resistance in X-COM 2 is nomadic and wants to spread as quickly as possible for income and bonuses.
    • Smallest insurgency ever.
  • Small Squads (Minor): I may be in the minority here, but with 5 basic classes with 2 specialties each and many different enemy types I felt that squads of 4-6 were just too damn small. I would prefer to see bigger player squads and bigger enemy pods, just to make use of more of the options available.

Pros: What I loved

  • Variety of enemies (Major): The variety of enemies in X-COM 2 is perfect. Enemies are divided into two types: Advent forces which are the augmented humans and robots who are the face of the alien invasion trying to pass as the future of humanity and the aliens themselves. The advent forces are the baseline grunts and elites specialists who stay similar throughout the game and lend the enemy a kind of uniform feel. Their look and their totalitarian feel lend the game a gravitas far beyond what I was expecting. The aliens themselves are all unique, special snowflakes with powers and abilities that make fighting each one different. Together these two forces give the game both a shifting variety of enemies without losing the sense that you are fighting a single, monumental force. Even the look and feel of each enemy type was above my expectations. Loved the enemies in this game.
  • Turn Based Combat (Major): I love turn based combat. The Combat is X-COM 2 is fundamentally sound, with all of the basics from the first and a few nice improvements like concealment and better sets of character abilities. As long as you do not mind RNG and cover and flank firefights you should enjoy it. That said, the tactical depth is stunted a fair bit by the scamper system.
  • Better Research Trees (Major): setting aside the idea that an insurgency has a better research and manufacturing arm than the people they are fighting, the research trees are the best I have ever seen. Scientists and engineers are greatly desire and the end-game tech opens up a large number of tactical possibilities (some of which are arguably overwhelming powerful like mimic beacons and mines, but that’s what higher difficulties are for). It was nice to see some serious variety in armour types and equipment load-outs in the end-game, even if some options are very much superior on paper and small squads limited experimenting.
  • Hacking and Drones (Minor): The hacking system is interesting and I am pleased to see a nod to futuristic tactics with drones being used for healing, buffing, ranged hacking, and even some nasty attacks.
  • Character Variety (Minor): Crazy amount of customization options for your characters. I also enjoyed the ability of each character to learn a single random ability from another class tree as they advanced. These two things combined to give my squad lots of personality, although I tended toward uniforms.
  • Story (Trivial): Although verisimilitude does take some hits in that the campaign does not feel like a resistance insurgency, the story for X-COM 2 is better than any of the previous iterations. I enjoyed the characters despite the occasional repetitiveness of the dialogue.

Bonus Commentary: The Rule of Cool versus Verisimilitude & Unique Identity

Remember when I mentioned Bacon at the beginning of this wall of text? This is why.

Gunslingers and Ninjas with big swords are cool. I am not sure, however, that adding them to the X-COM universe is a great idea. The idea of the rule of cool is that people are more willing to accept offences against verisimilitude if they are really fun or just plain awesome. Think of it like bacon. If people put bits of chicken on your maple donut it would leave you wondering, but if they put bacon on it you will accept that because bacon is awesome (obviously not everyone loves bacon, but you get the idea). So when X-COM 2 gives their rangers kick ass fusion swords and their snipers awesome plasma revolvers that make them (deadly) space gunslingers it is definitely cool, even if the idea of bringing a sword to a gun fight is kind of stupid when you analyze it (a fusion bayonet/knife would be better).

But while I thought it was cool initially, I felt that something was lost in the way that X-COM 2 gave in to the rule of cool. Honestly if you put ninjas and gunslingers (and vikings, and zombies, and jedi etc) in every game they not only cease to be special, but they have a real chance of overpowering the already established aesthetic elements that made your world-building unique and interesting. X-COM was always had kind of a 80s military movie meets 90s x-files feel to it and this got lost when sword-wielding ninja rangers and I-can-fire-faster-than-an-automatic-weapon gunslingers get thrown into the mix. They may be cool, but for me they detract from the already established feel of X-COM.

Simply put: sometimes subtle, original flavours are better off without your favourite garnish. Would you ruin a perfectly good french vanilla ice cream by loading it with bacon? It might be tasty, but the bacon overpowers the vanilla. Really at that point, maybe you should just admit that you just want to eat more bacon and go cook yourself some goddamned bacon instead of inventing new ways of injecting it into everything.

In all seriousness, I do think that including all of the cool stuff in every game has started to make many games feel very samey and detracts from the unique charms of many properties. (And this from a guy who writes about magical superhero gladiators wielding rune weapons and fighting every monster under the sun.)

Teaser Tuesday

Tonight I am doing a reading at the Red Brick for ChiSeries Guelph, run by the peerless event organizer Angela Keeley and hosted by the Red Brick Cafe.

I am reading from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, mostly because it has some less familiar elements in terms of world building, but a more familiar narrative structure than the first two books.

Bloodlust TSM cover

“I grew up here,” said Auria. Chosen Brightloch’s daughter and Vintia were gazing upon the Spires of Kirif as their ships idled, waiting to Dock at an artificial beech outside of the defensive reefs. Some of the sailors and the Legionnaires were staring at the distant city, but many more were casting looks at the Kirifan dockworkers, especially the women, or the brutish looking Dolphins circling around their ships. “This is my home, not Krass. One of my first memories is a ride on one of the Fologi, the Dolphins you see below us, when I was a young girl. I thought they were wonderful pets then. They are actually equal under the law in Kirif, Spireless, of course…”

“The Spires are amazing,” said Vintia, trying in vain to process Auria’s expository ejaculations while taking in the view of the Spires themselves. They were immense, bigger than the tallhouses of Krass, the fifteen story tenements that were built to house the huge numbers of refugees that took shelter in the city during the Reckoning. Some of the spires were three times that height.  Unlike the square, rigidly structured tallhouses, the Spires of Kirif had an organic look to them. No two were alike, and their natural shape was rounded and smooth, sculpted in places where the inhabitants cared to add features to the structures that they could not grow. They certainly rivalled the majesty of all but the largest edifices of Krass.

More than just physically impressive, Vintia could sense life and magic within the Spires. These buildings were a product of The Reckoning; a mutant form of coral with which the strange-eyed Kirifans formed a symbiotic bond. The unfamiliar patterns, still wild after eleven centuries, dazzled her senses but she could still sense that those within were manipulating them.

“The Fologi are carnivorous,” said Auria, leaning in close, almost breathing in Vintia’s ear.

“… Pardon?” said Vintia; the idea of killer Dolphins snapped her attention away from the Spires and back to Chosen Brightloch’s wayward daughter. Auria was smiling playfully, almost like a girl showing off a favoured toy.

“They feed on the flesh of the enemies of Kirif,” said Auria. “They’re cunning too, dangerous beyond belief in the water. They operate in formations and such. Many of the [click] and [pop] Sounds in the Kirifan language are from Fologi communications. They have fifty terms for water, each a different…”

“Stop, stop, Auria,” said Vintia. “Take it slowly; did you say these Dolphins, the Fologi… are like citizens?”

The first glimpse of the spires of Kirif is an obvious starting point.

“FATHER!” Auria’s anguished voice seemed to tear from her throat.

A second explosion rocked the Spire. Vintia sensed tremendous elemental magic at play. Pieces of spire the size of cottages arced through the air, burning, to slam into nearby buildings and then crash into the sides of nearby Spires and onto the hapless people below.

The revels became a chorus of screams and shouts of confusion.

“We have to get out of the city,” said Katarina.

“No, we have to get to my father,” said Auria.

“We won’t do him any good without our weapons, girl,” said Katarina, severely. “The streets are going to run red now. This kind of Chaos is never good for strangers like us.”

“I need to get to him, ancestors curse you!” said Auria, voice tearing with emotion.

“What good can we do for him, girl?” said Katarina. “He’s a fucking Chosen – anything that can take him down will swat us like flies, especially if we aren’t ready. You will just distract him Auria!”

In response, Auria started to run. The Centurion made a grab for her, but the sly scout slipped around her, diving into the water. Vintia and Katarina started to run after her but Auria disappeared beneath the surface, navigating the dark water with the familiarity of a native.

“Bugger me!” snarled Katarina. “The bitch can swim like a fish.”

“I’ll go after her,” said Vintia. “I can protect myself with magic.”

“FUCK!” shouted Katarina. She stood staring at the water for a moment, fists balled, back hunched, eyes wide and glowing in the light of the distant fires. When she turned to Vintia she was calm again. “You’re right. We’ll gather the men. Hephus and I should be safe. Druin’s boys are on patrol, the camp is secure. If you can’t make it out, hide and we will come for you even if I have to take this place apart!”

Vintia pounded her fist against her breast in salute then they split and turned away, running.

Ash began to fall from the sky as Vintia sprinted along the walkways. The nearby Kirifans stood, shocked, as Spire [Click]kith, the proudest of the Spires of the city, smouldered. Closer to the ruin, screaming could be heard and people limped out of the darkness, some bearing frightful wounds. Vintia’s ears picked up the clash of metal on metal: fighting had already broken out.

Vintia could see no sign of Auria, and so she ran toward the remains of Spire [Click]kith.

A little bit of action without giving the main plot away…

Plumes of earth and rock shot up from the palisade as the cannons of Khazak Khrim loosed another volley. The debris filled walls of the fort were made to withstand such impacts, however, and were holding up so far. The Vvath were being forced to concentrate their fire to small areas in order to even have a chance of creating a breach.

Lightly armoured enemy archers fired at the defenders from behind the shields of their comrades or thick wicker screens. The shots they fired kept the defenders wary, sometimes even killing an unlucky Legionnaire. Vintia responded with attacks of her own, killing a dozen Vvath who strayed too close to Fort Nerus with lightning attacks.

The Krassian siege weapons returned fire. The Legion had fewer guns than the Vvath, but better engineers. Hephus and master Gunner Grannoch, cunning and methodical, had already knocked several Vvath cannons out, shattering them with precise cannon fire of their own.

Around the Vvathi engines the land was now a sea of slave soldiers armed with wicked looking weaponry. Once the Vvath judged that the fortress was sufficiently reduced they would unleash their horde in the hopes of simply over-running the fort.

Vintia was warding their engines, screening them with spells against Vvathi cannon fire. Behind her a group of craft-Vassals drew huge slabs of rock and earth from the ground with their magic. Some of this would go to reinforce the walls and palisades, while the rest would be sculpted into ammunition that would be launched from their own siege weapons. Teven said that, after the first day, this battle would be an endurance test, with both sides forced to manage crucial supplies. The Legion was doing everything it could to prepare for an extended battle.

The cannons boomed again, shaking Vintia from her reverie; this time a small section of the wall collapsed, spilling debris down the rise. The Vvath slave warriors cheered, a sound like the roar of a wave smashing against rugged coast. The defenders tensed and shifted, but the break was too small. The rubble fill cascaded into the breach, temporarily plugging the hole. Breach crews rushed to reinforce using magic and a quick-stone mix. The Vvathi began reloading their cannons, aiming for the new weak-point.

“Two volleys,” said the First Shield from beside Vintia. “Anyone?”

“I won’t bet against that,” called Hephus from behind the battery.

“Two for sure,” said Teven.

“I’ll call three, on ten to one odds, First Shield!” shouted Centurion Drusus from down the palisade.

“Fair enough,” said the First Shield, grinning broadly. “If the wall goes on two I make some money, if it lasts for three, I lose a month’s pay to Drusus, but get another ten minutes of rest. I win either way.”

The battery behind them fired. This time one of the Vvathi cannons suffered a direct hit, flipping through the air and shattering the wooden casings around the iron barrels. A cheer went up from the Legionnaires.

And a taste of the final battle!

Focus Stones and Spell Plates: Magic for the People in End of Kings

Service Notification: I am looking for Beta Readers for the Blade Breaker (Shadow Wolf Sagas #1). If you are interested PM me.

As part of my continuing interest in Steampunk/Industrial Age Fantasy I started running a homebrew RPG that I call End of Kings. As the name denotes the game is about revolution and the growing pains of democracy and the modern state as they shift away from a feudal power base. In End of Kings the basis for the power of the aristocracy is not inherited land, peasants, and the right/obligation of arms, but power that is literally passed down through noble bloodlines. The kings and other nobles have powers associated with their bloodline which make them far more formidable than regular mortals.

  • Bloodline Powers are essentially a set of inherited magical powers that all members of a particular bloodline share.
  • Bloodline Powers are watered down if the ‘noble’ breeds with a ‘commoner’, they can also be enhanced through selective breeding or altered by breeding with other families. Obviously this leads to eugenics.
  • Bloodline Powers are based on industrial age literature, with vampires, ghosts, lovecraftian beasts, and so on making appearances among the nobility.
  • Magical items were tied to the Bloodline.
  • Inbreeding is a major factor in the plot. As the ruling families breed to concentrate power they make increasingly powerful, but unstable progeny.
  • Obviously, there are a large number of bastard children with bloodlines powers. This is important for next point.
  • Before the current era, when a noble family became too unstable to be viable they were eliminated by the other nobles, or the Church. The Church, who believe that the source of the bloodline powers is a streak of divinity, keep tabs on the bastard children of noble families, often taking them and raising them. When a noble family became a problem, the church could easily find a replacement, even when the nobility could not.
  • Yes, the Church in End of Kings has a small army of elite Bloodline powered orphans.

So what changed all this and allowed mere mortals to even the scales somewhat with the super-powered nobility of end of kings? In a word the discovery a of a new form of magic that was available to a new set of people. Focus Stone is Chromatite an uncommon mineral that changes colour when a person concentrates on it. For the longest time it was simply a mildly interesting bauble, mostly favoured by the lower classes. However, as early systematic inquiry came into being (similar to our scientific method) scholars became interested in WHY it changed colour when people concentrated on it, and why some people were so much better at it and why a few travelling performers who worked with the stone had achieved a great deal of control over the colours. Eventually this line of inquiry led to the first true Focus Stone, a mineral that could convert willpower into magical energy and store it briefly. By itself the Focus Stone could be used to power devices like a battery, and revolutionized methods of production, slowly giving rise to machines and early mass production.

What really challenged the reign of kings was combination of the Focus Stone with The Spell Plate. The Spell Plate was an older device that was used by aristocrats to createenchanted items keyed to their bloodline powers that could be used by others. Eventually those interested in the uses of Focus Stones considered using Spell Plates to create effects. After much trial and error they figured out how to do so, and revolutionized warfare.

  • Many Firearms in End of Kings use Focus Stones and Spell Plates. The user arms the weapon by concentrating on the Focus Stone, which changes colour depending on how much energy it holds. Once it is armed, the user points the weapon at the enemy and pulls a trigger which briefly connects the Focus Stone to the Spell Plate. The Spell Plate translates the energy into a spell effect which is then fired from the gun.
  • The Focus Stone and Spell Plate method powers a number of devices beyond firearms including melee weapons.
  • A further refinement over the Spell Plate method is Spell Shot. Spell Shot uses part of the energy transferred from the focus stone to create an arcane explosion or magnetic effect that propels a bullet. Spell Shot is cheaper and requires less concentration to energize than a full Spell Plate. The best arms available combine Spell Shot and Spell Plate to create a projectile that has a spell effect on impact, but these are specialist weapons.

While a Spell Plate weapon doe snot make an ordinary soldier the equal of a powerful noble suffused with bloodline power, it does make it possible for a mob of people to take one down. Even worse, trained soldiers can become exceptionally adept with focus stones, becoming even more of a threat. Hegemony is broken and the wold changes.

Another Teaser, how shocking.

After another evening of re-writes, I am too beat to write a coherent blog post. Instead, here is a teaser for my newest book, Warbound: The Shield Maiden.

“Death greets you, dog,” said Sadira, raising her sword.

She did not understand the sword-bearer’s answer, nor did she care. Sadira flowed into the Scorpion dance, seeking to over-whelm her enemy with off-angle strikes. She began with a diagonal uppercut, sword sweeping in low aiming to cut him from waist to shoulder. The Sword-Bearer knocked her blade away with his shield and thrust, aiming to puncture her throat. Sidestepping, Sadira brought Karmal down. The Vvathi, trusting to his size and strength raised his shield to catch the blow. It would have been a winning gambit in another fight, but the Sword-Bearer underestimated the Chosen’s supernatural power. Sadira screamed, putting all her power into the hit. Her foe crumpled under the unexpected force of the attack. She did not give him time to recover, kicking his shield aside and ramming Karmal through his breastplate. He gurgled and died.

Sadira kicked the body aside, deciding she did not have time to deal with the sword. She pushed into the excruciators line, cutting down two more Dwarves through their shields. Cassius let loose another spell while Razorthorn and Azure Dream drive into the lines. The Sword Bearers cut into the Phalanx, but Sadira began to fight her way toward them. The Vvathi lines began to buckle.  

In this new installment, we not only move beyond the Domains, we get to see how the Chosen and the Legions of Krass make war. Enjoy!

Weapons, Swords in the Middle Ages, and Oakeshott

I recently read an article about the dominance of the sword in the middle ages, or more precisely, that of the Oakeshott XIIIa type sword (this link describes the sword, it is not the article that annoyed me). The XIIIa is a ~37-40 inches long,  with a wide blade, a more rounded (spatulate) tip, and a 6-10 inch grip, and weighed 3–4 pounds (when plain). The offending article annoyed me for the following reasons:

  • It claimed that this sword was the dominant weapon of its time.
  • It claimed that this type of sword is under-represented in fantasy.
  • It ignored the fact that Oakeshott created his system to combat this kind of generalization.

First off, for those of you who have not heard of Oakeshott, he is a key figure in changing the way modern historians, hobbyists, and writers see swords (useful link, if you wish to get into it). Before Oakeshott, medieval swords were often seen as massively heavy, brutish weapons and Knights were seen as clumsy, if invulnerable warriors. TH Whyte’s Arthurian series has a bit of this. Oakeshott’s contribution was to catalog and categorize, and then to point out that from a data driven perspective that the sword changed greatly over the Dark Ages and the Medieval period, mirroring the constant changes in armour as well as local battlefield conditions. His conclusions were  that the idea that Western swords were clumsy weapons was not at all based in reality and that there was no such thing as a single dominant sword type. Just look at an abbreviated picture of the sword types he categorized.

Oakeshott Types.

Oakeshott Types.

Let us take a closer look at the XIIIa

an Oakeshott XIIIa from tinkerswords.com

an Oakeshott XIIIa from tinkerswords.com

Does this sword shape and size look underrepresented in fantasy fiction? NOPE. Moving on then.

Not only were there many types of sword, but knights used all kinds of weapons (and also crazy armour, too, but we won’t get into that). In fact some had squires to carry around extra lances and extra weapons for them. I am briefly going to go over some of the more common of these weapon types and why they saw use.

The Spear (and lance): The spear is by far the most under-represented weapon in modern fantasy. Don’t even get me started on this. Every Knight worth his salt would have at least a lance or some sort of spear to use from horseback, often with spares in case they broke on the charge. The Spear was likely the one weapon every knight would have at least one of on the battlefield, if only in lance form. It was also the most common footman’s weapon. Spears offered great penetrating power with the tremendous force concentrated on the smallest area. They also offered great reach which was imperative for both charging (hence the lance) and receiving a charge. I would place my bet on spears being the greatest casualty causing battlefield weapon of the middle ages (somewhat behind trampling and suffocation in actual casualties caused though), and possibly the the greatest casualty cause knightly weapon as well. Spears survived the middle ages and even outlived swords on the battlefield as the bayonet. The downside of a spear is that once an opponent is past a certain point, it becomes difficult to wield against them.

Spears and lances.

Spears and lances.

I’m going to stay away from polearms for now, although my favourite weapons are probably the swiss halberd and the bardiche.

The Flail: The Flail is a hard weapon to write about. We know it was difficult to use well, but it was not uncommon and had a brutal reputation. Jack White’s Uther is the only character I can think of in Fantasy that uses one of these. Too bad: they almost belong in a grimdark anti-hero’s grasp… We do know that flails were used to strike around shield edges and could work up quite a bit of force whirling around. Hard to describe them in a novel though…

A flail of the mace and chain/ball and chain variety.

A flail of the mace and chain/ball and chain variety.

The Warhammer: As plate armour became more common, knights needed better tools to break it open. The warhammer provided a handy set of tools to do just that. Bash the plates out of shape and finish with the spike if need be. Much like a sword, the warhammer could be used when a spear was no longer at optimal range,  bashing the brains out of footmen right through their helms and crushing other knights. The warhammer is another under-represented weapon, but maybe that is because in early editions of D&D it did crap damage 😉

I just like this one.

I just like this one.

The Mace: While the spear does not get its due as a knightly weapon, the mace is outright bloody ignored. I rarely see them in movies, despite the fact that they were so well loved that they appear throughout the period in a stunning number of forms. Flanged maces were created to puncture and crush armour, and ball maces were just nasty. Both existed as shorter footmans weapons that could be used very close up and longer horseman’s versions. Maces were often completely made of metal, and these were far more durable than swords. An added bonus of the mace as a knightly weapon is that it rarely got stuck in a wound. Ceremonial maces are still common in our Parliaments.

Flanged Mace

Flanged Mace

Ball mace, spiked.

Ball mace, spiked.

Axes: Axes were a more common weapon than many realize, able to work up tremendous cutting power. Axes were favoured for their ability to hack apart shields better than any weapon. They came in a very wide variety as well.

Even in this ridiculously brief and overly generalized discussion of medieval weaponry I think we can put the idea that any sword type dominated the middle ages to rest. Oakeshott created his categories so that people could discuss the incredibly wide variety of bladed weaponry that fell into and out of use throughout the middle ages. He did not create it for people to narrow it down into sword X is better than sword Y in internet fanboy arguments.  If there were a dominant family of swords this variety would not have existed, nor would maces, axes, spears, lances, and other weapons been nearly as common. Fantasy writers owe mr Oakeshott a debt of gratitude for showing us that the medieval sword, and indeed all medieval weapons and armour were more than just the clumsy implements those damned fencers told us they were 😉

Finally, let us not forget that Knights wielded a huge variety of weapons, and many of them had the money to afford a tool for every occasion.