A Sunday Night Teaser…

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim is on track for release this friday (July 17th). I will approving the last of the edits and the cover in the next day or so.

Here is a teaser from the book, part of a large battle. Gavin often seems less effective than some of the more physical fighters like Sadira or elementalists like Vintia or Blue Hornet. However, while Cogimancy is less flashy than an acrobatic warrior diva with a monstrous sword or a blazing fireball, it is capable of some creative destruction…

To endure and act is the essence of heroism, thought Gavin as the lines clashed. The Blood were pushing toward the Kirifan Phalanx while the Hundath and the Excruciators threw themselves at the Legions. Gavin stood tall among the soldiers, a living bulwark in their lines.

A muscular Hundath with a bloodied sword roared an oath and raised his heavy blade, bringing it crashing down toward Gavin’s head. The Chosen raised his lion-headed shield, knocking the blow to the side and thrusting his spear into the Hundath’s chest. He growled and pushed forward on the spear, trying to grapple with Gavin. His flailing quickly came to naught as the barbs robbed him of his insides and Gavin cast him back into the ranks.

Gavin surveyed the field. All around him the Vvath were grinding into the Allies with terrible ferocity. They were not making much headway, save where the doughty Excruciators or the Makarim intervened, but the Hundath were spending their lives to keep the Legions off of The Blood.

Meanwhile The Blood were pushing into the Kirifan Phalanx. Gavin knew that the spears of the Hoplites were not enough against the thick armour of the Vvath’s best warriors. With little room to manoeuvre the Kirifans had to rely on Jika’Ri, the Gifted, and their Elites simply to keep from crumbling. Gavin could see that the Legions would need to push back the rest of the Vvath and hit The Blood on the flank before their phalanx broke. But the Legionnaires were exhausted from constant fighting, while the Hundath seemed as ready to lay down their lives as ever.

Gavin needed to find a way to push the Legions through the wall of flesh and steel.

The Chosen spotted a Makarim nearby. Its handlers were mostly dead, victims of a cannon ball or a spell by the looks of the Howdah. A single desperate Excruciator clung to the remains of the platform, goading the beast as best he could. Channelling power Gavin wove a spell and reached out to the Makarim, seeking its mind. The wards on the creatures armour, stunningly similar to Krassian protections, had been damaged and were little match for the sheer power of a Chosen. He sensed the beast was panicked and angry, simply following the actions that its cruel conditioning dictated.

Although distance and the sheer power required by the spell were taxing, Gavin took control of the beast’s impulses. The Makarim slowed, confused. The Chosen prodded it to turn. Black banners instead of red. The standards of the Hundath and not the Legions. It was an easy substitution. The he unleashed the beast which stormed back into the Hundath, great horns sending bodies flying and in thundered back toward its own lines.

A crossbow bolt glanced off Gavin’s helm. He turned, casting another spell that sent the offending Excruciator toppling, clutching his head as blood dripped from his ears and nose. Then Gavin let the Daeri flow around him, while he cast about for another Makarim to turn against the Vvath.

A Makarim are kind of like a carnivorous Triceratops, armoured and trained to fight the enemies of the Vvath. Turning one of these creatures against its masters shows off Gavin’s skills.

Paradigm Shift: Systems, Change, and Fantasy

We live in fascinating times: we are experiencing impressive changes in technology that will shape our lives and our future. I am going to use one of these shifts to illustrate how paradigm shifts can be a wonderful source of conflict in genre fiction, focusing on Fantasy.

Oil is the keystone of the industrial economy. It seems obvious to any forward looking person, however, that oil will be knocked off its pedestal by renewable energy sources within a decade or two. At this point the same people denying that oil is facing a serious challenge are the same people who deny climate change, mostly for the same reasons.

However, oil has been so important for so long that whole systems have sprung up around it. Oil not only dominates the energy industry, it has a huge amount of influence on the automotive industry, construction, the air industry, and so on. Just watch the fluctuations on various stocks when the price of oil changes. Here in Canada we have become so closely tied to oil that when the price of oil drops the TSX often drops with it, and the valuation of the Loonie seems tied to it. Meanwhile if the price of oil drops stock in airlines will often go up, for example, as they save more fuel costs.

With this kind of importance oil and oil companies have a lot of power. Many people argue that certain recent wars have been fought mostly at the behest of oil interests, and even if you disagree, you have to admit that the idea of wars fought over oil sound plausible. They are the sort of conflict that could easily replace good vs evil in a fantasy novel , but more on that later.

Entities with a great deal of power will use that power to put down threats to that power. The transition away from an oil based economy is as inevitable as the transition from a primarily paper based workplace to a digital one. Oil won’t cease to be used, but it will no longer be nearly as important. Obviously this is a problem to anyone who is heavily invested in that lovely black stuff. This is why we see have seen so many seemingly stupid, misguided attempts in recent years to shut down renewable energy. People who have a vested interest in oil are trying to prevent rooftop solar from gaining popularity, for example, and are willing to pay large sums of money to politicians to do so. This bleeds over into other sectors as well. Gasoline is a big boon to the oil industry, so suddenly electric cars become a political target, after all if you can charge a vehicle with energy from solar or wind then that takes a big bite out of the demand for oil.

The most interesting, and ugly, use of the power that the systems built around oil have accumulated is in the twin dismissals of climate change and concerns over oil spills and pipelines. People are being paid to lie, change laws, and enhance the profits of an enormous industry which is doing serious damage to the environment, possibly on a very large scale. Rather than sit back and examine it, the industry seems determined to use short term political power to preserve its dominance. If you look at it properly, it all sounds very human, like a rich king trying to keep his throne at all costs even as the clamour for democratic reform reaches a fever pitch.

With those points in mind it is very easy to see how a paradigm shift over something as seemingly banal as oil can ignite conflicts that can easily power a compelling narrative. The best part is, in a Fantasy novel, the author can illustrate these changes without stepping on any political toes and offending readers or tailor the paradigm shift directly to the story he wants to tell.

Anyone who has read my works knows that I enjoy using magic as a metaphor for power. So let’s replace oil with magic. Imagine, for example, that a certain type of magic has risen to pre-eminence, but it is somehow limited to a small number of people. Heredity would be a good example of this. If magic is passed down only through certain bloodlines, then it is easy to see how those bloodlines would become a sort of feudal nobility by default, especially if magic is powerful. Those bloodlines would wield a tremendous amount of influence, even beyond the power that they possess.

  • The magical nobility would likely treat non magic-users as second class citizens.
  • Magical dynasties would make sure to control the destiny of the bloodline. It would be bad for one of their young to marry someone without magic and thus dilute the line. Arranged marriages are almost certain, while breeding programs are not out of the question.
  • The power structure of each nation would be based around the family, again similar to feudal societies.

So lets say that our mages have set up a kind of republic, with only those with magic allowed into achieve full citizenship. To avoid the standard medieval feudal setting we have our mages meet in some kind of senate, where only they are allowed to vote. Each family vies against the others for control, and they all more or less ignore the non magical plebs or use them as pawns.

Then one day, someone discovers that fashioning a staff out of a certain kind of wood and topping it with a certain kind of crystal will allow anyone to use certain kinds of magical effects.

  • We decide that this type of magic is less powerful, but just about anyone can use it.
  • The wood and the crystal are common enough that this type of magic spreads quickly, but not so common that it becomes ubiquitous or can’t be controlled.

The reaction of the magical nobility, and the conflicts that followed would be interesting. Here are a few thoughts on what this paradigm shift would cause.

  • The magical aristocracy would likely first try to make the staves illegal and hunt down anyone who knows how to make them.
  • If the magical aristocracy was powerful enough they might try to take over the sources of crystal and wood. There would be a huge black market for these items and they would inevitably become available.
  • People would become less reliant on the mages. This would lead to them wanting more say in their government.
  • Cracking down on this new form of magic could make even the most loved of the magical nobility into villains in the eyes of the people.
  • Someone would eventually form an army of staff wielding soldiers. This would create whole new forms of warfare.
  • Places where the staffs become commonplace would have a better of quality of life than the others, setting off even more desire for reform in places where they aren’t.

Acting to preserve one’s own power is not inherently evil, but as things shift conflict occurs, and those who resist an inevitable change can become more and more desperate to hold on to their beloved source of power and influence. This can easily lead to an excavating series of oppressive and evil actions that could make a wonderful plot for a fantasy series.

Saruman with staff

Structures and Systems: The Grand Championships in the Domains of the Chosen (part one)

One of my favourite subjects to write about is how systems, especially broken or corrupted systems, can define a character or a conflict. My favourite example is Javert from Les Miserables, an unrelenting, scrupulous Paladin of an utterly dysfunctional system of Law.

In my next Domains of the Chosen novel, I am delving into how the systems that have evolved around the Grand Championships of the Great Games can draw a series of characters in and change their lives. The novel begins with how these people react to hearing that the event will take place, their feelings, the plots they hatch, and the hopes they have and follows them through to the end.

For those of you who have not read my books, the Great Games are a mixture of bloodsports, magic, and politics, and the Grand Championships determine who is worthy to join the Chosen, immortal rulers of the Domains. (You can read a bit about the Great Games in my free short story.)

The Grand  Championships are a huge event, on the scale of an Olympic games or the Fifa world cup. They are usually held every fifty years, but if a Chosen dies they are the tournament is held sooner to find a replacement. In my new book, a Chosen has died very soon after the previous  tournament was held, and everyone is caught off guard and left scrambling as the new Grand Championship is held. Over the years tradition, politics, corruption and plain old opportunism have led to an elaborate set of mechanisms surrounding the games. Let me break it down:

The Core of the Grand Championships (the basic system)

  • Location: The Grand Championships are held in the Grand Arena of the city of Krass, only during the summer. Krass is the Capital of the Empire, an enormous port city analogous to New York/Rome/London as the focal point of a dominant power. The Grand Arena seats over five hundred thousand spectators, a truly fantastic amount of people crammed into one place. This last part is more important than you might think, unless you understand food services, event planning, or sewage. Since the event is always held in the same place, the Grand Arena is the focal point of the Games, almost a place of pilgrimage for true fans.
  • Selection, Part One: Before the event is held the Gladiators must be selected. Selection begins with fans from all over the Domains coming for the cast their votes for their favourite Master Rank (50+ fights & 10 ranking tests passed) Gladiators. The Hundred Gladiators with the most votes make the short list. It is important to note that this is at least partially a popularity contest. A skilled, but boring Gladiator will often lose out in the voting to a fighter with a more compelling story or more fan support. This works to Gavin’s favour in Bloodlust: Will to Power, one of my earlier works.
  • Selection, Part Two: The short list of one hundred Gladiators picked in the open vote must now be narrowed down to fifty fighters. The voting for this part of the selection is limited to members of the highest Popular Assembly and the Council of the Chosen. The politics and horse-trading at this stage is intense, as each faction tries to find the candidates that have the best chance of winning while trying to sabotage the efforts of rivals both in and out of their factions. They must do so without annoying the people as a whole, who will riot if a big favourite is dropped from the shortlist.
  • The Planning and the Parade: Once the final selection is made and the event is booked, preparations for the Grand Championships begin. The people of the Domains are so mad for the Great Games that work more or less ceases, especially in Krass, around the time of the event. This means that anyone doing anything important, such as shipping ammunition or even waging war, must plan around the Grand Championships or suffer some disruption. The event itself begins with an enormous day-long parade winding through the streets of Krass and ending in the huge parade ground in front of the Grand Arena. The Logistics of this parade are impressive, and also surprisingly important (more on that in part two)
  • The Qualifying Round: Most of the matches fought in the Grand Championships are against other Gladiators. However, many fans consider the very essence of the Great Games to be their favoured fighters facing ferocious monsters. Also fifty is an unwieldy number for a single elimination tournament 😀 Thus every single Gladiator must face off against a monster in the qualifying round. The devil is in the details in this round, where some competitors might end up facing tougher monsters than others and the scoring system is often criticized.
  • That One Little Wrinkle: The rest of the Grand Tournament is surprisingly simple. The remaining Gladiators face off against each other in single elimination matches. However, various exceptions and rules can change the nature of each match. A Gladiator can declare Ut Nex before a match, forcing his or her opponent to agree to fight to the death or forfeit the match. Some Gladiators use this as an intimidation tactic, although you can see how it might backfire.
  • That Other Little Wrinkle: It is not impossible that someone is killed or drops out of the Tournament. If this happens a new Gladiator is taken from the selection. Often this causes a riot, and the Gladiator added to the tournament is sometimes picked just to appease the rioters. Sometimes the riots are goaded on purpose for just this reason.
  • Cheating, and Exploits: It is very hard to just cheat at the Great Games, especially at the Grand Championships. But, with so much riding on the line, it is more than worth the risk. Illegal weapons, bribed officials, banned substances, and everything else you might think of can and will be tried. Much worse than overt cheating, however, are those who exploit the rules of the arena to their advantage. More on that in part two.

Stay tuned next week when I will cover the rest of this subject, going over the corruptions and unforeseen changes in this system.WillToPower_Icon

Fantasy World-Building: The Kirif


Pillar Coral. Picture these the size of a fifty story building to get an idea of the spires of Kirif.

As I delve deep into my third book (wow), I find myself at a juncture where I am expanding upon the world. Much of Warbound: The Shield Maiden takes place beyond the borders of the Domains of the Chosen, on the “lost continent” of Ithal’Duin. I am going to share some of my initial world building ideas here. There is a long list of does and don’ts for fantasy world-building. If you are looking for direct advice I would try the worldbuilding and fantasywriters pages on Reddit. Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson also have great podcasts and other material on world building. I’m not going to expound on those, but rather go through my own process, which is decidedly utilitarian.

Goals: Ithal’Duin and Kirif

My starting point in this endeavour, other than the world I have created thus far, is to outline a few goals for each civilization and the continent as a whole. Some of these are based on flavour and history, while others are very, very story driven. I will share some of my original goals regarding the civilization of Kirif on Ithal’Duin.

  1. History [general goal] All of the civilizations on Ithal’Duin must be juxtaposed against the Domains of the Chosen. For various reasons the Domains are a very familiar society, early America as settled by the Roman Empire if you will. The names are all easy, based around the Chosen, with only a few hints of the civilizations that existed before the Reckoning and the reconquest. The Goal with Ithal’Duin is to create something more exotic.
  2. Alien Flavour [general goal] The Domains are mostly free of the after-effects of the reckoning. The walls of Krass never fell before the wild magic or the hordes of tainted. The people of the Domains consider themselves the last bastion of civilization and have a very imperialistic past. On Ithal’Duin I want to explore more alien realms, where people learned to live with the wild magic.
  3. Motive [Kirif goal] Kirif is the friendly realm on Ithal’Duin; a society that seeks to ally itself with the Domains. They are willing to cede territory to one of the Chosen and act as a base of operations on the continent.
  4. Appearance [Kirif goal] I want Kirif to be a beautiful, trade oriented society with a style of architecture and cultural traits that are immediately striking.
  5. Politics [Kirif goal] I don’t want Kirif to be a monoculture. The Domains (and the Wyrn) are the grindstone of my world. I also need a fair bit of internal and external strife for story reasons.
  6. Language [Kirif goal] I want the language of Kirif to be a little wierd.

Outline of The Spires of the Kirif

This is a very general outline of Kirif, each point corresponding to a goal above. I realize that this takes a lot out of the romance of world-building, but it is meant only to be a general overview. For me, the real world-building is in the details that I “discover” during the writing, hence I prefer to go in with a strong outline, but leave space for growth.

  1. History [general goal] Kirif is made up of refugees who took shelter in a series of sub-tropical coastal caves during the worst of the Reckoning. These caves were close enough to water that the people could survive by sneaking out to fish, hunt, and gather. They would have been reduced to basic subsistence if not for magic; eventually they learned a form of symbiotic biomancy that allowed them to gain control over their environment, such as a type of coral and some fungus that were changed by the reckoning. Kirifan magic is thus very specialized and not nearly as powerful as the magic of the Domains. However it is so evolved that the species that are in symbiosis with the Kirif respond to those who do not have the gift. Almost all Kirif bond with a parasite that breathes underwater for them.
  2. Alien Flavour [general goal] The Reckoning changed the Kirif. They have odd eyes and their skin is covered in tiny scales, giving them a slightly reptilian look. Most Kirif have very loose kinship bonds, based around their Spire. Children are raised communally by the spire and basic family structure is replaced by relation to the King and Queen of the spire. Those who have no spire make up an undercaste and are always clamouring for new territory.
  3. Motive [Kirif goal] The Kirif are powerful, but they are surrounded by many enemies. The coral with which they build their cities is slow to adapt to new areas, while their Allegiance with the Domains gives them an ally who can support them against the rest of the continent, and also change the internal political balance in Kirif. They value trade and are hungry for friends, but also understand the need for might if they wish to grow. The don’t understand land warfare, particularly attack and siege warfare, nearly to the extent of the Domains.
  4. Appearance [Kirif goal] The Kirif created their own Islands by manipulating the growth of coral and fungus. Eventually they learned to grow huge Spires and shape them into buildings and even fortifications. They are like coral skyscrapers now. These Spires became central to their culture and organization, similar to the castle of a noble house. The Spires have “Kings and Queens”, Bloodlines with whom the symbiotic coral are most attuned to, giving them tremendous power within their home. Individually their clothing is meant to be worn in and out of water and mostly consists of bathing suits. There is less of a nudity taboo, which is not unusual for sub-tropical coastal cultures, and might heat up the story a bit. They love jewelry and consider beauty and art to be of great import. Also they have carnivorous guard dolphins who have rights similar to the Spireless.
  5. Politics [Kirif goal] The Spires are at odds with each other. This is partly based on the strains of coral that each spire is based on. As the coral spreads and grows it comes into conflict with other spires. Wars can occur and some Spires can be destroyed or forced to move. Those without spires are always seeking to start new spires, but the spires gang up to stop them and keep space for themselves.
  6. Language [Kirif goal]  Kirif has basic words can be spoken underwater, it includes unusual sounds like chirping sounds designated by * and clacks designated with a !. To the people of the Domains it sounds like singsong gibberish.
  7. Most importantly, the Kirif have a very different attitude to the magic and the Gift, at least to start off 😉

Battle Tactics: Military Organization in the Domains 1

It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience. — Julius Caesar (attr)

When I think of the Legions, I think of these two guys from the Rome series.

When I think of the Legions, I think of these two guys from the Rome series.

As I write Warbound: The Shield Maiden I find my self in unfamiliar territory. The action in my previous two Domains of the Chosen books, Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale and Bloodlust: Will to Power took place in the confines of the arenas of the Krassian Empire, but the Warbound books follow the Legions, and much of the action takes place on battlefields in and around the Domains.

The first big battle is chaotic and does not delves too deeply into the tactics of the Legions. It involves a desperate battle against a fleet of pirates. It tends to focus on the actions of two characters, both of them Warbound, and mostly serves to whet the reader’s appetite and develop a character or two.

I’m also somewhat shy about detailing the training of the Legions. Vintia, one of the perspective characters for Warbound: The Shield Maiden, spends much of her time out of camp for various reasons and is unable to join in the training sessions with her cohort. I do detail a mock battle, but even that is focused on the actions and emotions of a handful of characters (which is what most people want to read) and does not delve into the strategy and tactics of the world.

Today, while finishing up the first draft of the pirate battle, I realized I was shying away from writing about the tactics and organizations of the Legions. After some careful thought, I realized why. As an avid gamer, when I created Bloodlust, I also created a little RPG to play with my friends. This allowed me to detail the various aspects of the games, from  Gladiator training and arena life to crowd appeals and faction match points progressions, and see how others reacted to them. When gaming players tend to find flaws in both settings and systems fairly quickly, which helps flesh out something as unusual as the arena’s of Krass. Sadly, I have not had time to create a war game to explore the ideas of mass battles in the Domains, and even if I had my game group only meets once a month for some Shadowrun these days. 

Instead I will mostly develop the ideas in writing. Having a blog allows me to expose the ideas to my readers and get feedback that way.

Here are the basic elements of the Legions that I have to work with.

  • Roman Influences: I love classical history and the basic presentation of the Legions is very similar to the Roman Legion. As you see, I use much of the terminology, which keeps with the extended classical feeling that I am trying to invoke with Krass itself. It is a good starting point.
  • Magic!: The most important new element to consider is magic. How will the Legions use magic to aid them? How will they counter the magic of the enemy?
  • Steampunk Elements: Almost in spite of myself, I added steampunk elements to the Bloodlust series. This includes mechanical automatons, spike throwers, flame cannons, powder based cannons, and many other devices which have potential battlefield applications.
  •  Mixed Genders: I don’t think the idea of mixing genders in battle is especially controversial in Fantasy fiction these days (Women still face resistance in assuming combat roles in many places in the real world, mind you) and does not really present any conceptual problems. In the early, desperate days of the Domains only a fool would turn down brave women willing to fight the horrors of the Reckoning; the Legions thus have a long tradition of service from all genders.
  • Fantasy Races: The Legions are multi-racial. This presents slightly more difficulty then mixed genders. Two Legionnaires of wildly divergent sizes, like an ogre and a quickling simply cannot lock shields. It presents an interesting set of problems that I never expected: most cohesive fantasy armies tend to be made up of units of a single race. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the organizational aspects without relegating every non human phenotype to an auxilliary formation — formation warfare relies on direct physical teamwork where the differences between an Armodon and a Shadow elf are key.
  • The Warbound: The Warbound themselves are another factor. These former Gladiators have been retrained and re-equipped to join the Legions, where their skills with the more destructive aspects of magic can be put to use serving the Domains. The Warbound serve the Legions directly, without much interference from the Deliberative. This requires a set of mechanisms for control as well as a whole new set of tactics. How is having a supernaturally strong warrior with the ability to cast fireballs or a font of healing going to change the way the Legions fight?
  • The Enemies of the Domains: Part of taking the action and the story beyond the borders of the Domains is a chance to see other cultures and enemies up close. How these potential enemies fight will have a great influence on Legion Tactics. Imagine battles against the odd, graceful, magic eating Wirn, or the shape-shifting, spirit empowered Pale.

Basic Legion Organization

  1. The Legion: The Legion is commanded by a Legate, who is advised by a Strategos. Each Legion is made up of 10 Cohorts and several support groups.
  2. The Cohort: Each Cohort is commanded by the Senior Centurion and is made up of Six Centuries. The Cohorts are identified by number, but often adopt formal nicknames and banner heraldry. The First Cohort is made up of the largest, strongest veterans and is commanded by a Senior Centurion, called the First Shield. The First Shield advises the Legate, and outranks all other centurions.
  3. The Century: Each Century is commanded by a Centurion, a Legionnaire with at least two decades of fighting experience.
  4. File: The file is a semi-formal grouping based on the position when the Century assumes basic 10×10 parade formation. The file is led by a senior Legionnaire called the Decurion, or the File Leader. Files are informally called tents, since the file will share a single tent on march.
  • The Eighth Cohort, Ninth Legion: The Engineers of the Ninth Legion are organized into their own Cohort. These are sappers, siege engineers, and artillerists who started out as Legionnaires and thus know how to put up a fight. Fighting engineers are considered a necessity in long distance operations. The Ninth Legion has several additional cohorts assigned to it when it was reformed to join the Bright Company. It does however lack cannon fodder forces like automatons and undead, which are unreliable in places which have not been cleansed of wild magic.

Basic Legionnaire Weaponry

  • Lorica: The Legionnaires of the Domains are equipped with armour similar in design to the Lorica that we associate with the Roman Legions. However, the Lorica of the Domains is made from steel alloys and treated with magic through a process known as spell-forging. The early days of the Reckoning required that the Domains pack as much power into a single Legionnaire as possible, and thus arms and armour are of excellent quality.
  • Scutum: The Legionnaires use a shield that is entirely made out of a specially treated laminate, edged with tough steel alloy and spellforged to resist magic and the elements. The shield is even higher quality than the armour, and allows the Legions of the Domains to put up a shield wall that can withstand cinematic levels of abuse from unusual sources.
  • Gladius and Pilum: Despite years of weapons advances the Legions stick with simple short swords and spears as their weapons of choice. The old dual javelins, thrown to break up massed charges of beastmen have been replaced with a single sturdy spear that can be used for close fighting or planted to ward off cavalry and large beasts. The spear is backed up by a sturdy short sword which excels up close. The Krassian short sword is a little shorter than a Roman Gladius, but balanced to chop as well as thrust. It is often used for construction (like a Machete — for jungle campaigns in the trials) and is exceptionally sturdy.
  • Grenades: With the advent of widespread artifice and infantry the Legionnaires have been equipped with grenades. These are simple devices that can be armed with one hand. Once armed the grenade begins to glow and vibrate and with explode after ten seconds. The explosion is not nearly as impressive as a modern grenade, but they are quite effective when thrown in volleys. The grenades are more effective at breaking up charges and formations than javelins, and provide another tool for killing monsters. Legionnaires drill extensively with grenades, including emergency procedures for when they are dropped or kicked back into the lines. Incendiary grenades are used in some engagements, and elemental grenades and more advanced types are being produced as well.
  • Specialist Weapons: several men in every century carry specialist weapons like spike throwers, weapon created by Artificers that acts very much like a rapid firing crossbow with a pressurized air component.  Spike throwers can use a variety of munitions. Grenadiers are common as well, breaking formations far effectively than javelin volleys. Other unusual arms include flamethrowers, elemental enchanted weapons to deal with exceptionally tough monsters, and so on.

Zombies in Fantasy

Zombies are the bacon of genre fiction.

Knights vs Zombies. Lazy Zombies…

While I was attending a short panel on Dark Fantasy at Gencon this year, the subject of Zombies came up.  The undead, including zombies, have long been a staple of Fantasy fiction; with the popularity of zombies showing little signs of abating I expect to see them in more works.

In my two Bloodlust books Zombies (called the stitched), are frequent fodder for the arena. They have several advantage in this regard: they are relatively cheap, especially since the rest of the industry is great at providing corpses (I just wrote that O.o); they are versatile, providing different levels of challenge with artifice/magic add-ons and different bits; and they are easy to control through necromantic magic. I also hint that zombies have their own fans, which is a bit of a shout out to the various zombie walks that I’ve seen. I even discuss the idea of Zombie labour, something I may explore further in future bookss.

Honestly I’m not sure why Zombies are so popular. I don’t really consider myself a huge zombie fan (I don’t have a zombie apocalypse plan, for example), and yet I will watch almost any Zombie movie that comes out without hesitation.  Zombies are an extremely versatile story ingredient, a term that I do not use lightly. If you think of a story like a good sandwich (don’t ask me why), the zombie can

  • Bread: The zombie apocalypse makes for a great background for almost any tale. Want to tell an epic war story? Have your kingdom invaded by huge hordes of zombies! Want to tell a claustrophobic tale of the breakdown of social norms in a crisis situation? how about people trapped in an inn surrounded by zombies? You can tell a story about the folly of delving too deep into dark lore with the tale of the necromancer who unleashes the zombie plague or you can write an ultra heroic tale of saving the world from the undead menace.
  • Meat: While zombies are often a key ingredient in world-building, they can also fill a more direct role in the story. The trauma of seeing loved one return to life as a zombie is perhaps the best example of zombies providing a lovely dramatic moment.
  • Garnish: Zombies are great for action scenes. They are messy, they are mindlessly violent, and no one really feels any sympathy for them. Zombie based action allows us to indulge our lower impulses in a guilt free fashion. 
  • Condiment: Zombies can be added to just about any already existing story. I’m not only thinking Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, here. You could use zombies to spice up your wilderness survival tale or add an interesting twist to your detective story.

In Fantasy worlds zombies can provide the same sort of spice that they do to horror and post-apocalyptic settings, however there are several additional factors to consider.

  • Lack of Guns: One of the major advantages that people have over zombies in more modern settings are guns. Few versions of zombies are able to use weapons, let alone guns. Guns gives survivors a definite advantage over the undead, at least until they run out of ammunition. In most fantasy settings guns are out of the question. Without modern weaponry things look even more grim in a standard zombie apocalypse situation.
  • Lack of People: On the other hand in a primarily rural world, a zombie plague can be less frightening. In most zombie fiction those bitten by a zombie become a zombie, this is frightening in an urban sprawl where one comes into contact with thousands of strangers daily and human contact is unavoidable and intrusive. It is an entirely different kind of story in a medieval rural setting where strangers are instantly noteworthy and your nearest neighbors live miles away.
  • Castles: Industrial warfare made castles obsolete, but they would actually be quite effective against most forms of zombies. Stone walls can withstand any attempt at damage and zombies would have difficulty scaling them, especially with a good moat. Castles that are designed to withstand long sieges would thus provide a formidable bulwark against the undead menace. Feudal societies were structured around such buildings, with hundreds in Europe alone. This would perhaps be the great equalizer for for the guns.
  • Formation Based Warfare: Strength based warfare is a staple of pre-modern times. A disciplined army could hold of many times their own number with a strong formation. Perhaps this could be translated into a method of fighting zombies in a fantasy world. Hey I’d watch The 300 with zombies…
  • Zombie monsters: Of course in a fantasy world there are a whole host of extra creatures that could be infected. Your castle wall might work well against human zombies, but what about zombie giants?
  • Magic of Mass Destruction: Spell-casters could be a potent force against a horde of zombies. A fireball could kill some undead, especially if it thrown from the safety of a castle wall where burning zombies can’t reach you. Holy magic would no doubt prove even more effective in some stories with mighty Paladins driving back the dead with strength of faith. Magic weapons enchanted against the dead would also be of tremendous value.
  • Necromancy: Naturally the number one question about a setting with magic and zombies in it, is the role of necromancy. A horde of Zombies is scary enough. A horde of Zombies under the control of an evil necromancer is capable of overcoming obstacles that require some cunning. An army that is absolutely obedient and does not need food is an excellent asset. Of course the necromancer becomes the personality behind the zombies, which humanizes them somewhat. Breaking the necromancer’s control would be an excellent story goal.

Zombies work as well for fantasy as they do in most other genres. The key difference is to understand how the differences in world-building and magic will change the nature of everyone’s favourite menace….

World-Building: Magic, Power, and Economics using Magic: The Gathering Lands as an example.

Lands for Magic: the Gatherng

Last week I scribbled about the idea that magic could have a drastic effect on the economics and power structure of a fantasy world. The example I gave were fairly simplistic and I wanted to follow up a longer, more interesting example. I chose the idea of taking power from the land which is well represented in fantasy. Examples include Magic: The Gathering, where players use land cards to generate mana to power their spells and the Fallen Enchantress series where players capture elemental nodes on the landscape to increase their spell power. The basic idea is that the magic user draws the power needed for their magic from the lands they control. Lets say I like this basic idea and want to use it as a magic system in my game world or story. I’ll start by defining the fundamental characteristics of the system and then move on to how I think those will inform basic world building.

Mystic Lands Magic System

  • It takes time to attune to a land. Only one magic user can attune to a land at a time. Other magic users have a vague sense of who is attuned to a land.
  • The characteristics of a land make it useful for certain types of magic, Mountains are good for earth and fire magic, swamps are associated with death and decay, while forests are good for healing and growth.
  • Because the characteristics matter, not just any land will do, areas worth attuning to are relatively rare and require a certain archetypal quality.
  • A Magic user has some small talent for magic on their own, but to do any complex magic they must have access to the raw power they can channel from their lands. The more powerful the spell the more land they must be attuned to.
  • Lets assume that mages are common enough to have an impact on politics and economics in our world.
  • There are a wide variety of spells but most magic-users stick to one or two specialties based on the lands they control.
  • Since this is inspired by, and not base on Magic: The Gathering, we’ll leave out the MTG fluff like planes-walkers and such.

Our Magic: the Gathering inspired system now has enough characteristics for me to extrapolate some ideas of how it will influence the political and economic environment of  standard fantasy world.

  • Heightened Feudalism: The foundation of feudal power was the ownership of land. If control of land directly increased the magic-users power it becomes even more important to them. We therefore know that control of the land is central to our world, especially to the magic-users. Territorial disputes will be taken very seriously, which will lead to a fair bit of conflict. Mages without access to lands become a sort of magical under-class, unable to fulfill their potential. Ideas of ownership and inheritance of land are central to the laws.
  • Conservation and Protection:  Since the characteristics of a land influence what type of magic can be drawn from it, you can be damned sure the controlling magic-user will be watching over his or her lands and trying to keep them as pure a possible. This might mean that they come into conflict with others who may wish to use the land for more mundane purposes, which would alter their bond to it.
  • That man reeks of the swamps!: If control of lands is important, it is likely that the magic-user will spend a far bit of time near their power base. People will judge a magic-user base on where they live and develop prejudices and generalizations about those who dwell in certain areas based on the type of magic that can be drawn from them. Mountain fold are more warlike, swamp-dwellers are morbid, and so on.
  • Land Destruction: Total warfare in such a world would often entail destroying an opponents places of power. (MTG actually delves into this) This sort of nuclear option could have nasty long term consequences with bitter wars between magic users leading to cataclysms as magic-users destroy each others lands. Even common people could wage war against the magic-users in this way,
  • Mage Lords: Because of their need to control the land magic-users would want to have a fair bit of temporal power as well. After all, an army could really come in useful if a horde of orcs decides to use your forest for firewood. Mages would likely be powerful landowners or warlords in order to keep tight reign over their lands.

Those are nice, simple extrapolations, but delving further into it we can come up with some really juicy ideas.

  • The Problem with Cities: Urban sprawl and human habitation changes the characteristics of the lands where it occurs. Some mages in the world might be very interested in population control as measure to keep their power base safe, This makes for an interesting tension between the magic-users and those who wish to make different use of the land, The problem could be exacerbated if some new-fangled type of magic-user draws power from urbanized lands or some sort of unknown power starts staining the land.
  • Concentration of Power: Even if the magic-users avoid confrontation with the mundanes over land use, conflict can arise as more and more land falls becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Landless mages will always be on the lookout for ways to get their hands on some power while those with great power will have to guard their territories zealously from each other as well as the landless.
  • Land ho!: Imagine the discovery of a new land-mass, unclaimed by magic-users in this scenario. The land-rush would be intense. Magic-users already have a big incentive to explore, given that undiscovered lands are a ready source of power, Colonization in such a case would take on the worst aspects of imperialism, with the powerful competing with the desperate in a bit to come out on top in the mad rush to gain control of all that land…