Monday, August 20, 2012

Army Lore 108 - Major Conflicts

This post is dedicated to adding to the history of your military force, specifically what battles and enemies it has been faced with.
So part of the fun of this part is that you get to come up with whole scenarios and situations that could have arisen, using just your imagination to craft fantastic moments in your favorite settings for your personalized army that you have put so much effort into to have fought in.  One way to really excite yourself for playing your army and feel new life in a game that you may have felt was getting stale because of the monotony of your regular games is to immerse yourself in an epic action.  For instance one of THE best moments that entirely caught my attention and thrilled me was one of the battles of the Gaunt's Ghosts series (I know I bring them up regularly, but that is because I have found it to be an excellent set of stories) was the battle on the planet Verghast.  It really raised my expectations for the rest of his books, and unfortunately he never met them after the high I got from there but that doesn't mean he wasn't exceedingly excellent, that was just a moment of pure awesome that perhaps pushed my imagination to a point that was beyond what he could then match.  But that is what is great about writing our own stories, you can then work to exceed your own expectations and you won't be limited by others' writing.

So what was it that will make your army seem particularly realistic and also exciting, a piece of fiction that you can be proud to show off to others?  A good place to start would be with previous Battle Reports you have done; the caveat is that this requires you to have played a game with this army before and done a Battle Report.  If that is not possible, perhaps you are just writing a story for fun or designing your next army you need to look elsewhere for this.  Perhaps you can model the conflict on a battle that you have fought against the theoretical army, and just make a few tweaks to that list and do some creative remembering such that it is more in the style of the new contingent.  If this isn't to your liking however, maybe you want to take a planet you may have designed (perhaps following the guidelines given in the series of posts I give, a link to which can be found to the right) or a system and just taking a few minutes to push that future of the planet forward in a way that involves the army that you are concerned with at the moment.  As always another source of inspiration is all around you, in books, movies, friends, games, etc.

So that might be where you want to start with in fleshing out the history of engagements for the army.  But what is it that you need to keep track of so that what you write means anything and will actually engage any readers?  Keep in mind how these conflicts should change the army, perhaps you have an idea of what the morale and feelings of the troopers were right after the founding.  This is your chance to guide them into the grizzled veterans or whatever concoction you want at the end in the forms of various wars that take their toll in some way or another, changing their philosophy of fighting, morale, etc. based on casualties or the types of xenos/heretics they have faced.

I'm sure that I could write a series on crafting just a battle… oh wait, I already have.  But in any case, what will likely really invigorate you is constructing something that is thoroughly epic and a solid read.  The quality of the story has to do with your writing abilities and I can't help too much there as I am not a particularly articulate or good writer, but I believe that I can help with the bit about the awesome part of it.  Most people like to have a grand sense of scale, a feeling that the universe hangs in the balance based on this engagement with your forces and so you might want to have at least one battle that is like that.  Don't make all of them that way because then it gets boring (sort of the problem towards the end of the Ghost's series that I started to get before I caught up with the current book and read that) but one decent engagement of huge import is great.  Another piece of the feeling related to the battle is not just the scale, but also the danger and the sacrifice.  Giving a number of casualties or even names attached to them won't make a reader understand just how awful things were or what was lost.  The horrors of war are best understood (and this is sheer hypocrisy seeing as I have never seen war except in history, fiction, and non-fiction books or documentaries and the like) when there is someone/something to relate to.  For instance when I was going into my Battle Report Operation Iron Defense I was fully intending to kill off Mart'el.  I then proceeded to become too attached to him myself and so was unable to do it.  Of course in the future I will not have such compunctions because I plan to introduce enough characters that one of them will have to die.  But hopefully you all felt some sort of loss when you thought he died (of course if you are anything like me you would have believed that he was alive until shown the body because authors rarely kill someone like that off.  At least that early on certainly.  Game of Thrones is a whole different ball park.  What I'm trying to get across here is that you need to put in some effort and development into people that will help you craft a story that is suitably powerful enough that it matches what you were hoping for while also relating the necessary amounts of danger and sacrifice to feature just what was gained at so high a price.

To conclude I want to go through what made that book about the planet Verghast so good (this will be without spoilers… except for one.  Obviously there was a battle there, things kind of escalated beyond what was 'expected'.  But if you didn't see that coming then you clearly have no experience with books anyways, you must have been wondering what was going to be written about for several hundred pages).  First there was a sense of massive scale.  Yes it was a battle for one city.  This city however was MASSIVE.  One giant freaking wall, which the Ghosts were given just a segment of to defend.  Not only did Abnett cover the Ghost's part in that defense (which was of course brilliant and totally everything I could possibly hope for) he also updated us on everything else that happened in a way that really showed how narrow the defense was.  And then how it was again.  And again.  And so on.  Second was the cost.  People die in this book.  HUGE amounts of guardsmen perish, defenses fall and are reclaimed by guardsmen some of the time.  Cost of course does not even have to be in life.  The psychological change is something that can be more apparent and empathetic than the death toll sometimes.  People change in ways that is sickening, innocence is despoiled and things happen that just wrench your heart.  Third was the sense of desperation and importance, just how dire the situation really was.  There was a buildup as things just fell apart, and as they did more was revealed and you just knew towards the end that things were practically hopeless.  For all intents and purposes (and this is not a spoiler) people in command die or are unable to communicate and things deteriorate to the point that one after another rank is gone through for overseeing the defense of this city.  The final piece that is perhaps the most key part is the heroism.  People rise up from the ashes, climbing over the bodies of the fallen to act beyond what was expected of them.  Sheer suicidal bravery is seen time and again, in an entirely believable fashion.  To fit with this theme oftentimes it ended up getting them killed, but this was a conflict that forged the greatest of people in the hottest of furnaces in such a way that nothing else could possibly match it.  This is why I had a good time reading it, and why none of the other books I have read since have been able to match this one story unfortunately.  I look forward to the day I find a better action sequence in a book.

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