Questions, questions, questions…

batman-riddler-theme-339434-1-s-307x512It used to be the case that your favourite author was probably a distant figure, dispensing their pearls of fictional awesomeness from a mysterious ivory tower in the wilderness of Imaginationland. If you really, really liked them you might send them a letter via their publisher, and would probably receive a reply. You might get to talk to them at a signing and you might be able to read an article or interview if they were famous enough, or you followed the industry ‘zines.

These days the interwebs have changed all that. Sure, an author can sometimes get away with being all lofty and unapproachable, but for most of us we need to get our faces out there as much as our words. People want to read, but they also want to interact. At its heart the internet is a tool for discussion, whether that’s about a fictional world, a particular author or even a specific book. It gives authors a global reach that would be hard to achieve any other way.

I started this blog, as many writers to do, to keep in the practice of laying out words on a regular basis when I didn’t have any commissioned work lined up. In the not-too-distant future it will be retired as I unveil a wonderful new website with all the twirly bits. The new site will have a blog too, of course. And hopefully a decent searchable archive at some point when we find the time to put it together… It’s important to me that I have this place where I can share my thoughts, even if it is on a sporadic basis these days.

Goodreads logoAnd now you can directly ask me questions through my Goodreads profile. I always try to reply to direct contacts, even if it takes some time when I’m in the mental and emotional throes of a project, so if you want to know what’s happening with a book, ask about a favourite character, query a plot point or perhaps something else, this is a great way to do it. And while you’re there (or on Amazon, Google, etc), please share a rating or review of your favourite books – not just mine, it really does help the authors you want to support.

I look forward to answering your questions soon.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  

2015 The Year of Hobby: Update One

As I mentioned before Christmas, I’m launching myself into the toy soldiers and gaming hobby with a bit more gusto than previous years, thanks to some work on Open Combat and also a big Kickstarter delivery. Apologies for amateurish camera work, but I will get some better pics when stuff gets finished.

Sunday evening I assessed my hobby supplies and looked at the projects to hand.


This was my paints collection last week, most of it dating back not to the previous range of Citadel Colour, but the range before that! They were mostly from a mega-paint set I acquired not long before leaving GW and a good number had dried up. Some are a bit thick, but not beyond redemption – the benefit of water-soluble paints is that you can resurrect old pots pretty easily; most of the painting advice these days is to thin paints a little anyway, regardless of the manufacturer.

So after the cull (performed to the tune of Alison Moyet’s lesser-known hit ‘All Dried Out’) I got out the new additions. These comprised a combination of Army Painter tools and paints for Christmas presents thanks to Warlord Games’ wish-list function, with the addition of a few paints I picked up in Games Workshop Derby, along with some ‘liquid green stuff’ to help smooth out any assembly imperfections.


Feeling like I had everything ready, I gathered the current works-in-progress.


1. A selection of classic Undead and Imps as inspiration for some Open Combat warbands and rules.


2. Warlord Games Red Army, to go with some World War II rules I’ve been working on for the last three or four years… I have British Paras, German Fallschirmjager and American Airborne already, but it wouldn’t feel right without some Soviets.


3. Playtest for models for an in-progress ‘future sports’ game. Like the WWII rules, I have a bit of a personal opus of a future sports game that’s been bubbling around for several years. These players are ‘converted’ sky surfers from the Mongoose Judge Dredd range. And by converted, I mean they’ve had the weapons cut off and the limbs bent a bit – not the most difficult modelling project ever undertaken. (PS All I need to do next is find a use for twelve sky boards without riders…)


4.Normans and Saxons – these are Gripping Beast models. I used to use an adapted version of GW’s The Lord of the Rings rules (proxying for Gondorians and Rohirrim respectively) but these days I’m playing Open Combat with them instead.

IMG_0822The Norman knights, led by Duke William. The keen-eyed will see that their steeds aren’t those that come from Gripping Beast, andperhaps not strictly true to the Norman style, but they are plastic and therefore lighter. A no-prize for anyone that comes up with the correct identity.

I’ll be writing a couple of articles about the warbands, so these are my first priority. They just need a little bit of attention to make them stand out in photography a bit more.

5. And there’s this box of Twilight: Chronicles of Anyaral miniatures to get started on. More of them in a later post, plus updates on the Twilight forum hopefully.


So I made a start on the knights. I need a brighter silver to finish off the mail and make it stand out, but a couple of ink glazes and some highlights have certainly made a difference.

IMG_0827 IMG_0828I’ll be giving the infantry a similar treatment, and then I’ll make a start on the first forces for Twilight. A good start, and I shall keep you updated. And just for some extra inspiration, I broke out the reading material while the inks were drying.

norman books

What’s your hobby vow this year?















Published in: on January 13, 2015 at 4:47 pm  Comments (3)  
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Raptor Competition Winner and Early Plans for 2015

Welcome to the hallowed halls of 2015. Just before Christmas I set a challenge:

My latest audio drama Holder of the Keys had a line removed during editing. The line was “We checked it twice.” I want you to tell me where in the audio the line was originally.

IMG_0361The real trick was remembering that this was an Advent story, and despite the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium I tried to sneak in a bit of Christmas cheer. Those that work in a retail environment in particular may have heard this particular refrain many times over the seasonal period:

He’s making a list, Checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.

So Holder of the Keys in my original draft included the following:

Your cowardice needs no confirmation. We have a list of those that held true and those that fell. We checked it twice.

IMG_0360Congratulations to Vladyslav Obniavko from Odessa in Ukraine for getting the answer right and being first out of the virtual hat. A signed copy of Raptor will be heading his way as soon as I get my samples. Other News RavenwingI have just delivered the new draft of The Unforgiven to the editors at Black Library, so that is on track for release this summer. In other Dark Angels news I am starting to plan my next Horus Heresy novel, which will turn attention from the Lion’s exploits on the Eastern Fringe back to Caliban. as well as catching up on the ongoing fun with Corswain and Calas Typhon of the Death Guard. Early days yet, but concluding the Legacy of Caliban for Warhammer 40,000 has put me in the ideal spot for some Heresy-era politics and battles! Master of Sanctity novel coverWith the conclusion of the Dark Angels I’m left to pitch some ideas for my next 40K series to the editors. I was intending to step away from the Space Marines for a bit of a non-superhuman-killing-machine breather, but after introducing some Consecrators in a cameo at the end of The Unforgiven, I might develop some of those characters a little. Either that, or I might return to the Imperial Guard/ Astra Militarum. I haven’t written for the poor grunts since the days of the Last Chancers and a lot has happened over those years. It’ll be nice to get back with one of the old regiments perhaps. Bear in mind that I have some more Eldar novels on the way – no official release date yet but I can give you a small visual clue as to the subject of the first one… There will also be an accompanying audio drama. 99800104025_AsurmenNEW_01 So, what do you folks think I should write next?

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 3:45 pm  Comments (5)  

Christmas Competition

Season’s Greetings one and all! I’ve finished off 2014 with some eldar rewrites, a short-notice Horus Heresy story about some Word Bearers and ready for rewrites to The Unforgiven in the New Year.
To celebrate the occasion I am offering a signed copy of my Raptor audio when it is released on CD next year. All you have to do to win is answer the following question.

My latest audio drama Holder of the Keys had a line removed during editing. The line was “We checked it twice.” I want you to tell me where in the audio the line was originally – you’ll have to listen carefully but I promise it isn’t just guesswork.
To enter, email your answer to mechanicalhamster (at) gmail (dot) com – I’ll pick a winner at random in the New Year.
There’ll be a typical retrospective/ looking-forward blog post in Jan, but until then I bid you a fun Christmas holiday, a portentous New Year, and a prosperous 2015.

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 4:15 pm  Comments (1)  

Halflings and Fubarnii and Delgon

I must start with a confession.

For the past few years my toy soldiering has dwindled and dwindled. Lack of time, falling out of the loop, not quite finding the miniatures and games that really caught my imagination, all of these things took their toll on my hobby muscles. It’s a common story. Real-life commitments often take over for a period. However, like many reformed hobbyists I speak to, I have never considered myself ‘out’ of gaming. It may have been some time since I picked up a brush in anger, or pushed a miniature across a tabletop, but I still have that ‘gamer gene’. Just as I go through troughs in my reading of sci-fi and fantasy, I still consider myself a genre reader. It never really goes away.

The Open combat rulebook

The Open Combat rules

Helping my friend Carl at Second Thunder develop the rules for Open Combat relit my fire a while back – the fact that you can play with a handful of whatever miniatures you like is a real blessing for those of us who know that it’ll be a long, long time before we get anything like a massed battle army painted. Buying some cool toy soldiers at conventions, starting to paint again, the wheels started to turn with much creaking and screeching and slowly the gears in the hobby part of my brain have started moving again. I will be blogging about my Open Combat exploits and writing some extra stuff for Second Thunder in 2015.

Hau'rax miniature

Available as a large-scale painting model and a smaller gaming piece.

Slightly more immediate but tangential, Voodooworx miniatures have released their first model – this charming Halfling warlord called Hau’rax. Sculpted by Lucas Pina Pinechet from original concepts by Wayne England, Hau’rax is a nice change from the normal Halflings we see. In celebration of this first foray into the world of Tir-Dagrau, I’ve written a short biography of Hau’rax which you’ll be able to read in the Voodooworx newsletter, and there’s a full 5,000 word short story coming soon too. It’s been great exploring this new mythical realm with Will from Voodooworx, inspired by a mix of celtic myth and modern fantasy, and wonderfully encapsulated in some great concepts by Wayne. I’m looking forward to writing more for this exciting range.


A box of swag to be proud of!

Last but not least, a Kickstarter I backed last year has now turned up on my doorstep. I’m not that keen on backing miniatures on Kickstarter, I have to say. A 3D computer render is one thing, but it has no bearing on the finished production quality. While most mini Kickstarters have turned out fine, there have been a few that have delivered less-than-expected quality once production has kicked in. However, World of Twilight has been going for a few years already and has proven itself both in terms of delivery and quality. It first came to my attention whilst researching an article on ‘out there’ fantasy ranges for a blog post on The Shell Case. The KS started soon after and I had to put my money where my mouth is.

image2I’m looking forward to assembling my various warbands (I had to get something from each faction, obviously…).

image3The book is also beautifully laid out, with fine illustrations and painted miniatures that really capture the flavour of this lovely fantasy world. An obvious labour of love.


I need to update my paints and other hobby supplies (good timing for Christmas) and I’m going to start on these lovely chaps in the New Year.

Anyway, that an some Undead for Open Combat should keep me busy for a few months (plus primping some Normans and Saxons and finishing some WWII Red Army guys for some rules Ive been tinkering with…). I’ll be posting updates here and, hopefully, on the World of Twilight Forum, and also you can keep track of what I’m up to over at the Second Thunder forum too,

So, what’s inspired you in the miniatures hobby lately?

Published in: on December 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm  Comments (4)  

An Old Friend Returns

Horus Heresy Merir Astelan

Say hello to Astelan.

This image appeared in the Horus Heresy CCG from Sabertooth Games (where he gained the first name Merir), based on the character I first introduced in Angels of Darkness more than ten years ago. Astelan has been a provocative and controversial figure since his inception, inciting both argument and inspiration amongst Dark Angels and 40K fans and stirring plenty of comment from other writers too.

Angels of Darkness novel second printing cover

Astelan’s testimony during his interrogation in Angels of Darkness has been a source of much debate, with some fans cursing him as an outright liar, others wondering if there is some truth behind the Fallen’s falsehoods. Whenever Lion El’Jonson and his gene-sons are involved, you can be sure that no matter how black and white a situation seems at first, there are shades of grey beneath.

The Tales of Heresy anthology coverI returned to him ten thousand years earlier thanks to the arrival of the Horus Heresy series, in the short story entitle Call of the Lion, collected in the Tales of Heresy anthology. In this episode Astelan tangles with another Dark Angels Chapter Master over the compliance of a world, witnessing first-hand the changes the Lion has wrought on the First Legion.

Master of Sanctity novel coverIt was too tempting to resist bringing Astelan back in my Legacy of Caliban series, so Astelan reappears in the 41st millennium timeline in book two – Master of Sanctity. Those of you that have finished reading the novel may or may not be left wondering if he will return in book three – The Unforgiven. You’ll have to wait and see!

Mast of the First audio drama coverAnd now we warp back to the days of the Horus Heresy, and can hear Astelan’s unfolding plans by virtue of the audio drama Master of the First. Astelan has always claimed to be a dedicated son of the Emperor, but trapped on Caliban amongst the resurgent Ranks of the Order under the command of Luther, where do his loyalties really lie?

Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 11:15 am  Comments (6)  

The Norman(ish) Conquest

I was able to take a day off writing book three of my Dark Angels trilogy (The Unforgiven) to squeeze in a couple of games of Open Combat with Second Thunder-incarnate Carl Brown.

I tried out an all-cavalry force of Norman knights against a warband of Saxons from my collection. Usually I go for a slightly larger warband, but the knights deserved to be tough and mobile, so the 150 Renown we had agreed on for the game didn’t go far (Renown is the points you spend creating your warriors).

An open combat game starts

The kitchen table is plenty of room for a game – I happen to have some bigger boards.

Without going into all the details, it was one win apiece. I didn’t quite use the knights as well as I could first game, and ended up getting slightly mobbed. In the second game I kept more compact and was able to get ahead and keep the momentum.

Carl gets out a tape measure

Carl checks line-of-sight for his archers. Most missile weapons have no maximum range.

The core rules contain some quick and easy cavalry rules to make them a little harder hitting but unruly. Essentially, you have to test for each cavalry model when activating them and theres a 1-in-6 chance of losing the initiative (which means your turn has ended!). I used a couple of leader re-rolls to keep things going.

Norman knights charge into Saxon archers.

The left flanks gets stuck in.

There are lots of areas where the rules will be expanded, and cavalry is on the list – getting off and on, the particular  pros and cons of mounted combat and so forth.

Carl has rolled a six.

A Solid Hit! That means a loss of FORtitude and a push back against William. Push backs are a really important part of the tactics in Open Combat.

Somewhat bravely it turned out, in the first game my leader, William the Conqueror himself, went straight for Carl’s leader. This proved to be a bit rash as spearmen rushed  to the Saxon chieftain’s aid and my follow-up knights were held up by a loss of initiative…

After both games Carl and I had a great chat about where the game is going next. There’re so many articles and micro-expansions on the list that it’ll take some time for things to take shape.  We chatted about magic, new scenarios, campaign systems. sample warbands, duellist abilities, scenario interpretation, and all kinds of cool stuff.

Be sure to have some games and let us know what you would like to see.

Saxon infanty surround the Norman knight

The counter-attack from the Saxons proves the doom of William. How different history would have been!

Models are from my collection, by Gripping Beast.

Published in: on October 22, 2014 at 7:10 am  Comments (4)  

Fancy Some Open Combat?

As some of you will be aware, I’ve been pootling about doing a bit of games design work in my free time, mostly for the fun of it because who doesn’t like inventing games, right? None of those projects are quite ready for the light of day, either commercially or just to share, but for the past three years I have also been helping out my friend Carl Brown* on a new skirmish wargame called Open Combat.

*Real old-timer Games Workshop fans may remember Carl as our top Greenskins Blood Bowl player in the Studio league back in the day. He even beat Jervis Johnson** in a battle report and had a tactics article published in White Dwarf.

**Okay, so who hasn’t? But that isn’t my point. I can’t start casting aspersions with my record, can I?

The Open combat rulebook

Modern, full-colour, easy-to-use design.

We’ve been having a great time devising a set of universal historical/ fantasy skirmish rules. The premise is, like the best ideas, simple. Open Combat is a scenario-based system that allows you to play pre-gunpowder historical or fantasy skirmishes with any of the models you own. Carl has been busy talking to various miniatures manufacturers to use their lovely models in the book, but Open Combat is not tied to one specific range.

This is made possible with a flexible force creation system, so that with just five simple stats, a choice of weapons and some skills you can put together the rules for any miniatures you have. Want to recreate a Germanic warband trying to capture the eagle of a Roman Legion? Vikings pillaging a Saxon settlement? A cadre of elves protecting their forest home from a horde of goblins? What about that time a hill troll wandered into the heroes’ camp? All of this is possible, and it only takes a few minutes to get started.

BLOG Captioned - elves vs orcs

Using Imagination

For both Carl and me it was important to get back to the ideas that brought us into gaming in the first place. Fast, narrative, imaginative play was our aim. When we were both nippers we didn’t bother with army lists – I remember barely bothering with rules at first. We wanted to get out our favourite miniatures and play. That is the essence of Open Combat. There are three key ingredients to recreating that approach in a proper set of rules.

The first of these is accessibility. We are both keen that anybody who has some miniatures lying around can get started with the minimum of effort. You can conduct a game on your kitchen table if needed (most of the playtesting was done on my dining table, in an area no bigger than 24″x 24″) with a few pieces of terrain and a handful of models each.

BLOG Captioned - Open Combat warband

Good for All-comers

The second is scope. We don’t want players depending upon us as developers to release rules for the miniatures in their collection. While we have a whole bunch of extra modules and articles we’d like to work on, the warband creation system included in the main rules contains lots of options to personalise your gang, crew, warband, etc. How you choose to represent something in the game is entirely up to you – there are no ‘official’ stats at all. IN the same vein, it’s entirely up to you what size of game you want to play. Most of our games have ended up between about 5 and twenty models, but that’s just the way we approach the warband creation.

BLOG Captioned - roman vs celts

Having Fun

The third was fun. I know this may sound a bit odd, but let me explain. Some wargames rules attempt to recreate a situation faithfully to every degree – the simulation wargames. Some are more about the gameplay. Good games should feel right but not get bogged down in detail, and we deliberately veered towards solutions that added to the fun and narrative of the games rather than realistic simulation. We wanted the players’ imaginations to be as an important component of the game as the miniatures and dice. All you need to play are the rules, some toy soldiers and three six-sided dice.

Taking Part

We’re really happy with the result, but try out Open Combat yourself. For a launch price of just £7.50, less than most blister packs these days, it’s worth a punt, surely?

You can follow what’s happening on  Twitter – @second_thunder – or on the Second Thunder Facebook page and of course there will be regular updates on the Second Thunder website once that is fully up-and-running.

We are already planning a series of micro-expansions that add rules like extra skills and weapons for specific genres, different campaign settings and systems, new scenarios and so on. However, Open Combat isn’t about Second Thunder telling gamers how to play their games. The system for creating warbands is universal, and we’re really interested to see what players do with it, and what narratives they weave with the scenarios. Whether you’ve created a halfling horde or warherd of minotaurs, or you’ve used the system to represent your ravening Huns as they raid the fringes of the Roman Empire, we want players to get involved and share their ideas with each other. If you have something you think would be a great example to other players, from an entire warband list you’ve worked out to maybe just a few lines about the way you interpreted a scenario for a game, send your article ideas to info (at) secondthunder (dot) com

There have been a couple of ‘first impressions’ posts already, so check out these articles on Meeples and Miniatures, and Proximacoal to see what they think.

I’m off to twiddle with some rules I’ve been working on for Undead warbands, but my Normans and Saxons stand ready for battle at any time.

Published in: on October 15, 2014 at 9:35 am  Comments (12)  

Morehammer Fest!

I spent this past Saturday and Sunday at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, UK for the first ever Warhammer Fest. The successor to Games Day as Games Workshop’s premier event, Warhammer Fest had a lot to live up to. If I’m brutally honest… it did! Okay, so it was smaller, but that was not a bad thing. It felt more personal, more about talking to fans and other gamers than just getting as many people as possible into one building. The fact that the various ‘parts’ of the event – retail, gaming, Design Studio, Forge World, Black Library, seminars, GW Licensing – were split across several rooms made it feel more like other genre conventions I attend and less like a cattle market.

The Legacies of Betrayal Horus Heresy Anthology

This lovely collection was available on pre-release.

From my view as a Black Library guest, my only comment would be to provide an alternative to baked potato for the staff lunch. It’s a small gripe (unlike the potatoes which were rather large) and as the Ricoh arena has its own food concessions and is situated 5 minutes from Europe’s largest Tesco store, there were alternatives if I was really that bothered.

The repetitive spud lunches aside, everything ran smoothly. The flow of people was fairly constant throughout the day, there was time for people to chat and a little bit of time to have a look around the event too. It was great to see and talk to so many fans of the eldar, Raven Guard and Dark Angels – as well as quite a few Warhammer dwarfs aficionados too. It’s always nice getting that kindly reassurance from real people once in a while – meeting folks that have paid money and enjoyed my books inspires me to make sure that I keep pushing myself, to greet every project as an exciting challenge and not just a paid chore.

Sin of Damnation Space Hulk novella

I signed a gratifying number of these too. I will endeavour to make some more time for Blood Angels on my packed schedule.

And I say it about every event, and it was just as true of Warhammer Fest – it was brilliant to meet up with the Black Library team and the fellows authors and artists. I had a blast with Neil Roberts (gubaphobe), Gub Haley, Andy ‘gubgub’ Smillie, Jes Gubham (umm, Bickham – White Dwarf editor) and James ‘Gubslinger’ Swallow. For those that were unfortunate enough to be near us on Saturday night, my only defence for such shrill and loud behaviour is that we don’t get out much, we had been very busy all day, there was a card game called ‘Gubs‘ involved, and we had been drinking pink wine. No excuses, just explanations.

The most telling fact is that, having spent a weekend in the company of fellow Black Library fans and gamers and shared their honest enthusiasm, I feel more energised and inspired by the hobby and background than I did before I went.

Published in: on October 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm  Comments (1)  

My Life in Books

You may have seen a Facebook meme floating around recently asking for folks to post their top ten books. I’ve been honoured to see my name in a few lists and have been tagged a couple of times to post my own. I had to decline these invitations at the time. It’s because I’ve basically gone and done a posh version for Mass Movement Magazine – click here to read the ‘My Life in Books’ article.

I’ve taken an autobiographical approach, rather than just my ten favourite books, mainly because it really is my life in books, but also because applying some kind of criteria made the decisions simpler. So many books, choosing ten was a very difficult task. Near misses include: David Gemmell’s Legend; Warlock of Firetop Mountain; Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader and plenty of others.

Gav Thorpe's life in ten books

One book is missing, as it has been leant to a friend. Can you spot which one?


Published in: on October 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

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