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  

Latest Happenings

Busy, busy, busy. The same as always when you’re freelance. It’s a good busy, as they say. Better to be working than not. Of course, as a waffy creative type it’s not all about sitting at the keyboard churning out words. There’s the actual creating bit that needs doing, like coming up with stories and scenes and dialogue. Also, I sometimes like to get out and actually, you know, meet real people, not just the ones in my head.

So, in no particular order, here’s some of what’s been a-happening in the world of Gav lately.


First up, I have begun the first draft of The Unforgiven, book three in the Legacy of Caliban. Judging by comments delivered in person, on Facebook and twitter, the ending to Master of Sanctity has left a lot of folks eager to know what happens next. Well, that’s easy. First of all, XXXX has to hunt down XXXX, and then with the help of XXXX the Dark Angels find out about XXXX and Azrael has to XXXX with XXXX to prevent XXXX from XXXX and destroying the Chapter. Hope that clears things up. The Unforgiven will be hitting the shelves next summer.


If you want to chat about the Legacy of caliban or any of my books, this coming weekend – 11th and 12th October – is the perfect opportunity. I’ll be with a clutch of other Black Library authors at Warhammer Fest, taking place at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, UK. It’s a new format for Games Workshop’s premier event, taking over from the Games Days of past years. I’m just as curious as everyone else to see what the seminars and displays will be like. Be sure to come and say hello, maybe get a book signed, have a chat.

Open Combat rulebookSpeaking of events, I was at Derby World Wargames this past weekend, at Donington park. As well as resisting the stands full of cool toy soldiers and board games (not an easy feat!) I was there to help out my friend Carl with his new game – Open Combat. I’ll be posting more about this universal skirmish system in more detail in the next couple of days, but for now you can go to the Second Thunder website to download the rules PDF for the special launch price of £7.50. It’s been three and more years in the making, and Carl is still getting the site in order, but I genuinely think that this is one of the best purchases any miniatures gamer could make – it’s a surefire investment in fun and you don’t have to buy a single toy soldier you don’t want, just use what’s already in your collection.

That’s the big stuff for now. If you want to keep up with what else is going on, please follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page (or both!). Thanks!


Published in: on October 8, 2014 at 4:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Mark of War Kickstarter update

Despite the brilliant reasons set forth in my last post, the Kickstarter for Mark of War simply hasn’t gained the level of attention it deserved or needed, and the team at Warpforged Games have rightly decided to end the campaign rather than let things drag on pointlessly for another couple of weeks. Nobody likes to see those forlorn Kickstarters shuffling and twitching along in a semblance of life, unloved even by their creators. I’m disappointed but not disheartened. Mark of War will live on in a different way.

There will be debriefings, autopsies and feedback on the campaign itself. Every Kickstarter is different and there are some things that could have been done better, for certain, and I will be passing on my thoughts along with everyone else. It was always an ambitious goal, but the right one at this stage, to get enough backing to finance a top-tier game that would grace any PC, Mac or tablet. The Kickstarter – aptly named – has not delivered that surge of capital that would have enabled Warpforged to hire and expand quickly, so instead the team is going to carry on with the development of the game at a more modest level. Quality will not be sacrificed, but that will take time to deliver.

It’s all in the latest update from Mike, but basically the team have been working on a playable demo since the beginning and will continue to do so, with the hope that it will be free to download in a few months’ time. From here Mark of War can continue to grow, at a slower pace than would have been possible with the Kickstarter funding, but with all the relentless and resolute momentum of a dwarf advance.

I would like to thank again everybody that backed the Kickstarter, and also those that took the time to have a look, even if it was not for them. Please join us on the Facebook page and Mark of War forums to keep up with the latest developments and to continue providing your thoughts and feedback. If you liked the game but weren’t sure of the Kickstarter you can get involved.

Kickstarter or not, Mark of War is going to become a reality, and I’m just as eager to give it a first play as I was when Mike first approached me a few months back.

This is a ‘see you later’, not a goodbye.

Published in: on September 11, 2014 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

You Won’t Believe These Top 5 Insane Reasons That Will Blow Your Mind Why You Should Support Mark of War

mow ks imageI’ve been pushing hard on the latest project I’ve been involved with – the virtual tabletop miniatures game Mark of War. Some of you might be thinking that I’ve banged on about it enough, but I beg your indulgence for just a few minutes more. Mark of War isn’t just a writing gig for me, it’s something that I really believe in. Not only am I excited to be working on a brand new fantasy world, but I love the basic premise of the game. From the moment Mike McTyre first approached me I’ve been keen to see this happen.

Ignoring my part in things (because I would say the background is going to be awesome, wouldnt I?), here’s my five reasons I think gamers should back Mark of War.

1. Organised Play

The heart of Mark of War is putting gamers together, whether in tournaments, Ranked matches, casual matches or with friends you already know. Imagine playing in a global tournament, finding a really great opponent and being able to play them again whenever you like – without any airfare or hotel costs involved. How many of us have tried to organise even a small tournament amongst friends, only for it to stall because nobody is free on the same weekend, or someone drops out. Creating your own tournaments on Mark of War, or perhaps a mini-league or ladder, is going to be quick and straightforward, and you don’t all have to be free at the same time.

2. Every Army

All four of the starting armies – Kingdom, orcs, elves and Ascended – as well as the two stretch goal armies – dwarves and vampires – will be available to everyone from the start. You can build them all up, try them out to see if you have a favourite to concentrate on, or simply swap now and then for a bit of variety. That’s simply not an option for most of us with regular tabletop games. And there will be no microtransactions. Mike has gone on record with this – the collecting feature of the game will be predicated on playing, not paying. Having access to virtual armies also allows you to try out some of the more extreme combinations without the dreaded proxy. Want to try nothing by knights in your Kingdom force? No problem. Think that just using winged elves with shooting attacks is the key to victory? Go for it.

MoW_dwarf09-1024x10243. Fiddly Stuff

Removing all the stuff that slows down a game – trying to balance figures on a hill, knocking over movement trays, picking up the hundreds of dice – is going to streamline the gameplay of Mark of War. Having, in effect, a computer-moderated gamesmaster allows other features into the game. This might include weather effects, interactive terrain, night fighting and other things that often add a lot of complexity to tabletop games and slow down play. There’s no chance of someone forgetting the rules either – random effects and the like will be automatically generated by the game itself.

4. Actually Play

This is a biggy for me. I haven’t played that many miniatures games since I went freelance about seven years ago. And since my son Sammy turned up… Let’s be honest, many of us gamers spend more time poring over army lists and painting than we do actually pushing miniatures around on the table. Nothing will ever replace the experience of a table filled with nice terrain and two armies lovingly painted by their owners clashing in battle. But someone has to host, have the room for a decent sized table, you need to transport your armies, unpack everything. Few of us have permanent set-ups, so the entire affair can take several hours even for veteran players who know what they’re doing. Compare that to logging on, finding and opponent and playing a game in 15-30 minutes… Although the gameplay has been streamlined neither the tactics nor the experience has been watered down. If you and I agree to a game and want to take our time, chatting as we play, enjoying a beverage, that’s what we can do.

5. Twenty Bucks

And you get all of this for $20. What else does twenty bucks get you in gaming these days? Some paints? A blister pack or two? Maybe some fancy dice. Twenty dollars gets you the whole game, all of the starting armies and all the space and terrain you need. And if you really want to get involved, $60 gets you access to the Beta testing stage, so you can directly influence the rules and mechanics, creating the game that you want to play. If you’ve never backed anything on Kickstarter before, this is a great one to start with. Your money is safe – either the project funds and you’ll get Mark of War, or we won’t reach our target and your pledge money never leaves your account. I can’t think of anything that comes close in terms of entertainment hours-to-money except maybe a cheap chess set.

I hope I’ve tempted you. If so, please back the Kickstarter. You can start to provide feedback on what you want and don’t want in the comments straightaway. And you never know, one day we might be having a game of Mark of War together.

Published in: on September 5, 2014 at 8:43 am  Comments (1)  
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Doom of Dragonback extract

As the End Times engulf the Warhammer world, why not read something from the other end of the historical scale? In celebration of reaching 4,000 followers on Twitter I present to you an extract from Doom of Dragonback, my forthcoming Time of Legends novel for Black Library, pre-orders available now! And if you like this,. there’s an extended e-book extract available, following a rumbunctious goblin hunt. Doom of Dragonback will be on general sale from the 5th September.



‘Fetch me that firebox, Haldi,’ said Skraffi. ‘And there’s some dried leaves in a sack over by the window.’

‘It’s Haldora,’ she replied, seeking out the objects as directed. The firebox was small enough to fit into her palm, about as deep as her thumb, made of tin, heavily dented and scratched. She checked the flint and it sparked nicely. Fetching out the sack of leaves, she handed the firebox to Skraffi and stepped towards the window.

‘It’s a good spot,’ she said, looking out. The glass was thick and filled with air bubbles – discards from the bottle plant she realised but it was clean and beyond she could see down one of the vales and had a good view of the majesty of the moun­tains to the north. Out of sight was the coast, and in her mind’s eye, recalling the maps Gramma Awdie had shown her as a youngster, she moved her inner eye up the seashore to the gulf at the top of the Dragonback Peaks. Further still Blood River emptied into the gulf, where the Barak Varr stood, its massive sea gates guarding the largest ships of the dwarf empire.


Published in: on September 1, 2014 at 10:08 am  Comments (2)  

Guest Post at the Shellcase

mow ks imageWith the launch of the Mark of War Kickstarter approaching fast, I’ve written a guest post over at the Shellcase talking about how the world of the game came about. If you want to know a bit more, have a read at the Mark of War website on the world and the armies.

This latter section of the website has just been updated with the two bonus factions. First off, there’s the sturdy guardians of the natural world, the dwarves:


And then there’s the Hollowed Ones, vampiric monsters that drain their victims of their Essence, making them enslaved, mindless Undead.


Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  

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