The Glory of Chaos

Woah! Thank you to everyone who has joined the discussion about Chaos armies in 40K. To say that my previous post sparked some interest would be like saying the Atlantic Ocean is ‘a bit wet’… To put things in perspective, here are a few stats from the last few days. My previous ‘best day’ came about from the Dark Elves Q&A, which generated about 800 visits in its best day. The day I posted ‘Differences of Opinion‘ brought in more than 1200 visits and I thought ‘That was busy!’. The next day that went up to 1400+ and I thought we’d peaked. Then last Sunday, there were more than 8,300 visits to Mechanical Hamster. Clearly 40K players like to do their web surfing on the weekend! Up until then, the most popular post on the site was Realism is Fake, an essay about dialogue that benefits from a link on TVTropes. It’s been up more than a year and has been  beaten into second place in just four days!

Enough of the numbers, thank you all for the comments as well. Some of them are quite lengthy and detailed, but I have read them all. It isn’t practical to write a response to each and every one, so I’m going to pick up on the main themes raised and address them here.

Not My Job, Guv

First off, as some of you pointed out, I left the GW Design Studio and this discussion is purely as a former games developer not a current one. I have no influence in any way on the direction of future Codexes, this is just a debate on theory not a consumer feedback exercise. As such, I am also not privy to GW’s current thinking about Chaos, this is all hypothetical.

Ice Cream!

HBMC used the analogy of the ice cream store to represent the many different Chaos armies. I like ice cream, so let’s run with it. He described a store in which you could only buy vanilla ice cream. Well, vanilla is certainly the finest of the flavours (bonus points for knowing where that lyric is from) and one of its biggest strengths is its versatility. You can have it on its own, you can put sprinkles on it, or many flavoured syrups, or serve it with pie, or with cake (mm, cake). The problem with your cookie doughs and phish food flavours is that they’re ready-made. The shop is offering only the flavours they’ve created and not giving you any information about the cool stuff they’ve used to make them up. What if there were, say, five different ice cream shops, each one a flavour specialist? There’s the vanilla shop with all its versatility, but there’s also a shop dedicated totally to rocky road, with special rocky road-themed extra toppings, and it also served different types of rocky road, so that you can have it with extra marshmallow, or no nuts, or… I’m running out of things you can out into rocky road ice cream, but I’m sure you get my point. And next door is a special cookie dough shop that does the same with its ice cream. The other good thing about the multiple shops is that they don’t charge you for looking at other flavours of ice cream that you aren’t interested in. If you like all flavours of ice cream (as HBMC clearly does judging from his ice cream collection – er, I mean different armies!) you can visit as many shops as you like. If you’re all about the rocky road, the vanilla, cookie dough and tutti-frutti boys aren’t going to hit you up for some extra cash just to disinterestedly peruse over their wares.

Practical Issue

Er, this analogy is creaking, so let’s talk reality. The background and diversity of Chaos is big. As big as the Imperium almost. Let’s say we want to create the ‘perfect’ codex, that covers everything anyone would want. That means giving people proper amounts of background about the different types of armies, all of the troop types, pictures of models and so on. An army is more than just a few rules and an extra option or two of wargear, and if you’re just coming into the hobby there’s a lot of information to absorb which we can’t just skip over like the last Codex did.

Let’s start by combining the contents of Codex: Chaos Space Marines and Codex: Daemons. 192 pages of cool Chaos stuff. But we don’t have any god- or Legion-specific stuff yet. This is where any potential developer faces the first big decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. The background of Chaos is divided along two separate yet overlapping themes.

You have the Traitor Legions on one hand, some of which are dedicated to a specific god, some of which aren’t. Like those loyalist scum, each Legion has a slightly different way of fighting. Are these presented as sub-lists (as they were in Index Astartes) or is everything rolled into one big list and players are given the background info to shape their armies for themselves? Let’s take Night Lords as a random example. Infiltration and terror tactics. Should Chaos Space Marine squads have an upgrade that represents the Night Lords? Or, should there be a separate army list entry, perhaps called Night Lords Squad? Or, should there be a separate entry for an infiltrating, terror-causing squad that could represent Night Lords but could equally be used for other infiltrating, terrorising squads devised by the players’ imaginations?

The end result in rules terms could be exactly the same, but the presentation of those rules has a profound effect on the way some players perceive them. Is it better to call them Night Lords and then have players change the names for themselves (such as using the Dark Angels for one of the other Unforgiven), or is it better to keep the presentation generic and let players know that using ‘Infiltrating Chaos Marines’ is how they can represent Night Lords on the table?

And just how flexible do we want players’ armies to be? Do we say that the Night Lords can’t have Khorne Berzerkers and leave it up to players to ‘break the rules’ if they want to represent a combined force of Night Lords and World Eaters? If the army list functionally allows you to represent forces from different Legions and Chapters, there’s nothing to stop someone (by the rules) painting their Khorne Berzerkers in Night Lords colours. At what point do the Codexes force players to adhere to the background and when do they inform them of that background and leave it to their discretion?

[I prefer the approach of informed freedom, the encompassing of many ‘what if?’ situations, since the purpose of the Codex is to allow players to collect a load of toy soldiers, paint them however they see fit, and then play a game with them if they want to. Is important whether a Chaos Space Marine is painted red or blue? It’s an unanswerable question except with reference to our personal tolerances and preferences. One might say an WWII German army has too many Tiger tanks because there is historical fact. With 40K, everything is a) fictional, and b) deliberately written to allow hobbyists to come up with their own ideas and form their own opinions. World War II happened and is documented, 40K is a vast sandbox for players to create and explore.]

With regard to our physical Codex and its length,  both ways of doing things will add about the same number of pages. Rules-driven guidance means more army list entries (and more pages in the Forces section), a flexible list might mean more options for generic troop types but more required in the form of background and sample armies to inform players choices if they want to pick a Legion-themed force.

For the sake of argument, lets say it take about 8 pages per Legion to do this justice – origins of the Legion and how they’re organised, extra or extended Forces pages to describe their troop types, additional army list entries and colour pages. That’s another 72 pages, bringing our book up to 264 pages. If there were actual full sub-lists for each I would expect this to be even longer.

The Gods Issue

The Legions are one of the two strands that Chaos players like to theme along; the other are the four Chaos gods. We come back to presentation issues. You want to collect Khorne, but not paint them in World Eaters colours? Should you be allowed Berzerkers or only Khorne-marked units (since Berzerker technology is known only to the World Eaters supposedly)? What about non-Emperor’s Children Noise Marines? The odd one in the mix are the Thousand Sons, who are not just ‘super marked’ Marines but something entirely unique to that Legion thanks to Rubric and his hi-jinks. So, there’s an argument that there should also be some form of ‘super-marked’ magic Marine for Tzeentch, in addition to Rubric Marines, like anti-Grey Knights or something. And then there’s all the Terminator Berzerkers, World Eater war engines, tank variants, Defiler types and whatever else we would need to make a proper World Eaters army. How much of that is transferable and how do we differentiate in the army list?

And then we get to the issue of cross-god armies. Have Thousand Sons and Khorne Berzerkers ever appeared on the same battlefield? Plague Marines and Emperor’s Children? We have the hardline view that such a thing would never, ever, ever happen. Or there’s the realistic view that the chances are at some point the goals of warbands and personalities dedicated to different gods have found common cause. We come back to the grey area of whether the separations are hard-wired into the rules (in which case players can play ‘outside the Codex’ if their opponents are happy with it), or if the army list allows it but the background makes a point of demonstrating how this might come about to give the army its proper context.

Let us assume that we’re going to allow non-named forces to be represented by some of the named troop types. This requires further information to be put in the book – examples of named ‘historical’ Khornate forces that weren’t part of the World Eaters, more examples of toy soldiers and armies. Let’s make it neat and tidy and say four pages for each god, a nice 16-page complete section to bring up our total page count to 280. Thats about two dozen pages short of the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook.

All The Small Things

But wait! This isn’t Codex: Chaos, so far it’s only be Codex: Chaos Space Marines. We need mutants, renegade guardsmen, daemon-possessed psykers and cultists. I’m sure folks can see where I’m going next, so let’s just cut to the chase. To do this justice (that means more background, more Forces pages, more army list entries), let’s add a very conservative 32 pages.

So our awesome Codex: Chaos runs to roughly 312 pages (a little more than the rulebook). It contains everything every player would ever want out of Chaos. Okay, it’ll be a few quid more than a regular Codex, but look at everything you’re getting, right? Let’s not even worry about how long that would take the write, or issues caused by one book supporting a huge swathe of the miniatures range (cos we need miniatures for most of this cool stuff too, because they’re in the Official Rules now and you can’t expect people to convert everything).

A Many-splendored Thing

Or we can go back to our five different ice cream shops, by which I of course mean our five separate Codexes. Actually, maybe six if we did one regular Chaos Marine, one Daemon and one for each Chaos God (remember, not a definite plan, just discussion). A Codex is usually 80 pages long, sometimes 96 and for a few special cases more than that. Let’s just keep to that basic 80 pages. Over the course of six different Codexes, that means a whopping 480 pages of Chaos goodness, more even than our super-Codex.

But we know there are issues with multi-Codex armies from much of the discussions that arise around the Imperial Space Marines. Why does the Reaper Autocannon have different rules for Khorne’s armies than for Slaanesh ones? Why does an Emperor’s Children Daemon Prince not have the psychic powers allowed to a generic Slaaneshi one? And so forth. The benefit of the one book solution is that at least it’s all in one place and gets updated in one swoop.

Another question comes back to the flexibility issue. Do we allow Chaos Space Marines to take units from the other books, particularly Daemons, or are they (as now) completely separate? Even if every single unit was perfectly fair and balanced within its own list, what are implications for cross-lists and game balance? Actually, this applies to any multiple-list format whether in one book or several.

Every entry has to serve not just one purpose (and on the evidence of some of the dislike for Dreadnoughts, Spawn and Possessed some feel even that hasn’t been achieved), but multiple purposes. At a fundamental level, an army that contains so much diversity, the ability to pick-and-mix from such a plethora of different troop types is going to have as many optimal, cookie-cutter builds as any other. Mixing cheap cultists with deep-striking Daemons, rockhard Terminators, and so on, will create an army that doesn’t have any weaknesses, and from that point of view it doesn’t have much gameplay character either because an army is as much about what it can’t do on the tabletop as what it can.

Yet another problem with multi-volume armies is that the information is not self-contained. Where, for example, does Codex: Space Marines tell you that they can be included in a Witch Hunters force? Having faced exactly this issue with Hordes of Chaos and Beasts of Chaos in Warhammer (not to mention ongoing issues with the Dogs of War), I can safely say that multi-volume armies are a pain in the arse. The purpose of a Codex is to contain everything you need to collect and game with the toy soldiers it covers. Imagine you’ve been collecting your Chaos army for a few months and then go to your first club night or tournament, only to find out the guy or gal on the other side of the table has got Daemons in their army.

‘How do you get those?’

‘They’re in this book.’

‘Another book?’

‘Actually, three other books, and there’s another one coming out in a few months’ time.’


So all the books have to be planned at once, because the first book in the series has to make reference to the future books (which I did in the Hordes of Chaos intro). Which is a commitment. Commitments are fine right until circumstances changes, or you have a better idea, and then they become a binding oath. What if the books are so great and so successful, there’s scope to do another one? You have to change all the references in the ones already published to make it clear there are now seven books tied together, not six.

Another problem is simple finances. Without getting into a discussion about pricing, nobody wants to feel that they have to buy all six books to keep their edge. With self-contained books buying more than one Codex is a choice players can make, out of interest, to collect mutiple armies or to get the lowdown on the opposition.  Little Johnny walks into his gaming store of choice, says he likes the look of the Marines with spikes on and then is promptly told by the learned staff member that he has to read this, and this, and this, etc. Urk. Maybe those pointy ears with the flying tanks are cooler…

Lastly, there’s the time factor. You can’t release them all as a block (because all the non-Chaos players want some love now and then) so it would take years for the set to be complete. At least if each book is self-contained, it lives and dies by its own merits rather than simply being seen as part of an as-yet incomplete work.

In Summary

There ain’t no single foolproof answer to the questions posed. No easy-fix. Compromises will always have to be made due to the diversity of demands placed on a Codex by the many different hobbyists that will use it. Make it a cornucopia of Chaosness and the competitive players will complain that Chaos is broken; make it too restrictive and the more hobby-driven players will feel that they’re vision and creativity is being compromised. Put it in one book and depth and detail will suffer; spread it over a lot of books and it becomes complicated and hard to access.

The developers cannot legislate for every eventuality, though Pete made a valiant effort with his Codex on the rules front. This is where the choice and responsibility passes over to the players. Remember that for every player who sees 40K as a tactical challenge, there’s a collector who wants to theme an army around an obscure reference in the timeline. For every ‘fluff nazi’ (miaow-splat!) there’s the ‘what if?’ creator dreaming about the time Angron asked Fulgrim to repay that favour he did during the Flange IX Burning.

Wargaming isn’t ice cream; we get to make up whatever flavours we like; some of them follow specific recipes, others just throw a bunch of stuff into the freezer to see if it works. It’s usually worth giving them a taste to see what they’re like, because otherwise we might miss out on a great new flavour.

And Finally…

Again, thanks for the comments and discussion. However, this is a blog not a forum and isn’t really set up for ongoing debates between commentators. Please post your comments and your thoughts, I enjoy reading them (even the negative ones). Please also use the many fantastic community discussion boards for responding to each other, they are a far better place for it (incidentally, Bell of Lost Souls is winning with the redirects at the moment, with Warseer and Dakkadakka trailing in their dust).

Rules questions and debate. As with the Dark Elves Q&A, I’m not going to enter into detailed rules discussions or provide answers to specific questions. With the first, Codex: Chaos Space Marines was jointly written with Alessio and I’m not going to do him a disservice by second-guessing decisions he made whilst writing the rules or put words in his mouth. On the second point, I am not a games developer any more and answers I give may well end up being different to the FAQs issued by Games Workshop. Let’s not even get into the manbane thing again!

Thank you all for lasting this long. Have fun and happy gaming.

[Addendum – Daemons in the 2nd edition Codex. This was my poor memory playing tricks on me, but the point stands that not everything in the Daemonworld army list (including Trolls and beastmen! :-)) was also available to the Chaos Space Marines. Sorry for the confusion.]

Getting Out and About

As well as beavering away on the manuscript for Alith Anar I’ve been busy with arrangements for promotional events to celebrate the release of Malekith. Dates and times are yet to be confirmed but currently planned is an appearance at Warhammer World in mid-December for a launch party, plus signings at GW Derby and Plaza, as well as a visit to Forbidden Planet in London. I’ve also recently finished an interview for Falcata Times magazine, which will be appearing in the Christmas special, and the latest White Dwarf also contains an interview regarding the writing of Malekith and the Time of Legends series in general. We’ll have to wait and see if there’s any overseas events in the pipeline.

If you can get along to one of these, please come and say hello. Saying the secret passphrase “Dennis is da Best” will garner my undivided attention.


Addition: Facebookers can find details of the Forbidden Planet signing.

Additional Addition: More details can be found on the Black Library news forum.

How To Be a Games Developer

For a while Dennis has been bugging me to address a question Max sent to him via the email. It’s a subject I’ve been asked about often over the years and it’s never an easy one to answer:

“It’s more of a question of getting into games design. Now, I’m sure you have been asked this question to death but I thought I would ask anyway and it’s not specifically related to Games Workshop.


I’m currently attempting to develop a war-game but its taking longer than I thought due to other commitments. I find it very hard to move away from [my influences] in order to produce something different. Did you ever suffer from this problem or something similar when doing independent works?  

But going back to the question, I’m guessing the best bet is to just get out there, meet people and generally submit stuff? But as a developer / writer I was wondering if there was anything else you found along the way such as balancing or adding telling a story in a specific way in order to develop a successful game? As well as any other tips of the trade on wrangling a job as a games designer (anywhere) and the other roles that it involves?”


I’ll start with the caveat that my experience of the wider games development industry is mostly second-hand, from the privilege of talking to many other games designers over the years at conventions and such. However, there are similarities between their stories and mine.

First off, if you want to work for GW games development it is simply a case of keeping an eye out for the recruitment adverts. Occasionally a position will open for an Assistant Games Developer (or Trainee Games Developer in the most recent recruitment). I am surprised by people that asked me how to get into the GW Design Studio only weeks after a position was advertised on the website. For Games Development that’s probably the only way. The same is true for other established games manufacturers, most do their work in-house for the reasons I’m about to go into.

In wider terms, if you have a sci-fi or fantasy miniatures game in mind, there are some very specific obstacles. The greatest of these is that such a game needs miniatures! If you write an historical rules set you can use the vast wealth of independent manufacturers to provide miniatures for you. You might be able to interest a company, or at the end of the day self-publish and hope it goes well.

Those companies that produce sci-fi or fantasy miniatures generally do so with either a specific ruleset, a specific universe, or both. Their goal is generally to continue to expand and develop their intellectual property and games system. So, your first big question is who is going to make the miniatures? In this regard you are not only selling the idea of the rules set and imagery but asking a company to invest in the design and continued development of the miniatures range.

With a wargame that is tied to a specific range of miniatures there are many considerations that impact upon your games design decisions, and will also influence the imagery you want to explore. The foremost of these is how is it going to be made and packaged? Questions of scale, for example, will limit what is physically possible, as will cost of production – there is no point creating rules for miniatures that cannot be made at a profit with the materials available. In a sci-fi setting, vehicles tend to be the real difficulty here – large models that will weigh a lot and be expensive to produce and purchase if made in resin or white metal. If you want to create a game with gigantic battling robots the size of skyscrapers, for example, then you’re not going to want to produce it in 28mm scale!

The other key question is that of sustainability. From the outset you must decide if the miniatures range is finite or not. If it is not finite, what mechanisms are you going to create to allow the continued expansion of the rules set and miniatures range? Is it a rulebook, a series of rulebooks, boxed sets, blisters, both? How do players collect the forces they will use? Do they purchase complete ‘elements’at a time, or are the components built up over several purchases. To give a specific example, let’s say you have a unit of lazergun-wielding Galactic Infantrymen. Do they have optional equipment and how is this made available to the collector? Is there a variable squad size?  If you’re writing a miniatures wargame, you have to bear in mind all of the practical issues of collecting a force. Is a force infinitely expandable like a 40K army, or is there a real or implied ceiling, such as a Blood Bowl team? How many factions give you enough variety to collect without creating a range that is impossible for stores to stock? What is the minimum outlay for a customer before they have a battle-ready force?

That seems like really dull stuff, doesn’t it? If you think these aren’t questions for the games designer to answer, it’s going to be very difficult. Writing some rules and background, whilst challenging, is not the be-all-and-end-all of designing a miniatures game. Having those things is a little bit further on from a ‘good idea’ but only a little in terms of what needs to be sorted out before you have a marketable game and miniatures range.

So, you need to have a plan – and be flexible about it – to present to companies. This is my game, which uses a miniatures range that looks like this, and can expanded like this. If you can get a company to buy into your proposal as viable for marketing and production, then you can start worrying about the details of how things actually move around the table and what they look like…

If the game is picked up and established, it may be the case that some of these practical responsibilities are taken on by other folks such as sales managers, but when developing your game you have to continually bear them in mind. An idea is only good if it can be made and people can buy it.

Target Audience

All of this talk about marketability and such may sound a little evil and corporate. It is, and it isn’t. First and foremost, design a game and background that you enjoy. Don’t think about target audiences, or demographics or any of that. Write a game that you want to play. When you’ve done that, work out why it appeals to you and so therefore what sort of other people (who are like you) will it appeal to. You can’t do this sort of thing for an abstract reason, it has to come from ownership and genuine pleasure. If anyone asks who your target audience is just say, ‘People who are like me’.

Making It Original

As discussed on other subjects, the question of originality is one that often comes up. I’ll say now, whatever you come up with will not be original. However, it can be unique. Big robots are not original. The particular rendition and portrayal of big robots can be.

Uniqueness comes on two scales: big picture and little details. In big picture terms you can rely on transposition and juxtaposition to create something unique. Transposition is straightforward enough, it is simply taking an existing idea or image and moving it to a different place: the Roman empire in space; a space pirates game; baseball in space; time-travelling big game hunters. There’re loads of ideas to mine, and it’s prevalent throughout all forms of fiction.

In fact, it’s been done a lot, sometimes to death. Space Samurai, Space GIs, Space Knights, Space Cowboys, Space Celts… Bring in juxtaposition to add variety and depth. Simply directly translating the legions of Rome and their barbarian foes into space is step one. Adding in elements that did not exist in the original iteration (excluding the obvious technological differences) adds spice and uniqueness. The barbarians are not other humans at all, but rather strange plant-based lifeforms with a barbaric culture. Or the legions of Rome are zombie-like automatons under the control of a psychic elite. Or it’s actually a spaceship game based on these principles rather than ground warfare. Or… You get the point. Uniqueness comes from taking a step further than simple transposition, and another step, and another until you have a concept that is still based upon the strong idea but is far enough removed that it has become its own thing.

On the other end of the scale is the detail. If our space legions were literally Romans with lazerguns, that would be a bit weak. What stylings of the Roman legionary can you keep whilst pushing the unique interpretation of it? In this regard you must learn to look at what elements of an image are archetypal and which can be changed. It’s kind of like having an infant eye again – see what’s important and recognisable uncluttered by everything else you know to be true. We know that there’s no such thing a typical legionary across the breadth of Republican and Imperial Rome, because things changed, some of them quite dramatically. However, ask a reasonably educated kid what a Roman is and he’ll say a square shield and a crested helmet. He might even say sandals. Those are what you retain in general form. Everything else should be modified to add the flavour of the setting.

The Old Adage

As I always wrap up this sort of thing, my advice is just to do it. Try and fail and learn and try again. Most writers start out because they love writing, Most games developer start out because they like playing games and are interested in how systems work. Film directors like movies. Passion cannot be learnt, skills and experience can. Create what you want to create, and only after that start making the necessary commercial compromises.

I’ll get onto ‘telling a story’ at a later date…

Martyr or Mercenary?

I again find myself with a few ‘fallow’ days between completing the first draft of my Heroes of the Space Marines short and receiving rewrites, as well as waiting for the manuscript of Malekith to arrive in the post for checking, sprinkled with some preparation work for a secret project known only as Ssh!… Contemplating more personal projects I am faced with the simple fact that I need to get more work.

On the one hand I can labour away my precious time on a magnificent opus, which I am certain will astound the publishing world with its vision, breadth, plot and characterisation. On the other, I can set my ambitions to a more realistic level and consider a more commercial line of endeavour.

Quality isn’t the issue. I don’t purposefully set out to write something that is sub-par. Questions of style and approach, on the other hand, are fair game. There is a very strong desire from the sci-fi and fantasy publishing fraternity for certain types of work. Preferably these have a strong single-viewpoint character and have the capacity to be part of an ongoing series. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, as some fine fiction attests.

So the question comes to that of risk versus reward. Confidence plays an important part in any creative’s make-up, and so one must have the courage of one’s convictions. If I write something that I feel is remarkable – literally worthy of remark – it may be deemed unsuitable for publication and never see the light of day. On the other hand, if it is published then it always offers the chance of standing out from the crowd and garnering much higher success (and financial reward) than a more middle-of-the-road title. Yet it is very tempting to go with the more secure option (as secure as any publishing venture can be) in the efforts of increasing the chances of having at least some success.

It’s also a question of resources. Creating something mould-breaking, inspiring and all-round seven flavours of awesome takes a lot more time than writing within well-understood boundaries and conventions. I consider myself pretty well-versed in the art of the staple fantasy or sci-fi approach and so can concentrate on the plot and characters without worrying too much about the form.

So we come back to the confidence issue and the necessities of domestic economics. Am I confident that if I do reach for the higher reward I will get there? Or does the pile of bills that arrive every month demand a more pragmatic approach?

Hopefully I can find a ‘third way’ so often sought after in politics. Perhaps I should settle my efforts on an achievable goal that adheres to the tried-and-tested demands of agents and publishers, and yet push that form as far as possible. Getting the best of both might indeed be the greatest victory of all.

Thanks: To those who attended the Angels of Darkness signing in Manchester. Good to meet you, Narry! Sorry I missed you, Rob.

Very Very Recent News: The Malekith mss has just this minute dropped through the door. Very exciting! Two weeks’ turnaround to get it back to the folks at Black Library…

Know Thyself

It’s been a while since my last post, so in a departure from the writing content I’m going to talk about gaming. Apologies to visitors that don’t play games, but I assure you that normal service will be resumed shortly.

Miniatures gaming is a hobby. This means that what you get out of it is directly related to the effort and attitude that you put into it. To get the most enjoyment, one must understand one’s own needs and desires from our hobby. What I have found increasingly over the last few years is a lack of personal responsibility on the part on some players, who equate their own lack of enjoyment with failures on the part of games developers.

I’ll start out by saying that my greatest experience is obviously with Games Workshop games, but it’s not my sole source. This is not an attempt to denounce any particular choice a player makes about their gaming, nor is it abdicating from the responsibility of a games designer to provide a fun and entertaining rules system.

However, gaming is an interactive event; between opponents and between designer and player. With a hobby as nebulous a miniatures gaming there are many things that attract a person to participate, but everyone should understand some of the fundamental truths about what is required of them.

Most importantly, one participates in a hobby for fun. Some people get their jollies slaughtering their opposition and hearing the lamentation of their women. Some enjoy the tactical challenge of outwitting another human being in a close-fought contest. Many delight in the simple spectacle of a miniature army arrayed across the tabletop.

In fact, because one has chosen a miniatures game, this last point is crucial. There are many formats of wargames – miniatures games, hex-and-counter games, computer games. Some purport to be accurate simulations, others emphasise playability and entertainment. So the first question to ask oneself is why one has chosen miniatures gaming, and the only real answer can be because of the miniatures. Whether that first step was a box of Airfix American paratroopers, a War Machine Jack, a set of Roman Legionaries or a squad of Tactical Space Marines, for all of us there was an appeal about toy soldiers that hooked us.

That appeal, and the purpose behind all miniatures wargames, is to collect an army of toy soldiers and then to act out their battles. If this isn’t what you’re after then why the hell did you choose miniatures gaming when other forms of game provide more rigid, ‘balanced’ gaming frameworks?

Continued here

Upcoming event: Please come and see myself and Dennis at our GW Manchester signing on the 14th June for the re-released Angels of Darkness.

The Lull

The long May Day Bank Holiday weekend has passed and it is time for me to start working again. The thing is, I haven’t got any writing to do…


Well, not ‘proper’ writing.


I finished the rewrites on Malekith and Call of the Lion last week and also sent off the synopsis for my Heroes of the Space Marines short. That means that this week is dedicated to paving the way for future work – another synopsis or three, emailing folks for possible ventures, and coming up with ideas.


100% Free Range and Organic

When I’m in this mode there are two different strands of thought competing for space inside my head. The first is practical. These are things that need to be done to get direct work commissioned (and pay the bills for another month).


I have upcoming projects such as the second instalment of The Sundering, Alith Anar. I have a rough outline of what occurs in the novel, some notes on characters and theme and even some text that is left over from Flames of Treachery (the first Sundering novel before it became Malekith). These ideas need to be turned into a proper synopsis with a plot and everything.


In a similar vein I have a proposal for a Warhammer 40,000 Eldar project, originally conceived as a novel but after conversations with Lindsey it looks like another trilogy would be better (yup, Gav’s hypocrisy strikes again!). So, I need to develop the ideas further from where they are at the moment, outlining the trilogy as a whole and coming up with a more detailed plan for the first book.


There’s also some follow-up work to be done for a possible novel or novels that continue on from the Space Marines story.


On the other side of things are the speculative ideas. These are the early seeds of future projects that I need to generate and then mull over for a while. This is what I suspect is most people’s image of a writer’s life – walking in parks, listening to music, scribbling notes and coming up with cool ideas. If only it was that easy…


The ‘problem’ is a simple one – it’s not a shortage of ideas, it’s trying to sift through the many and varied concepts and images to find the ones that I can hopefully turn into a good story. Some ideas are virtually stillborn, fleeting thoughts that don’t pass the first examination. Others seem dead-ends at first, but nag away in the back of your head demanding to be re-examined. Since I am not merely interested in writing novels, but also short stories, scripts, comics/ graphic novels part of this thought process is diverted to wondering which of the many media would be most suitable.


Split Personality

I can find this quite an unsettling time, because my first instinct is to dedicate as much effort as possible into the practical issues. Knowing that there’s another commission just around the corner, adding another little brick in the wall of financial security, is an exceptionally strong driver.


On the other hand, if I don’t make time to explore some of those wilder, more far-reaching ideas there’s no chance of them happening. These are the dream projects that may come to nothing and are a gamble in terms of time and money. They are also a real test of my creativity and I subject them to a high level of scrutiny.


As with life in general, the key to success is finding the balance. By spending some time on practical issues I can feel comforted that I have got some ‘work’ done, thus freeing my conscience to do a bit of exploration. The important point at this stage is not to apply too much structure, but rather to go with the flow. If I find myself stuck on one thing, I can move onto another. If I end up getting really caught up in a particular idea then it doesn’t matter if it overshadows some of the other stuff.


In this way I can deal with the ‘practical angel’ on one shoulder and the ‘speculative demon’ on the other and keep both happy.


In theory…


Mouse Update: Nope, still not taking the bait.


Last Week’s Life Lesson: Don’t put eggs on to boil and then forget about them whilst surfing internet forums:




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