20 August 2017

Agent of the Throne

'Do what you need to do. 
Do not cause more trouble than you solve. 
If you get into trouble you are on your own.  
Good luck.'

That is not what Inquisitor Covenant said to his new acolyte, but that is the core of Agent of the Throne. Ianthe is a former soldier, with lots of experience in killing things that are difficult to kill. After serving Covenant in front line battles, she is sent off to deal with threats that are too small for Covenant to deal with personally, but too big to leave unresolved. Investigating cults, psyker hunts, and kill missions all fall to Ianthe as she takes her first steps into the shadow world of being an Agent of the Throne.

Those Who Serve in Shadow

When I started planning The Horusian Wars I had an idea that did not quiet fit in the main novel arc. The idea was to look at what it is like serving the Inquisition without the authority and protection of being an Inquisitor. What was it like for the people sent to do the street level investigations, or who might not see their Inquisitorial mistress for years? Who gets to take out a cult if the local authorities can't be trusted? Who gets sent to do a dirty job that an Inquisitor does not have the time to deal with or wants kept at arms length? Who are those souls all alone in the dark making terrible choices that might have huge implications? 

I started to wonder about the people who got those things done for Covenant, who were out their facing terrible threats with just their wits and skills. 

The idea floated around until Black Library asked me to have a think about if I wanted to do an audio that might turn into a series – did I have any ideas? 

Yes, I had an idea alright.

Ianthe's War 

Agent of the Throne is not just about deadly missions in the forgotten corners of the Imperium, its about Ianthe, about what she was when she started, and what she becomes through experience.  Her story begins in the short story The Purity of Ignorance, were you can find out about how she came to serve Covenant. Where she ends up...

At the start of planning Ianthe' story, I had an image in my head of a figure standing alone on a desolate plane in mismatched combat gear, a hardness to her face and wariness in her eyes. It was the image of someone standing alone, having just faced a choice which she would never know if she got right.  That is the end of a journey for Ianthe, a journey that has only just started in Blood and Lies, a journey which will take her to some very dangerous places and confront her with worse choices. And, as she might say, it is the choices that will kill you every time.

You can get Blood and Lies here, go click, go listen:


27 May 2017

Alan Bligh Remembered

Alan Bligh - 1974 to 2017
This is not something I ever wanted to write. 

Alan Bligh died on the 26th of May 2017 after a brief fight with cancer. 

I met Alan in 2003. I was on the edge of deciding that a career in academia was not for me, he looking for something to do after going through university as a mature student. We both answered adverts for part time mail order staff to work at Games Workshop. They employed us both, and I got both a job that lasted a couple of years, and a once in a lifetime friendship. Now, facing the prospect of the future without him, and seeing the impact that he has had on people, made me want to tell those not as lucky as me what he was like.

Alan had a fierce intelligence, boundless creativity, and a will to put them to use. It’s fairly common to find people who want to write, or design games. Lots of people have lots of ideas and some of them might even think about doing something with them, but mostly those people only get as far as having the idea. 

Alan was different. He did things. 

You would talk to him about an idea for a game setting, for a universe, for a game, and the next time you saw him he would hand you a thick block of printed pages. 'I rattled something out,' he would say, or 'I confabulated* those notes'. And what he would hand you wasn't a rough draft it was a fully fleshed out piece of work. 

I am not kidding, look:

The top one is from 2004 when Alan was still just a guy in mail order
In all the years I knew him, Alan never stopped working, never stopped creating, never stopped tweaking and fiddling with projects. We came up with an RPG rule set based on a draft I did back in 2003. He was still mucking about with it last year. His spaceship combat system, Star Killer, had so many iterations that the best idea when playing a test game was to ask for a fresh print out each time. His idea of a break was to switch gears into a different project. 

He believed absolutely that this nonstop creation was the business of anyone who took their craft seriously; 'You never know when it will be useful,' he would say. And he was right. I have one of the only copies of an Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator codex that Alan wrote twelve years ago. Flicking through you see terms like 'paragon of metal', 'sarcosan wave generator', and 'volkite'. When it came time to do the Mechanicum for Horus Heresy, so much of it was already there, in his head and on the page. That wasn't a one off either. He worked and reworked, and stored and confabulated without cease.

Why? Because he loved it, and he was very good at it. 

At the back of this, feeding his abilities like a petrol tank was a vast consumption of ideas, media, and books. Especially books. 'The problem, John, is that writers need a wider erudition.' He was right, and he had erudition to spare, and then a bit more. He read widely and deeply, and in places that would surprise you. He knew enough about the structure of the medieval Catholic Church to break it down, spindle it, fold it with other alloys and hand it back to you looking like nothing you could dream. I watched him once go toe to toe with a well-known authority on Horror cinema and come off better in a battle of obscure filmic knowledge. He also could tell you the plots of most musicals between about 1950 and the present day. Go figure.
Pure Alan - 'Well I want it to feel a bit like the Romano Germanic boarder under Augustus, you know?'
And he put all of this to use. You could say 'Shall we make it read a bit like a late Victorian history book?' when talking about a project, and he would reply 'Ah, yes, but, there is a thing...' and then suggest a specific slant on the suggestion, because he knew both exactly what late Victorian history books were like, but also that what you actually meant were those books that were written specifically to illustrate the growth of the British Empire. It was head-spinning, but it was the best fun you could have when making things up for a living.

I was lucky, Alan was my friend, colleague, and collaborator, which meant that even when the work was hard, it was fun.

The best book to co-write. Ever.

My single favourite project was working with him, and for our mutual friend Mike Mason, on ‘Disciples of the Dark Gods’ for the Dark Heresy RPG. We had two months to write the whole thing, and it was incredibly stressful. Late night phone calls, seat of the pants writing, fear and terror and corrupted hard drives; we had it all, but we poured ideas and then some into that book. I did my share but much of the pure sparkle was Alan. Get a copy if you can, go read about Vile Savants, and the Menagerie, and the Beast House, and you are seeing Alan having some of the best fun of his life. 

There is a lot more about him than I have space to tell, the things that make him a person who lived and laughed, and was wanting to do more right up to the end:

- The half dozen personal projects that he had on the go.
- His admiration of the stories of Manly Wade Wellman. 
- His love of the Phantasm films. 
- His joy of good conversation in good company. 
- His habit of inviting people around to play board games on Halloween and plying everyone with ghost themed chocolate. 
- The way that you always tell a miniature Alan had painted because they somehow always became works of horror, frequently with the eyes drilled out...
Look! No eyes!
A classic set of Bligh miniatures 

- His obsession with the TORG RPG.

- The way he would say 'Greetings, upon this day,' as I sat down for a cup of tea in Bugman’s. 
- The habit that electronic devices had of destroying themselves as soon as he touched them. 
- His fierce, fierce loyalty to his friends.

I will miss all of this and so much more. I will miss seeing Alan's craft and talent create fun for thousands of people, but, most of all, I will miss my friend. 

Rest easy, chap.

*A peak Blighism

22 May 2017

The Lamp Bearer - An AoS28 Character

Light. That's what they all ask for. No matter who they are, they want light. They want to see it again. They want to feel it's warmth on their face. They want to know that - in this age of night' tyranny - light still exists.'
- Azubiades the Elder

'Gods do not walk these realms. They abandoned us to the dark, and left only candle flames to comfort us.'
- inscription on a wall in the city of Azyrplos

'All souls are shadows beneath the sun.'
Lord-Castellant Arachidamia

This is my first miniature for AoS28* - A blind Lamp Bearer of the Order of the Last Illumination. He is a vagabond daemon banishers, and spirit scourge who roams the tide line where Chaos has rolled back from the Mortal Realms. The Lamp Bearers are the most spiritually strong of the Order, a fact tested by starring into the brightest flame until they loose sight.. So tested they go out into the lands to face daemons, warlocks, and those who, in their hearts, are slaves to darkness. 

Part preacher part exorcist, he carries a book of instructions for banishment bound in human skin, scrolls of abhorrence, and, of course, a lamp. The lamp is both holy symbol and weapon against the powers of Chaos. It's light is said to make the unclean shrink from its bearer, and even drive daemons from the flesh of the living. 

Lightless Lands 
The Order of the Last Illumination exist of the margins of the Mortal Realms. While Sigmar is waging war against Chaos, far away from these grand battles, there are lands where there has been no flash of liberating lightning, no warrior-heroes coming in glory to strike down the darkness.  Memories of hope and the power of gods cling to these lands, alongside the remnants of Chaos. Unclean spirits, starved daemons, blighted witches and those who still make offerings to the dark gods. They are benighted places where the dark lingers in the soul as much as in the sky. In such realms even the light of a candle is revelation. 

Thought Notes 
I really didn't start with an idea, I just started putting bits together and hacking at plastic. Well, sort of, because I did start with the Necromancer and that makes this part of a long tradition of Necromancer conversions. The thing that really pivoted the whole idea in my mind was when I found the lamp - a bit from the old Mordheim accessory sprue. That had an obvious link to heroes like the Lord-Castellant, as a tool for daemon banishing. It also fitted with the idea of bringing literal light to the dark. The idea of the Lamp Bearers being blind came once I had stuck the lamp in place. Looking at the miniature the story of Diogenes and the lamp came to mind. A holy man holding a light he cannot see felt like it fitted really well with a paradoxical, bleak reading of Age of Sigmar. 

I started to think along lines of post apocalyptic story settings and how they pivot  around a single scarce resource. What if that scarce resource was light and hope? That would make any lamp, or flame coveted, and revered. A cult built around light and illumination in a land of figurative and literal darkness grew in my mind, and the lamp bearer became not just a lone figure, but a representative of a harsh creed bred from bitter times.

In terms of painting, I tried to do everything that I would not normally do. Normally, I basecoat and highlight my miniatures conventionally. The Lamp Bearer did not get that treatment, but instead was blasted with black undercoat, and then a crude spray of white from above using Corax White in a can. Everything, apart from the metals and the wood of the staff, were done with washes and inks, all worked wet over the undercoat. A few extreme highlights on the hair and Typhus Corrosion worked over the metal of the lamp and hem of the robe finished it off. The base deliberately blends with the colours of the miniature with just a little red rust weathering powder for contrast; he is meant to feel like his robes are dusted with the earth he walks over. 

*If you don't know that is head over here for a good summary. Essentially, it is a creative movement that takes Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and looks into its hidden corners with night tinted spectacles. A bit of searching on Google images and Instagram is probably the best way to find out what it's all about.

9 March 2017

What are the Horusian Wars?

'So you're doing a book on Inquisitors…'


'Cool, but what is this Horusian War thing?'

What indeed.

Prompted  by a few short stories I did last year, questions like this keep coming up. Which is great, because at the back of all authors' skulls lurks the dread that we have decided to tell a story that no one will be interested in. But, thankfully, you guys are intrigued, and the questions have made me think that I should give some kind of answer on what the Horusian Wars are. So here I am, not with one answer, but, of course, with several.

Answer 1: The Horusian Wars is my next 'thing'.
By 'thing', I mean the topic of most of my writing for Black Library at the moment (apart from the Horus Heresy, and no, I haven't forgotten Ahriman).

At the core of the Horusian Wars is a series of novels. The first book is done, and was announced at Black Library Live last November https://www.warhammer-community.com/2016/11/23/what-we-learned-at-black-library-live/

It's called Resurrection and it is out in the summer. 

Here is the nearly finished cover, and the text from the back.

From the left: Preacher Josef Khoriv, Inquisitor Covenant, and the Rogue Trader Cleander von Castellan

'War rages in the Caradryad Sector. Worlds are falling to madness and rebellion, and the great war machine of the Imperium is moving to counter the threat. Amongst its agents is Inquisitor Covenant. Puritan, psyker, expert swordsman, he reserves an especial hatred for those of his order who would seek to harness the power of Ruin as a weapon. Summoned to an inquisitorial conclave, Covenant believes he has uncovered such a misguided agent and prepares to denounce the heretic Talicto before his fellows. But when the gathering is attacked and many left dead in its wake, Covenant vows to hunt down Talicto and discover the truth behind the mysterious cult apparently at the heart of the massacre. In the murky plot into which he is drawn, Covenant knows only one thing for certain: trust no one.'

Answer 2: The Horusian Wars are stories of a war between factions of the Inquisition

Cover of the classic Inquisitor game - the root of a lot of why I decided to do this series

The Inquisition in Warhammer 40,000 is riven by different visions of truth and salvation, and arguments about how far is too far when you wield the authority of the Emperor. 
The Horusians are one such faction.

To quote from the classic Inquisitor game:

'…there are those whose beliefs go even further, and are known as Horusians. The Horusians look to the Primarch Horus who was a mighty being invested with immense Chaos power, and see an opportunity wasted. They believe that a new Horus could be created, invested with great energy from the Warp, but one who would unite all of Mankind for its betterment, rather than enslaving it to Chaos.'

Needless to say those beliefs will play a role in things...

Answer 3: The Horusian Wars are lots of different stories

When I was writing the Ahriman trilogy, one of the things that happened almost accidentally was that the series braodened from novels into micro-shorts, short stories, and audio dramas. It all started when I was asked to write a short story to go with the release of Exile, and I wrote All is Dust. Another followed, and I found was enjoying exploring the side characters and stories so much that every time I was asked if I would like to do a story for an anthology, or a script for an audio drama, I would say 'Sure, I'll do something about Ahriman.' Eventually there were enough stories that they got their own anthology:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N75PTCS

The collected stories that I wrote alongside the Ahriman trilogy all in one place

I really enjoyed letting what began as side characters take centre stage. It's also one of the things about Ahriman series that people told me they really liked. Along with 'Are you doing another run of Ahriman?' the question I get messaged most is 'Can we have more Ctesias tales, please?'

So, as soon as Resurrection got a green light from Black Library, I knew I wanted to do extra stuff around Horusian Wars, but this time with more of a plan. That plan currently extends to lots of different types of stories and formats that fall into four main branches:

1) Novels – the main course, the spine, the core.

2) The arcana short stories – that's not an official title, but more how I think about them. Each story is a bit like a card from a tarot deck, and explorers the story behind one the characters from the series.

Two of them are out already:

The Purity of Ignorance

A story about Ianthe, one of Covenant's tame killers and field agents.

You can download it here: 
or here  

The Maiden of the Dream

A story about Mylasa, a psyker who specialises in the extraction and removal of memories.

You can download it here: 
or here:

A third story is already written, and I hope to do more soon.

3) [Redacted] – how cool is that? Honestly, this is one project that makes me grin every time I think about it.

4) [Redacted] 

So there you go –now you know all there is to know, at least for now.