Mark of War – Creating a Fantasy World

mow logoHopefully, if you’ve been following me on any form of social media you will have noticed that I’ve been blathering about a new project called Mark of War. At the basic level, it’s a tabletop miniatures game that you play on your PC or Mac or (if the funding goes well) your iThingy.

Look at this picture, it really saves me several thousand words.

Gameplay_4

If you aren’t aware of it, please go and look at the website now, or look at Phil’s first thoughts here,  and mark the 25th of August on your calendar as the day the Kickstarter launches.

>Patient whistling, those still around cast the occasional glance at each other, silence gets a bit more awkward, a couple of people leave…<

Great, you’re back!

On the website is a whole section dedicated to the armies you’ll be able to field. The major ones have been announced by now, and I’m taking this opportunity to talk a little bit more about the world in general, to piece it all together for you and give an insight of how we’ve been going about this.

Armies_Kingdom-1009x1024A few months back the lovely people at Warpforged Games asked me if I would do some work with them on the background and world of Mark of War. They had come up with a basic premise, they knew which races they wanted to develop armies for and some of the image concepts were underway. From my point of view, pretty much ideal – not a total blank page but plenty of room to get adventurous! The underlying history of Mark of War is essentially the story of Lucifer’s fall smushed together with Revelations. Angels and demons and the apocalypse, oh my.

Anyway, regular readers of my work will know that I’m not renowned for moral absolutism, and my experience with Warhammer has taught me that everyone has a perspective, even if you’re a blood-crazed worshipper of dark and forbidden gods. Good and evil, man, are just, like, your viewpoint, m’kay? The Lucifer character morphed from being the Corruptor to being dubbed the Liberator by his followers. Get where this is going?

So, the Creator, um, creates everything with the help of divine servants. There’s a rebellion over how humans should learn about the greater secrets of the universe and the Liberator and friends are turned into demons, while the obedient divine servants become angels. The Liberator and other demons hate the Creator for this, and turn a whole load of humans into orcs, creating a vast horde with which they will wipe out the Creator’s works.

mow orc modelAt the same time, the Liberator has been whispering all kinds of juicy secrets to the humans, enticing them away from the rigid laws of the Creator, leading to the rise of the Ascended.

MoW_Ascended-1024x1024

Faced with this assault, the Creator realises that the humans cannot survive on their own. The Creator sends the angels down from the heavens to lay their touch upon a bunch of humans, thus bringing into the world the elves, who can aid the loyal humans against the oncoming legions of the Liberator.

elf model

There is a big war and pretty much the Creator’s armies lose. City after city falls to the orcs and Ascended until only one remains – Westfort.

Banner_Kingdom

At the very brink of victory, the individualism and selfishness brought about by the Liberator’s interference comes full circle and most of the Ascended leave the battle to follow their own desires, abandoning the orcs in the biggest assault in creation. Even so, the orcs are on the verge of winning, and in a desperate last act the Creator breaks the world, opening up the Rift. This consumes the demons, the Liberator, the Creator, kills most of the orcs and unleashes all sorts of monsters, as well as irrevocably flooding the world with Essence (magic but with a cooler, more relevant name). Westfort just about survives to become the capital of the Kingdom, and after a hundred years have passed, the stage is set for these factions to battle for domination once more.

Banner_OrcsThe idea of Essence, the energy used by the creator at the birth of the world, has gained some traction, and I think will make for an interesting magic system when we’ve had a bit more time to work on it. Similarly, the Rift is a literal bottomless pit of fun monsters and horrible things yet to be revealed.

My point is, there is a nice metaphysical, almost theological underpinning to the world right from the outset. It feels… big. One might even hazard epic. A battleground not just between armies but between ideas. We’re working hard to make sure that each of the factions has some real motivation and depth, which players will be able to latch onto when they are fighting their battles, and delve into and argue about discuss when they’re not.

Gameplay_1

So, please come along to the forums and talk about what you would like to see, in the game and in the background. We’ve only just begun creating this world and I’m really excited by the possibilities. If you are too, please back the Kickstarter so that Mark of War can become a reality,

Thanks, see you on the battlefield!

Pushing the Edges by Gav Thorpe

I was going to write a fairly snarky post about some of the childish, narrow-minded, reactions in the community to the announcement of the Storm of Vengeance mobile videogame. On reflection I decided that rather than challenging one of the less desirable traits of the wargames community (or parts of it) I thought I’d go for a celebration of something altogether more positive.

With that said, I have to start with something of a lament, but I’ll keep it brief. From a design point of view, there are a lot of companies treading the same road and bringing out the same stuff that has dominated the sci-fi and fantasy miniatures market for the last couple of decades. A lot of it is either influenced by Games Workshop or more blatantly trying to cash-in on their worlds. As a business model I have my doubts about this, but it’s from the viewpoint of a creative that I find this most disappointing.  There are some very talented sculptors and artists who are spending their time producing remakes of Citadel designs and imagery, and I would much rather see the boundaries of sci-fi and fantasy gaming being stretched rather than the same waters getting increasingly muddied. I think that it’s smart for a company to stand out and do something different rather stumble along the same well-trodden route taken by countless others before.

This is not to say that the classic fantasy archetypes of elves, dwarfs, orcs and the rest aren’t fertile ground, it’s just that so few companies have done anything new with them lately. The same goes for the plethora of  Colonial Marines / Space Marines / Future Soldier clones, zombie and post-apocalypse gangs and other imagery that has been smeared so thin that the archetypes risk become clichés. Weird West, Steampunk and Dieselpunk have all come along and have now become part of the furniture, so where to next? It also goes without saying that many Games Workshop ranges are themselves iterations of very common archetypes and the whole ‘well they stole it first’ debates litter forums the breadth of the internet. This is isn’t about that. It’s about bringing new ideas to gaming miniatures in the same way that the game books and systems themselves have come on leaps and bounds in the last decade.

[As an aside, I have the same lament for many of the faux-medieval worlds that are the staple of a lot of modern fantasy, but that’s a different blog post].

The good news is that there are folks out there who are, as the title suggests, pushing the edges of fantasy and sci-fi gaming. Many of you might have come across some or all of these previously, especially if you hang out at places like The Shell Case, The Miniatures Page or Frothers Unite and other cross-genre forums and websites. Apologies if it seems like I’m telling you how to suck eggs, I hope there’s something you haven’t seen before.

Lots of manufacturers have the occasional oddball miniature or special piece, but I’ve chosen to have a look at companies that have whole ranges and games that are a definite step away from the fantasy and sci-fi I have seen so many times. It’s as much about the overall aesthetic hanging together as it is the individual models. Often I find that while faction ranges might have a coherent tone, the overall universe feels too hotch-potch. Of course, 40K makes a virtue of this, but that’s helped by the sheer size of the ranges these days; if there were only a handful of Eldar, Imperial Guard, Tyranids and Necrons it wouldn’t work as well for me.

If you have your own ‘out there’ ranges, feel free to suggest them in the comments.

[Another aside. I don’t claim experience of the companies’ production quality or customer service, this is just about their ranges as I see them in on the web.]

© WoT
© WoT

First and foremost I’d like to draw you attention to the World of Twilight. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to say these are heavily inspired by Brian Froud’s work, especially the Dark Crystal. It’s so far from the brash, over-the-top fantasy we’ve seen day-in, day-out that it’s a cleansing breath of air. The subtle charm is compelling. You can get in on the action with the new Kickstarter if you like.

My next big suggestion is for Flytrap Factory, who have a number of ranges that are most definitely approaching gaming from a different angle. With a vibe reminiscent of Duncton Wood, The Rats of Nimh and Redwall (and perhaps a dash of Ewok) the Netherworld’s Edge range has the right amount of whimsy without getting cutesy.

© Flytrap Factory Ltd
© Flytrap Factory Ltd

Similarly, the Warpod sci-fi miniatures could be all too cute for my liking, but somehow the drab military colours and subtle posing puts me more in mind of V.I.N.CENT than T-Bob. Simple but oozing with character.

© Flytrap Factory Ltd
© Flytrap Factory Ltd

And even more left field, Flytrap Factory have Caveman vs Wild. Personality is such a hard thing to capture in art, especially a miniature, but these succeed where so many po-faced muscle-bound barbarians, skinny elves and cloned dwarfs have failed before.

© Flytrap Factory Ltd
© Flytrap Factory Ltd

Going back to something a little more like Anyaral, Zombiesmith have their Quar range. I would describe it is a weird WWI, ‘tween-wars’ sort of look, but that really doesn’t do them justice. Even better, they’re available in a variety of scales depending on what sort of battles you like to fight.

© Zombiesmith
© Zombiesmith

Zombiesmith are also responsible for the War of Ashes setting, which is another entertaining take on populating a world without any humans or standard fantasy tropes. I’m not quite as taken by the Storm of Steel miniatures, but there are also some cracking (and barking mad) entrants in their sci-fi and fantasy ranges.

© Zombiesmith
© Zombiesmith

In terms of a setting that is striking out on its own, a mention has to be given to Antimatter Games and their Deepwars/ Shadowsea universe. Wet fun for everyone.

© Antimatter Games
© Antimatter Games

On the other end of the scale, here’s a shout-out for fans of big mecha. Fil Dunn’s Filbot kits look spectacular, with a futuristic but believable feel to his constructions. I’ve never been one hundred per cent convinced by the Battletech clunky-humanoid approach. I am, however, a huge fan of big robots blowing up other big robots and look forward to seeing Fil expanding the range in the coming months.

© Filbot
© Filbot

A curious mix of reimagined fantasy archetypes and a more fairytale-cum-folklore-ish whimsy can be found in Tor Gaming’s Relics range. While there’s nothing traditional about their Orcnar, somewhat Hellyboy Tooth fairy-esque Vaettir, and Nuem, it’s the Britanen that really caught my eye. These can also be used in your fantasy football game of choice.

© Tor Gaming
© Tor Gaming

Heading a lot further down the path to Bonkersville takes us to Eureka, and particularly their Pond Wars range. Battles between frogs, rabbits, turtles and terrapins? That is certainly something we don’t see every day. And if that is not quite your  cup of tea (why not?) check out their Teddy Bears, Toy Town and Winged Fezzed Monkeys. Or another take on Warrior Mice. Unfortunately the website is clunky and in need of a serious makeover.

© Eureka Miniatures
© Eureka Miniatures

And if you need more Flying Monkeys, or perhaps carnivorous Blood Trees, there is always Fanticide by Alien Dungeon. With contributions from rules writerly types Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers  and Alessio Cavatore that’s quite a by-line.

© Alien Dungeon
© Alien Dungeon

Lastly, because I grew up with Keep on the Borderlands, I’d like to point out that there was a time when orcs were not green and didn’t look like, well, those GW orcs/ks. There are still a few enclaves of these other-orcs out there (not including Middle Earth ranges) and I’d like to direct your attention to Otherworld Miniatures and their pig-faced orcs, if only because it takes me back to those pre-teen days.

© Otherworld Miniatures
© Otherworld Miniatures

This is by no means an exhaustive guide, nor is it meant to detract from the efforts and skills of anyone else, but I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what lies beyond the run-of-the-mill knights and necromancers. One of the more depressing experiences whilst researching this article was the number of dead links to defunct manufacturers. Let’s celebrate variety, and reward not just rendering skill but design originality and creativity.

Don’t be shy, share a few gems in the comments, particularly any sci-fi pioneers out there.

Happy Gaming!

Gav