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Thread: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

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    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Default The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    *Work in progress*

    There has been a lot of talent around the TWC AAR sections in the past years. There is no shortage of AARs either with new ones starting at every 2-3 days. Many AARs, however, end prematurely for various reasons, while at the same time a huge amount of collective wisdom has been accumulated by veteran writers.

    To help new writers (and maybe veteran ones too) and elevate the profile of the Writers' Lounge, I thought it would be a good idea to start a thread where all the experiences, wisdom and ideas about writing AARs is collected. Well, maybe not all, but at least what has been published in a structured form, for example as articles in the Critic's Quill. There are FAQ threads for the main AAR genres: TW Eras, MTW II, Empire and Napoleon. The TW Eras and MTW II FAQs give further genre-specific links too. There is no reason to reproduce those here, but a thread which is easy to update could be useful for the community, and that is my goal with this. Thus, I will post here various bits and pieces posted earlier elsewhere on TWC, always indicating who the original author was to make sure that credit goes where it should go.

    How can you contribute?
    - You can post your AAR experience in this thread. It could be as simple as a short post, or as big as a more structured opinion like those in the Critic's Quill. You can PM me stuff too if you want.
    - You can let me know if you have read some really great stuff. I'm not looking for adding links to great/epic AARs here (there are too many), rather finding those that have some unique trick, creative design or extra work. Basically anything which is that "extra mile" beyond writing. I read a lot of AARs, but I can of course miss things. Just send me a link, and I'll post it here.

    The three main sections:

    1. Tips and thoughts
    2. AARtistry in action (when something unique was done - in terms of AAR mechanics)
    3. About the writers (interviews, self-confessions) [in the next post]

    You probably already know where to look for AARs, but I especially encourage everybody to visit the Scriptorium where many completed AARs can be found nicely edited, and to take a look at the Critic's Quill which offers a great sample of reviews and advices. Also, the Tale of the Week section offers writing corners (separate threads) to writers who would like to collect their own work - check out some of the great examples.

    Happy browsing,


    Tips and thoughts I.

    The AAR Criteria by Nazgûl Killer (Critic's Quill #8)

    The AAR Criteria

    By request and by volunteering, I have decided to write my "AAR Criteria". Yet, before I do so, I would like to declare that I am no official nor am I an expert, yet, I am, from what others have told me, a good reviewer of AARs and I am a constant reader of AARs, I have read well over a hundred AARs and I know what (my) criteria are.

    Most AARs today have a very strong illness, either too little text and too many pictures or too little pictures and too much text, both of these illnesses have unwanted results; The readers who much prefer 'action' in their AAR, more fighting and less talking, would skip the AARs without pictures and the others, who prefer plot over 'action', would much rather read the ones with more text. This forces most AAR readers and writers to find a very delicate balance between the two and with that offer little diversity at times.

    For me, the basic guidelines of an AAR should be proper grammar, a proper plot and some action, meaning that I would much rather to read an interesting plot than blankly stare at pictures of the game, instead of simply right clicking on its icon and playing it myself.

    The pros of an AAR with a plot is that it allows your imagination to flow and yourself to 'lie' a bit, as my good friend once said in response to one of my oldest AARs. What I mean by this is that you can, instead of sticking directly to gaming events, simply start inventing conversations between your characters, allow your imagination to take over battles as you inflate the deeds of your soldiers in combat just a tad bit, instead of simply sticking to the facts and... Basically, reporting after your action.

    The definition of the AAR is actually an "After Action Report", meaning you simply tell the story of what you have done, meaning that the AARs with more pictures and less text usually live up to this standard, yet, those with less pictures and more text would much better be counted as stories and tales instead of AARs, and there is nothing wrong with either of those.

    However, instead of picking one of these, most players would much rather find the delicate balance between the two, and oftenly (Sadly), fail, causing in lack of interest from both sides of the readers, both those who much rather a plot and those who much rather action, thus creating dead AARs by the dozens.

    I urge all AAR readers out there to not judge an AAR just by briefly looking at it, read it, look at the pictures, at least read two updates before deciding your opinion, as I myself were surprised by an or two before which had very little text and an immense amount of pictures, however, was one of the funniest AARs I have ever read, or, no pictures and all text, which turned out to be one of the best stories I have ever read. This is why I urge you, do not judge a book by its cover.

    I also urge all AAR writers, do not fear your style! Write what you feel is right and what you want to write, listening to popular demand and going against what you want to do/write will oftenly cause in you losing interest in your AAR and abandoning it, or a complete lack of interest by others as you do not seem to really be investing in said AAR.

    In addition, I will add that humorous AARs are probably the best and most successful AARs, however, there is also a delicate balance there between funny and downright apalling, most humorous AARs fail to find this balance and tend to fail, however, this doesn't mean you should give up! The more subtle the humor, the funnier the AAR will be, the more blunt and obvious the humor, the less successful the AAR will be, keep that in mind when writing your own.

    I will say this, as my conclusion and final words: Writers - Do not give up and do not change your style, if the public demands you do, the public doesn't deserve to read your style. Readers - Be a bit more patient, read the AAR, don't just look at it and decide randomly if it's good or not, this will discourage all the writers and eventually you will see the downfall of the AAR community alltogether if you do that.

    Those were my two cents of wisdom... Heed or disregard this, this is your choice indeed, however, I speak from experience, experience you just might find useful.

    The Origin of Stories: The Evolution of AARs by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #9)

    The Origin of Stories: The Evolution of AARs

    Some people would simply believe that writing an AAR is completely straightforward. Come up with plot, story, characters etc, write, publish, done. Certainly I myself was almost so naïve as this when I first began writing my first (and only) AAR, ‘Rí Inse Ghall‘. But I was to find that, like other stories, it doesn’t stay consistent throughout the writing, and I end up writing several very different chapters on the same plot… let me explain.

    When I first began writing my AAR it was hesitant, not fluent, and many of my phrases were very blunt, very simple and unpolished. As a result, I saw a story that was alright, but certainly not very good. Still, at the time it was the best that I could do. However, I learned that your writing style changes as the AAR continues. Certainly no AAR I have ever seen has changed for the worse over time in terms of a changing writing style, so it’s fair to say that your author’s abilities will always improve. This is easy enough to discern - as I said earlier, this happens in other stories. But I also want to demonstrate the other ways that AARs change and adapt to the requirements they must meet.

    Firstly, plot. No AARtist I have ever seen can hold their head high and truthfully say that they thought of a plot, then wrote it down to the letter. I personally have rewritten my plot 3 times, and I have heard similar experiences from others. A plot does not have to be faulty from the start, but other than greater detail, people invent new features, often changing the direction of the AAR completely. Some are deliberately thought out, but others are spontaneous. That’s the main paradox that I love about the way AARs evolve - you can try and plan as hard as you want, but the story will always have a life of its own.

    The audience is also a key factor. The main difference between an AAR and a book is that the AAR is released a chapter or so at a time. You have to wait for the next one, and not only does this increase suspense but more importantly it means that the readers can tell the author what they liked and didn’t like about the last chapter. As a result, a lot of experimentation takes place within AARs, leading to secure and confident writers much more quickly than any standard author.

    The more simple features like layout/presentation etc. also change. Personally I have changed the font and colour of my work as well as centring it, making for a much easier read. Some people can even get away with a crap font (Antiochos, I’m looking at you!
    ), but mostly people try different formats to see which one works for their kind of story. I would like to cite the beginning of ReD_OcToBeR’s Ishtar Gate to Alexandria as a good example. At the beginning, he used large, bright titles, (size 16-20 fonts, etc.) and blocks of text, put together with pictures in a single piece - thus the whole update was just on one big picture; as he said, ‘like Sunbird Alkibijad’s AAR’, which is another good example. However, he quickly changed this within the first few chapters, simply putting framed pictures between lumps of text… I say lumps, which is an unworthy description of that text, but that’s beside the point .

    Finally, the last way an AAR can renew itself is in terms of its goal, it’s direction. there is always a summary or a finale to every plot, a grand climax… that is, to every GOOD plot. However, I see sometimes that people realise that they have made errors in their planning. They might not have realised the potential of a character, or the positive effect that such and such event would have on the reader, thus wanting to repeat it. So this does not change the story, but more points the AARtist on a different heading, giving them a different goal to aim for.

    I think that the most important point here that you should not miss is that there is almost some kind of mind in the AAR itself… it does have a will of it’s own. I just talked about the AAR pointing the writer to a different goal - who’s doing the pointing? The story itself, that’s what. AARs somehow gain a personality - in their layout and style, their gait, dress and accent are put on display. The way that they perfect themselves, learning and gaining experience is what sets AARs apart from… other kinds of story.

    That’s my observation.

    Characterisation in AARs by Juvenal (Critic's Quill #10)

    Characterisation in AARs


    I hope that everyone would agree that interesting and believable characters are a vital part of AARs. You can write them without characters, and this is a perfectly valid form, but it does limit the viewpoint to just that of the player. In my experience even in this type of AAR authors often still find themselves starting to refer to their generals as if they had a semi-independent existence.

    Making Characters
    A wonderful thing about Total War games is that they provide you with so much material to fill out your characters in the form of pictures, abilities, ancillaries and traits. But this is a two-edged sword, as anyone who has tried to use traits in an AAR can testify. Strict adherence to traits is just too constraining to the story. You really need the freedom to create dynamic tension and have satisfying conclusions to sub-plots. So I think the best approach is to treat this bounty of traits and ancillaries from the game as a resource from which to pick only the ideas that fit the tale you are trying to weave.

    So, you want to write a character-based AAR? Well, those characters are going to have to be interesting otherwise your story will remain unloved by the fickle masses of TWC. The first question is - which characters to include? Many writers don't even consider this. The games presents you with a faction leader and a family tree. The family members will be leading your armies, so it is entirely natural to write a story consisting entirely of them, with a few bland interchangeable subordinates, and a faceless mass of loyal soldiers ready to die for some as yet undefined goal. Doing this creates a kind of frame that constrains the possibilities for your story. It also creates practical difficulties, an army often has only one family member (the commander), so there is no one interesting for him to talk to when describing battles.

    If you want to write something a bit different from the run-of-the-mill, then strong characters are a good way to break free from just describing the gameplay.

    An AAR can either follow the campaign, or it can be a free-standing story using the game merely to provide illustrations. With this latter form, you are completely free to create whatever characters are required for the plot, but you also bear the responsibility for creating a good plot in the first place. It would be wise to prepare your cast in advance by writing profiles for them. These people have to be interesting and distinct. They need motivation and goals. They need different relationships, fears, hopes.

    Making Characters Interesting
    I must admit that I haven't yet been brave enough to write in this way. I play the campaign and meditate on what is going on “under the covers”. My own characters start simple and gradually acquire depth through my description of the campaign events and from the inspiration I get from my “detective” work.

    Try assigning roles to your characters to make writing easier: Hero, villain, protagonist, antagonist, family, rival. Also give them some primary emotion: jealousy, love, loyalty, honour, weakness, obsession, nobility, duty. Creating a profile makes your character distinct and also helps to keep them consistent during the long period during which you are likely to be writing your AAR.

    There are two types of character: major and incidental. I think you would do well to have something in the game that represents each major character. They don't all have to be family members. They could be ancillaries or agents, or even tied to particular military units (say a Centurian, or even a common soldier or camp-follower). Incidental characters are created as needed to fill out an episode. They often appear only once and are never referred to again.

    I think that choosing the right characters is a great way to reduce the scope of your story from an epic world-spanning multi-volume history of the (ancient) world, down to something of more human proportions. It is entirely possible to write a whole AAR focussing on a single army, while leaving the rest of the campaign undescribed. Writing the whole campaign is a great temptation (one that I have succumbed to myself), but again it steers you into writing a “standard” AAR, much like many others already published.

    Point of View
    Having created some characters, you then have to decide how to write about them. There are three choices: First Person, Third Person, and Objective.

    First person narratives are incredibly useful. The reader gets strong identification with the character. You can use this in several ways. The character can make unwise choices, raising tension as the reader wills them to do the right thing. The character can perform evil acts, making the reader angry at their unwilling complicity in the crimes. Finally, the character can lie to the reader (or at least be mistaken). Revealing the lie later in the narrative can create great scenes, the stuff of a famous AAR.

    If you want your viewpoint to skip around, then Third-Person is best. But why not consider the Objective viewpoint, it is still Third-Person, but leaves out the thoughts of the character. This helps bring back some of the uncertainty you can get with First-Person. Your characters become enigmatic and you can spring plot surprises when their true motivations are revealed.

    I hope I have given you something to think about. Experiment with the different modes I have described above. It will help increase your arsenal of writing skills for tacking future projects. With writing, the more you learn, the more there is to learn. At every stage more possibilities become apparent, each one an opportunities for future study.

    My Thoughts on AARs by Junius (Critic's Quill #10)
    My Thoughts on AARs

    One of the things that I have learnt over the course of writing for the Critic's Quill is what a person needs to be a good reviewer. That was perhaps my main reasoning for asking for this series of articles, so that you, the reader, as well as the reviewers themselves, knew what it was that they wanted. A reviewer needs to know what they want. They need to be on the lookout for several things which they feel make a good AAR, or anything really. It is different for different people, that is why you may favour one reviewers opinion over the other. A reviewer cannot be like a child at Christmas, wanting everything (I want a bike, roller skates, PS3, puppy, etc.), so they have to know what is more important and what is less important.

    For me the most important thing is story and plot. Story and plot are similar, yet distinct. The plot is the series of events, which can be summarised without needing to refer to specifics. For example, the resurrection of the Roman Empire would be a plot. The story is the specific characters and events. So, a plot point could be a battle, and the story could be how King Phillip won the battle by using his calvary to out flank his enemy. A strong plot is key for me, it gives the AAR a rhythm and intent which keeps it moving along, while also containing a strong sense of coherency. It isn't hard to come up with a plot, and stick to it, so I find it almost unforgivable to see an AAR which is meandering and has no course.

    I find a story keeps the reader more interested. While a plot can exist without a story, 'Taking Europe back from the Timmy's' is an example, a story cannot exist without a plot. A story holds a reader, it creates characters which we can relate to, either hating or liking. A good story needs investment, on both the reader and writer's parts. I can, and will, read an AAR without a story, but it doesn't grab me the same way a story does.

    Pictures aren't as important to me as they are to others. While I appreciate them, and realise that they are a big draw for some people, a good AAR can exist, at least for me, without pictures. If the writer decides to include them, I want to see interesting and informative pictures, which compliment the writing instead of replacing it. Editing of pictures is a must. Seeing the whole campaign map, when the writer only wants you to focus on the character sheet, or seeing the battle map and UI during a battle scene really breaks the immersion and the flow of an AAR for me.

    I like things to be different. One of the best recent AARs I have read was 'In Hoc Signes Vinco', which I reviewed for the CQ in issue 8. It followed the Crusader States as they tried to conquer Britain, it still is being written. What made it really interesting was that it started with the Crusaders already in an established position, in Northern France, which was different from what you find at the start of a regular game. This new starting situation, and what could result from it, was what really grabbed me, and kept me interested before TemplarLord developed his story. Story and plot do not need to be excessively unique, but they have to be different. There used to be a glut of Byzantine AARs, with each having the same goal in mind. Though the writing may have been interesting, the central premise made for boring reading. This was not the fault of any individual writer, but was caused by the similarity of the AARs.

    AARs are different from regular short stories, or historical fiction. Though they are primarily written to follow the rise, or fall, of a particular faction in a particular game, that does not mean that they should be limited to that. It serves as a useful, and interesting, starting point that will certainly keep people reading and win the writer some fans, but it can be used as a backdrop for an even more interesting story. My current AAR, 'The Kingdom', which I have written keeping in mind all the things I have learnt reviewing for the CQ, uses that as a central premise. Not to advertise it too much (I like to think I can be afforded a small degree of self promotion), I have tried to stick to the things I have found which I like in AARs, while trying to eliminate those that bug me.

    Though AARs have a narrow scope, they are constrained by the game after all, they do allow for some great stories. It is those writers which manage to give us an AAR, that would be thrilling just on it's own, with an enthralling story, interesting characters and a unique style, that keep me coming back and reading more. There are several promising new writers, as well as the old stalwarts, that make me look forward to reading many more.

    AAR Writing Tips by Juvenal (Critic's Quill #11)

    In this article I am going to talk about things I do to improve my AARs. It is not prescriptive, you can produce good work without doing all of the things I describe. Indeed my methods may not even suite your writing style. Nevertheless, I hope you will find some of these things helpful in your own work.

    Making Characters
    As I explained in a previous article, you will almost certainly need an interesting cast of characters for a successful AAR. Since it is an AAR, these characters will have to have some connection with the game-play. The easiest thing is to use the Faction leader and Royal Family, but I like to utilise ancillaries and agents as well in order to get different viewpoints of the action. I often make up characters who are tied to particular armies, such as a master of horse, or even a unit commander.

    AARs are written in episodes, just like serials in magazines. Since episodes are going to be read individually with substantial gaps between them, it is important that each one can stand alone. I believe that an episode should have a single main subject. There should be an introduction or setup, a main body and, most importantly, a conclusion of some kind. It is perfectly OK (and fun) to create cliff-hanger endings, which leave the reader desperate to learn the conclusion, but even these must still function as a valid ending to the arc of the episode.

    Supporting Material
    An AAR can consist solely of the text of the story. Personally I am perfectly happy with this, but the wider readership will be expecting battle pictures. I think that it is important for pictures to support the text. This requires the meaning of the picture within the context of that story to be clear. I have seen a lot of screen-shots in AARs where I just couldn't work out who was who or what part of the story was being depicted. My own system is to write battle narratives from the pictures, so hopefully I will always get a good match-up. Another trick is to put captions on the pictures. I try to make my captions act as comments on the action rather than just repeating the text. In this way they hopefully complement the story as well as tying the picture to the appropriate event within it. In exceptional cases I will even annotate a picture, writing commander's names and showing lines of march.

    Personally I like to add non-battle pictures to help add flavour to the story. In particular I have collected portraits to help bring my characters to life. I think that a portrait is a powerful factor in helping the reader identify with a character. If you can make them care about the character, then the events of the story will have a much greater impact.

    As an additional decoration, I put a quote at the start of each episode. I carefully select my quotes to be relevant to the story - indeed, sometimes I actually have to alter an episode to better fit the quote! My purpose with quotes is to provide the ultimate summary. If you have already read an episode, then the quote provides a cue to help you remember what it was about without having to read the whole thing through again.

    The Art of Writing Prose
    Everyone has their own style, but there are still some important points which I think are applicable to everyone's writing. Firstly, if you write an AAR consisting entirely of battle descriptions or campaign decisions, then readers are likely to tire of it. You need to have changes of pace. The contrast between calm and hectic passages enhances the special flavour of each. Secondly, think about tenses - yes I know it's boring, but random use of tenses will give the reader a vague sense of dissatisfaction which may prompt them to abandon your AAR entirely, putting it down to poor writing. Thirdly, it is good to spice up your narrative with contrasting viewpoints (unless it is first-person of course). Rather than having everything fully described, it is nice to introduce a little ambiguity by means of different characters having contrasting views of the action. Fourthly, it is difficult to tell a story entirely through dialogue without the reader getting bored. Given my own level of skill, I use dialogue sparingly with exposition setting the context and much of the dialogue merely implied from the description.

    Quality Assurance
    After you have written your latest masterpiece of sparkling wit and gut-wrenching action, don't post it straight away. Leave it awhile and then come back later and read it through carefully. The first thing you should look for is spelling mistakes and missing words. Even with a spelling checker, you can still easily use the wrong word (I constantly write Their instead of There and often forget to include connecting words between phrases). The second thing to look for is bad flow, something that sounded fine to the mind's ear while writing may turn out to be horribly awkward on second reading. Try reading the story out loud, flow problems should quickly become apparent, and they can usually be fixed quite easily with a bit of rearrangement and minor changes of wording.

    I am just an amateur writer, my tips and insights coming from experience, and a lot of reading. If you disagree with anything I've said, or think I've missed something important, then by all means please post your thoughts. I am always looking for ways to improve my writing, and I think that talking about it is one of the best methods for finding both weaknesses and new ideas. Happy writing everyone!

    How do AARtists choose what to write about? by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #13)

    It's so often overlooked, yet surely the most basic part of an AAR. It must also be the first thing the writer thinks about when they write an AAR - what's it going to be about? And it is crucially important, yet some people clearly don't give it much thought.

    Rome AARs
    The sub-title says it all really: Rome. The most commonly used topic for AARs on the RTW sub-forum is that of the Roman Empire itself. In a sense this is pretty likely - Rome is one of the few factions that features in every single mod (but not Vanilla ironically enough, if you know what I mean). But really it is mostly lack of originality. I'd say almost half of RTW AARs are Rome based. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't limit the AAR - look at AustenBin's legendary Pontic Expedition, an AAR like any other Rome based one - that is, in terms of plot base. However, it's easy to see why so many rubbish Rome AARs clog up the forum when you compare them to this particular example. They simply either show the expansion of Rome as happened in history, the 2nd Punic war, or a particular campaign in some country. The last one often works well, as AustenBin showed, but of course, initial ideas aren't everything. But more on that later.

    Other popular choices of RTW AAR include Greek factions, including Macedonia and the Diadochi (Seleucids, Ptolemaics, etc.). These are slightly more varied, and it's easier to see the AARtist themselves coming through because of the more original storyline base. But even though I seem to see a Mediterranean monopoly emerging, Carthage, Iberia, Lusotannan (depending on mod) rarely get a look in. And when writers do stray north of the seas, more often than not the Getae/Dacians are the source of their creativity. Although that last topic has not been... worn out anywhere near as thoroughly as the southern choices. Barbarian AARs are quite rare, the only one springing to mind being JerichoOnlyFan's.

    If new writers want ideas, then for this area I'd suggest: DON'T do Rome, or if you do, make it specific and provide some in-depth characters. Greek factions - brink-of-defeat is not a bad idea here, as would an AAR that went north or west instead of staying and fighting other Greeks... maybe after killing them all ?

    Medieval AARs
    Now obviously I'm not going to go into quite so much depth here, as I am less knowledgeable on the subject. But whilst I look around at the moment, I see that Eastern Fever clearly reigns quite a bit here too, although the other main focus for AARs either seems to be Spain or factions from the British Isles, although Venice also seems to be popular (a bit). I think the British focus comes from the fact that in ancient times Britain was either similar to the rest of Northern Europe, or Roman. In MT2W / SS, not only are conflicts between the english and other parts of Britain 'available', but the idea of crusades, knights and a format that can relate much more closely to modern England than before.

    The Eastern faction's frequency surely stems from the fact that this is the era of knights in armour, crusades, and of course, the Muslim caliphates. In fact, it seems to me to be a similar mind frame to the Diadochi wars almost, although there is no concept there of two religions, two blocks of powers that are certainly separate but united against the Christians/Muslims. To me, there is a lot more room here for creativity and inventive ideas for AAR factions to use - Portugal and most Central European factions seem rarely used, and like the Getae in RTW, the Italian principalities are commonly used and liked, but not yet exhausted and overused.

    Empire Total War
    Now I know even less about ETW, but that doesn't make me blind. Funnily enough, I am witnessing the opposite here, although it is to expected. As you saw going from RTW to M2TW, what factions people tend to choose often depends on historically, 'where the war was' - where the centre of the world was, economically and politically. As the balance shifts from Egypt/the Middle East to Western/Central Europe, so people choose different factions in ETW.

    There are a good deal of Prussian AARs, and many British too. Very few, as I said, are from the East, now poorer than the rest of Europe. Many focus on America and India, as would be expected with the new inflated map system of ETW. I am pleased to see a great deal more of AARs which are breaking the mould - one about Malta here, one about Greece there (common in RTW, but SO different in the 17th century (it is 17th right?)).

    A Central Character?
    Of course, choosing an interesting faction to play as isn't everything. One of the key things is characters. Some AARs pivot around a single person - some involve a few people central to the plot, a group, or, in a sense none - AARs where the events of a campaign/faction are displayed but are no characters or events are dwelled upon before moving on to the next event.

    The other factor that has always been in people's minds is the status of their character. Now as soon as anyone thinks characters, social status, AARs, many will shout 'SHARPE!' and leave immediately. Personally, I think of the Lausard series by Richard Howard (Read them! they are ten times better than rubbish old Sharpe), but the point is that many will turn into a God-Bless-America, Disney style he fights on in the face of adversity and wins morally despite everything... fest.

    Many portray the fates of Kings, or rising princes... others choose to champion the ordinary man and watch him as he fights heroically without gaining notoriety. A frequent case, as with Sharpe is the peasant-becomes-the-leader-of-a-Legion idea - low man goes high. It can be a bit samey, but it can be done right, as the great Saienga proved with his AAR The Balance of Vengeance and Honor.

    Something Different!
    My conclusion is this: to the AARtist looking for inspiration, be UNIQUE. Instead of trawling the forums and looking for what IS there, look for what ISN'T there. Fixiwee did this, producing new ideas in the form of his AAR (the only AAR I can think of to try and represent the history of men over several mods, also introducing the Multi-AAR concept), and now, after much hard work, he has reached the top of the MAARC (we eagerly await the tie-breaker results!).

    Yes, browse and learn how to write well and to layout well, etc, but don't copy everyone else - you must retain your own style. That's how the great AARtists have become great. As I thought through when I examined factions, look for what's missing. People will be attracted to it - it's new, it's different, it raises eyebrows. When people see another RS Rome AAR, they often simply say 'Oh, not another one.' and forget about it altogether.

    The Code of the Order of AAR writers by Kallum (Critic's Quill #13)

    In my opinion an anniversary issue must hold something unique, something that doesn’t return every month. Therefore I’ve decided to make a list, since we all love lists (the list of all the goodies of Dominion of the Sword, the list of improvements that hopefully the next sequel in the TW genre will possess) and this one contains tips and rules that should be considered by any AAR writer of this site who wants to improve his or her AAR. Hopefully you’ll enjoy my little effort, I’m sure I did when I thought about it.

    1) One writes with the intention to entertain not to gain rep or any other form of reward.

    2) The greatest story is written under the greatest stress, so if you are angry with your teacher or parents and you want to punch a hole in the wall, don’t. Physiological studies revealed that the creative centre of our brain has a peak when being in an intense emotional state, so if you want to grab the next MAARC prize, you know what to do when you are feeling down or hurt again.

    3) if you are uncertain about your writing skills go write in the TOTW first! There you can sharpen your skills and learn techniques and tactics that will help you in your further career as a writer!

    4) Don’t copy the exact outline of someone else’s story, always ask for permission if you want to use something from another’s story.

    5) 7 Days a month you are competitors, those other three weeks you are silent worshippers of each other’s work. If you are stuck on your story don’t be to hesitant to ask someone’s help, it’s a recognition of his or her work and a way of socializing.

    6) When you are stuck on a certain point and you don’t know what your main character should do next, you must leave your work! Go jogging or cycling or in the worst case do homework, anything that makes you focus on something else then your update. When you force yourself to write no good will come out of it. It’ll never be excellent only mediocre at best and that’s not what you want (RULE ONE!!!!!!)

    7) Time for a cliché: always try to be original, the more original you are the more entertaining your story is and the more admiration and thereby rep will fill your account.

    8) When you receive criticism don’t be to arrogant to point your mouse immediately to the “report post” button. Sometimes their opinions are supported by a lot of readers and then you must do something about it!

    9) When you decide to make an AAR and want to give it a real authentic feel, make sure you learn a bit about the faction’s history, learn some key military commands in the native language and learn some titles or offices. These small changes are the things that separate excellent AARs from mediocre or good AARs. The best way to learn about a nation is the thema devia in my opinion. Here you can find those patriotic national language only groups, who will be more then helpful to help you creating an AAR which makes their country shine like the brightest star.

    10) A special tip for comedy AAR writers: make sure you aren’t repetitive. Look we have heard those epic one liners from 300 far to many times now! Surprise us with something new, perhaps a quote from the latest C-show that your female relatives are watching lately. And never be to shy to think of something funny yourself! There are 6 billion people breathing just like you, there must be someone there that also shares your sense of humor.

    11) Don’t make deadlines or if you have to don’t throw them out in public. Chances are that you don’t make them and why should the reader pay attention to your goods when the delivery date is a lie.

    12) Make sure your story has depth! When a story shows intriguing plots combined with all the shady figures that comes with it, I found that most readers don’t even notice the grammar and spelling mistakes you as a non English make.

    13) If you do want to make sure that your story has a minimum amount of faults then I suggest that you write in MS Word. Word has a grammer and vocab check that you can easily switch on and of. That way you’ll slightly improve your English which isn’t only handy here at TWC but also in RL at school or in a later career.

    14) Another cliché: Make sure that the faction you plan to follow through your campaign is one of your favourite factions. That way you won’t lose interest and that will make the story also a lot prettier to read as a whole

    Fourteen rules and tips for you new AAR writers. Of course there are many more but I leave those open for you to fill in. If you can’t make a good story whilst following these rules then or you didn’t understood the meaning of these sentences or you are not destined to achieve greatness via the path of the AAR world. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these rules, some are old and common but I hope that others are new but more importantly I hope you take your advantage from them.

    Writing the Game by Ariovistus Maximus (Critic's Quill #15)

    Hey all! Ariovistus Maximus here wishing you a Happy Holidays!

    As you know, there is always a close tie between the AAR and the game we use as a platform. That’s the whole point, right? Well, of course I agree, but I would suggest to you that this relationship is often over-emphasized. In short, the game does not make the AAR, and I’d like to explain that a little bit.

    All too often, writers suffer from tunnel vision. When you think of your AAR as a reflection of the game, it’s easy to unconsciously turn your story into a simple reflection of the Total War game of your choice. Now, that’s interesting if you have a REALLY good campaign going (the psychotic Timurid AARs come to mind), but I think we all know that the TW series has its limits.

    Thus, many AARs are limited because they do not go beyond the game. They simply write the game. And, to be honest, that doesn’t make for particularly great storytelling. If we just want the game, we can play it ourselves, right? But we don’t read AARs for the game itself.

    There are a few major elements to the AAR. The game is an important element, for sure. You probably enjoy reading historical fiction, but the AAR is special because it gives you a taste of the game you enjoy so much. The other elements are common to any story: plot, characters, setting… you know the drill.

    So the game is certainly a big part of the story, but there needs to be a balance. If you ignore the game entirely, you will lose an important element. Like I said, people enjoy the connection between your story and the game they like so well. However, if everything is a reference to the game, or a simple report on your campaign progress, the AAR will lack depth; there won’t be any story to keep people coming back for more.

    There is a degree of excitement to a string of battle reports, but it gets old pretty fast. Truth be told, it’s already been done quite a few times. See, a battle can be interesting, but without a story, it’s just an isolated incident without any real significance. You need to give each battle and campaign a context and an underlying storyline.

    To illustrate my point, let’s create a miniature little tale, starting with a campaign from Medieval 2: Total War.

    “The French fought the Spanish. Swish swish, clang clang. AAAIIIIEEEEEEE!!!”

    Okay, that’s a start. Why did the French fight the Spanish?

    “One day, the Spanish invaded!”

    Oh; so the erratic AI decided to bother you. Well, there’s not much of a story to that. Let’s see if we can’t roleplay that a little bit.

    “The Spanish were worried that I was getting too powerful, I guess.”

    All right; now you have a motive. Let’s embellish it a little, shall we?

    “A jealous monarch sits upon the Spanish throne, his dreams of glory and empire frustrated at every turn. Disaster has befallen the Reconquiesta; hordes of Muslim fanatics pour across the Straits of Gibraltar. But now the King of Spain sets his greedy eye upon the fertile plains of Southern France: a land unscathed by the war that has plagued his people for decades.

    'Perhaps that is the answer', he thinks. 'Perhaps…'

    Hmmmm… starting to look like a story, isn’t it? And that’s just scratching the surface. The more you experiment and flex your creative muscles, the more your story-telling skills will grow!

    Also, you may have noticed that the more effort you put into your story, the deeper it becomes. In the beginning, we were just talking about France. Now we realize that we need to develop our secondary characters as well, and create a background for the events we portray. Before you know it, you’ll dedicate chapters and chapters to expanding on the story you’ve created. Your product will be a deep, satisfying narrative. It won’t rely on the game to make sense, but the game will amplify the plot you’ve woven.

    They key lies in your focus. Does your AAR reflect the game, or does the game reflect your AAR?

    This is where planning comes in, and that’s another article in itself. You see, if you plan out your story from the beginning, you can bend the game to your will, so to speak. Consider our example above. If you just write the story as you play your AAR, you might roleplay, and you might be able to embellish the story, but the AI will still do strange, nonsensical things that interrupt the flow of your story.

    However, if you plan your story out from the beginning, and have a direction in which you want it to flow, your narrative will be much more fluid, and won’t be thrown off course by crazy AI plays.

    To expand on that concept, remember that your story is not tied to the game. If your campaign doesn’t make for great storytelling, guess what? Nobody needs to know! It’s your story, after all. You can very conveniently exclude any information you wish from your story; no one will be the wiser.

    I find that new writers often feel that they MUST report the game at all costs. I hope that now you can see that you don’t need to be dictated by the game. You can take your story wherever you like. I have attempted here to come at the subject from multiple angles; I hope you find it helpful as you explore the wide, wonderful world of AARtistry.

    In conclusion, remember that the game should supplement the story, not control it. Remember, this is your story; the possibilities are endless! Once you realize this, then the excitement really begins.

    Thanks for reading, and have a great Holiday season!

    Planning Your AAR by Ariovistus Maximus (Critic's Quill #16)

    Hi there! Last issue, I gave some thoughts on how people tend to cling to games as they write AARs. This habit, which does take practice to overcome, really limits your writing potential. But I won’t rehash that here. Now that we’ve talked about one of the more prevalent hang-ups in plot development, let’s talk about something that will make your story better.

    Planning is an essential element of a good story, and one that is tied to your ability to bend the game to your will, so to speak. If your story simply reflects the game, as discussed in the last issue, then your story will revolve around in-game events. If that’s the case, you certainly can’t plan what you don’t know.

    Why is planning important? Planning has a major effect upon the story’s flow. I’m sure every writer can remember a time when he had a BRILLIANT idea – but it came too late to fit into the story. Usually, you can’t just inject a major character or development into the story; an important development requires foreshadowing and build-up to make any sense.

    So suppose that you’re writing a story about a medieval kingdom. For the last few chapters, you’ve been developing a nobleman who is plotting to seize the throne. Then, one day, you have a magnificent idea! The King will die of a serious illness, leaving the crown within your character’s grasp.

    You go to your computer and write it up. Bam! The King died of the plague!

    But… since when was there a plague running through the land? And who knew the King had it? And why is that important again?

    It might have been a clever idea, but it came so suddenly that it merely interrupts your storyline. It would flow much better if you had planned it from the beginning, or at least looked a few chapters ahead.

    And that’s a pretty simplistic example, but you get the idea. It’s happened to me many times, that I wanted to add a neat piece of information, but I couldn’t because it would be too abrupt to make any sense.

    There is one other issue that arises from lack of planning. If you are writing an AAR involving your game campaign, you have to be prepared for the AI. They do some pretty bizarre things, but if you have your story planned out, you can avoid those problems. Otherwise, the AI will mess up your plotline, you’ll have to rush to fit their move into the story, and it will all come across as a game play-by-play, which isn’t especially interesting.

    That’s why it’s important to reflect on your story idea before you actually begin. What is your story’s focal point? From what point of view will you write? Where and when will the story take place? What is the theme of your story?

    For each person, the answers to those questions will be different. But planning your story will enhance each of them. There are a few ways to plan your story.

    Before you begin, you should know more than the faction, perspective, and setting of your story. You should have at least an outline of how you want the story to proceed. This will vastly improve your story’s flow. For myself, I found that letting my ideas sit in the back of my mind for a few days was quite helpful. I’d toss around different ideas from time to time, until my AAR gradually came together.

    Another method is to write a few chapters ahead. That is, write up several chapters before you begin to post them online, and try to keep a few ahead. Often your train of thought as you write a story will give you all kinds of ideas. If you are writing ahead, you will still have time to implement your ideas in previous chapters, and the story will flow perfectly.

    A third thing that can be of great help is to read other people’s work. Certainly you don’t want to copy anything, but I’ve found that reading other AAR’s has helped me understand the nuts and bolts of AARtistry. Other AARs can teach you a lot about plot and character development, style, and form.

    Now, I know it can be tough to keep up on these things; especially writing a few chapters ahead. I wouldn’t think of it as a strict regimen to which you MUST adhere; it’s just a few points that can help you, especially as you start out.

    If you keep in mind the importance of planning and act accordingly, you will be rewarded with a seamless product. And it just gets better; that’s what makes writing fun!

    My Ten Rules for Writing an AAR by Skantarios (Critic's Quill #18)

    1. Be passionate about what you write. You have to really want to write about the subject. If you don't feel passion for your character/faction/story, you will procrastinate doing updates and soon enough, you will have lost the bubble and be so far behind that you just don't want to start again. Also, know up front that this endeavour is going to take a lot of time. Take your worst estimate and then triple it and you will probably be getting close. For myself, I easily spend three hours writing and editing for every hour of actual playing. If you don't really want to write the story for its own sake, you won't.

    2. Define the scope. You can define it by the conquest of a certain number of provinces, the destruction of an opposing faction, the capture of a specific city, or whatever. If you decide to change your mind later on, no worries. For my own AAR, I have limited it to the life of one character. Whereas this has made the scope larger and longer than I had originally thought, it does give a definite end time to the AAR. Just having a defined end to the work is liberating in and of itself.

    3. Be realistic about what you can do. If you aren't going to have the time to post in the next week, just accept that and make an appointment to get back to it when you can. It also helps your readers to not get antsy waiting for you to update. If you do have a long break, make sure you commit to doing it at a defined point in the future or you will find it very hard to start again.

    4. Try to define a format early for how you want to present your information. How will you present the battles? What information will you include? Will you post maps every time? Are you going to have dialog? If so, when will you include it. Do a test post where you present a single chapter/turn/campaign and then go back and edit it again and again until you are satisfied with the presentation. That way, you can use it for every future post and know the areas that you need to address for every post to follow. The format is not a rule but will be a helpful guideline. It will probably evolve as you go along but it helps to have something done up front to serve as your guide.

    5. Take notes. I keep a separate document where I make short notes about what happened each turn. That way, when my game play gets ahead of the story, I can go back and know how the exact sequence of things happened. It helps with the flow of the story and to keep you on track. Also, if you happen to have a great idea that goes along with something that just happened, write it down before you forget about it; because you probably will.

    6. Back up your files! Make a save for every turn or every 2-3 turns. When you get to a certain point (every ten turns or so), make a separate backup folder of your saves in another location (or better yet, another drive) so that if the file gets corrupted, you can reload. I have seen a lot of AARs die an untimely death because someone lost the save game file and can't recreate it (at least that was their story). The whole process takes about five minutes and can save you untold hours (or the whole AAR) trying to get back to where you left off.

    7. Review and spell check. Having simple errors in the wording or sequence can really take away from the "punch" of the update. Make yourself re-read the entire post before submitting; that is what the "Preview Post" is all about. Better yet, copy the whole thing into a Word document and then let the automatic spell check catch your errors. It is another simple thing that can save a lot of "edit post"-ing later on.

    8. Save your post to a Word document before you submit. Often times, it can take so long to get a post together that when you hit "Submit" you have timed out of the login and the forum rejects the post. Hit the "Back" button and you will find that you have lost the entire thing. Again, this is a simple process that can save you hours and hours of recreating your work. For myself, I have gone one step further and just before I hit submit, I will "select all" and then "copy" the update into a separate post (but not submit it) just in case this happens - because it will; and you will hate it.

    9. If you can't finish it, be honest. If for some reason you have decided to end the AAR, just say so. It happens; people will understand. I have seen a lot of lame excuses about losing files or hardware glitches when people begin to complain about no updates. Just let people know the AAR is over and be done with it. Don't drag it out if you really have no intention of keeping going.

    10. Don't get discouraged. You are going to have problems and setbacks - accept that. You won't get a lot of replies at first - don't worry about it. Write the AAR for yourself and don't worry about who has or hasn't written you back. The AARs that are well done can take weeks or even months to catch on. Just know that going in and keep going. As I said in my first rule, you have to be passionate about what you are writing for its own sake - not for the comments or rep you get.

    Still Pictures In AAR Writing: A Current State Of Affairs by The Nanny (Critic's Quill #19)

    Any avid reader of AARs here at TWC has long ago noticed the increasing popularity of using still pictures and other media to augment their AARs. Purists may shudder at the notion of non-written input being used extensively, seeing (perhaps in cases justifiably) these techniques as a crutch to compensate for a lack of literary abilities.

    If one looks carefully, however, one may find that in these pictures are used strategically, thoughtfully, and with different purposes in mind. And contrary to being used as a crutch, in the right hands, they draw further attention to the written elements.

    "I constantly look back at the pictures from the battle stored on my computer in order to get that much needed inspiration about what exactly to write," states LuckyLewis, the author of the epic Liberation. He freely admits that writing is not his primary forte, but that the writing experience of Liberation has improved his skill.
    "During battles, I find that a good photo can really help show what the effects of a 'devastating charge' were"
    Many authors agree that the pictures are not really used to progress the story as much as to help readers visualize key aspects of the AAR's battle sequence. "During battles, I find that a good photo can really help show what the effects of a 'devastating charge' were", states Skantarios of I am Skantarios! Rebirth of the Eastern Empire fame. Dignan, author of A Cold Defeat, further explains his rationale: "I go through the replay again and try to capture screen-shots that are artistic, captivating and 'active'". These sentiments are echoed by Fixiwee, author of History of Men.

    These pictures are used not solely for the reader's benefit, but also for the author's. Skantarios explains that the pictures assist him greatly in the writing process: "I will write the battle using the pictures to prompt me on how the sequence of the battle progressed and make for an accurate retelling,".

    When deciding which pictures to use, and how to present them, nearly as much time and thought is spent as on writing the AAR itself. Every detail is considered, even the season in which the battle is being fought. "I probably prefer battles taking place in August and the warmer southern European climates," states LuckyLewis, "I love taking pictures in autumn as the battlefields aren’t completely covered by snow still regularly get that essence of dark and disturbing parts of war,".

    While conceding that most AAR writers prefer autumn and summer pictures, Dignan points out that the benefits of winter shots are sometimes overlooked. "Actually, I think the winter colors combined with some of the uniform mods look good". In A Cold Defeat, "the sun was low in the sky with overcast conditions which softened the normally harsh looking winter maps,".

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Winter shots are pretty...if you know just what to wear. Remember: no white slacks after Labour Day! (pic from A Cold Defeat)

    There is a common consensus that picture cropping, and editing out the HUDs and UI is a basic must, explains Fixiwee.
    "I (added effects) at the beginning, but I thought that it looked cheesy...nearly all pictures are unedited."
    From there, however, personal styles and preferences take over. Picture size and dimensions vary. Skantarios is very conscious of pictures that are too large, and threaten to distract the reader from the story. LuckyLewis applies extensive use of panoramic shots, although he admits that it started accidentally during the cropping process. Now, however, the continuation of that format is deliberate. "I wanted to put emphasis on the action within the battle....If I uploaded the pictures as they were from the game, I think they would bore people quickly,". These pictures, added in sequence, give the reader the impression of a moving film of glimpses into the battle.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Panoramic shots, such as this one from Liberation, give an old-time, epic movie feel.

    There is no standard approach to the application of effects on pictures in AARs. Fixiwee reflects that "I (added effects) at the beginning, but I thought that it looked cheesy...nearly all pictures are unedited." Dignan believes in a tempered approach to effects: "Sometimes I apply a simple color correction filter to give colors a more washed out look but usually my pictures are straight out of the game, unaltered". Skantarios admits that his limited application of effects is due "more to my lack of knowledge on how to do this effectively as well as the greater time commitment required to do so...If I had more time and skill, I would definitely do more to make the pictures better".

    Many AAR authors shared their thoughts on how they may use pictures in the future. LuckyLewis sees his style of pictures as a key to keeping his AARs unique, but admits that in future, "If anything, I’d probably take fewer and concentrate more on the writing...I don't want my AAR to become dependent on pictures to say the least...less is more,".

    Skantarios explains that his AAR was a great learning experience, and that his use of pictures in future would reflect those lessons learned. "I might also try to add in some other historical art shots that aren’t part of the game and bring in some graphic detail from outside to make the story better. The game gives you a lot of material to work with but there are still some elements that could be made better to show some of the items not covered in the battle.". He goes on to state "I have at times overused the pictures...I would make a more judicious use of them rather than throwing in all the 'good' ones and going from there...Also, I would probably incorporate more map screens to show the progress of the campaigns and to show the mid- and long-term objectives...I have done this to a certain extent but not as much as I would have wanted to.".

    For Dignan, his thoughts of future direction when using pictures take a very creative turn. "I actually toyed with the idea of doing an AAR using exclusively screen-shots, something in-between a motion picture and a text AAR...imagine a PowerPoint presentation with pictures that flip about every three seconds with fades, wipes and slow zooms...almost like a History Channel documentary with still photos".

    An interesting idea indeed.

    LuckyLewis' Liberation
    Skantarios' I am Skantarios! Rebirth of the Eastern Empire
    Dignan's A Cold Defeat,
    Fixiwee's History of Men

    Creative Writing - ‘All for one, and one for all‘! by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #22)

    It is almost as if people are born with a set level of creativity, with some drowning under the influence of as many ideas as there are birds in the sky while others struggle but can never quite rely on the fickle muses to do their bidding. They can hide it too, and some are just better at expressing it. Different writing styles aren’t the only way writers differ - their attitude to writing is important as well.

    We all know that starting a story is always the hardest part, but too many people are being put off writing of any sort, no matter how talented they may be, for whatever reason. There have been several articles in the CQ to encourage would-be writers, but I have another idea for those still to timid to reach for the proverbial quill and parchment, à la Harry Potter. Join a Creative Writing group!

    ‘Oh my god, lock him up!’ you shout. If I'm too embarrassed to have a go at home, then how’s sitting around with a group of random people going to help my anxiety?! Well, the most obvious solution to any self-consciousness has already been posed by Juvenal and the CQ writers: through TWC is an excellent way to go. You get (mostly ) intelligent critiques, sub-forums which let’s you be sure only people who are going to want to read your sort of story will do so, and the anonymity of sitting at your computer and being completely removed from any overdone banter such as you might receive in school. But actually, clubbing together in a group with other writers can be another great way to get scribbling, especially in another light.

    After warming up on TWC, critiquing many AARs and writing ‘Caelus Morsus Luminius’, I joined a writer’s group at my new 6th form school about a month ago. First of all, like most things, it was good for getting me out of my little niche in writing historical fiction, and focus more on overall skills. But after the first two slightly uneasy session, even for one as reserved as myself, it became much more relaxed, not the Alcoholics Anonymous style meeting I had dreaded. It’s also great for picking up nifty little tricks and tips other writers around you use, and exposes you to a lot more ways to write.

    It helps to focus creative ideas as well: every time I’ve been, I’ve listened to a song (often from Rattle & Hum/Achtung Baby/Joshua Tree, massive U2 fan!) and it clicked an idea in my head, so I wrote a piece for next week inspired by that. Also, these groups are much more practical in the long term (not just because all the good looking girls in my year go ) but because they often have a view to publishing publicly. In my case, a new teacher at my school who attends an adult version of such a group (but is the only ‘un-published’ one..) which has produced writers whose works have sold very respectably. Although, the free online publisher is a great way to publish, as with ‘Sword of Neamha’ (direct from TWC!) and Saienga’s ‘The Balance of Vengeance and Honour’, these groups can often be at least as productive, if not more so than this independent method: more people to tell you what you’re doing wrong at each stage of the process.

    So if you’re looking to emerge from your shell and take up the writer’s mantle, then as well as TWC writing forums and Lulu, creative writing groups are an excellent way to go. As long as you aren’t immature about it, you can mix it with the best of them relatively regardless of age, gender, race, general differences, etc., and you’d be amazed how many of the more bluff, outwardly uncaring individuals around you are more interested in writing their own stories. I certainly was.

    Characters and Time Period: the Bad and the Ugly by dezikeizer (Critic's Quill #24)

    By dezikeizer
    Most people probably know me for my helping with spelling and grammar errors, but in the time I’ve done that I’ve also read plenty of AARs. Along the way I’ve noticed something of a trend.

    Some people seem to prefer to go the honorable and just route with characters in their AARs in Rome Total War and Medieval 2. In fact, at times it leaves me feeling that too many AARs are disneyesque, with the side of good always winning in the end. History was different, and many times ruthlessness and distasteful actions were necessary to succeed. For example, a supposedly honorable ruler, Philip Augustus of France after returning to France attacked the lands of Richard the Lionhearted while Richard was still off on crusade.

    Now, I’m not saying that there wasn’t considerable honor and justice during these periods, but the truth was probably much closer to somewhere in-between this and the opposite end of the spectrum. As such, incorporating this into AARs can add considerable authenticity, making it seem more like the time period the story takes place in. In ancient and medieval times life was often brutish, nasty, and short, with life expectancy around 30-35. People died often quite young, and many times of diseases easily treatable today.

    Furthermore, it was customary even in ancient Greek and Roman armies that if a city resisted siege it would be sacked or worse exterminated. Carthage in 146 BC is only the most famous example, but there are plenty of others, such as that of Jerusalem in AD 70, or Corinth in 146 BC. Among barbarians and nomads it was even more common. Medieval armies were never particularly well trained and there are plenty of sackings and massacres of cities there too. So again, doing so in your AARs adds authenticity for those time periods.

    This grittiness and nature of life for people during ancient and medieval times certainly shaped the people of the time period, and not necessarily for the better. In a harsh world, men often had to be ruthless to survive and less than savoury characters did quite well. It would only be fitting then, to sometimes have less than savory characters conquer empires, and succeed. It only adds to the flavor of the story and the time period, where truly ruthless men like Genghis Khan conquered empires.

    That is part of why I liked I Am Skantarios so much, that what war can do to a person is shown, and that one doesn’t have to necessary be the most moral ruler to succeed. Now you may be thinking that I’m saying that it’s acceptable for rulers to act like that. I’m not approving of the actions they took from a moral standpoint, merely a practical standpoint. I wouldn’t do such thing if I were in their position, but that’s often how things were done back then. However, writers often write about good characters, perhaps out of the influence of today’s standards and norms, and or that they identify with honorable actions. These can make it hard to identify and connect with the way things were during those time periods, but in my opinion, one should still do their utmost to connect even with these elements. Doing so adds in your AAR adds a certain flavor and uniqueness to the story, as it goes against the grain, and shows the realities of war, of leading a nation, and again of the time period.

    You may be wondering, then, about how to use darker characters in AARs besides as the antagonist, but instead as the protagonist or supporters of the protagonist. Well one thing to note is that they don’t have to be out to conquer the world, instead they can be reacting to threats to their power or even their life. In this case, they may merely be accumulating power to make sure that they are safe from being killed or losing their position. One way to get in that mindset is to think of how someone who is very suspicious of others. There is also the possibility that they after sufficient hardship and warfare became dark, ruthless, and perhaps even cruel. This would be similar to Emperor Skantarios in I Am Skantarios.

    There are plenty more possibilities to types of darker characters that can be used, and which type they are definitely has an effect on how a writer would use them in a story.

    After all, if you’re going to roleplay as you play the game that goes with the aar, then the nature of the main character affects what you do. In case of darker characters this can determine things like how aggressive they are in pursuit of power, and in starting wars. Using and understanding their mindset, even if it’s very different from your own, dramatically effects what you do in your AAR.

    I hope this has been helpful and provided food for thought for immersion in the time period and using darker characters in AARs. Perhaps more such characters will be present in AARs soon.

    Experiences of a first-time AARtist by Boustrophedon (Critic's Quill #25)

    1. General outline
    In this article for the Critic’s Quill I will try and offer some advice to fellow AAR writers as well as discuss some of the ups and downs I’ve experienced and the tricks and traps I’ve encountered while writing my very own first attempt to an AAR. This is by no means a manual to writing an AAR nor does it attempt to be one rather it is a personal journey I wish to share with you.

    Who might be interested in this article?

    Aspiring writers who are thinking of writing an AAR but are somewhat intimidated by the process of writing, and uploading pictures etc. might take courage at my bad and good experiences and those too shy to publish their work might be tempted to post it on the boards now. Experienced writers on the other hand might recognize some of the issues I raise and are invited to post their own thoughts on my experiences and opinions.

    2. Technical aspect
    I would first like to talk about the technical side of writing an AAR. This aspect should never be underestimated as it is rather important to the process of writing chapters and sharing your story with the community at TWC.[/FONT]

    While it may seem like a simple enough task of writing a story, several technical hiccups might stand in the way of your next update.

    Although there are quite a few AARs consisting almost entirely out of text, most writers utilize pictures to enhance their storytelling. When I started my AAR I used photobucket to upload my pictures and although it is a reliable website I found that it would sometimes cut my pictures down in size. I only noticed this when they were already uploaded in the chapter and so my pictures in the story were stretched or incomplete. I’m sure other aspiring AARtists with a widescreen monitor have experienced the same thing in the beginning. The advice I got was to upload them to imageshack which is an equally reliable website and keeps your pictures in the original size. It’s not that easy to find the right picture size for your story so trial-and-error will have to guide your way here.

    When I commence writing on a new chapter I first write the entire text in a word processor (MS Word, Open Office…) with remarks outside of the storyline concerning the adding of pictures, specific fonts or a special lay-out. I have gathered the pictures I want to use in a single map, easy to locate and upload them to the image hosting website.

    For example:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    The battle for Gaul was hardly over but the enemy were on the run and we had achieved victory...

    (bold italic Arial Narrow, size 16) [s poiler] insert picture of battle result [/s poiler]

    -leave 5 lines space open-

    The advantage of my approach is that you are safe against power fluctuations which tend to happen a lot in certain countries, safe against internet troubles when uploading it to TWC (disconnection, software malfunctioning,…) and you already have an idea of how your text will look like. This approach might take up more time than directly uploading it to your thread but you don't want to lose hours of work because of a technical glitch. This way you have a safety net.

    I've found a new friend in the edit button. He allows you to correct your grammar mistakes and typos (for the writers who don't have English as a first language), he allows you to update a post with new information for readers and so much more. Use it wisely and you will organize your AAR so much better.

    3. Feedback
    Like every other artist an AARtist appreciates feedback, even bad feedback as long as it's constructive criticism. He thrives on feedback and the readers' input.

    In my opinion experienced writers have usually found a way to keep themselves motivated and do not rely as much on feedback as the aspiring writers do to keep them interested in the story. They have also often found a certain rhythm in updating their story (e.g. one chapter/week). The aspiring writer wants to know what the reader likes and doesn't like, what he thinks of the characters, if the lay-out appeals to the public or not... We want to know what the readers think, but how to get people to leave their feedback?

    Here are some ways that I found will get your AAR noticed and inspire people to leave their comments.

    • Quid pro quo, my friends! Want writers and readers to visit your AAR and leave a comment? Why would they do that when they don't know you? Look up the major contributions on TWC (AARs or picture contests or any other type of content) and comment on them. Always be friendly and encourage your fellow forum members in their own projects. Provide a link to your own AAR and there will always be some who visit and comment. It's a beautiful synergy and you may meet interesting people.
    • Enter your work in a competition or at least visit the entries here. Not only does it encourage competitiveness among the writers, it also forces them to step up their game and improve on their skills. You will also be confronted with other writing styles and other stories, which might in turn enrich your own narration.
    • Visit the mod forum if you are using a mod and participate in the discussions going on there. Chances are higher you will find people who will be interested in your writing. A player of Europa Barbarorum is more likely to read a story with EB in it than read a story about Napoleon and his grand armée in Russia.

    As a new writer you also have to keep in mind that there are many people viewing the forums as visitors. This means they are not a member and so cannot post their comments or leave rep/feedback. I'm afraid we writers will never know what they think since TWC does not allow visitors to post a message. Many views does not mean many members have read your story but did not leave a comment. I found this frustrating in the beginning as I had 1000 views but only 25 or so comments until I found out that TWC garners much attention from non-members. Don't let this demotivate you!

    On a final note there is a special type reader who will follow your AAR avidly but not leave any comments. I received quite some rep from this kind of reader and I'm sure I'm not the only writer who experienced this.

    A last suggestion I have for the aspiring writers is to interact with your readers. Involve them in the story, answer their questions and make them feel like a part of the future of the AAR. Without your readers the story is just text on a screen so appreciate them like I do.

    4. Storyline
    Stories need to grow just like trees. They need a root (setting stage of your AAR), they need water and sunlight (new chapters) and they eventually die (conclusion of a story). Think of your characters as people and the story will easily come to you. A prince whose father died might be in need of a father figure? An heir who was disinherited might feel resentment towards the leader (good for a background story)? Your empire could become corrupt when your treasury is over a million. Incorporate these details from your campaign into your story and you can invent the rest from then on...the sky is the limit!

    5. Originality
    You only stand out in a crowd if you're different. The same can be said of writing AARs and I've found some ways to obtain a kind of originality which my readers seemed to appreciate. I made some custom ancillaries to better represent the specific roles the characters have. You don't have to look back to read what this general was doing again because you can just look at his ancillary and you see "ah this man is the commander of Judaeans". It was quite the trial-and-error before I got them up and running but I feel they add a unique feel to the AAR, something which I suspect will garner you much praise and attention from your readers. Always strive to try something different from the mainstream writing.

    6. Maintaining interest
    How to keep the literary flame burning? How to keep going with your AAR and maybe finish it one day? Many AARs have been started but they often don't get further than four-five updates. The writers usually lose interest in the story or the mod/game they are playing.

    I'm no different and have thought a few times about abandoning my AAR altogether. How to avoid losing interest?

    - I never write a new chapter when I don't want to. You can't write a good chapter if you'd rather be doing something else.
    - I write down good ideas I get during the day (when away from computer) and develop them later.
    - I look up some history on my mod/time period to keep the interest alive. I have been playing as the Ptolemaic kingdom and I found that many civil wars were fought between family members and even siblings. I included a little conflict in my AAR, which one reader found entertaining as it was historically justified.
    - I engage in other areas than writing. When taking the pictures for your AAR, edit them a bit and upload them in a "Post your picture"-thread. See if people like it and if they offer advise on how to improve them. This kind of feedback will inspire you to carry on with the AAR.

    7. Conclusion
    I hope this little article of mine has inspired people a bit. I wrote mainly from a personal experience and I wanted to portray the difficulties and joys of writing an AAR for the first time. More experienced writers are invited to comment on it or even refute everything I've said I hope you found this an interesting read and with that I conclude my humble contribution to the Critic's Quill.

    Regaining the Drive to Write by Thokran (Critic's Quill #26)

    Before I begin, I’d like to introduce you to a certain scene in Black Hawk Down. A battalion of Army Rangers were sent on a mission to extract a group of important Somali officials deep within a hostile district in the capital city of Mogadishu. The Rangers used surprise and speed to their advantage, catching the Somali militias off guard and using the momentum of their attack to make a quick extraction. Then, just as the mission starts coming to a close, a Black Hawk helicopter is shot down, and the Rangers are now tasked with a rescue mission to save those aboard the fallen helicopter. By this point, the militias are aware of the attack, and are ready to provide heavy resistance. General Garrison, the commander in charge of the mission grimaces. He sighs in resignation and makes a clear statement.

    “We’ve lost the initiative.”

    Initiative is what drives AARtists to start writing in the first place. It’s what motivates and drives them to provide a solid start to what they hope is going to be a great story. But what happens when that initiative is lost and you find yourself bogged down by a lack of will and time? Like a train derailed, it falls to you to find out how to get back on the tracks.

    Losing the initiative happens to the best of us. Whether it’s writer’s block or just a stressful workload that keeps you busy for a few weeks, it is inevitable that your AAR will hit some sort of speed bump along the way that halts its progress. Losing the initiative can lead to a lack of motivation to continue the AAR, and this is how many stories meet their untimely end. So then, how can you will yourself to continue on with this AAR you were once really pumped up about? How do you regain the motivation you once had to write? How do you get back on the tracks? Below are a few tips that you may find useful in keeping your AARs alive.

    1. Re-read your AAR: Sometimes it is easy for us to lose track of what we originally set out to do by writing our AARs. In such times, re-reading your AAR has many benefits to helping you get back on track. Reading through your own work helps jog your memory of what you’ve written so far, and provides you with an urge to finish or continue what you started with. Re-reading is also helpful in that it provides you another opportunity to look over any spelling or grammar mistakes you may have made the first time around, in essence giving your AAR an extra coat of polish and shine.

    2. Think of your Readers: Every established AAR has some sort of following, no matter how big or small. Readers are very important in that they provide you with the support and feedback that AARtists use to continuously use to improve upon their own work. If you have many readers, keep them in mind. In the end, it’s your AAR and only you can motivate yourself to write – but knowing that you have a good following of readers who enjoy your work really helps you to get that motivation going.

    3. Change the Pace: Sometimes a change of pace is the best thing you can do to reinvigorate your will to write. If you have writer’s block, try working on a different side story as a way to get you back in the mood to write again. Beer Money did just that not too long ago when he wrote A Man Possessed: A Fallout AAR. He himself admitted how that story helped him get back on track in writing his Hungary AAR, which he’s been working on for well over a year now. Sometimes a change of pace in updates is all that’s needed. Perhaps you’re no longer able to update bi-weekly as you used to do so before. That’s ok, your readers will understand if real-life obligations keep you from updating so often. AARs are meant to be flexible, so there tends to be no problem if bi-weekly updates turn into weekly or monthly updates.

    4. Take a Break: Again, life has a way of burning even the best of us out. That’s perfectly fine. Sometimes, the best course of action is to simply take a break from writing altogether and focus on other pursuits. You may find that by doing so, you start regaining the urge to write you once had. Breaks, just like changes of pace, are normal within an AAR and do not necessarily spell death for your AAR.

    5. Self-Motivation: So what do you do if you don’t have many followers, or you just can’t seem to get back into your story, even after having re-read it? What if changing the pace or taking a break just doesn’t seem to work? At that point, you have to consider just how much you want to continue your AAR or not. This is where your own self motivation comes into play. After all, it is YOUR story – it is up to you to determine whether a story is worth finishing or not. I myself had that issue early in my writing career with my second AAR, Heaven’s Descent. I was ultimately unable to continue with the story due to having lost the game files, but I perpetually suffered from a lack of will throughout that story’s short lifespan. There may be times where you feel that it’s better to cut your losses and start anew. That too is alright. A story can’t be forced out all the time, lest you want the quality to suffer. In the end, you are the author of your own story, and you are the one in charge of evaluating whether or not a story has both the promise and determination of its author needed to keep it going strong.

    The above were just a few tips commonly used to keep an AAR going strong, even when initiative, drive and motivation are at an all time low. They are by no means the only ones, but they are definitely some of the most commonly used methods, and are definitely worth keeping in mind. The great thing about these pointers is that they are all interrelated. Tip 4 has an effect on your readers, which in turn affects how you go about Tip 2. In essence, all these pointers are all part of a greater state of mind that all writers go through when they think about how to go about continuing their story.

    Remember that in the end, it is ultimately you who determines the future of your story. As the author, you’re the one who gets to decide whether or not continuing an AAR is worth it or even possible, given the circumstances you’re put into. I hope that by identifying these factors, this article can provide some sort of guidelines for AARtists who may have lost their way and are unsure of the fate of their story. Thank you for reading, and I wish all of you the best with your AARs!

    By Thokran

    The character limit has been reached, which is a good thing as it shows that many people write about writing. The second part of "Tips and thoughts" can be found here. The third part is here.

    AARtistry in action - Skantarios' epic retelling of the first Skantarios saga
    - Thokran's great epilogue after closing the Makurian AAR
    - Another fantastic epilogue in the RTW world by SonOfAlexander
    - TheBard's bold attempt to generate civil war in MTW II
    - A sample of la coupe's standard start of an update: map, music and heroes' list
    - My humble "Behind the Scenes" part in the Hungarian AAR
    - How Skantarios actually managed to do the civil war

    Tips outside of TWC - How does one AAR?
    - Writing-related links
    - The writers' encyclopedia
    - The writer's craft
    - Novel design (the snowflake method)
    Last edited by Radzeer; July 18, 2012 at 05:29 PM. Reason: Constantly updating

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    Aug 2010

    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    The Writers I.

    Interview with Juvenal by Fergusmck (Critic's Quill #2)

    Which was your first AAR? Why did you want to write it?

    It was Juvenal's Journal. I wanted to write a story about a Roman ancillary, envisaging him as a crackpot priest who interpreted everything in the game in terms of the conflict between patron Gods, but I couldn't get Europa Barbarorum to deliver the catastrophic defeats I wanted. In fact the other factions didn't want to attack me at all.

    Then I had a thought, suppose Juvenal had an ancestor, what might he have been doing in 280BC? So I chose Casse (Britons), where epic stories could happen without disturbing the course of recorded history, and wrote my story with Juvenal's ancestor as an observer. He gave me complete freedom to comment on the Casse and their antics from an outsider's point of view. I also couldn't help adding silly references to the 1970's, knowing that most readers here wouldn't get them, and yet still hoping someone might comment. I am currently redrafting and expanding the Journal over at the .ORG for my own amusement.

    How long have you been writing AARs? Why do you still write them?

    I started in November 2007, there was a bit of a lull last Spring, but I have now been writing steadily since last July.
    In the beginning I wrote just to see if I could. Having read many hundreds of novels in my life, I have a developed sense for what is good and bad, but I had never understood how to actually create stories like those I admired. Writers are often asked where they get their ideas from, and they never seem to have a satisfactory answer, so I thought writing would help me answer that question for myself.

    I continue to write partly because I want to develop my stories, but it is actually people posting on my thread that give me the biggest impetus to produce work on a regular basis. When people post saying they like my story it creates a kind of obligation for me to try to make something worthy of praise.

    What do you consider the weak points of your writing?

    I am not very good at giving emotions to my characters, they all seem to be rather cold and calculating. I also have a long way to go with dialogue, to make it more natural and to give my characters a unique voice.

    How often do you read other people's AARs? Do you have a favourite?

    I am feeling quite guilty about not reading enough of the work of others. I have managed to follow the work of SeniorBatavianHorse, and he is definitely my favourite at present. But there are several distinguished AARs that I know I should read. Luckily I can address this problem by contributing to The Quill.

    Which one of your own AARs is your favourite?

    I have found Spite of Severus most satisfying. It has a story that makes sense and has a good strong ending. I did some research into the Britannia of 410AD in order to give the story verisimilitude, and this fusion of campaign events and real history seems to have paid off really well.

    How long does it take, not including play time, for you to write an update?

    I try to do an episode every weekend. I reckon it is probably five or six hours work.

    How do you write an update (e.g. lots of redrafting, planning plot points, just spit it out etc.)?

    • Play some turns, taking screenshots.
    • Look at my screenshots and speculate about what was really happening in the campaign (I would sit back and puff on my Calabash pipe at this point if Sherlock Holmes hadn't taken it).
    • Wait for an interpretation to come that makes sense in terms of the wider story (can take several days).
    • Write an outline.
    • Work on the pictures (crop, caption, assemble into panels).
    • Search for and edit suitable images from the internet.
    • Replay parts of the campaign if necessary to get any extra screenshots needed for the story.
    • Expand the outline into a draft.
    • Wait for a day or two.
    • Review and rework the draft, rewording and expanding as necessary.
    • Upload the pictures and post the episode

    Do you find yourself playing Total War (Rome, Medieval or Empire) more for the game, or for your (possibly potential) AARs?

    I play my AAR campaign just for the AAR (in the end I may find I am not even trying to win it if the story demands that). I play other campaigns for the game, but I am open to ideas for future AARs. What I am looking for is fresh ways of telling a story. I have seen some really clever things done by others on these boards. For example an AAR where the player is completely inactive and just watches. A campaign where the player manipulates the other factions with Force Diplomacy, a campaign from the point of view of a single unit. There are a lot of possibilities.

    Do you ever think you will stop writing, if so, when?

    It could happen, but I hope it won't. I think that creative writing is a good and fulfilling thing to do. I went down the sciences route at school and university, so I hadn't written anything creative since my teens (a while ago now). Now that I am trying to write, I find it endlessly fascinating (as well as frustrating) because the more I achieve, the more I see what could be done if only I knew how to write it.

    Where do you get your inspiration for your AARs, other than from the game?

    For Roman history there are the John James books, I Claudius, HBO Rome and internet research (for the period and setting). But for story, I have every book I have ever read and every film seen as inspiration.

    Juvenal is the author of several successful AARs including
    'Spite of Severus' and it's sequel 'Severus the God'

    Interview with Theodotos I by Fergusmck (Critic's Quill #3)

    Your first AAR was an EB based one 'Across the Water'. What inspired you to start writing AARs, and why did you write this one particularly?

    I have to give credit here to a friend of mine from the Org, a user named Chirurgeon. He is a legend among EB players for his detailed and extensive AARs. He's here on TWC as of recently, but has been unable to gain much of a following. It's a real shame—I suggest you interview him if you can succeed in contacting him. So, he and others like him were my inspiration. I've been a writer for years and aim to write on a professional level in the future.
    As for the story itself, it turned out nothing like I had anticipated. The characters drove the story forward in ways I had not initially imagined and I found myself very much along for the ride. For example: the early interplay between the protagonist, Cadwalador, and his soon-to-become bitter enemy Cavarillos. I never intended for them to become foes, but that was the way their characters played out most naturally. And then the AAR ended with the defeat of the Aedui and the death of my narrator, a break from most AARs on the forums.

    Your current AAR 'Sword of Albion' is a continuation of that Rome era one, but in this time it is based in a Medieval setting. Why did you decide to go this route?

    Impulse, really. I had bought Med2 a few months earlier and downloaded the Kingdom of Scots mod for it. I got to thinking of the final battle from Across the Waters and wondered what would happen if someone chanced upon the battlefield almost fifteen centuries later. That has led to the current story and its winding twists among the glens and alleyways of medieval Scotland.

    What, in your view, is the weak point of your writing style?

    That's easy. Lack of humor. As one of my Orgah readers told me, “you write the most unrelentingly cheerless stories I've ever read.” It's rather strange, because I'm the sort of person who finds the irony of life itself quite humorous. But humor and drama often have difficulty mixing and overall I prefer writing drama. Difficulties and sorrow make for better plot twists, and the AAR format only contributes to that. Regrettably.

    You are a frequent contributor to the Tale of the Week competition. Why do you find it so appealing?

    They have helped conquer my other weakness, which was the difficulty of writing short stories. I have the tendency to be long-winded and had avoided the short-story format for that precise reason. Now, however, I'm quite comfortable with stories of 300-500 words and feel that my writing has improved as a result. And, let's face it, the competition is fun, period. I enjoy matching skills with other people.

    Are you a fan of any one type of AAR, or any for that matter, and if so, what kind?

    That depends. If the AAR is about a game I don't have(like Empires), I prefer picture-heavy AARs, because I want to see the game itself. Other than that, I tend to lean to story-based, text-heavy AARs like my own—and there's not all that many of them here on the forum.

    How often do you read other peoples AARs, and could you give us some of your favorite AARs, and reasons why you enjoyed reading them?

    Not as often as I should. Between real-life and modding, I barely squeeze in enough time to write my own, much less read some of the fantastic work others have put out there. That said, I do have some favorites. I mentioned Chirurgeon earlier—I should add my fellow comrade from the Org, Lysimachos, with his long-running Legacy of Megas Alexandros. I must read Juvenal's work in full when I get some free time, the excerpts I've read have been quite good. And there's a number of new writers rising the forefront, Sunbird Alkibijad and Ratbag being two of the better ones that have caught my attention.

    Where do you get your inspiration for your AARs from, other than from events in the game of course? How much do you draw on books, films, other AARs, etc.?

    Actually, very little of my inspiration comes from the game. Let's face it, the MTW2 AI simply isn't intelligent enough to create real story complications. EB was different, the AI put up a stiff fight and eventually ended up defeating me handily—something I had not originally put into the story. As for outside inspiration—it's just the same tried and true story-writing recipes of centuries gone by. For stylistic inspiration, I would have to state that I rely heavily on the King James Version of the Bible as one of the most beautifully written books in the language. The verb tenses, the sentence structure, everything about the translation is breathtakingly alive. And I have attempted to carry some of that drama of language over into my AARs.

    Sometimes AARtists find themselves playing the game purely for their AAR, and not to enjoy the game. Do you find yourself playing Total War (Rome, Medieval or Empire) more for the game, or for your (possibly potential) AARs?

    I play the games very little. I can play the game for an hour and come away with enough material for a month or two of updates. I don't take notes, and just enough screenshots to support the story forming in my head. Then I patch them together. And I don't play extensively outside of it, just enough to pick up new ideas for modding and see how they work.

    Do you ever think that you will give up writing AARs or submitting a story to TotW? If so, when, and why?

    Ah, this is the bitter part. This is probably my last AAR—and I know I've said that before, but this time I mean it. I have a four-hundred-page manuscript for a novel sitting on my shelf and it will require all my energies to ensure that it sees the light of day. As for TOTW, I will stop competing when I secure my gold MAARC medal. It is not that I would not still enjoy participating, but it would not be fair to others that wish to achieve their own medals. I've always believed that once you reach the pinnacle and achieve high honor yourself you should step aside and get out of the way of others trying to do the same thing.

    Thanks for interviewing me. It's been a pleasure and I predict a long and promising run for the Critic's Quill.

    Theodotos is the author of two successful AARs, including Across the Waters: A Story of the MigrationSword of Albion: A Clan MacDougall. As well as this he is a frequent contributor to the Tale of the Week competition.

    Interview with ReD_OcToBeR by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #4)

    You said at the beginning of Ishtar that you had published another AAR before that had failed. Had you tried to do this multiple times, or was Ishtar your second try at an AAR? And did your choice of subjects differ, ending up as the Seleucids or not?

    Yes, I did say that as I had another AAR called "The Rise of the Greek City States" which is probably still deep within the crevices of the AAR forum with a few missing links and whatnot by now. It was not a failure because it did not get a chance to become anything as my computer decided not to turn on one day. I got it fixed rather quickly from a friend but I lost my data beyond my documents. I could not restart the campaign as it was a mature campaign. So in a way through huge disappointment "Ishtar" almost never happened. I thought to myself: "Well I gotta start another one, but with who?" I looked around and noticed there were hardly any AARs focusing on the Seleucid Empire. I knew it would be a tough campaign and a little harder from a Greek City States one, but I wanted to do it. I am a huge fan of ancient Greek history having to do with all aspects, especially of Sparta, Alexander the Great, and the Seleucid Dynasty. So it was only natural for me to give it a go. Over the years I had always quit Seleucid campaigns due to frustrations of many fronts, but this time I was determined and here we are lol.

    What do you consider to be the weak points of your writing?

    The weak points I'd say are that a lot of the time I do not dwell deep into a character's "inner self". I graze the edges of them and don't really give the reader an inside look of them. I am working on this with my latest character though: Argeos. People will get a good taste of him. Another would be my grammar, because I am not the greatest speller around and rely heavily on spellcheckers. It's not that I don't understand how to write, its just I have have a hard time finding the right words to fit here and there. I was never a great English student but loved to read deep into history books and gained most of my knowledge that way. Another reason for the mistakes are my eyes: I wear special contacts for them, near the end of the day my eyes are "shot", and since I mostly do updates at night, the suffering shows lol. Thirdly there are times when the pictures are the only thing holding the update together while the text just "leans" against it which is caused by me just not planning it out properly and just rushing into it.

    Your AAR became famous very quickly on the RTW AAR sub-forum - are there any Rome AARs out there now that impress you particularly?

    Well the AAR that instantly stuck out to me when I joined TWC was MAA's Pyrrhic Dynasty because the alternate history of a Hellenic Power ruling over the Mediterranean in his campaign was very believable and just plain epic. It's like reading a little history book if the Greeks took Rome's spot ruling over the known world. It's a rather perfect balance of great writing and screenshots. Other AARs that truly impresses me right now in the RTW AAR forum are "The Eastern Eagle" and "Those Who Go Together" solely because the writing reads like a book I'd pay money for.

    You mentioned liking Greek history and I know you like the film 'Alexander' - is history a big part of what you do here at the forums, or do you mainly prefer the creative writing in AARs, TOTW etc... ?

    The main reason why I signed back onto the TWC forums was to one ask questions and most importantly to post my campaign in the Roma Surrectum forums. I just wanted to share like many other do for all mods. I say "back" onto the forums because I was signed up years back when Rome Total War was released mainly to download units and chat with other modders and people with requests for making a specific unit, giving ideas and input, talking about the game etc. I have since forgotten what my old user name was, therefore I signed up as I am now. My main reason now for being on the forum is for the AAR section which I owe Sunbird a thanks for introducing me to the AAR scene. He seen my posts in the RS forums and pushed me to start an AAR as he seen I had a knack for taking pictures and writing. At first I did not know the meaning of AAR. I looked around and soon educated myself rather quickly and started my own with no experience really. So here I am a few months later loving the AAR scene because I myself am a creative person and just enjoy telling stories and reading other's work.

    So do you like to get actively involved in modding yourself or as more of a creative contributor... or other? And you say you like writing stories - are there any outlets for your story-writing besides your AAR, like TOTW or something completely unrelated to the TWC forums?

    Well not anymore since there are full complete modifications for RTW now unlike the old days when people were awed by single unit skins and whatnot. I know the basics of adding units, and buildings, modifying them etc, but nothing major to talk about. I'd say just a creative contributor by giving ideas and opinions more than anything. To touch on my writing, there really isn't any outlet around besides my AAR on TWC. It was just more of a personal thing that I kept to myself until I started posting with my empires in the RS forums and then my AAR. A lot of my work is more visual outside of gaming and writing. As a pastime I build models of cars and have won contests in the past. I am also a good sketcher and love to draw anything ancient history or automotive related such as Hellenistic warriors/ armies/ buildings etc. All in all I have an affinity for many things, but Greek History is at the top of that list by far.

    What is your favourite TW game?

    My favourite TW game is by far Rome Total War because it's timeless, through the creation of awesome mods such as SPQR, RS, EB, DTW, XGM etc. I played Medieval 2 for quite awhile when it first came out but it just didn't quite have what Rome had. For myself graphics are not my number one concern, its the other content given to the player. Also the time period of Rome suits my interests better than Medieval, ie. the Greeks, Romans. Both are great games in their own right, and I do play Stainless Steel from time to time when I need a break from pikes or Romans and feel like going on a crusade or two lol.

    What do you do to relax besides Rome Total War?

    Besides playing Total War games, these days to relax I work on my car, and hang out with others who also share my love for them. I'm one of those car nuts lol. I just love making noise and going for long drives in my Grand Prix. Sunny days involve a case of beer or some rum with a few friends out on the deck. Life is good.

    Finally, do you have any tips for any wannabe AAR writers who have read Ishtar?

    Well from the short time span that I've been writing/posting Ishtar I've learned a few things. The first thing I done was to look around at other people's AARs to see what had been done, spot weaknesses, spot strong points, read the popular ones, read the not-so popular ones etc, because when I started I really didn't know what an AAR was. I had to educate myself on "their" build up and what made a good AAR. Honestly when I started, I wanted to post something great and popular. I had sort of a drive but didn't expect anything going into it. Don't set your expectations high.

    - Never ask " Does anyone like it?… is it bad?… blah blah..". Wait for people to post their thoughts. good or bad. I know that for myself I get annoyed by people who ask that.

    - Do not expect people to catch onto your AAR right away because you are stepping into a realm of giants where some people are strict followers of certain well established authors or AARs that are tough cookies to break. If your AAR is liked and you update frequently, people will notice eventually, while some will never post in your AAR even if they are popular users. Sometimes it takes many updates for people to post their thoughts because they lurk, like I do on many AARs.
    - Do your best to proof read and keep spelling mistakes out of your AAR. This draws some people away instantly. I am still struggling with this, but I'm human and sometimes cannot spot a mistake for the life of me.
    - Always have a problem in your story that must be resolved through the use of a character/s. Readers always like something huge that looks impossible to overcome.
    - I like to use suspense and cliffhangers to hook the reader to the next update. The longer people have to wait for an amazing ending to resolve the cliffhanger, the better. This is what drives T.V ratings, why not hijack it into AARs lol.
    - Enjoy your campaign and AAR. Don't fall into the trap of just updating because you "have to". Pick a faction no one ever uses. Do something different, try new ideas, take small events of the campaign and use them for your story or for major points. Use everything the campaign has to offer; "Just look around". Finally when you start an AAR have a strong starting post, they can really make a difference and personally they attract me when I click on a new AAR.

    ReD_OcToBeR is the writer of the RS AAR,
    The Ishtar Gate to Alexandria, reviewed in Issue 3 of the Critic's Quill. He has won the most recent MAARC, for April, so our congratulations go out to him for some wonderful work, and let's hope he keeps it up.

    Interview with JerichoOnlyFan by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #13)

    1. What inspired you to write your AAR 'The Proud Blood of Germania'?
    That’s a tough one. I had read many AARs like yours and like Red October’s and I got interested in the method, and I thought that I could do at least as good as some of the best AARs out there, so I decided to start one. I browsed throughout the pages of the AAR section and saw only EB, RS, Roman AAR, Random Hellenic Faction AAR..... So I decided to make a barbarian AAR, then I browsed through the faction unit rosters and I chose the Germanics given their diversity of troops. And so I started writing.

    2. So you liked the German faction. Do you mostly play as barbarian factions, or are Rome/Greece/Carthage more your bag?
    My thing is Carthage actually, always good to crush those silly Scipii, elephants and all. I really like Carthage, but playing barbarians is great fun to me. The berserkers are really cool to watch and the cavalry kicks arse, so yes playing barbarian is my bag as you say it, I love Carthage as well though.

    3. What would you consider to be the weak points of your writing?
    I’m guessing you are familiar with it, but creating a character and sticking with it through to the very end is quite tough. The part concerning making a coherent history is difficult as well, how to interpret what is going on in the campaign map? How can I introduce such and such movements into the main history? Things like that.

    4. It varies from person to person, but would you say that you go on TWC for the history more than the RTW, or vice versa?
    I love RTW, it’s one of my favourite games of all time, and I didn’t know TWC existed until little time ago; so finding it and joining it has been a double gift. I have been able to talk about the game I love and have been able to read some great histories by some writers that have capabilities of publishing in hard paste books, so it has been a shared interest by my part; I want to make a good history and if I can do it through this awesome game (RTW), all the better.

    5. As you clearly like RTW a lot (though if you're reading this interview I think that goes for you too ), do you have any mods or not, as you chose to do your AAR in RTW Vanilla?
    Mods... No, I haven’t got any mods I’m playing RIGHT NOW, mostly due to the fact I only discovered TWC recently, of course when I joined the forums I was like... in utter awe of the amount of mods in the joint. I have played Roma Surrectum, the Fourth Age (LOTR inspired mod), both of them are great and I had tons of fun playing with them, and that’s about it of my experience with mods, though I want to try some more in the future.

    6. Do you think that your AAR would have been even better if it was on RS or EB?
    What I have heard most about on EB and experimented with on RS was the increased AI capabilities, although I was pleasantly surprised with the AI in my vanilla campaign. Recently, they actually tried to flank me, and they destroyed 3 out of 4 of my phalanxes with that tactic, unexpected to say the least, so as far as AI goes, I think it would have been the same. Now respecting the visual stuff, I would have liked to use Roma Surrectum but ultimately decided that the pictures were to be in second terms compared to the history, so I decided to use the Vanilla RTW. You see, I didn’t want to become *something pretty to look at* and I don’t think I’m that good with pictures anyway, so using RS or Vanilla is ultimately the same for me.

    7. It's true that RS is less concerned with history than EB (though that may change with RS2), but the Vanilla RTW is known for being very historically inaccurate. But would you really be so concerned that it would make you change mod?
    I better get me a fire-proof vest, for I may get flamed by my response. I wasn’t concerned about being historically accurate, you see in the end it’s kinda irrelevant if the mod is historically accurate for it is the writer who is going to give that sense of authenticity, and besides from my point of view, the historical accuracy of some mods (*cough EB cough*) can be quite overwhelming for a reader and it also restricts in some way the creative flow. Vanilla RTW gave me the freedom to move and expand as I liked (*cough phalanxes origins story cough*). I’m very happy as to how my Vanilla campaign is developing, as it offers a wide spectrum of action, many paths for me to choose, many histories to deliver, and I will eventually choose one path and stick to it. This sense of randomness, if you will, is quite enjoyable to me and besides it adds some challenge in tying up the history together.

    8. Very good, very good... New subject. What sort of games do you like to play as well as RTW?
    Shooters and adventure have been my stuff recently: Star Wars game as well, like Jedi Academy, God of War and Road to Hill 30 (WW2 Shooter) have been amongst my time consuming activities. We can’t forget Age of Empires 2 - I still go old school with that game. Some survival horror, (Kuon) but not really my thing. Also I would like to recommend a game called Katamary Damacy. It’s great fun, it has no story and I can’t classify it into a genre, but it’s like nothing you have ever seen, and the music is great too.

    9. What contributions do you make to TWC other than your AAR?
    Well, whenever I see someone asking a question that I can answer with certainty, I go and answer it. I also tread in many subsections of TWC: you can find me talking about a new disc in the Arts section, or you can hear my wisdom (yeah right) in the great halls of the Athenaeum. I also participate in the Universitas Ludus Olympus forum, where you can hear me talking about football and other sports. I can throw a helping hand in the Personal Help and Advice from time to time, and I try to stay in touch with videogames news in the Circus Maximus.

    10. How do you like to relax when away from TWC?
    I’m the kind of guy who pours some whisky in a glass, lights up a cigarette and puts Franky Sinatra on the stereo, that’s when I go for deep relaxation. Other than that I find the act of writing quite relaxing, also I enjoy playing football (or soccer if that’s how you roll) and just venting things out in the field. Also I enjoy going to clubs on the weekends with a bunch of friends: funny and relaxing.

    11. Good ideas . Well, thank you for the interview, and to round it off, one last question - any tips for any keen-to-learn AARtists to be out there?
    It was no problem at all answering your questions. Thanks for the interview, my advice for anyone who wants to enter the writers chopping block is: Read a lot, take a deep breath, and take the plunge into AAR-tistry.

    Many thanks to AARtist JerichoOnlyFan for taking this interview, who continues to write his long running and widely successful RTW Vanilla AAR, The Proud Blood of Germania.

    The Joys of Writing by Ariovistus Maximus (Critic's Quill #14)

    The Joys
    of Writing

    Hi there! I’m Ariovistus Maximus, a new member of the Critic’s Quill staff. Being a relatively new AARtist, I’d like to tell you about, what I think, is a great pleasure: creative writing.

    My own writing experience is mostly in the research/technical spectrum. I especially enjoy historical research. But when I began writing my AAR, my first extensive effort in creative writing, I was introduced to the wonderful world of fiction.

    Now, creative writing isn’t for everybody. It just might not be “your thing.” That’s okay. The point is to enjoy yourself, after all. However, you won’t know until you try it, right?

    Well, I’ll tell you, if writing does turn out to be “your thing,” you will find it to be an enjoyable and enriching experience! I'd encourage EVERYONE to try out their writing talents. Good things await, I assure you.

    To tell you the truth, I think that readers miss out on a lot of things! Sure, they get to sit back and relax as the story unfolds (that is a plus), but they don’t get to experience the excitement behind the scenes.

    Writing takes work, but you will enjoy several things that only writers experience.

    You will be able to guide the story. It really is enjoyable to use your imagination and exercise your creative side. You get to see the story from a perspective that no one else can see. The outcome is completely up to you. You can take the story wherever you want to go. As you weave the story together, piece by piece, it just gets better and better.

    You too will become caught up in the story. Although you are the writer, and “control” where the story goes, you’ll be surprised to find that a good story takes a life of its own. Once you get into the story, and build the foundation, it begins to come alive. Your story will have a natural flow; you can guide it, but it really is amazing to watch as your narrative grows and grows.

    You will also have an effect upon your readers. Personally, I find it very exciting to guide the reader through my story. Sometimes, you just give them bits and pieces, guiding them here and there, and other times you can overwhelm them with a surprise event or a sudden revelation. The way you write will make your reader think in various ways. When you realize this, you will find great pleasure in exploring new methods of writing; methods to immerse the reader in your plot and characters.

    Finally, as a writer you will learn how to express yourself. As your skills grow and grow through practice, you will discover new ways of thinking, and be that much more effective at articulating your thoughts and feelings.

    The more you write, and the more effort you put into your writing, the more you will experience the benefits writing brings.

    Hopefully, you are motivated to give writing a try. If that is the case, it just so happens that this forum provides you with the perfect place to experiment with your talents! The TWC provides a number of opportunities.

    If you just want to get your feet wet with a short story or two, you might try entering the Tale of the Week contest.

    If you want to go deeper, you might enter into a fully fledged After Action Report in the AAR Forum.

    You can write a story with a different (non-TW) focus, or explore the world of poetry, in the Creative Writing forum!

    Or, you would care to express yourself more personally in the Member Diaries and Blogs forum.

    Whatever your preference, the TWC community is a great place for the beginner to try his hand at writing. Hope to see you in the Writers Study!

    Interview with Beer Money by Saint Nicholas (Critic's Quill #15)

    1. So give us the gory details, tell us everything about yourself! Why you're here, what your interests are, what you do at 9pm on a Saturday night, that sort of thing.
    Out of college, now corporate drone. I'm a very casual gamer - I bought RTW in 2008. Ha. Found this site initially googling for RTW unit ratings, downloaded the RTR and EB mod and was blown away by the level of immersion and how there was this whole community devoted to historical gaming. The mods here are complex labors of love and I have the utmost respect for the creativity and attention to detail on these by the modders. Then I read my first AAR and well, got hooked. More importantly I had now found a way to enjoy my game time and keep my brain from atrophying from work. Ha. 9PM Sat? - usually with the gf unless she works.

    2. So your sequel AAR Catalunya: A Consolidation of Power just won first place in the most recent MAARC competition, how do you feel about that? Did you expect to win? It was a great AAR by the way.
    Well thanks for the compliment! And thanks to everyone that voted. Yeah, I was really surprised at winning on just my 2nd submission. No, I did not expect to win. There are a lot of good writers and lots of good stories I was up against.

    3.Tell us about your most recent creation Látomásai Királyok! - Visions of the Kings, what is it about?
    Its an AAR from a game I played alongside Barcelona when I was trying out the Sicilian Vespers mod. Its again about a young king trying to assert himself in a land surrounded by varied enemies. Don't want to give to give too much away but it will soon gain momentum as things get messy.

    4. It seems you are a big fan of the Sicilian Vespers mod, all your AAR's being written with that as a base. Do you perchance play any other mods? Can we expect an AAR from a different mod in the future? Do you feel this mod gives you a good platform from which to write AAR's, some special feature that makes it easy to write updates? Or do you just enjoy playing the mod?
    I love the mod - very balanced but that was just the first mod I tried for M2TW so it spawned the 1st two AARs. Ive played SS, BC, Deus Lo Vult, Lands, etc for M2TW and all are awesome (although I wish DLV wouldn't crash so much). Again, so much detail! Ive got AARs planned for some of the others too, its just SV was the first I started taking screenshots for. Ha. But I would never play a vanilla game again for either RTW or M2TW. Hopefully Ill even be doing my Greek EB AAR here before EB II launches.

    5. Is it true that you once fought off an enraged boar with naught but a stout stick and lots of yelling and shouting?
    Well, if by enraged boar you mean a large girlfriend of a girl at a bar I was talking to...then possibly.

    6. OK sorry, no more stupid questions, I promise. What is your inspiration for writing AAR's? Where do you get your drive and motivation to write a tale thousands of words long?
    Ask away - answering funny questions still beats turning in excel spreadsheets. This gaming community is amazing and everyone here seems to play for the immersive experience that the game and mods provide. As for motivation - When I play these long turn based games I always develop a link to the characters/armies. I mean most of these games are tons of hours of game play and its tough to not get into character when you consider how these games generate family trees and specific traits - how can you not? I think the AAR is a great way to record the history you just made. And its a way to look back on those grand campaigns that you play and have something to show for it versus some saved game file on your hard drive. Plus when you have guys like Amaz and Dezikeizer rooting for the characters in your AARs all along the way it makes you more determined about writing the next chapter!

    7. Do you think history or events that happened in real life have any influence or add any flavour to your AAR's? Do you try and play your campaigns modeled on history? Or do you try and change what might have been, rewrite history itself?
    I know a LOT of people here are history buffs and the modders are very specific to get things accurate but I just run with how events pan out in the game. I probably have done some things where in real life wouldn't be true but the game clearly does stuff that would have never happened as well - I mean the pope calls a crusade on Paris? Yeah, OK. So that opens things up. I read up a little every now and then to see what was going on at the time in history so I'm not writing things like, "and then the king took out his machine gun..." but for me the game is to write your own history and story so I have fun with it.

    8. Is there a part or parts of your writing that you think you could improve on? A weak link in a very strong chain?
    I wish I could do more descriptive battles but with fighting such a key element of the game its difficult to not become repetitive. Maybe thats why my AARs are more story driven. Still, I think I need to work on that a bit for important battles.

    9. Have you ever heard of Tale of the Week? Ever thought of clashing quills with the budding writers there? Do you think it is a good place for writers to hone their skills and gain the confidence to write a full fledged AAR?
    You clearly haven't seen my sig file. I did a couple - didn't win but I personally thought both were good - especially the poem one. I was proud of that one since its such a tough form. Yes, definitely TOTW rocks and we should see more writers contribute - as with anything, practice helps plus you usually get to talk with and support of the others. And you find about other mods! Cant wait to play Thera and ROP for example.

    10. What do you think of the AAR/story side of TWC in general? Do you think it is a popular area of the forum, do you think it could use more advertisement, is it a good concept in general?
    I think the AAR side is GREAT for TWC - helps build the community. Not sure of its popularity but any ads for it are good ads. I mean how does Hearts of Iron have 50 billion members when that game plays as if it was built by accountants? Personally I wish we'd consolidate the AAR section so its easier to see ALL AARs in one place not just those from Rome or M2TW or Empire when you are reading. The only peeve I have is in the forums sometimes people get a little hard on newbies, obviously younger writers and foreign writers. I know they are trying to help their craft but my feeling is that you don't want to put up a barrier. I think too much criticism and users who might have given it a shot back off for fear of getting ripped. I know everyone is trying to help each other but if a guy who maybe isn't the best writer or doesn't have superior command of English just wants to put up an AAR for fun and because he was inspired by others here, let him go with it. Maybe hes just trying to get away from the real world like I am.

    11. Who is your idol here on TWC, if you have one. Who is your writing guru, what I mean is, do you have a mentor or someone with whom you learned all that you know from?
    The author of the first AAR I stumbled across is really one of the greatest - LlamaD's AAR-MEN-NIEN. Completely irreverent, off-the-wall but an immense amount of detail and thought went into that and its just a staggering work of genius IMHO for an AAR. And that hooked me so I suppose that guy even though I don't think hes on here anymore. As for gurus - everyone who comments or posts or critiques - I absorb everything in. Thats whats great about this site. Although a special nod to Nazgul and Kallum who took the time to review my first AAR and I think get me a bit more noticed and made me realize people were reading. Oh and Thokran who I think started AARing right when I did - like starting a new school together. Ha.

    12. Have you thought about writing a comedy AAR? I heard those are really popular, after all, it can't all be soppy love stories and terrible war. What say you?
    Well Ive got a couple ideas but yeah, its on my to-do list.

    13. So I've probably bored you to death with all these questions but I have a couple more, do you have any advice for any potential AAR writer, any words of wisdom to impart?
    No no no. Again, ask away. Anybody can ask me anything anytime. Thats what the community is here for. Advice - yes: AARs are YOUR story and your labor of love - you write it or present it anyway you want. Take advice if its what you are looking for but above all put it down in your words. If you try to write it like someone else's AAR it will just be a poor copy of someone elses writing. Finally, have fun with it and don't think too much about what the rest of us think. Thats why we are all here - to enjoy and be passionate about a set of games that enhances our love of history and strategy gaming. Every time someone is too scared about what the community here will think and DOESN'T submit an AAR, write a TOTW, write an interview, etc we all lose IMHO.

    14. What is your opinion of pictures and screenshots in AAR's? Some people just want to read a great story and don't need illustration, while others only want to read a picture book with very little writing. Where do you stand on the pictures vs words front?
    LOVE EM! Again the greatness of the community and having more AARs and different types is that you get to see all manner of writing and expression. I like the pics because the game is very visual but look at Theodotos I - hes got a book coming and nary a screenshot!

    15. Alright nearing the end now, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Do you have any last words? Want to give a shout out to your mum or dad? Tell your girlfriend to feed the cat or anything?
    Yes, just thanks to everyone who follows and has read my AARs and to the other AAR writers, content editors, modders and TWC members who encourage me and give me feedback along the way. I always try to thank you individually because every comment and +rep means alot.

    Where do stories come from? by Juvenal (Critic's Quill #17)

    I have loved to read almost ever since I can remember. For a long time I just accepted stories as a child accepts everything else in life. They were not part of the normal world, but that didn't make them any less real (even though they were fiction).

    A good story for me was one that explored the boundaries of the possible, which is why I have had always had a problem with the Fantasy genre, where the arbitrary breaking of rules is a constant temptation. I wanted a story that felt like it could really happen, in a universe that, although it might be mysterious, ultimately made sense.

    It was only much later that I began to wonder where stories actually come from. I suppose it was part of my transition from childish uncritical acceptance of stories to an awareness that there was an author with an agenda manipulating what I would think of as the “pure” story.

    Thanks to TWC, I finally decided to try my own hand at story writing. The AAR form was something I had already dallied with as a teen, chronicling my solo wargaming efforts with Airfix figures. The writing may have been simplistic and naive, but it only had an audience of one and served its purpose (that of increasing my immersion in the game) perfectly.

    So, now I write stories myself. But like a climbing plant, I need a framework, an armature, to hang my ideas from and focus the story. For AARs this is the campaign I'm playing, for Tale of the Week the picture. But in the Scriptorium writing competitions I am thrown completely onto my own resources. I have twice used ideas from dreams (successful in every sense except votes), and most recently tried to write a story around a well-known rhyme (which didn't turn out well at all). Clearly I still have a lot to learn about capturing an audience, so I suppose I'll just have to continue plugging away until I discover a method.

    When I start an AAR, I have the impetus of an initial concept to get me through the early part of the campaign. I find that I can take a chunk of campaign and imagine a short story extending slightly beyond the bare events in the game. When I finish such an episode, I am often surprised at what has been created, a feeling akin to completing a painting-by-numbers piece. I am familiar with the individual passages and what prompted me to write them, but when taken together, a new level of meaning sometimes emerges, a story-shape and nuances of character that I hadn't consciously planned.

    At the time of writing, my current AAR is heading toward its conclusion, and I have been forced to face the need for the story-arc to conclude in a meaningful and satisfying manner. So, for the first time ever, I have had to make an outline for the rest of the AAR, rather than relying entirely on inspiration.

    It is a fascinating and frustrating process. I have a set of actors who have acquired unforeseen characteristics and each of them has to be woven into the denouement in an appropriate way. There are rivalries which must be resolved, mysteries which must be revealed and plans which must conclude in success or failure. And above all, the solution must be both interesting and have a feeling of rightness (whatever that is).

    Strangely, I've found constraints like this actually help me produce a more interesting story. It is, I suppose, another form of framework. Ideas are inspired by the framework, extending it and providing new catalysts for yet further ideas.

    So, have I found out where stories come from? Well, not really, they are like Santa Claus. All you can do is put out the milk and cookies, stoke up the fire, think virtuous thoughts and just hope one will stop by and visit you on its travels.

    Interview with Chirurgeon by Ariovistus Maximus (Critic's Quill #17)

    Tell us a little bit about yourself. When/how did you start writing?
    Well to be honest I started writing as a teenager... I am 33 now. I had a wild imagination and started putting things down on paper and eventually came up with a fantasy world with maps and everything. Maybe one day I will revisit it and write a fabulous tale.

    My first AAR was for a website called Strategic Command Center. I wrote an AAR called "A line of Kings" based on the French Monarchy for MTW2. Sometime around then I discovered Europa Barbarourum and their incredible community. I have always liked ancient history the most so after lurking for a while I began writing AARs there. I have written four AARs based on various factions using the EB mod.

    It is a joy for me to write because I know that I provide something for someone to enjoy. I don't always have time to do it just right but in the world of AAR writing nothing ever goes just right. One of the challenges is that you have to constantly adjust based on the game turns.

    When did you get involved with the Total War series?
    My first total war game was RTW vanilla.

    What do you think about the relationship between the game/mod and the story?
    Some people like to stick to history but I like to let the game determine the story. It's more interesting and challenging. For example in one of my AARs I was following the line of Ptolemies in Egypt. When the last one died I ended my AAR. I find that I do not use the victory conditions or the end date of the game as a determining factor. Sometimes I will follow one person. Or an entire family. I tend to balance events in the game with events centric to the person that is involved with everything. I think it is important to humanize things.

    Are there other writers that inspire your own work?
    Yes there are a number of authors that inspire me. I have a routine for writing my AARS to lend more credence to what I am doing. The first thing I do before writing a new AAR is start doing research. In EB I wrote a AAR on Carthage. Well I started by gathering as much historical information as possible and framed the situation with a real life situation. In the case of my AAR "The Sands of Africa", I followed the life of a senator's son. I researched basic information about geography, major political situations, military, and anything else. I managed to find a great book called Hannibal by Ross Leckie that inspired that AAR. The tidbits and nuance was enough fodder to start my AAR. It is one of my proudest works to be honest. I hold myself to "The Sands of Africa" standard.

    Theodotus also has been an inspiration for his pure writing ability and Marcus Aurelius Antonius inspired me because of his continual persistance and sheer size of his AARs. Both of these guys kept me going. Our AARs were always at the top of the page because we had a good camaraderie with each other

    What are some things that your really enjoy about writing?
    I enjoy the journey of writing. There is a euphoria that comes when your fingers are flying across the keys and you can close your eyes and see what it is that you are writing about. Right down to the smallest detail. Setting is a very important element for me in writing and once I have the setting/environment/situation I let loose the characters as I imagine them and let them go. It generally results in great satisfaction when reading it later.

    What do you think makes AARs unique?
    I think AARs are made unique by the constantly changing dynamics of a game you dont know whats going to happen next. it makes it challenging and fun all the same

    Any tips for beginners?
    Do your research. Have a goal in mind and stick with it. If it becomes laborious and not enjoyable then its not for you.

    Writing can be tough to keep up amidst a full schedule. How do you deal with time constraints?
    I set aside time each evening for AAR stuff. But I also take time off like right now.

    Most excellent! Thanks Chirurgeon for your time! I do believe we can just make it to the press for the upcoming issue. I trust your perspective will be encouraging for our writers on the TWC.

    And that was the interview! I would definitely suggest that you give Chirurgeon's work a read. For one thing, it is great stuff that really pulls you in; his AAR's make for fantastic reading. Also, if you're a writer yourself, I've found that reading other people's work is a great learning method.

    Two of Chirurgeon's completed/in-progress AAR's can be found here on the TWC:
    Osman's Vision
    Journey of the Hellenes

    The others are hosted at the .Org:
    The Sands of Africa
    The Indomitable Nile
    Iberia Rising
    The Puniceus Paludamentum

    Unfortunately, I cannot yet personally recommend each of his AAR's, as I have not managed to read them all. However, just to add my two cents, "Iberia Rising" was a phenomenal story. I learned one of my biggest lessons from that story: not to be predictable, to try something that no one has done before. In short, I learned about the art of plot twists. I do my best to reflect that lesson in my own AAR, and that in particular has been a big help to me.

    Interview with Hooahguy14 by Thermal (Critic's Quill #18)

    Q1: So, what do we need to know about you? Tell us a bit about yourself, your life, whether it’s boring or full of surprises.
    Well, I am 18, and a huge 80's metal addict. Most of all I am a Metallica addict (my slogan is “who needs drugs when you have Metallica?”), as you can tell from my sig. I play guitar, and an avid reader of history. I live an average life as an upperclassman in high school, but those who know me from the .ORG know that I have problems with my dad taking away my laptop every now and then.

    Q2: What of your previous writing? I understand that you did a Getai AAR for Europa Barbarorum previously, Why do you choose Europa Barbarorum over other modifications?
    Well, I tried all the major mods, and after much time I decided that I loved the extreme historical depth of EB over all the other mods. it was a hard choice for me, so all you RTR and SPQR fans don’t burn me in effigy please.

    My first AAR was actually with Baktria, back in late 2007, or early 2008. it was so long ago I can’t even remember much from it! It was called "A History of Baktria" for those who want to search the .ORG forums for it. It started off well, but a computer crash somehow erased my savegame file and the AAR died after about 15 updates. after a bit I started a new one with the Getai. it started off like my Baktria one, without humor, but then Obelics started a new Romani AAR, and I had an idea that maybe I would try humor in my AAR as well. I asked him if I could use his idea. he said ok and gave me some major pointers. that AAR lasted for around a year before I got to a point where I lost interest. I left EB for a while after that. only recently I came back to EB after seeing a picture of EB and remembering how much I missed it.

    Q3: The AAR your writing at the moment, Casey the Casse, has begun with a superb start. What made you think the faction Casse would make for a good AAR?
    I chose the Casse because they are so obscure and so few people do AARs about them. plus I like the challenge of them not having any real cavalry.

    Q4: You mention that you played as Casse because few people write AAR's about them, but you also did an AAR based on Getai. Do you think barbarian factions are more interesting to write about? Could you create the same sort of humor in say a Greek AAR?
    Well, I suppose i could write a humorous AAR with Greeks. In fact, that's not a bad idea for my next AAR. After all, Greeks had more "wiggle room" when it came to morals, as far as I know. I do think barbarians are more interesting because you can make them do things that arent expected, such as defeating two major Hellenic armies who had better troops than you did in the same turn. You know, smash the stereotypes that barbarians are undisciplined rabble.

    Q5: Comedy plays a strong element in your AAR's, do you believe comedy AAR's are more interesting to read? What makes them rise above the rest?
    I think that they are special because there are so many serious AARs out there that every now and then one has to take a breather from all the seriousness. kinda part of my life, always joking around. also, it takes another kind of creativity than the normal AAR because the story needs to tie in with the comedy.

    But I have to be careful with my humor. Not to mention selective. The problem with my getai AAR was that there was a lot of forced humor, most of it not funny at all. I did this because I thought that I needed a joke in every picture. So in this AAR I tried to cut down on the forced humor, and only put in stuff that I thought was funny. That’s why not all my pictures have humor in it. Also I integrated the humor with the writing so they would relate.

    Q6: AAR's are incredibly time consuming to make, how do you fit the time into your schedule?
    Between band practice, working out, and school, it’s hard, but I make time, it’s worth it. Since the school year is ending soon, I find myself with a lot of time on my hands. In fact, I just finished a major research paper, which frees me up until the end of the summer.

    Q7: I know that it can become tiresome to write AAR's if your heart isn't in it, but your writing doesn't show signs of this. What do you enjoy most about writing your current AAR?
    I like the challenge of writing that it presents. While it’s not college-level writing, it does challenge me in the sense that a short story would. I also like the challenge of integrating the comedy with the story itself.

    Q8: I understand that you’re not British, yet this AAR is centered in Britain and seems very authentic, where do you get your inspiration from when thinking of ways to be funny, whilst remaining in character?
    I credit Monty Python for almost all my British knowledge/humor. I also am a fan of British humor in general. I not long ago I got into Blackadder! Also various people, such as Brennus from the .ORG, sent me messages with different aspects of British life, a huge help, and if they are reading this I’d like to give them my public thanks. About the authenticity comment, I thank you for it, but it’s not really authentic at all. Heck, I somehow mixed up Scotland and Wales, a very shameful mistake by me, I know.

    About the stay in character question, I do something which all writers should do. Make a list of all the traits that your main characters posses. Then base how your characters act in your story off of that list.

    Q9: Do you have any plans for your AAR? Do you plan on making it long, short or just see where the game takes you? Do you like to control the events depending on your ideas or let the game decide for you?
    I’m going to see where the campaign takes me, but do have a very general storyline for it. I also brainstorm a lot in my free time about the campaign and potential jokes. All I know is that I probably will have to end it at the beginning of the upcoming school year. I will be taking an intensive writing course next year and my time will be occupied with this and my band. So I’ll need to end this by then, probably when Casey gets old and dies. But who knows- If I have more time I’d be glad to continue it!

    Q10: You happen to be an Org member as well as a TWC member, have any writers inspired you from either site? Your writing style is reminds me of Obelics, is he an inspiration for your work or not?
    I have two very important people who have influenced me. one of them you already mentioned, Obelics, who was the biggest inspiration, and the other is Chirurgeon. Obelics for the comedy inspirations, Chirurgeon for the storyline aspirations. he influenced me not to do the expected in my AARs. for that, I owe him.

    Q11: It is interesting that Chirurgeon is one of your inspirations for your storyline as he was interviewed in the last issue, how would you say your writing differed from his?
    For one thing, his AAR is serious. Also, he strives to research his faction and it's history, then base his exploits off it, or somewhat. I do not, seeing that my plate is already full at the moment. I do my research based on what I need for the story. For instance, I needed to find out ancient Briton customs and structure of society, as well as their use of drugs, so I did my research and found out. But i will say that our AARs are similar in the sense that we both tell the story from one persons view.

    Q12: It is hard to be a critic to yourself, but for those reading, why is your AAR really worth a read? Would you say it had any specific strong or weak points?
    To tell you the truth this is the hardest question. If people like comedy in their stories, they should read my AAR. Granted, my humor may not always be funny for all, but still it’s worth the read. I would say more but I don’t want to sound too haughty, so I won’t go into my strong points. Not that I can name them anyways. I’ll let my readers decide my strong points.

    But I do have a weak point which I aim to change in Casey the Casse: when I introduced a character, I wouldn’t develop him very much, such as Kyros from my Getai AAR. I only featured him in the pictures and even then it wasn’t so much. With the addition of many characters such as Lugo, Flynnyn and Yntyn, as well as the re-introduction of Kryos, I plan to change all that.

    Q13: Do you read other peoples AAR's? Other than AAR's, do you like to write other things, outside of the forums or in them?
    I am always sure to read Chirurgeon’s AARs. In a matter of fact, I recommend all of them heartily. I also regularly read through Obelics’s AAR, the Waste land (argued to be the greatest AAR of all time), for ideas. I also closely follow Marcus Aurelius Antonius’s AAR. I love his AARs because they are so massive. He even did a civil war in one of them where he somehow made a new nation, transferred control of half his empire to this country, then called it a civil war. That, in my opinion, if a stroke of genius. I write sonnets out of school, which may seem a bit strange, but I find them to be the most beautiful form of poetry, and can convey feelings really well. I also like to vent anger/frustration in sonnet form, since it’s a very graceful way of doing so.

    Q14: For those who may aspire to write as you do, have you got any tips or tricks for writing well or those considering to start up an AAR?
    Chirurgeon once told me a while ago to not do the expected in my stories. That, in my opinion, is the most important advice for any AAR. Even if you have great writing, if your story is dull, no one will want to read it.

    Q15: Some less monotonous questions now, you'll be glad to hear! What is your favourite faction in EB?
    The Getai, for sure! I love how strong their infantry is, and their skirmishers and archers are great as well. Plus I love fighting all the “superior” greek nations! They pose a huge challenge, and have presented me with some of the greatest battles I have ever fought. They also play similarly to the Casse. With both factions, you start off surrounded by rebels who don’t pose much of a threat, but eventually you are forced to interact/fight with other factions that are around you. But I will admit, the Getai are more of a challenge, since you are fighting Greeks who are more advanced and better units. But then again the Casse have no cavalry.

    Q16: If you had to pick just one chapter out of one of your AAR's, what would it be and why, maybe you could link us to it?
    I would pick either chapter seven or chapter eight.

    Chapter seven because I introduced more characters (I also think the descriptions I wrote about hem are brilliant) and I thought the humor was good. Also I began a new style of AAR for myself in that chapter. Instead of the title, I began putting views of Britain taken from the EB battle map. I think it looks better.

    I would also choose chapter eight because of the twist in the storyline. I mean the accidental “invasion” of Iberia is so unexpected, after saying that I would be invading Normandy. And sinking a ship with an entire army that I spent thousands on as well as a family member was also a huge twist.

    Q17: What is the most awesome thing ever in the whole of the universe and what fails the most in the whole of the universe (other than the questions I'm asking you )?
    I think guitars are the greatest thing ever. Next to that is Metallica. The thing that fails the most in the universe are the Jonas Brothers. ‘nuff said.

    Q18: Thanks for your responses, anything else you would like to add? Anything at all?
    To read my AAR? I also want to encourage people to explore all the AARs out there. There are some fantastic stories out there.

    I like anyone who says that the Jonas Brothers fail ; in all seriousness though I think the last question sums it all up, really!
    If you do like comedy AAR's that deliver what they are supposed to, then I recommend his. I thank Hooahguy not only for the great replies to my questions, but also the speed and co-operation he delivered them with!
    Other than Casey the Casse, here are some of his previous AAR's mentioned in the interview, you can find them here:

    Why I Write by Juvenal (Critic's Quill #20)

    I have always read... at least I can't remember a time when I didn't read. Which is odd, considering that I actually do remember the first book I chose from the library (it was The Iron Man by Ted Hughes no less). I could never understand people who didn't read, and especially those who didn't read fiction.

    For me, reading is like being able to travel anywhere, do anything, be anyone. Indeed, it more than fulfils that famous catch-phrase of Buzz Lightyear. With a book you really can go “To Infinity... And Beyond!”

    So, after all that, isn't it strange that, until a couple of years ago, it never occurred to me to write?

    Some people write for love, some for money, some in the hope of fame, some to educate the ignorant masses. I started writing out of a sense of duty, trying to retrospectively justify my award of Citizenship at TWC.

    My AAR started reasonably well, and I somehow managed to carry on, despite a desperate shortage of ideas. It relied heavily on witty references to things I was fairly sure most of the readership would never have heard of (which unfortunately somewhat defeats the object of such references, and may well have left some of the audience wondering whether this author had forgotten to take his medication).

    But as the story grew, a wonderful thing began to happen. I found that I could treat it like someone else's story which I was merely reading. This meant I could imagine the cast as real people and begin to speculate about their motivation and character.

    I may not be as accomplished a writer as the published authors I normally read. But it doesn't really matter. Because when I write, the constraints resulting from my lack of skill are far outweighed by the freedom to take the story wherever my imagination prompts it to go. Compare this to someone else's story; no matter how good, it is still in a sense dead. It has long been completed by the time I read it, and therefore its arc and destination are already set in stone. But mine is still unfinished, so it could go literally anywhere!

    Of course there are also drawbacks to DIY story-telling. Sometimes there just aren't any good ideas. So the tale is forced to lie fallow for a while in the hope of fresh inspiration. More painful however is when my composition skills just can't do justice to some emotionally-charge picture burning brightly in my mind's eye.

    When I sit down to write, I don't really have a clear plan, more like an artist's impression of the destination, and some vague ideas about how we (the characters and I) might be getting there. The rest of it is discovered during the process of writing itself. So there will inevitably be inconsistencies, blind-alleys, and passages that just don't fit and have to be discarded.

    But when I finally succeed in making a story or an episode that works, there is an enormous feeling of satisfaction. It is like having finished an assignment, solved a puzzle and won a prize all at the same time! I feel that I haven't just created a story; I have discovered something - out in that great ocean of everything which has the potential to exist and, like an angler, I have reeled it in for people to look at and (hopefully) admire.

    So, now you know why I write, why don't you give it a try yourself?

    Interview with Thokran by Beer Money (Critic's Quill #24)

    Beer Money here everyone. As a new contributor to the CQ, one of the best sections I have seen in the past is writers who are interviewed. Not only does it give readers a chance to see how the AARtist operates but also gives insights to new members and others writers on unique views they may wish to consider for their own writing. Hopefully you will find reading about your fellow contributors and writers as exciting as I find interviewing them.

    I admit, I'm a bit biased towards the subject of my first interview. Thokran joined TWC and started doing AARs around the same time I did in July of 2009. Since that time I've admired his craft grow steadily along with his readership. He is the author of the legendary Visions of an Odyssey: A Makurian Dynasty, the MAARC XXI winner and currently is working on his fifth AAR for TWC, The Baltic Terror: A Teutonic AAR.

    One of my favorite writers on TWC, I had the chance to ask Thokran a few questions about his writing, his time on TWC and his approach to the world of AARs.

    1. What got you started into writing AARs? How did your interest in the TW series and its mods start? What was your first TW gaming experience?
    My first TW experience came with Rome: Total War back in 2004. I remember having an amazing Julii campaign that I soon found myself entrenched in. Back then all I was looking to do was conquer the world, but throughout the campaign I found myself attached to specific characters throughout the years (one man of the hour, Kaeso Flaminius, became my faction leader!) It was only after that came that I realized that I really enjoyed the roleplay elements of the game, such as each character’s traits and ancillaries.
    My girlfriend got me Medieval II: Total War back in Christmas of 2008, and again I felt drawn into the characters (Norman Blood was my second campaign, after a Spanish one I made). Wanting to see how other people were doing on their campaigns, I came across TW Center in Spring of 2009, and that was when I was first introduced to AARs. It was beyond anything I ever expected. I remember reading many great stories back then, such as:
    -“The Center of Conflict” by Heartfire
    -“The Story of the Moorish Empire of Timbuktu” by Kallum
    -“The Help of God, the Love of the People, the Strength of Denmark” by Zhangir
    AARs were what I always wanted out of my campaigns. They fleshed out the stories I already had dancing in my mind as I played each campaign. I knew then that I had to try my hand at it over the summer. The rest as we say is history.

    2. Do you play the game as you write? If not, how far in advance do you play out the campaign?
    That changes with each campaign. When I first started writing AARs, I tended to write way ahead of time, because I got caught up in playing the campaign. As a result, I was always way behind in writing from where I was in-game. This came to disastrous results in “Heaven’s Descent”, when my computer crashed and I essentially lost all the game files and pictures I had saved. Ever since, I have tried to throttle my gameplay time accordingly. In both “Glory of Ostermark” and “Visions of an Odyssey”, I was able to keep my updates just a few turns behind from where I was in-game, which helped me keep a fresh recollection of the events that happened during that turn, and essentially helped improve the quality of those updates.

    3. What is the most frustrating thing about writing an AAR? The most challenging? The most rewarding?
    The most frustrating thing about writing AAR’s is losing the urge to write halfway through the whole process. This almost always came when I suffered setbacks, whether with my computer, or in real life. It happened with “Norman Blood “ and “Heaven’s Descent” where a mix of computer problems and general business in real life killed my drive to continue, and as a result I felt a bit bitter being unable to complete either work.
    As for the most challenging, it has to be making sure the story remains cohesive. There have been times where I simply forget I already mentioned something, and I end up repeating it, which would lead to general redundancy and confusion in my posts. I also found pacing myself pretty challenging, especially with school, LSAT, a girlfriend and several organizations to juggle. I would go from doing big weekly updates like I did in “Glory of Ostermark” to almost daily updates in “Visions of an Odyssey”. In both my writing suffered somewhat because I was either too hasty to double-check for spelling/grammar errors, or too reticent to keep readers interested with a consistent flow of updates. To this day that is my greatest challenge, but it is also the most rewarding thing to see when it finally does come together in a cohesive and paced manner.

    4. What about TOTW? What about TOTW competitions do you find is most challenging?
    I’ve only ever done the ToTW once or twice, but I can tell that they are quite challenging. What I find most challenging there is the word limit. Sometimes a simple image gives you so much to say, and yet so little space to say it all in. Short stories have never been my strong suit. Still, it is an area I find myself interested in trying my hand out at it more often.

    5. You've won the MAARC which is not an easy task. What do you attribute your win to? What advice could you give to other writers in search of that award?
    Mostly dedication and dogged determination. I think I participated in the MAARC like 4 or 5 times before I even got a spot in the top three, so when I finally won one I was ecstatic. Honestly, the first few times I participated in the MAARC I did it just to see how I would place. But it wasn’t until I really started working on “Visions of an Odyssey” that I felt like I had a chance of winning. I put a lot of time and effort into making that Makurian AAR the best it could be, and I was determined to finish it in epic fashion. The best advice I could give to others is to stick to their guns and keep a solid dedication to your AAR. I grew very close to my Makurian AAR that summer, and I really wanted it to reach the lengths and epic-ness of other great AARs, ala “I am Skantarios!” and “Liberation”. While I don’t think mine can compare to those too, I wrote it in that same vein, because it gives the reader a continuing storyline that they can rest assured won’t come to a screeching halt three weeks down the line.

    6. Do you ever get writers block/photoshop block? If so how do you cope? Are there any pointers you could give to AARtists that might feel they are struggling with their work?
    All too often. Sometimes I have Photobucket crap out on me and I’m short a few pictures, which means I have to improvise more story to help fill in the blanks. Sometimes I just wing it and I get less than stellar updates, and other times I go for a week without updating because I just can’t wrap my mind around the right theme for whatever update I might be working on. It’s a frustrating situation, but one I think every writer has.
    My advice for others struggling with their writers block is to take a step back and look at how your AAR has progressed so far. Give it a quick read and see if you find yourself captured by the story. I find that it helps jog your memory and put you in the right mindset to say “Ok, I just got here, but this and this happened and I can react in this way”. The heres and theres a variables that help you flesh out the direction of your AAR and give you new ideas to work with.

    7. What has been the biggest change in your style and approach from The Norman Blood to The Baltic Terror?
    It’s hard to say. I feel as if my writing has gradually improved over the years, but that overall the style has remained the same. I would say that the biggest change has come in how I approach the AARs. With Norman Blood and Heaven’s Descent, I just wanted to recount what happened. I didn’t care how the quality came out, mostly because I was just so eager to get to the next step.
    Using Call of Warhammer for Glory of Ostermark and Broken Crescent for Visions of an Odyssey really helped me realize that pacing myself and taking a more methodical approach to my stories would only serve to benefit me in the long run. In both those AARs I had an overall plan for where I wanted to go with the story, and whatever happened in between would just add to the overall story. I’m doing the same now in The Baltic Terror; that is, I have a clear direction as to where I want to go with my story now, and that helps me focus on how best to get there both in game and while writing.

    8. There have been some great characters in your AARs but there has to be a favorite. Who is it? What was your favorite storyline that you developed? What was the biggest in game surprise and how did it play out in your AAR?
    Oh wow, that’s a tough question. I can’t say I have a single favorite character, but I do have a few of worthy notice.
    -King Rufus: I felt he embodied what a King of England on an extended tour of duty would be like.
    -Bronzino: I loved his foreigner perspective on Ostermark, being the grizzled merc badass he was.
    -Negus David: I greatly enjoyed his unparalleled malice, and how his terror alone broke the back of Ayyubid Islam in the Levant.
    -Kubri: Equally entertaining to write, as he was born into a life of crusading, first along his father and later in India. He really grew up as a character for me.
    I also have one favorite in the works for The Baltic Terror, but that’s to be seen later on.
    My favorite storyline so far has been Visions of an Odyssey, because it was the one I spent the most time developing into a true epic journey. However, I have hoped that I can develop The Baltic Terror into an even greater story, and so on and so forth with whatever following AARs I have churning in the back of my mind. I’m always seeking to better my writing so that my favorite AAR is always the one I’m currently working on.
    On a sidenote, the biggest in game surprise I had was in writing Visions of an Odyssey. Initially, it was Johannes who was to lead the people of Makuria into Asia. So when he died it threw a big wrench in my plans. I greatly underestimated the power of those Asian and Arabian powers. Thankfully it all worked out for the best, as by the time his son Basileios came of age, I had grown and developed my faction enough to launch a true odyssey in earnest.

    9. As a prolific writer, is there one AAR or story that's your "baby?" Or is that story yet to be written?
    I think my last answer also applies to this question. My “baby” is whichever AAR I’m working on at the moment, because it’s that one that I’m devoting my time and effort into making it the best it could be. Therefore, my current baby happens to be The Baltic Terror, which I have big plans for in the coming months.
    I will say that I do have this one idea for an AAR in mind that I would love to write one day. It would deal with the Spanish/Portuguese, West Africa (Kingdom of Mali in particular) and the Caribbean/ New World. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see an Atlantic Mod that has Europe, Africa and America all in one package in the same way that Broken Crescent was for the Middle East, so the idea may just have to stay that for now. Still, one can dream!

    10. Will you ever revisit the lost files of Heavens Descent?
    I would definitely love to! However it all comes down to when and how. It’s not that high up on my list of priorities, mostly in part to the fact that I’ve lost all the files for that AAR, which puts me at a disadvantage because I have no idea how to continue it short of starting all over again – an idea that has crossed my mind more than once.
    I’ve always been drawn in by the concept of crusading. Indeed, Crusading in some sense plays a role in all my AARs so far. I think part of this stemmed from being unable to complete Heaven’s Descent. To compensate, I placed a lot of focus on Crusaders in Visions of an Odyssey. Still, I would love to one day return to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and give Heaven’s Descent the justice it deserves.

    Last edited by Radzeer; March 17, 2011 at 01:53 PM.

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    The Writers II.

    Interview with Skantarios by Beer Money (Critic's Quill #25)

    Beer Money here again with this month's instalment of the CQ Interview!

    December 27th, 2009 is when the AAR world on TWC was changed forever. From early writing brilliance to an AAR series that has set standards for the site in both form and presentation, the name Skantarios can be considered legendary on Total War Center. The author of the AARs I am Skantarios!, winner of MAARC XVII and XIX and The Legacy of Skantarios, winner of MAARC XXIII is here to talk about his his past achievements, shed some light onto his latest creation, Pagan Vengeance and share his thoughts on the future of AARtistry.

    1. Softballs first. What got you into writing AARs? How did your interest in the TW series and its mods start? What was your first TW gaming experience? How did you fare?

    First off, let me say thank you for that overly generous introduction.

    As for how I got into writing AARs, that is a longer story but I’ll try to keep it somewhat short. I have always been a fan of the Total War series ever since I picked up a copy of Shogun: Total War more than ten years ago. I loved history, especially military history, and was always fascinated by the lives of the great personalities (Alexander, Caesar, Trajan, etc). Total War’s combination of strategy, diplomacy, and tactics set in the different historical time periods really appealed to me; so much so that I have not played almost any other games for years. Though I really liked Shogun, I loved Rome. Roman history was always a favorite topic of mine and I had done extensive reading on it. So, playing the game made me imagine different settings, people, and explore the great “what ifs” of history.

    I soon stumbled upon Total War Center and everything changed. I can’t really remember why or how I came to TWCenter but I did sometime in 2009. When I finally visited, there were two sections on the site that really intrigued me. One was the Mods section and the other was the Writer’s Study. Seeing others have such a passion for the game and history made me feel like I had found some kindred spirits. I was also really impressed with the dedication others had for both making the game better and telling stories about what they did.

    I looked through several mods for the game but the one that caught my eye was Stainless Steel. The creators had not only made the campaign map bigger but also modified and expanded the unit rosters to make them more accurate and more fun. I was greatly impressed by both their skill and their dedication and thought I would give it a shot. They had just released a new version called “Stainless Steel 6.2” and I thought it was the best fit.

    I had never modified any of my games in the past and I was a little reluctant to do so now. Still, I had already worked through all the possibilities that I cared to on the “Vanilla” version and I was eager to reboot my enjoyment in the game. When I saw there was a mod that depicted the Byzantine Empire in 1450, just three years before its eventual overthrow, I was intrigued. Also, I seem to remember some comment about “if you think you are a good player, try the Byzantines in the 1450 Campaign.” Challenge made, challenge accepted.

    I started playing the Byzantines in the 1450 Campaign and saw that the makers weren’t kidding when they said it would be hard. It was. During that early run through, I was given a character called “Skantarios Laskaris” and fought about a dozen battles with him as the primary general.

    It was about this time that I started to really read some of the AARs found in the Writers Study. Some were really well done and some weren’t. So, when I am not playing Stainless Steel, I am reading AARs. While still in the early stages of my 1450 Byzantine Campaign, I started to imagine what it would have been like for Skantarios in that time and place. I imagined the courage it would take to fight those odds and what he would be forced to do under those circumstances. Quickly, the character started to take on a life of its own and even a personality. When I would come upon a particularly difficult situation in the game, I weighed it as though through his eyes. I even imagined him thinking to himself that he would do something simply because, well, “I am Skantarios.” Thus, the first part of the story was born.

    One day during my Christmas vacation, I was sitting at my computer and just started to type away at a story about this man. I’m not really sure why I started. It seems cliché to say that the story just wanted to come out but I can’t think of a better way to put it. The first couple thousand words came very easily and the story seemed to be a good one. So, that is how I got my start writing an AAR.

    2. Of all the TW games and mods, what are your favorites? Which show the most promise and what games and mods would you like to see in the future? Most importantly, which would you make another AAR for?

    Stainless Steel is by far my favorite as evidenced by it being the basis of all my AARs to date. I am sure there are other fine mods out there but I haven’t really tried many of them, although I did take a crack at Sicilian Vespers quite a while ago and it is still lying dormant on my system waiting for me to pick it back up again. As for ones that I might do another AAR for, I am conflicted. I love ancient Roman history but I am such a fan of it that I would be reluctant to stray too far from it and doing. Recreating history would be interesting but those stories are done and wouldn’t give me much creative license. Perhaps a late Western Empire story would be interesting but that would be very close to “recreating the Roman Empire” and I have assuredly already done that. My current AAR is based on the northern Steppes and that is all that I am focusing on right now.

    3. Skantarios. What a journey. Yet is it complete? The known world was conquered but are there any possibilities to revist? Or is the rich alternate history of the Byzantines closed?

    Oh, that is a tough one. I have really grown fond of the alternative period of Roman history I created in IaS! and LoS but I think that story is done. If I could find some way to do a heavy mod of that game to fight it out as the successor states, I might do it but that kind of modding is quite beyond me. Carrying on the story in its present state really isn’t an option because the Empire is so big that the suspense is gone. Also, I wrote a lot of stuff in the Epilogue post to show how the world progresses after Legacy so that, in some ways, I’ve closed it off for a third instalment.

    Another member has asked (and received) permission to pursue a story about the early years of Skantarios and I have provided him with a few thoughts of my own and anticipate helping with it going forward. However, that is in the very early stages and we will have to see how that progresses.

    4. As an early follower of your first AAR, the story had always been strong but it grew in complexity and presentation. At what point did you say, "I’m really going to put some time into this."

    I think I committed to it fairly early on. Within the first couple of chapters, I knew I wanted to make I am Skantarios! a “complete” AAR and give a full effort. I had always been frustrated by those AARs that started out so strongly but were dropped by their authors and I was determined not to do that. Also, so much of my feedback was so encouraging that I felt I owed it to the readers not to take shortcuts. Finally, I am just kind of stubborn in that I wanted to finish what I started and make it about as good as I could (time permitting).

    5. Was there a storyline you followed or put into action during the AAR? For instance, did your written word influence your gaming experience or vice versa?

    A little bit of both but to greatly varying degrees depending on when it was happening. At first, I was just telling the story as I played it in the game. However, as the story progressed and the characters started to take on a life of their own, the balance between game play and story started to become more even. By the time I got to the end of Legacy, the story was driving my game play completely. There were certain events that happened in the game that completely drove the story. For instance, the death of Skantarios in the game nicely jibed with what I was trying to do with the story. Also, at the end of Legacy, the game killed off Skantarios’ adopted son, Genessios, and I had to write that in. Instead of the natural death the game gave him, I modified that for the story to say that he had been assassinated. Of course, the Civil War was all story driven and was the focus for at least the second half of the AAR.

    6. Of all of the supporting characters assembled to make up SI and SII, who was the most challenging character to flesh out? Who was the easiest? And of course, who was the most fun to write the plotline for?

    The character of Skantarios was by far the most challenging to flesh out but also one that flowed the easiest (if that makes sense). I tried to show him as a conflicted protagonist. He had high ideals but very questionable morals and methods. As his experiences in the war continued, his persona began to change greatly and I tried to capture that in his diary entries and how he colored his comments on what was happening in the world. However, that story and person came easily to me as I wrote it as it was the one that I most identified with so, in many ways, telling his tale came the easiest to me.

    Second place on the most challenging would be Skantarios’ brother, Vasileios. I purposefully did not give him much in the way of dialogue or direct story but I tried to tell his story through the eyes of others (most of whom hated him). He did just as many questionable things as his brother but never found the glory in battle that Skantarios did. Also, telling his story through the eyes and words of others made it more difficult but, in the end, I am glad I did it.

    The most fun? Well, that “honor” would have to go to Ioannis. I purposefully made him overly arrogant and in love with himself. That allowed me to put a lot of fun lines in his mouth and for him to do things that others wouldn’t. It also allowed some comic relief from the other “oh-so-serious” characters I was writing like Likenia, Vitos, and Genessios. A close second on the fun-scale would be Administer Ioasaph. He was played for a lot of laughs as being a bureaucrat thrust into the role of general and hating it. He was plain fun to write all the time.

    7. HOW did you pull off the civil war? It was epic by the way. And how long did that take?

    I wrote a fairly extensive explanation of that in the thread and how I did it. You can find it here. Basically, it involved fighting a series of custom battles based off the composition of the armies facing each other. Since the game wouldn’t allow me to fight my own faction against each other, I wound up having to change the skins of the opponents (in this case Novgorod) to those of the Byzantines and then fighting custom battles pitting the Romans/Byzantines against the reskinned units of Novgorod. I also had to modify the overview and results screenshots to get the names right. When I had to bring in the Hungarians, I resorted to some cheating by doing a “move_character” command to bring them in.

    How long did it take? I guess “forever” is too imprecise. I honestly don’t know but it was probably somewhere between 20 and 30 hours to do the mods to the files, the custom battles, and editing the screen shots. The writing was even more time. All in all, it is not recommended and something that I will most likely never do again.

    8. The sidebars, additional perspectives, and addendums and the way it was presented as a complete work...this has been heady stuff for an AAR. You were really breaking new ground here. But were there initial influences for your brand of storytelling, even if outside TWC?

    That is a hard one to answer. The authors that come to mind that really influenced that type of storytelling would be Steven Pressfield and James Clavell. Now, they were novelists and didn’t present their material in the same way I did but the overall feel was similar. The podcast of “12 Byzantine Rulers” by Lars Brownworth also influenced me with their insights into the rulers’ thoughts and motivations and the lively way he told the story. As for the addendums and other things, that was influenced by my reading of history books and how they presented things. Some items just don’t fit into a chronological narrative and so the history books made use of sidebars. I thought that was a good way to do things and so I incorporated them.

    As for other AARs, I can’t really point to one that was a direct influence but there were many that I read and I probably incorporated elements from a lot of them. When I presented battles, I just thought to myself which elements I thought needed to be told and did them in order to bring the reader in and show them that this battle was actually fought by these units, at this time, under the command of those people. When looking at it that way, the presentation came pretty easily.

    9. In my opinion, what was considered strong work just 18 months ago, is just "good" at this point. A well cropped pic used to bring praise but if you aren’t bringing the effects now it’s almost passé. The days of an "and then I did this" AAR seem to be long gone. Do you agree? Are there other changes in AARs have you noticed along the way?

    I would certainly agree. I think there is still a place for the straight-forward, blow-by-blow type AAR but the genre has moved on some. I think this is a good thing as we are building on the work that came before us and that pushes us to break new ground. That was certainly on my mind when I was trying to figure out how to do the Civil War in Legacy. Also, there are a lot more guides on how to do things in AARs (e.g. cropping pictures, use of spoilers, etc) than there have ever been before. So, those who are interested have more resources to draw from than those 18 months ago. I hope that I have in my own way pushed the genre forward a notch or two so that others can move even farther still.

    10. On to Pagan Vengeance. What brought you to that mod and period of history? What’s in store for your readers? Do you have any surprises up your sleeve with either story or presentation? Will it be another epic or a shorter tale?

    I came up with the idea for Pagan Vengeance right about the time I was ending IaS!. In fact, it was a bit of a toss-up about whether I would continue my Byzantine story or move to that one and I was very conflicted about it. Obviously, I decided to do LoS first but I continued to refine my thoughts on PV the entire time and sporadically wrote more on it as the ideas came. In this case, I had the idea for the story long before I had selected the mod or time period. In fact, I tried to find the right period to incorporate the elements of the story.

    I settled on the early 1200’s and the last vestiges of the pagan culture and then decided to use the then-new version of Stainless Steel to bring it to life. I was comfortable with that map and engine and knew it would do justice to what I was trying to tell.

    I don’t think there will be many surprises with the presentation/format of the story but I do plan on incorporating some things like dream sequences, much more dialogue, and some additional characters that I had not done before. Also, I had the very generous contribution of MasterBigAb to compose a video preview for the AAR and it really turned out well.

    As for the story itself, I think there will be several surprises along the way. Obviously, I can’t be very specific about what those will be (otherwise, they wouldn’t be surprises) but I can say that it will be a few shades darker than what I have written before. There will be very few unambiguously good or bad characters and there will be more questionable things being done by all. The story is going to have a lot of twists and turns and I think it will surprise people at many different times. Also, I plan on incorporating religion more so than in the past and how it shapes the actions of the characters and factions. As for some other unique items (for me, at least), I have written in a prophecy that will have overarching interaction throughout the story and shape the actions of more than just the protagonist.

    I think the story will be my shortest yet but that remains to be seen. I have a very definite starting and ending point in mind but I can’t say right now how many chapters that will wind up being. If I had to take a guess, I think I will have it done in somewhere between 25 and 30 instalments of varying lengths.

    11. With almost 100,000 views for one AAR and 40,000 for the other, you are unequivocally the most popular writer on the board. Some have clamored for a book (including myself). Are there plans to expand your writing outside the halls of TWC?

    First, I will say that the response from the readers has been so wonderful and humbling. I don’t take it for granted and they provide a great deal of my inspiration to continue writing.

    As for a book, that is something that I have seriously thought about and been encouraged to do so by many. The response from the readers has been so positive and the effort I have put into it has been so great that it would seem a shame to just let it end without seeing how far I could take it. That said, translating that story into a novel without pictures (or very, very few pictures), spoilers, etc is easier said than done. It would be a monumental effort but one that I am willing to make.

    My current plan is that after I finish PV, I will take some time off and rewrite the first five or ten chapters of IaS! into a novel format and see how that works. I have some people who have offered to help and I might just take them up on it. If it turns out well with those early chapters, I will continue to expand it into a novel and probably go for making it into an e-book (unless by some miracle a publisher bites on it).

    12. Shogun 2 hits the stands soon. Play or pass?

    My free time is so limited right now that I will probably pass initially. However, I have bought every version of the game so far, I will definitely buy it at some point and try it out. I think I will need a new computer first, though, as the graphics would seriously strain my current system.

    There you have it everyone! Hope you have enjoyed reading, thank you Skantarios for your time and hope you look forward to the next issue of the CQ!

    Interview with Radzeer by Beer Money (Critic's Quill #26)

    Editor's Note: Beer Money is currently off-line due to internet connectivity problems. Luckily his interview subject had a full transcript (except for introductory notes), so we are still able to publish!

    1. As always the first question is: How did you initially come into the TW experience? How long were you playing TW before you came across and saw the AARs there? And of course, what got you to start your own?

    My total war experience started with the original MTW. I discovered TWC after I bought RTW and I was looking for some campaign guides. Soon I was drawn to the AAR sections, and I was lurking for quite awhile before registering as a member – which I did so that I could congratulate Skantarios. And it was a long summer when I had some free time, so I thought why not try one out myself. It made some sense since I played the game with a strong emphasis on roleplaying already.

    2. The Chronicles of a Hungarian Freeman was your first AAR and it did quite well, winning the MAARC XXIV! Was this your first stint at writing creatively or had you been doing history themed writing before?

    Writing fiction is not unfamiliar for me, although I have not written medieval themed stories before. I have a few short stories, mostly satires, in my native language (Hungarian) for my own entertainment. Also, I worked for years as a journalist, and now part of my RL job is to write non-fiction reviews and various research reports. This is of course quite different from writing an AAR as I quickly learned. The one thing I could recycle from my earlier writing experience is the importance of a narrative structure. Writing runs in the family though. One of my uncles was a fiction writer, and my daughter excels in creative writing in school.

    3. Speaking of history, most TWCers and especially AARtists have a fond appreciation of it. Both of your epic AARs are set in the middle ages. Can we expect future AARs to stay within this period or have you looked at RTW, ETW themed AARs? As a follow-up, besides SS, do you have favorite mods for any of the TW series?

    My favorite period is the middle ages, so that explains why both of my stories are situated in MTW2. My favorite medieval fiction is Albanian writer Ismail Kadare’s The Siege, and I’ve always been a history buff, especially for the history of Eastern Europe. Since my AARs are plot-driven, I think it is important for them to sound as authentic as possible, so I keep writing about an era I know well enough. Before I started the Kievan story, I read a few books about the early Rus, just to get familiar with the context. Among my plans, there is an RTW-based AAR, but that requires quite a bit of reading first and will probably be the only project outside the medieval world.

    In terms of my favorite mods, EB for RTW was the first mod I ever tried. I like it very much, just like RSII. For MTW2, I enjoyed Broken Crescent and I would really love to have a well-polished DLV. I value its immersion, but it gave me too many CTDs. I actually started my Kievan AAR on DLV, but I had to abandon it. And I am a fan of Tolkien, so occasionally I play TATW too. That mod is really cutting edge in many ways, although it is notoriously difficult to write a TATW AAR (which I don’t think I will ever try).

    4. During gameplay in your AARs were there any surprise moments where you said, "that REALLY helped my AAR!" Were there any where you said, "well that didnt go as planned - going to need to change that storyline..."

    One of the moments that helped my storyline was when I discovered a rebel army full with Croat axemen and feudal knights in Hungary, and could engineer the battle with the “Croat loyalists” which was a nice fit to the story. It was also pleasantly surprising when the AI attacked me on three fronts in my Kievan campaign! I was actually wondering what to do after the rebels were mopped up, and then came the Cumans… It was great. For the changes I had to make, nothing beats the story adjustments due to the 1TPY aging I had in the Hungarian story. I had to make quite a few changes in the storyline when my characters became old really fast. That was the first and last 1TPY campaign for me…

    5. I know you did custom battles for Freeman sometimes to fit the story and you did try to tailor your gameplay to history but were there ever moments where you said, "we're turning history on its head with this move."

    There were some unhistorical moves, and since I know Hungarian history in greater details, it probably bothered me more than it did my readers… I think that history cannot be fully recreated within the game. It’s a game after all with all the limitations, and of course the AI cannot follow history in its moves either. What I always try to do though is to play a reasonable alternative history which could have occurred, including characters behaving in a way which is realistic for somebody in the given context. I never do anything which completely goes against actual history. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading other AARs that are quite far from how history could have played out, but for my own work, I have a much more orthodox standard.

    6. Freeman was quite an adventure, gaining you a faithful set of readers. Did you envision it to be as grand an epic when you started or did it just manifest itself that way?

    To be honest, I did not imagine it to become such a hit. Originally, I just wanted to see if I could do it, basically challenging myself with a different writing genre. I was somewhat surprised that people liked the protagonist’s character development from an outlaw peasant to a captain (but no more) and finally a crusader. I knew that I did not want to write an epic story about an empire, rather an epic journey of an otherwise common man. I’m really glad that people liked it, as their encouragement has helped a lot.

    7. Kieven Rus promises to be even longer! Do you have a finite goal in mind? What parts of the story should readers expect to be continually developed?

    Yes, I have a finite goal, or at least I sort of know when the story will end. I am not a “let’s conquer the world!” type of player, so my story endpoints have to be set in the plot itself. I know that I cannot sustain my own interest in a campaign for more than a few months, and I always have new ideas that I want to try. On the other hand, I do not have enough time to run two AARs (besides my other TWC tasks), so new campaigns can only start when the old ones end…

    Going back to your question, I see approximately where the Kievan story will end, but I don’t know how – it depends on what the campaign will throw at me. In any case, I plan to continue describing the fight for power among the three branches of the royal family. That is something that has happened so many times in Kievan history and eventually brought the Rus down. I also have a few ideas how to develop the “story within the story” component too, the fate of the three brothers who I grew quite attached to. They are becoming old, by the way, so there will be a second generation coming up soon. The integration of these two themes is actually a core of a potential future novel from this story.

    8. On to the more technical aspects of AARing. We all know it takes time to put these together. When you present a chapter, what do find the most challenging piece? Putting together the writing? The pics? The presentation (chapters etc)?

    At this point, it is finding the time to do all these. Writing AARs is incredibly time consuming. In terms of the presentation, I got a routine by now. Writing has not been very difficult, although in some cases I spent almost a week on a chapter. Most notable of these was the battle of Trebizond in my Kievan story where the three brothers tried to escape from the city under siege. That was a difficult chapter to write, but I enjoyed it very much.

    I probably spend most of the time with editing the pictures. I am a perfectionist in that respect, as one of my hobbies is photography. Unfortunately, I’m not a visual artist, so my Photoshop skills are limited. In addition, even with the incredible textures, Stainless Steel (or MTW2 in general) is behind what the new games can offer in graphics. But I try to do the best with what I have.

    9. As a nod to your presentation, you actually used custom battles in Freeman to get you the desired effect of your storyline. That is unique to other AARtists that I have seen and a creative way to tell your story versus stay within the limitations of just playing the game. What do you think have been the greatest changes in AARs over the past few months that has improved the overall way AARs are presented and broken the mold so to speak?

    This is a great question! Let me say this first: the presentation, the visual aids and writing styles are all based on personal preferences. There is a lot of room for experimenting with different ideas, and one of the great strengths of this community is the diversity of styles and works. This means that everybody can find something that he likes, and at the same time a new talent can show up at any day with some innovative trick. A few examples I noted in the past months are the increasing use of grand epilogues, the additions of background music, and the use of character lists to orient the readers in complex plots. I always appreciated those extra miles, and that’s why I made my contribution, the ‘behind the scenes’ part after the Hungarian story, which is how the ‘Collected Wisdom’ project started too.

    I think the greatest technical achievement over the past few months was figuring out the civil war. There have been several attempts to do this within the engine limitations, and Skantarios’ work got as close as possible to what can actually be done. It still requires some modding skills, but it has been a good example of an aspect of the game that seemed impossible to do before, and yet somebody could figure it out. As for what is coming, I think there will be an increasing number of embedded battle videos in AARs, partly from the new generation of writers and AARs in Shogun 2. Unfortunately, recording campaign battles for the older games is close to being impossible. But it was said about the civil war too.

    10. Not only are you a celebrated AARtist, you are on the Content staff! And you have done a great job of collecting pieces on how to improve your AAR writing. Of these and from your own experience, what do you find is the most important aspect of improving ones AARtistry?

    I would list three things here. The first is to read other AARs and of course all the great pieces in the Collection Wisdom thread… The golden rule about successful writers first being readers, applies here too. In fact, it applies even more, because AARtistry is more than writing, it is also about visual aids, the presentation, technical challenges and so on. The second is to follow a few basic rules that seem to apply to most works. These include picture cropping (getting rid of the user interface), the moderate use of spoilers to avoid the need for clicking every ten seconds, and to have some basic structure and consistency in the narrative. Finally, it is important to keep the readers engaged. Try to update frequently, and if RL gets in the way, let the readers know. People do stick around to learn how a story ends, and they are willing to wait, but the disappearance of the writer is disappointing.

    11. With Rus a long term project, are there other AARs you have in mind down the road that your readers can look forward to? Any chance of revisiting of Andreas' world in Freeman? Especially with your knowledge of Hungarian history?

    The Rus project will probably end during the summer. My next AAR will be either an RTW RSII story if I can have enough time to contextualize it, or a late era campaign with Poland (as you can tell, I like Eastern European factions, and as Kiev I miss the pope’s meddling!). And yes, Andreas’ story will return too. I am working on the plot for a late era Hungarian campaign, and have a few ideas already, but it will probably not happen before Christmas.

    12. We'll end on a familiar note as well. Shogun 2. Yes, No, pass?

    At this point, I’ll probably pass. I do not have a computer which can run any of the new games after MTW2. My gaming time is also limited, and since I’m more of a writer than a gamer, as long as I can entertain myself (and hopefully others) with new plots in the old games, life will be fine.

    Finally, I would like to thank you for this opportunity, and also for the work you’ve done recently to bring writers closer to readers in the Critic’s Quill!

    Interview with Decimus Milo by Skantarios (Critic's Quill #28)

    Greetings to all the readers of the Critic's Quill! This is Skantarios and today I am going to do something a little different, for me at least. Today I bring you an interview with one of the most accomplished and prolific AAR writers on the forums, Decimus Milo. He has been writing AARs virtually non-stop for almost a year and a half and has started three distinct AARs and completed two of them.

    It all began with Who Watches the Watchers: A Papal Apocalypse and has since spread into AARs that spanned from the Numidians to the Romans with his subsequent works. They are all immensely popular and have developed a large and devoted following. It seemed a terrible shame that his work has not until today found its way into the Critic's Quill. I want to remedy that today.

    1) Let's start with some easy questions. How did your interest in the TW series and its mods start?
    Thanks for the kind intro. I've always been a fan of both real-time and turn-based strategy, starting back with Command and Conquer and Civilisation franchises. When I heard that the Total War series merged the two, I was intrigued to say the least, although bought my first - Rome: Total War - on a complete whim. I've never played the first Shogun or Medieval, but from then on I was hooked.

    2) What attracted you to TWCenter? How did you find your way here?
    TWCenter always seemed to be among the top Google results when searching out a Total War question, so straight away it attracted me as a forum is only as good as its user base - which in TWCenter is evidently very knowledgeable.

    3) What got you into writing AARs?
    Again the answer comes down to whim - I remember reading an excellent AAR by Exekutor called Peace and Prosperity, a Greek observer AAR. I wondered what would happen if one tried it in Medieval II. After a few turns all hell broke loose, so I figured why not make it a proper AAR? This is why my first AAR starts of in medias res - it wasn't originally an AAR, just a personal project.

    4) Most AARs are never seen to completion. Many authors just seem to lose interest or grossly underestimate how much time they would take. You have done two AARs all the way through and are working your way through another. As someone who has stuck with it for more than a year, how do you find the motivation to keep going?
    Well, one and a half - I'm about to wrap up my Decline and Fall AAR, but I wouldn't call it finished just yet. The behemoth that is the Sassanid Empire awaits, after all. Mainly I don't want to let people down. I must admit that my updates can take a while to come, it's a way to express my gratitude for the patience of the readers.

    5) Your AARs have become quite popular. In terms of views, you have the number one and two on the Total War Eras section and the number three on the Medieval 2 section. You also have quite a devoted following of members who both read and post in your threads. Most authors can only vainly hope for such success. That said, what do you think has been the primary reason your work is so popular?
    I'm not entirely sure - I expected my first to sink like a stone in the midst of other, veteran AAR'ers. My first post in the forum was the start of my Scottish AAR, so I didn't know what to expect or what people would expect. I hope that the appeal lies in watching just what one can get away with in these games, as well as the rather tongue in cheek nature of my writing. I don't take things too serious, as readers of them can probably tell - doesn't hurt to throw in a few gags now and again.

    6) Of the three AARs you have done to this point, do you have a favorite? If so, why?
    That's a tricky one, I have favourite bits in all of them. In my Scottish AAR, the mass invasion of Europe is a favourite chapter of mine. The earliest bits of my Western Roman Empire AAR where I'm desperately swatting off invading barbarian hoards and internal rebellions where fun and frantic. Overall, I'd say my personal favourite is my Numidian AAR - everyone loves an underdog story. It's also an interesting study of how in history, single moments can define an empire, it's a story full of 'what-ifs' for me.

    7) Some time back, there was a trend for the "Apocalypse" style AARs. They began with some Timurid and Mongol AARs and then spread to various other factions. Your own first AAR, Who Watches the Watchers began as an observer AAR and then evolved into The Papal Apocalypse. What do you think the appeal of that style of AAR was and why did you get involved in it?
    Initially I had no plan of interfering at all - I'd initially planned to end it once a dominant power had seized Europe. What I didn't expect is that the power would be the Papal States, of all factions. Nor did I anticipate the popularity. It was a case of 'the show must go on', greatly inspired by the legendary Timurid AARs of ALZU- the title is a direct nod, and dunecat.

    8) Your style of writing seems geared more toward a "Player's AAR" as opposed to a "Writer's AAR." While you do involve some elements of plot and characters, it seems you are much more focused on the blow-by-blow reporting from a player's perspective. Was this a conscious decision or did it just happen in the course of your writing?
    At the risk of sounding like a total ponce, it's a very organic process. By which I mean, I just write whatever comes to mind. Lots of other people can do brilliant AARs with great stories and characters, far better than I could. I hope that my more straightforward writing style offers something different.

    9) One of the things that has impressed me with your AARs is the faction and in-game challenge you present yourself with. In the Rome AAR, you fought as the late Western Empire during the break up. In another, you fought as little Scotland against a Papacy that had taken over literally the rest of the world. In your current AAR, you fight as the long-suffering Numidians. Did you pick these times and factions for the in game challenge/fun or because of the plot you could use from them?
    A bit of both. I picked Scotland initially because it was out of the way - the only other choice, England, held Normandy. Britain is nice and isolated from the continent, a perfect spot to observe without interfering. In the Greek AAR that inspired it, Executor exiled his faction to Crete, so I followed suit. I'd also never played a serious Scottish campaign, so it was something new for me.

    Choosing the Western Roman Empire harkens back to my earliest days with the Barbarian Invasion expansion pack. Namely, how I got my arse handed to me. You're quite right in assuming the challenge is why I picked them - I figured it would be entertaining to see if I could even survive.

    Choosing the Numidians was an extension of this idea. I searched the forums to see what faction people thought was most difficult, the most worthless, the most crippled playable faction in the franchise. Dirt-poor Numidia came up frequently. Ages ago I used a mod to unlock the Berbers as a playable faction in BI, finding it challenging in the same way the sun can be described as warm. I had a few very close calls with Numidia early on - only luck prevented me from heading the way of the Berbers, who threw themselves helplessly against the walls of Carthage to no avail.

    10) Any AAR writer has gone through issues with putting together updates and posting on the forums. Lost files, timed-out posts that you can't recover, problems with the game/computer, etc. Any particularly funny or painful episodes from writing these AARs that you would care to share with us?
    Oh, plenty of those - it's something an AAR writer has to learn the hard way. My personal favourite is when I announced my first AAR was dead due to a cracked Medieval II disc - posting a gory picture of its fate. The date...April the 1st.

    11) It has been nearly seven years since Rome: Total War was released. In that time, four more editions of the Total War series have come out. You have based two of your AARs on that platform and the forum for that series is still one of the most popular on the board. What do you attribute to the staying power of Rome: Total War and why is it still so popular?
    I attribute it to the players and modders, pushing the limits and seeing what they can get away with. The fact that it's a bloody fun game doesn't hurt either.

    12) With the introduction of Shogun II: Total War and its generally positive reception, have you seen a drop off in interest in the Eras section of the board?
    I can't say I've noticed a marked drop, but I wasn't looking for one either. People may have noticed a increased gap between updates, for which they can certainly blame Shogun II - my Date campaign doesn't play itself!

    13) Do you have any plans for another AAR? If so, have you decided on a faction/mod/time period? Why?
    I've tossed around a few ideas in my head, but nothing concrete yet. After my current campaigns are finished I'd definitely like to start something new, though. Maybe give those Berbers another shot...

    14) Do you have any plans to write a different style of AARs where you will bring in characters or develop a storyline to go with the action?
    Perhaps - my Numidian AAR does try and focus on these elements a little more, especially when compared with my Western Roman Empire AAR.

    15) Are there any mods that you would like to see in the future?
    My favourite mods are Rome Total Realism and Stainless Steel, so anything more in those moulds I'd love to try. Thanks to the Quill for the interview and those who have made my AARs so popular.

    And that concludes the interview. I would like to thank Decimus for taking the time to respond to my many questions. He is still putting out updates at a pretty torid pace. So, if you haven't checked in with his AARs in a while, I suggest you go ack and have a look. If, by some chance, you haven't seen his work at all, I would encourage you to do so. There is a great variety to choose from!

    Decimus Milo's AARs
    Who Watches the Watchers?: A Papal Apocolypse (Complete)
    The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (In Progress)
    And all around is the desert, a corner of the mournful kingdom of sand (In Progress)

    Interview with wowbanger by m_1512 (Critic's Quill #29)

    Greetings. Today I bring an interview of a special member, a fellow of the Staff too, and a dear friend. But wait! Let me build more suspense. I'll tell you a little more about him.

    Back then, when I was testing the waters before I got quite active here, I bumped into quite some people. Some modders, some writers, etc. He is one of the latter. The first time, I was quite jittery to write and submit my first piece. I was confused with the usual questions, what, when, and where. But then he comes along and motivates me to submit it finally. He then continues to explain about the writer's study, with it's friendly atmosphere and all, then convinces me to join the fraternity. A bond which I consider solid and long, for I would always associate my self with the Writer's study first, then others, here at TWC.

    Then, we became good friends, and I continued enjoying my time there. But there is more. Here I am writing up this interview, the credits of which to him. True, I had no idea what was content staff. He again, in his ways, roused my interest, and motivated to write my first review and join the Critic's Quill, where I literally built myself a villa.

    So, without further suspense, I present to you, wowbanger.

    Here's the interview.

    Tell us something about yourself.
    Well what do you want to know?

    I'm a 21 year old engineering student from the English Midlands. I live with my Irish fiancée in a nice flat that is slowly but surely being over run with pets of various shapes and sizes including guinea pigs, cockatiels, snakes and a gorgeous springer spaniel puppy, who, entirely by coincidence, happens to also be called Saoirse (for those of you who were wondering, Saoirse is the Irish word for freedom, and it seems to fit both the idea of my AAR and the nature of my puppy quite well).

    History has always been one of my main interests, particularly Irish history at the moment (hence the AAR choice), although most areas of history I find interesting. To be honest I have a great love of most things Irish, just as well really considering that I will be moving there next year once my university course has finished.

    How came you here as a writer?
    Quite frankly I'm not entirely sure how I became a writer here myself. Right the way through my school years writing was something that I had no interest in what so ever and if you had told me back then that I would be writing stories as a hobby then I would have thought you had gone mad. However, reading has always been of keen interest to me and so, last Summer, while doing a very boring job, I began toying with the idea of writing my own story. That was an idea that was soon forgotten about for a few months although a few trial stories that never saw the light of day were experimented with. Then I discovered the Tale of the Week forum and thought "Hey, why not?" and so I entered my first tale and became slightly hooked.

    Congratulations on your selection in the Writer's Study team. I had once asked for applying myself, I then learnt that we don't apply, but are invited. How is it in there?
    What, apart from the constantly running to Starbucks for more coffee for everyone and the daily foot massages for Hesus?

    Ok, I'll be serious. Although I was perhaps a little nervous at first (the whole first day at a new school kind of thing) the rest of the team soon helped me to settle in and it feels great to be giving something back to the forum that has given me so much joy and helped me through some difficult times.

    Could you provide us an insight about the Writer's Study.
    I personally believe that the Writers Study is all about a community of writers and readers who should be working together to improve their writing skills. Sure we have the official competitions but, for me at least, they take second place to the help, guidance, support and critiques provided by other writers and readers that help each other develop as writers. It was those reasons why I joined the Critics Quill staff and have now joined the Writers Study team, so that I could help the other writers on this forum improve and develop their writing.

    A thought or two about writing.
    Well, what can I say here, to condense the whole subject of writing down to a thought or two is quite a task. I suppose firstly I'll say that, for me, it makes a great hobby, it enables me to escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life into another world that can be anything I choose it to be.

    Having said that however, often the story takes on a life of its own and almost seems to write itself, leading you down tracks and paths you never even suspected. As my good friend Mega Tortas de Bodemloze once said (in his famous purple font), "Some writers never know what's to be written until they see it on the page....". Its at those times that writing becomes the most fun as even the writer is wondering how the story will end. This is especially true in AARs where the game can throw at some very interesting situations that are great to write about. For example, in my Irish AAR during the Battle of Ìle, a single horseman broke the ranks of defenders at the gates and proceeded to charge down the street at several hundred waiting defenders. Now this was something that was completely unplanned and unexpected but I had so much fun writing about that one heroic event that I did it twice, once in the AAR and again for the BAARC.

    What's your favorite genre, could you share a few thoughts about it.
    My favourite genre? Well looking my current five favourite authors then there is quite a range. On the one side there is Terry Pratchett (comedy/fantasy) and Douglas Adams (comedy/sci-fi) and then it goes through JRR Tolkein (the grand fantasy adventure) and comes out at the other side with Bernard Cornwell and Sir Walter Scott (both historical fiction), so make of that what you will. When it comes to writing however, I much prefer to stay historical, lacking the imagination to create my own fantasy world. So, for now at least, my stories will mainly be rooted in the past.

    Any current projects at hand?
    Well, since the untimely death of Saoirse, the AAR not the puppy, I have taken a small step back from writing. Partly due to RL issues, 12-13 hour days at work don't leave you much in the mood for writing, and partly to let me properly prepare my new projects.

    I still have my slowly progressing Lord of the Rings fanfic, Revenge in the Clanlands, which is still ongoing despite appearances, so expect some new chapters for that and of course I'll still enter tales into Tale of the Week and the BAARC as and when the mood takes me.

    As for new projects, I would like to use this opportunity to formally announce my new AAR. Entitled 'Dogs of War' it tells a tale of a young Roman who sets out with his faithful canine companions to rescue the woman he loves and exact revenge on the barbarians who destroyed his life. Coming soon to a computer screen near you.

    After that, well I have a page in my notebook dedicated to ideas for AARs and other stories so inspiration shouldn't be a problem.

    Any plans to be a full-fledged author in the future?
    Maybe. I have an idea for a novel that I would like to to attempt to write that may develop into a series, but whether it gets off the ground or not is still uncertain.

    I believe Writer's Study at TWC is a good place to develop their writing and also form good friendships. Your thoughts on this?
    I whole heartedly agree with you on that point. I have made many good friends while I have been writing here and I would like to think that my writing has improved slightly too. Those are the two reasons why I like the Writer's Study and why I keep coming back. They are also why I would strongly encourage new people to come and get involved and become part of the great community there.

    Any innovative ideas to add/changes in the Writer's Study that you have.
    To be honest, no, I don't. Then again I haven't given it much thought. Overall The Writer's Study is well organised with good competitions and a strong following among the members, I don't want to barge in and start messing around with everything. I do want to start to increase advertising for the Study around the forums as a whole, but I think that may have to wait awhile until I have more free time.

    Could you give some inside account of your new Tale Project?
    Well the Tale Project wasn't my idea, it was thought up and started by Mega Tortas de Bodemloze. However, since his unexplained disappearance (something we all hope will come an end soon) I have kind of taken over as caretaker. Basically, the idea is to provide the writers of this forum with somewhere that they can showcase their work all in one place, like the artists do in the Graphics Workshop and Screenshot Galleries. Although the Project is based in the Tale of the Week forums the writing on display could be absolutely anything that the writer wants to show off, in my Study I have Tale of the Week entries, extracts from both my AAR and Middle Earth Fanfic, my BAARC entry, Scriptorium entries and Critics Quill reviews so that shows some ideas of what you can put in it.

    Lastly, any advice for new and aspiring writers.
    Of course.

    My best piece of advice for anyone new considering writing would be simply to get stuck in and give it a go. You can never know if you'll enjoy it or how good you might until you take the plunge. It doesn't have to be a big and daunting project, like an AAR that takes months or even years to complete, I started out writing short stories for Tale of the Week that could be finished in a morning and only when I discovered a passion for writing did I move onto longer projects. That and always carry a piece of paper and a pen/pencil because you never know when a moment of inspiration will strike, I wrote my Scriptorium medal winning haiku on a scrap of paper while I was bored waiting for the computer to respond at work one morning.

    And if that's the final question then may I thank you m for giving me such a thorough grilling and thank the readers for reading all I had to say. If anyone has any questions about anything mentioned in this interview or about writing in general then don't hesitate to ask me, I'll be more than happy to help. And with that its time time to say goodbye.

    Interview with Dr. Jan Itor by m_1512 (Critic's Quill #30)

    1) We all know you as Dr. Jan Itor (formerly StealthEvo), but could you tell us a bit about yourself?

    I'm probably the least creative person on these forums. Literally. But in all seriousness I am a 20 something bro living in London who works in a bar. When I'm not cranking out Challenge Accepted posts I'm normally running Ran no Jidai not that it needs much supervision these days or pursuing independent projects on the side.

    2. The Challenge accepted thread, quite an innovative idea. Could you share with us how it came about?

    Well the story is in the title. I took on a challenge that was rumored to be impossible. Which having come as far as I have, I can see why it's rumored to be impossible. Plus you know when I finish it I have great idea's for a new campaign in Challenge Accepted along with a series of Easter Eggs for the main game itself. Zarax is just unlucky that I'm a capable modder

    3. Any other similar projects that you may launch?

    Well I have launched a similar project which runs a similar format to Challenge Accepted. It's a fair bit more crass and features a lot more low brow humor then Challenge Accepted, however it's a series of multi-player sessions on Baldurs Gate with a close amigo of mine.

    Naturally Chaos ensures and the fun continues. There are only 4 updates at present due to my work hours, and that each session takes about 6-7 hours including smoke breaks and beer runs. Well vodka runs
    However to those that are interested in checking it out. Click the link below.
    Baldurs Gate Tutu AAR-How not to play with Tutu's-NEW AAR RAWR

    4. I also see that you are a fellow AARtist, could you share some words about AARs?

    It's a funny place the AAR sub-forums. You see people that clearly have little to no talent when it comes to appeasing the masses (at least compared with me) coming up with a cliche idea that has probably been done before and then getting a massive fan base and the whole thing dissolves over a week and a half.

    Then you have the people that actually try, but aren't recognized in the wider scheme of things or don't have a historical fictional recollection of a super godlike general to challenge the great Alexander. They simply don't get recognized. To be honest I include myself in this bracket. I've had to fight tooth and claw to develop a 'cult' and most of them are Bronies. I hate bronies. Then I see projects with the same premise which fundamentally follow the same method as me. Picture and two lines of text getting a swath of followers claiming that the writer is fantastic and the story is engrossing.

    Perhaps I'm a cynic. I really hope that I am because it's clear that there is something weird going on. I never got praise for having a deep engrossing story line with believable characters for following the mainstream method...Any idea's what I'm doing wrong. And no. I'm not jealous

    Right negativity over. I think the AAR community is a diverse and perhaps not as communal as it should be. I have had a lot of fun in my dealings with my attempts at AARs over the last year or so. I never quite expected that the projects I took the least serious and put the minimal amount of effort into became the most popular. I hit 20k views only just late late month and I really feel that's a significant milestone as on the front page there are only 4 AARs that have hit 20k go back a page and it's only the participative AAR that Molina did (awesome idea btw) with anything near that. I should be proud of myself I suppose

    5. You have also made significant contributions on TWC, in particular AARs. What would be your advice to aspiring and upcoming AARtists?

    I have several words of advice.

    All the AARs you all read. The writers put an incredible amount of work in. It's a false economy. I put in about an hours worth of work per update and there is significant content and then I'm off to go to the pub.

    I do the bare minimal amount of work and yet I can creative a fantastic narrative and all the needed goodies. Follow the KISS model. Keep It Simple - Stupid.

    You could try and re-enact the dying days of Rome. Again, with them Winning. Again. Or you could take Gaul to India. That's all I'm saying on the subject. Thinking outside of the box and taking a more relaxed attitude will do wonders.

    You have to have fun. There is no point in doing something your not having fun. I've taken weeks off from even touching any Total War game. Simply because I needed to unwind, get stupidly drunk and re-assess. Not the AAR but how fit that Ginger bird really was. I read AARs where the writer makes several posts saying it's in the works, there's times issues. But that constant attempt to try and restart things is what burns you out in the long run. If your in a place where you can't motivate that is at least consistent. Go do something fun ignore the voices of the masses demanding you return. They aren't paying you. They should be. But they aren't.

    A little bit of Controversy goes along way. Allow me to quote the conclusion to the only review I've ever gotten of my work.
    • Do you want a story AAR? Don't come to this AAR.
    • Do you want a gripping plot? Definitely don't come to this AAR.
    • Do you want an entertaining report full to the brim with Awesome? Definitely come to this AAR.

    This helped me more then any of my merchandise ever did. (Yes I do have merchandise I made several cups and T shirts) There's nothing wrong with going against the mainstream.

    Finally. At the end of the day. It's your work. I had the pleasure of watching someone that I didn't have a particularly high opinion of make an AAR, now this individual has a frothing fan base that worship him as he goes. Naturally they all gave their dedicated oohs and awws to the post and one gave a suggestion to the plot. Next day there is input from everyone and lo and behold the next update reflected all this turning what I thought was a decent start into a mishmash, to be honest. Yet they all thought it was fantastic.

    In short. The people that are there to read your work and to commit time to congratulate you on starting are the people you want following you. The people that make petty demands or simply want things done are not the fan base you want to accumulate. Your story, your work, your fun.

    6. Could you share some spoilers about your current and upcoming projects?

    I reckon I could let you all in the real deal. I have three projects being planned. All of which I'm willing to spoil in differing levels of detail.

    The first is directly relevant. Once Challenge Accepted is finished there's the spin off serials that kill the genre forever a la scrubs. I have plans to go and start on Carthage, Finishing the Romans. That's another year of shamelessly abusing peoples free time. A series of essays on how I played the campaign and discussing what works and what doesn't. Then to cap it off an essay or 5 on the main players. THEN like Take That's third farewell tour. An essay or three on my experience as an AAR writer.

    Second a Fourth Age Total War participative AAR I started modding with FATW and I have a good idea for how and what I want to achieve. I just need to finish making my home brew additions and start the premise. However watch the Rome Total War AAR space with anticipation.

    Finally. My ultimate piece. Jake is a Lacrosse player, he's a brash. He enjoys a good Natty Ice. How will he like Rome Total War That is all I'm willing to divulge on that one. Planning has been 6 months in the works will include all sorts of content. Acting, photos, it's all coming to together, but that's for after Challenge Accepted is finished.

    7. You have made significant advances in the writing realm here, would you tell us about your journey?

    I wouldn't say I've advanced at all. I've sold myself out to the low-brow crowd because I craved attention. I jest. But my earlier projects were actually serious and well written. But because of my aforementioned rant. They were ignored. However if anyone is interested in checking them out. In reverse order of publication.

    Forlorn Hope- Gratuitous Space Battles Here

    Brotherhood Construction INC-Minecraft Here Images died.

    For the Love of Sin-Rome Total War Here

    Shadow of the Re-united Kingdom Here

    All of these are dead, but it highlights my point that all my earlier and ultimately unsuccessful attempts were taken with so much more time investment and emotional investment. Yet compared to the slap dash job Challenge Accepted was. They pale in comparison. Shame really. Kinda puts things in perspective.

    8. Lastly, any advice or few words of wisdom for our readers and fellow writers?

    Don't let others tell you how to write your material. Don't conform and don't sell out. I will only ever be known for Challenge Accepted style AARs that's already been proven. I can handle my dislike for Bronies. Can you?

    Interview with SeniorBatavianHorse by robinzx (Critic's Quill #32)

    Inspired by the enigmatic introduction to our interviewee’s celebrated AAR, for this edition of the Quill I decided to attempt the less flamboyant but equally disapproved style of the journalist. It is therefore a great honour to bring you one of the old masters of AAR-dom. Author of the classic The Nowhere Legion, SeniorBatavianHorse has brought us blood, sweat, and much Roman epic-ness over the years. Join me as I celebrate the genius of his works, while attempting to uncover, just a little, the man behind the moving narratives.

    Easy questions first – when and how did you come across the TW series and TWC?

    I first became aware of RTW via the TV series which immediately grabbed my attention. I have always loved war gaming and I remember my jaw dropping when I saw the quality of the visuals and the nature of the gameplay. I was also gutted because I am an avid Applemac user and had never owned a PC. I did a bit of research online and discovered the TW community and the mods being released then for the RTW – especially RTR and EB. This really got my juices going so I maxed out what was left of my credit card and bought a PC just so I could play RTW. Once online, I joined the TW site and really began delving into all the mods like a kid in a sweet shop!

    You’ve written several AARs of varying lengths. What inspired you to start writing your own AARs in the beginning?

    I never knew such a genre existed, you see. So when I found the Late Roman mod Invasio Barbarorum and began playing it non-stop, I realised that people were writing up their gameplay experiences in the form of these AARs. Now I have always written since a child and suddenly I was given a wonderful opportunity to both play this amazing mod and also write it up as a sort of ongoing novel. I leapt at the chance to flex my old writing muscles but remember being very nervous with the first AAR updates – I am not that good a campaign player, you see, and always seem to blunder into defeat so I was worried that I would be making a fool of myself . . .

    Your AARs seem to take a writing-first-game-second approach. Given this, how much importance do you place on campaign progress when writing your AAR? Do you play ahead or do you write as you go?

    I write as I go and always allow the campaign to influence what I write but not to the level of dictating it. This for me is hugely important. I tend to think AARs fall into two broad categories: the documentary approach and the film approach. The first is where the AAR is primarily a record of what is happening in the player’s campaign although heavily fictionalised. The second is where the campaign is used to develop and illustrate an ongoing story which is independent to the campaign I may actually be playing. I tend to think of these approaches as more of a sliding scale to be honest than a true difference of approach - but in essence it means that in my current AAR for example while I am playing a campaign in the background it is so distant from the actual AAR events that in effect I am ‘filming’ a different story deep inside the campaign.

    Have there been instances where the campaign has forced, or inspired you to rip up a plotline and continue in a considerably different direction?

    Yes, very. In the last major AAR – The End Of The Line – I had set up this epic clash deep in the Assyrian deserts between Julian’s Roman armies and the Sassanids armies. I had spent ages playing the campaign to set-up all the pieces on the board, as it were. The heart of the AAR was these two disparate Roman legions which were being forced to serve together as punishment and the subsequent bond they would develop out of respect – one was an elite palatine legion and the other a poorly-disciplined border legion. The climax of this part of the AAR was these two legions mustering alone before the combined Sassanid armies with no hope of survival. I would then play the battle - and Julian’s elite Roman armies would crash in and save them all – that in effect Julian had used these two legions as bait. It was going to be a perfect AAR climax. And then the damned AI Sassanid commander simply upped and left the field of battle once Julian’s forces approached. I played it again and again and every time the AI army just got up and walked away. The whole AAR collapsed dramatically and I was so disheartened that I ended it . . .

    Your writing has drawn widespread acclaim from the readers on TWC. What's your experience with real life writing prior to AARs? Do you have any plans to become a full-fledged author in the future?

    I write mainly as a playwright – 8 plays in the last 3 years for example. It is tough going and to be honest the plays I write do not appeal to the theatre guardians here in Scotland. They are too obscure and ‘intellectual’, I think. So it has been rejection after rejection but it is good discipline. Nothing makes you toughen up as a writer more than to receive a nicely worded rejection letter from someone who clearly hasn’t understood what you are trying to do! It drives you back to the writing desk. I hope to break into the theatre world eventually but to be honest enjoy writing these AARs so much that I could not imagine not writing here also!

    Journo's note: You can find a selection of SeniorBatavianHorse(aka. Francis Hagan)'s published plays here at Smashwords.

    On your current AAR, the Nowhere Legion, it has received an enormous amount of views and won the MAARC XXX. What was your inspiration for it? What sets it apart from the others from your perspective? Is it your favourite piece?

    I am enormously gratified that readers enjoy the story so much. It still makes me nervous with each update because I don’t want to disappoint those expectations. My inspiration came from reading an article in Ancient Warfare magazine about the Fifth Macedonian Legion and the fact that it was the longest serving legion that we have records for. There was a story there – and something in me wanted to tell a part of it. I think it works because it has a larger narrative to it which starts at the end of the legion and then whisks a reader back in time to when this legion was still caught up in glory and honour. There is an elegiac quality to it as a result of this which I enjoy writing. It is my favourite piece, yes, but only really because it is still ongoing – and the end which will be coming is so sad that part of me doesn’t want to get there and write it.

    The narrative method of using Professor Escher is nothing short of epic, and links nicely to your previous writing. What was your inspiration for these two characters?

    As a writer I like using a distancing mechanism like a narrator or a framing device. Early on with The Lost Expedition I had the idea of using archaeological characters to lead the reader in to a different time period. Holbein and Escher emerged from that set-up but in fact I borrowed them from an earlier novella I had written called The Cartographia which is a series of Late Roman short stories set across the Empire. Both Holbein and Escher existed in that work as two previous translators of this work and whom I ‘disagreed’ with in terms of their different translations. I incorporated then into the AAR writing and developed them into a team. By killing off Holbein, I was able to infuse The Nowhere Legion with a certain sense of loss that thematically tied into the overall themes I am playing with.

    What do you consider the greatest joys and challenges you face in your writing? Any particularly memorable anecdotes you could share with us?

    I write on the fly, as it were, which means I have a series of ‘beats’ that I want to get to – a cavalry charge, the overnight camp, an argument, things like that, which I can frame with the odd picture or two. The challenge is to tell these beats effectively within the AAR format in such a way that the reader will come back for more later on. I find that enormously challenging – and is similar in a way to writing a play in that you are working in short scenes. Each AAR update is like a scene with a number of minor beats and ending on what we call ‘top-spin’ – that is an ending which propels the reader into wanting to come back. As I write other ideas pop into my head and the challenge is not to get too distracted. Something that immediately springs to mind is the afternoon I was writing about the old Fifth marching out into the desert to rebuild and fortify an abandoned legion castra. I scouted around online for some research using Google-map and other resources – and found this amazing site deep in the Harra which was almost custom built for my story. I spent an afternoon researching it and what I found gave me so much material for the AAR that I am still in a daze really. It was almost as if the gods were gifting me this place. It is times like that when writing becomes a discovery of something much larger and it really lifts you as a writer out of your world.

    When you start an AAR, do you have a finite goal or epic ending in mind or do you devise the plot as the game evolves? Where do you see the Nowhere Legion going in the coming weeks and months? A little spoiler for our readers, if you will.

    I start with a simple idea – a hook, if you will. Really, the simpler the better. Something for the readers to get their teeth into. What would happen if I took a single legion and followed its story down into oblivion? That simple idea has no real flesh on it but it does have a certain poetic quality to it. In case of this AAR I had an image in my head of the fate of the last officer of the last legion – and what I wanted to do was both tell his story – Zeno in the fort of Oescus – and also the story of those forgotten men whose footsteps led to his own last steps by the Danube. The AAR will lift soon into a more epic playing field – the battle at the moment is not what it seems and a shock is coming which will change everything. A man who is alive will seem dead and one who appears alive is already dead.

    Who do you think is your favourite character from your writing? Are there any that you relate to on a personal level or were written to be "like" you? Do you have a favourite scene you particularly enjoyed?

    My current favourite is Holbein oddly enough – even though he is dead. His exuberance is infectious when I write and makes a wonderful tonic to the elegiac and bloody scenes I write. That is why I am using him sparingly at the moment. I don’t want to overwrite him and lose that smile he gives me when he apologises again and again to Escher about his sloppy writing and romantic idealism. As for a scene? Hmm, tricky – I suppose at the moment, my favourite is that awful afternoon when the Fifth had to lay down their old standards and pick up the new Christian ones. That was a moment when an old world faded and an untested new world emerged – and for the Fifth it was like a betrayal.

    Your work has mostly been set in the RTW universe. Do you have any plans to write another one concurrent to, or after the Nowhere Legion? Perhaps you’ve considered writing for a medieval setting – Scotland maybe? Or even one of the newer games?

    I wrote an short English Civil War AAR for the FKOC Mod and enjoyed it but my PC crashed and I lost the save game. My passion is always the Late Roman period though so no I can’t see myself writing outside it at the moment. I would flounder I expect in an unknown period and lose touch with what motivates me as a writer!

    Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you get through it and start writing again? What do you think is the reason so many AARs go unfinished?

    Writer’s Block is an overused phrase – it is mostly either nerves or laziness in the end. Nothing helps your writing more than simply writing! The more you write the better you get and that is the hard blunt truth of it. Trust me – I did 3 years of Creative Writing at University. Only two things were hammered into you then – write and edit. That was it. Anyone can write but a Writer re-writes! I think many AARs go unfinished because the writers lose heart or inspiration and they fall away from the routine. It is amazingly easy to fall out of the habit of updating – twice on this AAR I have almost abandoned it due to work issues or something else which came along. The lack of immediate response is another issue. Those AARists who start and do not get feedback in the first few updates must then face that that awful dilemma of wondering whether to carry on or not. I would always advise that carrying on is always worth it. The AAR reading community is very supportive and encouraging but also bides it time a little I think to see if the AAR is really going to continue.
    Keep writing and soon those feedbacks will start sprouting after every update – and that is when your AAR will really take off!

    Do you have any pieces of advice you could share with budding AARtists? What would you say to AARtists looking for inspiration to start?

    Have a good idea! A single through-line – or something like that. Think down at the local level and try not to overload a reader with the entire campaign. Filter that campaign through the local – and it will become more dramatic as a result. Be emotionally involved too! If you don’t care about your characters and what is happening to them, neither will your reader. Finally, the AAR genre is a wonderfully flexible medium – use it to try something new out also. Look at Knonfoda’s work, for example and the way he incorporates embedded music and video – what I half-jokingly call VIDAARs. Be creative and dangerous. You never know, that AAR idea you have might be the next big MAARC winner!
    SeniorBatavianHorse’s AARs:
    [IB SAI AAR] - The Nowhere Legion
    [IJ3 AAR] - The End Of The Line
    [IB AAR] - The Lost Expedition
    [IB AAR] - At The Limes
    [IB AAR] - The Last of the Romans
    [FKOC AAR] - A Little Winter Love in a Darke Corner - A Royalist AAR

    Francis Hagan the playwright:
    Published plays on Smashwords
    Francis' blog on WordPress

    Interview conducted by robinzx

    Interview with MasterOfNone by StealthEvo (Critic's Quill #32)

    Right, so before we begin the first question is obviously; What are you wearing? Personally I'm rocking the shirtless trilby look. Standard interview fare and what not.

    As of writing this, I am wearing a suit. I have just got back from a Christmas devotional. I'm not too keen on suits, even though I wear them a lot. I think some casual tweed would better fit an author, wouldn't you say?

    Tweed is always good but Suits are always cool. Now, not everyone is aware of your vast legacy within the Total War Center, would you like to provide a brief outline as to why you are the eminent figure that you are within our community?

    (nor are many aware how well I pay interviewers ). Well, it's all basically in my retirement thread (my "legacy", not how well I pay those who interview me!). But to sum it up: I joined the modding community on SCC in 2004 soon after Rome was released, hooking up with the Fourth Age Total War team in a minor role. Very soon I found myself digging into the code and realizing lots of ways it could be used to do things not currently in vanilla or any other mods. Although I initially became the mapping manager, I soon went on to become the coding manager and, a little later, the lead developer.

    I stepped back from that with the release of The New Shadow, and worked on a lot of smaller projects: Gods & Fighting Men, the modfoldering of Europa Barbarorum 1.0, Title of Liberty, Viking Invasion II/Dominion of Britannica, Norman Invasion and a number of smaller variations and minimods, such as the Multi-Mod Sampler. I think, for me, the most exciting times were near the beginning when research and discovery were hot topics, especially at the Org.

    As TWC became more modder-focused I gradually spent more time here. I am the author of several seminal guides on modding, and started a bit of a trend with "The Complete Guide to..." prefix It really all started when I wanted the Fourth Age team to get the regional borders accurate on their map - you do have to be careful when you step out of your door and put your feet on that path. You never know where it might lead...

    So it's fairly clear that you've made quite an impression within these forums at least! But we aren't discussing your incredible contributions to the site. Rather we are having a bit of a chinwag about your Novel The Serpent in the Glass.

    Obviously it's a reason for celebration here as you have given the community so much. But on a more personal note given that you've self published (a remarkable challenge in itself) how do you feel now that it's finally available to the public?

    A number of emotions, ranging from relief to excitement. To be honest, I'm one of those people who prefers to see what I've made - be it a mod or a book - in the limelight rather than me. I've played around with the manuscript for years. With my modding days fizzling out (I still do a small amount of work on the Fourth Age to support the new team), I took the opportunity to publish the thing. I'm a bit of a perfectionist (seems to be a characteristic of Fourth Age managers ), so I had to make the decision to get the book "out there" or else tweak it for eternity.

    So, yes, relief. And yet excitement when a friend, or a friend's child, asks for a signed copy and their eyes light up! That's a nice feeling. But it's not really about how I feel - it's about how readers will feel when they read the book. I hope they can go somewhere magical in a world that can often seem dreary. Who knows, some of them may even laugh at my strange sense of humour

    With a labour of love the only result is perfection, something I can agree and relate to; However you bring up an interesting point. Before I grill you regarding your journey as a writer. What influenced your choice to publish in Electronic format first?

    I wanted to make it cheaply available to a few readers in order to get some feedback. The paperback is all the better for it. Self-published authors, from what I hear, always make more sales on the digital platform - so the Kindle was and is a must. The current version of the book should be almost entirely free of mistakes. Having said that, the process of preparing a manuscript for Kindle is far from swift and simple!

    I didn't know about the increase in sales for Self Published Authors over the electronic medium, I always assumed the lack of a team for lack of a better word would have resulted in lower sales across the board.

    So let's start at the beginning of your journey, I did my homework and can see that you've quite a varied list of inspirational writers. Ranging from the Wheel of Time, all the way to Harry Potter (which even I admit is badass). Also you've been developing ideas since you were 12 as well which is a considerable feat. Have there been any themes or ideas that have stuck with you since those early days, or near enough those early days?

    If so how have they shaped your writing in the past even if they didn't make it into the final edit?

    That's a deep question. I think we read novels for different reasons, some inspire but some are just fun. I think the common element is that they take you somewhere you feel to be better than the humdrum of daily life. Personally, I like books that have happy endings, that promote courage, honour, etc. I'm not really into horrors or romance (though there may, of course, be a romantic or scary element to a book I do read).

    I have lots of ideas in my head, but I tend to find an "anchor" to them, something that fixes them into the real world. I have an interest in Irish mythology - and to some extent in Norse - and I use ideas from that mythos in my works (as do many fantasy writers - though you might not know that unless you're familiar with those myths). Fantasy books based on pure fabrication, with no anchor to the real world - or to our ancestral memory - hold little interest for me. It's why I'm a fan of Tolkien's fiction, but dislike the cliché fantasy that removes those anchors and paints the creatures, characters and places with the brush of ungrounded mock creation. I think I would bear this all in mind whatever genre I wrote. And, in time, I would like to try different genres.

    On a personal note, I can relate at least partially for that. I tend to look for novels that have a well developed wide cast of well developed characters in an equally well developed lore. Take Robin Hobb's work, sheer brilliance in itself. Not quite the Epic that Robert Jordan brought, but close enough.

    But onwards! I am a slap dash writer of sorts, I enjoy writing; be it academia or simple little bits here and there. I'm sure that a number of our readers have similar hobbies. But how did you approach the writing of Serpent in the Glass? Was it something you dedicated your spare time to, or did you make it a full time job and have working hours?

    I started in in 1997, left it for a few years, and then got seriously back to it a year or so ago. As is said elsewhere, might have been done a lot quicker if not for modding I like to write whenever I can, but I find I need no distractions - and that is difficult these days. On the other hand, another novel I started in March 2010 had 30,000 words written within 3 months. I've yet to get back to that one. But there must be some discipline in order to finish a book of any kind.

    Thats a considerable time investment, I'm sure that everyone will echo our praise that everything came together for you.

    It's clear that you have a love of fantasy material, however for me the really interesting theme is that you've brought it to a more modern setting. What were the challenges in bringing two contrasting themes (Fantasy and Modern) together, especially given that it's aimed at the younger readers?

    Modding is a considerable time investment too, actually more than writing if you're talking about large full-conversion mods.

    Fantasy is a broad subject: "The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things…" as J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote (On Fairy-Stories, Tree and Leaf, p. 9). I like the Dark Ages/early Medieval period in Europe, especially in the British Isles, but "The Serpent in the Glass" was something I wanted to write from a more modern viewpoint. Originally I set the story just a couple of decades earlier than the Chronicles of Narnia, but I later chose to update it. In that I was influenced by JK Rowling, whose books I started reading around 2001.

    I think the contrast is good, but you do have to avoid some things. You mustn't date the writing by referencing specific technologies or brands, and you need to keep a buffer with the real-world - a bit like how Rowling does by making mention of a Muggle Prime Minister, but never mentioning a name. Of course, no modern setting in any work of fiction is really the exact same setting of our world. It's a clever copy so that you can relate to it enough to believe it's real.

    Book categories are a bit indistinct. Perhaps this is unavoidable in the sense that children can have very different reading abilities at a young age. Young Adult is usually taken to mean the 12-18 age group, but that is very broad indeed. My book would probably be called a children's book, though crossover/kidult might also fit it. I think it would appeal to anyone aged 11 or older, including young-minded adults. I think I like this category (whatever we call it) because it has such a universal appeal. I'd like to think that if I wrote a historical fiction for adults it would also appeal to young teens.

    I also dislike "dumbing down" language for younger readers. I'm not talking about coarse language (which I hate in books anyway - especially historical fiction that uses modern expletives and thus break the spell of immersion), but just the general vocabulary. There's no reason to change that for a younger reader, in my view, though you might slightly adapt the way it's presented.

    Obviously things have changed significantly from when you were within the age bracket your writing for, even for someone my age, who is from a generation after you to a state which I am slightly alarmed by. When I was growing up and I admit I was one of the more bookwormy sterotypes but I was getting into deep Novels, Farseer Trilogy, Piers Anthonys work and yet today its a more accurate reflection of the time. Everything needs to be fast and stimulating.

    However in this day and age of information over exposure, I say this as a bit of a rebel for my generation. I personally hope that proper books never die (I refuse to own a kindle out of principle) do you think that the act of breaking into Print will end up costing more then its worth by the end of the coming decade. With Electronic media becoming the dominant choice for many readers. Also what advice would you offer to any younger authors who are more likely to be affected by this?

    If a generation is twenty years, then I am just one year shy of being the one that came before you

    I tend toward books with more description than the "fast and stimulating". I like Tolkien, Jordan, Eddings, etc. However, variety is nice and the book I'm working on at the moment is set at a much faster pace.

    I, too, do not own a Kindle. However, the technology does seem to have brought more people into the world of reading a novel digitally. I must admit, as I think many people still do (including teens), I find it hard to see how a nice, light paperback could ever be replaced. But, as you hint at, there is a lot of debate going on. I think that digital sales will increase, but I think that if people really like a book (even if they read it on Kindle, etc., first), they will buy the physical (and no doubt more expensive) product.

    As for advice - well, publish on every platform! will convert a single manuscript into just about every digital version for you; though you may wish to manually edit to get it perfect. Personally I have a separate file for the Kindle version of "The Serpent in the Glass". I know some self-published authors don't have tangible books (most sales are digital), but there are always those who want the paperback (or hardback). And, if you go digital only, how are you going to do book signings? Even if it it's just friends and family...

    As our time together ebbs towards it's rather anti climactic conclusion (a first for me) I would to offer my congratulations to you for your fantastic work and release of Second Editions. I would like to offer my personal thanks for taking the time to converse with me. it has been a wonderful insight into the industry.

    However, before we close and I continue to seethe with minor jealously that someone other then myself has the patience to stick with their ideas. (I jest)

    Do you have any closing remarks, insights of wisdom, general advice, or to quote the late Albus Dumbledore would you like to offer four words instead?

    Thank you for the interview. Thanks to TWC for putting up the book. Thanks to Aradan for taking over FATW so I could write. Thanks to Eorl for designing the wonderful cover image! (that's four 'thank yous' rather than four words ). You can find out more about the book at

    Interview conducted by StealthEvo

    Last edited by Radzeer; April 08, 2012 at 11:12 AM.

  4. #4

    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    These are awesome compilations!

  5. #5
    wowbanger's Avatar Decanus
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beer Money View Post
    These are awesome compilations!
    I agree.

    "Some writers never know what's to be written until they see it on the page...." Some words of wisdom from my good friend, Mega Tortas de Bodemloze

  6. #6
    ReD_OcToBeR's Avatar Senator
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Strange how I never noticed this before. Good work in shining light where it needed some.

  7. #7
    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Beer Money View Post
    These are awesome compilations!
    Quote Originally Posted by wowbanger View Post
    I agree.
    Quote Originally Posted by ReD_OcToBeR View Post
    Strange how I never noticed this before. Good work in shining light where it needed some.
    Thank you everybody, and please if you have some suggestions for more content, let me know!

  8. #8
    Boustrophedon's Avatar Grote Smurf

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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Only just found out about this place but it's in my internet favourites already a very handy collection of thoughts on AAR's! +rep Radzeer for the effort of compiling this
    Last edited by Boustrophedon; March 20, 2011 at 09:21 AM.

  9. #9
    wowbanger's Avatar Decanus
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    I just found these from the Org and thought they might be of interest (I found a link on the AAR FAQ thread here but the thread had moved so I did some hunting):

    How does one AAR?
    Writing-related links
    Last edited by wowbanger; March 24, 2011 at 03:57 PM. Reason: Fixed broken links

    "Some writers never know what's to be written until they see it on the page...." Some words of wisdom from my good friend, Mega Tortas de Bodemloze

  10. #10
    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Boustrophedon View Post
    Only just found out about this place but it's in my internet favourites already a very handy collection of thoughts on AAR's! +rep Radzeer for the effort of compiling this
    Thank you, I'm glad to see you here! Keep up the good work with your writing and CQ contributions!

    Quote Originally Posted by wowbanger View Post
    I just found these from the Org and thought they might be of interest (I found a link on the AAR FAQ thread here but the thread had moved so I did some hunting):

    How does one AAR?
    Writing-related links
    Looks promising, but the links are broken. Could you please repost it? Thanks!
    Last edited by Radzeer; March 24, 2011 at 02:02 PM.

  11. #11
    Boustrophedon's Avatar Grote Smurf

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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Radzeer View Post
    Thank you, I'm glad to see you here! Keep up the good work with your writing and CQ contributions!
    Will do! I'm going to post another chapter soon and I've been working on a new article for the April Quill

  12. #12
    wowbanger's Avatar Decanus
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Ok I fixed the broken links, should both work now.

    "Some writers never know what's to be written until they see it on the page...." Some words of wisdom from my good friend, Mega Tortas de Bodemloze

  13. #13
    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by wowbanger View Post
    Ok I fixed the broken links, should both work now.
    Got it, thank you! Need to spread some +rep, but I'll be back.

  14. #14
    TotalWarker's Avatar Ordinarius
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Cracking list and some great encouragement and pointers for those who are considering their first! Thanks

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    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Tips and thoughts II.

    Theme and Motif in a Story by Boustrophedon (Critic's Quill #26)

    1. General outline

    Last month I spoke of how I experienced the process of AAR writing as a first timer. I received a good deal of positive feedback and I wanted to write another article for the Quill. This time I will discuss theme and motif in stories. I will define these concepts, offer tips on how to recognize them in a story and on how to implement some of your own in your story Fearing my technical explanation will not be clear, I will use many quotes and specific examples to ensure that you have an idea of what I am talking about.

    Who might be interested in this article?
    Anybody interested in the inner workings of stories and these particular technical aspects of writing. Themes and motifs offer a very real literary value to your writing as well as an element of recognition if it is done correctly and it will enrich your story without much effort.

    What sources will I use?
    Mainly my university textbook English Literature I (Prose) by prof. Kate McDonald, my own notes from literature classes, several websites, wikipedia, a dictionary and as a specific illustration I will use the short story Cathedral by Raymond Carver because it is a textbook example of theme and motif.

    2. What is a motif?
    According to the Oxford Dictionary: "a dominant or recurring idea in an artistic work"
    According to the Free Dictionary: "a distinctive idea, esp a theme elaborated on in a piece of music, literature, etc."
    According to Merrian-Webster Dictionary: "a usually recurring salient thematic element (as in the arts); especially : a dominant idea or central theme"
    According to my textbook: "a meaningful element which is repeated in the narrative"

    In short a motif can be anything ranging from fruit and machine-guns to a beard and diapers. There is no limit on what can be used as a motif in a story as long as the element is repeated frequently and I use the vague term "frequently" on purpose. There is no real limit on how many times you can have a motif pop up in a text but since it has to be a repetition the writer must use it at least twice. If you want your motif to remain on the background use it no more than five times (arbitrary call but it is what I use) while using a motif more than ten times will make it easy to spot for the reader.

    So we now know what a motif is but let's focus a bit more on the different kinds of motif. Basically you have two groups:

    • Static motifs: these will not change the story in any way, they are only meant as a nice addition. Some motifs are almost always static, e.g. a beard. The chance of a beard interceding in the storyline is very low for obvious reasons.
    • Dynamic motifs: these will change a story or have an impact on characters.

    Dynamic motifs can influence both the story and the characters (not the same thing!). For example in a story the motif "dead children" can cause a soldier in a war to break down because he sees dead children everywhere (and the reader reads/sees them as well). A character who suffers from a mental disorder can feel haunted by a "grim reaper" phantom who follows him around. This may not affect the story in a direct way (depressive characters or something like that) but it can create a tension and in doing so it affects the story.

    When I have explained what a theme is I will move on to specific examples of motifs and themes and whether they are static or dynamic.

    3. What is a theme?
    According to Oxford Dictionary: "An idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature"
    According to the free dictionary: "An implicit or recurrent idea"
    According to "A unifying or dominant idea"
    According to my textbook: "A central idea underlying the narrative"

    Clearly something different from a motif. Note the use of the word "idea" in the definitions! This is the main difference between a theme and a motif. You can usually (but certainly not always!) physically grasp a motif (a beard, a child and even the grim reaper could be grasped) whereas a theme is intended to be used more philosophically and it is often easier to determine in a story.

    The theme(s) of a story form the very core or base of that story and everything is built on that core. A theme influences everything in a narrative from the setting (e.g. spooky castles or immense grassy plains) to the characters (e.g. heroes, villains, princesses) and even the narrator (e.g. optimistic narrator in a fairytale or a pessimistic narrator in an apocalypse based story)

    Themes are more easily discernible than motifs in that is often apparent from the genre what theme you are dealing with. Not many fairy tales have an apocalyptic setting, if you catch my drift. I hope you have an understanding of what a theme is, what a motif is and how both are related with each other as well as different from one another.

    4. Raymond Carver and 'Cathedral'
    Biography of Raymond Carver
    Cathedral, the short story for a quick read to know what the story is about

    Carver wrote in a very minimalistic way, however I will not go into that here. Just have a quick look HERE to know what it is.

    5. Specific examples from Cathedral
    5.1 Examples of themes in Cathedral:
    Communication is a major theme in this short story. It forms the foundation for the friendship between the protagonist's wife and the blind man but I will let the examples speak for themselves:
    But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth.

    She worked with this blind man all summer. She read stuff to him...

    The blind man made a tape. He sent her the tape. She made a tape.

    Was his wife a Negro? "Are you crazy?", my wife said.

    Then I asked if he wanted to smoke some dope with me. I said I'd just rolled a number. I hadn't, but I planned to do so in about two shakes.

    The blind man -why should he have a name?-...

    As you may be able to tell from these examples there are two parts of the communication theme. One of them is the obvious inability of the blind man to read or write and the other is the inability of the protagonist to communicate in a civilized way. He often speaks very derogatory of his wife and he is very rude at times towards his wife as well as towards his guest in the house, the blind man.

    The other major theme is blindness. We have the obviously literal and physical blindness of the blind man in the story as well as the metaphorical blindness of the protagonist. Robert may be blind but he sees the world more clearly than the protagonist who has perfect sight. Only at the end of the story (sorry for the spoiler) does the protagonist realize that he was the blind one all along. Some examples:
    He let his fingers touch his suitcase...He was taking his bearings...

    I remembered having read somewhere that the blind didn't smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldn't see the smoke the exhaled.

    I watched with admiration as he used his knife and fork on the meat.

    I tried to explain to the blind man what was happening.

    She'd turned so that the robe had slipped away from her legs, exposing a juicy thigh. I reached to draw her robe back over her, and it was then that I glanced at the blind man. What the hell! I flipped the robe open again.

    It was like nothing else in my life up to now.

    These many examples (hardly all of the ones you are able to find in the story) show that the theme is very much present in the short story and that it influences the characters (protagonist does not like blind people) as well as events (the blind man cannot sea the juicy thigh so the husband doesn't care and opens the robe).

    5.2 Examples of motifs in Cathedral:
    The beard of the blind man is motif that returns a lot. You have to focus when reading the story and you will see that it is mentioned quite often even though there is nothing special about the beard. Some examples:
    This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard. A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say.

    ...I have winter in my beard now...

    He also had this full beard.

    He lifted his beard, sniffed it, and then let it fall.

    He lifted his beard and he let it fall.

    Now and then he put his fingers into his beard and tugged...

    As he listened to me, he was running his fingers through his beard.

    A whole lot of beard references from the start of the story right up to the end even though the beard plays no part whatsoever in the story. This is a textbook example of a motif.

    Alcohol, drugs and food are also a major motif in the short story and for obvious reasons dynamic motifs because they change the way the characters behave.

    In my country we have a famous writer (Pieter Aspe) who writes detective novels and he uses massive amounts of references to local dishes and drinks. Although they serve no actual purpose and he never uses them in the plot, they are used as motifs so that the reader has a feeling of recognition when reading the novel.

    Here are some examples of the motifs in Cathedral...
    Let me get you a drink...I'm a Scotch man myself.

    ...cube steak, scalloped potatoes, green beans. I buttered him up two slices of bread.

    ...he'd tear off a hunk of buttered bread and eat that.

    We finished everything, including half a strawberry pie.

    "There's more strawberry pie", I said.

    "You say when you want some strawberry pie", I said.

    The protagonist seems very keen to stuff that strawberry pie in his guest's mouth. Not really, it's just a motif. Repeating things is the oldest trick in the book when it comes to storytelling.

    There are many more motifs and themes of course but I think that these will suffice. I hope these examples have clarified things a little.

    6. How to recognize them?
    Ask yourself these questions and they will help you recognize motifs and themes:

    • Why does the author/character keep focusing on that object?
    • How does this affect the character?
    • How do the characters interact?

    I'm afraid that much of it is up to a natural feel for language. You can re-read a story many times before finally seeing a motif pop up. Bear in mind though that motifs and themes are almost non-existent in technical books and manuals and the likes.

    7. How to implement them?
    Choose whatever you want as a motif or theme and then think about how you can implement it in your own writing. My advice to you is: "Keep it on the down low but still perform a great show!" You don't want your motifs to be too obvious, but on the other hand if you are so subtle that nobody even noticed your use of a motif then you've wasted time and effort. You want the reader to think "Hey that's strange...He's talking about the beard every time something important happens!" rather than "Again with the beard?"

    Although it can be very difficult to pull off a good motif, practice will allow you to enrich your stories in no time.

    8. Conclusion
    I very much hope to have inspired you writers to try your hand at implementing a theme or motif in your own writings. It would be great if I have helped you in some way to recognize themes and motifs in the books you will read in the future. I hope you found this an interesting read and with that I conclude my second humble contribution to the Critic's Quill.


    By Boustrophedon

    On Becoming an AARtist by Karnage (Critic's Quill #26)

    What can I say about AARs in general? I guess I could start from the beginning and go from there.

    When I first got Medieval 2, I loved it. It truly showed the potential of a great game and every time I played, I always had a hard time to stop. But back then, I didn't know the magic that would unfold once I discovered TWC.

    I came to TWC to look for answers to some of my questions about the game. I discovered TWC had a vast wealth of such information, the more I looked, the more I discovered, and by looking further, I finally discovered AARs. It was on the general forum that someone suggested me to go here, I had this story I had went through with my England campaign that I just had to write it. It was a very crude AAR compared to all the marvels that fell upon my eyes, and this was only in the Medieval 2 AAR's, there was a lot more out there as I discovered.

    I started reading posted AARs and discovered how entertaining they truly were, it added something to an already great game, it added a purpose. This is where I began my first true AAR. L'Etat c'est moi, the Monarchy of France. At first, I didn't think much of it, I told myself I would try and see how it went. I didn't expect to rival the masterpieces that were in place and I never intended to. I had an idea and a solid storyline, so I thought why not give it a try. To my surprise, my AAR attracted some readers and some are still there from the beginning.

    So, why do I continue writing? First and foremost, for myself. I have given myself a goal and I want to see it through, though where this will goal lead me remains to be seen. So I love writing this story, I love the game I am writing about and I have a great imagination to add to it all. But is that all? Of course not. I also do it for my readers. As long as they enjoy my work, as long as they enjoy reading it, then that is all that matters in the end. This story is not only for myself, but for my readers as well, or there wouldn't be any reason to post AARs in the first place.

    I also support new AARtists to the best of my ability, as I was once encouraged myself. Fellow AARtists have helped me grow and become better, and it was my hope to accomplish the same: to give good tips; to give constructive criticism; but over all to encourage AARtists to enhance our shared experience.

    Some Tips from Karnage:
    Well, I'll keep this short and sweet. First and foremost take a faction you will love, don't go for something you haven't seen posted yet, go with what you love, it will help you grow around your AAR and help you get involved a bit more.

    Keeping your promise to your readers is also important, they are waiting for your AAR and want to know when to expect new updates.

    Keeping in touch with your readers is also important, if someone posts a comment, whether positive or negative, you really ought to reply, it shows that you do care about people posting and will get back to them.

    Support fellow AARtists. Now this is key to it all, especially when you get yourself involved into writing AARs. A lot of AARtists wont show it, but creating an enjoyable AAR requires time and effort, to see new AARtists at work is great, but to give them your support only helps them more. Support them in their efforts to become even better.

    Lastly, and most importantly, enjoy yourself! An AAR shouldn't become a burden, if it ever does, then perhaps it is time to step back. AARs should be fun to do. Playing the game is never the issue, it is the writing and editing that can feel like a burden. What I do, I put some music on and just go with the flow. I take my time and take breaks when needed. Make it as enjoyable as you can for yourself and it will show in your writing.

    Remember, writing an AAR should never be about becoming the best, but just to enjoy yourself.

    I want to also personally thank Radzeer to give me this opportunity, I believe it is a great idea to express ourselves as AARtists in hope that future writers will be inspired and continue to give us exciting new stories.

    By Karnage

    Historical Sources for AARS by dezikeizer (Critic's Quill #26)
    Finding recently that I had twice given as a suggestion to AAR writers to use, I thought it might be worthwhile to provide a more comprehensive list of historical sources for general use by writers of AARs and other historical fiction. I've added a brief note of explanation to go with each source so you can decide whether it is likely to be suited to your purpose. I hope you enjoy the links.
    This thread on TWC has links to various history websites that cover many periods of history, even ones not in the total war games. It may be long, but there's a lot of good information there.
    This site has information on the viking runes as well as other information about the vikings.
    This site has sections with primary sources from ancient, medieval, and modern history. I've used this in at least two of my history classes.
    This site has information on arms during the medieval and renaissance periods.
    This site has many articles on ancient history, as well as links to other website covering more specific parts of ancient history.
    This thread on TWC has links to various chinese classics, including literature, philosophical works, histories, etc.
    This thread on TWC has links to books on history recommended by the history buffs in the vv.
    This thread on TWC has links to documentaries and history related videos.
    This site has flow charts of history
    This site has information on iberian history.

    By dezikeizer

    The Narrator by Boustrophedon (Critic's Quill #27)
    1. Introduction
    In literature it would be hard to underestimate the importance of the narrator and the effect it has on the narration. Every type of literature usually (but not always) has its own sort of narrator because of the nature of the narration. A diary will almost never be told from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator but from the personal and limited viewpoint of the subject telling his/her story. A novel will often feature the omniscient narrator who is privy to the inner feelings of all the characters without being part of the story. I will attempt to shed light on the different types of narrators in this article. I will use several sources here but most of it will be from my university courses.

    2. What is a narrator?
    According to Wikipedia:
    A narrator is, within any story (literary work, movie, play, verbal account, etc.), the person who tells the story to the audience.[...] The narrator is one of three entities responsible for story-telling of any kind. The others are the author and the audience; the latter called the "reader" when referring specifically to literature.
    According to The Free Dictionary:
    To tell (a story, for example) in speech or writing or by means of images.
    To give an account of (events, for example)
    According to
    A person who tells a story; in literature, the voice that an author takes on to tell a story. This voice can have a personality quite different from the author's.
    3. How to define a narrator in a specific story?
    A narrator has two different "levels" that define him. To find out what narrator you are dealing with, there are two questions you need to ask yourselves:
    • Is the narrator also a character in the story he is telling?
    • Is the narrator a character in a different story, told by a "higher" narrator?

    - Is the narrator also a character in the story he is telling?
    Yes => the narrator is homodiegetic which means the narrator has at some point participated in the story. This narrator usually uses first-person sentences.

    "Jill and the group were going to the river but I told them it was dangerous."

    No => the narrator is heterodiegetic which means that he has never been present or participated in the world of his narration. This narrator usually uses third-person sentences and will never use a first-person viewpoint since this would indicate that he was present at the events, thus making him homodiegetic.

    "They went to the old mill where the evidence of the murder was still visible. The older children weren't scared but the young ones were."
    - Is the narrator a character in a different story, told by a "higher" narrator?
    Yes => the narrator is intradiegetic which means that he is a character in a different story on a higher level which is told by a different narrator.

    No => the narrator is extradiegetic which means that he is not told by a different narrator. In most cases this is how a story is built since two different narrators can be very confusing for the reader if it is not done well.
    Please note that it not possible to have a intradiegetic narrator without an extradiegetic narrator. If there is a "lower" narrator present in then you obviously need the "higher" narrator as well.

    I know this may sound very technical and difficult so I made this little schematic representation. You need to combine one element from the left side with one element from the right side and you are free to combine however you like. I hope this clarifies things a little.

    4. The four possibilities
    - homodiegetic and extradiegetic
    There is no other narrator and the narrator describes events he/she has experienced. For a specific example I refer you to the short story "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver which I mentioned here in the previous edition of the Quill.
    - homodiegetic and intradiegetic
    There is a "higher" narrator and he uses the "lower" narrator to tell a story which the lower narrator has participated in. A specific example of this narrator is the Pardoner in the Pardoner's Tale of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
    - heterodiegetic and extradiegetic
    The classical narrator which is the most commonly used in literature. He looms over the story without participating in it but with knowledge of all the events, thoughts and inner feelings of characters. This is why he is called the "omniscient narrator" even though it is not a literary term. This narrator knows how the story will end and usually employs the third-person narrative but it is possible that he sometimes speaks about himself in the first-person. A specific example would be the narrator in Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.
    - heterodiegetic and intradiegetic
    There is a "higher" narrator and he uses the "lower" narrator to tell a story which the lower narrator has NOT participated in. This is a relatively rare form of narrator and most common in a collection of short stories or moral tales. A specific example is Sheherazade in A Thousand and One Nights where she tells a thousand tales in which she never participates. The story of Sheherazade is in turn told by a "higher" narrator.
    5. Difficulties
    The process of defining a narrator can be a nightmare in stories of great complexity. However, the effort is certainly worth it because of the great importance of having a consistent narrator. In rare cases the same character can be two different forms of a narrator. An example:

    Yesterday I went to the park and I met a woman whom I told the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I said: "Once upon a time..."

    The "I"-narrator who went to the park is extradiegetic and homodiegetic while the "I"-narrator who tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood is intradiegetic because of the higher "I"-narrator who went to the park and heterodiegetic because she never participated in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood.

    6. The Athenian Murders
    Anybody interested should read The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza because it is a masterpiece of narrators. I wish I had the time to expand on this specific example but I'm afraid you will have read the book yourselves.

    All of the narrators are featured in this novel and the extreme complexity of narrators who overlap each other and sometimes even interfere with the story (one of the narrators kidnaps a lower level narrator!) is impressive. I really urge you to read this work of beauty if you want to see all the narrators in action and you will appreciate how difficult it is to pull it off when you reach the final page.

    This book explained so much to me in regards to narrators and their truly limitless possibilities. I've read hundreds maybe thousands of books but this one still impresses me after nearly a decade since I first read it as a child. I guess Somoza should be paying me for this promotion tour I'm doing for him but I really advise you to read this if you want to see the different narrators come together in one novel.

    7. Conclusion
    Obviously narrators can be a pain to sort out but anybody interested in literature might find satisfaction now in recognizing different narrators when they are reading a story. I sincerely hope that I have taught you readers something about narrators and perhaps in the future your own writings will improve because of it. On this note I end my third article for the Critic's Quill and next month's Quill will feature another article on a technical aspect of literature though I have not yet decided its subject.


    Literary Machiavellians by Esaciar (Critic's Quill #27)
    “The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way, necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

    Such a sentiment, attributed to one Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, epitomises the guileful politic of this enigmatic and charismatic man. In a more contemporary parlance the equivalent would be reminiscent of the anecdotal proclivity that nice guys don’t get very far. It could be said that the catalytic impetus that contributed to the ruthless inclination of Machiavelli was no doubt that of his imprisonment, torture and subsequent expulsion from Florentine politics by the Medici family. As Machiavelli alludes to himself, “The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” It is by such personal catharsis that many thus endured by those ruthless inclinations and guarded themselves from further ignominy by striking before they were themselves stricken. Some of the most captivating and provocative figures in history have been cast as Machiavellian in their motives - political, religious or otherwise; namely, Henry VIII, Charles V, Christina de’Medici, Elizabeth I and even the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

    At which point, dear reader, I shall indulge you in my motivation for writing such an article.

    Machiavellians make for truly great literary protagonists.

    The desire for an emotional investment in the literature that we read, or more specifically, the principal exponents of that literature, is a broadly encompassing expectation. We want to like the person we are reading about, or at the very least identify with them. In this regard, those characters of a Machiavellian disposition are – initially at least - rendered comparatively benign by their vulnerable humanity. We can thus identify with characters that have faults, failings and deep rooted flaws. Wherein, lies the crux of a Machiavellian protagonist’s greatest advantage; that is to say, their propensity to overcome. It is a benefit so few of us are afforded in truth, but that which so many of us would spoil for.

    As so many of us, myself included, turn our hands to increasingly character dominated AAR’s wherein the events inevitably act merely as a plot vehicle, greater attention is being paid to the formation of those protagonists. After all, we are the ones who are going to spend the vast majority of our time with them – we must find some concordance with them and, by virtue, so must our audience.

    The audience must identify with such characters by merit of their initial susceptibility to the influence of others. A Machiavellian character must bear the scars of past mistakes, indignities and inadequacies. They are therefore rendered human, vulnerable and imperfect – they are as are we. It is in this regard that the Machiavellian protagonist is presented with the occasion to overcome. The nature of these past aberrations hence dictates the severity of future contrivances; by simpler terms, the more one has suffered, the greater the suffering can be dealt out. It is therefore expedient for an author wanting to craft a Machiavellian advocate that they allow their creation to foremost suffer and survive by onerous means, thus establishing the sympathy of a reader and allowing for further scope in the impending rebellion against such exploitation.

    It is, in basic terms, why we are receptive to the anti-hero. If the guy has been pushed around enough, you don’t blame him for snapping.

    But therein lies the most fulfilling element of a Machiavellian character; namely, they don’t snap at their prey – they bewilder them, acclaim them, isolate them, flatter them, torment them and finally, but not always, crush them. Our moral compass, and most certainly that of the protagonist, is rendered unnecessary, even deemed an inconvenience – moral flexibility is far more desirable.

    Machiavellian characters are surrounded by intrigue, betrayal, passion, endurance, deceit and misdirection. Their stories are the sum of human emotions. The desire to overwhelm, subdue and vanquish a foe is a base human emotion, but it is one that is extremely powerful – and if validated by past experiences, it becomes a wholly untamed animal.

    Creating a Machiavellian character in your AAR gives you immense scope. The past, present and future are inextricably interwoven by the machinations of the human psyche and, as such, we all want to indulge in a little of that from time to time.

    In this regard, such a protagonist can afford both writer and audience an audacious and dauntless vehicle through whom we express our own insecurities, hidden desires and vengeful connivances, with one particular caveat – vindication. As such we can use them to live out such darker moods with any seditious activity condoned by the universally legitimate desire for personal retribution.

    Referring to the quote by which I began this article, Machiavelli was of the belief that if you weren’t going to stand up for yourself, you should prepare to be stood on. In defining this, Machiavelli demonstrates that we must be prepared for all eventualities and tend towards a pre-emptive, if not pre-meditated default disposition. By no means did the Florentine disapprove of virtue however, quite the contrary. He merely pointed out that you must be open to a many great tactics in dealing with the appropriate people in the appropriate way. There will be those that respect virtue, those that respect fear, those that respect authority, those that respect honour and those that respect power. It is your intention to gain the respect of all and to maintain it as such, thus maintain power.

    A Machiavellian protagonist must wear many faces and play many parts. They are the most fluid, diverse and dangerous of characters and their depth knows no bounds. Combine that with the vindication afforded to a protagonist wronged and therein lies a most beguiling, formidable and enriching character. They can be reinvented on a whim, for they are constantly reinventing themselves; they can be so many things to so many people yet as a writer you are aware of exactly who they are and what they are doing. It is deeply rewarding to have such scope for development and so deeply intriguing for an audience to unravel those layers.

    Machiavelli always expressed a love of liberty. Liberty is none more so afforded to such characters as those of Machiavellian design.

    Nice Guys don’t get very far? Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy then...

    A newbie's guide to AARtistry by m_1512 (Critic's Quill #28)

    Greetings everyone, here is a small piece about AARs for beginners. This article is written from what I have learned about writing AARs.

    OK, we are about to start an AAR. You would think it to be quite easy. *Spoil sport alert* sadly, no, an AAR, or rather a successful AAR is much more than what meets the eye. In this article, we shall see what could be a better approach for an AAR, and how you could spice one up.

    These few points ought to help you to attain the basic flow you would need to get a good AAR under your belt.

    Six simple points to remember:

    1.) what makes you tick?
    As the heading suggests, the first thing to do is to find out what impresses you. The sheer variety of Medieval 2 Total War, or the awe inspiring graphics of Napoleon Total War and Shogun 2 Total War, or the nostalgic atmosphere of Antiquity in Rome Total War. Selection of the game should be easy. The game you pick should be comfortable for you, and also fresh and interesting.

    Now, half of the "tick" question is over. The second is which faction you should take.

    The answer is simple, the faction you like. One thing to note, pick a faction you would not get bored with halfway through the game.

    2.) Mods and addons
    Mods are quite good for using, but not a dire necessity.

    It is all up to you. If you are confident to deliver a good narrative in vanilla itself, go for it. If you like to use mods, find a mod that would suit your story adequately.

    3.) Settings and Console
    There is a concept, quite popular among gamers. The harder the difficulty of the game, the more interesting it is. It would give a good game experience, but would not help your AAR much. You would not want this to happen in you AAR. In a chapter, there are plans for building an empire. In the game, the enemy is thundering towards your capital, your last remaining stronghold.

    In the AAR, during certain moments, it would do to put a map for your readers to get the complete picture. During those times, it is all right to use the console command to reveal the map.

    4.) Type of AAR: Game driven vs. Plot driven
    Which of the below two categories would your AAR fit in? In simple words, game driven is twisting the story to fit the game, and plot driven is twisting or rather tweaking the game to fit your story. Here are some examples.

    Consider the example of an AAR “The Scourge” as game driven. In this AAR, I wrote the narrative following the events of the game. As the game would run its course, I would make a suitable narration for it.

    In another AAR “Exodus, and a New Beginning”, I first got the idea of that plot. Then I went with the usual process of coming to a definite plot. There were some aspects, which I wanted changed in the mod. Therefore, I became a modder and modified the mod to suit my plot.

    You could follow any of these methods.

    5.) Gamer vs. Writer
    In AARtistry, there is no such thing as a Cheater, or Good gamer, or bad gamer. There is only a writer, with a good or average (not bad) AAR. You are not in a gaming contest, how you play the game is completely your discretion. What matters is the story.

    6.) Writer’s Technique
    There is something called as X-factor, which every writer has or develops. Equally important is Flexibility, in the case of AARs. Flexibility will help the writer mould his tale from a plain AAR into a gripping and interesting one.

    Not everyone plans his or her AAR from the beginning and right to the end. Flexibility will help you get to the end, developing adequate twists to keep the readers enthralled. Flexibility is a thing that is not learned, it actually develops in the writer naturally.

    NOTE As writers, particularly me, learn it the hard way, it is actually a good idea to make backup copies of your save files. This is to ensure that despite whatever problems come your way, you can continue your AAR.
    That's all my friends, see you next time. I might write another article, but till then, keep writing. Best wishes for your AARs.

    Controversy in Writing, and avoiding it by m_1512 (Critic's Quill #29)

    This is a small topic I would like to bring forward to discuss with you. I have seen many a good articles being put down, and the newspapers and media reporting about it, with a label Controversial. So what is this controversy? How does it creep in? For now, we will discuss it only in terms and reference of Literature.

    First, the definition,
    Controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of opinion. The word was coined from the Latin controversia, as a composite of controversus – "turned in an opposite direction," from contra – "against" – and vertere – to turn, or versus , hence, "to turn against".

    Well, that's the official definition, courtesy of Wikipedia. But now let us look a deeper into it, with only regards to writing, of course.

    As the definition says, a topic or opinion turned against the person who wrote it. In simple example, you write a story or article about two Nations A and B. You, in your story, glorify certain period, or aspects, of the history of A. But A had, in some part of history, conquered and humiliated B.

    The controversy arises thus,
    • A person belonging to Nation B reads the story.
    • He boils in anger.
    • Gathers support and rallies against your story.

    There you go, about all that can be about it. In the example, the context wasn't so serious. But sometimes, some eras of history are sentimentally hurtful to people. There, you'd have to face the medicine as well as the burden of having hurt many people.

    Well, I bet no one would like to be in such a situation. Here are a few tips, right from my Heart and Mind, and even Soul, that would help avoid it. Maybe you already use a similar list?
    • Avoid sketchy or illegal topics.
    • If you do select one, remember not to glorify the nasty things there. For example, writing about Crimes, Genocides, etc. can hurt people who have faced the horrors or know someone who has. That is why you must never ever try to justify or glorify wrong acts.
    • If you are writing a historical article, which is of academic nature, be the stoic academic, unbiased and true. Have the motto, Facts, not opinions!
    • Supposing you unintentionally hurt someone's feelings, be open and apologize.
    • Always try to include some humor in your story. It provides a contrast that helps with the appreciation of your main theme, and also leaves readers less likely to feel that your account is hopelessly biased

    Foreign Language And Culture In Fiction by Iniquitus The Third (Critic's Quill #29)
    Among the many and varied ways to add to the experience of reading a piece of writing, there is a subset which virtually everyone has the capacity to use, and use well: foreign languages and cultures.

    Now, it is no question that Total War Center has forum members (and the Critic's Quill, readers) of all nationalities, ethnicities, and walks of life. however, for the sake of convenience and simplicity, we use English as our Lingua Franca (no pun intended) and American society as the yardstick for such things as a democracy (the extent of this comparison is left to the reader). It serves as a way for everyone to communicate more freely and share ideas and jokes.

    However, the discerning reader may already know that American English in its currently-known form is remarkably absent from the periods of history in which the Total War games we play are based, and thus the writers among you may be wondering how to best represent languages from all across history in a format which is still linguistically accessible to casual readers. Hopefully, this article will help you make your stories, your After-Action Reports, and anything else you might write more historically accurate, and allow you to add that extra layer of realism and believability.

    Firstly, we should probably take a look at what already differs from the English point of view. This is the most obvious one of the differences, and grows more pronounced as we scroll back through the time periods offered in the Total War series. I am referring, of course, to Names and Places.

    London, to give an easy example, was not always known as London, and Rome: Total War represents that by displaying it by its name under Roman rule, Londinium. In a similar way, care must be taken when referring to cities and landmarks that exist today, but were not always so (an extreme example would be modern Frankfurt, one of the airline hubs of Europe but nonexistant in Rome). However, such things only really make a difference when playing on or writing about pre-medieval times, and as such this is the easiest of the hurdles to clear by a long way.

    A more difficult thing to deal with is the way that names change with translations. A familiar example would be Herakles, who became Hercules in the Roman translation of the tale. Names given during the periods of antiquity are often more a description of the person than a unique identity, and even in feudal times do we know of names that mean little-to-nothing outside their native tongue (such as Genghis Khan simply meaning 'Great Khan', with the man's birthname being Temujin). Fortunately, these names are few and far between, and a few minutes' searching through Wikipedia should give you the necessary information to work through this problem. Adding in a note about the famous person's real name and how it differs from their better-known name (if it was used at that point) should easily add a layer of realism for minimal effort.

    Example: Consider a Medieval 2 AAR, writing about the scripted event of the Mongol Hordes appearing from the point of view of a younger Spanish royal family member. “News had come from the furthest Eastern edges of God's world, of a man who rode with a thousand soldiers to every one of God's believers. These men called him by his title, by the name Genghis Khan. The messenger also told us of what was believed to be the name bestowed upon him by his heretic mother on birth; Temujin.”

    The reader immediately knows who is being talked about, and is also – hopefully – given extra information about that person. A similar approach can be used when talking about places, perhaps a little aside mentioning the older name of the city or landmark.

    The use of original names of people and places, however, is often rather shallow in terms of giving realistic touches, especially considering the revisionist approach taken by the games with respect to history. As such, the more culture-savvy of writers could do a lot worse than turning to Conceptual Translation in order to improve the immersion.

    What is conceptual translation? It is the idea that, though many cultural ideas are unique and singular, there are quite a number of cultural concepts that mean roughly the same thing for different people, and only differ in how they are called.

    For example, consider comedy. Quite a lot of comedy relies on the audience being familiar with the hidden ideas behind the jokes being told. The classic is, of course (No offence is meant or implied) the 'A _man, a _man, and a _man', where the first two characters react normally to a situation, and the last one doing something completely unexpected. However, there exists a massive number of different candidates for the characters, ranging from the national level (an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman) to the county level (a Texan, an Ohioian, and an Arkansian) and even the city level (a Berliner, a Frankfurter and a Hamburger). Thus, the joke can take on many different shapes and forms, depending on who says it and who it is told to.

    In the same way, a story written from the point of view of the Greeks concerning the Romans, who used many of the ideas and emulated the Greeks, might paint them as being similar to a group of people coming from a city or region who stereotypically copy others, though the more general the reference, the more helpful it is to reader immersion. Another example might be of the Fatamid Caliphate members considering the heavily-Westernised Crusaders as being barbarians, which could be conveyed by characterising them as crude and vulgar nouveau riche, lacking in personal hygiene and with a penchant for coarse humour.

    This is usually most helpful when writing to an audience you know, however, but can be rather jarring to use in an in-depth storyline. Perhaps, then, the wholesale use of Foreign Languages can help out?

    The answer to this question changes depending on the subject. Perhaps using cultural analogies and modern-day terms alongside their historical counterparts is not enough, and the writer decides to use the home language of the faction he/she is playing as or writing about. The extent to which these terms should be used is hard to judge.

    In our previous case of the Spanish royal family member, to extend the example, it would be historically accurate to use feudal Spanish while writing from his point of view. However, few potential readers are capable of reading this language, and differing dialects can confuse even more people. In this case, using genuine, full-length native speech is actually detracting significantly from the enjoyment that the reader receives.

    An alternative to this is to simply translate into English (or leave it as it was in the first place) and use the occasional foreign word to signify that your characters are not in fact speaking in English. This, however, brings the new problem of deciding which words to translate with it. Replacing simple, everyday words like 'hello', 'yes', or 'sir' with local equivalents can have the unwitting effect of giving the reader the idea that the characters are only speaking with what is Just A Stupid Accent (warning: TV Tropes link), which is usually taken to be indicative of humour or parody, and thus rather counter-productive to getting the core message and the skill of the writer across.

    On the other hand, translating such large and complex words and terms as 'revenge attack' and 'royal succession' into native languages with the intent of generating authenticity can leave a reader who is not versed in the language rather lost and bewildered; again, not a good thing. For an example: Koenigliche Erbe is German for 'royal succession', while Racheangriff refers to 'revenge attack'. Neither of these are well-known enough to be accessible, nor are they similar enough to their English counterparts to accurately guess what that might mean.

    The best choice in this case is situational; the options range from giving translations of a few key words in the notes or as an aside to aid in comprehension all the way to writing a few lines of another language, and then having a character (an aide, perhaps) translate into the language that the writer is treating as English for the purposes of the story.

    Given that I have done my best to illustrate how to use cultural and timely references as well as giving careful translations to ease the readers into the tale and immerse them in your writing, it seems only fair that I make a few notes on going the completely opposite way – that is, the Deliberate Misuse Of Translations.

    (This is done mainly for comedic effect, and thus this section can be safely skipped over for the purposes of writing advice.)

    One easy way to garner a few chuckles from the audience is to use completely anachronistic references for a character based on the nationality that they would appear to be were they from the modern day, such as a Roman having an obsession with pizza, or a scarred, battle-hardened Norman warlord showing a prediliction for 'a spot of tea'.

    Another method is to use the idea of Poirot Speak: the liberal peppering of a characters' speech with simple and recognisable foreign words to replace English ones, such as a Gallic person saying “Et voila!”. This is perhaps at its most effective when combined with the visual representation of an accent being used, such as a Germanic barbarian warlord speaking in an akzent zat is ritten like zis, much like vun vould ekspect a stereotypikal evil-doktor akzent to zount.

    In summation, the level of use of native speech, naming conventions, cultural equivalents, and the ignoring of all such rules is left entirely to the aspiring writer, though this particular writer would advise against using extreme amounts of any of these four techniques. With a bit of practice and a rough idea of how much the average reader might know of your chosen culture, you can achieve a kind of immersion which will stay in the minds of your readers long after they finish the final sentence of your carefully crafted creation.

    Writer's Block by robinzx (Critic's Quill #31)

    "Houston, we’ve had a problem"

    Almost everyone’s heard of the iconic line from the Apollo 13 movie, where all hell is breaking loose and the lives of the crew are hanging by a thread. What not everyone has heard is the original NASA recording of the men. If you’re one of those you who haven’t then I urge you to look it up. The contrast between the mayhem in the movie and the frigid calmness of the actual crew is quite telling. These people had a plan. They had a problem, but they had ways of saving themselves.

    Unfortunately calamitous events are not limited to space travel, and afflict us just as readily in the realm of AAR writing in the form of writer’s block. When that happens, for the lack of a better word, you are stuck, and it’s not nice. Writer’s block can cause frustration, drop in confidence, hair loss, and many other harmful things. The important thing as a writer though is to be like the Apollo crew – to have a plan, and when things go wrong, execute that plan.

    My job, therefore, is to supply you with a plan, or some semblance of one. I never did manage to get a job at NASA, but hopefully you’ll find my article useful.

    Let it be
    This may seem obvious but the most effective way to deal with writer’s block is to not deal with it. Writer’s block is a monster that feeds upon your frustration, and as you become less poised it only grows bigger and stronger. By leaving it you empty your mind of all of the things that “don’t work”, you save yourself from the monster that is your writer’s block, and prevent it from driving you to hate your own work. I am a firm believer of the need to love your work, and the day you start hating it is the day it begins to lose its life.

    By leaving I don’t mean alt-tabbing to facebook or youtube either. The latter is better than the former, but ultimately the best way is to step away from the computer entirely. Go for a walk; go spend time with your family – anything that you associate the least with your AAR writing. Replace dead-ends with different, happier thoughts. Who knows – you might even have an idea while you’re gone.

    Carpe diem
    65.8% of all writer’s block comes from fear1, and this is especially true with an AAR thanks to the inherent nature of the games we play. Things may happen in your game which do not suit the story. Your main character might die on the battlefield. This uncertainty multiplies the fear factor of putting pen to paper – what if I write something that will backfire on me later?

    It is almost impossible to plan an AAR start to finish from the outset. Things will go wrong if you try, so just stop wasting time worrying about it.

    The best way to overcome the fear of writing something “wrong” is to leave the critical part of your brain out of the equation. Accept that your first draft may well be horse tripe, but write it anyway. Do not pause to ponder the consequences of your writing, or try to calculate what will come to pass 5 chapters later. Do not stop to mull over wording, or whether what you’re writing follows logic. There is a time and place for fixing all the flaws, and it’s called editing. By not editing your brain has more time to run wild, and the pages fill up a lot quicker. You can always cut and trim later on.

    Personal anecdote: long ago and in a far-away land, I slugged through three years of a university degree that involved copious amounts of what we called constrained creative writing. In the beginning it was a struggle, but one day a group of us simultaneously came to the same epiphany:

    "Essays were easier to write while under the influence of alcohol!"

    While I’m not advocating alcohol consumption2, this does prove my point about leaving out (or debilitating, in my case) the critical brain.

    1 75% of all statistics are made up on the spot
    2 Hoegaarden is good for writing

    Up is down
    Contrary to popular belief, there is no prize for starting at the beginning and finishing at the end. In fact, doing so in AAR writing almost always multiplies the chance of getting writer’s block. Writing is hard work – and you want to worry about the structure at the same time?

    Write what comes to you first. Write what you find most interesting about your gameplay. If you just fought a battle, and you’re stuck on how to introduce the circumstances around it, why not describe the melee first? The spray of blood, the noise of clashing steel, the cries of dying men, the smell of blood and horses. If your king just got called on a crusade, and you’re not sure how to describe his feelings, then write about his journey over the sea first. Write about what you’re confident with, and the rest will follow.

    It is sometimes helpful to think of little “arcs” within the story – blocks of four or five draft chapter titles which tell an independent story of its own. During this arc, the characters involved achieve an interim goal of some sort. Perhaps you’re conquering a faction, or your king is on a crusade, or you’re hunting down a particular general. That way you break up your epic long AAR into short digestible chunks where you can plan your story one step at a time, cutting it into chapters logically. Remember to only think of chapter titles – you can figure out the details later.

    An Englishman's home is his castle
    And so is yours to the AARtist within you. The importance of writing in comfortable, familiar surroundings cannot be stressed enough. A few general pointers:
    • Set aside time to write and do nothing else. Make sure your family and whoever you are with know that this is your time, and that you are not to be disturbed over trivial things
    • Switch off all your browsers, log off your twitter, break that high score another day
    • Do not listen to music with lyrics. Calm music is almost always better than otherwise unless you are writing something fast and furious (and maybe even then)
    • Ready a bottle of water close by, but drink only to wet your lips. Getting up to get water or relieve yourself of it only serves to break your train of thought
    • Forget about real life for a second and think in the character of your protagonist. You are Richard, Lionheart King of England; or Napolean Bonaparte, emperor of France; or Suleiman the Magnificent, the giver of laws and conqueror of the infidels. As far as I know none of those people did their taxes, or drew up shopping lists, or did the laundry – nor should you. Aunt Betsy's favour can wait, too.

    Forget the game
    Don’t stress too much about the game. Nobody reading an AAR is going to judge it based on how efficient you are as a gamer. Audiences love cock-ups in-game. Really.

    The other aspect of this is this: don’t be afraid to depart from what’s going on in game. Be inventive - dialogue between characters, internal struggles, rivalries. By writing about their insecurities and concerns you bring the reader closer to your characters. Nobody is a knight in shining armour all day every day in real life, so they shouldn’t be in your AAR. Give them real problems, real dilemmas, and they will come to life in front of you. Along the same lines is the technique of inventing support characters. It is a great way of running sidebars and subplots within your AAR, and gives the central characters more personality. Girlfriends are wonderful plot devices for showing the softer side of people. A sibling could be effective at exposing insecurities and rivalries. Childhood friends could be used to garner information about the hero’s past.

    The possibilities are quite literally endless, and are wonderful solutions to writer’s block. If you can’t write about the protagonist then write about his friends for a chapter or two.

    Here, there and everywhere
    Carry a phone that lets you easily write text notes, and keep it on your night stand at night. Next time you think “oh maybe my guy can do this” while at work, in between lectures, on the toilet, 3 o'clock in the morning – write it down, and save it for the next time you have writer’s block. It may or may not happen often, but you should be ready when it does. It might just save you from a lot of frustration.

    Accept that writer’s block happens to the best writers, from Socrates to Dickens, and it will probably happen to you at some point. Instead of driving yourself up a wall, go for a walk, and see the world. You might just think of something great – and if you do then make sure you write it down.

    Most importantly of all, write what you love, and love what you write. Happy writing AARtists!

    By robinzx

    AAR Writing – a Technical Study by robinzx (Critic's Quill #32)

    No, this is not a shoe commercial.

    Just as the shoes on the right have been imparted with a generous polish, any good AAR deserves to be given that extra little bit of love and care. Readers like works that are polished and where the writer cares about his work, and a few minor tweaks could make a world of difference in that respect. A few simple elements can help to give an AAR that professional look.

    There is practical value too. By making it easier for your readers to navigate your writing you minimise the time they spend not reading your writing, and the more they are likely to enjoy it, give feedback, and so on. This article therefore aims to share some tricks of the trade – simple ways to improve the presentation of your masterpiece. Some of this will seem obvious, especially to more experienced writers, but hopefully some of this informatino will be useful for AAR writers at large.


    Not terribly important stuff, I hear you say. The truth is quite the contrary – a consistent, well formatted page is the first and most basic step towards a professional looking piece of writing:

    • Use a different font than the forum default. This really helps to make your writing stand out from the other posts
    • Use a consistent font, font size and colour throughout your piece. There is nothing more distracting than each new chapter having a different look. Instead of changing font simply use bold or italics for emphasis
    • Skip lines between paragraphs so there is extra empty space. Walls of text are daunting to read, and by adding adequate spacing you help the reader to pace himself while he works his way through your work

    Table of contents

    AARs usually tend to be updated using new posts in its thread. As the writing begins to increase in volume, and the thread becomes cluttered with more and more chapters however, there is a danger that the AAR becomes a serious challenge to navigate around should one wish to read a specific chapter, or to resume where one had left off. The solution is a simple and elegant one which requires minimal effort.

    Step 1: once you have written a new update, press the quote button on the newly written post, and you will be presented with your writing in BBcode. At the start there will be something like this:

    The eight digit number is the Post ID of your new chapter. Now to insert a link to this chapter you simply put the Post ID into the following line:

    (for the sake of convenience I have linked the last edition of the Quill)

    Which looks something like this:

    Link here

    Alternatively, hover your mouse over the post number on the top right of your post, and in the hyperlink that shows up, take the digits after "#post".

    Updated for every chapter, the Table of Contents gives reader and writer alike a quick and easy way to access each chapter without the tedium of scrolling through page after page. I've posted a part of the TOC from my own AAR as an illustration:

    Supplemental information

    In a long AAR, especially story based ones, there generally tends to be a large cast of characters which help to flesh out the story and interaction between them can provide for intriguing subplots. The down side is that as the number of characters increases, it becomes increasingly hard for readers to keep track of everybody. This is where a clear list of characters could be of considerable help. This is especially true if you are writing about a culture that is not familiar to all – and given the diverse demographic of the internet the names of your characters will likely sound alien to some of your readership, even if they are called John, James and David.

    Along with names and simple details, short bios of the characters could be used to provide additional information not suited to the narrative itself. An excellent example of a character list is provided herein courtesy of Radzeer’s Primus Inter Pares. A wonderfully detailed description of the characters does wonders to help distinguish characters from each other, and provided at the top of each post they act as a quick reference for readers picking up the story.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The royal family Grand Prince Vladimir
    The first Grand Prince, leading the early expansion of the Rus, annexing several independent cities and fighting against both the Cumans and the Catholics. He has found the Holy Grail after taking Oleshe, and established the tradition in which the Grail is kept by the Prince to guide him. At the end of his life he retired and transferred the power to his oldest son and heir, Mstislav. He lived a long life and died peacefully in Kiev.
    Grand Prince Mstislav
    The second Grand Prince, and the oldest son of Vladimir. He held power for long as a Prince. He fought against the Cumans in the east, and conquered Smolensk in the north overthrowing the Novgorod-friendly council. He was a skilled politician and determined leader with a vision to expand toward the Baltic Sea. He established the Rus as a major power, although at the end of his reign he had difficulties with his brothers who wanted to have their separate ways. He died peacefully in Kiev.
    Grand Prince Gostislav
    The third Grand Prince, Mstislav's oldest son, the governor of Pereyaslav. Quite unremarkable as a child, he had a lot to prove. His decisions were not without controversy, but he did what he could to keep the Rus intact. He was somewhat successful with Yaropolk's sons in the west keeping at least their formal allegiance, but could not contain his other uncle, Yurii, who set up his own principality around Azaq. His rule was often compared to the rule of his father, in which comparison he did not fare well, especially about his foreign policy. He died shortly after a victory against Poland.
    Grand Prince Nikifor
    The fourth Grand Prince, Gostislav's first son. His marriage to a Venetian princess was supposed to build good connections to Catholics, but the alliance was short-lived. He is considered to be a talented leader and a capable general. He launched the long awaited war against Novgorod, which he carried out ruthlessly. After vassalizing Novgorod, he was caught in the conflict between the boyars and Prince Halstan. At the end of his rule he tried to reestablish the succession line of the Yaroslavich family, favoring his only son. He died in Kiev shortly before marching against Venice to retake Halych.
    Nikifor's only son. A talented military commander, but a man with a temper, similar to his uncle, Rostislav.

    Apokavkos Komnenos
    Member of the Roman royal family, who married Nikifor's second daughter.
    Khotimir Kievskii
    Kievan boyar who married Nikifor's youngest daughter.

    Another example – my own version inspired by Radzeer's. The main difference was the addition of unit portraits from the game. The intention was to put faces to each of the characters so readers can more easily relate to them as more than simply being a name.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Takeda Harunobu (born Takeda Katsuchiyo, renamed Takeda Shingen in 1559)
    Born 1521
    The eldest of the three brothers, the Takeda daimyo is known for his military genius but also a lack of patience. His personal Furinkazan banner is an inspiration to all Takeda men as they charge into battle.

    Takeda Nobushige
    Born 1525
    Younger brother of Takeda Harunobu and elder brother of Takeda Nobukado, Nobushige is the thinker among the Takeda brothers, with his capacity for military strategy surpassed only by Yamamoto Kansuke and his elder brother.

    Takeda Nobukado
    Born 1529
    The youngest of the Takeda brothers, Nobukado is fiercely loyal to his brothers and has established a fearsome reputation in battle.

    Takeda Yoshinobu (born Takeda Taro)
    Born 1536
    Eldest son of Harunobu and heir apparent to the Takeda clan, Yoshinobu has inherited the military prowess of his father, but also his short temper.

    Takeda Yoshinaga (born Takeda Jiro)
    Born 1547
    The second son of the Takeda daimyo has yet to come of age.

    Maps of campaign movements are similar in nature that they help to deepen your readers’ understanding of the geography of the story, especially if it’s set in exotic locales that aren’t immediately obvious. Meanwhile battle maps can help the reader visualise army movements during a battle that aren't immediately obvious from the narrative.

    Maps help to depict army movements during a campaign or battle


    There is a vast body of work by numerous authors were not a single image was used in entire stories, so this section becomes more or less applicable depending on your approach. Even in text heavy AARs though, pictures can be used as embellishment with great effect.

    The vast majority of AARs are an amalgamation of text and pictures. While it is important to avoid AARs becoming comic books, the value of using pictures to provide supporting imagery could not be emphasized enough. They help set the mood of the story, help readers to visualise background scenery, and help to bring the chaos of battle alive. While the same can be achieved with text alone, the use of pictures almost turns an AAR from a written story into a movie, with the pictures used acting as still frames from the action. In that sense well composed and edited photos are as central to the story as the narrative itself.

    Simple picture of a Roman arch used to introduce a story from the period


    Decide what message you are trying to capture with the picture, and where it fits into the narrative. Wide angle shots are better for setting the scene, while close up shots tend to portray action, and are more suited to melee. Once you’ve taken your screenshot crop it so that only your subject matter remains – removing distractions such as the unit cards, battle timers and so on can only help to improve immersion.

    As for time of day and weather - it is not always easy to get the effect you want for your battle during the campaign, so don't be afraid to use custom battles to help give you the perfect imagery. Night shots and adverse weather can be used to portray emotion with great effect.

    Calm before the storm - wide angle shots of army compositions help to portray the magnitude of large battles

    The chaos of melee is best captured by close up shots of the action

    Shots from behind can be used to imply motion, especially if you have the intended victims in view as well. The vice versa can be used to demonstrate the solidity of defenders bracing for impact


    Pictures should be resized so that they are not too small or big. Posting pictures that are too small leave your audience straining their eyes to see the content, while enormous pictures would only serve to take the reader away from your story. A good range is perhaps 500 to little over 1,000 pixels wide, with a reasonable ratio of height to width. Panoramic photos are also a great choice for certain subjects.

    An example of panoramic shots used to present a scene

    Post production

    Post production isn’t necessary, but can be used to embellish your pictures further. Borders that reflect period art can help to add authenticity, while even the simplest black border can help to make them look more polished. Simple adjustments of saturation and brightness can be used portray different emotions. If you’re feeling more adventurous things like motion blur and bokeh can be used to emphasize motion, focus in on characters, and so on. It’s usually best to limit heavily edited photos to a small number – partly to save time and partly for the sake of emphasis.

    Real life imagery

    Real life photographs or other imagery can do wonders for an AAR, especially when you’re going for the movie shots approach to pictures. They help sculpt the scene for your characters, and can provide for imagery the games by their nature cannot.

    A chapter set in Athens is perfectly introduced with this image of the Parthenon.

    Death awaits in the shadows...

    Euphemism for lust and debauchery?

    A final word

    Make sure you deselect whatever unit you are using before you take the screenshot. There is nothing more immersion-breaking than a little green/yellow circle under the feet of your samurai/line infantry.

    Other tips

    Some other general tips for AAR writers:

    • Use spoiler tags sparingly. They are the equivalent of asking the reader to turn a page, so use it for information that is incidental to the main story
    • Including the last updated date in the opening post can help to inform your readership when there is new material to read
    • Proof read your writing! The rush to publish is understandable, but simple grammar and typing errors can hurt the overall reading quality of any piece of writing. Read your work and it will pay off
    • Put your AAR in your signature, use the advertising channels, partake in the competitions. These all help to get word of your AAR out to the masses on the forum, and feedback and interest is the nourishment ever AAR needs to survive and succeed


    So there you have it. It's ultimately up to the author how much effort he wants to put into an AAR, but such effort does make a difference, and is generally well appreciated. Good luck to all!

    Credits: Radzeer, Thokran, Nanny, LegolasGreenleaf for their pictures.

    AARtistry: World and Setting Development by m_1512 (Critic's Quill #33)

    Alright, what is the thing that is most important in an AAR?
    Plot? True.
    Characters? True.
    Chapters? True again.
    This is true in case for all such aspects. But what is a very vital component is the setting, the world. This is what we shall discuss here. And also, I would be glad if this turns out to be informative to anyone too.

    The Who, What, and Where of it.
    So, what about it? Setting or the world is an important part of the AAR. The AAR could do without it of course. But it would be more like a journal reports. Something like the small example before.

    The King ruled from the capital. He took an army and defeated a horde of barbarians. He went on further conquests. Finally he died on a hill.
    Informative? Quite so. But was it enjoyable to read? Even if it would be, it was all over before you could start to enjoy it. For every plot there is a setting. In simple words a place where the plots unfolds. It could be a timeline (Ancient, Medieval), or a specific era (Hundred years war, Napoleonic), or simply a place (Real, Fantasy).

    The above is setting, related to the plot. But what about the rest of the story? Does it come there too? Yes it does, and even you can do it too. Another example.

    Robert strapped on his armour. His armour was of mail, it's metallic texture glinting in the winter morning. He inhaled the chillness, as if it were steeling him for the charge. He pulls out his steel blade. He had polished it the night before. He sat on his black mount, contemplating the sights before him. From the hill he stood on, he could see the flank of the enemy. He feels a little flutter in his stomach. With mounting joy, he realises that the flank was unguarded. He waves his sword above the head to signal the advance.
    Well, if you gist the above down, it comes down to two things.
    1. Robert is sitting on a horse,
    2. He signals a cavalry charge.

    Now, when you look at the two examples, which ones would you enjoy to read? A brief up to the point report, or a richly descriptive paragraph.

    So, What it's all about?
    To be very honest, it can be about many things. It can mean the world around the plot. Simply put, where the plot takes place. It can include a lot of things.
    • The location,
    • The climate,
    • The scenery,
    • Personal effects of characters

    And everything that would make your story more colorful. What do you think is a vital reason of success for Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter series? It is the level of detail put into the books. It almost takes us, or rather our senses, into their world. So, along with reading it, you can feel the story too.

    So, how do we get all that?
    Now, we come to the concluding part of the article. And that part is -> Applying it into your AAR. SO not to lengthen the article, but to round it up properly, I'll put a few vital points that can be used.
    • Relevance -> Whatever detail you might put in the story, it should be at least relevant to the plot, or a sub-plot. If you'd like some suspense, you can make it relevant to the future plots. This would add flavour to your story. No use mentioning aliens in a medieval AAR.
    • Detail -> Whatever you do, make it detailed. But the balance must be perfect, you have to adjust the level of detail such that it is not dry (less) or boring (big heap).
    • Immersion -> This is rather a subjective matter. It means that unless you are immersed in your AAR, the reader would not be too. So, make sure you enjoy writing it, and automatically the reader would enjoy reading it.

    Well, that's all for this article. My best wishes to all reading this.
    Thank you.

    By m_1512

    Casting call: characters in AARs by robinzx (Critic's Quill #33)

    Movies these days come in all shapes and sizes, but a set of common themes run through each of them. Think of the last movie you watched, or the last book you read, and the chances are that what you remember the most vividly will be the characters and how you connected to them. Perhaps Decimus Maximus’ heroism inspired you in Gladiator, or perhaps the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes impressed you with his genius – or maybe Katniss Everdeen struck a chord with you… because you are easily impressed? Whatever your answer to these questions, it is hopefully clear that a strong cast of characters is the lifeblood of any good tale. They allow the reader to connect to them on a personal emotional level, and achieve a higher level of immersion. In this article I shall attempt to play muse and hopefully provide a modicum of inspiration for the budding AAR writer, first examining the most readily available character archetypes in AARs and the ways to build up their personalities so that they seem alive to the reader.

    Starting out
    Just like any real person, each of your characters needs a plausible and easily recognisable identity. Fortunately in AAR writing the game provides various tidbits that form the the basic information required. In TW AARs this often includes a name and title, family, and maybe some personality traits over time. Often the starting characters of a game will provide an adequate starting cast – usually the protagonist, perhaps some support characters, and maybe one or more antagonists. One does not have to stop here however – imaginary characters work just as well as their game-oriented counterparts. The key is for each character to be believable and have backgrounds that relate logically to the time period as well as other characters. Calling your characters Abdul and Mohammed may not work the best for a story set in medieval France, for example. Sometimes deliberate mismatches could be used to spectacular effect, but in such cases a plausible explanation of the mismatch must be prepared – how Abdul came to be in medieval France.

    Main characters
    Your main characters are the blood and soul of your story, and a small group of well-defined main characters will punctuate your readership’s relationship with your story. Being the centrepiece of your story, each main character should have a recognisable persona with a well-defined background, personality traits and a purpose to serve. Often it is helpful for main characters to be defined in pairs or in small groups so that characters can be contrasted against one another, and so that there are opportunities for interaction. Good versus evil is a simple yet effective, if a little overused, dichotomy. Male and female characters can be paired as potential lovers. Old and young can become mentor and protégé. Etcetera.

    Support characters
    Depending on the importance of the role, a support character’s personality and background can be described in great depth, or not at all. In either case the support character’s primary role is to cause some kind of interaction with the main characters in such a way that readers are able to learn more about the latter in specific ways or to progress a story in some way that doesn't involve the main characters. As a result support characters are important for not only their intrinsic value but also what they are able to bring out in their more illustrious cousins. A childhood friend can relate stories of childhood. An old flame can provoke forgotten emotions. A sibling can reveal thoughts of jealousy and rivalry. The possibilities are quite literally limitless. Sometimes in third person stories an inglorious support character can even be used as the narrator, providing a withdrawn, somewhat more objective perspective of the action.

    A good idea is to maintain a relatively large cast of support characters, even if some have no immediate use to speak of. These “dormant” support characters are stored away for future use, and can be employed once suitable events that related logically to a character comes to pass in the story. They can also be used as side plots or distractions from the main plotline, and are a wonderful device for treating writer’s block.

    Character development
    People change over time, and AAR characters should be no different. Over the course of an AAR, all characters should show some sign of development – not just through the accumulating of victories and battle scars – but also in terms of how such events their personalities. It is important that as the reader follows the story he feels that he has grown with the characters, and as characters grow their personalities – anything from their approach to events to their thought processes – should vary accordingly. For the main characters, it is especially important that as the story progresses, these characters are seen to be progressing along a defined trajectory along a story arc, be it a personal mission, a goal set by another, or some other form of landmark. Having the reader feel the glory of success – or even the pain of failure – could all help to bring him closer to your main character. A glorious victory could galvanise the tentative squire. The consummation of love could cause a brazen warrior to review his priorities. The loss of a loved one, on the other hand, could traumatise a character in some way.

    Twists and turns are essential to any good story, and just as in real life, your main characters should experience unexpected events once in a while. These help to break them from clichéd models of archetypal roles which can make the character seem predictable and uninteresting if adhered to for too long. This is where support characters – be it one you've put on the back burner or one who is freshly introduced – and their interaction with other characters comes in. Perhaps a distant cousin has arrived with tragic news of a death at home? Maybe a traveller brings news of the impending Mongol invasion? A battle and the death and suffering that comes with it could give a character a new outlook on life?

    Dialogue between characters is one of the best ways to emphasize personalities and sensitivities, but also one of the hardest to get right. In order to create an authentic dialogue, the author must put himself in the position of the character. Only by understanding his or her goals and worries would the writer be able to create dialogue that is both logical and vivid sounding.

    Equally important is the tone of voice of the characters. Old men talk differently from young men, and superiors address their subordinates differently than vice versa. One way of mimicking realistic speech is to think of persons in real life or fictional persona you are familiar with and who are similar to the AAR character and imagine how these people would speak in different scenarios. The authentic use of period titles and honorifics also helps to improve authenticity.

    Requiescat in pace
    Killing a, or even the, main character is one of the most poignant things any writer can do – to both his readership and himself. If you’ve invested adequately into a main character, suddenly killing him will – unless you’ve provided adequate foreshadowing and maybe even then – almost certainly provoke feelings of shock, sadness, disappointment, and even anger among your readership. Even when the killing of a main character is well executed the anguish it causes may cause some among your readership to protest against your decision, or even to abandon the “ruined” story all together. The death of a well-crafted character may even cause the author himself to lose heart in the plot, fearing it is tainted by the death.

    Despite these potential pitfalls, sometimes killing a main character can be an incredibly powerful way to bring the story to a climax, for example at the end of the story. The trauma you cause in your readers can multiply the glory of his life and the significance of his sacrifice. The final moments of a main character – be it a melancholic swansong or a heroic last stand – can help take him to that next level of greatness.

    In the event that you’ve decided to kill the main character, the key is to do it in a manner that seems meaningful and is “epic” in some way. It would be rather silly for your main character to trek across the desert in search of vengeance only to die of an infection, for example. Permanence is another important attribute of such plot turns – that brave sacrifice will lose all meaning if your character is brought back to life somehow a few chapters later.

    Either way, killing the main character isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, and is certainly not for the faint hearted.

    An iconic set of characters are key to any AAR story. Invest well in them and both you and your readers will be rewarded in abundance. Being able to write with a sense of authenticity and sensitivity come from experience and practice – so get writing!

    By robinzx

    Last edited by Radzeer; July 18, 2012 at 05:26 PM.

  16. #16
    Junius's Avatar Domesticus

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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Nice list, glad to see some of my work on there too . The individual reviews of AARs are good to read through too. They offer a critique which goes beyond the (often) short comments of a respective audience. The CQ writers are all very good at what they do, so pick any really and see what they have to say.
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  17. #17
    ReD_OcToBeR's Avatar Senator
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Radzeer, I think you should make a list of all the past winning AARs in the MAARC/BAARC. I think it could benefit those wanting to look at what content those AARS had and what they brought to the AAR world. It's be much better than sifting through the old threads, because I've wanted to go back and look at some of them recently and its hard to do. Having them a click a way would be nice, and after all the great writers of them deserve the credit from their hard work and effort for the people they wrote for.

    Forgive me, if this has already been done, even though I've looked around.

  18. #18
    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by ReD_OcToBeR View Post
    Radzeer, I think you should make a list of all the past winning AARs in the MAARC/BAARC. I think it could benefit those wanting to look at what content those AARS had and what they brought to the AAR world. It's be much better than sifting through the old threads, because I've wanted to go back and look at some of them recently and its hard to do. Having them a click a way would be nice, and after all the great writers of them deserve the credit from their hard work and effort for the people they wrote for.

    Forgive me, if this has already been done, even though I've looked around.
    This is actually a great idea. This could be a similar index like the stickied finished AAR index. That would get better visibility than here. I'm on it.

    EDIT: The index will be produced in the staff forum, and I'll publish it when it's ready. Hopefully it won't take longer than two weeks.
    Last edited by Radzeer; September 06, 2011 at 03:38 PM.

  19. #19
    ReD_OcToBeR's Avatar Senator
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    The Great White North.


    Nice- thanks for the effort. +rep for that my friend

    edit - when i can rep..damn spreading! lol

    i just started reading some of the old aars from the list and am already wowed by them. This is the reason why i wanted them posted up in a list format because otherwise i would have never ever found them or read them. Great stuff!.
    Last edited by Radzeer; January 14, 2012 at 03:34 PM.

  20. #20
    Shankbot de Bodemloze's Avatar From the Writers Study!

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    Default Re: The Collected Wisdom of AAR Writing

    Very helpful to have advice from so many great AARtists, well certainly to me anyway
    Nice to have as a 'guidance' when (if you are like me) frequently find yourself at a loss


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