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Thread: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

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    Default The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Issue 25 - Part 1
    Hello and welcome to Issue 25 of the Quill.

    This month we have a good spread of AAR reviews (from Skantarios, Radzeer, la coupe est pleine and Thokran), plus a dip into Work Critiques from Carloginias. If you thought that an AAR was just an account of someone's campaign then you will find from our reviews that they can be so much more than that.

    We also have news from the latest MAARC and, thanks to Mega Tortas, another month's worth of goings-ons from that wonderful Jamboree Bag of writing which is Tale of the Week.

    Our resident vox-pop pundit, Beer Money, has secured another fine interview... this time with noted writer Skantarios.

    Finally there is an erudite article from novice AARtist Boustrophedon explaining how he is going about becoming an AAR-master. I have to say that I am really impressed by the sheer depth of his analysis.

    The Quill is again too big to fit in one post, so I have put all the reviews here, and all the articles in the next post. You find links to everything in the table of contents below.

    Juvenal (Editor)

    Table of Contents

    AAR Review Section

    A Man Possessed
    A NonTW:Fallout AAR by Beer Money
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    I. Introduction
    When it comes to AARtists, Beer Money is about as veteran as it gets. His Catalunya series was a smash-hit success, and he has followed through on that success with great stories like Visions of the King and his latest work, Greek Fire. But I'd like to digress from that for a moment and center in on some of his side works that I believe are worthy of equal praise and recognition. Beer Money's other AARs take place outside of the Total War universe, yet they are just as compelling and riveting to read through as any of his other mainstream successes. This is why I chose to review A Man Possessed, a Fallout-themed AAR that really exemplifies Beer Money's incredible talent as a writer and as an AARtist.

    II. Setting and Story
    A Man Possessed is not a traditional AAR. It doesn't talk about factions or battles or any sort of reporting that typically comes with a Total War AAR. Rather, it centers on this single man, who is forced to survive in this arid wasteland out in the Mojave Desert. It is through this man that we learn about the wasteland and all of its trials and tribulations. Likewise, it is through said trials and tribulations that we learn more about this man. It is a gritty, dark tale of survival that really brings out the basest aspects of human nature to light.

    This is not a story for the faint of heart. The protagonist is not the knight in shining armor overcoming adversity that we come to expect from AARs. No, Beer Money does a great job in portraying his main character as a man like any other, plagued by the same vices and sins that grip all men. We learn that this protagonist is forced to kill, loot, and drug his way across the arid wastes of the Mojave Desert, all in pursuit of a dream that seems to have lost its luster along the way. I don’t want to spoil anything, but you learn rather early on what drives this man forward through a land perpetually ravaged by the horrors of mankind. I only wish I could place a name to such a man, but no name is ever provided. In a sense the anonymity of the main character adds to his allure, but it also disconnects him ever so slightly from readers who tend to connect to characters on a name basis.

    III. Writing Style and Grammar
    What really brings the story to life is its presentation and writing style. A Man Possessed is written in first person, and it recounts the protagonist’s day to day experiences in gripping fashion. Beer Money really makes it a point to elaborate on the dangers of the Mojave Wasteland through these accounts. Whether it’s keeping an eye out for rabid gecks and deathclaws, or making sure a suspicious character doesn’t pull anything funny, it’s clear to see how dangerous the Wasteland actually is. Of course, the harsh environment and the critters that live within it are not the only dangers the protagonist has to face. Beer Money does a good job in reminding the reader that the greatest dangers the protagonist face lay among trusting his fellow human survivors.

    So I made my way for my grand entrance. Only thing was you had to go through this shanty town called Freeside first. Basically a collection of all the people who had come before me and hadn't caught that luck streak and probably bet everything they had away. There was people I knew who would kill for nothing. These people would kill for less than that. Not a place you want to linger and definitely not linger after dark.

    Sure enough, as soon as the sun went down, like roaches they came out. I had to take care of a few who wouldn't listen but I was left alone soon after that.
    In land as inhospitable as the Wasteland, desperate men like the ones mentioned above are more often than not the norm rather than the exception. It is these vivid portrayals of what humanity has been reduced to in this post apocalyptic war that makes the AAR what it is – a haunting firsthand account of a man’s experience with the worst humankind has to offer. There are a few spelling and grammar mistakes scattered about the story, but it is something that can be easily remedied with a bit of proof-reading, and it would serve to make the reading experience that much more enjoyable.

    IV. Visuals
    Beer Money also makes sure to accentuate the post-apocalyptic description of the Wasteland with stunning visual imagery that really brings home the sense of desolation and harshness which pervades the story.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The pictures are properly cropped taken at carefully chosen angles to help showcase what is already being described in vivid detail within the writing. The two go hand in hand in providing the ambiance necessary to make a post-apocalyptic world feel authentic.

    V. Critique and Summary
    In sum, this is a story I wholly recommend to anyone looking for something a bit different from the norm of Total War enterprises. There are a few things that could be improved upon, such as spelling and grammar here and there. One thing I found very interesting was how this story was able to help Beer Money get past his writer’s block. As a writer myself, I can understand how focusing on a different story can help in getting through such a roadblock in the creative writing process. This shift in gears from Beer Money definitely does not disappoint!

    On the update side of things, there haven’t been many updates of late, but that can be attributed to how busy Beer Money is with at least two other active projects he is working on. Nonetheless, this is an AAR definitely worth devoting your time to. It is an immersible experience that brings you into the post-apocalyptic wasteland to experience firsthand the hardships that come with the task of day to day survival. Beer Money has not disappointed with this journey through the wasteland, and I encourage you all to take a look at it.

    Review by Thokran

    Sons of the Wolf and the Bear
    An RTW:EB AAR by Beckitz
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Story and Introduction
    Rookie AARtist Beckitz has crafted a Europa Barbarorum AAR using the Sweboz faction. When I first looked at this AAR, my first reaction was “who in the heck is Sweboz?” It turns out they are a tribe from northern Germania – just one of many in that region and not the most powerful by any stretch. Just being introduced to a new culture/tribe was enough to grab my attention.

    The story is all about the ruling family of the Sweboz and their pursuit of domination of the other tribes. Following the death of their old king, the new (and young) ruler of the Sweboz has some new ideas about uniting the tribes of Germania under one banner – namely, his. To assist him in his dream of a Germanic Confederacy, he has the assistance of his three younger brothers who bring their own skills and faults to the table. As opposed to many other AARs where the supporting characters are just less developed versions of the main protagonist, these brothers all have a distinct personality that adds great flavor and variety to the story.

    Now, I will take a moment to let the author himself tell us why he decided to write this story and why he chose this particular faction and mod.

    Quote Originally Posted by Beckitz
    - What inspired you to write your own AAR?
    The idea to write an AAR had been bouncing around in my head for a while now, probably since I first discovered the AAR forums here back in the fall. I had always enjoyed narrating in-depth histories of my faction while I played; but it wasn't until I started reading some of the really successful AARs, particularly the Skantarios series, that I resolved to actually sit down and put into writing all of the ideas that just normally stayed in my head.

    - Why did you choose that particular time period/faction?
    The Sweboz had been my first campaign with EB, and I decided to use them for two reasons. From a writing perspective, they were an attractive choice on account of their fragmented and discordant nature; the unification of Germania, and all of the struggles that come with it, was a fantastic plot that just seems to write itself. From a game-play perspective, the Sweboz begin surrounded entirely by rebel settlements, which gave me a lot of freedom to write the first parts of the story in whatever way I wanted.
    Writing Style and Wording
    I should say from the start that this is one of the best written AARs I have read in a long time. The author clearly has a great deal of talent and it shows clearly in this AAR. His writing is lively and really flows well. That is good since this is mostly a story-driven AAR although it does have some of the requisite battles that we have all come to expect in a Total War work.

    The story is written from the viewpoint of multiple characters. This adds great depth to the story and he has a rich cast of characters that are all well developed. The author does not only spend time on the rulers but also on the minor characters that are often overlooked such as a spy, a diplomat, a common warrior, and even a slave. They all have their moments and the chapters are usually broken up as we jump from place to place in the Sweboz kingdom (and beyond) where are characters are currently traveling.

    The majority of the story is told in the form of dialogue. Beckitz writes it well (which is no small feat) and it flows very well. The speaker is easily identified and the give and take between the characters is believable and interesting. In fact, the dialogue dominates the story although there are still some good scene descriptions and the occasional inner monologue for one of the characters.

    His writing is uniformly good although there are a few minor errors in wording or the common typos that you will find every AAR. As I have said in other reviews, AARs are at best a good final draft. It is not realistic to expect the author to catch every error. This "rule" is true of this AAR, as well. Still, the errors are few and far between and don’t really detract from the story.

    Some of the passages are quite memorable and it is a compliment to the author that I had to really think about which one I wanted to quote. In the end, I settled on this one:
    A war between two states is not a spontaneous occurrence; it does not simply erupt onto the scene one day without any sort of rhyme or reason. Rather, the outbreak of a conflict is best compared to the events of an earthquake; even before the main event itself there are small tremors and disturbances, serving as a warning to those who are alert and attentive enough to catch on to them. Just as there are those tasked with watching the weather, there must be men tasked with watching the states; men with sharp eyes and keen ears to catch the tiny intricacies of statesmanship.
    Though he has only written one real battle thus far, it was superb. The only thing I am afraid of here is that he spends so much time lavishing descriptions on them that his care in this regard will fall off as the story progresses. Writing a single battle to this degree can be exhausting and as his Confederacy expands, there will be a great many more. Finding the right balance between too much and too little is a personal choice and I would only caution him that this level of effort (though appreciated) is difficult to continue.

    Images and Visual Aids
    Beckitz has stated from the start that this would be a story-driven AAR and would have only a few images. That is certainly a fair choice and his writing does an excellent job of conveying the story without them. The downside of that is there are precious few images in his post and this might be a disappointment to those used to seeing them. Those that he does include are usually just stock images from the event menu but he also includes some photos from out of the game.
    Spoiler for Pictures

    I would caution him against using too many modern photographs as those have a completely different feel than the in-game pics (or even paintings) and can take the reader away from the world of the story the author is creating.

    There are a few pictures of battles but those are few and far between.
    Spoiler for Battle Pics

    Those that he does include are well cropped and do a pretty good job of capturing that point in the story. Still for those readers used to looking at a lot of photos as they read the battles, they will be disappointed.

    One last criticism on pictures is that they are still in ".png" format. That means they are quite large and take a while to load. For those with fast Internet connections, this is no big deal. For others, it can make for a long load time or even errors of loading. Switching the pictures to a .jpg format would make for much smaller files and the image quality won't suffer much as a result.

    Critique and Summary
    His characters are lively and very well written. He does a good job of showing their varying personalities and none are “larger than life.” They show human emotion and failings and are developed to a very good extent.

    This AAR is also interesting as you are exposed the various tribes of Gaul and Germania. From the relatively famous Aedui and Arverni confederations to the relatively obscure Kimbroz and Sweboz there is a rich mélange of factions to enjoy. It might even spark some questions like: is the Skandza tribe where Scandinavia got its name?

    Again, this is a text based story but it is a very good text based story. If you are one that is put off by the lack of pictures, then you are missing a great read. Even though this is the first effort for Beckitz, he has already set a high standard. It is highly recommended and an AAR that I hope continues for a long time.

    Review by Skantarios

    The Capets
    An M2TW:SS AAR by Draco092
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Well... This AAR is what we could call a « Two edged » story. I mean that either we love it, or we dislike it.

    The comments from readers have proved that statement.

    Fortunately for me, I was in the good side and I particularly appreciated that tale. I hope you will follow the same path.

    To begin with, this AAR is called “The Capets”. Obviously, no one would be surprise to learn that it is a French story. The objective is to describe the events happening amongst the French court, and to highlight the medieval atmosphere.

    The Author, a newcomer named Draco092, prefers to warn us that it is going to be an original AAR. Indeed, there are some exotic spices in that story. Let’s discover their particular flavor.

    The Story
    The story is in the third person, describing the adventures of some important French characters.

    Times are hard as the Kingdom of France is surrounded by many enemies, but the French lords are determined to raise the Standard high, thanks to plots and battles.
    You will follow with a particular excitation the love affairs of Constance, the famous princess.
    You will take part at the Court High Council, at the left of Philippe, the rightful King.
    You will shudder hearing the plots whispers from Louis and Bertrada, respectively heir and queen of the Kingdom.
    You will feel the anxiety of the battles, amongst the troops, led by the high lords of France.

    Last but not least, you will be warned about the diplomatic games all over the Christendom.

    Indeed, there are a lot of dangers. They are hidden everywhere, inside and outside the Kingdom. There are not enough shadows to conceal the foes. Heads are going to fall, and even the cleverest or strongest character won’t succeed to avoid the traps invented and placed by their enemies.

    You are surely wondering why this story seems so dark and merciless. The answer lies in the source of inspiration found by the author to provide us that good tale: The Tudors. Indeed, Draco tried to express the ambiance of that TV series thanks to his AAR. And here really the originality. It is what we call “a soap opera AAR”.

    How funny it is to read how little things of the life can have far reaching consequences and involve Kingdoms wars. The kiss of a princess, the whisper of a mother, the regrets of a son…

    The pictures are the groundwork of “The Capets”. Indeed, they are not the usual Medieval II images. Instead, they are pics recorded from the Tudors. Draco used the TV characters to represent his fictional kings, heirs and princesses.

    I must admit that at the beginning, I felt ill at ease, but soon, I understood the power of those pictures. Most of them are portraits, and add a touch of darkness to the over-plotted story. Who wouldn’t see the devil in those portraits?

    However, there are not only portraits. There are also some background photography to add some reality to the story. We are definitely in the old Medieval France, ready to see knights and troubadours from the castles and citadels.

    Apart from those pictures which help to bring us in total immersion, we can find the “usual” battle pics, in order to describe the French campaign.

    Though Draco may have started with fairly crude pictures …

    … later the skills of the author really improved dramatically, and it is a pleasure to see such efforts spent to increase the quality of that tale.

    What better than good dialogues to build and achieve a plot! Draco definitely understood that rule because his story is full of dialogues. Dialogues are literally the structure of this AAR. It is surely why some people loved it, but it is also surely why people had difficulties with the story. Indeed, with dialogues, the action never stops and we are always in the action. I personally wasn’t bothered with them, and even liked those long dialogues, but I understand that it could be a bit off-putting at first and I would enjoin Draco to add some parts of description.

    But I couldn’t struggle when romantic dialogues entered the place.
    He kissed her. It was not her intention, but she could not resist. He caressed her cheek, and kissed her again, passionately.

    - Gilles, we’re not supposed to do this – she complained, but her defenses were down. The fact was that Gilles Erail had conquered her heart.

    They spent the whole night together. In the morning, he waked up her, with a large amount of colourful and delicious fruits, and a glass of the purest water. They ate happily.

    - Do you love me Gilles? –
    - More than my life. I would give up every instant of it for a single moment with you, my love –
    - Then, will you ask for my hand to my father when we get back to Paris? –
    - I’ll do it gladly, mon amour –
    Those ones, quite frequent in the story, are the spices that help the story to be dynamic and original. There is still a princess who wants to make love.

    One of the critics that could be made would be the writing mistakes as Draco is not living in an English-speaking country. However, the author clearly tries to avoid them and we couldn’t blame it for that. In addition, sometimes, the writing mistakes are the source of some exotic sentences that actually make the story more interesting.

    So why not?

    To come back to the pictures selected from the Tudors and others TV series, we have to congratulate Draco for his talent. He definitely took a lot of time to select the most appropriated ones with the best face expressions to illustrate the dialogues.

    Not happy to be just a writing artist, the author had also learnt how to become a master of the photography shots. It is what impressed me the most. The main part of the cake.

    There was also some little humoristic touch, always welcome in such a dark story. The Cherry of the cake.
    - Are you saying you allow us to sack the city, your grace? –
    - No, I’m saying that this city is now under the command of his majesty le Roi de France, and you, as soldiers of his majesty, are obligated to perform any activities that can result in the enrichment of his majesty’s royal treasure, specially if that richness comes from other nobles who are his enemies. –

    The soldiers were stunned.

    - Yes, you can sack! –
    To sum up, if you are going to read that nice and interesting tale, be sure to bring with you a good old sword, and even a strong shield and axe to protect you from the multiple evils which are haunting the French Kingdom. You surely wouldn’t like to burn eternally, would you?

    But if I can permit a last advice, you would have better running to read this AAR. It is worthy of such a hurry.

    Keep your fresh eyes and state of mind, because Draco is going to bring you in a world of originality, in a Kingdom of plots, in a medieval romance.

    Well, I wish you a great read.

    Review by la coupe est pleine

    A New Reign
    An RTW:RS2.1 AAR by Boustrophedon
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Story and Introduction
    Rookie AARtist Boustrophedon has tackled a Roma Surrectum AAR focused on the Ptolemaic Empire. The AAR is still in its first stages where the author is introducing his characters and setting the stage for the grand campaign: the conquest of Asia and Asia Minor. The primary antagonists in the story are the Seleucid Empire, the allied Greek City States, and (to a lesser extent) the other nobles of Ptolemaic Egypt.

    The focus of the AAR is the story of a young prince, Ptolemy, and his rise to power over other generals and older claimants to the throne. This noble spends his youth building a reputation in battle and cultivating other nobles and generals to support him in his future bid for the throne. He cultivates one general in particular, a man named Hermeias, who has a particular grudge against the Seleucids. These two characters make quite a team although there are underlying tensions between the honorable Hermeias and the “win at any cost” Ptolemy.

    The final part of my introduction to this AAR is best told in the words of the author himself. I asked him to fill out a little mini-interview and he was gracious enough to comply.
    Quote Originally Posted by Boustrophedon
    - What inspired you to write your own AAR?
    I've been a longtime lurker here on TWC but finally decided to sign up some months ago and my main reason was that I wanted to make some kind of contribution to the content on these excellent forums. I'm not really brilliant at editing pictures or movies so I decided to write an AAR, a great part of the whole strategy gaming that the Total War series offers and also why I kept coming here before I signed up. Many AAR's here were absolute beauties so I thought I might try my hand at one myself.

    - Why did you choose that particular time period/faction?
    I picked Roma Surrectum 2 because it is just a mindblowing modification. Beautiful units and a great map which leaves lots of room to manouvre and has many strategical options (like rivers and the Nile delta). I chose the Ptolemaic Kingdom because I've always been fascinated by them and how they outlasted all the other Successor States. I wanted to tell the tale of a boy who becomes pharaoh and king against expectations but then goes on to put the Ptolemaics on the map for centuries to come.
    Writing Style and Wording
    I will say off the bat that Boustrophedon is not a native English speaker and so you will find several minor usage and grammar errors in his text. That said, the errors are quite minor and he does a better job than many with English as their first language in this regard. He obviously spends a lot of time editing his posts so that those errors are barely noticeable – a real compliment to his language skills.

    The story itself is told from the viewpoints of several different characters. At some points, he is speaking entirely in the third-person. In others, he switches to the viewpoint of one of the major characters at different points in the story so that we are privy to their inner motivations and their feelings about the current policy of the realm. This is done fairly seamlessly and it adds good insight to the story.

    Boustrophedon uses a lot of dialogue in the story. This is usually done quite well and only a few passages seem forced. Some of the dialogue is really quite witty:
    "I still think it's treasonous to attack allies, son."

    …Hermeias was close to perfection to him but he would never understand the intricate nature of politics...

    "Our business is war and conquest and pillaging, father. We're going to offend somebody..."
    In other areas, the dialogue can be a bit pithy. There is at least one scene where the succession of an Empire and the conquest of Asia are decided in a give and take that lasted barely two minutes. That seemed a little quick for such a weighty matter. Some of this is a function of the AAR format wherein the author has to convey world-changing events in just a few thousand words, so I will cut him some slack on that.

    Images and Visual Aids
    The images in the story are, at the moment, not a focus of the story. Most of the photos included are campaign map screen shots or the unit cards of the main characters. I will note that he has added a few touches to them such as making a seamless unit card or adding the faces of generals and their armies to the campaign map shots.
    Spoiler for Campaign Map and Unit Cards

    Note: Photos edited for size.

    There are only two battles captured to any great extent so far and so the tactical pictures are still somewhat lacking. What there are of them are done well with good use of angles and cropping to capture the action and marry up to the text. I also think the author is using a little enhancement or else he just has an awesome video card.
    Spoiler for Battle Photos

    Note: Photos edited for size.

    My biggest criticism with the pictures so far is that they are simply too big. Many of his scenes he captures are over 1800 pixels wide (a few at 1900+). While this makes the shot seem more epic and powerful, the end result is that it forces those readers with smaller screen sizes to scroll back and forth to take it all in. It also means that the text in the post must also be scrolled back and forth to view which greatly takes away from the impact of the story and would, I suspect, cause some not to view it at all. A simple resize function in the editing process would be enough to correct this and would be a net positive for the story. What is sacrificed in size is easily made up for by easier reader viewing.

    Another result of having photos that big is that they take a lot of bandwidth to load. Again, for those on high end systems with good broadband connections, this is not an issue. For all others, it is a problem. That problem is exacerbated by the author putting all of his updates in spoilers on the first page of the AAR. While this makes for easy viewing having the story all in one place, it means that every time someone comes to the AAR, they are looking at a 50mb(+) load time.

    The photos I have included above have been both resized and made smaller to emphasize my point. I would recommend to the author to keep his photos under 900 pixels wide (1000 max) if possible and he should not have a problem.

    Critique and Summary
    Overall, the story is intriguing and the author has taken care to do a lot of character and strategic development to set the stage for the epic campaign to come.

    One quick criticism is that we don’t know when the story takes place. There is not a single mention of dates or other world leaders to narrow our focus to a particular time period. This isn’t such a big deal to the non-history buffs around but it would be useful for those of us who are. Since the protagonist is named Ptolemy V that would probably put it about 220 B.C. or thereabouts (of course, those in the “BC” period called their dates something different). The author could make this simple for us by saying something to the effect of: "barely 100 years since the death of Alexander and..." AARs are alternate history at their very core so chronology isn’t vital; I would just like to know my jumping off point from history to fiction.

    I will also note that there are several gaping plot holes that I hope will be corrected in the future; namely: a major character that is set up to be a rival for our protagonist just disappears about halfway through the story with no explanation of his ultimate fate. Also, our main protagonist has done some very questionable things to get to where he is (and at a very young age to boot) and, thus far, has not seemed to suffer either politically or personally for it. Of course, that last bit is a style point but I hope there is some more development along those lines before it is all said and done.

    This story is still in its early stages but Boustrophedon has laid quite a foundation for what I am sure will be an epic story of the Egyptian conquest of Asia. His characters are interesting and the task he has set himself difficult. For those of you interested in this period of history, I would recommend the AAR as it looks extremely promising.

    Review by Skantarios

    Heimskringla - A tale of Norway's rise
    An M2TW:SS6.3 AAR by Ichon
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    King Haakon was wise far ahead of the time he was rewarded with that sobriquet. In 1220 he issues orders to consolidate the Norwegian warriors currently serving the King to prepare for an outward expansion …
    This is how the medieval chronicle of the kings of Norway starts, retold by Ichon in late era Stainless Steel. Late era campaigns are not that common, but what makes this AAR particularly interesting is the dreaded submod: Byg’s Grim Reality (BGR), advertised as bringing “enhanced difficulty, depth & realism.” While it adds many interesting features (War Council, nobles’ personal wealth), it also makes the game extremely hard. (It is now one of the optional add-ons for Stainless Steel, and there is no week without somebody opening a new thread and crying for help in disbelief that his empire is at the verge of collapse by turn ten – the typical response is “oh, so you have BGR on, right?”) The bottom line is that one can rightfully call himself an expert when playing the game on VH/VH with BGR. Ichon is of course one of these people, but more importantly, he can also write it up as an AAR.

    The narrative is mostly written in present tense, which applies to both campaign events and battle descriptions. Present tense is rarely used in AARs, as the popular chronicle or memoir style prefers past tense. However, it gives the feeling of fast action happening as the story progresses.
    Orders from the Pope arrive forbidding further fighting with England and King Burislev's court will enforce these decree's... however soon after calling the Crusade the current Pope passes and there is an absence of leadership in the Church- Karl Skolhamarr considers following Prince Sighvat's example and disregarding both the Pope and King Burislev's orders. Afterall, the King is half a world distant and the Pope who issued those orders is dead.
    The English commander is slain along with the rest of the Feudal knights and the Norwegian infantry burst out of the trees into the approaching English infantry when they hear the cries of the Norwegian cavalry and see the English commanders banner fall. The merchant cavalry and Sighvat fall upon the English infantry while the Welsh launch flaming arrows- even then not all the English infantry companies flee and some take repeated charges to break.
    The campaign goals were clearly defined at the beginning and followed a “natural” pattern of Norwegian expansion (Britain and the Baltics). Total War is about alternative history (sometimes turning into pure fantasy), yet I prefer AARs that have campaigns built on historical realism.

    The story is well documented, however the emphasis is not on the plot. Instead, we get excellent insights into both the campaign mechanics and the battles. I was particularly looking for learning more about BGR, which Ichon provides in spoilers and references in the story narrative. This was a refreshing change from the epic tones most writers use. Yet, while this AAR is not plot oriented, we can still learn about some memorable characters, and there are quite a few hidden gems in the narrative too.
    The few Mongol prisoners are offered for ransom but the great Mongol Khan decrees that no ransom money shall be paid and the prisoners are given over to the country folk whom they had terrorized during the siege. Some are said to have survived days of torture but none live longer than a week.
    I particularly liked the BGR-related family issues (the new version of BGR is actually great for roleplay).
    Haflidhi's final orders for Ragnvald are to pardon Niels and end his banishment if word arrives that Haflidhi has failed in his Crusade. This will give Ragnvald 2 strong nobles personally tied to him. The current group of War Councilors are loyal to the Haakonsson line and with Prince Haldor's public displays of loyalty will likely support Ragnvald as Heir.
    Ichon’s battle descriptions are detailed, and the action is well documented. An obvious help in this is the use of pictures, which brings the review to the issue of visual aids.

    It is an unwritten norm among AARtists to crop pictures, and get rid of user interface elements. When I first started reading this AAR, I was surprised to see unmodified screenshots. First I thought that those are going to ruin the reading experience, but as the AAR unfolded I realized that they actually complement the writing style and goals. With the battle descriptions in focus, it helps when the reader can see the whole picture, including troops, victory calculations and the minimap. It does take away from immersion, but the reader can now see how Ichon fought the battles. By the time I got to the second page, it did not bother me at all (except the green highlights as I just cannot make my peace with that).

    The battle pictures behind the user interface are definitely worth checking out. Ichon uses the bird’s eye view of the battlefield a lot. He selects good angles that offer very nice examples of the beautiful landscapes of MTW2. The only criticism I have here is that the pictures take a long time to load.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    In summary, Ichon’s AAR is a well written story of an interesting campaign, with all the extra information that is usually missing from plot-heavy AARs. It is informative regarding battle tactics and campaign strategy, and at the same time it does have roleplaying elements to please story-hungry readers. Some unique characteristics may seem strange at first but come together nicely in the end. It is a solid AAR with a fresh perspective, recommended for everybody but especially to those who need a break from the epic – apocalyptic - world domination genre. Make no mistake however: Heimskringla is still total war at its best.

    Review by Radzeer

    Work Critiques Section

    The Soldier
    A story by thatguy
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Hello again from the Work Critiques section of the Writer’s Lounge. This time the Quill will bring you about a man lost in his own space and time, and his struggles to remember his past lives as he travels to the wealthy planet of Sigma 4, locked in a constant battle against the two factions of men who seek to control its formidable resources.

    The story begins with a man sitting calmly at his desk, reminiscing, but at the same time unfamiliar of the feelings, thoughts, and memories that one part of him remembers, but the other has neglected. The narrator alleges first that his body is 253 years old, and references his frame of mind to be that of a 42 year old man, but that of his consciousness to be well over an eon in age, unchanging, unbending, but unable to allow the memories from his past lives to flow freely into his new bodies. In front of him are the papers he must sign to, technically, return to Sigma 4, and he somehow feels like this is not a new experience.

    Next, the narrator gives the reader a sense of what exactly constitutes the planet of Sigma 4, providing a little generic back story that two federation of humans, who have colonized dozens of other planets, have fought a 20 year with each other seeking to control the vast mineral wealth of the planet. It seems that the narrator is familiar with the military industrial complex as he entertains the idea that the war will never end because war profits from mining the ores and then supplying the soldiers with armor and weapons will never cease to be cost-beneficial to the sellers. Throughout his existence on Sigma 4, the narrator experiences faint recollections of the lives that he once had, but noting grimly that they all led back to the war path, making for a grim theme for the story. Strangely, despite the sci-fi setting, the units of both armies are positioned behind trenches where millions of men fight in various bunkers, rather than in advanced tanks, armored carriers, etc.

    The end of the story shows the narrator sitting at his desk, still on Sigma 4, pondering the purpose of his existence.

    Starting with what I liked about the story, the narrator seems semi-developed; we don’t know a lot about him other than that he is technically an ancient being, but we indirectly gain knowledge of the land he’s in by the descriptions of Sigma 4. I don’t like sci-fi universes, but I found this one to be strangely believable, and therefore I found it rather interesting. Additionally, your pacing read well in most spots.

    Going into what I did not feel was effective was the constant repetition of words and phrases. Look around for them, and edit some of them out, but by no means all of them. I would like to see a first word variation in your sentences. A lot of them have ‘He’ over and over again, and it gets kind of mind numbing to read the same word over again. Also, I understand that ambiguity is key in this piece, but you might want to give us a little background on how his consciousness is 1,000 years old, has he been body hopping, or are his memories in some sort of chip? Remember, purposeful ambiguity is good, but when it’s unintended (I know you retrieved this from your own memory) it gets a little sloppy. Nice read, though.

    Review by Carloginias

    imb39 my daddy!
    See AARtistry in action: Spite of Severus and Severus the God

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    Tale of the Week Needs You!

  2. #2
    Juvenal's Avatar love your noggin
    Patrician Content Emeritus

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    Apr 2006
    The Home Counties

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Issue 25 - Part 2
    This is the bit of the Quill where the news and the articles live.

    Table of Contents

    Monthly AAR Competition Section

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    As I write this, MAARC XXV is almost concluded. All that remains is a vote-off for 2nd place, the poll closes on March 15th so you had better get on over there if you want to influence the outcome.

    [Kingdoms AAR] The Baltic Terror by Thokran

    This is a story of the efforts of the Teutonic Order to bring the Baltic region under its control. It is a story full of intrigue and betrayal (and battles), where the religious zeal for expansion is matched only by the lust for power within the ranks of the Order itself.

    You will find Radzeer's review of this AAR in Critic's Quill Issue 23 here. Prepare to be amazed.

    [FKoC AAR] A Generall Historie of the English Rebellion by Maximinus Thrax

    This is a first-person account of the English Civil War by Sir William Cromford, a Colonel in the service of the King. It is impeccably presented, the polite formality of the text enhanced with beautiful images taken from portraits and pamphlets and also, in some cases, from movies.

    There is much coverage of politics, and of the personal dealings of Sir William. When the campaign itself finally begins to intrude upon the narrative, it feels like a perfectly natural part of the story, this effect being enhanced by Sir William's penchant for describing (with some relish) the flaws and peccadilloes of each commander.

    Battles are given the full treatment, each lavishly illustrated, with the reader left in no doubt as to their pivotal importance to the outcome of the war as a whole.

    I can see why this AAR has scored highly in the MAARC. Will achieve second place? We shall find out soon.

    [RTW AAR] And all around is the desert; a corner of the mournful kingdom of sand by Decimus Milo

    This is an incredibly popular vanilla RTW Numidian campaign account (36,300 views at the time of writing). I can't believe that we haven't reviewed this yet, but apparently we have not. So, to sum up, this is largely an account of playing the campaign, though the narrator adopts the persona of the Numidian people in general rather than that of game player.

    What is absolutely riveting about this account is just how finely balanced it is. Numidia on VH/VH faces enormous odds against Carthage and Egypt with just an army of skirmishers, and not too many even of those due to its woeful economy.

    You must have played games where your most mighty efforts against overwhelming opposition only seems to serve to put off your extinction by a few more turns? Any sensible player would abandon such a campaign and try another approach, but Decimus Milo is in it to win, and we cannot help but be carried along by the cause.

    Coverage by Juvenal

    Tale of the Week Section

    Tale of the Week: February News
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Hi there... and Welcome back for another edition of TotW coverage. In the news....Resident graphic Artist xHerzoGx,{now xHerzoGx De Bodemloze} fresh from his successful gig at the CdeC came up with an innovation which I think everyone will enjoy....

    THE TALE PROJECT: Writer Story Gallery listing
    The project's just in its start-up phase, but initial returns seem to indicate that it has vast potential to turn into quite the writer's showplace. Stay tuned for further updates....

    Currently we have a VOTE OFF & two story boards active....
    1. VOTE OFF: TotW 103a: "Lord of the Tale"
    2. TotW 104a: "The Seas of Wrath"
    3. TotW 105a: "Against All Odds"

    If you get a chance, please stop by at the vote and look in on the storyboards. All stories and Tales are welcome and they can be about anything that stirs your passion. Now, let's move on to the usual business at hand....

    TotW 99a
    In a hellacious struggle, that spanned two votes, Russian Gondor emerged victorious over a Star Trek themed storyboard that brought in the new year.
    TotW 99a: The Picture

    TotW 99a: The Story

    The drum of hooves was heard on the warm desert sand as the Sultan’s army marched forward to the village. Strangely though, as the army neared the village, no resistance was met. The Sultan grew worried; his spies had told him that the village had a full garrison of Crusaders ready to match his glory. After over-thinking the situation, he decided to move into the village. These Crusaders must be robbed of all their former glory he thought, they are just afraid of my omnipotent force!

    All of a sudden, the windows around them flung open as their gaze was met by dozens of crossbow bolts. The Sultan spun around to see half of his bodyguard lying on the ground with numerous, black bolts buried deep in their chests. “Fight back you cowards!” he yelled, “Purge these foul crows from their burrows, burn the village!”

    The Sultan spurred his horse, and through all the havoc ran back through the lines, with only a portion of his bodyguard with him, and his army slowly running into the city to help him. He was only a hundred yards away from the rest of his force, ready to melt away back into the relative safety of the mob; when suddenly hundreds of forms sprang up from the sand. His horse whinnied as hundreds of Crusaders, who were hidden in the sand with their yellow cloaks, sprang up with spears, ready to fight.

    Bloody hand-to-hand fighting ensued as the surrounded bodyguard fought with zeal to protect their Sultan. The rest of the force was only fifty meters away, so close to survival… The memories of his life flew past him, as the Sultan saw the bloodshed, with his faithful bodyguard reduced to only ten percent of its former numbers. Many members of his bodyguard were his childhood friends; the boys which he had grown up with in the safety of the palace, all dead at his feet. The Sultan drew his sword, and yelled with rage at this terrible sight. He hacked and slashed, killing five Crusaders near him. His army only meters away, ready to aid him; but before he could blink, he felt a surge of pain on his back. He felt his knees lose their former strength, as an extreme sense of burden mixed with pain lay upon him. He sunk down, his eyes blurred, as darkness slowly engulfed him. In the final seconds of his life, he saw a tall shadow step up to him. He saw the blurred form raise their arms and begin to move them down….

    The soldiers finally ran into the fray, only to see the head of their leader on the ground, surrounded by many corpses, in a growing pool of blood in the sandy streets. Instead of fighting, the Crusaders ran away from the force. In a rage, and to fulfil their dead leader’s revenge, the Sultan’s army ran through the city, burning every building.

    TotW 100a
    Amidst a titanic and record-equalling field of ten entrants, chaplain118 once again emerged from the shadows to demonstrate the supremacy of the RTW side of the House. The sheer spectacle of it all was wondrous and may be seen here...

    VOTE: ToTW 100a: "Just One More Question" - Colombo- Peter Falk
    TotW 100a: The Picture

    TotW 100a: The Story


    “The entire legion is falling back behind the Wall. That’s it, this war is over, at least for us.”

    The Centurion smiled at his men. The grim realities of the conquest of Caledonia, or as the men themselves called it, the Hopeless War, has come to its fruition. Ambition abroad was finally checked by prudence at home. By daybreak the first column of men would begin the journey home, it was a day decades in the coming. Many of the men were born in the very legion camps. Some had never even heard of a world south of the Wall. But the men whom the Centurion commanded were not such men. They had enlisted willingly, had abandoned the comfortable lives of the interior and headed to the frontier. They had wives, children, and parents behind the Wall whom they protected. They had farmlands, taverns, and a myriad of other professions that many in the legion did not understand. They were true citizens, and the Centurion was neither better nor worse than them in civilian life.

    When the sun had set for the last time over the ramparts of the Wall, the camp erupted in gossip. Who was going first, who would be left to cover the retreat. But gradually the talk turned southward, towards home. Whose children have grown up? Whose parents have passed on? Whose wives had been faithful, and whose have not been? More importantly, what will each man do with the land promised to him and to what ordinary trades will they return to?

    A baker, in southern Deva, and you can all come for bread. The dole-eyed Marcus smiled over the fire. A boy when he first enlisted, now a battle-hardened veteran with more scars than fingers. The others laughed with him. He seemed more at ease with a sword in hand than kneading dough. But they’ll visit, they said, and they’ll each bring him a copper coin for payment of all the money he lost to them in dice games.

    Farmer, always a farmer. My son’ll be six years old now. Haven’t even seen the runt yet. I’ll teach him to grow wheat, to grow barley, and plough the fields like a man. Publius said from behind his beard. His one good eye was almost opaque from the constant wind. You can hardly see, they said, how will you know he’s even your son? He punched two men square in the face
    and said. Still could see you couldn’t I?

    Long road for me. All the way home to Bibracte. Saved up enough money to buy my parents a nice country house now in addition to my land grant. No more living like barbarians in a hut. They’ll live like proper Romans. Aventinus stoked the fire and a piece of ember snapped in the air, landing on his snow-white skin. The rest nodded in respect. Now there was a good lad,
    some said. Others patted him on the back.

    The talk of home stretched into the night until Hesperus dangled above the eastern ramparts and Dawn had painted the sky a rosy hue. The Centurion listened to all of his men talk and he smiled at the thought of his home. A bride waited for him, and from that union would come several children who would bear his name and serve the country just as he has. No point sleeping now, they all muttered in agreement, new day’s dawned and we’re going home. Home, thought the Centurion as he looked at his men. Brothers all. Eighty strong when they first joined, now whittled down to thirty-five. He would miss them all. But more so missed were the ones who did not celebrate this final night on the frontier. The muster trumpet never sounded so sweet, so alluring. Like a Siren it called them to the square and they gathered like boys on the eve of the Lupercalia, eagerly awaiting their fellow celebrants. Each centurion stepped forward and numbered the men under his command. He listened with a heavy heart as the numbers were read out. Twelve men in the first century, twenty in the second, and so on and so forth. By the end of muster, he found himself with the most men under his command.

    Centurion. The legate touched his shoulder. He felt a chill in his heart. The legate always touched someone’s shoulder when giving bad news. Are you ready to go home?

    “Yes sir.”

    The legate nodded and said nothing. The Centurion knew what he was about to ask and he could not refuse. He turned his apologetic eyes to his men and saw nothing but obedience. Good boys, he fought back the tears. All of them heroes. We’ll go home yet.

    We’re with you sir. They said. He nodded, wishing that they had cursed him instead.

    Cover the legion’s back, wait for the trumpet’s call to retreat. We’ll call for you when it’s all over.

    He nodded with his men. They returned to their tents. Some sharpened swords, others prayed to their gods, still others ambled about, their talks turning back to home. Each one’s story was the same, yet each one’s story was different. The sun climbed higher in the sky. The Centurion wondered how many would see it rise the next day.

    The trumpet wailed. The call for defense. They knew the music and they knew their steps. Like dancers who practiced their entire lives, the thirty-five and the Centurion stepped out of their tents and watched their companions walk the opposite way. The retreating men were smiling and laughing, but some watched those who stayed behind and nodded gravely. Some uttered words of thanks.

    Nothing to it, brother, they said. We’ll see you behind the Wall and we’ll all go home.

    They stood outside of the walls of the camp and saw the unwashed horde gathering towards them. A little over two hundred, no more. They laughed at the number. They had faced far worse and survived to speak of it. This will be easy, they reassured the Centurion. We’ll go home yet.

    The first of the barbarians approached. A monster of a man, standing at least a head taller than the rest. He held a head whose blood still steamed in the cold. His words were lost amidst the jeers and cries, but the soldiers knew the contents of his speech. They had heard the same threat again and again over the years.

    “Pila ready!” Thirty-five spears will crash against the unwashed masses, then thirty-five more. But it would not halt the hundreds. The fire in their eyes did not dim but grew brighter and the prospect of triumphing over the enemy.

    “Draw swords!” Pressed against the wall, nowhere else to go now. Where was the retreating trumpet? Could it have been drowned out by the sound of the battle? His men still fought on, a mountain of corpses soon piled before them. But they soon grew wearied and tired. Their movements became languid and their reaction dulled by fatigue. Then Aventinus was cut down, and with him his hopes of a country home for his parents. Then fell Publius and his son would never know his father. Marcus plunged headfirst, biting bloody clods of dirt, his bakery would remain empty. And so fell many others until only sixteen remained by the Centurion.

    Have we missed it? They cried as swords clanged against shields. Have they called for us? They shouted amongst shrieks. The Centurion couldn’t answer.

    I hear it! I hear it! said Pisenius, who bore his family’s fortunes solely on his broad shoulders. But there was dissent even then. Some said no while others nodded yes. Tears welled up in the Centurion’s eyes. Had they all agreed, they could leave now. But fortune would not favor these bold men, the Fates would not lead them to salvation. The barbarians retreated and the soldiers stood arguing.

    Centurion! I heard it! By the gods of Olympus, by the black Acheron itself, I heard it! Rufus shook his shoulder, face wet with tears and blood. Please, I heard it. We have to go now. Think of your bride! If not her then think of our families and us. Think of our mothers who stay up endless nights weeping, our fathers whose hair grows white from worry! I heard it!

    “Manius.” The Centurion called to his second-in-command. “Did you hear it? Your word will be as good as mine.”

    The man paused and thought. All eyes were upon him and he knew he held the lives of the sixteen remaining men in his hands.

    You heard it too, Manius! Rufus cried. I know you heard it.

    You heard it, thought the Centurion, silently urging the man. In the distance he saw the enemy amassing. They swarmed over the land like ants disturbed from their hill.

    No. I didn’t hear anything.

    You fool! You might as well have killed us all! Tears ran down Rufus’ face. No man disagreed with him. But the order had been given, and they were still soldiers before anything else. They would continue to fight, even unto death.

    Maybe we should say our last words. They said. Maybe we should save the bodies of our brothers. A murmur of agreement rose. The enemy swarmed ever closer.

    They worked quickly despite their tiredness. Hands rough from combat gingerly tended to the fallen bodies and placed them in the ditch around camp. They placed coins in the corpses’ mouths and threw dirt over the bodies.

    Hail and farewell brothers. They said. We’ll meet again on the fields of Elysium. When no more coins were left, the Centurion ripped the medals from his chest and placed them in the hands of the fallen.

    “The gods will understand,” he said to his men. Their tired hands pushed earth upon the bodies and the enemy swarmed closer still. He took his final medal and broke it into pieces. “Keep this in your mouths. The ferryman will accept this toll.”

    Centurion. They said. But he would not hear their arguments and forced each to place the piece in their mouths. He ripped the plumes from his helmet so that he looked no different from them. He saw their tears and reprimanded them.

    “Dry your tears. The battle is not yet won. Fight with me, men, fight on to death.”

    And so they fought and so they fell. He was the last among them standing, his back pressed against the wall of the camp as the barbarians swarmed to and fro. He still have not heard the retreat call from the trumpet. When he fell, it was not from wounds but from fatigue. But he was spared by the barbarians, who previously seemed to know not such mercy. He awoke to the stench of death, to the bloated bodies and the carrion birds that have grown fat from feeding. The camp was destroyed and the barbarians have left. He found his soldiers and each one of them was left where they died, their dignity still intact. And so he labored, digging one grave after another. When his sword grew dull from digging, he dug with his hands until blood seeped from under his nails. He buried them with honors, placing their broken swords upon the bodies. He knew not if the ferryman would truly accept these as payment, but he would not cease his work. Many times he fainted from exhaustion, and many time he woke thinking he had heard the trumpet call.

    When his deed was done, he turned back south, to home. A day and a half of travel on foot and he found himself at the foot of the Wall. The lone sentry asked him for the password but he did not know it. How could he? And so he was spurned from home and left to wander the merciless Caledonian land. He traced his steps along the wall, feeling each familiar groove, remembering that this was built by his men and defended by his men. With each step he wept until he could weep no more. His beard grew and by the time he found a gap in the wall, he looked every bit a barbarian.

    He had no money for a shave or new clothes. He had no medals to prove his rank, and even the plumes of his helmet had flitted away in the winds. He forgot his name, forgot his home, but remembered his rank and remembered his men. Others asked him where to go and he could only recall one place: Londinium, where he enlisted, where his men enlisted. He would fight for their payment for service. Aventinus’ parents will live in a country home, Publius’ son will have farmlands to plough, and Marcus’ bakery would have a field to harvest wheat from to make into bread.

    It took him years to reach Londinium, and when he arrived he could hardly speak a word of civilized tongue.

    We can’t help you. They said. That legion was disbanded years ago. Go to Rome and petition the Emperor directly. We can’t help you.

    He would not give up. He could not give up. How else would those men be remembered? How else would their family be recompensed? He wandered the interior of the empire for years, riding on illegal caravans and traveling with bandits until he found himself at the city of Rome. But he found himself between one bureaucratic nightmare after another. He needed to show official documentation of him being centurion. A medal would do. They said. He needed the enlistment papers for the men he was trying to redeem. That legion was disbanded for desertion. The bureaucrats said matter-of-factly. No member of that legion would receive recompensation unless due proof was shown that they were part of the century that stayed behind and fought on as the rest ran. He wanted to cry. Those were my men! He shouted at them. But they dismissed him as a lunatic and set their slaves upon him with clubs. My men. They laughed. He doesn’t even remember his own name. Get out of here and don’t come back again!

    He stood on the bridge looking over the Tiber and remembered the story of Horatius. How a man defended a retreating army and was honored as a hero of Rome. His men did the same did they not? Why were they considered traitors, deserters? What had earned them this black fate? He asked the raging river below him and received no answer. Days passed and he remained rooted at the spot, asking the same question over and over again. Passer-bys glanced at him with unease but he did not notice.

    A new question emerged in his mind. Had he heard the retreat call? So many of his men had heard it, hadn’t they? What if he had simply missed it? What if Manius had missed it? Did he doom his men because of a single mistake?

    His eyesight grew worse by the day from the weeping and he was nearly blind. But still he remained at the spot, torturing himself with questions.

    Is something the matter? A voice asked him one day. Unsure if it was real or not, he poured out his story, of his men who died in the line of duty, of the unjust bureaucrats who refused to believe him, and of his own questions. A pair of hands picked him up and the voice assured him that his men’s family would be recompensed. He merely needed to list their names. He did and the voice listened.

    Do you know who I am?

    He did not answer.

    I am Caesar, Emperor of the Roman people. Your tales have not gone unheard, Centurion-- The voice waited for a name, but the Centurion could not summon one.

    “I’m just a Centurion, nothing more.”

    So be it. And the voice left.

    Days passed and he was led by rough hands before the voice that had reached out to him. They were going to Brittania, the voice said. They were going to find his men and recognize them as heroes of Rome as they deserved to be known.

    He would’ve cried with joy if he had tears left.

    He led them through the land that he had spent so long fighting over, over each hill and every defile. His blindness was of no consequence. He remembered the land and the land remembered him. He could hear the whispers of his soldier like guides telling him where to go.

    “Right here.” He pointed at the ground. The dark mass around him was almost indistinguishable, but he could still recognize the distant mountain peaks. He knew he was exactly where he had stood all those years ago.

    It’s been fifteen years, Centurion. Are you certain? The Emperor asked.

    He nodded.

    So be it.

    And then he heard it. The sound of the retreat call. The sonorous note soared above the peaks, over the valleys, and through the trees that had grown upon the former battlefield. Its sweet melody filled the air and he trembled at the beauty of the note.

    Centurion. They called. His soldiers had come back to him. He was himself again fifteen years ago, standing with his men, each one ready to go home. They smiled at him and held out their hands, beckoning him to join them. He smiled back.

    “We’re going home, men. We’re going home.”

    TotW 101a
    In a tight, six-entry field that required yet another overtime vote to resolve, Dan the Man emerged supreme over a rain-themed storyboard.
    TotW 101a: The Picture

    TotW 101a: The Story

    The rains fell with a pitter patter on the boat's wooden deck, already soggy with ocean spray. The rigging creaked as we bumped our way along through the turbulent waters. I stood over the bow, staring out into the deep gray fog that enveloped us like a woollen blanket. As we pushed further through the earthbound clouds around us, I could see something looming out in the distance. I squinted, my eyes tightening as much as they could before becoming completely shut. Still I couldn't quite make out this strange shape. Then suddenly, as if by the forces of Divine Providence Itself, the fog parted and a shoreline finally came into view. The New World.

    "Land ho!" A crewman up in the crow's nest called. The deck sprung to life as sailors secured ropes and prepared to dock. As we drew closer I could see a sleepy little fishing village on the coast. Lamps bobbed around as the townspeople rushed from their homes to see the hulking galleon glide easily into port. This was a backwater region even for the newborn colonies, it was no wonder to me that they were so eager to see us. I presumed some of the younger children hadn't even seen their homeland before, let alone any fresh arrivals. However foreign and savage it may have seemed to me, this was their home, the only one they had ever known. I began to fantasize about actually living here, scratching a living as a fur trapper or a farmer, raising my family in a one room log cabin, depending on my fellow colonists to survive Indian attacks, animals, and all manner of wilderness hazards. But no, this was not my place. I was a traveling merchant, a trader, selling my wares and going home, just as always. I had no family to go back to, just a big lonely house back in Yorkshire, some servants, and a couple of hound dogs. Money, that was my primary goal, not companionship, not adventure, not accomplishment, just money.

    We slid into port smoothly, throwing down the gangplank and letting all passengers off. I pulled my luggage and wares along with me. Was I getting old, or were my bags getting heavier? How much did I bring this time? Any more than the last? As I struggled under the weight of my possessions I watched the colonists around me greet people disembarking from the ship. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, husbands, wives, family members of all sorts. A few soldiers dressed in their signature red uniforms fresh from the war with Spain kissed their wives and held their children, whom they had not yet met. I drifted through it all like a ghost, while I attempted to spot the local inn.

    Bull's Head Tavern a swinging sign in gaudy font declared. I stepped inside, dragging my goods along with me to the bartender's post.

    "Good evening, bartender." I said to him. "Would you happen to have a room for one available?" The bartender, a gruff looking man with a stubbly beard, probably in his early fifties, sized me up for a minute.

    "Sure." He replied in that horrible accent the colonials were beginning to develop. "Right this way." He called to a young man across the room. "James! Help this man carry his bags to his room, will you?" The lad leaped to his feet and took some of my luggage, the relief on my straining back was miraculous. We trudged up some dirty looking steps into my room. It was rustic, but pleasant, and not infested with rats like most of the other colonial establishments I had stayed in previously. I tossed the servant boy a shilling. He thanked me quietly and promptly left me in peace. I flopped onto the bed, caring little about my soaked clothing. Tomorrow I would have to find the market and get to work selling my wares. The sooner they were all gone, the sooner I could get back home. I rose quickly and the bed trembled a bit. I walked to the window and watched the life of the colony below me. I sighed a little as I thought about what could have been, were I younger and stronger. The rains began to draw up their battle-line again over the horizon, and the thunder of their cannons crashed through the skies, sending the colonists in a full retreat back to their homes, where I knew they would continue their celebrations. I thought to myself: "Was this life, really all worth it?" These colonists lived in such simplicity and seemed so happy, and yet here I was, wealthy, successful, and somehow still not pleased. I had seen every corner of the navigable world, from the golden beaches of the Caribbean to the bustling Dutch trade port of Cape Town, from exotic Singapore to Bahia, the jewel of the Brazilian coastline. I got nothing from it. And now here I was, an aging man remembering a life of regret and not being able to change a minute of it. One truly does not know what he has missed until he has seen it living and breathing in somebody else.

    TotW 102a
    Flipping from a rain to a fire theme, Aonghus G. Friedhold set us all ablaze to claim victory in a six-entry field.
    TotW 102a: The Picture

    TotW 102a: The Story

    The King and the Mountain.

    They were an ancient people, their years seemingly incalculable by the standards of our measurement. It's doubtful there was a time when they didn't live there, in those mountains, practicing the ancient rites of their culture. And there were many rites indeed, each pertaining to the society in its own way. The “sapêr'nub fa'fonishan”, the “dream kings” of their society, the priests who interpret dreams, or the “shü't je'an je'sh'en”, the “mountain runners”, the messengers between the people. Yes, it was a complex culture, full of obscure and seemingly pointless rules and mores. But to them, it is life.

    It was that life which the King could never fully understand. He had met many peoples in his time, the simplistic plainsmen, who were assimilated easily, or the civilization of Nevas, who, given their small army and focus on science and the arts, were destroyed. But these people puzzled him. On the surface, they seemed to be simple hunters and traders. They showed no affinity for the art of war, and yet every attack he sent was repulsed. They turned to hunting men as if it was a new breed of deer. He wished he could assimilate them, as he did the plainsmen, but he knew that could not happen. Their cultures were too different. So he reviewed his options. Give up? Out of the question. His reputation was built on crushing all who opposed him. How could he give up and save face? He couldn't, so another option was to be considered. An option any other opponent would not have required.

    Shol was the son of the village dream king, a blood line which gave him considerable stature in his community. He was, therefore, chosen as the delegate from his village to go to meet with this outside force, the “yisha” as his kind called them. They were marching through the mountains at that moment, following the path they knew would lead them to the yisha's camp. They were no further than thirty zopish'an (a unit of measurement the people used, equivalent to around 20 yards) away from where they believed the camp was when they met a yisha. He must have been young, for his stature was slim and short. Shol approached him, saying, “Shaton've. Kinâ she? Kinâ shä Shol. Fo'tak fo'shä damês, shotün ka fonishan.” The boy stared up at him, bewildered. Another of the delegates quickly reprimand Shol for speaking their language, stating that the boy would not speak it. Shol laughed, realizing his mistake. He turned back to the boy, now pointing at himself while saying “Shol”. He then pointed at the boy. The boy's eyes lit up, and pointing at himself, he said “Jake.” Shol then made a circle around his head, and glared at the delegates. The boy made a mock scepter to clarify, before saying “King!” But just as they reached that moment of clarification, they heard a noise behind them, and felt heat. Shol turned around, quickly, and saw the mountain on fire. The heat was unbearable, and the smoke filled Shol's lungs. He turned around to run, only to see that the way was blocked by fire. Shol didn't know how it had spread this far this fast, but he knew it was over. As he drew his last breath, he collapsed, and was burned to ash.

    The King was brushing ash of his cloak when his son ran up to him, smiling. “Did you do what I asked you to do, my son?” the King asked. The son nodded. “You dropped that torch where I asked you to? You did it exactly when and where I told you to?” Again, the son nodded, saying, “Yes, father. I waited until I saw the mountainmen, before dropping the torch. I made sure they didn't see me do it, either.” The King nodded, gazing out at the fire raging on the mountain. He let out a slow laugh, barely percievable but for the shaking of his shoulders. He turned back to his son, put him on his lap, and said, “You did well, Jake. You did well.”

    Well.. that pretty much brings you up to speed on things for the moment, so 'til next time this is Mega Tortas for the Critic's Quill, wishing you good fortune and safe journey.

    Interview Section

    An Interview with Skantarios
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    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 conducted by Beer Money

    Article Section

    Experiences of a first-time AARtist
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    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.


    By Boustrophedon

    From the Editor's Desk

    Well, we all sincerely hope you have enjoyed our wares this month, I'm certainly impressed! My writing team continue to amaze me with their dedication, hard work, and the sharpness of their analytical skills. I think they certainly deserve a rep or two, so here are their profiles for you to link through: Skantarios, Radzeer, Carloginias, la coupe est pleine, Mega Tortas, Beer Money, Thokran, Boustrophedon

    If you think you might like to write for the Quill, then please drop me a PM. We are always looking for new talent. You don't have to be a great writer (although it helps), you need only be enthusiastic about creative writing at TWC and have the desire to communicate that enthusiasm to the mass of the TWC membership.

    The Writers Lounge
    Now I'm sure you all have your separate personal stories of how you came to discover AARs and other creative writing at TWC, but did you know there is actually a place to meet and discuss the whole subject?

    For a long time now the forum created for this purpose, The Writers Lounge has been lying unnoticed in a little-visited corner of TWC, but no more! It has now been moved to be a sibling of AARs, Creative Writing and the regular writing competitions.

    So in future, after you've visited your currently favoured AARs, why not consider popping into the The Writers Lounge to share your thoughts about AARs and about writing in general. Maybe you are thinking of starting a story yourself and need advice, well the Writers Lounge is the place to go.

    (If you are still unconvinced, then at least take a look at The Nanny's lovely video in the Writers Lounge Announcement, it's gorgeous!)

    Scriptorium Writing Competition: Japan
    I'll say farewell for now. When we return, it will be with a special issue to cover the Scriptorium Writing Competition. By the way, voting is still in progress (ending on 15th and 16th of March). So why not go and vote before the polls close?


    Do you know how many TWC Publications there are? You might be surprised at the sheer variety, enough to cater for every taste. Give some of them a try by clicking through the pictures below!

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  3. #3
    wowbanger's Avatar Decanus
    Join Date
    Mar 2010

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Congratulations on another excellent issue. I am already looking to the next

    "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

  4. #4
    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
    Moderator Emeritus Content Emeritus Administrator Emeritus

    Join Date
    Aug 2010

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Nice job as always.

  5. #5

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Excellent job, gentlemen, as usual. And thank you, Juvenal, for your kind words.

  6. #6

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Another great issue guys; I always look forward to the release of the Quill. It's especially exciting to see this publication outgrowing the confines of a single post!

    I also want to mention quickly how humbled I am by the undeservedly glowing review my AAR received. To think that this little tale of mine has received such high praise is really incredible. I'll be sure to take all of the advice and critique into consideration, and hopefully keep this AAR going to its conclusion.

    Thanks again, and terrific work to all.

  7. #7

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Enjoyed the review- its integral to improvement to have some criticism and I'm relieved that at least some people including the reviewer saw what I was trying to do with the full screen shots. In other AARs I've done for RTW and some Paradox games I cropped the screens but for some reason the majority of AARs on TW Center seem to be epics which focus more on characters than on the battles. Personally I enjoy RPing somewhat but the main reason to play TW instead of Oblivion or whatnot is for the battles.

    Secondly I want to encourage people to try BGR IV and think about trying BGR V when it is released which seems like it will be quite a departure from most mods have done so far. BGR is great for experienced TW players who also want to RP and play a more complex game with a bit more ramifications to decisions.

    It was nice to get a summary for some of the other AARs I've been curious about but not yet had time to read. I found one which I'll likely read from start to finish due to the reviews posted here.

  8. #8
    thatguy's Avatar Domesticus
    Join Date
    May 2008

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Thank you! I'm very honoured that someone has read my story an enjoyed it enough to find it worthy of a review! Much apreciated. I take all critisisms to heart in an effort to better my skills as a writer, so I hope you know I do apreciate it (and I am not one of those people who think their writign is the greatest thing since sliced bread) and intend to learn from it! My story is definitly in need of editing, and I have received similiar feedback from other literary forums.

    It really pleased me to read that the reviewer did not like Sci-Fi, but found mine "strangely believable" and interesting because of it.

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  9. #9
    Boustrophedon's Avatar Grote Smurf

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    Oct 2010
    Rome, Italy

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    A very hearty applause for Juvenal and his staff of diligent writers for delivering a new Quill filled to the brim with goodies I was honoured by the very gracious words of Juvenal about my article and am happy to see it received well here.

    I'd like to thank Skantarios in particular for his effort at reviewing my AAR and I could not agree more with the criticism he offered as well as the compliments. He offered me an honest review which is exactly what I got and is how it should be. I will certainly try to implement his suggestions in future chapters and perhaps modify previous ones as well. I thorougly enjoyed the interview with Skantarios as it offered a look into the man behind the legend

    I shall shower thee all with rep and thou shalt feel the warmth of it!

  10. #10
    dezikeizer's Avatar Campidoctor
    Join Date
    Aug 2009

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Great issue as always. A very good article in there as well.

  11. #11

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Awesome issue! Would have posted earlier but ISP down. Argh.

  12. #12

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    Thanks to the interview with Skantarios I started reading his well known AAR IaS. It's really great, so I want to thank the Critic's Quill for motivating me to read it! And of course Skantarios himself!
    Last edited by Murphy25; April 20, 2011 at 08:08 AM. Reason: Missed credit for Skantarios himself
    Joseph and Stafford, a medieval short story
    The life of Jack Stafford, a story in progress

    When you read a book or a short story, or a magazine article, your
    imagination really is making contact, one-to-one, with whoever wrote it.

    Frank P Ryan

  13. #13
    Juvenal's Avatar love your noggin
    Patrician Content Emeritus

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    Apr 2006
    The Home Counties

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 25

    It is really great to hear that we are providing a service that is useful to the readers.

    Look out for a new edition of the Critic's Quill within the next day or so!
    imb39 my daddy!
    See AARtistry in action: Spite of Severus and Severus the God

    Support the MAARC!
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