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Thread: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

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    Default The Critic's Quill: Issue 35


    The Editor Speaks
    Hello and welcome to Issue 35 of the Quill.

    After yet another interminable delay waiting for me to assemble their pieces, my loyal staff finally have the opportunity to present to you the fruits of their labours.

    This time the emphasis is on Tale of the Week. Shankbot12, with assistance from m_1512, has put together a comprehensive round-up of the last two month's competitions. I suggest you brace yourselves before opening that innocuous looking spoiler which (barely) contains his magnum opus.

    Two MAARCs have been completed since the last issue, and Shank has also been kind enough to provide us with a few well-chosen words about the results.

    We also have a bag full of interviews this time. Full-length ones with Knonfoda and robinzx, and a bevy of mini-interviews on the subject of Rome II collated for us by Radzeer.

    Finally we have the usual collection of reviews and articles, including Stealthie's incomprehensibleincomparable conclusion to his polemic on how to be Awesome as a writer, and a charming review of Legio at Large from Akar, one of our readers.

    Enjoy the issue!

    Juvenal (Editor)

    Table of Contents

    Monthly AAR Competition Section

    MAARC XXXVIII and XXXIX
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    MAARC XXXVIII:

    First Place
    [IB:SAI AAR] Quinta Macedonica Legio by SeniorBatavianHorse

    A great ending to a great AAR. SBH becomes one of thee exalted few to win a Writers' Study Competition Gold Medal - and nobody deserves it more than him. This AAR is now available to download off Amazon onto a Kindle, and I strongly suggest you do just that, you won't be disappointed - plus you are helping to advertise the whole of TWC!

    Second Place
    [SV AAR] The Wolf Among Dogs by Radzeer

    The master is back... with a bang! Radzeer brings us his third AAR about a young knight surviving in the Latin Empire, exceeding our expectations. Now with the story only just starting how many medals can this AAR win? Go and get reading before you miss out on a legend in the making.

    Third Place
    [IB:SAI AAR] Julian, The Savior Of Rome? by Knonfoda

    Another IB AAR claims the podium, and rightly so. Knonfoda wins third place, claiming a Writers' Study Competition Silver Medal, after a thrilling tie-breaker and beating my own submission. This is a massive AAR, and this case it is both quality and quantity. If you need more Knonfoda-action then fret not as we have an interview with him in this Issue too.

    Well after an medal-giving MAARC you think that'd be it - but no! Another MAARC has been and past, and this months winners are just as remarkable.

    MAARC XXXIX:

    First Place
    An Orc in Skyrim by Chirurgeon

    Behold a rare sight indeed. This months winner went to an Non-TW AAR, making it only the third AAR to do so, and if you have read it you'll know why. Chirurgeon's AAR is a core pillar of the Non-TW AAR forums, so it is rightly deserved that he claimed a Writers' Study Competition Bronze Medal. Lets hope more Non-TW AARs are this successful!

    Second Place
    For Glory, and the Republic! by Maurits

    Second-place goes to Maurits and his AAR, meaning he gets to claim his first medal points! Utilizing the impressive RTR mod this AAR lives up to the mods greatness! If you aren't following already, well then what are you waiting for? I am looking forward to seeing this AAR claim even more points, and maybe even a medal!

    Third Place
    Of Glory Lost by RoyalNobody

    It is great to see an E:TW AAR up on the podium, especially as one as great as this. Using the impressive DMUC mod RoyalNobody is definitely not a nobody any more- I'll be keeping a close eye on this AAR and wishing it to go one step further - getting silver!

    That brings us to the end of this Issues MAARC coverage, but not the end of the MAARC. We are now taking submissions for the MAARC XL, and as the name suggests we are hoping for a giant competition. Please see here for all the details.

    Coverage by Shankbot12



    Tale of the Week Section

    Tale of the Week: July/August News
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 


    This time we have a load of great stuff from Tale of the Week for you to sift through at your leisure. As in the previous issue of the Quill we bring you reviews of our favourite entries from each week's competition, plus this time round the winning tales will also get a look over - of course our reviews may be more critical, after all they did win! So are you sitting comfortably? Sit back and relax as you enjoy the vivid selection of submissions we have on offer for you.

    TotW 143 - Split Second:
    Bringing you a picture of a leopard chasing a gazelle or something of the sort, and 'gherkin' as a key word, we hardly dared think of what our authors would come up with - and they didn't disappoint. With a total of six final submissions we were of to a good start, and hoped that the enthusiasm would continue.

    The Winner:
    Rex Anglorvm brought us a winning début tale, and win it did - 80% of votes went for this tale and we can understand why. Focusing on one man and his impending doom during what we suspect to be the French Revolution, that is right. He is about to lose his head. A real sense of the grit and grime of the time was conveyed, and the keywords fitted in nicely. However, being a more personal tale more emotion, be fear or defiance wouldn't have gone amiss. But it's his very first tale so we'll let him off.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    The man took one more step towards his destiny; normally he was a man for the summer, but today as he climbed that final step onto the platform that held the guillotine, he could only feel the plug bayonet of the national guardsman in the small of his back, and he had a natural reluctance to enjoy the blue sky and the radiant sunshine above his head.

    His head

    Soon to be removed

    Why?

    Because of his birth, he was the son of a long dead minor aristocrat, just a man from Orleans, a man of no fortune, but a man who had carried a title.

    Now he, the son, Philippe de Lenoir, would suffer for the only inheritance left to him by his spendthrift father.

    An inheritance that would bequeath him only death.

    The national guardsmen had come for him last night, reeking of stale sweat and warm ale, had grabbed him, beaten him and then taken him from the cheap tavern were he had sought refuge.

    The greasy innkeeper had given him up for a few coins. He had spat at the man as he left; the man had been chewing on a half eaten gherkin, his mouth a stinking mess of rotten teeth and inflamed gums.

    Now that same man was staring up at him from beneath the platform, a smug grin on his face, as he traced one finger along the length of his throat and laughed at Philippe.

    The young aristocrat’s head whirled with thoughts of revenge; a quick smack in the stomach from one of the guardsman brought him back to reality.

    The noise of the crowd was tremendous, people clamouring for his blood, Philippe felt his white cotton shirt torn from his back and thrown into the crowd for some peasant to use as his own, he was thrown onto the floor as a bayonet was pressed to his throat, his shoes and breeches removed and thrown into the crowd next.

    People were laughing and pointing at him, an old woman screeched from the crowd, ‘what about his underwear, lets see what a rich boy looks like underneath!’

    He felt rough hands tear his undergarments away, he was naked as a babe in front of these wretched people, he felt hot tears spring to his face, and as he wiped them away, was hauled to his feet.

    The same old crone, laughed and pointed at his manhood, ‘Oh you are a big boy. What a shame you’re going to waste!’

    The crowd laughed harder, and uncouth peasant women wolf whistled at him.

    He had no time to dwell on his shame, he was laid on his back, and the guillotine locked in place above him.

    He cursed these people, and as he cursed, a rope was realised and the blade hurtled down and took off his head.

    The innkeeper smirked and walked away chewing on yet another gherkin.


    My Choice:
    ♔The Black Knight♔'s tale I found highly enjoyable to read. It focuses on one of those good old fashioned Texas showdowns, not quite The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - but close enough. What I loved was the 'fitting' dialogue one of the characters (Alec) used, and the detail of the characters' actions was well written. I spotted a few, minor, grammar mistakes here and there, and with a bit more proof reading they'd evaporate. I can recommend reading it back aloud to yourself as a great way to proofread.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    *Bang* *Bang* *Bang*

    Examining the bottles my friend had thrown up in the air, I had shot and broken the three bottles with three shots.

    “Damn, you sure know ‘ow to blast ‘em”, said my friend Alec with a grin.” You’ll win dat duel ‘morrow for sure.”

    “I don’t know about that my friend; Willy sure knows how to shoot them too.” I said with a calm collected tone. “He’s not called the greatest shot in the west for nothing.”


    I loaded my supplies onto the horse and waved to my friend. “Meet me here tomorrow for the trip. ‘Two guns are better then one’ as my pappy always said.” My friend waved back as he saddled his horse.” Will do.”

    On the way home, I thought about the upcoming duel. I remember what happened clearly. My friend had challenged me in a game of drunken darts. All the way from birth, I had never denied a challenge so we both took about 8 or 9 drinks.

    Some of the men in the bar helped us get to the dart board since we were too intoxicated to take a step. After many attempts, both of us couldn’t hit the board. Discouraged, decided to try to pick a fight with some of the other guys in the bar.

    I don’t really remember what happened after that, but my friend told me I ended up challenging Willy in a duel. I then, later collapsed so my friend had to carry me home.

    Staring at my good ol’ colt revolver, I put away the past memories, and I tried to prepare myself for tomorrow.


    ……………………………………………………………………


    I rode into the town the next day with a sense of destiny. As I looked at Willy though, I began to feel reluctance as his cold dark eyes beat into me. His face was a complete battle ground with several scars.

    We were placed 20 paces away and were watched carefully by a sizable crowd. Alec was watching with anticipation.

    I felt a pang of reluctance as I felt my Colt. This was destiny, thought it may become grim. Willy’s hand was twitching slowly moving toward his revolver. Watching it carefully, I made sure I knew where my gun was as well.

    All of a sudden, without hesitation, Willy took his gun out before without hesitation, I could get a hand on mine. The shot went through that air and scraped my ear, causing my shot to be off aim after I had struggled to pull it out.

    We both knew that was a warning shot. Placing the bullet in my gun, I knew my plan. I was going to shoot first. As soon as I was ready I took my gun out and fired, surprising Willy of the suddenness.

    I struck him in the heart, and he collapsed on the ground. I wiped sweat, as the doctors came.

    “‘ow ‘bout I buy you a gherkin” said Alec as he congratulated me.

    “What?”


    Some Reviews from m_1512
    Here we see a thrilling tale from ybbon66 about gherkins. This is a tale of a certain Mr. Pyke determined to save his last jar of gherkins. A tale of good humor and parody, which is nonetheless a good piece of writing. A rep if you please, and you might get a gherkin yourself.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Split Second

    Venus Jones looked determined to take my jar of pickled gherkins, but I was in no mood to be trifled with. She had already raided my cabin and taken my very best “Death Metal Rulz” t-shirt along with the second, third and fourth best – or what I had fond reminiscences of as “my wardrobe”, taken the whole lot with a matching pair of jeans and trainers that even I had to secretly admit myself may have been less fragrant than they could have been, along with some interesting magazine articles in playboy, a Star Wars original figurine of Han the Man and a some electronic bits that “might come in handy one day”, put them in a disposal chute and shot the lot off at some remote star or other.

    I may now be resigned to wearing puke yellow jumpsuits with “Inner Piece” written on the back, but I was determined to keep some part of my heritage with me. With some dismay I ate one last gherkin, and shoved the other down my underpants for later – the one place I knew to be unfortunately safe from her predatory reach, and handed over the jar. She had that look that said we could fight for it, and I'd lose yet again - some battles are not worth the bruises.

    “Mr Pyke, I know that you think we have over-reached our step, our mark if you will”, a small dapper man, had curiously appeared again and read my mind – really, it was very disturbing, “but I assure you Mr Pyke, it was your destiny before your paternal grandparents met in that air raid shelter for a quick “kiss and cuddle”, way before your fathers birth, much less your own, that you would drive this ship to the core of the Universe, I'm sorry that means you must drop the last vestiges of your previous life, but you are going to need to give up that gherkin in your trousers as well”

    I took one look at his peaceful, beatific face, and the corresponding nasty smirk plastered across the vegetarian vampire's to know that I had reached a cusp in my existence – there was no question about it, in a split second I had crossed to my new life! From now on I would try to be a better pilot and a better hider of contraband than Venus was a finder – it was going to take a major effort, not least because she had a way too unhealthy knowledge of all the ships computing powers, but I could feel myself taking that figurative leap.

    Caractucus Pyke – the next Han Solo – not a man who would need to keep a gherkin in his pants, so with a modicum of reluctance I handed it over, noting with an admitted twinge of joy that Venus squirmed just a little bit as put my gherkin in her hand.


    From Princess Cadance we find a tale quite different from the first. This story is of a British soldier of the Empire set to take Africa. From the story, I had deduced Ghana. Maybe if I write this review entertainingly, they would get me a Bournville. Seriously though, it is a good piece about a soldier introspecting just before the battle.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    The sun had barely cast its orange glow across the land as the shadowy figures which had crouched near the low bushes of the gherkin plant began to make their way across the empty lands before them. Quietly they crept, no words or sounds exchanged between them as they alternately crawled and dashed across the savannah plain. Eventually they came to there destination, the coast of the land and the city of Cape Coast, capital of the British Gold Coast. Here was the first step to British domination of the dark continent of Africa, here was to be the place of birth of a glorious new age of empire.

    It was February 3rd, 1891 in the 54th year of the reign of her Majesty Queen Alexandrina Victoria, Empress of India and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. The figures were soldiers of the British Army and there stationing here was one of great importance and pride. At least to Daniel Waters it was. He was no conscript, a soldier and warrior born out of reluctance and need, but for love of his nation and its crown. For what greater service was there than to that which Britain fought for? It was British perseverance, British courage that had won the gem of India for their Imperial crown, which had forged bravely into the unknown of the dark continent of Africa and the exotic dangers which were contained within.

    It was really all a great adventure, but its importance was far more. Britain brought civilization, peace, progress to these backwards lands on the edges of the world. From Kenya, to Australia, to the African Gold Coast of Ghana which they now stood upon they had given these people all they need for growth, for civilization, for progress. Oh yes there were dissenters yes. People back home harking about the worth of other cultures the destruction brought by war. But that was just another burden for us visionaries to bear, was it not? It was these dissenting opinions; this reluctance for the natives to toss aside there antiquated notions and follies had started some problems down in the capital. Some sort of Aborigine’s Rights Protection Society was protesting the rightful governmental authority to redistribute the land of the colony as they saw fit. There was no fighting, no rioting, though that might have been exciting. No they were there as simple “assurance” as the orders had been so worded. Daniel smiled and readjusted the rifle slung over his shoulder. This would be all the “assurance” needed. Reassurance too, if necessary. He was sure of that.


    Finally, Lord Inquistor Derby Hooves has done something which has until been something unheard of in TotW. Our writer here has created his own fantasy saga out of TotW entries. Yes, every one of his entries are a part of the fantasy world. I would not say much here as I have been away due to various reasons. But that does not mean that I do not recommend a read.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    For the last hour, Grand Privad Donovan had been reading the papers on his desk, never looking up. He has been very busy of late, but he’s always been busy at least ever since the birth of the Privad Republic and with the founding he had become its first head of state.

    “Damn it’s hot.” He remarked. He looked up from his papers at a fruit bowl on the right side of his desk. He pulled it over to grab something and then spotted something that did not belong.

    “You! Savage!” he yelled at a black man dressed as a servant.

    “Yu…yu…yu…yus suh?” the servant said with great reluctance.

    “What in the hells is a gherkin doing in this fruit bowl?” Donovan shouted. The servant looked confused. “Do you not know the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?” The servant was still confused. Silence reined for several more seconds as Donovan stared at his servant. Thinking this was a hint, the servant started to leave.

    Suddenly, Donovan said “Did you know your people are giving me and the Republic’s soldiers headaches?” Donovan said calmly. The servant, just about to open the doors, halted and turned around to face Donovan. “I get complaints about how your people will not face the Republic on the field of battle. Instead you hide away like cowards; only to strike at us like raiders. It’s uncivilized!”

    “Futtin’ yuh men unuwa else wud be foolish.” The servant mumbled.

    “I guess that is how savages must fight in order to stave off Lady Destiny.”

    “Suh, ima not like those people.”

    “Of course you are. This is the land of Bania, and as such you are a Banian,” Donovan said, the servant sighed. “That is what you people fail to see. Once Banians accept this fact then they can take their first step towards progress. Instead, you fight amongst yourselves like children, and that is why Destiny has deemed it wise for someone to be your caretakers.” Donovan continued preaching about how the Privads were conquering Bania with Destiny’s blessing, but the servant stopped paying attention. This was not the first time Donovan gave this speech, but the servant hoped it was the last time he would give it.

    A knock on the door interrupted Donovan’s speech. “Who is it?” He shouted.

    “Milord, a message from our contact in Regia.” The man outside the door said.

    “Come in.”

    A white man, dressed in common garb entered the room holding an envelope. He walked over to Donovan’s desk and laid it there, then turned and left the room, closing the doors on the way out. Donovan took the envelope, opened it, took out the letter and started reading it.

    “What?!?!” he shouted. The servant looked at Donovan inquisitively.

    “Why would the countries of the world invade the Republic? Why has Lady Destiny betrayed us?” Donovan said.

    The servant could not help but smirk at the catastrophe that was fast approaching the Privad Republic.



    TotW 144 - They're taking over:
    This week saw us embracing our inner brony as the theme very much revolved around bronyism. I don't think we quite realised what we were getting ourselves into, and with a member of the Study turning to a brony the repercussion have been far-reaching indeed! Nevertheless there were a great selection of, surprisingly, serious tales, so please enjoy.

    The Winner:
    This week saw a first time win for Scottish King and his tale about a character named John stumbling upon the return of the fable ponies, guardians of the forest, proved to be very popular. The background 'build-up' was well written and provided enough insight to let the reader know what was going on, and the description creates a detailed image. Improvements could me made surrounding Johns feelings, I mean he has just seen a legendary creature. Overall very well written, and I understand that with a word limit sacrifices need to be made.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    It was a dismal and foggy day as John made his way through the green pasture. The heavy fog which limited visibility to a mere fifty yards, was a welcomed sight for John as it kept him from being seen by the townfolk who were sure to question him as to what his destination was had they seen him wandering toward the dark, forbidding forest that stood at the edge of bright green pastures. No one dared entered the forest, not after the disappearance of the ponies a hundred years ago.

    The forest was once vibrant, full of life, color, game, and ponies, the fabled ponies who once walked and talked with man, once were the guardians of the forest and all life within it. To the men that hunted and worked in the forest the ponies occupied a special place in their hearts, helping them find game in exchange for the men’s respect and care for the forest. But then a tribe of warrior women started to capture the ponies to use as mounts in battle but the ponies refused to help them in their bloody conquest and sadly were exterminated for their refusal to do wrong. The men who had befriended the fabled equines tried to save them but the warrior women were too strong and the few men who survived lost all their self-respect for their failure to protect their fabled friends. And so with its guardians gone, the forest fell into disarray turning into a place of darkness, nightmares and death. But that was about to change.

    A week ago, John had been cutting wood at the edge forest, which was a far as anyone dared go, and just a he was preparing to leave for home something caught his eye further in the forest. It was something that did not belong, it was…color. Color where only there was black ground and dark trees. This color belonged to a single flower which grew where sunlight no longer shone. It was this flower which drew John further into the forest, this single purple flower which led him to a much greater discovery which now drew him to the forest again.

    Finally through the green pastures and back into the dark forest, John stood in the presence of the purple flower again anxiously waiting as if for something to appear. There was silence for a moment and then he heard it, its feet barely making a sound and soon that which he had been waiting for stood before him. It snorted as it shook its head and silky hair as it stamped its feet on the soft ground. John, mesmerized by the sight of it, walked to its side and patted it skin as purple as the single flower that had caught his attention so many days before. The Fabled ponies had returned.


    My Choice:
    Confederate Jeb writes a first-person tale about a man reminiscing about his youth and reflecting about his life, whilst contrasting it to the life of a pig. I liked this one as the characters feelings were well-described, and you got a sense of the emotions running through him. Grammar was good, which help made the story flow nicely. I'd have liked to seen why visiting the zoo made him reminisce explored in greater detail but that is about it.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    Why I had wandered into the zoo I couldn't remember. The memory of wanting to get away from my shabby apartment, away from all that was wrong in my life, had led me to aimlessly walk around the city. Was it merely a whim that I now stood in a place that as a child filled me with such delight? My head still aching, I moved forward in search of a bench to rest upon.

    The zoo hadn't changed all that much since my youth. The dark purple and blue logo was still pasted onto every building, but time had faded the hues. Everything that was once vibrant was now dull. I caught myself before I continued to dwell on the subject. I didn't want anything to connect me back to the life waiting for me outside of the zoo, and I absolutely was not going to let the zoo become a metaphor of my life.

    I finally found a bench near the petting zoo exhibit, placed exactly in the center of the midday sun. From my heated position I could see the families enjoying all that life had to offer, the young women showing their toddlers how to gently pet the goats and sheep and ponies. I remembered my parents bringing me here to see my favorite animal, a rather large Guinea Forest hog. What drew me to this creature I could not recall. The pig spent his entire day eating and sleeping, in either case ignoring the pats and rubs he received from overly-excited children. Was he oblivious to the world around him? Had he learned to accept his place in life, his life as a pig, without comfort and dignity? I could feel my mind wandering back to my own circumstances, my own lack of self-respect and calm in the face of my crisis. My visit to the zoo of my youth was not merely a coincidence, it seemed.

    Still, I fought my mind. The pig cannot think, he cannot feel as I can. And even if he could he past away many years ago, dying as all living things do. What comfort is there in that? What am I supposed to learn from a dead pig? I found myself standing up triumphantly, believing myself victorious over my own thoughts, ignoring the reality of my inner ramblings. I began the short walk back to the exit of the zoo, mumbling to myself about how life was all in vain. Maybe if I had thought about the pig more carefully, about my situation more thoroughly, I wouldn't be in such a despondent mood. A heavy sighed escaped my lips as I passed the slightly rusted welcome sign. Age may have dimmed my view on life, but had not removed what made it enjoyable. I was not entirely sold on this new concept that had formed in my mind, but it was a panacea for the time being. I began to walk more confidently back to my apartment, eager to test this brighter view on life against the darkness of the world. Maybe this time I would succeed.



    TotW 145 - The Gate of Death:
    This week provided a very poignant theme, with the picture being that of Auschwitz, and the key words fitting in with such a picture. There was a lot of discussion in the commentary thread, about what to write, how to go about etc. and in the end some very moving tales were written.

    The Winner:
    The Norseman's winning tale took us away from Auschwitz to a slave's journey to Rome, eventually ending up in the arena itself. The description of what was going on, and the 'onlookers' reactions were great, and flowed nicely. Although, being such an emotional topic, more of the mains characters emotions and how he was feeling would have fitted in nicely. Reading this, however, one can understand why it won.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    We had been prisoners for several months, travelling from the far north of the Imperial borders to the city of Rome. All of us were exhausted and the chains around our necks had begun to leave scars. The pain was excruciating and yet we continued. Our fate was in the hands of the Romans, who all of us so intensely hated for they had attacked our homes torn us from our families. Revenge was the only thing that kept me going, revenge and the hope of someday returning home. I would not be broken.

    We arrived in the great city of Rome. It was huge, unlike anything I had ever seen or dreamt of. Walls, houses and roads stretched as far as the eyes could see. Thousands of people were wandering around the streets and people passing us barely watched us. For them it was a normal thing to see prisoners being escorted around the city and all of them knew where we were headed. The caravan stopped and a centurion stepped forward. He wanted to examine us. We were lined up and the centurion watched us carefully. For every man he examined he yelled a sentence. We could not understand anything, though it was obvious that he had removed the weakest of us from the line, leaving only three other men and me.

    The centurion grabbed my cheekbone and began moving my head to the right and left. I spat at him. He became furious and placed his knee into my stomach. I fell on the ground in pain and could not do anything, my hands were tied. Two Roman soldiers lifted me up and along with the three other men I was escorted through the city to a great arena. Before I stepped in I saw people staring at us. The look on their faces was all the same. They knew I would never come out of this gate. The gate opened and as we walked deeper within the arena I could hear roars and people stamping their feet to the ground. A man next to me spoke these words. “Death awaits us.”


    My Choice:
    For this week I had to choose ybbon66's tale, "Denial of Service". This tale, I presume, focused on the events surrounding the Holocaust but is written from the perspective of a German guard. It is a great tale as it shows this German soldier rationalising what he did, and the atrocities he committed, something which I expect would have been hard to do. Perhaps being such an emotive topic more of the guards personal feelings being included would have really topped it off, how he felt carrying out these 'orders'.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    You'd be surprised really, that the workers didn't display more hatred towards us. After all, they had been ripped from their communities and transported here in stinking, cold, dank wagons across the whole continent to work on arms and clothes for the men at the front. Fright, terror, oh yes, you could see that, especially in the children's faces when they are torn from their families and separated into male and female workers – but then we need male workers for the heavy manual labour and the women for lighter work and it's easier to make that distinction before they get settled in their huts, they don't need a family unit they just need to work and that's why we separated them.

    What was most sad to me was the look of resignation, the wretched acceptance of their fate, did they not realise that we would treat them fairly? Work hard, they'd be fed, with a bed and roof over their head, some of our own citizens are bombed night and day and they don't get a roof and food for free, but their spirit wasn't broken like these. We took the chains off the carriages, stripped them of their filthy clothing and hosed them down, dosed them with delousing powder and allocated them to their huts. Yes it was not dignified but we can't be there giving each a bar of soap and towel as they step from the showers, again, it was a necessary action based on scale.

    What you ask now, is whether I am sorry and whether I regret my actions, well to be frank no, as I said I was not a guard - simply a uniformed attendant. We needed whips and guns as sometimes, some of them would get angry with their treatment, and we would use the guns to just encourage a more sociable behaviour from them. The more servile and willing to follow orders, the quicker we would get them out of their rags, showered and into clean uniforms and if we had to use whips and, yes, unfortunately, a few times, some would be shot dead, but we had to maintain discipline. You must remember that there were far fewer of us attendants so we needed to make sure we had authority.

    So once they were separated out, and cleaned up, we would march them to their huts through the brick gates and under the sign that has come to represent all these lies you tell about us. I heard some of my colleagues call it The Gate of Death, but it was a joke, don't you see? Arbeit Macht Frei – work makes you free, it was simply the death of laziness and sloth that was all, we didn't want so many to die, they were just sickly and weak that is all. We were just following orders.



    TotW 146 - Urbi et Orbi:
    This week saw us go to the more spiritual side of TotW, with a very religious theme. The key words revolved around the head of the Catholic Church and the Vatican itself. A contradiction of loving churches, but hating the church we couldn't wait to see what everyone produced. Oh and for anyone that is interested I've been told that "Urbi et Orbi" means "of the city and of the world".

    The Winner:
    ybbon66 once again shows his master TotW writing by winning yet another competition. This time his tale takes the form of battle report set in the future between Catholics, and the remaining Islamic forces. What I liked about this tale is the style variation, as mentioned, and how it all flows well. They key words are also sued well, however more background information about what has happened would help build on it.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    In the year of Our Lord 2487, under the seal of his Most Blessed Eminence, Pope Gregory XXVIII

    Your Eminence, I pray to Our Lord, his Light Shine throughout the Universe, with due caution and care for there may be circumstances that arise, God forbid, which alter the current situation, but I am glad to report that the Legions of Rome comprising the 8th Swiss Halberdiers and the 44th Florentine Guards have today finished converting New Baghdad to the One True Faith.

    Casualties in the Halberdiers were light as you may well imagine as the new pulse rail cannons and their beetle armour proved far too strong for the Islamists to penetrate and defeat. Archbishop-General De Santos reported that his men were able to take the last few strongholds that the Guards had been unable to overcome. Unfortunately we will need some more conscripts for the Guards, their having been decimated in providing the main attack force. I have given last rites and prayed for their sins to be forgiven in the usual way.

    Let me get to the crux of my report however, and I beg your forbearance for the abruptness of my report Your Holiness, most importantly we were able to divert attention with the Guards attacks and a small unit of Swiss under Bishop-Colonel Schultz have retrieved the Archive of the Faith intact. As we suspected, this document contains encrypted lists of all Islamic agents controlled by New Baghdad including those on Holy Roma and within the Vatican itself.

    I would have expected the encryption to be stronger but we were able to break it within an hour of capturing the archives. My agents will have captured for further interrogation all of the named agents as soon as we are able, and our Apostle Class cruiser fleets are on their way to the last Islamic planets now. As with Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and all the other false doctrines we have defeated and converted, soon too will we be purged of the false prophets of Allah and their followers.

    Holy Father, I pray most fervently that we can finally see through your Papal directive, we truly will have Urbi et Mundum with the elimination of Islam to follow all the other false faiths to the soon to be outlawed pages of history.

    There is only One True Faith, there shall only be One Faith.

    With my deepest respect and prayers,

    Cardinal John O’Connor, Exculpate Defender of the Faith


    My Choice:
    My choice for this week is Vizvii's first tale. It focuses on a meeting between the Holy Father and a child, and the conversation that they have. I liked this tale because of the correct use of dialogue, and how it gave away a greater understanding of what was going on. To improve, and you'll hear me say this a lot, more of the characters feelings to really add another depth to this tale. Not bad for a first attempt, well done.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    Child stepped timidly into the hall through a small entrance. Reflexively he shut his eyes, dazzled by the seemingly magical light which emanated from somewhere up on high. Just as he stepped ahead, a voice addressed him, a soft, high voice with a strange metallic timbre.

    'Welcome, my son.'

    Child started when he saw a robed figure moving towards him with a light step; a rather short man, with tonsured blond hair and haunting blue eyes. The Holy Father himself! He gave Child his hand, who kissed the ring with the Papal Seal. 'What feminine hands!' he thought.

    'Your visit has been announced to me,' said the Father. 'This is your first time here, I take it?'

    'Yes, Your Holiness.'

    'How do you like it?'

    'Very much, Your Holiness,' responded Child, a smile emerging on his confused visage.

    'I am happy that you like it. It is... far removed from the old splendour, from the majestic beauty of the Vatican. We have opted... for change.' Then he muttered: 'Well, that was long overdue, I think.'

    Only now did Child notice the 'murals', or rather, the moving images that covered the walls. Biblical scenes, of course, the whole Scripture brought to life, its entire story told in a gigantic motion picture. A long shot from Michelangelo's frescoes, indeed! A few scattered silhouettes stood near the entrances, drab-looking, barely noticeable. 'This is what remains of the Swiss Guard!' thought Child.

    'We salvaged what we could of the Secret Archive, as you know,' rejoined the Father. 'I understand that you are here mainly for research. A commendable cause! Not everything could be saved, you know...'

    He paused for a moment. When Child gazed furtively at him, he saw that his eyes swam in tears.

    'Our Church is now reborn,' the Father said, 'do not forget this! It will persist, because we are truly blessed!' The emphasized that last word as if a fire were burning inside him. 'Now forgive me - I must rest. Tomorrow, I utter the Urbi et Orbi.'

    'Your Holiness... wait!' Child urged him. The Holy Father turned, looking somewhat uneasy.

    'Yes... What is it?'

    Child pressed his molars against one another with all the strength he could muster. Briskly, he drew close to the Father, and kissed him squarely on the mouth.

    'I... I'm truly sorry, Your Holiness,' gasped Child.

    'Tis nothing,' said the Father, looking only a little alarmed. 'Now go, and may God bless you!'

    The papal vacancy was announced the following day - 25 December 2863.



    TotW 147 - Announcement:
    With a picture of a bird on water, and some vague keywords we weren't really know what to expect for this week. Whilst this meant we had a fewer number of tales, we had a great width in terms of what was written - a difficult ensured but a winner was declared.

    The Winner:
    Confederate Jeb got a first time win with this great tale, about a man lonesomely heaving himself across a plain with only a distant eagle as company. It only covers a small event, which I liked, and I got a good feeling of the character e.g. what he is like and what he is thinking - which is also very good. More speech would have been a bonus, but that is a minor thing. The little bit of character background was done well, but could be further explored, and I felt the detail of the surroundings, without them taking over the story.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    The cry of an eagle flying overhead echoed across the valley. The light snowfall had not deterred the bird of prey from its hunt. Dmitri took this to heart as he slowly weaved in between the trees, trying ever so hard to remain silent. A colossus of a man, Dmitri was losing the battle against his own two feet, and with every step came the sound of crunching snow. Why he was so worried he could not tell; back in Russia he had been a famous trapper in his small rural town, and the snows of the motherland were more treacherous than this powder. Maybe it was the lack of support he had here in America, the distance away from another human soul, let alone his kinsmen. Only three Russians had made the trip over to this uncharted world, and Viktor had not even bothered leaving Boston. Ivan Ivanovich, the blacksmith's son, came as far as the third trading outpost before setting up shop crafting tools for the woodsmen and trappers. His parting gift to Dmitri had been a watch he had brought over from Russia. Adorning the little thing were two fasces, representing strength though unity according to Ivan. But there was no unity to be found here. Strength came from the will of the individual and keen aim with his musket. If only his feet would quit betraying him.

    Minutes turned into hours as Dmitri checked each one of his traps, with a couple of rabbits being his only reward. Fur and meat combined might earn a few dollars at the trading post just north of the valley, but they weren't worth selling. The last trap was the most disappointing; set up in the river that flowed down the center of the valley, Dmitri had hoped to catch a beaver. His bad luck continued, however, and Dmitri made his way along the side the river, which provided him a clear shot back to his camp. In the springtime the river would be right in the middle of a revival; a flower was sure to grow in that spot between the rocks, a nest of chirping baby birds sure to fit snugly into that tree branch. The smell of wild berries would fill the air, and fresh fruit would find its way to the nearby traders. The vibrant images filled Dmitri's thoughts as he continued his lonely march, with only the distant eagle to keep him company.


    My Choice:
    I chose Lord Inquisitor Derpy Hooves' tale this week for another reason then it being my favourite, which it was one of. I chose it to show you the dangers of trying to include too much in the 500 word limit, so yeah sorry Derpy - but I'm sure you can take it. It is about a family caught in a Civil War, trying to remain neutral and the predicaments it causes. Going back to the including too much thing, either have it as a report sort of thing, where you describe the background events, or as a more personal account - where the reader doesn't no what is happening, but is just feeling what the character is feeling, the pain of the decision facing him etc. Here I think a bit too much of both was present, and it seems to be a detriment to the quality of the story. However what I did like a lot was how you managed to convey a sense of urgency, like time was running out for him. That was very good. (sorry to pick on you mate)
    Spoiler for The Tale

    Gavolin was scared for his family. The eagles of the Janak Empire were nowhere near his home, and yet the city of Russia was in chaos. If he was to describe what was going on in the city, he would call it a war of brothers, and it truly was.

    It was all because of the Sons of Humanity group, ardent supporters of the Janak Empire's ideology, who had started trying to pave the way for an easy transition, so that when the Janak Empire’s armies came, the city of Russia would peacefully surrender to the Janak Empire. To do this, they had attempted to remove King Avol from power and take over. However, the coup failed. In fact, the coup did not even have a chance. The Sons of Humanity were not even able to gain entrance to the Colossus Palace; they had been stopped by the King’s soldiers. To make this failure worse, the leader of coup, Estolin Deln, was killed by a fasces while trying to flee.

    That was over a couple weeks ago, and since then street battles were fought daily and the main topic of discussion was who do you support? Are you an Imperialist or a Russian? Why couldn’t there be another option? Gavolin and his family had tried to stay out of it. He had seen no end to the pestering from his neighbors who questioned his loyalties. Truthfully, Gavolin could not care less. Why should it matter who rules Russia? It doesn’t; no matter who rules the city, the lives of Gavolin’s family will not change.

    Despite his views, he has realized that it will be hard to hold on to neutrality. As each day passes, people who used to have neutral views are swayed to declare their loyalties. This is not because they were convinced, it’s because a family member was killed in a street battle. Gavolin had taken precautions so that no one in his family could get killed in the streets, but what if supporters from one side or the other came to his home to demand housing? What is he to do then? If he refuses, they might think he has already declared his loyalty for the other side, and then his family will suffer. If he accepts their demands, then the other side might think he has declared his loyalties for the enemy; again, his family will suffer. No matter what happens, his family will be at risk.

    He knew that it was only a matter of time before the entire city would be engulfed in violent conflict, but how could he keep his family safe? Perhaps he might…no. That would be foolish. The flower that is Russia might be burning away, but should he risk the dangers in between to travel to another flower; another city that might be just as beautiful as Russia was before the street fighting began?



    TotW 148 - Back Down South:
    Drawing inspiration from song of the same name by the Kings of Leon this week saw a picture of a sunset, and a couple of key words cheekily introducing Rome II - promising an interesting mix of tales.

    The Winner:
    Once again Confederate Jeb wins, for a second time in a row - he must be doing something right! This time his tale is about the infamous British tourists and what they get up to whilst abroad - however this time they are confronted! What I loved is the sense of truth behind this, and being British I totally get it, and how annoying it must be for everyone else, and with a serious ending the atmosphere really did change when you read it. However, I did feel the ending was rather abrupt and could of done with a bit more explanation, maybe shorten the first part to allow more freedom?
    Spoiler for The Tale

    The sound of other human beings entering my car awoke me from my deep sleep. A young couple, British tourists, took their seats at the table across from my location, not noticing my presence. The woman was spouting such nonsense as "Oh darling, Rome was simply beautiful, I wish we could have stayed another month or two! But I found the locals to be simply unwelcoming" and "The hotel was simply marvelous, but the service was simply dreadful." Simply this, simply that. Insults about Italia, her king, and her people. I felt the need to tell her to "simply" leave Italia and go visit other countries, but my good manners prevented me. Sadly, she continued on with her complaints for a good fifteen minutes.

    "And this train! Darling, it is simply not to my liking. The train is simply of poor design, and the cars are simply too old to be used to transport vacationers around this country."

    "The locomotive is state of the art, a model 4-6-2. Or a Pacific, as most people call them." I blurted out sharply, as if on reflex.

    "I beg your pardon?" The woman appear quite flustered to learn that someone else was in their car. Their car, ha!

    "I know a great deal about locomotives, madam. I worked on the railroads in my youth, serving simply wondrous visitors such as yourselves with simply delightful food."

    "Are you making fun of me? You have some nerve." Her face was turning a very vibrant red.

    "No, madam, you have some nerve for visiting Italia and insulting her good people. I suggest you simply leave my car and simply make your way back to Britain." I couldn't stop myself, it simply felt too good.

    "Your car? Why on earth is this your car? I don't see your name engraved anywhere."

    "Madam, let me be straight with you. Tomorrow I will board a boat to Tripolitania where my days will be spent dodging bullets and praying to God that artillery shells do not land on my head. If this is the last day that I will ever have in Italia, then I will not spend it listening to your complaints about Italia or her people."

    The woman stood up, appalled by my remarks, and had begun to open her mouth when her man leaned over and whispered something into her ear. A look of confusion and rage overtook her face as she made her way outside of my car. Presently the man slowly headed towards the door, but not before staring deep into my eyes and saying those words. Words I would never forget.

    "I know your pain. When I had one day left until my deployment to South Africa, I felt a hollowness inside me that could not be mended by words or time. Only my return to Britain would cure me. So I resolved to live and return to my native lands. Do not lose faith; rather, endeavor to see your beloved Italia once more."


    My Choice:
    My choice for this week is another début tale, this time by Paraipan. This one is about a son cursing living in this world, when his only crime is being the son of his father. I liked this tale due to it being in first person, it is rather detailed, and I always keep an eye out for first-timers. I did, however, find my tongue tripping over the Latin names, but that can't be helped, although more emotion (again, I know) from the son's POV would have been great.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    My name is Palladius, and this is the story of my last days in this world, as I’m about to enter the other one, untimely and against my own will. I’m only guilty of being the son of my father. I curse my fate for living in this world in these times of turmoil instead of a more pacific age.

    My father was Petronius Maximus, Emperor of Rome. He wasn’t of Imperial blood, nor a great conqueror, but what he lacked in bravery and honor, he fully compensated in slyness and wickedness. His rise to the Imperial throne was stained by betrayal and murder, his greatest rival Flavius Aetius, and the previous Emperor Valentinian III, finding their deaths in the devious plots of my ambitious father.

    After he became Emperor, he married Licinia Eudoxia, Valentinian’s widow and had me betrothed with her daughter, Eudocia. He thought marrying such noble women would consolidate his hold on power and our legitimacy, but instead these fateful unions will prove to be the source of our downfall, only two months later.

    Before his death, Valentinian had promised my new betrothed to Huneric, the son of the Vandal King, Gaiseric. Aware of my father’s involvement in her first husband’s death, the bitter Eudoxia secretly requested the Vandal warlord’s support against her new husband, the usurper, promising to fulfill the engagement between her daughter and Huneric.

    A few days later news spread throughout the city that from the south a strong fleet, carrying the fearsome Vandal warriors, was sailing for Rome, to depose my father. People knew what a barbarian invasion meant. If they weren’t old enough to experience them, they have surely heard the stories about the three days of terror in which the Goths, a tribe related to the Vandals, looted and burned Rome 45 years ago. Panic and chaos took hold of the city and many citizens fled.

    My father urged the Senate to leave the city, but they blamed him for bringing this doom upon Rome. Everyone blamed my father, except him, who blamed his wife. Left without help by the Senate, betrayed by his wife and deserted by his bodyguards, my father and I fled the city. A boat was supposed to take us out of the city, but when we reached the Tiber there was no sign of it. Instead, a panicked mob was passing by, trying to flee the city.

    “Look, it's the Emperor and his son. Get them!” Someone shouted and my father’s face was disfigured by fear. They caught us and I witnessed how my own father was stoned to death and his body was thrown into the Tiber. I watched him floating downstream until someone approached me and I felt how a cold blade slowly opened my throat. I collapsed to the ground, choking and feeling how life leaves my body. Killed by Romans, while fleeing from the Vandals I thought with my last flash of consciousness and plunged into the dark abyss of death.



    TotW 149 - The Windmills Of Your Mind:
    For this week I drew inspiration from the famous song by the same name, but with a keyword "silicosis" (suggested by the readership) things weren't going to be that easy - although I don't know how "cat" and "dog" got in there...

    The Winner:
    TotW old-time Asterix claimed this weeks win, despite an unorthodox use of the keywords, his story of a soldier returning home and the difficulties facing that, led him to a victory. It was greatly written, and a real sense of emotion and sorrow was conveyed to the reader, which is something I really like. What I thought was a bit of a let down was how the keywords were used, but I've done the same thing a few times so...
    Spoiler for The Tale

    Homecoming

    A soldier’s homecoming is a strange thing. He sets off to war a boy-if not in body, then certainly in mind. All the convictions, all the strong beliefs, everything that he thinks he knows is shattered in the opening moments of battle-when he realizes the kind of total fear that blackens the mind, when he hears the screams of terror from once invincible men, feels the life ebbing from a beloved comrade in his arms, sees his reflection in the eyes of a man he just killed. If he survives this, he comes home, back to what he once knew. Yet, while nothing there has changed, he has. Nothing and everything is the same, and it can tear him apart. So why does he return?

    All this passes through my mind as I look upon the town where I once lived. It has been four years since I’ve been here, and nothing has changed. Four years since I signed up to join the war, responding to heralds speaking of great deeds to be done, great riches to be won. Lies, all of them. The only thing I won was a near shattered soul.

    My comrades had not gone home. Their homes destroyed in the war, friends and relatives scattered to the four winds, they decided that life in the conquered lands was better suited for them, a chance to start over. I would have joined them, if not for one thing.

    The only reason for my survival.

    Living even for life’s sake became impossible in those days when I was being destroyed. In those times, I would look into myself, into my soul-and the only thing visible was the only reason I hadn’t been destroyed completely.

    Today, I return to it.

    Heart pounding, I round a corner-and there it is. Life seems great once again.

    An angel, that is all the description needed. The angel, the light of my life. She laughs, a sound sweeter than the symphonies of heaven. A tear in my eye, I run towards her.

    Then I stop dead in my tracks. Another man has taken her into his arms. She laughs delightedly, and speaks words of love and tenderness, the look in her eyes the one that kept me alive those years- the look that kills me now.

    I cannot move or speak. Finally I manage to call out her name, my voice sounding like a dying man crying for water.

    Still smiling, she turns her gaze on me. The shock on her face must be a mirror of the pain on mine. Unable to speak, I simply nod, and force myself to walk away. She tries to say something, but I cannot hear. I cannot see. I can only feel the black hole of blind terror in my chest. It swallows what is left of my soul.

    I left home with life, with hope, with love. I return a shell.

    What does a soldier come home for?


    My Choice:
    Maurits's tale won me over for this week. It is a rather interesting tale about London 2012, and how normal just go on with their daily tasks blissfully unaware - even though what I presume to be a bomb is about to go off. What I liked about this tale was the wide "scope" it had, in terms of it taking everything that could be seen in. This for me created an even bigger sense of unawareness, however I to improve a more tense and urgent atmosphere could have been build up to really suck the reader in.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    'Time is Ticking or The Drama which was called London, 2012'

    Tick.

    Tick.

    Tick.

    The car stopped. People didn’t notice, they just walked on. All were busy, all were pretending to focus on their daily tasks and duties. It was brown, of the dirty kind which made you wonder how someone could ever have ordered such a pain to the eye of the beholder.

    Would nobody know? It seemed to be thus. The clocks of time where going on, ever and ever, at a steady pace. Nobody could stop them, nobody wanted to. Even if that dream was to be mankind’s greatest desire, it could not have undone the time’s regime.

    Tick.

    Tick.

    There was a man; coughing, choking, almost drowning. Stumbling out of the car, clearly one of those dirty victims of the vile silicosis. He had once been the proud owner of a large, black beard, which was now wet and dirty because of his own mouth’s excretions. Would anyone notice?

    No, they had no time for this creature. It was 2012, this was London. They were there to indulge in the pleasures of the games being put up for them. Time continued, mankind remained the same. Just like those Romans who called themselves ‘civilized’, who had known the silicosis and were being entertained in their arena’s, the modern man hurried to his temples of sport.

    Tick.

    Tick.

    It seemed like no living being would notice the poor, wretched creature which was struggling to get away from the car. It was like he lived in his own dimension, with his very own clock ticking away a different time.

    Woof! Woof!

    Ah, there was one who noticed. Where most of the mass continued running, unaware of either fate or time or their incredible misfortune, one crept closer to this malevolent being. Hairy, of the same dirty brown and equally unnoticed by the masses, it strolled towards the man. Poking its wet nose into the other’s business. It smelled, collapsed, knew it. Finally, one had noticed.

    Tick. Tick. Tick.

    BOOM!

    In less than a second the dirty brown car, the gargling man, the dog and all those hurrying on were undone. The explosion of light and heath and terror had stopped their clocks, time would not run for them any longer.

    Would this be the end? Would time itself finally be undone?

    Tick.

    Tick.

    No. Time would not listen to the windmills of men’s mind, would not allow itself to be stopped – if only for a second – by such a small event in the history of the universe.

    Had anyone noticed? Most didn’t. Time didn’t.

    And thus, the clocks ticked on as time passed by at a steady pace.

    Tick.

    Tick.

    Tick.



    TotW 150 - Run!:
    Keeping in, well, keeping with title this week saw a good old fashioned race to the finish between several contestants - the only question being who would claim glory as there keyword? With 8 submissions it was a great turn out!

    The Winner:
    ybbon66 once again claims another TotW victory under his belt - how many more until a medal? His tale is unusual due to the fact it is about a bull charge through the streets, and it is from the POV of a bull! This is a great idea, and really makes for a different sort of read. I liked the brutality portrayed by the bull, and how the author wrote about its thoughts. I'm running out of things to say "improve on" when someone has won four times, so ybbon - just read through other improvements!
    Spoiler for The Tale

    I can taste the fear in the air, a mix of sweat and stale body odour permeates the narrow streets, a miasma of terror underlying the bravado the runners show, trying to prove their machismo to their friends. Look at my Cojones my friends! I ran for Glory, I ran in Pamplona.

    Their terror begins to waft across us, a ton each of muscle and sinew, powerful shoulders to hold our massive heads and horns and drive our hooves into the cobbles, thundering after their puny bodies, to trample them beneath us, toss them aside and gore them with sharp horns, grind their shrieks and shouts into the cobbles with their soft bodies.

    I want to feel them break beneath me, hear their bones snap and see the red blood gush from the gashes my horns make. I can feel my brothers behind me, our force in unstoppable now, thundering along the cobbles, a swerve left and then right, catching a red bandanna and a swift toss of my horns throws another into the screaming crowds.

    Baying for blood, their shouts and yells empower us, pulsating down the alleys, reverberating and echoing off the walls, a cacophony of noise, Ole!, Torro! Careering through the noise, almost a physical barrier, yet still they run ahead of us, urging us to follow them with fear writ large on the faces of those just ahead, gleeful shouts from those at the front as they jumped out of our way, cowardly fools cheering as they escape.

    And now the streets begin to get narrower still, with sound pounding around us, the smell of fear, blood, sweat, the ecstasy of escape and the overwhelming smell from our heaving sides, the smell of power and strength.

    Then, gloriously the streets end and I see a vast circle of sand ahead, escape from these monkeys and their shouting and yelling, my breath shuddering, gasping, gulping in the hot stinking air, but there it is, blue skies and yellow sands, fresh air and the end of these howling humans, we charge into the open space, skidding to a halt as we see rank on rank of them banked high away behind barriers, safe from our anger and death-dealing horns. We have won, only a few brightly coloured ones remain, wafting their flimsy little cloaks in front to try and save them from our horns and hooves.

    My Choice:
    Lord Valerius's tale has the joy of being gazed upon by my not-so-all seeing eye for this week. It is a tale about a man, the aftermath of a bull fight, and what that all means for him. It was well-detailed, which helped paint an image in my mind when reading. However, I did often find myself at a loss as to what was going when, if that makes any sense? A good first entry and I hope to see more of this author.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    1939

    "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." Ernest Hemingway loved bullfighting, Izan knew, it was the reason why the American had visited Pamplona several times. It bothered him now that he had once memorized these words from A Farewell to Arms by the author. He had thought them wise, and besides had liked the title of the novel. He knew now that it was a lie of cosmic scale. There would never be a farewell to arms.

    His paces became faster. He felt the eyes of the men behind him, their angry gazes piercing his skin like the spears of the arena securities pierced the skin of the bulls if they were to kill the matador. Would there be glory for them if they killed him? Probably. Izan wondered what kind of person he was, the very good, or the very brave. He had never been very gentle.

    "Basque swine!", shouted one of the men. The war was over, the rage was not. Franco had banned the Basque language, and his backers were allowed to enjoy their retaliation. The winner takes it all. Leave this place, his mother had said. There are eyes and ears in the narrow streets of the city everywhere, you wont remain hidden with the Underground forever. He thought it was his duty to remain there though to avenge his blood. His father had been killed in a bombing, but Franco's troops had not been so gentle and quick with his sisters.

    He began to run. He heard the men do the same. He tried to shake them off in the streets, jumped over small walls and randomly ran into different little streets. The men were fast as well, and many. He knew they were behind him, but he also saw some running through streets parallel to him.

    He ran around another corner and was soon stopped by a large fence. There was no time to climb this one, so he turned. Six men, with nothing but hatred in their eyes. Does the matador hate the bull? No. This was sport.

    One of them stabbed him in the stomach. He went to the ground bleeding, the pain almost too much to bear. They began kicking him, kicking the wound and his head. After they were exhausted, one of the men stabbed him again. They spat and left him there to die.

    When the life left him, he realized that he was in utter fear. And when the pain slowly faded away along with his spirit, he had to smile. Since the world had killed him in a hurry and he was neither very brave nor very gentle, he must have been very good at least.



    TotW 151 - We Are The Champions:
    This week saw an Olympic inspired theme in tribute to... the Olympics! With five spectacular keywords, that being one of them, and a great picture of the stadium - it really was a medal-winning tale, and with a thrilling tie-breaker, the first one in ages, it really was worthy of an Olympic Gold!

    The Winner:
    Another win by the infallible Confederate Jeb saw him win three contests in rapid succession. His tale this week is about him not watching the Olympics, indeed he is trying to escape the whole Olympics thing! What I liked about this tale was the almost monologue-way about it, and how it portrayed a fed-up fella' quite well. I would have liked, well CJ you've featured enough in this article, go back and check. ;-)
    Spoiler for The Tale

    Figures this week is about the Olympics. I bet he thinks it's funny. Well it ain't. I didn't even bother to watch the opening ceremonies. All I heard was that it was bizarre...except for Mr. Bean who was, as always, spectacular. I also heard Lochte won the gold with Phelps coming in fourth. That's what you get for going down to Columbia to smoke weed. Stupid Gamecocks. But that's all I know, because I don't ever watch. Yeah, I said it. I don't even watch to see the girls compete in beach-volleyball. It just isn't my cup of tea. Sure, I can get into the Winter Olympics, and I'm definitely behind the X Games. But I just can't bring myself to sit in front of the TV and watch the games.

    I still want America to win of course. This isn't the World Cup where I actively root for America to lose. The farther our team makes it the more ESPN won't shut up about it, and then I can't get my year long updates on the Steelers. I mean really ESPN. Get your priorities straight. Sheesh. At least for the Olympics they highlight the important stuff and move on, instead of getting in-depth analysis of a bunch of guys mostly standing around and an announcer who can only say the word "goal."

    Oh well, might as well check the list for this week. Cavendish. What the heck is a Cavendish? Great, now I have to waste time checking Wikipedia. Let's see...a process of curing and cutting tobacco, a type of banana, and the name of a crater on the moon. Wow. Guess I'll try Google then...which has an Olympic cartoon for its logo of the day. Is there anywhere I can go to escape this thing? Alright, calm down CJ. Just get off your computer and forget about your entry for this week. Just turn on the TV, maybe catch the local news. Surely they aren't...never mind. They're talking about the games too. And here I thought the regular news dribble couldn't get any worse. Fine, no TV. It's all good. I'll just sit here in the dark and think to myself.

    And as if on cue, there's my phone vibrating. Wonder who it could be this late? RJ, my bro, of course. Playing League of Legends I bet. He always stays up too late pla...no. No no no no no. He's asking if I saw the men's gymnastics final. Of all people...screw this! I'm taking a week long trip to the mountains to go fishing. Try to catch me there Olympics!


    My Choice:
    Lyra's tale was my choice for this week, it's about the start of a running race and the pride and honour of the Olympics in general. I liked the narration, and the description of the events was rather good. However, I would have liked maybe a bit more of an atmosphere created, like haste or anticipation when you were describing the final stretch - maybe by having one of the runners thoughts portrayed. I also enjoyed the little 'twist' at the end, which I want spoil for people.
    Spoiler for The Tale

    Bang. A gun raised, shot fired, marked the start, the beginning of this event. A parade of runners set on a rapid dash around the field. They had heard their cue; legs moving with the determination of a locomotive, rhythmically ponding the ground below them, striving for the goal. As this colorful spectacle made its way a thousand others cheered in unison around them. Countless had gathered to this place under many a name but akin reason. Each one donned, in some way, the colors of their nation crating a mottled ring around the competitive grounds; a representation of the world.

    Here came athletes to compete for their nation; a battle for the best but with more rules and no deaths. Here came hopes and dreams for world fame, some young souls who had been readying for the greater part of their lives for this event with the hopes of bringing glory to their homes; winning gold; to be bathed by the cheers of the world and thus sealing their names in history. Mortals came here, but their immortal names they would leave; gods of the Olympics.

    For this the runners strived, each one wished for the win but only one would get it; only one would be the best. They were nearing the last straight now, the crowds cheered louder and louder. A presence possessed by the spirit of the game. The athletes, in turn, put their one hundred and ten percent. It was all or nothing; the moment of moments.

    The outcome was decided in an instant, the first one across the line; the one that happened to be ahead of the rest, for there always had to be a winner. Immediately he was flocked by his co-nationals, all sharing from his euphoria; sharing in the realization that he had won. “What a spectacular performance!” commented the commentator with a very veritable enthusiasm.

    In contrast, his fellow competitors straggled morbidly behind in loss; they had the faces of having seen the prize so close, in their very grasp, but lost it to some petty blunder. They made up excuses in their heads of not having tried hard enough. Maybe they didn’t see the snarling truth: were they simply beat by the better?

    All these events glowed out of Michel’s TV, illuminating his bored and indifferent face –he switched through the event channels: Interview with Cavendish; Interview with some American Gold medalists; some more interviews; interviews; Fencing? The swishing blades coughed his interest for a brief few and precious moments before the swishing grew too much for him and the channel was again changed.

    A sudden and flashy schedule of event flashed on the TV, the next event was written in very clear letters: Women’s Beach-volleyball Qualifiers. Michel’s face gleamed.
    “Now this is more like it!” he mumbled to himself, “maybe the Olympics aren’t so boring after all.



    And that ladies and gents brings us to the end of our article. If you enjoyed what you saw today then please, please go and check out the TotW forum, and be sure to offer our writers' your support (and rep)- they have all done a splendid job! Heck, go and try your hand at a tale yourself. As special mention must be given to Lord Inquisitor Derpy Hoovers who has exceed twenty submissions, well done to him!

    Enjoy the rest of the issue,

    Coverage by Shankbot12 and m_1512



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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35


    Interview Section

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

    Hello, hello, hello, yes I'm back again - and fortunately for you I have more then the usual of my gibbering on! Indeed, but Shankbot12? I hear you ask. Well, you nosy bunch, today I have an interview with TWC's very own Knonfoda, and I'm not even making that up! He has kindly agreed to be interviewed by me, and it aims to cover his life on TWC, ranging from his massive AAR project to his recent advances to citizenship. He did a fantastic job of answering my questions, so if you feel anything is missing it isn't his fault. So without further ado please give a round of applause for the great Knonfoda!

    Q So Knonfoda, I'll start with what seems to be the norm. What brought you to TWC, and why the name?

    A Well, I came here ages ago (2008 I think?) when I began playing Europa Barbarorum (EB) mainly for technical help, ie asking questions about the mod and so forth. I then became more or less dormant for about 2 years till 2010, when I caught wind of the amazing series that is Invasio Barbarorum and ended up playing IB Somnium Apostatai Iuliani (IBSAI) which is the mod I use for my current Julian, The Savior Of Rome? AAR. I remember when I started it, that I loved Decimus Milo's late Roman RTW BI AAR, but I thought I would have done quite a lot of things differently in my campaign. Thus was born my AAR, and what has kept me in TW center for the better part of 2011-2012, although lately I have branched out a bit more into modding and hanging out in other parts of the forum I didn't use to. (like seedy and dodgy taverns for example) At this point I realised what a nice community TWC was in a whole, and especially on certain forums. I've made a number of friends though here now, and that is one of the mains reasons I keep coming back and I keep writing!

    As for the name, its a bit complicated. In childhood, I once played a game called Cannonfodder, which was very simple but very entertaining. This is, I was born and grew up in Brazil, and the K there sounds like CAH, so I called myself (nearly a decade ago now) Knonfoda, which is supposed to be pronounced "Cannon fodder" in accordance with the Portuguese pronunciation. Alas, no one in Brazil got it, and no one in English gets it either, but its a nickname I've had for so many years its hard to let go

    Q That makes some sense, and I like it! So you are a fan of the impressive IB mods - what do you like about them? (Fear not people we will get onto the AAR!)

    A I've admittedly not played with the other IB mods in general, I've stuck with IBSAI which covers the 355-363 era, though obviously gameplay goes on for much longer. Personally, I think Rome was still "Rome" in these days, but that by 400 A.D the losses had been so great that I find it hard to play in that time frame, hence why I stick with IBSAI.

    As for that mod, well, I'm a massive fan of the emperor Julian (also known as the Apostate) and I remember when I read Decimus Milos' AAR, how it would be super interesting if it were set in a more historically accurate mod. And then voilà, IBSAI comes along and I thought what an awesome means it would be of conveying an AAR. I like it because its extremely well researched, the factions are diverse, the map is big (and goes all the way to India, which I really like!) and there is a LOT of attention to detail. You can learn as you play, just by reading the unit and building card descriptions, in this sense it reminded me a lot of Europa Barbarorum, which was also very good.

    To top it all off, the game is VERY balanced. When you employ Rome's soldiers and cavalry effectively and how they were meant to be deployed, they always win. Always. But deviate from the plan, ie rush with them, and they will get annihilated. Same goes if they get surrounded and lose their cavalry. Historically, this was exactly how Rome lost battles - bad planning, deployment and at times bad luck, and I feel all these factors are well represented in the mod. I also like being able to rewrite history, and what better way to do that than through the compelling, realistic and engaging IB mods?

    Q I can tell you now it definitely works! You've mentioned Decimus Milos' AAR quite a few times, what do you like about it? And did it provide that 'spark' of inspiration needed to create your own AAR?

    A Well, his AAR was the first I ever read, and it left a lasting impression. I liked it because it covered a period in history that is (or was) generally neglected in the AAR medium. I say was because, since then, a plethora of high quality AAR's have sprung up covering that period, ranging from SBH's The Nowhere Legion, to Justinian Australis' two AAR's, McScottish's tales of the Saxons and the Goths. I even think Juvenal wrote one too a while ago. So the era his AAR was written in definitely caught my attention.

    I also really liked his style. It was relatively simple and uncluttered, and relied heavily on pictures. He also possessed a witty humour I can only envy and attempt (and fail) to replicate in my own AAR. Not to mention, the picture heavy format is especially good for those us us like me, who are really quite bad writers. I have deviated from his formula a lot along the line, changing both the tone and method of writing of my own AAR (I rely a lot on first person and more dramatic elements these days) but the core formula remains the same.

    The other thing I especially enjoyed about his AAR was the challenge. I had already played BI on very hard before (and won) but those first few turns are always very difficult, especially as you dip into the red with negative six figures in your treasury. So when I came across IBSAI, I thought it would be even more challenging because it was a lot more accurate and realistic. And I thought, what if I played this campaign as an AAR, getting feedback and so forth along the way? In that sense, Decimus Milos' AAR and his style were very much the spark that started my own AAR, and I have noted such in the intro of Julian The Savior of Rome. Unfortunately, Decimus Milo has apparently abandoned that AAR, but I like to think that in a way, his own work in a way lives on through mine. It won't ever quite be the same, but for those who enjoy the format, I think its close.

    Q Ah, I too envy those blessed with the gift of humour, and I am sure Mr Milo would be overjoyed by your words. Although I myself was ever a player of RS2, and the treasury wasn't the problem for me, but that is for another time. Now, onto the question I'm sure everyone is dying to hear; your award-winning AAR, how do you do it?

    A Well, that's a complicated question. It all started just with me wanting to get feedback on my campaign and provide a simple narrative of what I was doing and how I was doing it. Eventually, it evolved into something much, much bigger in scope, breadth and commitment. I say commitment because only a few months back, I had so many pictures up on ImageShack I had to purchase an account to keep the existing ones up and be able to add others. There's a recurring monthly cost involved, but I've put so much work into this AAR its not something I'd even think of pulling the plug on.

    Finances aside, the AAR itself has evolved massively. From a literal and simple "after action report" narrated mainly by me in the first person, its grown to include story arcs, narration by ingame characters, historical figures, letters, entire campaigns conducted over a series of episodes, and probably my pride and joy, the so called "VIDAAR's" (thanks to SBH for that ) These take a lot of time to put out, but consist of video episodes that I use at key moments in the AAR, ie the beginning of a large campaign, or a particularly epic and important battle, and so on. As of late, I've also concentrated a lot more on Julian himself, his entourage of generals and philosophers, his thoughts and even his private life. The latter was especially difficult to get into, because for me it was new territory. Relatively speaking, describing battles and even blood and gore is easy, describing a loving scene between Julian and Helena, or a moment of sorrow, is not, at least not for me. Having said that, Julian (as the name of the AAR implies) and his campaign East against the Sassanids has always been something I wanted to concentrate in this AAR, but at the start, the conditions were never right. There was a lot of stabilisation to go through, civil wars, rebel hordes, religious intolerance, and a hellish economy to sort out. Only after I managed to sort this out at around episode 50-60 was I able to "start" the AAR where I wanted to. The result was a lot of semi-important characters in those early days.

    I also try to pay very close attention to detail and accuracy, in particular in relation to verisimilitude. I try to act and control the game in a way that reflects the Rome and the times as they were. So take unit compositions for example, I always strive to have them contain a small core of legionary elements, bolstered by a contingent of archers, cavalry, light skirmishing troops, and auxiliaries and so forth. I never do the "legionary stack" thing because that's not something Rome did. The result, is that I lose a lot of battles, but it all adds flavour and realism to the AAR, and I've always preferred a challenge and to play the underdog. Similarly, I've even gone as far as destroying unique buildings (Christian ones) in spite of the bonuses they give, because this was a time of plunder and social strife. I like to think of it as a reverse "burning of the library at Alexandria". I also try and use the historical characters, and have them act as they would have. So far, I've included Julian, Libanius, Ammianus, Dagalaifus, Priscus, Nevitta, Maximus, Helena, Oribasius and even Hypatia. I do a lot of research on the available material to add depth to their character, and exploit this to make for opportunities in the AAR.

    But so far, that's "what" I do. "How" I do it is a different question altogether. I do what I do because like all other people, I have an ego, and that ego is fed on a weekly basis with the praise and criticism I get for my AAR. I get a little "high" when I see a new reader has joined, or someone has posted a particularly insightful and interesting reply. I very much enjoy participating in the MAARC's, and seeing my effort rewarded when I get a new medal. To me, this makes such a difference because when I started, I had no idea I would have carried on this far. Most AAR's don't get past the first page, and I didn't think mine would be any different. I've been writing it for over a year now, and it would not have been possible without the TWC community at large, but in particular a select group of followers that have stuck with me through thick and thin, and even a period when I almost abandoned the AAR altogether after a lengthy holiday. I have them to thank, and it is precisely *for* them that I soldier on. Obviously, I cannot thank the team behind IBSAI enough for the support and dedication they've shown this far, and in particular Joar and Julianus Heraclius for helping me through some of the issues encountered.

    So "how do I do it?" - With a smile, and the knowledge that in every turn and battle, there is a story to tell, and an audience worth recounting the tale for.

    Q Well that was beautifully written in itself, and I speak for everyone when I say that we appreciate your huge commitment and effort has paid off greatly! And I'm sure the budding AARtist reading this will be thinking, wow - so that is how I write like Knonfoda. Indeed, such a massive contribution earned you the well deserved rank of citizenship, but more on that later. For now, we know about your dwellings in the RTW AAR forums, but where else do you abide on TWC?

    A Thanks a lot for that, I really appreciate it. As for my dwellings (I like that word by the way) here on TWC, I have only two or three places I really keep tabs on. The first is obviously the Rome Total War AAR section, which is probably my main forum, and the other being the Invasio Barbarorum forums itself, where I divide my time between the IB forum in general and the sub-forum for IBSAI, which is the mod I play on. At times I venture into the new mod that will be released by the IB team, Restitutor Orbis, which deals with the so called "crisis of the third century" all the way to Constantine. Admittedly, I spend less time there than I would like, but you would be surprised over how much time reading and answering threads on forums can consume.

    Lately, as part of being a citizen, I've also tried to spend a lot more time on the administrative forums like the Curia and so forth, reading proposals and giving input here and there. This is something I need to devote more time to, and a part of the forum I would really enjoy being more active in. As boring as that is, that is about it. I'm very much of a hermit when it comes to going anywhere else on the forums. I do that a lot on boards, I tend to stick in one or two forums and sub-forums and not move a lot. I also tend to think this keeps my sanity (or lack thereof) at manageable levels; if I were to venture into trying any other mods and getting myself into their respective forums, my time would evaporate before my eyes and before long I would be spending entire nights awake till dawn playing between mods, which is precisely the situation I am trying to avoid.

    Q I'm surprised TWC hasn't yet taken complete control, it is only a matter of time... I'm happy you like the word 'dwellings', speaking of which I hope to see you around the Writers' Study more. Now, you mentioned about the Curia, which brings me on to your recent promotion to Citizen. How did that feel, and why did you want to become one?

    A Oh it has lol, it has. Yes, I have been told recently that the writers study is buzzing away with excellent tales and fables which I have so far missed out on. I'm hoping to make some time one of these days to drop down by there and give them a read, hell, maybe even write a little short tale of my own too!

    As for the recent promotion to Citizen, what can I say, I'm honoured. I'm honoured for Ybbon66 for sponsoring me and thinking I had what it took to be a Citizen, and of course to my fellow citizens for voting me in. It's nice to have my work recognised as a major contribution to the site, even if it is just one work, I would like to think it is one hell of a work, as its over a year long now and has probably taken more time out of my life than it should have. I've always tried to make myself helpful in the forums I frequent, so I thought why not extend that attitude a little over a few more forums, and that was where wanting to become a citizen came in.

    I certainly feel I can have a more lasting impression on the site now, not only through my work(s) but by being an active member overall, and I think that is what being a citizen is all about.

    Q Well I'll look forward too seeing you around, and your citizenship was thoroughly deserved. You now have one more person who is looking forward to seeing what you get up to next, conveniently a little birdie told me of your joining to Content Staff. What sparked that, and 'where' do you plan to write?

    A Thanks! Yes, those birds are getting very talkative as of late aren't they? Well, I've always appreciated the content of certain publications like the critics quill and so forth. Both as a reader and a writer, there are a lot of articles there that really resonate with you, like previous articles on writers block, the style and presentation of AAR's and some other little gems. But I also appreciated how hard is was to get certain articles up, especially in regards to timing and what I was once told was a lack of staff.

    So I thought, well, why not join? I certainly already unofficially "review" a lot of the AAR's I read in the way of quite a bit of feedback and constructive criticism, as I find that is precisely the kind of feedback I appreciate and makes me grow as a writer. While the generic "Well done, can't wait for more!" response is very appreciated, it doesn't tell me much about my work. So I tend to avoid giving these kinds of feedback. I think two particular writers who have enjoyed a lot of feedback from me in that sense have been Senior Batavian Horse and McScottish for their diverse AAR's, and I thought it would be useful to use this "skill" officially and maybe become an AAR reviewer. God knows there are a lot of good AAR's on the eras section of the forum that go unreviewed, and I thought I could do something to rectify that.

    Q Hahaha, they are indeed, and I wish you ever success in Content. We're almost at the end of this grand interview, so Knonfoda I have to ask - what are your plans for the future on TWC? I'm sure we'd all love to hear them, and a massive thanks for doing this.

    A No problem at all, I'm always glad to help in any small way I can, and especially through interviews

    As for the future, hmmn... you got me there. I'm going to be honest and say I really don't know. A lot my followers and friends from IB have suggested I do a new AAR on the upcoming IB mod "Restitutor Orbis" which I have already talked about, but it would just be more of the same and I would be unwilling to do that. To be honest, I'm not even committing to another AAR, period. I might do one, and if I do, it will be much shorter than the current one, but I am making no promises. I would probably approach it from a different angle to (ie not a Roman one) and maybe even do it from another game altogether too. It is a lot more likely that I embark on some sort of episodic content not directly linked to the "traditional" format of the AAR, ie more self contained episodes where each episode is its own tale and so forth.

    On that note, I will probably spend a lot more time in the Writers Study, maybe writing the odd tale or two and going from there. You'd be surprised at how much time, dedication and commitment an AAR takes to keep going and I am looking forward to a good rest where I don't have to worry about what I'll do in the next update and so forth. So you're probably going to be seeing me more in the forums, posting and reviewing and critiquing others people's works, rather than writing my own I'm afraid.

    But what can I say, "the future is uncertain, and the end always near".

    Q And there you have it folks, from the words of the great man himself. I hope all of you will be like Knonfoda here and spend some more time in the Study... and of course start writing your very own AAR! To round us off, Knonfoda do you have any final words and I hope you have enjoyed this interview.

    A Final words? Hmmn. I'm not one for enlightened words of wisdom, but for anyone that has followed this interview and even considered writing an AAR, I say but this. Do not be disheartened. I see a lot of AAR's spring up on a weekly basis on the forum, and give up after 3 or 4 updates due to lack of comments or feedback. Given the fast turnover of AAR's here, this is a perfectly normal situation, and one that any tentative writer should be prepared to tackle. Readers really only form a "bond" with an AAR one it is shown to have come to stay, and only after a few updates does your own work pick up the momentum it needs to keep going by its own accord, and in the process draw in readers. Don't give up, persevere, and most importantly of all, enjoy your work. Do that, and all else will follow.

    I would finally like to thank you, Shankbot, for this opportunity to be interviewed, and would just like to say it was a pleasure.



    Interview conducted by Shankbot12


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

    Fortunately, not much introduction is needed for robinzx, a recognized writer, modder and an esteemed member of the Writers' Study staff. He is the author of Takeda, the most viewed Shogun 2 AAR (reviewed in Critic's Quill #31) which has won three MAARC gold medals. For this issue, we have interviewed him on AARtistry as a genre of writing and asked him to share some of his experiences.

    Q What do you think of AARs as a unique writing genre? How does it compare to traditional creative writing?


    A To me AARs are a fairly unique genre of writing. The AARtist has to produce all the elements of a regular creating writing piece but with the added challenge of constraints brought on by game events – the “action” being reported. Consequently the AARtist has to make choices and decisions on the fly all the time. Some will be more manageable, but from time to time the game’s artificial intelligence (or the lack thereof, as it sometimes seems) will throw a spanner in the works by producing unexpected events and circumstances. A character may die, a battle may be unexpected lost, a province may rebel despite your best intentions. It’s kind of like riding a bike with one hand behind your back, if you will.

    The prevalent use of in-game imagery to depict scenes from the story is another potential challenge the AARtist faces that the regular fiction writer does not. The usage of illustrations opens up a plethora of opportunities but a can of proverbial worms too, requiring authors to be competent at a second, quite unrelated field should they choose to use images.

    Q I really like the bike metaphor! It also makes me think if technical aspects of AAR writing may need to substitute for the relative lack of control. What do you see as the most important ones?

    A I think the most important aspect of a good AAR is the ability to create a convincing world that builds upon and extends from the game scenario. Something I look for – and try to keep mindful of in my own writing – is a set of characters that stand out and interact with each other in interesting and logical ways. A set of characters readers that connect are often what gets remember most vividly after readers have put down the story, and really helps to create immersion in my opinion. It’s hard to do, because you have to think in the shoes of your characters to make it convincing, and some of them will have completely different personalities to you the writer. They have to be distinct, but at the same time not cliché, and so on. When I write I’m always rewriting back and forth out of indecisiveness and a fear of losing the sense of realism by having the character say something he really shouldn’t, but eventually when it clicks it’s quite a fulfilling feeling. To me good characters and good interaction between them are part of what separates a good AAR from the really great AARs.

    Q Do you think an AAR writer should be a reasonable visual artist as well? Often writing and visual arts are two different skill sets, and one may be great in one but not necessarily in the other.

    A Judging by the AARs I read there seems to be a fairly continuous spectrum between AARs that have next to no pictures to those that are dominated by them. My personal view is that pictures are a good way writers can highlight particularly poignant or important moments, and when used well they can really bring AARs to life. There are many AARs that do not use images at all and are incredibly successful all the same, but even in those cases sometimes a single image could work wonders – the fallen soldier at the end of a battle, legions marching towards their next battle, that kind of thing.

    In my own AAR I try to use images fairly sparingly so that they complement rather than dominate the story. Battle chapters generally have more images since the game allows for nice action shots which illustrate the narrative, but I try to not include too many. In chapters away from the battlefield I try to include an image or two just to set the scene. A little bit of modding skill has gone a long way for me in that respect.

    Q I can definitely see that. Your Takeda AAR is a masterpiece and has revitalized the Shogun 2 AAR scene. What are some of the modding steps you had to take in order to make the game conform your plot ideas? What was particularly challenging?

    A Firstly – thank you. I will do a more comprehensive tribute once everything is all said and done, but your Primus Inter Pares story was one of the things that inspired me to write it in the first place!

    In terms of modding, I’ve grown to like close-up shots of individual characters as they go about their business, as well as scenes away from the battles that form important parts of the story. This has required me to set up mods for each of the individual characters as their own one-man unit – each with unique armour sets and faces – so that I could set up various scenarios using custom battles. It’s a lot of fun, but gets quite fiddly at times when you’re trying to find the right shoulder piece out of fifty! I’ve also modded the identity of one of my vassal clans so that it’s more realistic from a historical point of view. I don’t follow history strictly in my AAR but felt having a vassal named the same as one I’d just wiped out was too much.

    Q Who was your favorite character and why?

    A There’s a few I quite like I think. When I started, besides what I know of the historical Takeda clan I took a lot of inspiration from Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, and Nobushige was one of my favourites from that movie. Shingen’s been a long-time favourite from the period as well. In terms of the AAR itself I would chose two – both because they’re slightly less obvious and because their popularity surprised me.

    Mochizuki Takamasa – the young bodyguard to Nobushige – was someone I wrote in as set up for the eventual finale, but during the process of giving him a logical background, setting up his character within the clan, etc. I tried to imagine how Nobushige feels nurturing his young apprentice, and over time that has carried over to me on a personal level.

    Yamadera Takanaga – this was a character the game gave me, and because he wasn’t a Takeda I gave him a minor role as a social nuisance. When the idea dawned on me to have him as a full-blown villain I did a couple chapters on him, but enjoyed writing about his misadventures so much it eventually turned into a full 5-6 chapter stretch!

    The girls in my story – Masako and Akiko – are both extremely popular with my readers – you’d have to ask them why that is!

    Q Now that you are getting close to the Takeda finale, what are some of the things you would do differently in the next AAR (presuming that hopefully there will be one)?

    A First off – I think there will be a next AAR. Takeda has been a pretty all-consuming experiencing at times but very fun.

    I started Takeda very unsure of my own merits as a writer, whether anyone would read it and so on, so the beginning was a very tentative process with shorter chapters and a simpler plot. For the next one I would probably put more time into the initial planning of the AAR so the quality is more uniform throughout. My modding skills were something I only picked up half way through Takeda so there’s a few new tricks that are available to me from the start next time.

    Q One crucial aspect of AAR writing people often forget is the connection and communication between the writer and the readers. What would be some of your advice for other writers on this?

    A I agree. Interest from readers is the life-blood of any AARs so managing the readership is something that definitely needs to be done. In general the writer-reader relationship is a two way one, so managing people’s expectations is important – especially regarding when to expect next chapters. Knowing when the next chapter is coming is important for readers to know you’re working on it and also to build up a sense of anticipation. Feedback – both positive and negative – is crucial to a writer’s development so it’s important to acknowledge people’s opinions and be grateful for them.

    Personally I try to keep my interaction with readers quite light-hearted, teasing people when I leave a chapter with a cliff-hanger, making ambiguous comments about future plans and so on. I think it helps to create a nice sense of community between myself and my group of regular commenters. I also try to explain some of the decisions I made post ante so people see a little bit behind the scenes – why I chose a particular plot line, etc. I think the extra understanding helps readers know me better as a writer and to give more specific feedback on my work.

    Q What do you see as the biggest obstacle for AAR writing, the one thing which dooms many attempts?

    A I think there are two – time and interest.

    Time – my personal experience is that AAR writing is pretty intense business especially if you’re committed to doing it well. The amount of work that goes into planning the plot, cropping and editing images on top of the physical writing makes it a very time consuming thing to do. I think a lot of people underestimate just how much effort it takes to keep a good AAR going, and once real life commitments hit the AAR is among the things that get cut out of the schedule.

    The other thing – and this is something I experienced myself in the beginning – is lack of interest from readers. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who’ve written before, are recognised as writers and have your own readership starting a new AAR is a fairly daunting thing to do, especially given the amount of time it takes. One thing I would say about this is just to persist. Writing is the only way to improve, and readers are far more likely to comment when there is some volume rather than just a prologue or simple chapter.

    Q You have found your place at TWC it seems. What do you think of the community here?

    A I have indeed. Most of my time is spent in the Writers’ Study. The writing community here is quite unique, with a good host of characters. Helping out as WS staff has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and is something I look forward to doing for a long time. Shameless plugging this may be, but we’ve got a lot planned for the near future – it’s an exciting time to be part of that. The Curia and the role citizens have in organising the site is something else that I’ve not seen in this form elsewhere.

    Q I agree that TWC is a fairly unique place and unlikely to change in the near future, which brings us to the last question. What do you think of Rome II? Are you planning to put as much time into it as you did for Shogun 2?

    A I’m very excited by the initial screenshots and various bits of info that have come out since. I spent over 1,600 hours on S2TW between playing, modding and AAR writing, so it’s probably a good thing if I didn’t spend as much time on Rome II..!

    AAR-wise I’m still deciding. I’m not particularly well-learned about Rome compared to some of the old-time RTW writers, so it might not play to my strengths, but it’s a fascinating period and the new game promises much both in terms of graphics and gameplay, so we shall see. In any case there will probably be a flurry of new AARs when the game comes out!

    Thank you for the interview, and I'm sure many can benefit from your advice! Hopefully, we will see a number of new AARs over the summer, and the writing community will entertain us with excellent tales while we wait for Rome II!

    Interview conducted by Radzeer



    AAR Review Section

    The Rise of the Northmen - The Kingdom of Dale
    A Third Age Total War AAR for M2TW by The Norseman
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 


    Today I'll be reviewing The Norsemen's aptly named AAR: "The Rise of the Northmen - The Kingdom of Dale". As you've probably guessed it utilizes the fabulous Third Age: Total War mod played as Dale. What immediately grabbed me about this AAR was the faction choice, it was the first time I had seen a Dale AAR, and in the Tolkien Legendarium the people of Dale have always held a soft spot in my heart. So by god I wasn't going to miss this one out! Clicking on the link I was taken to a fabulous OP with graphics, LOTR font, basically the whole works. So yeah, it hadn't even started and already things were looking good.

    The Norsemen writes from the perspective of King Bard (the leader of Dale) and in the first person, which in my opinion is always a bonus! He starts by setting the scene, recounting some previous events from Tolkien's works that help to explain Dale's situation at the start of the campaign. This is a welcome feature for readers lacking a comprehensive knowledge of the Lore of Middle Earth. Actually, a wonderful thing about choosing Dale is that there isn't all that much history to stick to, so the author isn't tied down by too many facts and historical events; giving the story at least partial immunity from whiny fan-fiction complainers... However despite this freedom, I believe what The Norseman has wrote lies close to what Tolkien might believably have 'made' them do were they his main focus. Will you be convinced too? Well you'll just have to read it to find out.

    Although King Dale is the narrator he often slips into the third-person to describe the actions of other characters, in particular those of his diplomat Lindor (apparently not a chocolatier after all). During the King's military campaign against Rhun, Lindor embarks on a long journey to the south-west in search of allies. But sometimes Lindor's story confusingly slips into the first person, as if he were making a report to the King.

    The King describes his battles like a report. While it isn't my preferred style, it is at least clear and easy to understand. However I would have preferred a something a little less dry and more emotionally charged. For example how the King feels when he swings to slice of the Easterlings head. I just feel it would help the battle narrative flow better and make it more enjoyable to read (and of course there are numerous Quill articles to help... :winkwink: )

    However, when there is dialogue it is written brilliantly, I was easily able to imagine being present in the scene actually listening to the people speaking, which in turn gives it some of the immersion lacking in the battle reports. However the conversations could be improved by adopting the standard rule of starting a new paragraph for each change of speaker as the current formatting can make dialogues a little tricky to follow. Whilst this is a minor thing, fixing it could really improve ease of reading (there are also plenty of Quill articles on this subject also :nudgenudge.

    An example of what I am wobbling on about is this:
    I looked at him and said. "What does this have to do with us? We have no quarrels with the peoples south of our borders." "My king, the Dark Lord seeks to destroy all good in this world and once Gondor has fallen he will turn to you sometime. It might not be in your lifetime, but what are your children going to do when Mordor`s armies appear outside your city walls to kill, pillage and loot? It is time for Gondor and Dale, nay, the Middle Earth to stand together and defeat Mordor once and for all." I did not know what to do. I wished peace for my people and now they wanted us to join another war? I thought of my children, my friends children, the people. "So be it. The Kingdom of Dale will join your cause, leave messenger, leave now and deliver this message to your king." The choice which was made that day would forever alter the future of Dale.
    Whilst it is by no means impossible to follow, I believe that doing something alterations like those shown below could make it look better, read better, and sound better - of course what do I know? (um... don't even think about answering that!)
    I looked at him and said. "What does this have to do with us? We have no quarrels with the peoples south of our borders."

    "My king, the Dark Lord seeks to destroy all good in this world and once Gondor has fallen he will turn to you sometime. It might not be in your lifetime, but what are your children going to do when Mordor`s armies appear outside your city walls to kill, pillage and loot? It is time for Gondor and Dale, nay, the Middle Earth to stand together and defeat Mordor once and for all."

    I did not know what to do. I wished peace for my people and now they wanted us to join another war? I thought of my children, my friends children, the people. "So be it. The Kingdom of Dale will join your cause, leave messenger, leave now and deliver this message to your king." The choice which was made that day would forever alter the future of Dale.
    This AAR utilizes some excellent screenshots, and I find there is a great balance in terms of the word:picture ratio. It isn't like a comic book, and there aren't huge walls of text to read through. Later on in the AAR the author has done some impressive editing and has even collaged pictures together, which as far as I know is quite a unique technique. The pictures are sized perfectly, and not once when I was reading through did I have to side-scroll, which is something I despise, although I made some of you do it for me, sorry about that. (Another example of me doing some shameful advertising, oops)

    Here is an example of a greatly edited screenshot, and this one is my favourite so far:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The added border is nice, and it makes it look like it pops out of the screen, sort of giving it a 3D effect. How he timed it that perfectly I'll never know, but he did, and the effort has paid off.

    Here is an example of the collaged screens I was going on about:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    I think it is a great idea, and I'm sorry mate but I may have to copy it.

    So as you can see it is a fine AAR with a lot of work put into it, there is even a video lurking around somewhere. If I was to sum it up in one sentence (for you lazy fellows who can't be bothered to read through ;-D) I'd say: A great AAR, and with some refinements here and there it could be amazing. Great work mate, and I'll look forward to seeing where you take Dale from here - as should you guys and gals (send me a PM) who are reading it.

    Review by Shankbot12


    Legio at Large
    A Minecraft AAR by Legio
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Today I bring you a review of a very interesting and unique AAR by one of the forum’s most beloved and respected members... Legio.

    I’m sure this AAR needs no introduction, but I’ll introduce it anyway. “Legio at large” is an AAR by Legio (obviously) that details from his perspective his adventures and the happenings on Total War Center’s official Minecraft Multiplayer PVP server. During the course of the AAR he travels from the server’s main city “The Spawn” to many different lands, from deserts and old forgotten fortresses to strange and mysterious mushroom kingdoms (yes, really!).



    What’s that you say, Mushroom cows?

    Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Well that’s all well and good, but what sets this AAR apart from other AARs”? Well, what really sets Legio’s AAR apart from your run of the mill AAR is his unique writing style and humor. He elaborates on many of the details and locations that he finds which makes the rather simplistic graphics and settings of Minecraft come alive, and make you feel like you are actually reading the long lost diary of an adventurer that traveled a real land, rather than the story of some guy traveling through a blocky, 16bit world.

    Here is an example of Legio's prose that I especially liked.
    They were large and green and were shaped much like the trunk of a common tree, but instead of growing leaves or branches rows upon rows of spikes emerge from the skin (it is too soft to be called 'bark'). These spikes are painful to the touch (so I hear) and have the nasty effect of causing blood to turn blue when coming into contact with them. Others say that these plants, known as cactus, are where spirits of the desert hide from armed men, preferring to wait until they are asleep before sinking their teeth into their necks. If true then these must be very shy spirits indeed, since I am a poor warrior and take flight if so much as a spider moves in my general direction.
    To further add to the feel of the world Legio utilizes a high res texture pack for the game, which as you may have guessed, greatly improves the graphical fidelity and appearance of his AAR, and further helps illustrate the story that’s he’s weaving from chapter to chapter. While the beauty of the screenshots he takes are really set back by graphical glitches caused by his lack of patching his game to be able to correctly run a high-res texture pack.



    An example of a beautiful screenshot being set back by graphical bugs.

    The most important thing about Legio’s AAR, the thing that will keep you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next update is the light hearted humor weaved masterfully through the entirety of the 7 (so far) chapter AAR, feeling a natural part of the AAR and not tacked on like many attempts at humor come off as. The humor is not only quite funny (Obviously), but it really adds to the feeling of the AAR and helps to better detail and portray the travels and adventures he details within his AAR.

    In summary, if you’re looking for a laugh and a good read, you can’t go wrong with choosing “Legio at Large”. The only things that bring down his AAR are the very distracting texture errors the screenshots. My second complaint is that the chapters fell a bit short, but I’m not sure if that really a complaint so much as yet another endorsement for this masterfully written AAR.

    You can find “Legio at Large” here.

    And after you finish that and you want to read more of his stuff (And I guarantee you will) you can find another non-TW AAR “Qualish Blasphemy” here.

    Review by Akar


    The Crimson Dragon of Britain
    A Crusader Kings II AAR by Latin Knight
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    It has long been known that TWC features many great AARs from the Total War series. There is also a wide variety of non-TW AARs, one of which has just won the latest MAARC, proving that a good story does not necessarily need to come from the home franchise. This is an obvious statement if one reads Latin Knight's epic story about the House of Mathrafal. The narrative starts with Duke Bleddyn I of Gwynedd ruling not long after the death of the legendary Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, and these names should be enough for those familiar with the history of Albion that we will be reading about Wales from the time when not everybody was called Jones, Ewans or Williams (the crimson dragon must have given out some clues too).

    Crusader Kings II by Paradox is often cited as the game what the campaign layer of MTW2 should be. Insanely immersive and addictive, it delivers a very complex gameplay for a medieval ruler. It does not have a deep tactical layer, which is the signature feature of TW games, but as far as roleplaying is concerned Crusader Kings II can be the dream (or the nightmare) of AAR writers. Since I have seen Latin Knight showing excellent AARtistry skills in "Fire and Blood in Franca" and I always regretted that that AAR had come to a premature end, I had my hopes and expectations up for this story. It is fair to say that I am not disappointed at all.

    The most important feature of CKII, its incredible complexity, is a double-edged sword in the hands of the writer. It provides endless possibilities for plot and character development, but at the same time it challenges the writer to focus only on what is really important for the narrative. In CKII, it is very easy to get lost in the army of characters, titles and traits. Besides this, the audience may need some extra information on the game itself to appreciate the AAR and understand the writer's intention. Latin Knight was well aware of this and started with some important background information. Moreover, he provides chapter notes following the updates that explain what has happened in the game and why, giving the necessary context to the reader. The campaign goal is to unite the British Isles under one crown, creating an empire (in CKII there are a few "empires" to be founded, Britain being one). Starting with a not-very-powerful Duke, it is definitely a difficult task, thus Latin Knight has set himself up for a double challenge; one in the gameplay and one in the writing.

    The writing choice is the third person chronicle mode which probably fits CKII the best. There are no dialogs and POV characters. CKII progresses from one ruler to the next, and the chronicle follows the life of the rulers and the realm accordingly, providing a nice continuity in the story. Occasionally, the reader is given a well-written side story to highlight important aspects of the plot that have less support from the game itself - I found these creative and refreshing. Latin Knight's writing is excellent and immersive, which latter carries a typical danger: the text sometimes is a bit difficult to follow for those who are not from Wales.

    Llywelyn’s men, despite completely beating the Saxons, were also tired, and desired only to commemorate and drink, and return home with the huge spoils. Thus, the clever monarch approached the fugitive rival with a diplomatic compromise: Wealtheof would abdicate the throne, but would retain all his below-kingship titles and his vast properties in Westseaxna, including the lordship over Wintanceastre itself - Ælflaeda's court would be established in Wiogoracestre (Worcester), a stronghold close to Cymru from where she could rule over her effective demesne of Myrce - that is, everything that did not belong directly to Wealtheof or Eanhere.
    The visual aids are limited by the game itself. CKII has beautiful and detailed campaign and character shots that are used frequently and with great care. Paradoxically (no pun intended), this is one of the shortcomings of the game for AARtists: there are no tactical battle shots that give so much power for a mainstream TW story. One solution Latin Knight used was to add out-of-the-game pictures that help illustrate events, characters and geographic context. These have been used more frequently in the later chapters, when the author must have been looking for some more variety. Then in the recent development of the story he has done something else as well, but let that be a secret for now that hopefully you will discover yourself.

    A few examples of visuals.







    At the end, Latin Knight's AAR has matched the greatness of Crusader Kings II as a game. It is not easy to write a good AAR from a CKII campaign, because there is so much on the campaign side and so little on the battle side. Latin Knight was able to rise to this challenge and navigated us through 200 years of the House of Mathrafal, telling a very entertaining story while educating the reader about the game itself. I strongly recommend this AAR to everybody who wants to read a good story, both hardcore CKII fans and those that are just getting familiar with the game. Not to mention those who are thinking about writing a CKII AAR: The Crimson Dragon of Britain is your gold standard.

    Review by Radzeer



    Article Section

    On the Trials and Tribulations of being a Writer - Part 2
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Decisions
    Despite the blatant ignorance and almost insulting lack of celebrity worship I received from my previous instalment, I have been pressed into continuing this guide in order to at least motivate my fellow writers into producing something halfway as great as the talent dripping from my own work. The theme of this part is an in-depth look into the various types of content one can produce, and how not to ruin it. And by ruin it, I mean going ahead and doing it however you were originally thinking of doing it.

    AARs
    The After Action Report, where many good writers cut their teeth and by definition the majority of content that is produced here at the Total War Centre. As someone who has actually bothered to try to work out what works and what doesn't doesn't, I have finally condensed the whole thing into two simple categories.

    What works:
    • Deep engrossing story if you have a large amount of fan boys.
    • Pictures
    • Cliché’s
    • Anything that involves memes (Because we all know that that adds to anything you write)
    • Beating the man
    • Cheating
    • Not cheating
    • A picture to word ratio of 1 : 5


    What doesn't work:
    • Deep engrossing story
    • Words, especially big ones like "Vis a Vis"
    • No Pictures of anything irrelevant to what the fans think is relevant
    • No memess
    • Losing

    In short; just copy someone else and then claim they are your inspiration to get away with your blatant and predatory plagiarism.

    I would like to point out that I am actually GOOD at AAR writing and have received considerable adult recognition in various media for my work, sporadic and sparse as it may be. My comments here which whilst on the surface may seem facetious, are driven by my seething dislike for praise I have seen for what is often basically just a rehash of High School first/third person account history projects.

    Yours ever lovingly, Stealthie.

    Creative Writing
    The field of creative writing has like most parts of content had the Stealthie touch to it, and like my other forays was filled with disappointment and thinly veiled WTFness. In short, I put forward a short story, a biography profile for another forum to accrue some constructive criticism - because you know that’s helpful. I then waited a week and it was ignored. I pressed further, and despite my good natured request for a review on the themes and the nature of the piece it was like a night of silent crickets. So I gave up.

    What works:
    • Anything remotely historic, but not Alternative Historic.
    • Poor Grammar, because telling other people they have bad grammar means you’re interested according to the scattergram I drew.


    What doesn't work:
    • Anything that is counted as original fiction
    • Anything not based on Total War, The Elder Scrolls or Lord of the Rings


    Tale of the Week
    'Nuff said...

    What works:
    • Anything that can be directly relevant to any Total War Game EVER!
    • Anything with guns or related to Empire Total War
    • Having a massive streak of e-Cred in the Tale of the Week Competition
    • A popular AAR


    What doesn't work:
    • Not doing anything of the above


    Conclusion
    So in conclusion, in order to succeed and accrue any type of credibility as a writer on these forums you must follow three simple steps:
    • Shamelessly plagiarise anything that moves, because internet law combined with free speech equals whatever content you want is automatically yours
    • Using said plagiarism, combine it with other things you stole in order to render it unique-looking and edgy, therefore prompting everyone else’s fans to hail you as the next Big Thing!
    • Coyly mention the Quill to a few of your influential fans and they will hopefully think it's their own idea to petition my co-workers to review your article, and therefore cash in on being "like, the Biggest Supporter Ever!" by getting you that review which is "Totally Worth It"

    Then you end of up working with me - and I want nothing more than to see what ever tripe you come up with on the front page and I’m smiling for all the right reasons.

    And the reason why I know all of this is?... it's because I’m the biggest literary B.A.M.F. that ever worked for the Quill. I did it old school, off my own back.

    Brah.

    By StealthEvo


    The Importance of Description in Writing
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The Importance of Description in Writing? And why on earth is Heiro writing about that, you might say. Those who have read my writing will know I am not a master of description in any sense of the phrase, so you might reasonably ask why I am writing about it? Well, the thing is that I have come to realise that description is vital to historical fiction. So now that I think about it, it makes even less sense that I have yet to reflect this in my own writing.

    I will rely heavily on quotes in this article, from famous writers such as George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and Robyn Young. These writers are not only among my personal favorites, but are also recognized around the world as great writers.

    Feelings and Emotions
    Feelings and emotions are, many would say, the most important things to describe. They are also, for the most part, the hardest to capture in words. The question you should ask yourself is this: What is the normal thing for your characters to think and feel? You should also take into consideration the character. If it is an eight year old boy, he would not be thinking the same as a fifty year old. Take me as an example, I can much more easily describe the emotions of a younger character under twenty years because I can relate it to myself. A forty year old will have a much harder time describing the sixteen years old's feelings and vice versa.

    Here is an example from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Sectumsempra, page 499.
    Harry looked around; there was Ginny running towards him; she had a hard, blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without even planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her. After several long moments – or might have been half an hour – or possibly several sunlit days – they broke apart.
    I think this is a great scene, with great detail and it gives a nice view of the emotions and feelings at play, especially if you have read the chapters leading up to this moment.

    Sounds and Smells
    Describing sounds and smells is very useful for setting a more convincing scene. They add great flavor (see what I did there?) and it can make a moment far more memorable by mixing it with the reader's own recollection of the described sensation. Descriptions of sounds and smells can vary greatly. Anything the author wishes to draw attention to has the potential to make either a sound or a smell. The scent of a wet dog must be worthy of a line or two, as is the smell of death on a battlefield. Maybe the greatest locale for describing sounds and smells must be Middle Eastern markets. Or indeed any market. The sellers trying to drown the shouts of their rivals with enticing offers, the smells of fresh bread and cinnamon along with other exotic spices that fill the air (or in the West maybe the pungent stink of cabbage). It is all noteworthy and adds, as I said previously, a sense of realism to the whole scene.

    Unfortunately, I do not have a quote from a marketplace, though I do have something good. From Robyn Young’s Insurrection, first page.
    Dust from the dry soil had been kicked into clouds by their press, turning the air above the vineyard yellow. The smell of grapes, swollen in the heat, was sour in their parched throats and sweat dripped its salt sting into their eyes, blinding them.
    It is not long, I know, but it does describe well, doesn’t it? What is going on is that there’s a medieval melee and they are in the middle of fighting, slowly drawing to an end in the middle of a vineyard.

    What is Happening
    Of course, the most important thing to describe is what is happening. The happenings are the soul of writing, be it professional work or just something you do in your spare time.

    Fashions have changed over the centuries. In the Dark Age sagas only things central to the plot were described. Minor characters might get a mention, but their actions (except in support of the main characters) were hardly mentioned. At the other extreme Victorian novels might describe every nuance of an everyday encounter in excruciating detail. Nowadays, it is far more complicated, authors have all of written history from which to draw their styles, and even the freedom to generate entirely new modes of expression as well.

    Despite this, the genre of Fantasy seems to have stick to traditional forms, perhaps in part due to the influence of Tolkien. Not only did he create with Lord of the Rings an archetype in people's minds for what Fantasy ought to be, but he was also a master of description. Indeed it is possible to read through the Silmarillion without even noticing that it contains almost no dialogue.

    Here is an example of Tolkien's descriptive power from the end of The Lord of the Rings.
    At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I'm back,' he said.
    Here after weeks and months of questing and fellowshipping and worldsaving and ringdestroying Sam returns home to his wife and family. A perfect ending to a story like this, neat and small yet powerful. No one can argue that Tolkien did not do a great job on this, neither in writing nor description.

    The Characters
    Characters are important to any story. My personally favorite writer, George R.R. Martin, is known mostly for his series A Song of Ice and Fire. This is in turn known for the strength and number of the characters, each described thoroughly and in-depth.

    Here’s one from A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series and the first chapter.
    Bran’s father sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair stirring in the win. His closely trimmed beard was shot with white, making him look older than his thirty-five years. He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest. He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought, and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell.
    Here we see a description of Eddard Stark from the eyes of his young son Bran. I love this kind of description. It gives such a great feeling about the characters, and it is not even just about his appearance, it also gives a great view into his persona. It is incredibly hard, though, and requires practice to successfully pull off.

    There will be no short roundup for the lazy ones, as it would be kind of ironic. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed and learnt something from me.

    By HeirOfAlexander


    Sharpening the quills for Rome II
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Rome Total War was a groundbreaking game in many ways, and gave birth to several unforgettable AARs. The period has always been popular among many, and the game provided many components that helped not only roleplaying but also writing. Since the last Critic's Quill, Creative Assembly has announced Rome II as the next title of the series. We felt that this was a good occasion to visit with several RTW writers and ask them about their expectations for Rome II from an AARtist perspective. We proposed three questions and collected the responses. The AARtists kind enough to contribute were:
    chaplain118 (
    With the Lions of Caesar - From Siscia to Bathinus),
    Knonfoda (
    Julian, The Savior Of Rome?),
    Solid Snake (
    The Proud Blood of Germania),
    SonOfAlexander
    (The Epic of Caelvs Morsvs Lvminivs - ‘Rí Inse Ghall’) and
    Juvenal (
    Severus The God). Thank you for their work, and now let's see the questions!

    1. RTW has been one of the most successful titles regarding AARs, proven by dozens of high quality stories using either vanilla or one of the mods. What factor do you think is behind this success/popularity?

    chaplain118: Personally, I think the success of the stories is how little we actually know about that time period and how little CA has done to create a strong "story" to the game itself. As creative individuals, we're able to move forward with our own thoughts about how these people thought and acted (when many times they may NEVER have thought as we did). The distinct lack of characterization is what allows us to imagine ourselves within the stories and place ourselves into a world that we've constructed with our minds. In essence, the relatively faceless automaton that the game generated gave us a blank slate upon which to build our own worlds.
    Knonfoda: Well, for me it will always be moddability and replayability, and I think both of these are closely interlinked. The reason people keep coming back to RTW is because with each year, a new crop of mods comes out, with different features, factions, time frames and most importantly, fun aspects which keep the game fresh and mean you can always come back to it from a different perspective, which for AAR writing is a gold mine of sorts. Obviously, the original game engine is also very important – if it's good to begin with, and allows modders to expand on it, then it will obviously be successful. Otherwise, it risks being forgotten altogether.
    Solid Snake: I think that the most important factor for its success were these factors, quality 3D graphics (let´s face it, those graphics rocked back in the day), popularity of the era (everyone loves Rome, and ergo a lot of people know something about their history, and some other people know a lot about the period´s history thus producing believable yet engaging histories) modding flexibility (thus enabling many changes and customizations, many tweaks and turns that made RTW YOUR game in earnest enabling you to do almost anything with it, making the experience so much personal and enjoyable)
    SonOfAlexander: The fact that it was, for most players, the first game that introduced them to the TW series, has a big part to play in RTW's popularity. Of course, this becomes incredibly significant when you then look at the number of expansions and mods available for it; classics such as Barbarian Invasion and Roma Surrectum spring to mind. It's the one factor which really sets it apart from other TW games.
    Juvenal: I still remember drooling over advanced glimpses of RTW in Time Commanders. A fully 3D army of reasonable size, combined with Jeff van Dyck's incredible music had me hooked straight away. When I got the actual game, I found that the campaigns just cried out to be made the settings for stories. Family members were ready-made characters, rounded out with portraits, traits and retainers. And their personal presence in battles at the head of a battle-deciding bodyguard practically made stories write themselves!

    2. Now that Rome II has been announced, what aspect of the new game are you, as a writer, looking forward to the most?

    chaplain118: I'm very much looking forward to the more "visceral" soldier-level combat that the devs are emphasizing. We're so used to viewing the battlefield from a birds-eye perspective of what is going on that we rarely stop and really focus on an individual soldier and what he is experiencing at the front lines. The bigger battles are another thing to look forward to. The thought of watching one man in a line of thousands on a truly vast and breathtaking vista is something to be desired (mostly for more world building [IMG]file:///C:%5CUsers%5CLaszlo%5CAppData%5CLocal%5CTemp%5Cmsohtmlclip1%5C01%5Cclip_image001.gif[/IMG])
    Knonfoda: Well, judging from the trailer, I am actually quite looking forward to the more esoteric aspects of gameplay, such as the politics, intrigue and diplomacy that seemed very present in the video. Up to now, these elements have always had to be invented by the player to some degree or another, such was their trivialness in the overall scheme of the game. Not to mention the original game’s atrocious AI. What I’m most looking forward to isn’t the graphics, but how the AI behaves and perceives the player. I can always write that the AI is smarter than it is, but a legitimate tale would make it all the more entertaining, because other players would be able to related too.
    Solid Snake: I haven´t looked that much into it, but I´m very interested with the new naval battle system that SEEMS to finally put that dream together of a sea/land battle together for the first time. Other thing is the whole scale of it, as systems and computers and graphics get better we can have so much detail and numbers on the field of battle that it´s just mind blowing. I think we are all looking forward to finally having 10,000 men on your army facing other 20,000 across the field.
    SonOfAlexander: Looking at the list of features on Gamestop, the most useful and interesting aspects for a writer (which aren't necessarily the same as a gamer's) would probably be the increase in scale and environments - better depiction of naval warfare, terrain, larger and more detailed cities, etc.) and the efforts to focus on individual soldiers - the new unit cam and reactions in battle will make a huge difference to the realism of AARs.
    Juvenal: I'm looking for a deeper campaign game, with more details to help inspire the AAR writing. In particular I want to see AI governors who can act independently. An Emperor could not be everywhere at once, and it seems wrong for detailed control of your empire to be able to extend all the way across Europe. I would very much like to see an advance in the way Total War treats battle morale. In vanilla you can have whole armies breaking on contact, which gives an unfair advantage to the player since the AI is not good at maintaining a continuous line. Many mods have balanced this by increasing morale so much that units often fight almost to the last man. Neither of these is right. What I want to see is lower casualties during melee with the main aspect of the contest shifted to the struggle to gain the morale advantage that will start an enemy rout. Finally a personal gripe of mine; To improve immersion, I want a better Hoplite Phalanx with a high underarm grip (with the spear tucked in under the armpit), this would allow the Phalanx to strike with their spears above the shield rather than below, which I think could look quite awesome.

    3. Is there any specific game feature (new or improved since RTW) you would like to see in Rome II helping your AAR writing experience?

    chaplain118: Custom battles that aren't restricted to a number of pre-set locations. I want to be able to browse around the campaign map and say "Yep, this is where I want a battle to happen." I'm sure all the people who are looking for epic screenshots of the Spartan last stand at Thermopylae would appreciate this feature too.
    Knonfoda: Tough question. There are *a lot* of features. As aforementioned, I want smarter AI. That would help AAR writing a lot by making the enemy a little more relatable, rather than dumb. Furthermore, traits such as loyalty, charisma and so forth could be tweaked to make for much more unpredictable and independent characters – ignore them long enough, and they rebel, reward them and they go out of their way (i.e. outside player control) to reward you in some way. As far as AAR writing is concerned, a lot of the features would have more “obscure “, maybe like protectorate status, etc. Gameplay-wise, there are a lot of features I would like, but for AAR’s, I just want smart opponents please.
    Solid Snake: Well, perhaps this sounds a bit shallow but I´m looking forward to graphics, the graphics in the TW games have done nothing but improve, let´s admit that. The modding, the skins, the custom units etc.. were all nice and they began to appear in part to improve the graphics from back in the day. The graphics on RTW II look nothing short of amazing, and I as a writer can totally use those pictures, those images and with almost no editing or modding I think I can make them fit in my histories (by the way some of the most time consuming things in my AAR is the picture editing) so that will be a great advantage to me.
    SonOfAlexander: So far as I can see, Creative Assembly have answered all our prayers and included every goodie I or anyone else can think of in Rome II. That being said, some historical accuracy will always go out the window, no matter how hard they try, and I'm not sure they have learnt as much from the Roma Surrectum style of legion recruitment, building pathways or expanded maps as I would like. But we'll see...
    Juvenal: Attrition and supplies would enrich the campaign story. Unit caps would encourage balanced armies. The advances in the entourage and retainers from Shogun would spice up the material for incidental characters in my AARs. And finally... Sea Battles! This is the era with the most stirring and exciting naval warfare in all of history. Ramming and boarding, archery and ballistae, blockades, hugging the coast and beaching the fleet each evening, storms and wrecks. This is what we need to replace the simplistic and irritating naval game in RTW.

    As the responses show, there are several expectations about Rome II from a writer's perspective. These expectations include commonly held sentiments such as a better AI or various visual treats, but also address more nuanced features that help roleplaying and writing. This clearly indicates that AAR writing is a complex endeavour which requires time, skill and motivation. A good writer can craft a story with only little assistance from the game, but AARtistry as a separate writing genre is built on events the game throws at the writer, which is part of the challenge and the fun. As Rome II previews indicate, we will be treated with eye candy for sure. If the roleplaying component of the game can keep up with these developments and new features such as naval warfare will be appropriately incorporated, writers will have an excellent base upon which they can unleash their imagination entertaining all of us.

    By Radzeer



    From the Editor's Desk


    I have really enjoyed this month's pieces and I hope you have also. I would like to thank robinzx and Knonfoda for agreeing to be interviewed, and the rest of the writers: m_1512, StealthEvo, Shankbot12, HeirofAlexander, Radzeer and Akar for their reviews and articles. If you liked their work then don't forget to rep them.

    Please leave your comments on the issue in the thread below, and should you feel enthused to write a review or essay yourself, then don't hesitate to send me a PM.

    Juvenal



    If you find yourself at a loose end, then why not consider sampling some of the TWC publications or creative forums. It's easy, just click through the picture!


    Last edited by Juvenal; September 03, 2012 at 12:47 PM. Reason: typo
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  3. #3

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    It took quite a while to read through everything, but it was worth it! Another great issue!

    Yesterday I also noticed that when describing the adventures my character, Lindor, I occasionally switched to first person for some reason! Well, things go fast when you are writing an AAR at the same time as your army is clashing against another one.
    Last edited by The Norseman; September 02, 2012 at 05:01 PM.

  4. #4
    Ybbon's Avatar The Way of the Buffalo
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    What a great episode and I haven't read even half of it yet. Will need to get repping to all the contributors.

  5. #5

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Great issue as always. Good job gents
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  6. #6

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Good work lads . Now I'll have to come up with something for the next .

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  7. #7
    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Excellent issue and great contributions! Congrats everyone involved!

  8. #8
    Boustrophedon's Avatar Grote Smurf
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Great work here, fellas very interesting articles as well, now that I've finally read them all

  9. #9
    Shankbot de Bodemloze's Avatar From the Writers Study!
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Yeah, great work guys - I particularly enjoyed the Rome 2 article.
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  11. #11
    Maurits's Avatar ЯTR
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Yet another wonderful issue of my favourite TWC publication. Great work guys!

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  12. #12
    MorganH.'s Avatar Finis adest rerum
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    A very great edition that provides a fantastic read !

    Well done TCQ team!

  13. #13
    Legio's Avatar EMPRESS OF ALL THINGS
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Thanks to Akar for his review of my AAR, and an excellent edition of the Quill all around!

  14. #14
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Great work with the issue
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  15. #15
    Juvenal's Avatar love your noggin
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 35

    Like a bolt from the blue...

    The Critic's Quill issue 36

    has come upon us.

    Go and start making the fuss about which johnny-come-latelies will want to see
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