Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Reading and Insights into the Old World - Part 1

It would be fair to say that I care more for the Warhammer setting than for the game rules themselves. The first models I bought were less for gaming with and more for visualising the stories and figures I read about in the background sections of the army books (my first was the old Undead book... sigh). So I like to keep reading about the Old World when I can spare the time.

Some of my favourites from The Black Library so far have been the Mathias Thulmann series, Gotrek and Felix, and the Enemy Within. My dislikes include anything published to coincide with a computer game release. I plan on getting into the Time of Legends books too, as they look awesome, but I have had A Song of Ice and Fire to get through first.

This summer, my reading focus has been on the Empire. My tabletop army of choice, and also the setting for the RPG I currently GM for our group. With this in mind, here is a run down of my latest reading, with my thoughts on what they add to my understanding of the Empire.

Tamurkhan: The Throne of Chaos is beyond the quality of what I have seen published from GW, save maybe for collectors editions. Its primary interest for many is the Chaos Dwarf list, but the story is not to be looked over. An absolutely brilliant piece of work, reminiscent of Robert E. Howard. Reiksguard and Iron Company are the run-of-the-mill Black Library offerings, so I generally accept that it is what it is - mass produced paperback fantasy fiction. I'm not going to get hung up over proofing or whatever.

SPOILER ALERT. I will make no attempt to keep this spoiler free.

Tamurkhan: The Throne of Chaos
by Alan Bligh and Rick Priestley

The story is set 10 years prior to the current time period. It charts the rise and fall of a Chaos Lord of Nurgle, one of the four sons of the Great Kurgan, and his ill-fated invasion of the Empire. Told predominantly from the point of view of the Chaos horde, it was interesting to read how the massive hordes are formed, and all the vile underhand politics that constantly go on within it. I like how Bligh describes the difficulties of keeping order in a force that is by it's nature, Chaotic.

Tamurkhan's plan to invade The Empire is unique in that instead of coming from the north like almost all invasions in the history of the Old World, he travels southwards through Chaos Dwarf and Ogre territory and then up through the Border Princes to enter The Empire where the defences are less established. In particular it was interesting to note the perception of the Empire from the Chaos point of view - how artillery is acknowledged as a force to be feared, leading to the decision to sack Nuln. The 'City of Magnus' is the manufacturing center for black-powder weaponry in the Empire, and is thus a vital strategic target. The plan to recruit the equally devastating Chaos Dwarf machinery en route then makes a whole lot of sense.

Tamurkhan aspires towards daemonhood, like all mortal lords of Chaos. As his journey progresses his body takes on more and more of Nurgle's gifts, and by the time of the final siege he is so rotted, diseased and mutated that he is unable to communicate with any but his own small coven of Nurgle devotees. This growing alienation with those under his command allows the cunning sorcerer Sayl to in effect take command of the horde, but by this time Tamurkhan's priorities have shifted from invasion, to serving Nurgle. It is interesting that the two goals do not match up; Nurgle cares not for razing cities, but for bestowing his gifts upon all.

My favourite part from the Chaos narrative is when Tamurkhan sacks the 'White Walled City', and in his triumph calls on the dark gods to witness his glory. But all he hears is silence. It is then he discovers that the city he just destroyed (and wasted expensive artillery on) was not Nuln, but the smaller and less significant city of Pfeildorf. I thought this was great because when you look at a map of The Empire, the two cities are very similarly situated - at the confluence of two rivers on a hill. An understandable mistake to make if you had never been into the Empire before, and an example of the 'realism' of the invasion as presented by Bligh.

The Empire do get their side told as well. I love the history of Nuln, and my tabletop army is based around the city state. So I relished this book in helping expand on what I had read in the WFRP supplements. I learned that even in times of invasion, the factions of the Empire remain self serving and mercenary. The famed Gunnery School, for example, refuses to bring its guns to bear until they had secure funding for future work. Similar deals are struck for almost all of Nuln's defensive force, as a majority of the city-state's forces are out in other parts of The Empire at the time of the invasion. The Knightly Orders are the only ones to unconditionally take to the field.

Interestingly, here is described first evidence of there being more than one War Altar in existence. Nuln is the seat of one of the Arch-Lectors, and the book describes him taking to the field on the Nuln War Altar - a giant icon pulled not by horses, but by devoted flagellants.

I liked reading about the disdain of the military commanders towards Countess Emmanuelle, for being a woman and therefore not qualified in military matters - you don't often get to glimpse cultural and social structures in the army books, so these are great insights. I also appreciated her 'Queen Elizabeth I Spanish Armada Tilbury Speech' shtick she has got going on there in how she deals with her court. The characters of Bruckner, Falk and von Draken were great, each windows into aspects of Nuln's powers.

I guess what epitomises 'The Empire at War' for me is the story of the landships. Marienburg had commissioned a fleet of steam tank replicas to be made by the engineers in Nuln. Never mind that these things are impossible to replicate, the extortionate engineers took the job and then dragged their heels on it for decades, all the while asking for more money to get the job done and full well knowing there was no progress to be made. Their plans came unstuck when one enterprising engineer actually succeeded in making a crude replica, playing to the vanity of the Marienburgers in making them in the form of giant ships. The handover had happened just recently at the time of the invasion, and of course the Marienburg commanders wasted no time on offering the service of the landships in Nuln's time of need - for an extortionate amount of money, of course.

In conclusion, an extraordinary story and well told, full of exciting little details and insights into how The Empire is run and defended, and of the life cycle of a horde of Chaos.

Next up, stay tuned for a bit on the Reiksguard!

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