Fantasy Worldbuilding: Why Khorne Should Die

Fantasy Worldbuilding: Why Khorne Should Die

I’ve been thinking recently about the way that gods of war turn up in miniature wargaming settings, and why that’s often a pretty bad idea. (This article is geared towards the needs of a miniature wargame setting, but may provide food for thought for aspiring fantasy authors and roleplayers as well.)

Most fantasy worlds are polytheistic, usually with actual literal deities involved. Why? Because polytheism’s different from our own traditionally monotheistic culture, and so it’s exotic and interesting. Add in the needs of a wargame and you’ve got another layer: variety.

Religion is a great way of a) theming an army of little plastic or metal soldiers, and b) a great excuse to pit against another army of little plastic or metal soldiers. It’s simpler than coming up with complex socio-economic or political reasons why Faction A is fighting against Faction B. This is particularly the case with bad guys. Fantasy loves its evil gods as a motivation for why a particular faction consistently does horrible things. “Yes, I shall ravage your cities and put all your people to the sword because we’d quite like a bit more land on which to graze our cattle, muwahahahahaaaa!” isn’t exactly the most villainous proclamation ever.

Going back to the title, Why Khorne Should Die, the four Chaos Powers of the Warhammer settings are essentially avatars of humanity’s dark primal instincts. In the case of Khorne, it’s war, anger, rage and assorted other reasons to hit someone with an axe. As such, the followers of Khorne are generally warriors. So far, so good.

However, Tzeentch, the Chaos god of change, magic, mutation, and the entropic impermanence of everything also exists, and (because this is a wargame) has to have its own armies.

Likewise, Nurgle, who specialises in disease, decay and mortality, and Slaanesh, who deals in sex, drugs and rock and roll, both reflect aspects related to stuff other than straight-up hack-and-slash bloodshed, and yet (because this is a wargame) have to have their own armies.

In a roleplaying setting (which exists in the currently out-of-print Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the five Warhammer 40,000 RPG lines), this varied approach to evil can be reflected in very different ways: Nurgle cultists poison wells or break plague quarantines, Tzeentchian sorcerers summon daemons or cause babies to be born with mutations, and servants of Slaanesh tempt the devout into sin and debauchery.

On the battlefield though, it essentially boils down to killing stuff. You can add flavours to it, through the use of themed magic spells or Nurgle biological weapons or special rules or signature units for each god, but ultimately each Chaos Power looks pretty similar on the field.

A certain logical flaw with all this came to mind when I was painting my fallen dwarf army for Dragon Rampant recently. The general gist of the army is that this dwarven clan had started praying to certain ‘Deep Gods’ who were remarkably similar to the Warhammer Chaos Powers, and were a nasty, corrupt society as a result. Every now and then, I’ve painted a mark of Chaos onto a model’s armour, shield or as a tattoo. However, this was almost always the Mark of Khorne. The only exceptions are for the army sorcerers, who bear the Mark of Tzeentch. Nurgle and Slaanesh didn’t get a look in, because there were no appropriate models for it. Why not?

Because they’re soldiers. These models are soldiers who are on campaign. They live in a polytheistic society and so the primary subject of their devotion at the moment is to the god that helps them kill stuff. Maybe when the soldier goes home, takes off his helmet, and decides to start a family, he’ll pray to Slaanesh that he’ll be good at it, to Tzeentch that he can create new life, and to Nurgle that the child is healthy, but for now, he just wants to not die on the battlefield.

Even if you argue that many or most Chaos worshippers are full-time devotees of a particular god, that counts against armies of Slaanesh, Tzeentch and Nurgle being a thing. Chaos tends to fight among itself as much as against other factions, and Khorne, specialising in warfare, would stamp out any uppity followers of the other powers because that’s just the kind of people they are. Dedicated warriors of Khorne don’t sit down and read books or experiment with heroin or deliberately infect themselves with plague as part of their religious devotions; they slaughter people. As such, they’re better at it. If you wanted to fight for the rest of your life as a warrior of Chaos, you’d devote yourself to Khorne, because that deity more represents the kind of monster that you are.

As a result, Khorne is the one with the best armies. But they’re really, really, boring armies. Nurgle gets biological weapons, Tzeentch gets its sorcerers and Slaanesh gets (in Warhammer 40,000 at least) heavy metal sonic weaponry. Khorne gets axes. That’s it. The bigger the warrior, the bigger the axe. Maybe a mace if his name’s ‘Skullcrush Hammerblow’. Khorne is boring.

So, if Khorne’s armies are both boring and dominant among the Chaos Powers, what happens if we remove Khorne from the equation, and the four Chaos Powers instead become three?

Chaos-infected society is still as violent as ever, because these are horrible, selfish individuals who hate and are hated by sane society. However, without a dedicated war god, religiously-inclined soldiers no longer have a better offer than the three Chaos Powers. The Unholy Trinity finally have Chaos warriors who aren’t just the also-rans who weren’t good enough for the proper Chaos armies, but are actual badasses. Also, those warriors who enjoy fighting? We’ve just found a selling point for Slaanesh that isn’t about desperately avoiding the implied problems Slaanesh worshippers have with consent. So, Slaanesh is now a new Khorne? No, because Slaanesh is far wider than just killing everything that annoys you.

(I actually have another article lined up about how I perceive Slaanesh, based on some comments I made on Tumblr. I’ll get to it at some point.)

This argument’s specifically about the Chaos Powers of the Warhammer settings, but the same general rule applies to any fantasy wargame setting. War gods might be cool (if you didn’t think that, you’d probably not be writing a fantasy wargame), but try leaving them out of your next setting.

An army of warriors is easy, but an army dedicated to the god of craftsmanship, or the god of trees, or herdsmen, or trade, or storms, or mining?

 

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Twilight – a live-ish-sort-of blogging (part 2/2)

Twilight – a live-ish-sort-of blogging (part 2/2)

One of my earliest posts on this blog was a repost of a 2014 live-ish-blogging I put up on Facebook as I attempted to read Twilight at work. This was three months ago. Facebook Memories has just reminded me that, three months after the original live-ish-blogging, I finished it off.

Suffer.

———-

The other night, I finally remembered to recharge my Kindle. I had thought I’d finished Twilight and just forgotten the ending, but it turned out that that was just wishful thinking.

I recall now that I got so fed up with its stupidity that, at 60% complete, I went and read the Moomins instead.

However, I was feeling masochistic, so I thought I’d be a sadist as well and share the rest of the awful with you. Does not contain spoilers, because it’s not possible to spoil a turd:

(Sadly, because of Kindle’s inability to understand the centuries-old concept of pages, and it appears I forgot to divide it up by chapters, this might be even more stream-of-consciousness than it actually was.)

  • “It is partially your fault.” [Edward’s] voice was wry. “If you didn’t smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered.” If you get eaten by a vampire, it’s your own fault for being delicious. Ladies, remember this lesson in life.
  • Bella hurls abuse at her dad, Charlie, deliberately picking the same phrasing that her mother used when she walked out on him, and when she suggests that it may have been a little below the belt, everyone says, “No, it’s fine, he’ll forgive you.” How about slapping her around the head and saying, “You awful, terrible, horrible person, Bella Swann. How could you be so cruel, so callous and such a Mary Sue?”
  • They’re racing down a freeway at double the speed limit and the car’s almost silent? Vampires are so awesome, even their cars are awesome. However, and yes, I checked this via Google, the freeway speed limit in Washington State is 70mph. Vampiremobiles are so awesome that they can travel at 140mph in near silence.
  • None of these vampires have personalities. They don’t even have one-note hooks, and even Dan Brown manages that. (Author’s Note: When I wrote this, I hadn’t attempted to read The Lost Symbol, so I was blind to the true depths of awfulness of which Brown was capable.)
  • James the evil vampire speaks to Bella on the phone, telling her what to say so that the McAwesome family assume it’s her mum on the other end of the line. Considering that Bella has spent the last two chapters going into pointless hysterics every time she’s become worried someone she loves it at risk, it’s somewhat inconsistent that now she’s capable of maintaining a perfect poker face. Also, not one of these vampires has good enough super-hearing to listen in on the conversation enough to realise that it’s a bloke talking to her, not a woman. And even if they’re not listening to the voice on the other end of the line, they’re ignoring the fact that Bella’s conversation consists of repeatedly saying ‘yes’, over and over again, in response to James’s evil questions. We’ve already established that they can hear her speaking in a different room; she left to avoid her body language giving her away. “Tell them that you talked your mother out of coming home for the time being.” What, by saying, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, like a monotonic Meg Ryan?
  • “I have your mother, come alone.” Teenage girl who, it has been established, is rubbish at everything physical, is going to essentially let herself be eaten by a three hundred year old vampire with absolutely no guarantee that her mother is going to be released. Why would she be? After all, blood-crazy vampire. It’s a shame she didn’t have any alternative plans like, you know, telling the entire family of vampires that are already trying to hunt down and kill said villain. Stupid Bella.
  • Oh, right, Bella failed to notice that her mother’s voice was actually on a video tape. Because any five-year-old home video ever has sounded similar to how the same person sounds in real life.
  • The villain is giving the most boring, least revelatory villainous gloat ever. “Ah, you see how I did it? I did all these obvious things that a reader with an IQ higher than 85 has already worked out. Oh no, wait, there is a revelation: “You’re simply a human, who unfortunately was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” Finally, a character for whom Bella isn’t the centre of creation! What’s his name again? *checks further up the page* Oh yeah, James-something. I can’t remember if he even has a surname. All I know about him is that he’s EVUL. Bad vampire, naughty vampire. Why can’t you be like Edward?
  • “His pleasant smile slowly widened, grew, till it wasn’t a smile at all but a contortion of teeth, exposed and glistening.” How do teeth contort? Lips can, but teeth are immobile aside from the hinge at the back. The jaw opens and shuts. That’s the full range of movement for teeth. I’m going to ignore the use of ‘till’ rather than ‘until’, as it’s possibly US dialect and is a pretty common usage in English anyway (although even there, it’s only got one ‘l’, and ideally an apostrophe at the start).
  • ‘His toe nudged my broken leg and I heard a piercing scream. With a shock, I realised it was mine.’ That was the shock: that it was you screaming after he nudges your broken leg?
  • Barely two chapters after we’ve had it explained to us that being bitten by a vampire is exceptionally painful due to their venom, Bella gets bitten by a vampire and Edward has to suck the venom out. Convenient foreshadowing. (For us. Not so much for Bella.)
  • Edward on his venom-sucking: “It was impossible… to stop. Impossible. But I did. I must love you.” After sucking out Bella’s venom, he immediately starts blowing his own trumpet.
  • Bella apologises for tasting so good and Edward rolls his eyes (yet again). “What should I apologise for?” she asks. “For nearly taking yourself away from me forever,” he replies. Oh, right. Yeah, that. He’s right, of course, that she’s an idiot, but framing it like that? Possessive, much?
  • “They love you, too, you know.” Does anyone else actually put a comma between ‘you’ and ‘too’?
  • In the epilogue, Bella spends an entire day being dressed up, having her hair done, and Edward turns up in a tuxedo. She has completely failed to notice that it’s prom night and it comes as a surprise to her to discover what the date Edward has set up for her this evening is. I… I don’t… words fail me as to how cataclysmically stupid this character is.

That’s how incredibly stupid this book is.

The entire thing reads like Twilight fan-fic, it’s that bad.

So… I was wondering about doing something similar to this with 50 Shades of Grey, but then I skimmed half a page of 50 Shades Darker that was very briefly on the ‘recycled free stuff’ table at work. No, no. No, definitely not. It’s worse. Somehow, it’s actually worse.

This quote gets posted every year.

This quote gets posted every year.

“The future is inherently a good thing, and we move into it one winter at a time. Things get better one winter at a time. So if you’re going to celebrate something, then have a drink on this: the world is, generally and on balance, a better place to live this year than it was last year.”
– Spider Jerusalem/Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan

Despite the barely-semi-ironic ‘2016 is the worst year ever’ nonsense we’ve been spewing since Bowie died, and despite certain voting decisions that people have made that I personally disagree with, and despite the bloodshed and carnage of certain parts of our world, Spider Jerusalem hits the nail on the head.

Humans are incredible, and civilisation isn’t a state of existence but a journey.

Sometimes the journey’s unpleasant, but even if as individuals or groups we stumble occasionally, or meander from side to side like drunken idiots, or we falter because we don’t like the look of a particular landmark on the road ahead, or we just turn around and go back towards the places we really should be avoiding, humanity as a whole is still walking in the right direction.

Yes, the destination seems to be forever just over the horizon, a weird, golden glow of world peace and cultural enlightenment and technological harmony that we have a terrible feeling humanity will never reach, or at least that we’ll not live to see humanity reach. Why does it seem unachievable?

It’s because we keep redefining humanity’s end goal and barely even notice that we’ve just passed by where we said we were hoping to reach last year, last decade, last century.

There’s seven billion of us, and most of us are still walking towards that glow on the horizon.

Here’s to 2017.