Am I Blogging Now?

A blog about writing, reading, art, and history

And now for something completely different…

It amazes me sometimes the weird crap that comes to my mind. I wrote this down several months ago and ran across it just this morning. If I remember, I was mowing the yard when I thought it up. Here’s the Beach Boys singing about the fall of the Roman Empire:

[Chorus]
Bar-bar-bar-barbarian
Bar-bar-bar-barbarian
Bar-bar-bar-barbarian
Bar-bar-iaaaan, don’t take my laaaand
Bar-bar-iaaaan, don’t take my laaaand
You got me runnin’ and a-goin’,
Screamin’ and a-fleein’, barbarian
Bar-bar-barbarian

Fled back to France
Lookin’ for Ro-mans
Saw barbarians and I thought I wet my pants, barbarians
Bar-bar-bar-barbarian

[Chorus]

Saw Visigoths
Saw Saxon mobs
Saw Ostrogoths and I knew that all was lost, barbarians
Bar-bar-bar-barbarian

[Chorus]

I really worry about how my brain works sometimes.

Defense of Kel Fimmaril: Aftermath

The defense of Kel Fimmaril ends in a stalemate, but due to Queen Viarra’s clever theft of the attackers’ warships, the attacking army from Andivel finds themselves besieged outside of Kel Fimmaril’s walls. They’re essentially left with three options: starve, surrender, or launch a suicidal attack on the city’s walls. Captain Bevren, highest-ranking surviving officer, offers the queen a fourth option—one that creates a new future for not only the tiny island nation of Kel Fimmaril, but for all of the northern Tollesian city-states. (See map for additional political breakdown.)

***

Bevren and a handful of hoplites stood before the main gates of Kel Fimmaril while their army continued to search for food or check the battlefield for wounded. As their group waited, Bevren saw a tall woman wearing bloodied officer’s armor step up onto the parapet over the main gate. The woman sat between two of the crenellations, copper hair glinting in the evening sunlight. She crossed her legs and rested her arms atop the crenellations on either side of her—as if perched upon a throne.

“Greetings, gentlemen, and welcome to Kel Fimmaril,” she greeted the group from her place on the wall. “I notice you seem to have found yourselves in a bit of trouble and was wondering if I could offer my people’s assistance. I am Queen Viarraluca.”

“Your grace,” Bevren greeted her, bowing. “I am Captain Bevren of Chyllar, Hoplite Captain of the army of Andivel.”

“Pleased to meet you, Captain,” she said, leaning forward and steepling her fingers. “I fear you are in a predicament. Your fleet now belongs to me and I gave my people specific instructions to bring anything edible inside the walls. You’ll find no crops in our fields nor fruit on our plantations for your foragers to gather. The woods to the north are home to only so much game—none of it large. You can try the fields to the south, but you’ll accomplish little more than helping our farmers deal with their rabbit infestation. There are plenty of fish, but only makeshift tackle and no boats to go get it with. Among four thousand soldiers, you might get a few days’ worth of food. And we both know that you don’t have enough soldiers to take my city by storm.

“I am willing to be merciful,” the copper-haired queen continued. “I give your army seven days to submit—whereupon you will surrender your arms, piling them by the gates. Surrendering soldiers will be fed and returned to your transport ships with enough supplies to make the journey home. While surrender may seem dishonorable on the surface, this will allow your soldiers to see their homes and families again.

“However, if you choose not to surrender within those seven days, I will simply wait for hunger to do its job. The soldiers who have not starved to death will be rounded up by my soldiers and sold into slavery. I will have them loaded aboard your own transports and sold in the south, never to see their homes again.”

Bevren could hear his guards shifting and muttering behind him. “Very well, your majesty,” the hoplite captain replied, “you have me at a clear disadvantage here. I will confer with my remaining officers and come up with acceptable terms for our surrender.”

“Take whatever time you need, captain,” the queen said reassuringly. “I’m glad you were able to see reason. My greatest fear in all of this was the possibility of dealing with some hotheaded officer who would bring more suffering on my people and yours by refusing to parlay and launching some suicidal attack on my walls.”

It occurred to Bevren that General Willot might have done exactly that. “I have a home and family that I’d like to see again as well,” the hoplite captain assured her majesty.

*          *          *

The evening sun burned red on the western horizon as Captains Bevren and Onil walked through the captured village. As all of the tents were aboard the merchant vessels with the rest of the supplies, the Andivelian soldiers had made use of the village and warehouses near the docks. In a way it was a blessing in disguise, as the buildings provided better shelter than tents, and they were fairly defensible if Kel Fimmaril’s army sallied out for a night attack. Not that Onil was really expecting one. Normally on the first night of a siege they’d spread their camps out around the perimeter of the city, just out of bow range, but do to so tonight seemed entirely pointless. The queen and officers of Kel Fimmaril had beaten the soldiers of Andivel before they’d even arrived.

“What’s the casualty count?” Bevren asked as they walked by several soldiers building a fire in the village square.

“Seventy-eight dead, over a hundred wounded,” Onil replied. “And almost half of those wounds are foot injuries from the shit they left on the beach.”

Bevren looked relieved. “Not as bad as I’d expected,” the senior captain nodded. That left them with just under four thousand fighting men. “So we’re still basically intact—which leaves us with an interesting dilemma.”

“Like how do we explain to our tetrarchs that we surrendered an intact force to a backward little city-state with a history of cowardice?” Onil asked drily as Bevren opened the door to the carpenter’s shop he’d selected as his quarters.

“How was our information this bad?” Bevren asked as he sat down on a carpentry bench. “Their ruler was supposed to be a spoiled princess who was probably a puppet monarch, and their general was supposed to be decades past his prime and bordering on senility.”

“Right,” Onil agreed, “this was supposed to be an easy conquest. But you have to admit, even if we’d been told that their monarch was a war goddess and their general a master tactician, we’d still have been caught off guard by that bullshit stunt with the warships.”

“I’m not certain she isn’t a war goddess,” was Bevren’s reply. “You said that she’s the one you saw rallying their left flank, right?”

“You described her as tall with hair like copper, right? Unless there’s another tall, copper-haired beauty on this island, she has to be the woman I saw. She was… formidable.”

“Not that this knowledge helps us with our dilemma in any way,” Bevren said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees and folding his hands in front of his chin.

“What if… what if we don’t go back after we surrender?” Onil said, voicing the half-idea he’d been bouncing around his head the past couple hours. Bevren looked up at him. “What if we defect and become mercenaries or some such? It’s been done before, right? Where a defeated army signs on with the highest bidder instead of going home?”

“I like that line of thinking,” Bevren admitted, smiling a bit. “But I’d also like to see my wife and daughters again.”

“We don’t have to defect forever,” Onil suggested. “We both know that the tetrarchs only had us attack Kel Fimmaril to get spoils to pay back Pellestor, right? So what if we negotiate with this queen to get to keep our weapons and leave peaceably. What if we defect, go mercenary, and bring back all of the gold and spoils we earn to give to the tetrarchs to help pay off that debt?”

“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’,” Bevren pointed out. “But we can run it by the men and officers; what if we defect and don’t go home right away?” Both captains were quiet for several minutes. Onil could see his colleague turning the idea over in his head.

“Or,” Bevren said after a long silence, “what if we defect and do go home right away?”

*          *          *

The siege of Kel Fimmaril came to its official end early the next morning. Hungry, angry, outmaneuvered by their adversaries, and feeling misled by their rulers, the four-thousand soldiers surrendered, piling their weapons before the walls of Kel Fimmaril. Unarmed, they backed off and gathered in a mass outside of bow range.

Captain Bevren strode to the gates, bringing with him only the captured cavalry captain. Leg splinted and leaning on a crutch, the dark-skinned woman grinned smugly the whole time. The sentry atop the wall told him to await her majesty’s arrival. The infantry captain stood at rest, agonizing minutes passing while he waited. Finally the gates opened. Expecting a delegation and honor guard, Bevren was genuinely shocked when a train of ox-drawn wagons rumbled out from the city gate. Bevren stepped out of the way to let them pass. He got another shock realizing that the wagons were full of food. Bread and grain, beef, smoked fish, olives, local fruits and vegetables, one wagon even carried two massive barrels of wine. Though armed hoplites marched as vanguards on either side of the wagon train, it was one of the most welcoming sights he’d ever seen.

For the briefest of moments, the cynic in Bevren worried that the food might be poisoned somehow. But the realist in him knew how unnecessary such a gesture would be. Besides, poisoning a large and lavish meal seemed a stupid waste when they could just as easily poison a couple wagons of bread and dried meat.

“The guards are there just to make sure things get distributed in an orderly fashion, I promise,” he heard to his right. “I also have physicians and surgeons on the way to help see to your wounded.”

Bevren turned to see Queen Viarraluca stride out of the chaos, followed by four handmaidens carrying baskets. For a moment, the dumbstruck infantry captain thought he was seeing a goddess in the flesh. Easily, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. The queen’s shimmering copper hair was curled in elaborate ringlets, some of it framing her face, some draping over her shoulders, some disappearing behind her back. She wore ornate silver earrings and necklace, the silver contrasting with her hair better than gold possibly could have. Her dark-green cloak and wrap-around gown fluttered in the morning breeze.

The hoplite captain suddenly wished he’d cleaned and polished his armor.

The cavalry woman limped forward and embraced her queen before Bevren could reply. “I’ll have the medics look at this leg and then rest up a bit,” the terrifying woman said. “But first I wanted to tell you, you have no idea how fucking proud of you I am right now, girl.”

The queen laughed as she stepped back from the embrace. “General Derron has been telling me the same thing all morning. He’ll be relieved to know you’re safe.”

The cavalry captain nodded and reached over to grab Bevren’s ass as she turned to head toward the gates. She patted one of the queen’s handmaids on the shoulder as she hobbled past.

“Captain Vola didn’t rattle your soldiers too much, I hope?” Queen Viarraluca asked Bevren.

“Pretty much all night long,” Bevren laughed, finally finding his voice. The unusualness of the situation had him completely off guard. “I’m pretty sure she was snoring on purpose just to annoy her guards. At any rate, thank you for your peace offering, your majesty. I’m certain my men appreciate your generosity,” he bowed.

The queen nodded politely. “Have you breakfasted, captain?”

He grimaced. “Two cooked mice and an undercooked hare’s leg,” he admitted.

“I suspect I can provide better fare,” the queen said, smiling invitingly. “Ladies,” she said to her handmaids, “please make the captain and me a place over by those willows.” She pointed to the spot.

Bevren found it difficult not to stare at the queen as the two of them made their way to where the handmaids were setting up breakfast. The hoplite captain was above medium height, but the elegant queen stood at least a half-head taller than he was. Her gown was not particularly revealing, but the way she wore it suggested a statuesque figure underneath. She managed to convey charm, grace, power, authority, and allure in every aspect of her speech, stride, expression, and body language. Part of the hoplite captain wanted desperately to sleep with her. But the larger, wiser part knew that she was far out of his league in more ways than he could begin to count.

Breakfast was delicious, consisting of bread, grapes, lobster, and wine. The queen was pleasant and charming the entire meal, asking him about both Andivel and his home city. It took Bevren a while, but he eventually realized that her majesty was learning a great deal about him, his home city, and about his culture, people, and rulers. Simply by being friendly and disarming, she’d charmed information from him in a matter of minutes that would have taken the best interrogators days to torture out. The hoplite captain decided he liked her method better.

“…and in all honestly, we owe your soldiers a certain amount of gratitude for every rabbit they rounded up south of the city,” the queen was saying as they finished their meal.

Bevren laughed and sipped wine from a blue-glassed goblet. “I must ask, your majesty, how was it you were able to commandeer our ships out from behind us?”

“It wasn’t difficult,” her majesty shrugged as if it were a little task. “Sailors and merchants can be so predictably mercenary. I needed only offer them a venture with a higher monetary return than their current job.”

Somehow, Bevren had no difficulty believing it had been her idea. “So, I’ve considered the offer you made yesterday, your majesty” he told her. “While I am willing to surrender my forces, I hoped I might suggest another option that you might find satisfactory.”

“Oh, indeed?” Her majesty raised an eyebrow. “You have my attention, Captain.”

“I had an extended conversation with my soldiers last night, and rather than surrender, I was hoping we might instead defect to your army—with conditions, of course.”

Bevren was surprised to note that the queen didn’t look surprised. “I certainly appreciate your candor on the matter, Captain,” she assured him, “but I should like to hear your reasons and conditions before I agree to your proposal.” The captain straightened as he realized that the whole feast and show of mercy had probably been intended to woo surrendering soldiers over to her army.

“We wish to defect because there is more going on than you are aware of, your majesty,” he told the queen. “The decision of the Tetrarchy of Andivel to extort and then assault Kel Fimmaril was driven by desperation, rather than malice or greed. You see, our tetrarchs owe a great deal of money to the city of Pellastor—money borrowed to fund a pair of campaigns that resulted in stalemates.”

The queen swirled the wine in her goblet as she listened, studying him. “So you’re defecting in order to give me a means to retaliate for Andivel’s attack,” she said, smiling a bit and nodding. Bevren felt his eyes widen at her insight. “You’re hoping I’ll take the city and unseat your tetrarchs, whereby that debt to Pellastor is dissolved with your previous government. A military coup where my troops merely assist won’t accomplish this because the change is still internal. The government changes, but the terms of the debt do not—much like a son inheriting his father’s debts. An outside aggressor, ironically enough, functions as a neutral third party in this case. I become ruler of Andivel’s hegemony, and Pellastor has no grounds to collect on this debt—in the same way that a creditor can’t force payment from the man who murdered his debtor. I like the way you think, Captain Bevren.”

Bevren could only gape.

“This works conveniently for you on a personal and professional level as well,” the queen went on. “Instead of returning home a failure—a fool who was duped by subterfuge and a coward who surrendered his nearly intact army to a smaller force—you return as part of a liberating army. You free your people from their debt and from their incompetent rulers at the same time.” Her jade eyes seemed to sparkle. “Am I correct?”

The infantry captain just sat feeling stupefied. Behind the queen, a skinny handmaiden covered her mouth and trembled as if trying not to burst out laughing.

Battle scenes, part 1.5: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, tying the battle but winning the war

Original ship-of-the-line

My drawing of a Hellenic-era trireme war galley.

As discussed in battle scenes part 1.4, the field battle of the defense of Kel Fimmaril results in a draw. Both sides suffer a similar casualty count and the attackers fall back to the beach while the defenders retreat back into the city. From a strictly military standpoint, sallying from the city at all was an unwise decision as the somewhat less experienced and under-armored soldiers of Kel Fimmaril risked annihilation at the hands of the larger, better-armored, largely-veteran army of Andivel. Queen Viarra makes the decision to offer battle only hours before the enemy army arrives, contrary to their initial plan to wait things out from inside the city. During battles in ancient history, the strategy of a city’s army sallying out to meet a superior force was not unheard of—it was something of a calculated risk, the intent being to offer a quick battle to knock the enemy numbers down enough to prevent them from laying as heavy a siege. A lighter siege offers defenders a few more options, such as sneaking or breaking additional help into the city, sending messengers for help, sneaking key personnel out of the city, or future sallies against weak points in the siege lines. However, because Kel Fimmaril is on an island, there is essentially nowhere to go to escape or find help.

At the battle’s conclusion, however, the attacking army from Andivel discovers that the battle was a ruse—a diversion to distract the attackers and draw them out of position to enact the queen’s clever plan for victory. To achieve this victory, Queen Viarra uses several of the attackers’ standard operating procedures against them. The attacking army from Andivel sails into Kel Fimmaril’s harbor with eleven warships as well as four large troop transports and two merchant barges carrying the bulk of the army’s supplies. The warships and transports land on the beach, unloading hoplite marines to secure the beach and docks against any mischief on the defenders’ parts. Meanwhile, unable to beach like the military ships, the merchant vessels belly-up to the docks, but have orders not to unload until the defending army has been chased back into the city. The reason for this being to prevent the defenders from somehow sabotaging the attackers’ supplies. Viarra takes advantage of these procedures by using her army to draw the attacking force out of position and away from their fleet support.

Contrary to popular modern belief, warships during ancient times were not rowed by slaves, instead being powered by professional oarsmen, trained for endurance and combat maneuvering. As such, these men were rarely military and seldom had political or patriotic ties to the city that hired them. In addition, the crews of the merchant vessels carrying the supplies are equally nonmilitary, having had their ships pressed into service by Andivel’s government and paid a pittance for their efforts. Since sailors and merchants tend to be as mercenary as men in any other profession, the most sensible way to coerce them into betraying their escorting army is to offer them a venue with a higher monetary return.

For step one of the plan, her majesty has her Steward, Ronnius, hide with two hundred light soldiers inside the warehouses along the docks in the harbor. Because the soldiers of Andivel have to engage Kel Fimmaril’s defenders immediately, they don’t get a chance to sweep the warehouses for surprises. Once the battle has moved far enough away from the beach, Ronnius’s soldiers rush from the warehouses and capture the warships, forcing the unarmed crewmen to surrender at sword point. As the attackers haven’t had time to beach the fleet, all eleven warships are still floating in the bay with only their tethers keeping them from drifting away. It’s not difficult, then, for Ronnius and the others to offer the sailors a healthy bribe and a means of escape:

“We’re here to make an offer to you and your crew,” Ronnius informed the trireme’s captain. The steward pulled the queen’s letter from his leather pouch. “What I have here is a Letter of the Marque from Queen Viarraluca. This letter gives you legal permission to sail as privateers for Kel Fimmaril, attacking and sinking, looting, or taking as prizes any merchant, military, and civilian vessels sailing for our enemies, as well as any pirates you should encounter. In addition, you may be called upon in defense of the city or for special missions and assignments. The city will take a twenty percent cut of any spoils you return with, but in return will provide you with hoplite marines to act as boarding parties and offer a safe haven to berth your ship and replenish—”

The dark-haired man swatted the letter from Ronnius’s hand and spat on his chest plate. “Fuck yourself,” the sailor snarled. “If you think—”

Ronnius didn’t let him finish. In one move he drew his xiphos and stabbed the sailor in the chest, then kicked his body over the side of the ship. “You,” he pointed to the nearest sailor, “you’re captain now.” Ronnius bent down and picked up the letter. “This is a Letter of the Marque—” he began.

“From Queen Viarraluca,” the sailor nodded nervously, taking the letter. “We accept.”

Step two of the plan is to deal with the supply ships. As the merchants hauling the supplies were pressed into service, they’re already resentful of the escorting army and only cooperating because the army has sword. All it takes to gain their favor is to offer them a way out, though offering a bribe doesn’t hurt either. To accomplish this, her majesty sends her messenger, Terric, to deliver a letter of pardon to the merchantmen:

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the young messenger greeted the merchant captains. “I am here to deliver a message on behalf of Queen Viarraluca of Kel Fimmaril. As you can see, we have already absconded with your escorting warships, blockading your ships within our harbor. Her majesty is… upset that you have sailed to our island beside a force of hostile invaders with the intent of sacking our city and enslaving our people. However, her majesty is aware that you may likely be here against your will, having your vessels pressed into service by the Andivelian military. She is willing to offer you redemption in the eyes of her people.”

“Oh, this should be good,” the second merchant muttered sarcastically.

“I have here two letters of pardon for your crimes against the people of Kel Fimmaril, each signed by Queen Viarraluca herself. All you have to do in return is sail away.”

“That’s it?” the first merchant asked.

“That’s it,” Terric answered, grinning. “Just sail away and these letters are yours.”

The first merchant gave him a strange look. “So it’s not the pardon she’s offering us so much as a bribe to walk away?”

The second merchant started laughing. “Sail away with the foodstuffs and military hardware already in our hold? Materiel we were barely being paid to haul, but that we can now sell to whomever we choose? Fucking best bribe I’ve ever been offered.”

Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t go off entirely perfectly. One of the attackers’ bireme war galleys realizes what’s going on and attempts to escape before Ronnius’s soldiers can capture it. Thus Doric, one of the defenders’ infantry captains, orders the crew of the trireme he captured to ram and sink the fleeing ship.

Doric braced against the railing as the huge ship-of-the-line neared the fleeing bireme. Even so, he was still nearly thrown to the deck at the impact. The crash of the two warships was unlike anything the skirmisher captain had ever felt. The great ram hit first at about a seventy-degree angle to the smaller ship’s hull. The bronze head smashed through the wooden hull at the water line, snapping oars between the Kestrel’s prow and the Scale’s port side. The trireme’s greater mass bowled the smaller warship over, lifting the larger ship’s prow slightly out of the water, pushing the bireme downward slightly and rolling it partway on its starboard side. The impact spun both ships fifteen degrees to starboard before they floated to a stop in the middle of the harbor.

“Back, back, back!” Doric heard the Kestrel’s captain shout as he and much of the rest of the deck crew picked themselves up from the foredeck. “Pull us out before they sink all the way!”

Again, with practiced skill, the trireme’s rowers eased the huge warship’s ram out of the breach they’d created in the bireme’s hull. Doric looked over the rail as they pulled away, watching the enemy crew abandoning the mortally-wounded bireme. A hundred or so sailors and rowers swam in the direction of the nearest shoreline.

Doric shook his head as he noticed the bodies of three rowers bobbing amongst the flotsam from the dying Scale of Andiva. “Sorry, lads,” was all he could find to say as the Screaming Kestrel turned to join the rest of the captured fleet.

With their fleet and supplies captured, the attacking army from Andivel finds themselves besieged outside of Kel Fimmaril’s walls. They’re essentially left with three options: starve, surrender, or launch a suicidal attack on the city’s walls. Captain Bevren, highest-ranking surviving officer, offers the queen a fourth option—one that creates a new future for not only the tiny island nation of Kel Fimmaril, but for all of the northern Tollesian city-states…

Writerly Advice for NaNoWriMo

I’m after some writerly advice from my fellow writers out there. I find myself floundering with my NaNoWriMo project. Despite my efforts, I just didn’t have a very solid idea of where I wanted to go with Book II of First Empress. I think part of that is because I’m still deciding on how a lot of stuff will go down in the last few chapters of Book I. I’m seriously debating working on it instead. The problem being that the material all has to be from a different project—as in, Book I can’t count toward the 50,000-word challenge because of the contest guidelines.

I continue to fall behind because of my troubles in reconciling the two books, that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth it to try to stick with NaNoWriMo’s deadlines. Would it be best to keep tapping away at Book II? Or should I go back to work on Book I and deal with Book II after the first book is finished? Thoughts?

National Novel Writing Month: Take 2

 

Vi“There are people who want me dead for no other reason than they’d rather be in charge themselves. Every decision I make, no matter how fair and just, will result in someone I’ve never met praying nightly to the gods for my death simply because I did not decide in their favor. If any of these people believed they could destroy me, they would not hesitate to do so. There is an aphorism in warfare that ‘true safety lies not in counting on your enemy not to attack, but by making your position unassailable.’ This applies in politics as well as combat. By destroying the men behind this attempt on my life, it discourages others who may want me dead from making similar attempts. This was never about revenge or justice. It was about prudence.” –Queen Viarra

So, I’m taking another stab at the 50,000-word challenge for National Novel Writing month. Instead of starting a new project like I’d initially intended, I’m going to start ‘Book II’ of First Empress. This isn’t a sequel, so much as the second ‘act’ in the story. My plan all along was to divide the story into three or four sections, each ‘book’ skipping a number of years in Viarra’s rule. This gives me a handy opportunity to get some major work done on the story. Then, after November is over, I’ll go back in and write the missing chapters from Book I. Here’s a handy link to my previous posts about the story.

Here’s the synopsis I posted for my NaNoWriMo entry:

It is three winters since Queen Viarraluca’s conquest of the northern hegemony of Andivel. Her reign has brought stability to the beleaguered northern Tollesian city-states, creating economic and cultural growth throughout the region. With the barbarian tribes beaten back into the highlands, the young queen looks to fortifying her borders against their incursions. In the south, however, the decades-old feud between the empires of Pellastor and Illarra threatens to drag Viarra’s recovering hegemony into their viper pit of back-stabbings and cold-war politics.

Far away, the girls Zahnia and Pella come to discover that the people who’d once saved them from imprisonment do not have their best interests in mind. Fleeing north, they travel with their caretaker, Nimus, to join the Order of Dallorn’s efforts to establish places of arcane learning among the Tollesian-speaking cities. But even as they arrive at this haven of knowledge and understanding, it becomes increasingly apparent that Dallorn’s children’s motives may not be as altruistic as originally perceived.

First Empress: Map of the Vestic Sea

vestic

(Click map for a more detailed view)

This is a map I drew up of the northwest corner of Vestic Sea, the region where most of the story takes place in my novel-in-progress, First Empress. As the story is based heavily on my studies of Ancient Greek history, I very deliberately gave the Vestic Sea a Mediterranean climate and gave the land masses a mountainous, Grecian topography. While there are only a few dozen islands visible on the map, much of the sea is dotted with islets of various sizes and shapes, making cracking down on piracy a virtual impossibility given the story’s Iron-Age technology. There are thousands of villages, towns, and cities spread across the island and mainland; the cities displayed on the map are just ones I have plans for in the story so far.

Also like in Ancient Greece, the political climate between various cities and hegemonies amounts to a veritable viper pit. Often a city will declare war on another for no other reason than a perceived weakness on the other city’s part. Alliances are fluid and borders fluctuate constantly. The colors on the map depict the political boundaries of the three main alliances at the start of the story. These borders will change as the story progresses. The Tollesian cities (based on the Greeks) are largely on the coast and flatter regions where trade and agriculture are easier to conduct. The mountains are largely inhabited by tribes of the Gan (based heavily on the ancient Celts). When not at war with each other, the Gannic peoples will often raid Tollesian farms, trade caravans, and settlements. It is not unheard of for several tribes to gang up on and sack Tollesian city-states.

Kel Fimmaril, the home city-state of the title character Queen Viarraluca, is a fairly small island (<5 mi at low tide), and not particularly significant geographically or politically. Though once a marginally important trade hub, the island’s economy has been fairly hamstrung over the past decade by increased pirate incursions on the local sea lanes.

Andivel is the hegemonic power closest to Kel Fimmaril, and a distant third, strength-wise, on this part of the Vestic Sea. Though it’s alliances once stretched as far north as Gillespar and Illis and as far west as Ryllar, Andivel’s strength has waned over the past decade. The most devastating blow came three years previous, after the hegemony borrowed massive amounts of gold from the city of Pellastor in order to fund a pair of campaigns against the Gannic tribes from the Vedrian Mountains. Unfortunately, these campaigns resulted in stalemates, and no spoils come from tying the battle. Thus a crippling amount of Andivel’s income goes to repaying those debts. Andivel’s once-glorious armies are now employed in the bullying, extortion, and invasion of weaker city-states in effort to repay the hegemony’s debts. Meanwhile, the Vedrian tribes have discovered that the Tollesian cities are not as strong as they once were, and have become increasingly bold in their raids—though not strong enough to best the Tollesian armies in the field… yet. With Andivel’s military spending crippled by debt payment, however, many of their citizens and remaining allies worry about the future stability of the hegemony.

Pellastor is the predominant imperial power on the northern Vestic Sea, with a strong military tradition backed by a powerful maritime economy. Their armies and navies are the largest and best-trained to be found in this part of the world. Their capital city is a wonder to behold, with grand temples, theaters, universities, and agoras to delight the eye of the bemused visitor. The hegemony is made up largely of coastal and island city-states upon whom they rely to provide trade and taxes as well as ships and soldiers during times of war. Yet their excellent general staff is able to effectively keep together and deploy these armies from diverse and often rival city-states.

Like Pellastor, Illarra is structured around a maritime economy. This economy is supplemented, however, by the funding of corsairs and privateers to raid and pillage the sea lanes and coastal settlements of rival city-states. This piratical harassment has earned the ire of many of Illarra’s neighbors and has frequently led to open war with the city-state of Pellastor and her allies. While Pellastor’s armies and navies are significantly larger and more powerful than Illarra’s, the Illaran Confederation has a history of devious rulers and wily generals. Many an army from Pellastor has found itself pinned in unfavorable terrain by harassment tactics and the cutting of supply routes. Though Pellastor’s commanders are typically able to get their armies out more or less in tact, in recent decades neither city has ever won a deciding victory.

(PS: If anyone can recommend a good, free map-making software, I’d be most appreciative. Thanks and stay awesome!)

Game Review–Total War: Rome II

cohort

Total War: Rome II is the very first computer game I’ve ever pre-ordered. I’ve been stoked about the game ever since Creative Assembly first announced they were working on it a couple years ago (the tingly feelings I got from watching game-play and development videos over the past ten months could almost qualify said videos as pornography). I’ve been a frequenter of the Total War series since the original Rome: Total War, and followed it from there to Medieval II: Total War, Empire: Total War, Napoleon: Total Warand Total War: Shogun II. Each Total War title that I’ve played has been an amazing, well-put-together game that I would recommend to anyone interested in computer war-gaming. Thankfully, Rome II is no exception.

scrumMy initial assumption about Rome II was that it would be Rome I with better graphics, new campaign and battle features, and naval combat (which would have made for a bitchin’ game, don’t get me wrong). It’s not, however, and I’m still weighing the pros and cons of this development. Rome I and it’s successor, Medieval II were straightforward war games on both the battlefield and campaign maps. While it helped to have a solid grasp of ancient and medieval warfare as well as combat and tactics, players could still get away with simple, cussed brute force. The campaign map was similarly simple: if one city had a food shortage, build them a better irrigation system, if your citizens were grumpy, build a theater.

Rome II, however, really went out of their way to improve not only the realism, but the combat strategy as well. The most noticeable difference in the battle maps is that terrain is a much higher factor all around. Whereas in previous games, combat units could hide in the woods or in the brush only when stationary, in TWR2 an important part of the strategy is to use woods, hills, buildings, and other blind spots as cover for laying ambushes or moving troops around covertly. Plus, the enemy AI does a decent job of using terrain to its advantage, causing players to have to send scouts over the next hill and watch their flanks at all times. It really is a game of move and counter-move that kept me on my toes better than any Total War game before it. My copy of Sun Tzu came in handy frequently.

2013-09-04_00008I learned fairly quickly that city planning and campaign management in Rome II requires more research and evaluation than previous Total War titles. Where in Rome I, players could pretty well build whatever they could afford in terms of facilities in their towns and cities (and I seldom had trouble with money in the game), in II each city has a limited number of ‘slots’ for different types of buildings. Thankfully, these facilities effect other cities the player controls throughout the province. Thus if Rome has an Auxiliary Barracks and a Temple of Jupiter, all of the troops trained in the Italia province receive the bonuses from the Barracks, while the other cities receive the same bonuses from the temple. But there’s a balance to be had: some facilities come with penalties to food production or citizen happiness throughout the province. Thus additional food production and happiness must be attained via additional facility construction.

One feature that continues to trouble me is that armies must be built around a general and fleets must be built around an admiral, but factions are limited in their number of generals and admirals based on the number of territories they control. While having small numbers of large armies was fairly accurate for how the Hellenic, African, and early Roman Republic militaries were organized, it doesn’t at all reflect how the barbarian tribes were organized, nor indeed the later Republic and Empire. Barbarians typically used large numbers of small raiding parties to confound their enemies—thus the Romans had to supplement their Legions with small bands of auxiliary troops to counter this problem. Too, in past games, I got used to building reinforcement columns to send to relieve my frontier armies, which I can’t do as effectively now. While I’ve gotten used to adjusting for this oversight, it’s an adjustment I don’t really feel like I should have to make, from a logistical standpoint.

crashMy favorite feature, and the one I’ve been most stoked about since I heard it announced, is the addition of naval combat units. Admittedly, however, this took a while to get used to compared to the ground tactics. The analogy I use to contrast the ground versus water combat is a football game versus a basketball or soccer game. Like in a football game, much of the planing for the ground battles—things like picking terrain and battle formation—are decided before the lines smash into each other. Taking and holding ground are key parts of the battle. Circumstances in water combat, however, are more fluid, if you’ll forgive the pun. Like basketball or soccer players, ships have to be constantly moving around and vying for position or risk becoming sitting ducks. It was a tricky dynamic to get used to and one I’m still trying to master.

I find it awesome as well that the game allows land and sea battles to occur on the same battlefield. Shipboard marines can reinforce land armies by beaching their ships and joining the fray, while shore-based artillery can give fire support to their navies. Cites can be stormed by fleet troops in D-Day-like scenarios, where soldiers storm the beach and walls while under fire from defenders.

beachIn terms of historical accuracy, it’s not the best I’ve seen, but it’s more authentic than the original. I played the Europa Barbarorum total-conversion mod for the first Rome: Total War for a while, and I feel like Creative Assembly payed close attention to it and mods like it for going out of their way to capture a more authentic feel to the game. I like that they used traditional Greek hoplites and other heavy infantry for the Hellenic factions, rather than just giving them all generic pike-men with Greek or Macedonian helmets. While each Hellenic faction gets pike phalanxes—as was the standard way to fight following Alexander’s popularization of the tactic—they also have a wider range of spear, sword, and skirmisher infantry. I appreciate, too, that independent territories are no longer just static conquest fodder for playable factions: each counts as it’s own minor faction, representing a city-state or barbarian tribe. Thus players have to balance out wars, trade, and alliances with each minor faction independently in their rise to empire.

pikesThere were a few minor issues, historically, that bugged me. Firstly, two very important cities were left off the campaign map: Corinth and Byzantium. Corinth was quite clearly sacrificed because the Peloponnesian Peninsula only had room for one city, and the fans of 300 would have thrown a crying, swearing hissy-fit and boycotted the game had CA not included Sparta. (Despite that Corinth was the most powerful independent city-state in Greece and the final obstacle in Rome’s conquest of Hellas, while Sparta hadn’t been politically or militarily significant for almost 150 years.) Byzantium’s absence still baffles me, considering it was eventually the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. Secondly, one graphics feature CA has been guilty of that I’d really hoped they’d do away with is color-coordination for individual factions. Not even the Romans color-coordinated their uniforms, yet all of the units’ outfits in all of the factions in Rome I, Medieval II, and Shogun II have identical colors in their soldiers’ uniforms. Considering that the units have tags over their heads in each of these games for players to click on to select the unit, I don’t feel like a uniform color coordination is necessary and I was rather hoping CA would do away with it for Rome II. While on the whole the coloration doesn’t bother me as much as it did in previous games, I can’t bring myself to play the Suebii, a German faction, because they all wear purple and gold.

ughAs far as the technical details go, the graphics are impressive, even though my mediocre graphics card doesn’t handle the higher settings. I like that you can minimize the interface on the battle maps, offering a more cinematic experience than in the early Total War games. The interface on the campaign map is fairly streamlined as well, which is nice. I’ve not tried the online campaign or battles, so I can’t really comment on those (but part of the reason I game is so I don’t have to deal with people).

So, am I going to forsake the previous Total War titles and only play Rome II from now on? Honestly, probably not. Rome I and Medieval II in particular offered a straightforwardness in their campaigns and battles that none of the other titles really achieved. Yes, it helped to have solid understanding of direct and indirect battle tactics as well as economics and logistics, etc in order to be effective in battle, on campaign, or on the throne, but they weren’t as necessary in those earlier games. When I wanted to, I could shut down that part of my thought process and just enjoy stomping Carthage into the dust or chasing the Germans back across the Rhine. I could take my hands off the keyboard in the middle of battle, zoom in close and just watch the Gaul battle lines collapse before Caesar’s legions. I can’t do that in Rome II because I’m too busy maneuvering my units around and watching the nearby forests and hills for ambushes. This doesn’t make either game in any way inferior to the other, play-wise, each just offers a different fix. When I want to think more, I play Rome II, when I prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around, I play Rome I or Medieval II.

phalanx(All screen captures taken directly from game play.)

Threat levels

A few thoughts from a modern philosopher (not me) on European threat levels in response to Syria.

‘The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

‘The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

‘The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country’s military capability.

‘Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”

‘The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”

‘Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

‘The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

‘Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.’

— John Cleese – British writer, actor and tall person.

(Author’s note: To me, the funniest part is that these threat levels are far more descriptive and comprehensive than the United States’ color system.)

Blog fixed

Phew! The Heroines blog is back online! For those of you who attempted to visit the blog for the last two days, I had a minor altercation with the system’s autocheck when I posted a link to the Armor Venue website. I apologize to those of you who tried to visit and got the non-compliance message.

I finally heard back this afternoon and the offending link has been removed. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and thank all of you for reading.

—Jack

Blog problems

“This blog has been deactivated because we believe it does not comply with the WordPress.com Terms of Service or advertising policy.”

So I got this message from WordPress yesterday afternoon in regards to my Sartorially Smart Heroines blog, and now everything except the dashboard is shut down. I’m not sure what happened, as I wasn’t attempting to “promote affiliate links, get rich quick programs, banner ads,” nor did the blog consist “solely or mostly of duplicate or automatically generated material,” nor was it “part of a search engine marketing campaign.” I immediately read back over the terms of service and advertising policy in effort to learn how my blog was allegedly in non-compliance with either of these, then clicked on their link that read “click here to contact us as soon as possible” in order to get the matter resolved. The link led me to WordPress’s error report form, which I filled out and sent. I’ve been babysitting my email and my WordPress notifications waiting for a reply but haven’t heard anything yet. And because the error report form never specifically states the manner in which they’ll be contacting me to resolve the matter, I don’t even know if they’ve already attempted to contact me and I’m simply looking in the wrong place.

I got hit with the error message immediately as I attempted post the second part of a discussion I’d written on the practicality of the women’s adventuring outfits in Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy Tactics. My only assumption is that since I used a lot of reference links to the Final Fantasy wiki, it triggered some kind of watchdog algorithm for people attempting to “promote affiliate links.” I included these links entirely as reference points—as a convenience for readers not familiar with the different aspects of the game. But as WordPress’s error message never specifically stated what term or policy I may have violated, I have no way of confirming if this is the case.

Can anyone help me out with getting this matter resolved? Is there some other way to contact WordPress? Or is there another place I should be watching for their return email? Any thoughts or advice on how to get this straightened out would be deeply appreciated. Thanks.

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