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3/21/2017

Xathrodox86 reviews: "Call To Arms" by Mitchel Scanlon

Continuing my reviews of the "Empire Army" series, I give you "Call To Arms" by Mitchel Scanlon.

After the excellent "Warrior Priest", I had quite high expectations of other books from the "Empire Army" series. As a long time fan of the Empire of Man, there's very little that can force me from reading and liking anything, that futures lots of normal dudes, with fabulous mustaches, packing black poweder weapons. "Call To Arms" is no exception, but there are things, that really irked me, during my experience with this particular book.

The cover is pretty sweet, gotta be honest here
The main hero, one Dieter Lanz, is a young soldier, who joins the elite Hochland regiment, the Scarlets. Soon he must cope with the harsh reality of war, as a huge Greenskin invasion threatens the entire province, and perhaps the Empire itself.

Dieter is someone, who can easily be called a wonder child. He's only 18 years old, but already his mastery of the blade is phenomenal. Schooled by his retired foster father, Helmut Schau, who was once a member of the Scarlets, and taught the ethos of honor and duty, Dieter is a prime example of a fine soldier - obedient, honorable and one that can be reilied upon to do what's right.

That's why he wasn't able to work for me.

I don't have anything against "so good that they're impossible" characters in fiction. On the contrary, sometimes I like reading about guys and gals who are paragons of virtue and nobility, but in Lanz's case this simply does not work. He's too young and too inexperienced as a soldier, to be taken seriously, but at the same time, there's nothing that can touch him. Beastmen, Orcs, even his fellow soldiers - Dieter dosen't give a crap. He'll wade right through them, without breaking a sweat. Now, if he'd been his foster dad, Helmut, I wouldn't have a problem with that. However he's just a snot nosed kid, without any combat experience, making him effectively a soldier-virgin. I can't accept someone like that to go toe to toe with an Orc or a Bestigor, without a good explanation of why he is able to do it. Simple as that really.

All right, so with that out of the way we can move on to the main plot itself. As mentioned before, a huge force of Greenskins is making its way through the province of Hochland, and soon it becomes clear that their leader is not your ordinary, dumb Orc. Through some impressive examples of tactical genius and a lot of tactical ineptitude on the humies part, the armies of the Emperor are routed. It falls to the retired general Ludwig Von Grahl to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but is it even possible at this point? After all, the humans are few, but their enemy are legion.

Now this is simply the best part of "Call To Arms" - presenting Greenskins as a legitimate threat. Way too often they've been portrayed as punching bags or comic relief villians in Warhammer fiction, but no in this book. Here, Orcs and Goblins are truly terrifying, and we see first hand how big a threat they can pose, when there's a competent leader at their head. From the ambushes of Goblin Wolf Riders, to rampaging Trolls, every Greenskins fan will find something statisfying here, while the dutiful servants of Karl Franz, will surely learn to respect the ancient enemies of Sigmar, a bit more.

Give them the respect which they deserve!
This is an "Empire Army" novel, so any reader should expect a lot of hardcore, brutal fighting and visceral battles. Scanlon dosen't dissapoint. The engagements between soldiers of the Emperor and Greenskins are visceral and merciless. No quarter is asked, nor given and that's how I like my fantasy fiction. While the supporting cast is a bit bland, we soon learn to care about these men, viewed by the eyes of Dieter Lanz. However there's another thing that really irked me in this book, and now I'll have to enter the mild spoiler territory, in order to talk about it.

The Scarlets are a professional, swordsmen regiment, comprised of many, fine soldiers. However, there are also a couple of rotten apples, present in its ranks. Of course it is Dieter that they have a beef with, since the young man catches them on looting the dead. A dead, old lady to be more precise, one that, it is strongly implied, the dastardly duo have murdered in cold blood. Later, when the Scarlets are forced to abandon field, after the army of Hochland gets routed, Lanz catches one of the bastards, as he's trying to choke a heavily wounded comrade in his sleep! The best part is, that he takes it to the rest of the regiment (who, by the way, know how much of a sleazebag that particular soldier is), who decide that... nothing really happened. Oh sure, Dieter dosen't exactly have a photographic evidence, but the soldier in question even propsoed to mercy kill the wounded man, some time before, as to not get slowed down. Seriously, how stupid are these people?

Now it's time for the spoiler part, so take that into consideration. In the final battle, the two ne'er-do-wells are ordered by their commander to effectively sacrifice themselves, as to buy more time for Von Grahl's plan to work. They oblige, which is bullshit, since these two have been consistently shown as not caring one bit, about anyone else, but themselves. What's worse however, is that when they die heroically, Dieter gives them a sendoff in his mind, thinking of them as true heroes, depiste witenssing them robbing the corpse of an old lady (whom they might've murdered) and trying to kill a wounded comrade in his sleep. Bull-fucking-shit. In fact, now that I think about it, it's not Lanz's character that pissed me off so much in "Call To Arms". No, it was the poorly written, "we are all soldiers, able to do what's right at the right time" story arc. It's like discovering that Archaon was really a good guy, because he helped to get a kitty down from a tree, that one time.

In all fairness, he probably skinned it alive afterwards
Oh and Kurt Helborg makes a cameo, something that's always welcome. I have an unashamed man crush on the Reiksmarshall, so seeing him act all badass, automatically redeems almost anything bad, that he stars in.

Not that "Call To Arms" is bad, mind you. It's a decently written, military novel about duty, honor, sacrifice and how a single cretin can doom a whole province's army, due to his ineptitude. I've honestly enjoyed reading about Greenskins being a legitimate threat, and combat scenes were expertly written. While I couldn't force myself to take Dieter Lanz seriously as a master swordsman, his evolution as a soldier, being forced to mature very quickly, was genuienly interesting and believable.

Except that part, when he thought that two grave robbing murderers, were not so bad after all. Yeah, that part kinda sucked.

All in all, give the "Call To Arms" a try. It's not bad, and for anyone collecting a Hochland army, this one is a must.

Pros:

- Great combat and battle scenes.
- Orcs and Goblins as credible villians.
- Interesting view into the heart of an elite, Empire regiment.
- Kurt Helborg!

Cons:

- Wonder child protagonists, please go and don't come back.
- The redemption arc truly sucked. Like really, really bad.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

3/03/2017

Role-playing Rants: do we really need another edition of WFRP?

For a few weeks now we know that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay will return. GW sold the rights to their venerable RPG, and it looks like Cubicle7 will be the distributer of all things grim and perilous. But is it really a good thing?

There's no doubt that WFRP is a timeless classic, no matter how you look at it. From the ancient, but still viable 1st edition, to the controversial, almost-like-a-board-game 3rd - this game raised thousands of avid roleplayers, over the course of a couple decades. Sadly, as its parent franchise got killed off, it too fell into oblivion. Long before the End Times, Fantasy Flight Games, which held the rights to the franchise, after Black Industries, ended their developement of the controversial 3rd edition. A few books and card decks (sigh) were only available on demand. Some time later, Games Workshop decided to withdraw their license from FFG and... it all went quiet. Until Licensing Expo 2016 in Las Vegas, where they were spotted, while they were offering a bunch of their licenses. Back then, there wasn't a 100% confirmation if the license for WFRP has been sold, but now it seems that indeed such was the case. Cubicle 7 Entertainment, a publisher for Doctor Who card games and the One Ring RPG, among other things, has reportedly acquired the rights to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Is it really a good thing?

I'm not so sure...
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that WFRP will continue to exist on the market. At this moment, it's harder and harder to buy even basic 2nd edition books, not to mention those from the older days of the 1st. There have been rumours that Cubicle 7 may do some reprinting of older Warhammer Fantasy material, and that's a really cool thing. I know that many people, myself included, would love to fill their collection with missing sourcebooks (Realm of the Ice Queen, I need you!) and adventures. However I'm worried. You see, there's this nagging doubt that I have, which just won't go away. It's telling me that they will fuck it up, just like FFG did. Oh, don't get me wrong, I think that the third edition of WFRP wasn't a complete disaster. In fact it was a pretty decent game in itself, if kind of a test pattern for FFG's later titles, but the thing is, it was not what most people wanted. After the 2nd edition, which brought many, positive changes to seriously outdated Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, we recieved... a board game. Worse, it was a board game, dressed as a roleplaying game, which forced you to buy seriously overpriced addons, if you wanted to play it. Without the dice and the markers, there was no way in hell, that the game could be played in any way. Player's Vault, one of the last books for the 3rd edition, adressed that issue, but it was released too late. People were already pissed off, and more and more of them were abandoning this sinking ship, leaving it to rot at the bottom of the Sea of Claws.

Of course the fault was entirely on the publishers' side. FFG is a company which mainly produces board games, and they've never even pretended to do otherwise. Good for them, but when you develop RPG's, you need something more than just a few, funky dice and weird counters. FFG adressed this by treating their RPG's like a scientist or an engineer, treats his work: if at first you won't succeed...

WFRP 3rd edition was a testing ground, which helped in the creation of the excellent Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. A test subject, if you will, used to see which rules will work in a roleplaying game, and which should be avoided. Similarilly, Dark Heresy 1st edition, and the following 40K RPG's were ultimately used to develop Only War, which was the best title of them all, with the least ammount of bugs, bad rules and balance issues. Then again, FFG shot itself in the foot once again, when they've developed Dark Heresy 2nd edition, a complete and utter shitfest, which, thankfully, died pretty quickly. Some people never learn, I guess...

Pictured: a big mistake
Nowadays, roleplaying games are generally made in such a way, that you don't need two weeks of learning the rules, memorising tables and stats columns. Most of the modern RPG's are quick to master, both for gamemasters and players alike, which is a godsend, and actually helps in bringing up new people to the hobby. We are living in a time, where everything has to be done fast and without delay, which means that our entertainment also needs to adapt, if it wants to stay relevant. FFG did not understood that, and ultimately they have failed. Altough some of their games, like Dark Heresy 1st edition and Only War, can be considered successful, most of their RPG's were bloated with rules, tables and charts, not to mention overcomplicated rulesets. I honestly believe that these were the main factors which made them lose their license, for making more GW games as well as continue publishing those already developed. I hope that Cubicle 7 Entertainment won't make similar mistakes, when creating another edition of WFRP, if they'll make one at all. I don't want the potential 4th edition of this game, to be a rules-heavy monster, which'll drive potential players away, with too much stuff, cramped into it. Simples as that, really.

Honestly, I'd just be happy if they'll make a full-scale reprint of the previous Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games, and I think I'm not the only one. Sure, a new version of this venerable classic would be nice, but ultimately not necessary. At least in my opinion.

That's all I really need, if I want to hunt some Beastmen
Until next time!

Xathrodox86