Writing Acts of War II – Week 2 Update

Week two is in the books, and the first draft of Acts of War II is coming along. Here’s my writing report card for the week. If you missed last week’s update, you can find that right here.

Progress: I wrote 12,021 words for week two, slightly more than week one. I ended my writing for the week in the middle of chapter eight and pretty close to the end of act one (should have that wrapped up this week). That’s solid progress, and if I keep it up, I’ll finish the first draft well ahead of schedule.

The Best Part: Secondary characters. If you are not familiar with the work I do for Privateer Press, you might not know the Iron Kingdoms is not a world I created. Far from it. It was created by Privateer Press, my publisher, and many of the major characters in the novel are preexisting characters from the setting. While I love writing about the famous heroes and villains of the Iron Kingdoms, I do get to create a bunch of secondary characters from whole cloth in each novel. That’s always fun because I get to add a little to the lore of the Iron Kingdoms.

The Hard Part: Secondary characters. Yep, this week it’s a double-edged sword. When I’m writing about Stryker or Magnus, I don’t have to worry about coming up with a setting-appropriate background; that’s already built in. When I create a character from scratch, I have to make sure he or she actually fits in the Iron Kingdoms. This can often be a challenge because I don’t want to give you the character’s life story in a massive info dump. Instead, I try to find little details that anchor the character in the setting and don’t require a lot of space to communicate. For example, one of the men under Magnus’ command is a former merc who worked with the warcaster while he was a mercenary. That’s easy to get across in a sentence or two, and it grounds the character firmly in the setting. The fact that he’s a former pirate that once served aboard one of Captain Bartolo Montador’s ships is just icing on the cake (and me having a little fun).

Mini Excerpt: This week’s mini excerpt features Lord General Stryker interacting with one of those secondary characters I spoke about. This one, a captain in the Steelheads Mercenary Company, isn’t exactly impressed by the famous Cygnaran warcaster (despite the awesome concept art from Matthew D. Wilson below).

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“I am surprised Marshal d’Elyse would not ride out to meet an old ally,” Stryker said. From a strategic perspective, he understood why she had sent an envoy, but she had sent a mercenary, not one of her own men. The message and the slight were clear.

“Is that what you are, Lord General?” the Steelhead captain said. “There are some who think different.”

“What is your name, mercenary?” Captain Archer said, her disgust plain. Many knights had little regard for mercenaries, finding their shifting loyalties distasteful, but Stryker couldn’t say if Captain Archer numbered among them or if she was simply taken aback by this particular Steelhead’s impertinence.

“Captain Artis Keller, at your service,” the Steelhead said and touched one finger to his helmet.  “And, ma’am, I don’t consider that word an insult, even when you spit it at me.”


Gotta love a sassy Steelhead, right?

Have a questions or a comment about the book, the Iron Kingdoms, or my writing process? Ask away in the comments section below.

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Oh, and remember, you can still get the first book in this series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, at a 25% discount from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at check out.

Writing Acts of War II – Week 1 Update

I’ve begun the writing the first draft for Acts of War II, and this is this first update on my progress. Before I get into the numbers and whatnot, let me tell you a bit about what these updates are going to look like.

First, I’ll give you my progress on the draft for the week prior, which will come in the form of how many words I’ve written and what chapter I’m on. Next, I’ll tell you one thing that was fun about writing that week and one thing that was a little challenging. Finally, I’ll give you very short excerpt from the week’s writing. These excerpts will be raw text from the first draft, so there’s every possibility they’ll change a little or even a lot in the final version of the book. Don’t worry; I won’t spoil major plot points or anything in these excerpts.

Okay, so now that you know what you’re getting, here’s what week one looked like.

Progress: I wrote 11,678 words, which put me right at the end of chapter three. That number exceeds my daily and weekly writing goals, and it keeps me on track for a first draft of between 90,000 and 110,000 words in about nine to ten weeks. So, in all, a solid first week.

The Best Part: I got to write from Ashlynn d’Elyse’s POV for the first time. She’s always been one of my favorite characters in the setting, and it was a lot of fun to get into her head. Plus, she’s a renowned sword master and duelist, so I can really nerd out and get a little more technical with her fight scenes (see below).

The Hard Part: Location, location, location. Describing places in the Iron Kingdoms that have never been described before in narrative fiction can be challenging because you want to make sure what you’re writing matches the existing information (of which there is often quite a bit). Luckily, I have excellent resources for that kind of thing, so it just takes a little bit of extra research.

Mini Excerpt: This week’s mini excerpt features Ashlynn d’Elyse doing one of the things she does best—kicking ass! (By the way, check out the original concept art for Ashlynn below.)

ashlynn1

Ashlynn thrust at the ‘jack marshal’s throat, and he knocked Nemesis aside with a crisp parry, binding her weapon with his heavier blade and what he must think superior strength. It was good form, but not good enough. She allowed her sword to be pushed away, then snapped Nemesis out of the bind. Her opponent had been using too much pressure, and his blade dropped for a split second without her weapon to resist it. The opening was small, but she was quick, and a short, powerful cut from Nemesis split the Khadoran’s skull before he could bring his saber back up to defend himself.

That’ll learn him, right? Tune in next week for more progress, more art, and more mini excerpts from Acts of War II.

Got questions about the book or the writing process? Fire away in the comments section below.


Check out the first book in this Acts of War series, Flashpoint, if you haven’t already. You can get a digital version of the book at 25% off from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at check out.

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Acts of War II Character Profile: Ashlynn d’Elyse

Time for the first character profile for Acts of War II, where I’ll give you some basic information on the major characters from the upcoming novel. If you’re a fan of the Iron Kingdoms and WARMACHINE, you’ll be very familiar with some of these characters (but not all of them). If you’re new to the land of steam and sorcery, these profiles will give you valuable information on the characters and the world they live in.

To kick things off, we’ll start with a character who’s new to the Acts of War series, Llaelese Resistance leader and warcaster Ashlynn d’Elyse.

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Name: Ashlynn d’Elyse

Nation: Llael

Resume: warcaster, master swordsman, battle leader in the Llaelese Resistance, part-time mercenary

Signature Weapon: Nemesis

History: The only daughter of Llaelese noble and renowned master duelist Benoir d’Elyse, Ashlynn was destined to be a great warrior and swordsman like her father. When her arcane abilities manifested, she earned a place at the Royal Arcane Academy, and became one of Llael’s few warcasters.

Her full potential as a warcaster was realized on the front lines when Khador invaded Llael, and she quickly became known among her enemies and allies as a fearsome warrior and battle leader. The execution of her father and many other nobles after the fall of the capitol city of Merywyn only made her more determined and ruthless.

When Cygnar withdrew its aid and Llael fell, Ashlynn fought on, offering her services as a mercenary to fund a growing rebellion. The Resistance has long been a thorn in the side of the Khadoran occupiers, and Ashlynn d’Elyse and her warcaster abilities are behind much of the damage caused by the Llaelese freedom fighters.

Present: When Cygnar invaded Llael to drive out Khador under their new king Julius Raelthorne, the Resistance was not a large part of their plans. Much of this was because of the Resistance’s relationship with the Protectorate of Menoth, a nation of zealots whose interests often put them at odds with Cygnar. Ashlynn resents Cygnar’s invasion of her lands and sees them as only slightly better than the Khadoran occupiers they are attempting to remove. She and the Resistance fight on, against Khador and any who would stand in the way of a free Llael.


Check out the first book in this Acts of War series, Flashpoint, if you haven’t already. You can get a digital version of the book at 25% off from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at check out.

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Writing Acts of War II – A Novel Adventure

Hey, folks, I’ve been pretty transparent with my writing career here on the ol’ blog, what with all my rejections and over-analysis of said rejections, but let’s go all the way.

I’m going to start writing my next novel for Privateer Press, the sequel to Acts of War: Flashpoint. The working title for this book is Boiling Point, but that is very likely to change. Anyway, what I’m going to do (with Privateer’s kind permission) is document the entire process of writing the novel from first draft to publication and post it here for your amusement and edification. Before I go on, here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of Acts of War II:

War has come again to Llael. Lord General Coleman Stryker has inflicted a devastating defeat upon Great Prince Vladimir Tzepesci at the Khadoran-occupied city of Riversmet and now marches on the mining city of Rynyr to cripple Khadoran supply lines and weaken their position in the Llaelese capital city of Merywyn. But this one victory has done little to stem the avalanche of Khadoran might, and Empress Ayn Vanar has recalled one of her most fearsome warcasters and battle leaders to strike back at the Cygnaran invaders. He will summon to him a force so overwhelming that Stryker may be swept away on a tide of red steel.

Hope survives in the form of unexpected allies. Ashlynn d’Elyse, warcaster and leader of the Llaelese Resistance, fights a battle of her own against the Khadoran interlopers. She has no love for Cygnar but would still make a powerful ally if Stryker can convince her to join his cause. Meanwhile, old wounds fester as Asheth Magnus remains entrenched in the Cygnaran military machine, and Stryker must learn to use Magnus’ military prowess while keeping the cunning warcaster from undermining his authority.

So, as I write the first draft, we’ll do weekly check-ins, and I’ll update you on the raw numbers (how much I’ve written, how many chapters, etc.), give you some behind the scenes looks at the book in process (favorite lines, paragraphs), and occasionally give you a sneak peek into the process of things like cover design, developmental editing, revisions, concept art, and so on. You’ll also get character profiles on all the major characters, which will be handy for those new to the Iron Kingdoms and might serve as a nice refresher for those that know it well. But, never fear, longtime WARMACHINE players, there are some brand new characters in this book you are definitely going to want to learn about, and you WILL get sneak previews on these new characters during this process.

If you’re not into the whole Iron Kingdoms things, and you’re just interested in seeing how the sausage is made (well, at this particular factory), then there’ll be lots of info on how a novel is written, edited, marketed, and so on. This’ll all be from my own personal experience with Privateer Press, so what’s presented won’t be the ONE TRUE WAY or anything, but you might glean a few pointers here and there. At the end of this journey, there will be a shiny new novel I hope you will run out and read.

So, what do you say? Want to watch me pen the next thrilling chapter in my writing career and/or watch me crack beneath the stress of writing a novel in public? Either way, it’ll probably be entertaining.

Look for the first update, “How Outlining Destroyed My Soul” or something like that, in the very near future.

Oh, and since this is Acts of War II, you might be interested in reading Acts of War I: Flashpoint. Privateer is making that even easier by offering a 25% discount on the digital version of the book at the Skull Island eXpeditions website. Just click the the big ol’ picture of the book below and enter the following coupon code when you check out: ACTSOFWAR1

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It Came From My Hard Drive Part 4 – “A Pointed Education”

Here’s another little vignette I wrote for a Dungeons & Dragon supplement that never made it into print. This one would have been the introduction to a character build focused on throwing weapons. It’s one of those pieces that’s always left me wondering what happened to the characters, and maybe there’s a longer story in here somewhere. Anyway, it’s called “A Pointed Education,” and like the rest of these, it’s high fantasy, dwarves and elves kind of stuff.


A Pointed Education

“Master, would it not be better to take up our axes and blades and face the enemy in honorable battle?” Arimus asked. The dwarven youth’s lips were turned up in a smirk as he balanced a practice javelin in one thick-fingered hand. “My father always said that missile weapons were for elves and cowards not true warriors.”

The other students had been pulling their own practice javelins from a row of vaguely anthropomorphic straw targets, and all turned to look at the insolent Arimus, as he prepared to match wits and wills with Master Iocretian again. A hush settled over the small practice range – anything that broke the monotony of daily drill was highly regarded.

Iocretian, the aging dragonborn master peltast, continued to pull his javelins – real ones with barbed heads – out of one of the straw targets. Once he had gathered his six missiles, each of which had struck the center of the target from nearly sixty paces away, he turned to regard his most difficult student with a toothy grin.

“Well, Arimus, your father may have a point there,” Iocretian said, scratching the spines at the base of his chin as if considering the dwarf’s words. “However, I seem to remember it was an orc javelin and not a battleaxe that pierced your father’s skull during the battle of Gulgur’s Canyon. Pity that orc wasn’t versed in the ways of ‘honorable combat’ like your poor sire.”

Arimus’ face turned bright red, his cheeks flaming through the fuzz of his first beard. It was a brutal riposte by the master peltast, and the other students shrank away from the awful truth of Iocretian’s words.

“My father was a hero!” The young dwarf shouted, tears filling his eyes. “He killed fifty orcs that day in Gulgur’s Canyon, and I’ll fight anyone who says different!”

Iocretian’s face softened, and his scales seemed to sag more than usual. He knelt down to the fuming Arimus and put one clawed hand on the young dwarf’s shoulder. “Arimus,” he said. “No one is claiming your father is a coward. Only a fool would name Utren Stoneaxe so. But you must understand your uncle sent you to me so you don’t suffer a similar fate as your father.”

“To die in battle?” Arimus said, his eyes now filled with stubborn pride. “There is no greater glory.”

“No, you young fool,” Iocretian said and cupped the dwarf’s bearded face. “Your uncle didn’t want you to die young like your father because he couldn’t be flexible in battle.”

“I don’t understand,” Arimus said, hurt and anger still staining his words. “My father was a skilled warrior.”

“Yes, your father was as skilled warrior, but he knew axe and shield and straight-into-the-teeth-of-the-enemy and not much else. Think, boy! If you’re father could have thrown a hammer or a javelin with the same skill he wielded his axe, it would be him teaching you the ways of a dwarven warrior and not your uncle and me.”

Arimus opened his mouth to reply, then shut it, his eyes wary but intrigued.

“Yes, now you understand,” Iocretian said with another toothy grin. “Flexibility, boy. Adaptation. These are the traits that will ultimately lead you to victory in battle not just a ‘glorious death’ in your first skirmish. Learn the way of the axe, learn the way of the shield, but let me show you a trick or two as well.”

“i’m . . . I’m sorry, master,” Arimus said softly, and then found something very interesting to look at between his feet.

“Keep your apologies, boy,” Iocretian said. “I’d rather have you hit that target more than three out of six casts.”

Arimus smiled. He had been the only student to hit his target three times, and the backhanded acknowledgement of that feat was not lost on him. “Yes, master, four at least on my next try. I promise.”

“Then let’s see it . . . young warrior.”

When Should You Reply to a Rejection Letter?

Should you reply to rejection letters? A good question, and 99.9 % of the time my personal opinion is a resounding NO. The most compelling reason is that many publishers will straight-up tell you not to reply to a rejection in their submission guidelines, and we always follow the submission guidelines, right? That said, here are some reasons writers sometimes DO reply to a rejection letter (and my opinion why they shouldn’t).

  1. To say thank you for an encouraging, personal rejection. A nice thought, but I think it’s generally unnecessary. Editors receive a lot of emails, and there’s a chance you’ll just be cluttering up their inbox with a (well meant) thank you. I think it’s kind of implied that you appreciate the editor’s time and consideration of your story, but if you really feel you need to say thanks for some encouraging words, I’d put a short note in the cover letter for your next submission to the publication. I’ve done that once or twice.
  2. You disagree with feedback. If you get actual feedback in a rejection and disagree with it, just ignore it and move on. This is a subjective business, and there are times an editor is going to give you feedback that doesn’t work for you. Replying to “correct” the editor isn’t going to get you anywhere, and it might hurt you chances at future publications with the same market. Now if that feedback is just off-the-wall bonkers, you might avoid submitting to that publisher again. In general, though, save your arguing for feedback on a story that’s been accepted.
  3. Because they were rude. Were they, though? I’m sure editors have been rude to authors in rejection letters, but out of the many, many I’ve received not once has an editor been anything but polite. When I see authors getting upset over rejections (and talking about it publicly) it’s often because they received a short, to-the-point form rejection which they’ve interpreted as clipped, terse, or dismissive. Editors are busy folks, and sometimes all they have time for is a short “No thanks” or “Doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” Don’t take that stuff personally, and absolutely don’t send a snarky reply. Again, it’s not going to get you anywhere, and it’ll likely hurt your chances for future publications.

Now for the big question: When should you respond to a rejection?

In my career there has been only one instance where I felt it was appropriate to respond to a rejection letter. Here’s why. I received a rejection that wasn’t meant for me. The publisher made a mistake because my story and another author’s story had very similar titles (an understandable error). When I received the rejection and realized it wasn’t for my story, I replied with a polite “I don’t think this was meant for me” and received an immediate and professional apology rescinding the rejection. My story was eventually rejected, but the publisher’s professionalism in correcting the mistake definitely left a good impression. I’ll be submitting there again.

So, that’s my opinion on when you should respond to a rejection letter, i.e., almost never. I’m willing to be educated on this point, though, and it you know some good reasons to reply to a rejection (or disagree with my reasons not to), please tell me about them in the comments.

October/November 2016 Submission Statement

I didn’t have a chance to recount my submission efforts for October, so I thought I’d combine them with November and do one big ol’ update. What follows is a two-month submission report, and since I was fairly active, especially in November, there’s a lot to get through.

October/November Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 9
  • Rejections: 8
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Other: 2
  • Publications: 2

Rejections

I finished new stories in October and November and began sending them out to the usual suspects. I’m also documenting the progress of one of those stories through the submission process in Real-Time Rejection II: The Saga of “Story X1.” A good portion of the rejections that follow are for the two new stories.

Rejection 1: 10/22/16

Thank you for sharing your story with us at XXX. While it doesn’t meet our editorial needs at this time, please keep us in mind for future submissions.

This is a higher-tier form rejection from one of the top markets in the fantasy genre. That’s a bit of a rarity for me since I don’t write a lot of fantasy. I sometimes stray into dark urban fantasy, which is what this submission was. Anyway, this is the first time I’ve submitted to this particular market, and getting a higher-tier rejection isn’t the worst way to begin. I have another submission under consideration with them at the moment.

Rejection 2: 10/29/16

Thanks so much for entering our Flash Fear contest. We had so many quality entries this time around.

Unfortunately, your entry, “XXX,” did not make it into our Top 10. However, we are happy to report that the piece did make it through several rounds of cuts and was still in consideration until the last stages of judging. As a result, we’ve given you a “Close But No Cigar” shout-out on our Flash Fear results page.

We encourage folks who didn’t quite make the cut to think about submitting those pieces for consideration in our regular issues (free to submit). While there’s no guarantees, we have published a few that way in the past.

Thanks again for your participation, and for writing such an entertaining story.

The Molotov Cocktail held another flash fiction contest in October, and I sent off three submissions. This is one of the few times where I’ll violate my blog rule of keeping the name of the publisher secret (I cleared it with editor Josh Goller first) because they’ve published a bunch of my stuff and I have nothing but great things to say about them (not that I have anything negative to say about other publishers), and it’ll be obvious who the publisher is once we get to the publications part of this post.

Anyway, this is a “Close but no Cigar” rejection, which is kind of like a higher-tier form rejection. I’ve since sent this particular story out again.

Rejection 3: 10/29/16

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to our Flash Fear contest. We were very happy to see such high quality submissions. The judging process was a particularly arduous one. 

Unfortunately, “End of the Line” was not selected for our Top 10, but we very much enjoyed the chance to read it.

Thanks so much for your participation. We couldn’t do these contests without you.

This is a standard form rejection from The Molotov Cocktail for one of my three submissions to the Flash Fear contest.

 

Rejection 4: 11/9/16

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

This is the first rejection for “Story X1,” and it’s a higher-tier form rejection from one of the top markets in the horror genre. This is the first time I’ve managed anything but a standard from rejection from this particular market after many tries, so not a bad way for “Story X1” to kick things off.

Rejection 5: 11/10/16

Many thanks for sending “Story X1”, but I’m sorry to say that it isn’t right for XXX. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere, and hope that you’ll send me something new soon. 

Another rejection for “Story X1.” This one is a standard form rejection from another top-tier horror market. I generally hit all the pro markets with a new story first, so you’ll see a bit of a theme with the rejections for “Story X1.”

Rejection 6: 11/11/16

Thank you for the opportunity to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.

In the past, we’ve provided detailed feedback on our rejections, but I’m afraid that due to time considerations, we’re no longer able to offer that service. I appreciate your interest in XXX and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future.

Here we have rejection #3 for “Story X1,” and it’s one my fellow horror authors will likely recognize. This is a standard form rejection from one of the toughest markets to crack in the biz, and I could probably wallpaper my office with these things if I were to print them all out.

Rejection 7: 11/12/16

Thank you for your patience while our editors reviewed your submission. Unfortunately, XXX has not been accepted for publication in XXX. We hope you continue to submit to XXX in future and I wish you all the best with your publishing endeavours.

When you’ve received as many rejections as I have, they really do lose their sting, and I barely even notice form rejections at this point. This rejection, however, is the type that still leaves a bit of a mark. It’s a personal rejection after I received a further consideration letter from the publisher. These are always a little disappointing because you know got close to an acceptance (well, closer than usual, anyway). Still, this was my first submission to this publisher, and I got close. That means I need to send them more stories, which I certainly will.

Rejection 8: 11/30/16

Thank you for your interest in our magazine. Unfortunately, after reviewing your submission, we have decided that it is not for us at this point in time. As much as we hate to reject any work of fiction, please remember that it is not a value judgment based on your lovely skills and talent; it really is us, not you. We hope to see you on our submissions list in the future!

This is the fourth rejection for “Story X1,” and it appears to be a standard form rejection. Though this has some verbiage you sometimes see in higher-tier form rejection, this is a new market, and this is my first submission to them, so my gut says standard form rejection.

Other

I received a couple of further consideration letters in October and November.

Further Consideration 1: 10/31/16

Thank you for your submission to XXX.

Your short story XXX has made it through to the next stage of submission. This involves your story going to our editors at the end of the month for a final decision and can take a little while so we appreciate your patience.

Following is feedback from our readers.

– Nicely crafted urban fantasy story.

– Edgy piece, nicely written. I had to look up Baba Yaga to get the full meaning of the ending of the story, however.

I or the editors will update you on the outcome as soon as we are able.

This is a further consideration letter eventually resulted in rejection #7 above. This one is interesting because it offers some feedback from their readers. I discuss this rejection in further detail in this post.

Further Consideration 2: 11/20/16

I love this story! I have short-listed it. And it’s a short list.

Would you mind if I held on to this story until the close of submissions, February 1st? We just opened and we’ll receive a lot more submissions.

Please advise.

This particular further consideration letter is interesting for the simple fact the publisher gives me the option to pull the story if I so choose. I’m not going to do that, and I hope my story survives the winter. I discuss this letter in further detail in this post.

Acceptances

One acceptance for the last couple of months.

Acceptance 1: 10/29/16

You’ve done it again! 3rd place in Flash Fear for “Masks,” a truly imaginative piece with some bite to it. Really enjoyable read. 

By now we have your PayPal ID and you just sent over another bio, so just let us know if you want anything different for either. We’ll issue your prize payment within about 14 days.

Thanks again for writing such kick-ass stuff.

An acceptance and a third-place finish in the most recent flash fiction contest from one of my favorite publishers. It’s always great when you can find a publisher that digs your stuff enough to keep publishing you.

Publications

Two publications this month: a short story and a gaming article.

Publication 1: 10/31/16

“Masks” – The Molotov Cocktail

My one acceptance is one of my two publications in the last couple of months. My story “Masks” took 3rd place in The Molotov Cocktails Flash Fear contest. I’d been sitting on that particular story for years, but I thought it might be a good fit for the contest. Looks like I was right. You can read it by clicking the link above.

Publication 2: 11/21/16

“Weapons & Warriors: The Protectorate of Menoth Privateer Press/No Quarter magazine #69

My second publication is in No Quarter magazine for Privateer Press. I still write game-related articles for my former employer on a pretty regular basis, and this one kicks of a new series where I take elements of real-world fighting styles and apply them to the weapons and warriors of the Iron Kingdoms. The series lets me nerd out with two of my favorite subjects: fencing/martial arts and WARMACHINE/HORDES.


My apologies for the overly long post, but it was a fairly active couple of months. How was your October and November? Tell me about it in the comments.