Lore: The 51st Commandery

As I have stated in the past, I’m a long-time fan of Warhammer 40,000. I love the building, painting, battling, lore, etc but one area where I feel like I have been always lacking is the fleshing out of my characters and army’s lore. I usually just come up with a name for the army, maybe name a few characters and then leave it there – any “lore” they get tends to be built up organically from campaigns or impressive deeds during battle. Perhaps the most neglected of my forces is my Adepta Sororitas, which is particularly egregious since they’re also my favourite army. I’ve had this army for more than eight years now and I hadn’t even given my Canoness a name! Well, I decided it was finally time to give my army a proper identity, which was originally just supposed to be a few paragraph overview but it quickly started ballooning into a full-on army profile with several prominent named characters and personalities and a full-on photoshoot. So… yeah, where better to host that then on I Choose to Stand? It’s something a bit different compared to what I usually do around here, but I’ve been considering hosting some creative writing here for a while. Who knows, maybe this will become more of a regular thing in the future? In any case, enjoy…

The 51st Commandery

Stationed in the shadow of the towering spires of Balor’s refineries, billowing plumes of smoke to choke the atmosphere, the shrine-bunker of the 51st Commandery of the Order of Our Martyred Lady stands resolute, a bastion of the Emperor’s light. Within its cavernous halls is a convent of approximately 200 Sisters of Battle who have operated from Balor for more than a century. Following the massacre and martyrdom of much of the Order of Our Martyred Lady during the Third Battle for Armageddon, a contingent of veterans of the battle, led by the newly-minted Canoness Commander Petronilla Magdelaine, were sent to Balor to establish the 51st Commandery. Their founding mission was to provide support to the Order Fenestrus, escorting them to perform their holy duties in war-ravaged worlds in the vicinity of Balor.

However, the nature of the 51st’s mission has changed since its fourth Canoness Commander, Maria Orantes, has assumed the mantle of authority. Her predecessor, the long-serving Angela Impassia, was martyred in defence of a holy Imperial shrine on Rascella. Their position was unexpectedly overrun by Necrons and Angela gave her life to ensure the safe retreat of the Order Fenestrus. This also bought time for her sisters to reorganize and push the xenos back, but by the time they did so there was little left of Angela Impassia to salvage – having been hit by scores of gauss beams, all that could be found of her were a few scraps of cloth.

In addition to the Order of Our Martyred Lady and the Order Fenestrus, the 51st Commandery’s shrine bunker hosts pilgrims, missionaries, relic-hunters of the Order Pronatus, Hagiographers and a handful of members of the Order Familius, among others.

Following the death of their commander, the 51st Commandery had to choose a new leader to carry them forward. While the role of appointing a successor ultimately falls upon the shoulders of the Order of Our Martyred Lady’s Canoness Superior, in practice the decision is often too minor for the Cannoness Superior to personally oversee the selection. It would require a Commandery of crucial strategic importance for her to put her full attention into the decision and the 51st had not earned that level of distinction. As a result, the decision was to be delegated amongst the veterans of the Commandery and this selection would then be passed up through the chain of command for approval. This was how the selection was intended to worth in theory, but in practice the appointment could also be influenced by other interested parties capable of catching the ear of the Ecclesiarchy.

When it was announced that Maria Orantes had been selected as Canoness Commander, this proved to be controversial. The first reason for this was that, while Maria Orantes was unquestionably an esteemed warrior and battlefield leader, command was expected to be passed on to the favourite among the 51st’s veterans, Sister Superior Ludmila Stanbridge. Ludmila had long been seen as the logical successor to Angela Impassia, having proven herself a capable battlefield commander and was dedicated to strengthening the 51st’s relationship with the Order Fenestrus. There were several other candidates in the running for command, including Maria Orantes and Ludmila’s twin sister Sophia, but it was clear that Ludmila held the largest share of support amongst the veterans of the 51st.

The second reason that Maria Orantes’ selection as Canoness Commander proved controversial was that it was strongly believed that the choice was made, or heavily influenced, by someone outside of the Order of Our Martyred Lady. Despite the 51st’s clear desire for command to go to Ludmila Stanbridge, it is not unheard of for the Canoness Superior to select a successor who more closely fits her vision for the Commandery, or even send a Canoness from a completely different commandery to fulfill the role. However, this has done little to stave hushed speculation throughout the halls of the 51st Commandery’s shrine-bunker. While there is no physical evidence to support these suspicions, it is believed that the Ordo Hereticus played a hand in the selection. The Ordo Hereticus have been active on Balor for millennia, but their influence on the 51st began to be felt during the early parts of the Rascellan campaign and has only become more hands-on since Maria Orantes has assumed command. While the Ordo Hereticus and Adepta Sororitas have worked closely since their inception, there are still some among the 51st who express concerns about their loss of autonomy, feeling like they have become puppets to the Inquisition.

Foremost amongst the non-militant orders in the 51st Commandery are a number of Hospitallers of the Order of Serenity who have been ensuring that no sister martyrs herself lightly. While there are several Hospitallers serving in the shrine-bunker and abroad, the two most distinguished members amongst the 51st are Perpetua Kazuhera and Euphemia Pacifica, who have accompanied Maria on several crusades now and saved countless lives in the process.

In spite of all this, perhaps the most controversial aspect of Maria’s selection as Canoness Commander was that her methods differed greatly from those of her predecessors. As soon as she took command, Maria set about preparing the 51st for war. No longer would they be acting as support for the Order Fenestrus, they would be taking the fight to the heretic and xenos directly. For nearly a century the blood of countless martyrs of the 51st had been spilled providing support to the Order Fenestrus. As a result, this mission had taken on a holy significance among many of the veterans of the Commandery, especially among those who supported Ludmila, so this dramatic shift was met with strong opposition. However, it was only Maria’s unimpeachable faith and force of will which kept the 51st Commandery from fracturing entirely.

In her decades of service among the 51st Commandery, Maria had become well-known for her faith and fervour, which reached a level of devotion that was notable even amongst the pious ranks of the Adepta Sororitas. However, it was not always so. In the early years of her service among the 51st, Maria’s adherence to the tenets of the Ecclesiarchy was found wanting and so she was stripped of her place among the Battle Sisters and forced into the Sisters Repentia. Here, exposed to all the dangers of an uncaring galaxy with little more than her desire for redemption, Maria found her faith not only renewed but redoubled as she hurled her body at the Emperor’s foe and laid them low with the roar of her eviscerator. When her tenure in the Repentia was completed, Maria’s renewed faith found herself quickly rising in prominence among her peers until she reached the honoured ranks of the Seraphim. However, this was not enough and Maria voluntarily surrendered herself to the Repentia for a second time. It was a shocking decision as, even then, Maria was seen as a beacon of faith by her comrades. However, Maria declared to them that her faith had never been stronger than when she was in the Repentia and that she desired to temper it there once more. When this second round of trials was completed, Maria’s convictions were stronger than ever and she quickly became the Sister Superior of the 51st Commandery’s Seraphim and held this rank until her promotion to Canoness Commander.

The Emperor laid down his life so that we may live, to bring about this great Imperium. The least we can do is put our lives in His hands, to cast aside our armour and clad ourselves in pure faith. If we die, we do so knowing that it is for His glory, not our own.

-Maria Orantes, Seraphim of the 51st Commandery

Whatever differences there were when Maria Orantes assumed command, none of her Sisters could find fault in her belief and so even the most ardent skeptic among the Commandery was willing to give her a chance to either prove or damn herself. This took the form of a series of holy wars into Imperial worlds around Balor contested by expansionist xenos forces, the Necrons and the T’au. It soon became undeniable that purging these hated foes breathed new life into the sisters of the 51st and opinion began to shift in Maria’s favour. If there was any doubt about the righteousness or divine will of her cause, that was quickly washed away with the opening of the Great Rift, the start of the Indomitus Crusade and the fiery Morvenn Vahl’s promotion to Abbess Sanctorum, which saw Adepta Sororitas of all Orders across the Imperium rising up to make war.

In recent times, the 51st Commandery has been seen fighting Necrons, Tau and Tyranids ravaging worlds in the Ultima Segmentum, before being forced back towards Balor to deal with the Blood Crusade. Most recently, they have been seen fighting under the command of Morvenn Vahl herself in the Charadon system…

Forces of the 51st

Foremost amongst the heroines of the 51st Commandery is the Canoness Commander herself, Maria Orantes. After her two tenures in the Repentia, Maria has come to favour the eviscerator, both as a reminder of her trials and as a brutally-efficient instrument of death. Complementing her melee weapon of choice is a sacred inferno pistol of the Order of Our Martyred Lady, said to have been once wielded by a venerated saint. Maria Orantes leads from the front always and her sisters have learned to follow her into battle without question. While her strategic direction for the 51st comes from a deep-seated conviction to bring death to the heretic, xenos and mutant alike, Maria ultimately desires that greatest of all honours – to achieve the status of Living Saint. No member of the 51st has yet attained such a distinction, but Maria desires this goal above all else. When the time comes for her martyrdom, she prays that her deeds may be recounted amongst the venerated names of saints long past.

One of the most influential members of Maria’s retinue isn’t even technically a member of the 51st Commandery. Instead, she hails from the non-militant Order Dialogus, the Order of the Holy Word. Her name is Agnes Aemulator Existens Paternarum and she operates as a fervent and pious spiritual advisor to the Canoness Commander. Her voice can always be heard intoning prayers across the battlefield to embolden her sisters. However, it is no secret that Agnes also operates as an agent of the Ordo Hereticus, providing linguistic and intelligence-gathering support for them, among other duties. It is believed that this close relationship secured Maria Orantes’ bid for leadership, as the tacit support of both the Dialogi and Ordo Hereticus would have been an influential vote of confidence in her favour.

Among Maria’s retinue perhaps the most revered is Felicity Gracelyn, Imagifier of the 51st. In addition to recounting the deeds of martyred sisters among the Order, Felicity holds aloft a sculpture of Saint Joan the Pierced of Armageddon. Joan was a Celestian in the same squad as Petronilla Magdelaine, the first Canoness Commander of the 51st. During the Third War for Armageddon, Saint Joan held off an entire squad of Orks by herself, giving her comrades enough time to secure their retreat before she was hacked to death by the Orks’ blades. However, when this position was retaken days later, she was witnessed once again by her sisters charging into the greenskin lines where she disappeared in a gout of holy fire, slaying many score Orks in the process. Naught was recovered of her but her rosary and a handful of ashes, which were placed at the heart of her simulacrum alongside the bones of other Sisters martyred on Armageddon alongside her. Hearing the deeds of Saint Joan sets the hearts of the 51st aflame and push them to ever greater deeds in order to become worthy of commemoration.

If the Ordo Hereticus have been more hands-on with the 51st in recent times, then Bethel Ingran is that hand made manifest. Ingran first encountered the forces of the 51st during the Rascellan Campaign while she was on the trail of the radical Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Felix Rex. After they helped her to bring the Emperor’s justice to the rogue Inquisitor, Ingran relocated to Balor, obstinately to continue the Ordo Hereticus’ observations of the population, but also to keep the 51st within arm’s reach if needed. After all, Ingran is a resourceful, calculating and cautious Inquisitor and would prefer to keep a proven-successful resource available whenever possible. Ingran is always found flanked by her Crusader bodyguards who safeguard her and ensure that she lives on to accomplish her mission.


Despite being passed up as Canoness Commander, Ludmila Stanbridge holds no ill-will towards Maria Orantes. In spite of this, Ludmila is Maria’s most vocal critic in matters of strategy and it is not unusual for war counsel to be interrupted by Ludmila’s protests. While some may find this to be insubordinate, Maria appreciates the presence of a dissenting voice, especially one who still holds great reverence throughout the ranks of the 51st. As a result of this, Maria has revised battle plans on a handful of occasions after hearing out Ludmila’s concerns. Ludmila, along with her more impetuous twin Sophia, are both honoured Sister Superiors, leading squads of Battle Sisters to war and earning herself even greater respect among her peers.

Amongst the veterans of the 51st, Seira Ignata, Sister Superior of Squad Ember, has the greatest burden upon her. During the Rascellan campaign, early in her career with the 51st, Seira’s squad were wiped out by Orks and, with the help of a Deathwatch Kill Team which were operating in the area, she managed to avenge her fallen sisters. From there, she worked closely with Bethel Ingran to help him bring rogue Inquisitor Felix Rex to justice and has only risen in prominence since. In fact, just as Ludmila was viewed as Angela Impassia’s future successor, Seira is expected to one day take up the mantle from Maria Orantes when she is inevitably martyred. Perhaps this is why Seira has been entrusted with a copy of the Litanies of Faith. While this is likely not the legendary original copy of Sebastian Thor’s preachings, it is still enough to set the hearts of the Sororitas afire, so why risk sullying such belief? As for Seira herself, she leads squads of her sisters into battle with grim determination, eager to strike down all foes of the Emperor, but is particularly eager to drive a stake directly into the heart of any witches.

Whenever the 51st Commandery go on crusade, they are invariably accompanied by masses of Eccelsiarchy priests, missionaries and pilgrims. These hangers-on have proven to be quite useful to the Sororitas, as they spread the word of the Emperor in a more direct and sustained manner than the Order of Our Martyred Lady is capable of accomplishing. In this way, the 51st clears the way so that the masses may receive the word unopposed by any opposing, heretical dogma.

Maria’s fervent leadership has seen the ranks of the Sisters Repentia swell to numbers never before seen in the 51st Commandery’s history. This may be seen as alarming, but the vast majority of the those consigned to the Repentia were put there of their own free will. For them, Maria is an exemplar of the kind of faith they should aspire to and many sisters feel as if they fall short and have shamed themselves. For others, they did not agree with Maria’s leadership when she was appointed but have since come to realize that she was divinely appointed and seek redemption for their weak faith. For some, self-flagellation is not enough of a penance. The Sisters Repentia are always ready to accept these wayward souls and it is considered the honourable first step on the path to redemption to take up the eviscerator in the Emperor’s name.

With influx of Repentia come, inevitably, an influx of Mortifiers – disgraced sisters for whom redemption is no longer an option. All that is left for them is prolonged agony and damnation as they make themselves useful to the Emperor one last time. Most notorious amongst the 51st’s Mortifiers is the Anchorite is known as “The Damned”, a sister who has been locked inside of her armoured sarcophagus for decades. Her suffering has been so prolonged that only the longest-serving veterans of the chapter can remember her sins, but these are so grave that they refuse to speak of them. Younger members of the sisterhood don’t even dare speculate in hushed tones – as they see The Damned launching herself into battle to end her suffering, they fear that their idle curiosity may one day earn them a similar fate.

Quick Fix: My Life in 2021 in Photos

Hey, I know that my writing output has slowed considerably in 2021, down from three posts in the first half of January to… well… one (really great) article since then. It’s not that I don’t have ideas – I’ve got a Retrospective planned for months and ready to go as soon as I get time to dedicate to watching the franchise again, and I wanted to write about Gamestonk back when that was in the news. Unfortunately, since mid-January my life has be complete chaos and making time for writing hasn’t been realistic. Not only that, but I’m the sort of writer who needs to have a creative spark in order to make any sort of progress and so I haven’t even had the time for inspiration. It’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve gotten some of that creative spark back, so here I am writing a bit of a reflection on what I’ve been up to lately to stretch some of those creative juices. Hopefully I will be able to dedicate more time in the near future to bring posts to life.

So what really pushed this stressful period of my life into overdrive? Well, first of all, my wife and I bought a house… so that was a break-neck month and a half of stress getting finances in order, dealing with lawyers, banks, mortgage brokers, etc to make that work, not to mention that we then had to co-ordinate the actual move in the middle of a snow storm (have I mentioned before that I live in Canada?).

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, a week before we moved in my wife decided she wanted to get a puppy. And not just any puppy – a Belgian Malinois puppy. Freaking John Wick 3 attack dog puppy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have had our attentions fully on him since to ensure that he is properly trained and have had to get a trainer to help. This alone has kept my hands full and away from the keyboard, since basically my entire day gets dedicated to either work or keeping him from getting into trouble until bedtime where I might get an hour of free time if I’m lucky. So, uh, yeah maybe you can see why there haven’t been many posts lately.

That said, it hasn’t been all work for me. I do get a bit of downtime while the dog naps, but that has mostly been dedicated to painting miniatures. I started getting into Warhammer 40,000 again last year and have been expanding my Adepta Sororitas army with some of the new models they received recently. I’m really happy with how they’ve been turning out and can’t wait for COVID to be over so I can get them on the tabletop. Since moving into the new house, my huge pile of shame is now readily available to me so I’m trying to work away at it (which is also nice because I’m on a very tight budget now, so miniature purchases are extremely low priority).

Other than that, most of my free time has gone towards reading. Having finished the 2000ad Humble Bundle, I’ve moved on to other comics. First was Strontium Dog, one of 2000ad’s classic, flagship franchises. I bought and read the original series run, which is available in the five volumes of S/D Agency Files. Volume 1 is rough, pulpy fun, but the series really hits its stride in volumes 2 through 4. These stories are incredible, I heartily recommend reading them and getting drawn into the dangerous universe of Johnny Alpha, Wulf Sternhammer and Durham Red. Unfortunately, it all comes to a sticky end with volume 5, the aptly (if unsubtly) titled “The Final Solution” which brought the original series to a close. I am really mixed on it. I feel like it may have worked eventually but feels unearned and rushed at this point in Johnny Alpha’s story, especially the villains’ place in the story. It’s too bad, Strontium Dog has never recovered since then, with every attempt to follow-up or retcon this ending being half-baked and not measuring up to the original run. C’est la vie, even if it’s not the best ending, sometimes it’s just best to allow characters to rest.

Speaking of which, I followed-up on the other four volumes of Judge Anderson: The Psi Files. Volume 1 is just as great as volume 2, showing a more philosophical, rebellious and downright weird side of Justice Department than we get from Judge Dredd. However, things go completely off the rails in volumes 3 and 4. I’d like to know what drugs Alan Grant was on in the late 80s and early 90s because some of the stories he comes up with here are insane. While some of the more philosophical ones are at least interesting, none are satisfying and some are at odds with established characters such as Chief Judge Volt or make no sense (you’re telling me most of the children of MC1 disappear or die and this never gets brought up again…?). Meanwhile volume 4 hinges entirely on one epic storyline about a psychic virus… which ultimately makes no sense. So Judge Anderson dreams she’s on Deadworld? Okay, but how does this leave a psychic virus in her head? And how does this psychic virus even spread? And how are they even supposed to figure out the very fine details which end up defeating it at the last second? It all makes no sense and ruins what could have been an interesting storyline which feels like a prototype for the apocalyptic Day of Chaos which would come years later. Luckily, volume 5 turns things around with far breezier storylines, although it’s still a far cry from the series’ heyday in the early 80s.

Finally, I’ve recently started the Attack on Titan manga, having picked up a huge bundle off Humble a couple months ago. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with this series, having seen the first two seasons of the anime and a couple episodes of the third before dropping off of it. It’s at the point where I might even make a “Attack on Titan is Kind of Trash” in the near future, depending on how the manga shakes out. If it’s as frustrating as the anime was for me? Hoo boy, you can count on it. I’m on volume 2 currently and it has been very close to the anime so I’d say count on it.*

Anyway, that’s my life these past few months. I’m hoping to get back into writing a bit more regularly, but it all depends on how life shakes out and if the dog’s training becomes less of an overwhelming situation in my life. Fingers crossed that I can bring this latest Retrospective series to life soon and maybe even come out with a couple writing projects I’ve been plugging away at… we’ll see.

*Post-script: So I’ve binged through a couple dozen volumes of Attack on Titan in the past few days and I’m not so sure about this being worthy of a Trash post. I legitimately enjoy this manga and most of my complaints are going to be nitpicks in comparison to all the praise I have for this story. I don’t want “____ is Kind of Trash” to turn into a hyperbolic, nitpicky complaint platform, I want it to be for popular media that I legitimately did not like or that I think are massively overrated. I will be watching the anime after I finish the manga, so maybe there will still be a post for the anime, since I was unimpressed by the first two seasons, but they’d really have to drop the ball for it to qualify. I guess we’ll see.

*Post-post-script: Oh. Oh my. I may have spoken too soon. Attack on Titan‘s final arc can only really be equated to a Game of Thrones Season 8 level disaster.

15 Years of RPG Characters

Like many a life-long nerd, I have played several roleplaying games over the years and have built up quite the collection of characters in the process. In addition to being a garden-variety nerd, I also happen to be a drama nerd, so bringing a character to life is what really draws me to table-top RPGs. As a result of this, I have several characters that I’ve grown really attached to over the years and, reminiscing about them recently, I decided to document them here for posterity.

As you’ll soon see, they start out pretty simple and grow more complex over time. I often start with a basic character idea and then work from there, filling out details as the campaign continues. I also lean towards characters which are charismatic and competent, although I also enjoy playing meat-headed idiots for a laugh. Hopefully you find these characters interesting or inspirational!

Before we get into the TTRPG characters proper, I need to lay a little bit of groundwork. Many of my characters had their basis in one of two sources. The first is Warhammer, where I came up with the names for many of my heroic characters, which would later be repurposed for my own story or RPG characters. The second source of inspiration was a series of unstructured, narrative RPGs I took part in from 2005 to around 2010. These RPGs might be more accurately described as cooperative storytelling, but many of my characters were introduced and developed here and then later readapted or repurposed elsewhere.

Barloq (DND 3.5E)

My very first TTRPG character was back when I was in high school in a very basic and very short-lived campaign with a couple friends. It was a wild and messy time for several reasons. First off, I had to keep this campaign very much on the downlow because my parents still believed the Satanic Panic was real and that Dungeons and Dragons was a gateway to the occult and I didn’t need them getting on my case about it. To try to compensate for that, I tried to play a melee class and gravitated to Paladin, the perfect class for a conservative youth. To no one’s surprise, I was also kind of an idiot – somehow I didn’t understand relative heights and weights at this point in my life. My only real reference point was the character creators in NHL video games, where I’d max height and minimize weight, my dumb brain thinking that I didn’t want to look “fat”. This would result in 6’10”, 130lbs monstrosities and, being a moron, I applied this to my Paladin as well.

Anyway, I called the gangly knight “Barloq”, the name of my Saurus Oldblood general in Warhammer, and jumped into our first session where he was joined by a spell-caster named Atlas. It was as basic as could be – two adventurers at a tavern, when the bartender asks them to deal with some rats in the basement. Unfortunately, this is where the next big mess came in – the DM accidentally made these rats several levels higher than us and they mangled the spellcaster, nearly killing him. I landed a critical hit with my longsword and, feeling sorry for his mistake, the DM allowed it to kill both rats to get us out of the situation alive. It was incredibly messy and, while we had fun, the game died out right there. It was an early taste of fun for me, but I was disappointed by just how short-lived it was and really had no time to develop any sort of character for Barloq. The basis of the character still lives on within me though, with the name “Barloq” being one I reserve for noble, chivalrous, good-natured knight characters ever since. Perhaps one day he will come back and get a full reimagining…

COMMANDO, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1985, TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

Bruce Phipps (GURPS)

My first real, long-running RPG experience, Bruce is the character that inspired me to write this whole list in the first place because there’s no way that I’m ever going to get to revisit him. He came about as a result of a perfect storm when I was in university. My friend who had played Atlas in the previous entry joined me in a GURPS campaign that was being run on a forum we were part of. My character was motherfuckin’ Bruce Phipps, a chain-smoking, heavy drinking, meathead, body-building bruiser who had a heart of gold, dedicating his life to protecting his young daughter. It wasn’t unusual for me to play a bruiser, especially at this time, but playing a full-on 80s action hero was totally different and something I could only really pull off in an RPG system as flexible as GURPS.

Unfortunately, the campaign itself became a bit of a shitshow. It started well enough, taking part in mob hits and the like, and the game lasted several months. However, the GM started to get a bad habit of introducing characters from movies and TV shows into the story like a bad fanfic. Soon enough, shoehorning Agent 47 and Dexter into the story became more of the driving motivation of the story rather than the characters’ actions and effectively made us unable to deal with a swathe of unkillable, overpowered enemy NPCs.

During one particularly memorable session, one of these cameo characters was trying to get us to all surrender our weapons to them. Everyone else in the party did, except Bruce. I saw absolutely no reason why Bruce would do this and so I stood my ground and kept passing persuasion checks, halting the game for a good half hour due to Bruce’s stubbornness. Eventually I relented just to let the story continue, only for the character to immediately reveal that this was a trap and that we were all now captured. Everyone else let out an audible “WHAT THE FUCK” but I just shrugged and was like “Told ya so…”

The actual mini I made for Andilus Gallich!

Andilus Gallich (Deathwatch)

After the GURPS campaign crashed and burned, I was still itching to play a TTRPG, but this time I wanted to be the GM to avoid any of the issues I’d experienced in my games thus far. I was mulling all this over when I discovered that Fantasy Flight Games had a Warhammer 40,000 RPG that let you play as a space marine called Deathwatch. My nerdy heart went aflutter and soon I had a whole campaign set up and an avatar to use in game, Andilus Gallich. He was initially named after the Wolf Lord of my Space Wolves army, Andilus Greatsword, but over time I started to develop him more as his own character and appended the “Gallich” to differentiate them.

Andilus Gallich was a Space Wolves Assault Marine seconded to the xenos-hunting Deathwatch and put under the command of a mysterious Inquisitor. Along with a Librarian, Apothecary and a squad of tactical marines, they went on a number of action-packed adventures, purging the foes of the Emperor across the galaxy.

Being Space Marines, I was kind of limited in how I could differentiate Andilus Gallich and give him a personality, but he was a mentor figure for his squad, a factor which I would eventually use to allow him to be promoted to the venerable office of Wolf Priest. The Deathwatch campaign went on for quite a while, but scheduling issues caused it to end prematurely on two separate occasions before I finally decided to pull the plug on it for good. The ruleset of Deathwatch itself was also an issue, being very combat-heavy was fairly boring to me, especially because the game was wildly imbalanced – the standard bolter was capable of slaying any enemy with ease, let alone that one of our squad members was armed with a heavy bolter that could liquefy tanks in a volley! I had to introduce rule changes several times to even have a chance of balancing things and while I had a better handle on what worked by the end of the campaign, it was routinely a curb-stomping for the players.

Ellri Hraustr (DND 5E)

After Deathwatch I was out of the TTRPG scene for several years until one of my friends invited me to play a DND 5E campaign he was organizing. While I was tempted to reimagine Barloq again, I decided that I wanted to play a character who was the polar opposite of what I usually play in RPGs (heavy armoured, giant sword-wielding, lawful good fighters). This gave me the basis for the character, a morally-shady spellcaster. I was initially going to make this character a sorceress, even more outside my usual comfort zone, based on Tharja from Fire Emblem: Awakening, but when I found out that there were going to be female characters played by actual women in this campaign I decided to just go with a male sorcerer. For his name, I went back to the well of my WH40k characters for inspiration, taking the name of my Rune Priest (aka, Space Wolves mage), Ellri Hraustr. Little did I know that this character I made to get me out of my comfort zone would end up becoming by far my favourite character I’ve ever created.

In my friend’s campaign, Ellri believed that he was destined to bring about the downfall of the gods. Unfortunately for him, he was also a socially-stunted hermit who caused several of his companions to hate him and who planned on murdering them all on several occasions. That said, given his high Charisma stat, he also ended up being secretly super hot and was seduced by a pirate party member in a hilariously awkward encounter. The group went on several adventures but, just as the story was getting interesting and we were really starting to enjoy the characters, the campaign abruptly died out. However, the pirate’s player and I continued discussing our characters’ adventures and this led to us running a follow-up “one-shot” where they led a treasure expedition. This “one-shot” ended up leading to several other follow-ups, until it turned into what is now an on-going, several year long campaign with hundreds of pages of supplemental character interactions outside of the actual game sessions. During all this time Ellri has grown and matured, enduring tragedy, confronting his own demons and trying to make amends, all while raising a daughter and trying to deal with the numerous threats bearing down on the ones he loves. He’s grown so much in the past several years and become a truly rounded and compelling character. He also been with me as I became aware of my own social anxiety, to the point where I’ve kind of passed it onto him as well, inadvertently. It’s funny, for a character I initially created to be the opposite of what I usually do, Ellri has grown on me, challenged my “normal” for an RPG character, and even changed my view on the world in some respects.

Finn Rand (DND 5E)

If there’s one character class in DND which I’d be least likely to gravitate to, it’s the monk… which ironically made it the class I most wanted to try next. So when a friend asked if I wanted to create a guest character for a one-shot they were running, I knew what class I was going to go with. For further inspiration, I had recently watched Iron Fist season 2 and enjoyed it, so I knew I wanted to play a character who was essentially the Iron Fist. I have this strange appreciation for the show’s version Danny Rand, in spite of the various ways it bungled the character. During character creation I rolled really well, getting above average or great on all but one stat… which ended up being a measly six. Given the character’s reputation, I put this towards Intelligence and thus Finn Rand was born.

Finn Rand was an idiot monk who would was obstinately a pacifist, but had no compunctions about beating the shit out of people with his fists alone (in fact he loved it and the contradiction had probably never occurred to him). The party got into a showdown with a group of giants who he tried to negotiate with. When that failed, he negotiated with his fists, constantly using ki to knock them over. He also passed on little bits of wisdom to the party which, while maybe not appropriate to their situation, were no doubt inspirational. He was kind of fun to play, but very one-dimensional since punching and knocking things over were the only things he was really good at and his abysmal intelligence meant that he was useless outside of combat (and, in fact, could be dangerous if he suggested that they try to talk to the vampire lord and see what he says). As a result, I don’t imagine that Finn will be making any returns, but stranger things have happened.

Maria (DND 5E)

It’s undeniable that Dark Souls and Bloodborne marked a shift in the sorts of RPG playstyle I liked. For years I had always liked a heavily-armoured, slow, greatsword-wielding beatstick with little to no magical ability. This carried over in my first playthrough of Dark Souls 2 (my first Souls game), but eventually I started to gravitate to the playstyle I had developed in Bloodborne – low HP, low-to-medium armour, sky-high attack with some magical abilities to supplement it. I like the trade-off of death after only one or two hits in exchange for high mobility, speed and attack, it means that if I make a mistake I suffer for it and it encourages flawless play to get through. Naturally, inspiration from Souls and Bloodborne would eventually carry over into a TTRPG character.

One of my friends wanted to DM a DND session set in the Magic: The Gathering universe and gave me a guide of some characters I could build. This setting had vampire as a player species and I decided that I wanted to give this a try (the vampires in this setting are FAR less powerful than they are in DND). I also decided that I wanted to finally try my hand with a female character and very quickly gravitated to a character inspired by Lady Maria from Bloodborne. I was going to play a monster-slaying paladin at first but then I found out that blood hunter had been added as a new playable class and it was too perfect to pass up. A stoic vampire who uses blood magic and sacrifices her own lifeforce in order to slay monsters, no matter what the cost? I was stoked and couldn’t wait to play her.

…of course, that game never ended up materializing and I was forced to wait until another friend started a game and said we could bring characters we’d previously made into it. I jumped at the chance and Maria finally was unleashed. Funnily enough, this was in a game crawling with regular DND vampires, so the differences between them and Maria were even more pronounced. She was really fun to play as well, effectively translating that high risk/reward playstyle that I love so much while also being interesting character to roleplay outside of combat. Early in the campaign she purchased a magic rapier which she soon discovered was cursed. She kept this on her the whole time, but in the climactic battle against an evil sorcerer, she finally unleashed it, knowing that she would need its power to overcome the villain, no matter what it would cost her. The blade drained Maria’s lifeforce, but still she held on until the villain was vanquished and her entire arm was shriveled and weakened. It was tragic, but she was stoic about it, simply saying that “It needed to be done.” I really hope I get the chance to play her again – this campaign is on a bit of a hiatus after the first storyline ended, but we all said that we wanted to continue it, so hopefully Maria will be back slaying evil soon!

Hatred Bonefury (DND 5E)

Bards tend to fit within a very specific mold, so of course I wanted to make a “different bard” when a friend suggested that we create weird characters for the one-shot they were running. Being a huge metal head, that meant a half-orc bard who goes from town to town playing heavy metal concerts. I quickly gravitated to a Nathan Explosion-type character, complete with the death growl voice (which seriously screwed up my voice for several days every time I played this character… but worth it). This also meant that I was playing an idiot once again, so we got moments of heavy metal badassery where Hatred summons a tree to life to play in his concert, while also believing that the monster ravaging the town is a potato and therefore needs to be turned into chips and french fries to be defeated. He was also, in true Nathan Explosion form, only concerned about the monster because it was killing his fanbase off while they still had money to spend on merch. Again, he was a one-dimensional joke character and my voice suffered in the two sessions this one-shot lasted, but goddamn if he wasn’t a blast to play. I hope that Hatred gets to go on tour again someday soon.

Orome Arrick (FFG Star Wars)

Back when The Force Awakens came out I bought the Force & Destiny rulebook for Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG line. Unfortunately, I never really got a chance to get a game together until this past month when an old acquaintance suggested we get a game going. I quickly gravitated towards a pilot and scoundrel character in the vein of Han Solo, while also trying desperately not to just be a bargain-bin copy. I came up with the name Orome Arrick – like many of my characters he was named after a character I created during the cooperative storytelling RPGs I took part in ~15 years ago. Orome is a young, cocky flyboy, a very capable pilot forced into the life of an outlaw. I was inspired by Netflix’s The Business of Drugs, which shows how cartels exploit desperate people at every level of their business in order to enrich themselves and wanted to reflect that in Orome’s backstory. As a result, the Black Suns criminal organization has manufactured a situation where Orome owes them a crippling debt and has become addicted to booster blue, providing them with a dependable and convenient revenue stream which enriches them several times over. Orome dreams of a life where he can break free of these obligations and explore the galaxy at his leisure, but most of his time is preoccupied navigating the seedy underworld he finds himself in and doing whatever he can to get ahead. We’re only a couple sessions in so far, but I’m really enjoying Orome as a character and can’t wait to see where his adventures will take him.

G’dorah Hirose (DND 5E)

My latest character is one that I haven’t gotten the opportunity to actually play yet, but which is an interesting concept I have wanted to try for a while now. I’ve always found Hannibal‘s portrayal of prosopagnosia fascinating and have thought that it would be interesting to roleplay a character who cannot see the faces of those around them. There’s an delicate balance to strike here – obviously I don’t want to be disrespectful to people who actually suffer from prosopagnosia, turn the condition into a dumb joke, or make it a trait that completely defines the character. I’m relishing the challenge though and think that I will be able to portray it respectfully when the time comes.

Drawing back on the very earliest days of my character creations, this character is a dragonborn paladin (similar to the Lizardman general who kickstarted all of this). I came up with the name G’dorah Hirose for two reasons: as an obvious tribute to King Ghidorah and the actor who portrayed him in the Showa era, and as a “Dorah the Explorer” joke (hey, I said I wasn’t going to make fun of her condition, not that I have to be completely straight-faced). Dorah is a holy warrior of the goddess Eldath and suffered a serious head injury fifteen years ago against a demonic foe which caused her prosopagnosia. She believes that the condition is a result of demonic scarring upon her soul and it has caused her to become even more pious in an attempt to cure her affliction through atonement. I’ve always loved fanatical characters (Maria fits within this mold as well) and G’Dorah is poised to give me even more opportunity to explore this fascination. Even if this potential campaign falls through, I can guarantee that G’Dorah will be getting used sooner or later!

Deliberate Inequality

So I was recently reading this article on Polygon about unequal racial representations in gaming, and it got my mind jogging. Oftentimes, when someone calls out a system or representation for being racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever, people less versed in the subject are quick to come out and ask what the big deal is, that the person is looking too far into things, claim that it’s a part of the “creative vision” or that SJWs are trying to censor art (that they agree with, of course), etc. In any case, I believe that some of these responses stem from a misunderstanding of some of the basics of social justice analysis.

I think that many people believe that racism et al are only actually worthy of being pointed out if examples of them were done deliberately with malicious intent. For example, my father complains about how the media seems to always be complaining about racism in regards to police activity or their representation in Hollywood, and yet would quite likely stand up for someone if somebody was slinging racial slurs at them in public and discriminating against them in an obvious manner. People like him probably find these “smaller issue” social justice concerns to be extremely frivilous, get burnt out from hearing them all the time and definitely do not consider themselves racist. Unfortunately, due to a lack of interest or education on the subject, they are missing the underlying, unconscious issues in society which are contributing to the lingering of racism/sexism/etc. This often means that people concerned with social equality need to be concerned not so much with the less-common and clearly unacceptable examples of deliberate racism, but moreso with the unintentional examples.

Honestly, I find that deliberate examples of inequality are potentially less offensive than the unintentional, ingrained ones where people don’t even realize that they’re being potentially offensive. To link back to the start of the article, think about how big budget video games and movies rarely feature a hero who is a white, a male and a power fantasy of some sort. Think of how Assassin’s Creed: Unity ditched the option to play as a female assassin, claiming that they didn’t have the development time or budget to do it (which was promptly revealed to be a bullshit excuse, they just didn’t prioritize the female audience). Another good example is in Warhammer 40,000. Every couple months, someone comes onto the Dakka Dakka forums and asks where all the non-whites are in 40k. The simple answer is that there ARE other races in the Warhammer universe, and there are a handful of examples of them in 40k art, but it has literally not even occurred to the painters to paint any of their soldiers non-white. Honestly, I fell into the same trap with my 40k armies. When I was growing up, it never even occurred to me to paint any of my Space Wolves anything other than white. When I started an Imperial Guard army years later, I still didn’t think to paint them anything other than white for quite some time, until one of those Dakka Dakka topics pointed out the issue. We all have our own blind spots where we don’t even realize that we’re missing out on a chance at equality, or at least to make a conscious artistic decision one way or the other.

This is why the Bechdel test is so crazy – women rarely speak to one another about something other than a man because of the way that the screenplay is written. When 2 women speak, they have to advance the plot in some way by the very nature of the narrative. However, the fact that most movies fail the Bechdel test really shows how marginalized women are in movies, and that they aren’t generally the ones who the movie really cares for. It shows that women are not prioritized in the scripts, nor are they generally the focus, and generally serve as little more than plot convenience, especially when they speak to one another (because rarely do they bother to have 2 real women characters with any agency). My friend and I were watching the 1998 Godzilla, which isn’t an overtly sexist film by any means. However, we were commenting on it the whole time, when halfway through I was suddenly struck by the realization that the film had bombed the Bechdel test. There were only a couple scenes in the whole movie which featured two women talking to one another, and they spent all of them talking about a guy as the focal point to set up the love story subplot. It really illustrates where the film’s real focus is, and the fact that it’s so common is distressing (and let’s not even mention the 2014 Godzilla, which doesn’t even feature a single scene with more than one woman in it with a speaking role… this is a frighteningly common reality in movies).

What about deliberate examples of inequality though? The Witcher 3 is getting taken to task for apparent sexism in the game (although I’ll admit, Feminist Frequency does not have the best track record of picking good, clear examples). I haven’t played The Witcher 3 unfortunately, so I can’t comment, but one complaint that sounds valid is that the game features a lot of gendered insults when you play as a female character (or when they’re around at least… again, haven’t played it). Moral judgments about it aside, can we at least agree that having such marked differences in the insults directed at male and female characters is sexist? How odd would it be if enemies taunted your male game hero by saying they were weak, had a small dick, couldn’t pleasure their partner, or threatened to sexually assault them if they fail? Unfortunately, this is a strangely common trope for women in video games: quite a long time ago I wrote about Lollipop Chainsaw, a game I actually rather enjoyed, but lamented how the enemies will frequently call the protagonist a “bitch”, “slut” and threaten to violently sexually assault her. This also apparently happens all the time when you play as Catwoman in Batman: Arkham City – there’s a 6 minute video on Youtube of nothing but the instances where enemies hurl gendered insults at her, which is kind of insane. On the more positive end of the scale, I recently replayed the Tomb Raider reboot on PS4 and, despite the island being inhabited by violent, insane, foul-mouthed sailors, I didn’t find the game any less “realistic” for not having them sling gendered insults at Lara all the time. Rather, they simply act as if she was any other badass running around kicking their asses, and shout out her actions (“she’s flanking us!”) rather than taunts.

While gendered insults are undeniably sexist just by definition (male characters get generic taunts, female characters are taunted based on their gender), that isn’t to say that this is something that needs to be eliminated necessarily. I’m wondering if the point that Sarkseesan is trying to make (and the one she tries to make whenever she picks a really questionable example) is simply pointing this out to bring awareness to this potential issue in gaming, rather than saying “This is bad and needs to be eliminated from gaming RIGHT NOW.” If anything, it is more likely stopping devs from taking this sort of thing for granted and trying to get them to be more deliberate when they utilize gendered insults and female characters – is being beaten down and shamed for their gender key to the experience that the devs want to give the player when playing as a female character?

One common mistake that inexperienced writers make is when they try to make their story “mature”, they tend to overcompensate and just saturate it in misery, rape and constant violence. This causes the plot to be completely forgotten or overshadowed, and the acts themselves to feel meaningless. The fix, of course, is for the writer to be more deliberate with the use of mature themes, so that they have the impact that they SHOULD have. Rape, sexism and the like can be used in fiction effectively, but artists should be very deliberate when doing so and do it with the expectation of some potential backlash.

Like, in Season 6 can we finally get to a storyline other than “Who is going to try to rape Sansa this year?”

For example, I hardly want to call myself a great writer, but this deliberate inequality is something I have tried to take into account with my own sci-fi novel I have been working on. It takes place around a thousand years after humanity undergoes a biological revolution and colonizes the galaxy. Racism and sexism aren’t totally dead, but they are significantly diminished because the fearful have turned their attention towards bio-engineered organisms. As a result, women and men (of various races) hold equally prominent positions within the civilian and military structures without people having to comment on it. Homo/trans-phobia is also considered a non-issue in the universe of the story. One major character is bisexual and hated by basically everyone, but no one even thinks to belittle him for his “queerness”. When deliberate inequality is brought up, it is done to show characterization, not just because I decreed that this story featuring six foot spiders and space magic has to be “realistic”. This is not pressuring me to conform to diversity, this is making my story far more interesting and opening up more avenues for creativity than if I stuck to my own narrow “vision”.

People seem to assume that criticism is an attempt at censorship (a misunderstanding which helped kickstart the whole GamerGate movement…). They claim that criticizing media for just fitting with the status quo and featuring “realistic” examples of sexism/racism/etc is an attack on the creative rights of the artist. However, I think that criticism should be seen more as an attempt at artistic improvement. By pointing out examples of inequality, critics are effectively saying “this art would be improved if the female characters weren’t such a flat plot device, consider making them more interesting in the future, because it will enrich the narrative”, or “I would enjoy this more if they weren’t calling the female protagonist a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ all the time, this is grating for me because I hear these sorts of insults get hurled at my sex all the time”. The artist is free to accept or dismiss that criticism however they wish, but if they dismiss it then they shouldn’t expect not to be criticized for it.

Back from the Dead

So… obviously it’s been more than a couple weeks. Working 8 to 4 every weekday and only getting weekends off leaves me with surprisingly less time than I was expecting, especially when I have to juggle blogging with novel writing, gaming, painting and social life.

Blogging on a schedule (when it is basically being done for free) was becoming a bit of a chore – especially when I worked on retrospectives. You’re looking at setting aside a few hours a week to write, which obviously cuts into other hobbies significantly (I was basically setting aside my novel in order to update the blog on a weekly basis, while juggling all my other interests). Initially, I started this blog as something I could throw on a resume, in hopes of landing some job in a writing field. However, when I landed a job that wasn’t Tim fething Hortons, the priority suddenly fell off. I’d prefer for blogging to be a fun hobby rather than an obligation. I know I’m making excuses here, but I figure that the record should be set straight on why I went on hiatus for so long.

So what has been going on in the last year? Well, for starters, my the novel is progressing fairly well (over 65k words so far, so probably around half way through the first draft), although my writing speed makes George R.R. Martin look like Sonic the Hedgehog. I got a PS4 and a new computer, which has opened up lots of new opportunities in regards to video and photo editing (not to mention it’s the first time I’ve really been able to take PC gaming seriously). I also started a small Sisters of Battle army which is pretty awesome, I’ll see about posting pictures at some point. Oh and I placed 6th and 2nd in two local Warhammer 40k tournaments, which was great, and actually ended up winning best sportsman at one of them as well! I have also done some paintballing as the season has started, but I will probably get in less this year for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m saving up for a car for my 25th birthday. Secondly, it seems like everyone is getting married, so my time (and money) is already being spoken for this summer in regards to that.

As for the blog though… I probably won’t be posting all that often still… sorry to get anyone’s hopes up. I’ve been super-tempted to make a post for the past few months, but never actually got around to doing so. I imagine I will continue to make infrequent updates, but I can’t see myself doing weekly posts like I used to. We’ll see if that means that the retrospectives series’ are totally dead in the water now, but I’d at least like to finish the Shreks someday. In any case though, I’d like to post on occasion when I have something on my mind and then see where we go from there. In any case, I’ve got a couple topics I’d like to discuss in the future so hopefully that gets us started again. ūüôā

Quick Fix: Multi-media News

Hello fine readers, thanks for coming back for the weekly update! I was going to write on something more… controversial to say the least, but it’s just not coming to me. Maybe I’ll find the words for it next week, but for now it’s on the back-burner. Anyway, that means that we get to talk about the generally less-heavy news in pop culture instead! As most nerds will tell you, San Diego Comic-con just ended and brought with it some major entertainment news. Probably foremost amongst these is the announcement of a¬†Superman vs. Batman movie. Clearly this is DC’s attempt to kickstart a shared universe much like Marvel studios is enjoying now. Of course, this brings with it its own problems… like how Batman could possibly win against Superman… *SPOILER* especially now that he is willing to kill for the greater good. Again, I’m not entirely sure how this is going to get worked out, but it could be potentially monumental if it can all come together.

Next on the agenda are a couple of potential¬†movies that I’ve been following for some time which are looking for support. The first of these is¬†Dredd 2, the proposed sequel to a movie I’ve been gushing about since it came out. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, do so. It’s amazing, and deserves a sequel. The official news is that DVD and Blu-ray sales of the film have been through the roof and fan support is overwhelmingly high. This means that the likelihood of a sequel being made have skyrocketed. Back around December when I saw the box office figures for Dredd¬†I was aghast – I was certain a sequel would never get made, with a status as a cult classic in a decade or two being the film’s best bet for success. However, it’s now looking quite likely that we’ll see a sequel, maybe 50/50. I just hope the same minds are behind it so we won’t get let down!

The other potential film I’ve been following is a¬†Warhammer 40,000 fan film, The Lord Inquisitor. It was announced shortly after the official 40k movie, Ultramarines¬†was released (to tepid reception) and looks like it will blow it out of the water. The movie’s being made by Erasmus Brosdau, one of the designers at Crytek (a video game studio famous for Crysis¬†and originators of the¬†Far Cry¬†series). The only sad thing about The Lord Inquisitor was that it looked like we were going to be waiting a couple years for a 15 minute short… until now anyway. Brosdau is looking for financial backing to get The Lord Inquisitor¬†turned into a full-length CGI animated movie. I first got into 40k 10 years ago and back then I thought the setting would make for an awesome movie. In fact, I can’t believe it took until 2010 before we saw an official 40k movie… unfortunately that movie, Ultramarines,¬†was a pretty bland representation of the universe. If The Lord Inquisitor¬†receives its backing, it should be a faithful version of what makes the 40k universe so awesome. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes in the future.

Finally, the biggest piece of pop culture news all week for me is this picture:

YES. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is well underway and I have little doubt that it is going to be amazing. Matt Reeves directing? YES. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver are back writing? AWESOME. Andy Serkis is back as Caesar? HELL YES. Hell, even the supporting cast looks good with such big names as Gary Oldman and Kerri Russell. I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes Рhopefully this one will be even better!