Why We Fight

Because the enemy is Lucifer himself, Satan (which means “enemy”), rebel against God and scourge of the human race. That’s why.

Oh, you want the details.

War took Heaven and Hell into account throughout the Middle Ages, as a matter of course. Then we moderns thought we could handle our wars without involving God too much. There were always some weird stories, of course, about supernatural evil, or the near-equivalent unpredictable view of morality the Elves brought to the table. But by and large, armies could worry about beans, bullets, bandages and battles, and leave Eternity to those who lived there.

That’s until 1917.

The Great War was going badly for the Central Powers by then. Germany had knocked most of its enemies out of the war, except France and Britain. When the Americans showed up, it was a kick in the teeth to their morale.

If the Germans, who haven’t exactly earned a reputation as quitters, were worried, you can imagine how Austria-Hungary felt. Burdened with a dozen sullen nationalities, and having lost most of their best soldiers early in the war to truly incompetent generalship, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was looking down the barrel at dissolution, followed shortly by invasion, occupation, annexation, and if some of the Balkan peoples had their way, virtual extermination.

Roumania had been hammered right out of the war by the Germans, they having foolishly declared for the Allies when the Allies were riding high. But some of Roumania’s denizens were notoriously hard to kill, Abbott and Costello notwithstanding. They only came out at night and had fairly stringent dietary requirements, along with a pre-modern understanding of the rights of the common man. They presented themselves to Austro-Hungarian officials of increasingly high standing, eventually reaching the ear of the Emperor, young Karl I.

Soon, Karl wasn’t coming out in the daytime any more, and the Empire was officially Austro-Hungaro-Roumania. All the nobles of the Roumanian third of the Triple Monarchy were vampires.

Even that didn’t save the Austros once Germany collapsed. As the last of the Central Powers still in the war, they got the full attention of the Allies, such of the Allies as were still in the fight. The vampires suggested darker powers, those from which they derived their own immortality, might be disposed to aid the Empire, should its leaders but ask.

They did. And the answer was “yes, of course. And it won’t cost you a thing … nothing you’ll miss, at any rate.”

Austro-Hungaro-Roumania held off the entire Western Alliance until 1922, when they finally sued for peace. By then, actual demons were walking the Earth. The Allies were stepping up their own supernatural resources, such as the Dwarvish Brigade and the Legion of Withering Devastation, an Elf outfit loosely attached to the BEF. It was time to call it quits.

The Austros, to give them credit, told the demons their services were no longer required. It takes a lot to make a demon laugh.

Everyone says this next war was inevitable. Well, all I can tell you is that it sure didn’t look that way at the time. The doughboys went home and got jobs. Then the Depression hit, and that was Enemy Number One for a long while. Which is how I joined the Army in the first place, because even Elves have to eat.

If it really were inevitable, we’d have done more to prepare for it. Wouldn’t we? I’d like to think we would, instead of ending up right back behind the eight-ball again, having pissed away twenty years that the Enemy, to give him his due, hadn’t wasted at all.

Maybe you didn’t want the details after all, eh?

T/Sgt. Mithrandil NMI Murphy

35th Division, King Co.

Somewhere in the Alps

September 20, 1944

Middle Earth Episode #3

The ghost of the wizard Beobaras has been more than fair with our heroes, so Rhionwyn suggests they go get his body and restore him to his resting place. There are orcs in the upper galleries, and some few of us get banged up, but eventually we discover they are led by Lughnuht’s ghost! Once Beobaras’ ghost gets hold of him, Lughnuht doesn’t last very long.

Beobaras’ body lies where Blackburn, the Necromancer, slew him, right in the middle of his wizardly work room. A vast cauldron holds heaped blue-black crystals of mordite, the concentrated essence of death. Other hoards of alkahest, the ultimate solvent, and orichalc, the ultimate metal, are kept apart, because if the irresistible acid ever touched the undissolvable metal, well, there’s no telling what would happen!

His body wears the original ring of which our ghost-hiding rings are copies. Otho takes it, with Beobaras’ permission, and asks what it does. It bends, scatters and gathers light, allowing Otho to become invisible. Which is what happens with hobbits and rings, apparently.

Unfortunately, as we carry Beobaras’ body back to his coffin, it seems the bandits we ran off in episode 2 have come back! There are more of them this time, and they are positioned between us and our loot. Their leader has a mithril shirt under his clothes, which breaks every arrow Rhionwyn and Elrohir can land, until the see the glint of mithril through a rip and change targets to his legs. The bandit is captured.

He says Jardine sent them to get Beobaras’ ring – her Uruk-Hai are no longer with her, and she seemed under duress when she gave the bandits their orders. So perhaps someone else is making her do this, but it hardly matters – either way, we cannot just go up to Jardine and count out her share without risking an ambush, or worse.

What, then, shall we do? Otho volunteers to become invisible, find Jardine, and determine what’s going on, while the rest of us remain nearby to help. And that is where things stand for the present …

Middle Earth episode 2

Having looked into the tomb of Queen Inadria, whose ghost screamed bloody murder, our intrepid dungeonators cracked the lock on Prince Durrow’s tomb. HIs coffin had a trap, springs set to do something at the foot of the coffin when the heavy lid was removed. Otho bollixed the trap and they found a something large between the feet of the Prince, but they left it alone.

Elrohir the elf arrived, having been held up by elfly errands. He arrived in time to rescue Bori from a horde of orcs, or was it Bori who rescued Elrohir? It really depends who you ask.

Rhionwyn was talking to the ghost of Beobaras, the sorceror. She proposed repairing the witchsilver seal on his tomb, which he would be grateful to accept. Now she had to convince the others to do the ghost a favor instead of robbing.

Beobaras’ coffin was lidless, with five dead Uruk-Hai scattered around it at the points of an imaginary pentagon. Satanic imagery being unknown in Middle-Earth, they shrugged and looked inside. Beobaras’ body was not there; there was a wax mannequin instead, dressed in an approximation of his clothes. Beobaras said his body was upstairs; Blackburn, the Necromancer, had come in, raised him from the tomb, and asked him to find a rare jewel, the hearthstone of Merisinthiel. Beobaras went upstairs to the Paths of the Magicians, cast his spells, found the answer, and then Blackburn killed him again, right in his workshop! So if the body could be brought back down here and the coffin repaired, he’d consider himself laid to rest.

The tomb of Juulute Wolfheart, barbarian Captain of the Guard, had various loot, but Juulute’s ghost was not having any of that! His axe, Bonebreaker, levitated in the ghost’s hands and chased our heroes around the tomb, until he caught sight of Rhionwyn, who still refuses to wear the ring which hides her from ghosts. He wanted revenge on the mountain orcs and other tomb robbers … (ahem) so Rhionwyn allowed him to flow into the axe and then wrapped the handle in witchsilver wire, so that the axe was now his tomb! And it’s going to be difficult to rob it. Not sure if she’s going to keep the axe or let someone else use it, because she’s not much for axe-fighting.

However, an even larger bunch of orcs came in from deeper inside the mountain. Much fighting was done, in which both Rhionwyn and Elrohir shot many arrows and cut down most of the orcs. Their leader, Lughnuht (who was immediately named “Lugnut” as soon as he opened his mouth), challenged Elrohir, and got run through by Orcfinder, Elrohir’s enchanted sword.

So at least two hordes of orcs have issued from the dark caves in the heart of the mountain. Unfortunately, the way to the upstairs where the wizard’s body lies is through those dark caves. So we have to ask ourselves: how much do we really want to help this dead guy?

The Ghost Path Score

A Middle-Earth Roleplaying Adventure

Episode 1, played March 27

In a smoky tavern in Edoras, an organizer named Jardine had pulled together a crew for the perfect job.

RHONWYN knew horses. She was a rider of Rohan, but not the prosperous part of Rohan. More the poor side of the meadow, she said. She took Jardine’s bankroll and got some riding horses and a couple for packing. They could move 1000 pounds of loot out of the White Mountains.

OTHO was the locksmith. A hobbit, and therefore a natural burglar, she got burned out of her hole by Sharkey’s mob when he ran the Shire. Now she was looking to build up a stake, and for some payback.

BORI son of Ori was the lore man. A dwarf from Erebor, he’d lived all over, collecting tales and exotic artifacts of bygone days. He’d deal with the riddles, the ghosts, the overhanging statues from ages past.

GILES had been a farmer until he experienced every thrill agriculture could offer. Then he kept on farming a while longer. Armed with a scythe, he was the muscle.

JARDINE had two bodyguards, Immer and Jamais, who had been Fighting Uruk-Hai until they lost the war. Now they were Bodyguarding Uruk-Hai. They weren’t going along; tombs had lots of traps and hidden corners, and they weren’t Thinking Uruk-Hai.

Jardine wasn’t going either. Lots of people knew she was trying for this score; she was always watched. If they didn’t want someone else making the score first, she had to remain behind.

The score was simple: the Paths of the Dead. Folk said Aragorn had redeemed all the ghosts down there, but those who tried going down them said different. Fortunately, Jardine had made several knockoffs of the Ring of Beobaras: made of clear glass, they made you invisible to ghosts. Everybody got one.

Bori enthused that the original Ring of Beobaras could do a lot more than hide you from ghosts. Jardine agreed, but she didn’t have the original any more. Someone had seen it and made his move.

She’d bargained a map off the last guy to try the Paths and come back alive. It only had three labels: the first room inside the caves was labelled MUD ROOM. The middle was labelled GRAND GALLERY and the other end of the map was labelled ONWARD. Which he hadn’t gone, apparently, because the map stopped there.

The crew found the doors easily enough; they’d been all but covered by a rock slide, but one corner was still visible down at dwarf level.

The first room was called MUD ROOM because someone else had wiped their boots there. Lots of someones. They’d left behind a long-handled sledgehammer, a shovel and a prybar, all Man-sized. Three doors exited, left, right and straight ahead. All had had their locks, lockplate and all, busted out of the wood.

Otho went left. That room wasn’t muddy, and it had a trickling fountain. Tasting, she pronounced it good. Mighty refreshing, in fact. Rhonwyn watered the horses and put them up there, where they could reach the fountain.

The room after that held a huge wall mirror with steps leading up to it. You couldn’t walk through it into another world, but you could adjust your haircut and see if your waistcoat were buttoned correctly.

That’s where they got jumped by the goblins. Coming from both sides (although not at once, as they didn’t coordinate especially well), there were a lot of the beasties. Giles threw a torch at them, blinding them after so many hours in the dark. Bori and Otho struck while they were blind, and Rhonwyn rode a horse into their midst, qualifying as one of the only subterranean cavalry charges in the history of Middle-Earth. The surviving goblins scattered.

Giles blocked the doors behind them, so the goblins couldn’t hit them from behind.

Pursuing, they ran into a goblin transfixed with terror at the entrance to the Grand Gallery. There was a ghost in front of him, holding him spellbound.

The rings worked; he didn’t see the crew. Except Rhonwyn, who wasn’t wearing hers.

“WHO COMES TO MY TOMB?” the ghost demanded.

Rhonwyn ducked around the corner and put on her ring. The ghost interrogated the goblin, disposed of him in a sorcerous manner, and came looking for Rhonwyn.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew, rendered invisible by their rings, went on into the Grand Gallery. It featured six tombs, sealed by locked doors. Each was identified in witchsilver, a metal which shone brightly in darkness. Cast a shadow onto the door, and the writing was revealed.

They got into the tomb of Queen Ilandria, which had been already visited. There were broken bits of furniture on the floor. There was also a whopping great heap of coins which someone had piled up and neglected to take – perhaps the goblins. It was surmounted by a black iron helm with curving horns, which was solid and heavy and blocked out all sound when worn. Otho and Bori bagged all the loot and took the helm as well, although Bori didn’t wear it.

The sarcophagus turned out to contain Queen Ilandria, looking pale and perfect. They didn’t steal her garments; it didn’t feel right, somehow. Otho did notice a silvery jewel worked into the coffin lid, but she didn’t steal it.

Soon someone spotted a human bandit lurking in the shadows. There turned out to be several, armored in leather and armed with a variety of weapons. I remind you that this was a burglar crew whose muscle was armed with a farm implement. Taking out the two lookouts, Bori and Otho were able to turn the tables on the rest of the bandits, but they were tougher and cleverer than the goblins. The bandits worked around behind our burglary crew and got their horses. Now they knew there were just four of us.

But Rhonwyn heard the horses neigh uneasily, and the two humans ran back to rescue their horses. Bori and Otho followed. There followed a lengthy game of cat and mouse in the dark; there were eight bandits, but Rhonwyn took off her ring and convinced the ghost, whose name was Beobaras the wizard, that the bandits were tomb robbers.

“TOMB ROBBERS!” he roared in a great voice of outrage. Fortunately, he could only see Rhonwyn, who wasn’t lugging great sacks of treasure.

Beobaras’ ghost tore into the bandits, who broke and fled.

Rhonwyn kept the ghost talking while the rest of the crew tried the tomb of Prince Burrien, which didn’t seem as looty as the Queen’s.

And there matters stand …

Nazi Thor

What if Nazi Germany had the aid of the gods of the Vikings?

The short answer would be, the Allies are screwed. Even with the aid of Loki.

There are no Marvel superheroes in this novella. In fact, there are no superheroes of any kind. There are several super-BEINGS, the Aesir, summoned by the Third Reich somehow to turn the tide of the war. But they’re only heroes in their own grim, dark, blood-drenched set of rules.

The Third Reich Triumphant (or almost so) creates a very relateable sense of impending doom which fits the Norse mythos perfectly. And like Poul Anderson, David Brin plays fair with both elements of his story, so there are things the Aesir can do which hit the American commandoes in their soft spots … and vice versa. Who will win? Not Aesir or Allies: that one seems pretty foreordained. I mean who will win: Survival or Doom? The answer surprises everyone, not least the Norse gods themselves. Although maybe Loki saw it coming all along …

A Silver Cross and a Winchester

I found Peter Nealen from a Book Bomb off Larry Correia’s blog. He writes mostly modern military action, which is awesome, but he also wrote a series about Jed Horn, a modern man up against supernatural evil. Jed’s got the backing of the Catholic Church, but some of the things he runs into can’t be scared off with a wave of the Cross.

As in Monster Hunter International, it’s the real world: anything available to you is available to Jed. Older things tend to work better, especially against things that have been around literally since the Beginning. But ultimately, the powers of Hell aren’t physical. Shoot ’em all day long: you won’t scratch the spirit glowing with hatred within. For that, you need the weapons of the spirit, which they didn’t cover in Marine Sniper School … at least, not overtly. Jed will need every skill he developed in Sunday School as well as the military if he’s to keep body and soul together … and on the right side of eternity!

I really liked this series. We grapple not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities of the spirit, after all. It’s nice to see that reflected in adventure fiction.

This post is titled after my favorite of his titles, but the fourth volume, Older and Fouler Things, is a classic, too. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered it’s from The Lord of the Rings …

Let’s Get Down to Business

You may already be familiar with Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series. In case you’re not, it’s the present day. Monsters are real: everything from every monster movie or D&D manual is probably creeping around in the shadows right now. Why don’t we know about them? Two reasons: first, the Monster Control Bureau keeps the secret, by intimidating witnesses, destroying evidence, and paying for the second reason: Professional Monster Hunters. They kill the things that go bump in the night, for pay, and keep the world not just safe, but ignorant of the mind-shredding terror waiting outside their doors.

Now, the vampires and werewolves aren’t any less scary than in the movies; Correia isn’t going for the “reduce-everything-to-something-biology-can-accept” cop-out. No, they’re immortal, immune to a lot of things, and laden with supernatural powers. And some of them, at least, are smart about it.

Fortunately, mankind isn’t limited to movie-cheerleader-victim types, either. Do silver bullets work on werewolves? Well, then 2000 silver rounds a minute will work even better! Or perhaps a .50 BMG round made of solid silver fired from half a mile away. They hunt the night? Thanks to thermal and Starlight optics, we can hang in that contest. They heal all wounds? Does that include tissue seared into black dust by white phosphorus?

Sure, our guys have it rough sometimes when they don’t have all the facts. Monster Hunters die sometimes. Or worse, they die and then get back up, but now they’re evil. There’s no such thing as a “good” vampire in MHI-World, and the only sparkling they do is when you mix some magnesium dust in with the napalm.

So it’s a secret war with the Darkness, or the several factions of Darkness so far identified by MHI and its competitors. Can private enterprise, cutting-edge ballistic weaponry, and government agents hold back the night in a series of potentially species-ending crises? Well, so far, yes. But the series isn’t over …

Next up: Your Collection Plate Dollars At War

Guns & Goblins

My own MURPHY’S WAR series pits modern weapons and society against supernatural evil, with what I modestly imagine to be surprising results. There are only a few other members of this select fraternity, which I am christening Guns & Goblins. If you liked Murphy’s War, you’re apt to like these, too. And if you like them more than my own efforts? That’s perfectly fine; I’m a giver.

The one I first encountered as a lad was Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson. In an alternate world where magic is commonplace, WW2 is between the Allies and the Caliphate, a Moslem superstate with serious magic powers. Enter Stephen Matuchek, an Army Ranger who also happens to be a werewolf. Teamed with Virginia Graylock, a gorgeous redheaded witch, they go up against a weretiger Emir and his secret weapon, an Afreet or fire spirit who can’t be killed, so he has to be deceived somehow. I loved the idea of WW2 with magic and wore out a couple of copies of this one. The fact that my name’s Steven, that my Mom is Czech and her maiden name’s Machotka, that I’m significantly more hirsute than the average with a positively wolflike sense of loyalty, and I married a redhead named Virginia … well, that didn’t hurt, either. Much of my first Murphy’s War book, Operation Vampire, is a tribute and homage to Anderson’s world-building from Operation Chaos.

I’m not aware of any G&G books predating Operation Chaos and would be delighted to hear otherwise.

Next up: Getting Paid

Aragorn Never Met THIS Kind of Ranger

Still haven’t started the Middle Earth game … but we’re getting close.

In the meantime, Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have a new series, Forgotten Ruin. Cole is known for his “x meets y” elevator pitches: this one is “Black Hawk Down meets Lord of the Rings.” And no, the Rangers in Mogadishu aren’t whipping out Gandalf-level sorcery (although I’d read that one, too!): instead, US Army Rangers are dropped, literally, into a dark fantasy world whose chief inhabitants appear to be ten thousand orcs bent on erasing the camo-clad company from their version of the Earth.

I should stop right there: you’re hooked. And so was I.

There’s plenty going on in this first volume, too. The US sent pretty much its entire SOF roster to this world, for reasons that might verge into spoilers. But when the Ranger’s C-17 arrives, they’re alone. The other forty or so planeloads of shooters are nowhere to be found.

As in my own Operation Vampire, as long as the ammo holds out, the Americans are in good shape, although modern body armor isn’t as good against arrows as one might prefer. But after the ammo? Well, that’s a little more dicey. There are going to be a sufficiency of swords and axes lying around, sure, but how much time do the Rangers devote to sword-and-axe drill?

Sure, tomahawks. Because Rangers.

And then there’s the wizard, hurling lightning and fire down on Uncle Sam’s grittiest. What’s the usual solution to a wizard?

That’s right — a wizard of our own. Which MOS is that, again?

Anyway, I do hope this series is going to be like Galaxy’s Edge, the best Star Wars fiction ever written without mentioning the words “Star” and “Wars” together. Anspach and Cole released that series about every six weeks, allowing momentum to build and creating massive gratitude that I didn’t have to wait a year between volumes.

Remember that meme with Gandalf and the AK-47? Well, just stretch that over 500 pages of action and mystery. Good to go.

UPDATE: Yep, it’s a series! Hit and Fade pre-announced by Amazon:

Middle Earth Roleplaying

I’m starting up a Middle Earth game here at home, with my usual gaming group. Here are the characters so far:

The stats are dice from Savage Worlds: purple is d4, blue is d6, and on up the chromatic scale to orange as d12. Or in-game

Purple is POOR

Blue is AVERAGE

Green is SKILLED

Yellow is MINOR HERO

Orange is MAJOR HERO

If we need some ridiculous stat such as a Cave Troll’s Strength, that’d be a red d20.

The concept is “Raiders of the Dead Paths”: the Paths of the Dead under the mountains between Rohan and Gondor were the tombs of quite a few generations of kings, princes, and lesser nobility in the olden times. Aragorn summoned many of the spirits of the dead to fight with him at the end of LotR, freeing those ghosts from bondage. But there are some who stayed, so the Paths of the Dead are still unsafe.

Which means the treasures of the many, many tombs, which belong to no one now living, are essentially unguarded! So those seeking adventure (Elrohir) or riches (Rhiowyn, Iphenia) are gathering to take on the World’s Biggest Dungeon Crawl …