Fantasy, Armies, and Economics

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Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

Today, I want to talk fantasy. And epic armies. And economics.

Yes, they connect.

First off, I have no expert knowledge in this subject. I’m neither an economist nor do I have a military background of any sort. But I read a lot of fantasy, and I write a lot of fantasy, and recently, I’d been mulling on the topic of fantasy warfare when I’d realized an army in a book I was reading had no food. Which then spun off to other musings, and things (namely, my suspension of disbelief) started crumbling. While this…discussion…is more aimed at epic and grimdark fantasy, it can also be applied to military science fiction and more battle-oriented space opera (though I’ve noticed that military sci-fi tends to be more realistic about the, uh, monetary cost of war). Anyway. Onward!

If you, dear reader, intend to introduce some warfare on a grand scale into your fantasy world, I would like to remind you of a few things:

Armies are big.

Armies are expensive.

Armies eat a fuck-ton of food.

They also, as a whole, move very, very slowly. Mobilizing an entire army and having it move, say, twenty miles is an undertaking. Namely because of supply trains. Because your big-ass fantasy army (which shall be, from now on, referred to as the BAFA) is really made up of thousands of people, and if those people are marching and burning calories, they’re gonna need to eat to replace all that energy expended, especially if you want them to then fight when they get to wherever they’re going (I’m not even bringing up the issue of clean drinking water).

L5dSqUwBut it’s not just food. It’s supplies. It’s equipment. It’s (if you have cavalry) all the horses’ tack and their grooms. It’s all those damn tents. The bedrolls. The cookware for preparing all the aforementioned food (unless you’re going to make them all march on hardtack…expect lower moral). Oh, and all the army’s support staff (the blacksmiths, the quartermasters, the cooks, the grooms, the healers/medical personnel, the engineers for the siege equipment, the army administrators—all the logistical supply for the logistical supply). Armies are big. And bulky. And cumbersome. And, when everything is moving in concert with all its various parts, starts to feel insurmountable. When taken as a whole.*

It’s still made up of individuals.

Who also, if they’re doing this as a mode of employment, like to be paid. Where are you getting all the gold necessary to fund this? Honestly, this is usually why my suspension of disbelief starts to waver when the BAFAs come out. If the writer hasn’t built a believable economy, I start to question where the funds are coming from. By the way, you know what’s more expensive than armies? Countries. Good lord, those are giant money-sinks. But back to the armies.

It’s possible they may be unpaid, untrained conscripts. Expect some wholesale slaughter if they’re up against a superior force. Also, expect a lot of desertion. However, a few epic fantasies I’ve read lately have been going the route of religious fanaticism to keep their unpaid, untrained constricts standing in lines. …okay. You can have that once, maybe twice, but seriously, it’s starting to get lazy, imo. And they never seem to fall apart quite as frequently nor in the same way as they do in history…

So. Either you are paying your army or your conscripting them. There’s also a third option: pillage-as-pay (or raiding).

viking-army-fantasy-art-7-4kNow, if you’re going to go down the pillage-as-pay route, there’s one inherent flaw: if there’s no pillaging, there’s no pay. If the food, supplies, and money for your army is going to come from the people you’re invading, all the invadees have to do is set fire to their fields and starve you out. You’ll likely run out of supplies long before they run out of country to flee over. Aaaaaand then you have issues of low moral.

(Seriously. It’s like a giant game of Oregon Trail here.)

Let’s say you don’t want to invade. Instead, you’re on the defending side, fighting back the invasion with a standing army. That still costs. They still need housing. They still need to eat. Else you’re going to get the low moral problem.

Low moral, by the way, means people start to resent you. And people who resent you are difficult to convince to go fight and die on your behalf.**

Now, stepping sideways into a specific example, and something that’s been lately bugging me.

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Poniatowski’s Last Charge at Leipzig Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.

Cavalry.

Fantasy writers, please stop misusing cavalry. I know, I know, it looks dramatic in the mind’s eye to line your cavalry up with all their shining armor and lances, and have them suicide-charge against the enemy’s cavalry. Cue flashing weapons, crunching armor, horse squeals, and sprays of blood.

Remember what I was saying about armies being expensive? Cavalry is really expensive. Not only do you have to train your soldier to ride and fight from horseback, you need to train the horse…and horses are not cheap. So you’ve got food, housing, animal care, training plus room and board, training, and arming/outfitting for the human (oh, and pay), and this is just one cavalry-person. Fantasy likes to have cavalry numbering in the hundreds upon hundreds, and every one of them costs.

Are you seriously going to throw your cavalry into certain death? Or are you going to keep them in reserve and, if desperate, dismount your cavalry and have them fight on foot? Save the horse for when you actually need a horse—say, for when you need forces to go from point A to point B quickly, or when you need speed for engaging/disengaging, such as having them to flank and harry the sides of a force.

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And while we’re on the topic of cavalry, what about anti-cavalry? Where are the damn pikes? The spears? The pointy-things partially made for downing horses? And what about anti anti-cavalry? I don’t quite remember who said it, but I know it was at a GenCon panel a few years ago, but someone pointed out that those big heavy claymores? Those are for lopping the ends off of pikes so they don’t impale your cavalry. Now, I recognize this needs citation to be accurate, but if it is, where are the claymores?

Warfare seems, at least to my eyes, to be weapons and counter-weapons (and armor, and tactics). There should be depth to war strategy (honestly, this is why I usually avoid writing from the viewpoints of generals; it can be hard to grasp the stakes when we’re talking about thousands and thousands of people being moved this way and that on a map).

Though it’s a common thing to poke at in fantasy, I will also reiterate that horses aren’t machines. There’s a few wonderful series of articles about horses and fantasy on Tor.com, and I highly recommend taking a gander.

Also, a bit older, but this article on Fantasy-Faction about building fantasy armies might be worth a look while you’re at it.


* We’re talking whole armies here, not skirmishes/raiding parties. Smaller groups can get away with less support.
**While, yes, if we’re talking fantasy, there could be other ways to compel an army to fight, such as through magical means. However, this can lead to the army becoming just a homogenized lump of faceless humanity and little more than a prop to introduce conflict into the narrative.

If anyone knows who did the other three images, I’d love to be able to properly attribute them.

The End!

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I…did it. I’m done. Holy bleepin’ hell, I just typed “END” and finished this goddamned book.

Hah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

*continues to cackle*

*starts choking*

Ahem. Anyway.

No, the book isn’t really “done.” Not quite yet. I still need to go through and replace all my placeholders with actual words, stitch together any sections where I skipped ahead while I was writing and never went back to fill in the gaps, and I still need to fix that one scene that’s really more of a script than a scene (lots of conversation, very little actual description of…anything, really. White-room syndrome galore).

After that, I print the whole thing, stick it in a binder, and start cutting with the pencil lead of doom. There’s a LOT of bloat in this book, and it needs to become a lean, mean, fiction machine. After that, it’s betas, more revisions, possibly more betas, and then I start packaging it together for submission.

Final word count for this finished draft: 185,638.

And only three days past my self-imposed deadline of the 15th.

Huzzah!


Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Achievement Unlocked: 40 Submissions in 2019!

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So at the beginning of the year, I gave myself the challenge of 40 short story submissions. This was a modification on a challenge that I’d heard of where one tries for 40 short story rejections in a year*, but I’d felt that that still relied too much on external factors that I can’t control. My success in my own personal challenge would still be dependent on someone else.

Some markets don’t send rejections letters (it’s rarer than it is with agents, but it happens). Some markets are notorious for slow turnarounds (I’ve got something out right now that’s at 133 days pending; someone else who’d submitted long before me just got a rejection notice at almost 300 days). And sometimes, sometimes, instead of a rejection, you get an acceptance.

Which is a lovely reason not to have a rejection, by the way.

Better, say I, to count submissions. I can control how many submissions I send out. It’s a quantifiable number that’s entirely dependent on my own agency.

Long story short, I accomplished my personal challenge! Woo! As I’m done early, I’m giving myself the stretch-goal of another 10 by December (grand total, 50 submissions in 2019). And, should I hit that, ten more.**

For 2020, I’ll aim for 40 again, with stretch goals.

I also made myself an achievement badge. For bragging. (And because I found an Xbox achievement generator.)

40 Submissions!


* Okay, so, there is another reasoning behind the original challenge that isn’t just getting in submissions. The idea is to look forward to rejections in order to replace the negative connotation of rejections in your mind so they sting less when you receive them. I’m one of the lucky few who can roll with rejection letters fairly well (yes, I admit, when I see the rejection letter phrasing in my email’s preview, I sometimes don’t open the letter till I’ve worked up the gumption/my emotional defenses, but for the most part,  I’m not overly saddened by rejection notices). If rejection letters really hurt, I suggest maybe trying out the original challenge, for funsies. I needed more accountability for submissions when I started, thus, my modified challenge.
** I’m not counting queries or novel submissions in this. Just short stories, novelettes, flash fiction, and novellas.

That Last Little Bit of Vaguery

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UPDATE 9/28: And that last little bit of vaguery has been solved! I have, at most, three more chapters and the epilogue, and then this draft is done! There’s a twitter hashtag I’ve come across #FinishUrBookFall which, I think, I might actually accomplish. I’ll be a month past my self-imposed deadline, but hey. It’s better than the six months of my last book.


According to the book’s outline, I’m at the final…well, I wouldn’t call it a hurdle, per say. More like, the final point of vaguery. See, past me had left it as a problem for future me, entirely certain that interim me would figure it out, but interim me forgot to even think about it and was far more interested in the stuff that was happening right now. And when none of the versions of me were looking, the problem’s answers…grew, and now I have slightly too many options, but none of them feel quite right. I know what I need, I know the end result, but so far, every version either feels pointlessly complicated or far too simple, and both ways lack satisfaction. I need that elegant “OH” moment, and I haven’t quite worked it out.

So, instead, I’m editing a novella while things are left to marinate.

However, once that final point of vagueness is finally laid to rest, the rest of this book should move smoothly along to end, since I’ve had the end mapped out and outlined and pre-written for months and months and months.

Note to self: next book, do not write in the outline “and then the characters figure things out [make it epic]” and leave it at that. It’s almost as bad as “and then the characters escape from certain death [tbd later].

Endgame Imminent!

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No, not that endgame.

New Book Endgame Screenshot

This endgame!

Yep, after three years—and many words—I am finally approaching the current novel’s endgame (and, if you can read the file name at the top of the document, I still don’t even have a working title for it). I have, roughly, this chapter (helpfully titled “CHAPTER IT ALL GOES TO HELL” which follows “CHAPTER THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and will likely be followed by “CHAPTER A LESSON IN POOR DECISION MAKING”), the fallout of this chapter, then MC 1 has his eureka! moment, runs off and gets captured by the killer. MC 2 and MC 3 deduct then rush off to save MC 1 from certain death.

Things happen. People may or may not die.

This is then followed by wrap-up/epilogue chapters that may (or may not) sow the seeds of a possible sequel. It…depends. On variables.

Anyway! At this point, the book is clocking in at the nice round number of 150,486 words (which is…a lot). Guesstimating, there’s probably about 20,000 words left to go, give or take a few thousand.

Then…

*ominous thunder rolls*

Revisions.