Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Unrealised Failing of Matthew Ward?

As you might know from a previous post, Matthew Ward has left Games Workshop. This was shown when he changed his LinkedIn page recently, and it has now been confirmed by the writer himself that he has no involvement with the company anymore. Instead he seems to be pursuing a career as an author and, in all fairness, his first outing wasn't that bad. It was published under a pseudonym and, in fact, I reviewed the book for Starburst Magazine. While nothing spectacular, and suffering from a few fairly stupid moments, it was none the less buoyed up thanks to some surprising skill when it came to writing through the eyes of others. 

Whatever the quality of his codices, being able to write from a new angle has clearly helped him along with, and let's be honest here, not being beholden to lore written by others. I have said this previously about other authors, Karen Traviss in particular before realising it would do nothing to help her preaching, and sometimes certain writers need to have total control over their setting to produce something decent. You can probably think of a few of these yourself but the point is this might be what he actually needs to start producing quality work. Furthermore, while he has inflicted far too much damage on Warhammer 40,000's setting to be forgiven there, everyone is entitled to at least one chance to start over.

However, this article isn't focusing upon that. Instead it is looking into a certain trend within his writing for Games Workshop which really shows why this may be such a good move for him. It's something few people have partially picked up on, often referencing it without truly understanding what it possibly meant. I myself only realised it thanks to something mentioned by a frequent commenter, grdaat. 
In his comment he spoke about the inherent difference between Ward's Fantasy work and his codices for 40K, specifically citing his Daemons book and possible reasons for Draigo walking around the Warp; claiming that this might be due to Ward thinking the Warp was exactly like the Realms of Chaos in Fantasy. While your mileage may vary upon the quality of his work for both, the more you look at his books elements you realise are carried over from old editions. These are usually around Second Edition or earlier, with every other shred of information being steamrolled or thrown out in the process.

We have seen this plenty of times over just with his recent work. 

The Imperial Fists were suddenly reverted back into their state as proto-Black Templars from decades ago, right down to claiming they were eternally crusading. The few siege warfare elements were kept to bare minimum, often left to rules, and almost being concessions apparently added by other authors. 

The Iron Hands were largely turned back into the army they had been prior to Index Astartes in terms of structure, completely Codex adherent in every way. The end of that supplement's story even featured an in-universe encouragement but its leaders to abandon their traditions. Effectively with the book itself both trying to force the Iron Hands and the players to completely abandon any aspects of the Iron Hands from the Third Edition onward. 

The Ultramarines were the same in Codex: Space Marines, with the whole "they are greater than everyone, all bow before them" attitude being something which had been at its strongest during Second Edition. The following editions, while still Ultramarine focused, had taken considerable efforts to tone down their overt superiority over all.

We even saw this with Codex: Grey Knights where, as mentioned in the last Warhammer related article, elements such as stealing holy blood had been brought back.

All of this keeps coming back to a specific era, one which I believe Ward first started playing Warhammer in. As such, part of me thinks that this was an attempt to pull a kind of One More Day. If you do not know what that is, it was an extremely infamous Spider-Man story where Joe Quesada tried to force the character back to the state he had been in when he was growing up. He claimed the developments were effectively wrong, boring and had taken away from the character, and this was him putting things right. 

Now, i'll freely admit that this is a theory as much as it is anything else. I have no solid backing beyond what has been written in his books and no word from the author himself, yet it does made a degree of sense. However, it's also only one of two theories and the less likely of the two. The other meanwhile is reflected far more in his work, that I think that, rather than doing actual research to keep up with events, Ward opted to cover books with ideas he personally liked or innately knew about. This carried over from one setting to the next, with parallel elements of Fantasy and 40K suddenly using aspects of one another despite their innate differences.

The chief example of this which can be bought up to support this is Codex: Iyanden which, while still badly written, suddenly makes far more sense if you think of the eldar as high elves. The organisation of the Houses, the behaviour of the characters involved, even how the more tragic elements are treated, suddenly make vastly more sense if you view it as a high elf book with all their flaws and cultural elements. They're far more emotional, lack the same gifts of foresight, and often behave in far more human ways than many eldar are depicted as doing so. Back in the review of Codex: Iyanden, many of these were put down to influences from CS Goto, but many have commented that his own novels featured space high elves rather than actual eldar.

An equally similar example is Codex: Necrons, which has obvious Tomb King influences written all over it to the point of having elements directly lifted from them in many places, resembling little to nothing of the old incarnation. Their very relationship with the C'Tan was tweaked until it was more akin to the khemri and Nagash than Star-Spawn and Cthulhu.

Even Draigo and Ward's treatment of the Warp seems to reflect upon this somewhat. As the closest Warhammer Fantasy gets to the actual Warp is the Chaos Wastes (though it is more akin to the Eye of Terror than the true realm of daemons), treating it as a physical location suddenly seems to make a lot of sense.

Ultimately I think that Ward was not willing to put in the effort to truly research his subjects and confirm his knowledge about any of them. From what it looks like, he worked off of what he knew rather than researching their past incarnations and producing something loyal to the army in question. When the time came to work on an army he was unfamiliar with, he instead used a counterpart which was relatively close to them in terms of their role or theme within Fantasy.

It would explain why in so many of his books he repeatedly brings up characters or ideas which have not been focused upon in multiple editions. The High Elves for example saw the return of several old heroes, followed a number of old lore ideas, but opportunities to do something like bring back Eltharion the Blind were passed up.

It would also help to explain a few rather remarkable similarities between his works and certain stories; especially how the entire ending to the Soul Drinkers saga was surreptitiously made impossible and then written in as the ending for Sentinels of Terra's heroes. Well, that and a lot of other Imperial Fists stories which have been made over the years, all of which just happened to focus more upon an adventuring or crusading effort rather than siege warfare.

Again, this is a theory more than something confirmed in any way, built purely upon analysis of this author's books. It could easily be entirely false, but at the same time it would go some way to explaining the difference in quality people see between certain codices and seemingly unnecessary trends which seemingly serve only to destroy an army. I do encourage readers to take a look at this and think about the possibility for themselves as, while I have read many codices, it's entirely possible you will point out something I have missed; either a further point enforcing this or quite possibly something which debunks it entirely.

Whatever the case, I look forwards to reading your comments.


  1. To be fair to Eltharion the Blind, that happened during (or pretty close to) the Storm of Chaos (Fantasy's equivalent to the 13th Black Crusade), and GW retconned that event to never having happened, that's also why other Storm of Chaos characters like Valten, Crom and Be'lakor aren't in the game any more either, and same with all of Ulfrik's priests/warriors.

    1. Now, that does explain a bit given what happened but I had thought they were working to integrate the characters into the setting. After all, Archaon was just given his own book, Be'lakor has repeatedly turned up in novels and I do think there was a reference to Crom or someone like him in the last Gotrek and Felix book. Though don't quote me on that last one. It just seems a shame they're doing all that, but overlooking one of the very few big character changes which seemed to be a good development and actually pushed the character forwards.

    2. Maybe they retconned it because they didn't get the results they wanted? When people actually played the event out, Chaos was beaten at almost every major engagement overall (tallying up the various results for each engagement), and was stopped before even crossing the mountains if I remember right, though I do remember perfectly GW stopping the event (they had planned for good major victory later games but never followed through with them) and saying that they decided to have it follow staff results because according to them some of the results were fishy (which I don't believe for a second) and then we got the standard story where they fought to the last city, the Orks turned on them, then they broke the end.

      Crom, Valten, and Be'lakor are still in the books and in the lore, they just aren't in the game because at this point in the story they aren't doing anything important, Crom is just off being a herald to barbarian tribes and trying to get them to join him, Valten is working at a forge still, and Be'lakor might or might not be mist still, he's very inconsistent about that, originally he was mist for 1,000 years for pissing of Tzeentch, and he was turned back to normal to crown Archaon, but that's just how it originally was, I'm not too sure how it is now, but I don't think it's all that different.

    3. Incidentally I don't have anything major to add here, but Be'lakor is in the game. He's in both 40K and Fantasy, they added him in as a Dataslate for both games. I could have sworn one of the codex supplements also uses him for one of the scenarios...

    4. My mistake, you're right about that, I never knew he had a dataslate/battlescroll out. Thanks.

  2. I forgot to add this to my last comment: Otherwise, I can really agree with everything you said, I never knew he wrote that book either. I'm a little curious to see what he does from now on since he said in interviews he dreamed of being a writer.
    No curious enough to follow him and his work, I'll just check in every now and again, and given the nature of the stuff he writes, he'll probably show up here again.

    1. It will be the same for me with this. I can't forgive him for all he's done to the setting, not after all these years, but I won't hole it against him if he's genuinely trying to turn over a new leaf. The book was fun enough to read so with more effort I could genuinely see him turning into a solid writer if he plays his cards right and sticks to his strengths. That said, having looked back through it again, I can agree that he could do with an editor reigning in some of his more excessive moments even in his new stories. Or at the very least helping to shape his plots so they flow a little more naturally.