Insider 10-5-2011

Often in interviews or when I’m talking to our readers, I get a lot of questions about our characters, including the inevitable: which is your favorite? This is an impossible question, but it did make me realize I could do a recurring blog where I would pick a character and spend some time with him or her. This would let me talk about my experiences as a writer working with specific characters, as well as examining their place in the setting and our ongoing stories. To kick things off, I picked one of our most dynamic characters: the mercenary warcaster Asheth Magnus.

Even if I try to create a short list of my favorite characters in our setting (a difficult task!), Magnus is special and would always be near the top. He has gone through more dramatic changes than almost anyone, and his story arc touches on the most interesting aspects of our war-torn history. He served as Vinter IV’s right hand, fought in the Lion’s Coup, and went mercenary after enduring humiliating demotions before he gave up trying to accommodate the new regime. Over the years he offered his services for hire to the highest bidder, all while collecting a rag-tag force of sell-swords and assassins on the fringes of civilization. He never gave up the hope of restoring his missing liege to the throne and ending a harsh life in exile, not until his loyalty was shattered by being given over to torture on Vinter’s orders. Once on his own, Magnus outfoxed Allister Caine and the Cygnaran Reconnaissance Service by finding Vinter’s bastard heir and securing him before the youth could be executed. He seems intent on using this heir as an ace up his sleeve, all the while rallying an army for coin under his banner.

Magnus is the perfect anti-hero. He has done some vile things, but we like him anyhow. There is a battered and well-worn sense of honor and loyalty beneath the anger and grit. He somehow manages to convince us he loves Cygnar despite working against it. He’s a rich and flawed character, and in this regard he is a real joy to work with as a writer. I particularly enjoy when we have the opportunity to hurl Magnus into properly dramatic circumstances, such as the scene of his revelation about Vinter while being tortured by Morghoul.

I did not have a hand in creating Magnus, since he emerged into the fiction in Escalation, which was well before I began to add to the WARMACHINE’s narratives. But in the years that followed, I was fortunate enough to be given quite a bit of time with Magnus, writing a large portion of what is now our existing fiction for him. I first found his voice in an unlikely place: writing the history overview of our setting for HORDES: Primal While we originally did not identify the speaker, he came through strongly enough that everyone who read it and had familiarity with our cast immediately knew who he was. Given the scope of his history and travels and being somehow both an outsider and an insider, he was the perfect bridge character between WARMACHINE and HORDES.

In this piece, I had a chance to get into Magnus’ head and put forth the bold and somewhat outrageous opinions of an extremely intelligent but war-battered man who had faced the abyss and wondered if he had joined the right side. He has proven he can survive almost anything, but at the same time many of his dreams have been reduced to ashes. He has learned unique lessons in loss, including how to pick himself up and redefine his goals, always seeking after a life that eludes him.

I had the chance to get to know Magnus better as we worked on Superiority, then Legends, and more recently Wrath. But it was while we were planning the contents of the special 10th Anniversary Issue of No Quarter Magazine that I was given the opportunity to tell a Magnus-focused tale that had been floating around in my head (in rough form) for years. I’ve long been interested in jumping back in time to cover the Scharde Invasions, the pivotal war during the reign of Vinter IV. I knew this conflict must have had a profound impact on Magnus and his beliefs, a real turning point.

This novella gave me the chance to tell an origins story for one of my favorite characters, to see him as a young warcaster coming into his own and given a chance to prove himself to his king amid a dark and terrible conflict. Given how we have spent all of our time in the present with Magnus as a mercenary, there was something particularly fascinating about seeing him in the Cygnaran uniform. Not the uniform of today, the bright blue of Leto, but the dark blue of Vinter’s “King’s Own.” I knew that the sort of warfare Magnus must have endured in the Scharde Invasions would have left an indelible stamp upon him, shaping his approach to leadership, his personality, and his ability to form bonds with his brothers-in-arms. While the question of “How did Magnus become the man we know today?” is a complicated and ongoing one, I enjoyed adding a vital piece to the puzzle.

I hope that anyone with a fondness for Magnus will pick up this issue and read the story. While it may seem at first glance that such a story—taking place over twenty years ago—would have little relevance to the present in our setting, it really does.
Wrath saw Magnus stepping back into the spotlight, and you can be assured we have not finished his story or that of the king he served for so many years. For those who enjoy reading The King’s Own, I suggest reading Magnus’ scenes in Wrath again with a fresh perspective. Hopefully you will find those passages are richer after being given a glimpse into the man’s past, at a moment when Magnus had to learn to become hardened to the horrors of war.

Magnus is only one of a large cast of characters I get to hang out with on a daily basis. I’m looking forward to talking about others, and I’m not sure whom I’ll pick next. So many fun characters, so little time! I’d be glad to hear your opinions and suggestions.