The Dark Lord’s sprawling armies mass upon the Genrican Plain beneath darkening skies. With this final offensive, all the lands shall be covered in shadow and blah, blah, blah, you know how this spiel runs already.
The Dark Lord’s emissaries, beings of woven shadow wielding swords that reflect naught of the sun’s sickening rays, march at the head of the horde. The armies of Shadow cross a rise onto the next part of the plains, and there ahead are the forces of… light?
Thundering ranks clatter to a halt. The shadow-beings pause. This doesn’t seem right.
The force ahead is outnumbered ten to one, but those ones in ten have the stature of demigods. Their armor’s bulk and their easy-brace stances give them size beyond size. They wait ramrod straight to the last warrior, hidden beneath fluted armor in blacks and dark blues, sometimes violet or green, only rarely white. Their helms are heavy, almost leering, with convex bowls sweeping back into long tails and narrow visors trimmed in gold, or black-steel engravings of flames and thorns, or far grimmer things. The surcoats and tabards framing their ghastly steel are torn, bloodstained, and patterned in images of feral beasts and long-ago slaughters.
Their plate is scarred, their swords notched, their banners ragged from a hundred battles. Each tattered standard bears a bone-white death’s head with a dagger through the eye on a black field, trimmed with crimson droplets. No one rides circles before them in this, the final hour, making grand speeches about the fate of all things or the desperate fight for what’s good in the world. Occasionally, one shifts a dread two-handed sword, or hefts his halberd. They stand silent, not pensive, not eager, not wary.
They are inevitable.
The Dark Lord’s emissaries decide that perhaps they’ll try the Elven Lands first, because these guys aren’t fucking around.
This is an extreme example. Those of you with a working knowledge of late Medieval to early Renaissance armor likely realized I’m describing a quasi-German force in Gothic plate armor, which is just miserable cheating on my part. But my point stands: when did we, as fantasy authors, decide that the forces of Good/Light/*PrissyNameHere* need to be either painfully bland or desperately inspiring in as many regards as possible?
Because, I’ll tell you, I don’t want a bunch of hopeful, youthful, wannabes in their borrowed, rusty chainmail or farmperson day clothes. They get all mopey and panicked when there’s a minor tactical setback, and then when their ideals are drowned in blood half of them betray you. Failing that, they need to go on a multi-year journey to become useful, and need I remind you we’re fighting a war for the totality of creation?
I don’t want the near-naked barbarians with their complete ignorance of formation fighting and basic military principles, and–let’s be frank–slapdash excuses for martial arts. I certainly don’t want the smarmy Elves who tried to bail on us before the war even started. The dwarves are fine, though. Good armor, they know how to hold a formation… hey, wait a minute, that’s because they’re the only hard-bitten faction!
I want the glowering, battle-tested legions. They may be cynical, they may be hideous to look on, but these gritty warriors know more of fighting the good fight than any of the teen-appeal tropes we know so well. The traditional heroes aren’t optimistic because of their indomitable goodness, they’re optimistic because they’re unblooded young idiots with ridiculous expectations about battle. Give me dour Hinrich and vicious Wittmann and bloodthirsty Hildegard: give me warriors, damn it! Are we trying to crush the forces of evil or get them into a soothing group therapy session and pass tea around while we talk about our feelings?
Right, I believe I’ve at least explained myself. In Part Two: we’ll further explore good guys who don’t have to look the part to fight for it, and how you can pull them off.