Forging Mantica – by Guy Haley

With the world detailed for the first time in the new Kings of War Hardback Rulebook (get your copy on Kickstarter!), we asked Guy to write us a piece for the blog and just how do you go about creating a whole new fantasy world.

Kings of War background writer Guy Haley tells us how he made a world fit for war

How do you make an entirely new fantasy world for a wargame? That’s a question I had to ask myself when Ronnie at Mantic commissioned me to piece together an overarching background history for The Kings of War rulebook.

I’m no stranger to worldbuilding, I do it all the time in my own fiction, but creating something for a wargames system is a bit different to making a world up for your own stories. Game worlds come about in one of two ways – they’re either planned out in detail by a small group, or they evolve from the ideas of many gamers over the course of years. Both continue to develop organically over time, of course, but only some start that way.

Mantica came about by a hothoused version of the latter; organically grown, but at speed. It involved the input of quite a few people, all whose ideas were somewhat different. This is a good thing, as gaming ideas born from the brains of the many are generally more involving than those that spring from the few.

It was my job to pull it all together.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

I’ve been involved with the world of Mantica from near the beginning. In fact, I came up with large parts of it while we were making the Mantic Journal – I came up with a rough outline some time ago that formed the basis of the final version in the book, I drew the map, and I wrote the history for the orcs and dwarfs from scratch, among other things.

With a project like this, you’re always drawing on the ideas of others. For example, much of the undead and elf material had already been written when I came on board. This material provided plenty of detail, while their histories were fortunately vague enough to stand adaption.

Other directives and bits of background material came from the models themselves. They were designed to a brief after all, to fit a certain look and evoke Mantic’s ideas of what an elf or goblin should be. Further concepts came from Alessio Cavatore, the writer of the rules. In most cases he decided on a direction for the armies, and wrote a list to suit. So I knew, in the main, how a race looked, how they fought, and what their traditions of war were. I’ve had conversations with Ronnie and Alessio about the world and how it works, with both of them giving input and ideas to my suggestions and coming up with major elements themselves. The Abyss, for example, a key part of our world, that one was Alessio’s. The rest, particularly the history of the world, was up to me.

Archetypes, not cliché

There’s a big danger when creating fantasy that it doesn’t immediately slide into cliché. Elves, dwarfs, orcs, men and more, all living on one world… Pick up any sub-Tolkien fantasy trilogy and you’ll find variations on the theme. A wargame, especially a fantasy wargame, demands the full menagerie, and there are certain apects of each creature you can’t mess with. A dwarf is never going to love an orc, otherwise you might as well call them both something else. The trouble is, there are some highly original wargames out there that have all manner of different characters and species, but they’re not particularly popular. I completely understand why – when I play a fantasy wargame, I want to play out battles between haughty elves and wicked monsters, not refight the last stand of the cat people of Mew-mew. That’s not to say that cat people aren’t cool, but they’re perhaps not wise business.

The difficulty for a writer in this situation is not to come up with something that’s completely derivative. You want to employ heroic fantasy archetypes, not rearrange tired cliché. There’s not a great deal of room for manoeuvre, but sometimes having strict boundaries drives creativity.

Firstly, I tried to make Mantica obliquely topical. A lot of the fantasy games and books from the 80s that are still popular today play upon apocalyptic themes, many indirectly inspired by the then-prevalent fear of nuclear war. Fantasy needs a threat, a reason for conflict, it’s a defining part of the genre, so I plumped for something similarly world-ending – environmental ruin. Mantica is a wreck, reckless elven magic in the dim past caused half its gods to go insane, and precipitated a series of terrible wars. There was a magically induced ice age, a great inundation that drowned many kingdoms and all manner of other upheavals. Most of the remaining societies in our “present” are fragmented, and struggling to recapture their ancient glory. There’s plenty of new land revealed by retreating ice, and a lot of ancient enmity – perfect for never-ending war.

Unlike some wargames, I wanted Mantica to have a story that could move forward. I didn’t want a “one minute to midnight” feel that renders the actions of our heroes somewhat hopeless, so I put the great wars in the past. In some ways, Mantica is a post-apocalyptic world. Now is a period of retrenchment, but the threat of dark gods returning hangs over all. There are dangerous ruins everywhere, while deadly artefacts and monsters created in the God Wars can be found across the world. The inhabitants of Mantica might pray for a bright future, but it could all go horribly wrong…

I also tried to move away a little from the standards of each racial stereotype: Our dwarfs are powerful and resurgent, mankind’s glory days are in the past, the elves are crippled by internal tensions. The elves in particular are interesting, as it’s been their arrogance and meddling with magic that have unleashed two of the world’s greatest evils. These aren’t huge divergences from the accepted fantasy norm – they fit the archetype – but cumulatively they make the world our own. Hopefully, this keeps us out of the realm of cliché.

A bit of Tolkien, a bit of Beastmaster

For the tone of Mantica, I drew upon two specific influences. I went back to Tolkien for the grand sweep of history: the rising and falling of nations, the reforming of the world, doomed love, the conflict with the divine… We’re talking The Silmarillion here rather than The Lord of the Rings. But the detail of it, at the day-to-day level, comes purely from Sword and Sorcery. Sword and Sorcery pretty much was the be all and end all of fantasy before Tolkien came along, and it’s a sub genre I love – Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, The Eternal Champion… These stories are about the actions of individuals, good and bad, rather than the relentless push of fate. They’re full of horrible creatures, dark magics, and mad wizards, desperate struggles in dark places against terrible foes. Sword and Sorcery is darker than Heroic Fantasy for sure, but there’s a grain of hope in it, and an ownership of one’s actions. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, for example, is a creation in a state of perpetual degeneration. Other heroes find themselves just pawns of destiny. Mantica needn’t be like that.

What Mantica looks like in the future is very much up to you, as the world is now established, so it’s entering its secondary phase, a time when there’s still tons of stuff to be defined, and great sagas to be written. By choosing this mix of deep history and individual action I’ve tried to put the fate of a world in your hands. Have fun deciding it.


Guy Haley is the author of:

– Reality 36

– Champion of Mars

– Omega Point

and other titles. For examples of his fantasy short stories, visit The Angry Robot Trading Company

For more about Guy, his books, head over to his website where you can get your hands of some free fiction!


  1. Interesting read. The only thing I think people might object to is the name Mantica, which might sound a bit… egomaniacal?

    I think it’s a decent name, but YMMW. Otherwise, these kinds of articles are always a welcome read, and I sincerely hope you submit more of them to the blog since I find worldbuilding articles help bringing the world they built to life just a bit more.

  2. Awesome, I love Guy Haley’s stuff. I bought all his books. I’m still reading Champion of Mars. He is a great person to be writing about Mantica. I am really eager to get into that new Kings of War hard back now!

  3. can’t wait to see my little sidebar in the human/Kingdoms of men section!

  4. Very happy that Guy Haley is writing the background, I’ve been a fan of his work ever since he worked for SFX.

    The idea of a post-magical-apocalypse world sounds great!

    Really liking the idea of the tsunamis and ice age that the elves created completely wrecking the place, with the survivors only just starting to recover.. having the “retreating ice” as a means of uncovering new land is quite an interesting angle too, as the various factions all want to fight to claim it for their own.

    I really like the Orc background that Guy wrote, about them having short, miserable lives and an obsession with their own mortality as a driver for their aggression, that was some absolutely excellent writing, and I really hope it remains in the new book!

  5. Nice big-picture perspective on world-building. I don’t know much about Mantica yet, but I like the glimpse we get here; it sounds like my kind of fantasy world. 🙂

    The one (very small) bone I have to pick is that Tolkien’s Middle-Earth came *after* Conan, Fafhrd & Elric. Tolkien began writing his first stories of Middle-Earth in 1917 in the “Book of Lost Tales”. This was 22 years before Michael Moorcock was born, Fritz Lieber was just 7 years old and Robert E. Howard was an old man of 11.

    Realistically, though, Conan was published first in 1934, then “The Hobbit” in 1937, followed by Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser in 1939. Moorcock’s Eternal Champion is right out of the picture altogether, first appearing in 1961, 6-7 years after the publication of “The Lord of the Rings”.

    One of the differences, of course, is that Tolkien’s work were published as books, while Conan, Elric, Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser were all serialized in magazines at first. I can’t speak to the popularity contest between the various I.P.’s, but we all know The Hobbit was a smash hit. Tolkien started writing LotR soon afterwards.

    Okay, I know I’ve been an anonymous nit-picky internet nerd here, but I kind of think the only Sword & Sorcery character that really beat Tolkien to the punch was Howard’s Conan. Just my (hopefully not too obnoxious) 2 cents.

    The flip-side is that The Hobbit was a children’s book and it wasn’t until 1954 that Tolkien’s LotR was published, so… dunno, maybe I’m wrong. Still, Tolkien had Michael Moorcock beat by a mile. 😉

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