Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford

A Novel of Ancient Greece

The cover boldly proclaims “In the ancient world, one army was feared above all others…” With such a proud figure on the cover and such loud proclamations, I gladly picked up The Ten Thousand. I was fortunate in that the cover notes that this is a worthy successor to Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, which I also managed to snag. Each book bought for a mere $1 apace.

The Ten Thousand is not filled with battle upon battle. Rather it is a well written novel of how Xenophon became a leader of the Ten Thousand, Greek Mercenaries who in this case, lost their patron half way across the world, and how Xenophon had to lead them back to safety.

The writing is highly descriptive without being overly boring. Michael Curtis Ford brings even small characters to mind with a few well placed bits, such as telling an old story that even modern readers should be familiar with. There were several sequences I initially though he was babbling, wasting pages, but they come back to fruition later on in the novel, one of the earliest sequences I thought fascinating but wasteful, nearly at the very end of the novel itself.

In short, if you want to read a historical novel of Ancient Greece, a well written, well researched novel, one based on the book Anabasis, then The Ten Thousand is a fantastic way to spend a few evenings.

For role players though, what can be gleaned?

1.       The environment must play a part in your campaigns. The initial trek to met with destiny takes the Ten Thousand away from their familiar coastal areas and through harsh desert terrain. Have you ever wanted to actually use your desert sourced theme books? Do so. On the way back from crushing defeat, the army moves through blinding, killing, snow. Want to use those winter themed books? Do so. The world is small enough that ever environment should play it’s role in your campaign.

2.       Start After a Loss: The book really picks up pace after the army that the Ten Thousand are but a small part of, meets disaster. That’s when the heroes of the book must come together and fight as one. This can be done at any level but you have to be willing to start with loss. The caravan is overrun. Waterdeep is destroyed. The Prime Material Plane is vaporized. The city of Sigil falls into the Abyss. After opening with such a crushing defeat, the players should be motivated to do what they do best!

3.       Historical Context Builds Culture: “Some three hundred years earlier, Sardis, even than a great city, had been overwhelmed by hordes of pale-skinned barbarians who had swept down from the north in endless numbers like packs of ravenous wolves, devouring all its riches and mingling their wild barbarian blood with that of the refined and delicate natives. It was said that so many men and women were killed during the barbarians brutal sweep through the city that when the carnage was over, thousands of children were left wandering the streets, homeless and wailing. The offspring of royalty mingled with those of the lowest cowherds, and the children’s identities were obliterated through the effacement of their outward customs and manners as they scrounged for scraps in the gutters. It was finally decided that no one could determine their origins with certainty, for every child claimed to have been sired by the king, and so they were simply lined up in the market like so much chattel and auctioned to the highest bidder, as slaves of the barbarians or for adoption by surviving Sardesian adults. Since that time, each baby has been imprinted with a tiny, discreet tattoo shortly after birth, usually along the hairline on the nape of the neck, depicting an identifiable family symbol such as an animal or a letter.” A few sentences of background and you’ve got a cultural bit that almost instantly identifies people from Sardis. Great stuff.

4.       Unique Characters: Description can be a boring and tedious thing but making sure that the players remember the main attractions of the event is important! “Clearchus was as terrifying an individual as Proxenus had led us to believe, and worse. His face was so homely and pockmarked as to be almost comical, but he had an evil, jagged scar running halfway down the side of his temple, which he was constantly picking at, keeping it inflamed, perhaps intentionally, for effect. His beard was so ragged and lice-infested as to raise eyebrows even for a Spartan, and he never smiled – in fact, he hardly talked except to cuss out his men, and could barely chew for the rotten blackness of his teeth.”

If you’re looking for inspiration, The Ten Thousand deals it out chapter after chapter.