James Wallis levels with you

Marks of Chaos: the missing pages of the lexicon

I’ve got two stories for you.

Here’s the first one: about ten years ago I wrote two novels for the Black Library, Mark of Damnation and Mark of Heresy, set in the world of Warhammer. Mark of Damnation was conceived as a single-volume story, but once it was finished my editor convinced me that it could be expanded into a quartet. I wrote Mark of Heresy, decided there wasn’t a quartet there after all, and that was that.

The cover of Marks of ChaosA couple of years ago Black Library reissued the two books in a single volume, Marks of Chaos, which I urge the Warhammer fans among you to buy because I get royalties on it, which is nice. I’ve not actually seen a copy of Marks of Chaos because it’s a print-on-demand title and therefore not in bookshops or eligible for author’s copies or something. So when I read that the Black Library had included a couple of my short stories in the volume I assumed that someone there was familiar with the work I’d done on Warhammer FRP and had been a bit clever.

Marks of Chaos is the story of Karl Hoche, a man dragged from a successful career in the Empire’s army, first into the shadowy world of a secret division of the Reiksguard, and from there into the darker and nastier world of cults and mutation. Karl has a mentor, Gottfried Braubach, who has been around a lot longer than Karl. Specifically he’s eight years older, having first appeared in 1995, in the preface and afterword I’d written for the Warhammer FRP supplement Apocrypha Now, published through my old company Hogshead.

So I assumed the Black Library had unearthed and reprinted the two short, linked stories that introduced Braubach and his world, and I gave them a mental pat on the back for it. It wasn’t until Stuart Kerrigan reviewed Marks of Chaos last month that I learned I was wrong. Instead of the Apocrypha Now stories they’d included my two Palisades stories—which are superficially similar, but while the Marks books were inspired by the dark, labyrinthine espionage stories of John Le Carre and Len Deighton, the Palisades shorts were an ill-fated attempt to recreate a light-hearted 70s-style Brian Clements action-adventure TV series in the Warhammer world. It was initially entertaining but after two shorts the schtick had worn thin: I didn’t write any more of them, and nobody has ever asked me why I stopped.

I contacted the Black Library to let them know they owned the copyright on two short stories that haven’t been in print since 2002. To date the Black Library have not replied.

So that’s the first of the stories I promised you. Here’s the second:

Written to open and close an anthology of RPG articles, ‘Fire and Earth’ is a crumb that will barely touch the appetite of those who still hunger for the two unwritten books of the Marks of Chaos quartet. But it fills in some of the background to the series and introduces two characters who appear in the first book. And it may be seventeen years old but it’s held up pretty well.

Seventeen years. Time goes so fast. I should write more stories.

Categorised as: fiction


  1. Jim says:

    I picked up Marks of Chaos about a year ago. Great stuff! I’m looking forward to reading this story as well. Also, I noticed your comments on regarding a piece you had written for the french release of the book. Any chance of posting that here (or sending it to me, as you did to Perkunos)?

    Wish we could get the series finished. It’s become a favorite.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the kind words. Here’s the afterword I wrote for the French edition, back in 2006:


      Books never come out the way you expect. I thought Mark of Heresy would be a simple sequel to Mark of Damnation, with Karl Hoche being pursued across the Empire by three witch-hunters he’d met in the first volume, ending up in Altdorf with Karl Huss’s crusade. It ended up 25,000 words longer than I’d anticipated, the most complicated plot of anything I’ve ever written, and five months late. It was a difficult book.

      Karl’s travels through the Old World finish here, but it wasn’t planned that way. Originally there were going to be two more books in the series: Mark of Mutation, set during the siege of Middenheim, and Mark of Death which would tie up all the threads of the story in the city’s ruins. Karl and Anders would have continued bringing fire and the sword to the cults of Chaos, still harried by Brother Karin and her forces. Anders was going to grow as a warrior, learning more of the ways of Chaos, and Karl was going to continue mutating, the changes of his body becoming harder for him to control. There were going to be hallucinations and visions, and worse. There was going to be a final reckoning with the Cloaked Brothers, and perhaps Karl was going to see Marie again for one last time. Perhaps.

      But as Karl’s control weakened, the legend of the Chaos Hunter would grow stronger across the Empire — not the story of Karl Hoche but the tales of a tall man, powerful and dark, who could smell the curse of Chaos and would stop at nothing to destroy it; tales that brought hope and reassurance to frightened Empire-dwellers in those troubled times.

      And then, at the end, when Karl knew he could control his flesh no longer, he would call Anders to fulfill his oath: to kill him as he knelt in prayer, and burn his corpse. And Anders, weeping, would do as he was asked. And as he stood looking down at his mentor and friend’s grave, a group of men would ride up, asking for the Chaos Hunter. And Anders would square his shoulders, turn to them and say, “I am he, what do you need from me?”

      Everybody has to die, but legends live forever.

      Karl always knew that his body would one day betray him. In the end it wasn’t the changes of his flesh that brought his story to a finish, it was the changes in my life. When I started writing Mark of Damnation I was still running Hogshead Publishing, a games company that published the Warhammer role-playing game under licence from Games Workshop. By the time I finished Mark of Heresy I had sold Hogshead and was working in the movie business, snatching moments of time here and there to complete and edit the manuscript. I’m not a fast writer, and I knew I couldn’t commit to producing two more books, or even one more. So I left Karl and Anders riding north to Middenheim, and perhaps it’s better that way.

      Some parts of the story date from long before the start of Mark of Damnation, too. The Purple Hand and the Oldenhallers, who crop up in this book, come from the classic Warhammer FRPG adventure ‘The Enemy Within’, written by Phil Gallagher, Graeme Davis and Jim Bambra in the mid-1980s. The Untersuchung, Karl’s mentor Gottfried Braubach and the enigmatic Herr Scharlach date from other Warhammer FRPG books from the mid-1990s, though I had a hand in those ones. The Warhammer world is a tapestry of works by different authors and I can’t acknowledge all the influences I had, or the original sources of the ideas I used. They know who they are, and they know I’m grateful.

      While I’m writing, there are some other things that the cleverer or more alert readers may have noticed: Mark of Damnation ends with Karl walking into the darkness; Mark of Heresy begins with him coming out of the darkness six months later. Then he kills four people in the first paragraph, cuts off a priest’s hand, and doesn’t draw his sword again for seventy pages — I apologise if you’re twelve and looking for more bloodshed, but it amused me. The two renegade wizards killed by the witch-hunters in the first chapter, Harald Töpfer and Timotheus Jäger… ‘Töpfer’ is the German word for a man who makes pots, in English a ‘potter’. The sticks that Frau Farber uses to tell Karl’s fortune are the yarrow-sticks of the I Ching. At one point in the Hog’s Head tavern Karl says, “Few words ever leave the Hog’s Head,” and I admit my old company didn’t publish as many books as its fans would have liked.

      The history and description of pike warfare in chapter 14 is mostly accurate, if you insert ‘Swiss’ where it says ‘Border Princes’. The story of Occam’s Broadsword is a mix of Occam’s Razor and the Gordian Knot — there are several things like that in the two Mark books: bits of history, aphorisms and quotations rewritten to fit the Warhammer world. They’re probably not as recognisable when translated into French, I’m afraid, like the awful puns that occasionally appear in my fiction. You should be grateful you’re being spared those.

      There are probably more bits in the book that I’d like to point out, things that amused me as I was writing it, but it’s been almost three years since I last spent time looking at the world through Karl Hoche’s eyes, and some of the details have grown fuzzy. Perhaps it’s time I went back there for a while.

      James Wallis
      London, November 2006

  2. I can’t believe I didn’t spot Harry Potter (or Timothy Hunter!) when I read Mark of Heresy. I enjoyed your Warhammer books a lot. I’ve sold off some of my Warhammer junk recently, but these books I kept.

  3. Stuart Kerrigan says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks for this post. I am lucky enough to have the Apocrypha books and they along with your afterword would have made obvious additions. I’m also a little cheesed they didn’t send you a copy but big companies often don’t endear themselves by doing things like this. I used to get issues of Dragon with my articles in them a good 2-3 months after the punters did. :)

    I was wondering what sort of things did you imagine Karl would do in Middenheim? Middenheim during the siege would seem more of an obvious setting for some of the more hackfest/battle gore Warhammer novels, rather than the intrigue and character driven feel of the prior Mark of novels.

    Would he still be on the trail of the Purple Hand, or would Herr Doktor/Wasmeier give him the slip, trapping him in the city?

    It’s worth noting I think these books were considered seminal Warhammer, and have been referenced in quite a few of the other (admittedly few) Warhammer novels I’ve read. And I noticed in Tome of Corruption the other day this quote made me snigger:-

    “Don’t let people steer you wrong. Witch Hunters are heroes. You ever seen a man stand toe to toe with a Beastman? Especially when not asked? Well the Chaos Hunter saved our village last year. He killed not only the female but also the big male. Yep, he’s a hero alright, and I won’t stand to hear any of his kind wronged.”

    Poor sap. :P

  4. Stuart Kerrigan says:

    PS – Theo Kratz was the one that made me groan!

  5. PlayerSlayer says:

    As a life long table top gamer, I’d feel safe saying the Warhammer world has the majority vote as being the most realistically portrayed fantasy setting. On top of that you wrote in a way that so few authors (fantasy or otherwise) have the ability to: with an unpredictable plot. Mark of Damnation was the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read. I would have loved to run along side you in The Enemy Within. That would have been something. As far as continuing the Mark series, they sit well enough as they were left I think. Don’t get me wrong I’d buy the next installment in the series and probably put down whatever book I’m reading at the time just to start reading about Karl again. The picture is a little bigger than that though. The Warhammer world needs the life that an auther like you can breath into it. Not some hack-n-slash junk food for the mind or some kindergarten predictability. You’ve already set the bar. You’ve got to be getting to be an old man by now. Why not take your own pace and write another? Could be a new story. I don’t know anyone who reads BL novels who wouldn’t buy it. If not, and your sure your finished, I take my hat off to you. You did some great work.

    • James Wallis says:

      That’s enormously flattering, and I thank you for your kind words. There are a number of reasons I’m unlikely to be writing any more novels for Games Workshop, chief among them the ridiculously low payment, equivalent to what I normally earn for three weeks of work (they call it an ‘advance on royalties’, and then don’t print enough copies of the book to earn out the advance–technically Mark of Heresy, which went through two foreign editions and an omnibus, is still in the red) and the fact that I don’t own the rights to any part of the book. I could take one or the other, but not both.

      I am still writing fantasy and speculative fiction; I had a story in Jurassic’s Stories of the Smoke and I have a story in Pelgrane Press’s forthcoming New Hero vol.2, and am working on two book-length projects at the moment though those are still under wraps. I aim for a thousand words a day. I’m not a fast writer.

      As for Warhammer, digging through some old files a few weeks ago I came across an outline for an adventure that I’d never had time to write, and so I dropped a line to Fantasy Flight asking if they’d like to see a pitch from me. No response at all. So I think I’m done with Warhammer.

  6. Enrico Turcato says:

    I’ve been a fan of the Warhammer world since the beginning. I own every product produced by Hogshead and Fantasy Flight and a huge collection of books setted in the Old World. During the years (I’m almost forty now…) I’ve browsed through the work of different writers: some of theme were good, some of them were passable, some of them were just crap. Then there was James Wallis. Enough to say that all of my books concerning the Old World have been read two times, while Mark of Damnation and Mark of Heresy were read a lot more (and Mark of Herey is being read even now). What does it mean? It means that the quality of these two jobs is absolutely top notch. You know? Being an hard nosed fan of Warhammer, I’m quite experienced with this setting, and when I say that no one but you, was able to picture it out (note even famed Mr. Abnett) i really mean it. Karl Hoche was a grim dark hero perfectly fit for a grim dark world. A no slayer, bounty hunter, mage, whatever…was ever able to fit into this setting in the same way Karl Hoche did. The fact that his fans will not be able to see his career to the “bitter” end, is just another proof that shows the lack of vision from the guys at GW, but I guess this is life.
    As for me, I’ll surely pass down your books to my son because as you said, legends live forever.

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