The Warhammer World is...gone...
With somewhat brutal suddenness, the game and setting which has been the focus of the majority of my wargaming life have been 'retired' by Games Workshop with the 'End Times' story line and the tempestuous release of their new game 'Warhammer: Age of Sigmar', and I have to admit, I'm experiencing a weird sense of loss.
Admittedly, I've not played any WFRP or WFB in some time (I really wasn't keen on the 8th Edition of the rules), and not only am I no longer GW's target customer, even when I was, my penny-pinching ways and use of other maufacturers hardly made me their best customer. However, I have been inhabiting the world they created in my imagination for something like thirty years, and I have one simple question: why did they have to destroy it?
I know it never existed, I know I can still play games in the setting, and I think I know about GW's desire to reinvigorate a struggling product line and develop a more defensible IP, but there's something about ending a narrative that leaves future games in the setting a bit stale.
I suppose it's one of the reasons why my attempts at running rpg campaigns in Middle Earth or the Star Wars universe have always run into problems; we all know how it ends. The fixed point in time of the Old World, perpetually balanced on the edge of disaster, made for an excellent setting were every rpg session or battle had a narrative sense of relevance and importance. For narrative gamer like myself, the Old World will never be the same again. Which is a bit depressing as I've spent many happy hours there.
So rather than descend in a spiral of depressive negativity, I thought I'd mark this event with taking you on a trip down memory lane to visit a few of my high points of thirty years of gaming in the Warhammer World.
WARHAMMER FANTASY BATTLE
First Army: Vampire Counts (well, they were simply 'Undead' back then, but more on that later)
The cult of Cheaphammer began with the purchase of the Skeleton Army plastic box set. I believe that this excellent box might have been the progenitor of all subsequent multi-part plastic kits and still beats most of what has followed in terms of quality and value. Skeleton infantry (with a range of weapons and armour), cavalry and even a chariot, this box was crammed full of value and detail.
With the addition of the Skeleton Warmachines Boxed set, I suddenly had an army, and with a bit of help from my dad, I was able to get them painted to an acceptable standard (black base, white dry-brush, silver on the weapons, jobs-a-gud-un) and my 11 year old self had his first army.
The majority of these models still shamble among my army today, and are the reason why I've never jumped on the flavour of the month ghouls, wights or zombies. The core of my Undead have always been skeletons.
Favourite Army: Wood Elves. Always.
Even back when I didn't have an army, and stared longingly at the black and white entries in the Warhammer: Armies hardback book, I was drawn to the Wood Elves, with their minimum 30 Archers, mohican-haired Wardancers, now defunct Falconers and Shapechangers, and the inexplicable four-horse chariots (ideal for driving through the deep forests).
When I eventually, after many years, put together a Wood Elf army, I finally found my ideal play-style. I liked the evasion, stalling and tactical necessity of picking fights carefully, setting traps for my opponent and knowing that my units would get smashed by enemy blocks.
Best Game: Wood Elves vs Beastmen
(Club Captain Tournament)
This was the first game I ever played against my long-time regular opponent Andy, who now lives at the other end of the country. It was one of those games where everything went right. I shot, slowed, harrassed and redirected his blocks of Beastmen and Minotaurs as they lumbered across the board, and when he called on his ambushing herds, the appeared behind his own army and had to cross the same killing ground.
The reduced units that made it across the table were set upon by my Wild Riders, Dryads, Wardancers and completely predictable great-weapon wielding Alter-Kindred Lord, and butchered in short order.
The best thing about the game though, was despite the butchery, we had a great laugh and became good friends for a long time, and Wood Elves and Beastmen clashed many times over the next few editions.
Best Edition: Late 6th - Early 7th Edition
This was the point when, to my mind, WFB was at its most balanced and yet still allowed a wide range of play-styles and themes of armies. This was when I was playing a lot and attending a few tournaments and really enjoyed the different experience of fighting different opponents.
Sadly, it was the arrival of a new army book for my own Vampire Counts that heralded the end of this period, shortly followed by the accursed Daemons of Chaos, that spelled the end of fun and challenging games and started the descent into a period when you would look at the opponent's army and know the result before you rolled a dice.
Worst Nerd-Rage: The Great Undead Divide (I still haven't got over it)
The Undead were once a unified force of shambling death. Vampires and Liches, Wights and Mummies, Skeletal Knights and Chariots, Hordes and Catapults all used to share the same army list. And then they didn't. When the concept of the Vampire Counts was born, my army at the time was ripped in half and I suddenly couldn't use so many of my models. My chariots, archers, Skeleton Cavalry and Screaming Skull Catapult were all suddenly off limits and I had to start rebuilding my forces.
This was the first in what was to be a long line of moments when GW seemed to turn round, slap me in the face and demand more money to rebuild my army. In a way, this was the defining moment in the cult of Cheaphammer and I fought back with ingenuity. The archers were retooled as warriors, the cavalry received homemade barding and were reborn as Black Knight, and one of my chariots eventually (many years later) became a Black Coach.
As the years passed, each time GW made a decision that negated or nerfed part of an army, I responded by cutting up, converting or simply buying from somebody else to fix the problem. In a way, I'm going to miss this as much as anything else from WFB.
Highest Tournament Ranking: 3rd, The Pennine Pillage
It was a small 1000 point tournament, and I took the Vampire Counts. I remember having a big block of buffed Skeletons fronted by some filthy Vampire characters, my Black Knights, some Zombies as a blocking force and some other stuff. I can't remember many of the games, except an ill-tempered High Elf player who didn't like the fact that his Dragon Princes got eaten by my Vampires and became very churlish as the game progress.
In my final game I played the eventual winner, who had a very similar VC army. Our blocks clashed in a titanic struggle and my Lord fell first, which led to the inevitable crumbling of my army. I've still got a badge from that day; it says' "I got hammered." Which is true.
As I side note, I was pleased to once win Most Sporting at the WPS Club Challenge one year. I still have the trophy. :)
WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLEPLAY
First Adventure: The Oldenhaller Contract
This scenario was in the original rulebook, and I used variations of it several times. It was a very simple combination of dungeon-crawling and investigation culminating in a disease inducing encounter with an opponent too powerful for the party to handle. In a way it beautifully encapsulated everything that adventuring in the Old World was about.
Best Adventure: Shadows Over Bogenhafen
A glorious mix of investigation, horror, politics and brutal combat, this adventure leaded very heavily on the style of Call of Cthulhu adventures as the characters were drawn into a plot by cultists (always cultists!) to destroy the city. With allies being killed in gruesome ways and an insidious and Machiavellian opponent, the high point of the adventure was the distinct lack of any deus-ex-machina, the the PC's messed up, there were SEVERE consequences for the setting.
Favourite NPC: Sleeves, from The Affair of the Hidden Jewel
Sleeves, the Bretonnian-Halfling chef with OUTRAGEOUS french accents and a range of ostentatious and impractical hats, was in incidental character in the Restless Dead campaign book. As the Warhammer World at that time was replete with humour, I took this character and ran with him and for the next few years he would crop up in inexplicably bizarre locations to help and hinder the PC's.
Favourite Pun: Baron von Saponatheim
Favourite Location: Kreutzhofen
The central location in the source book 'Death's Dark Shadow', this small village, nestled in the very corner of the Empire is a fantastic setting for all kinds of adventures. With snotling infestations, obnoxious nobles, Tilean assassins, ancient tombs, werewolves and mercifully few of the cultists that infest every other settlement in the Empire, this village is a grim, world of perilous adventure in microcosm.
It's actually also the place where I ran my last campaign. In a wonderfully low key series of adventures, the PC's rescued a missing pig, explored a magician's tower and failed to prevent a castle rustling gang on purpose. It was a campaign that proved that you don't need Vorpal Swords and Daemon Princes to have fun.
So those are just a few of my highlights of gaming in the now defunct Warhammer World over the past thirty years. It's a shame that nothing more will come from that setting and I feel what they've replaced it with is a cheaply thought out Planescape knock-off with some dodgy names (Sigmaron?). The Old World was full of creativity and humour, and packed to the rafters with the ordinary people who are sadly absent from so many fantasy worlds.
Given what's happened recently, I'm actually determined to go back to gaming in the setting. My Warhammer Armies will be re-tooled, again, for Kings of War (I win, GW, I win!) and I'm going to take my current gaming group through at least the first few sections of the glorious Enemy Within campaign when I can get them role-playing again.
And if, by any chance, anybody who was at all creatively involved in developing the setting in either WFB or WFRP over the past four decades happens to read this...
Thank you. The work you put in captured a ten-year-old's imagination and held it for thirty years.