[40K] Your Pleas Have Been Witnessed

When a world dies, in the grim darkness of the forty-second millennium, it frequently dies screaming.

St. Valentine’s World screams. A hundred schooled sacred voices howl words they do not understand; in their dying moments, they are befouled with an alien tongue.

The aliens answer. Blood rises. Death wakes. War calls. The Imperium counts the cost. High-handed lords and great captains of the Astartes plot their reprisals, but other hands turn over the bodies, pick the bones, plunge their blades into throats not quite emptied, not quite stilled; voices with a last breath left in them.

Beneath the sight of their lords and masters, the oppressed and the forgotten and the inheritors of a dead world’s legacy speak.

“Vau, vey-shey-na, Nostrama.

St. Valentine’s World whispers, and the whisper spreads through the silence between the stars, falling like frost on grass.

The whisper comes to a dead-eyed sister, in the murmuring halls of a relay station none but the Ordo Dialogus know exists, and none within the Ordo care enough to remember. She smiles, and blinks her black eyes, and she herself whispers.

Vau, vey-shey-na, Nostrama.

And in the ultimate darkness, the night beyond sight, the howling everything-and-nothing of the Warp, black eyes snap open behind crimson lenses, and Hexandra stirs on his stolen seat. His all-encompassing armour, his world, stirs with him; it murmurs to the cloud of secrets that hang invisible in the air,

“I have a signal. A shrine world, crumbling as our world crumbled. I estimate planetkill in point seven rotations. The resonance is clear, lord.”

His master nods once, twice. “Then we’d better save our lost children, hadn’t we, Hexandra?” Szandor’s red hands lock around the controls, and he looks down at them for a moment. Stained for all the decades, all the centuries of the Long War; sinner’s hands. That, he reflects, is what you get for trying to save the genetic legacy of a lost world. That is what you get for defying a primarch’s will. “Alert all hands. Charting course for St. Valentine’s World.”

A spark lights in the gloom. Rust and hatred stir in the dark. The Faithless Song nudges itself between realities.

Even in space, someone can hear you scream.

Yes, I couldn’t resist having a pop myself. My collection is much (much) smaller than Paul’s or Ben’s (weighing in at 800 points painted under second edition rules, assuming I’m allowed to cheat a bit and take a multi-melta on my Dreadnought), and much (much) more Newhammer in its composition.

I must pray you indulge me here. I grab mine heart and swear a mighty swear that I did have a Night Lords army back in the late Nineties, but it was in that first generation of Hobby Stuff that was sold off en masse when I entered my GCSE year. These bigger, newer, all-round more excessive Night Lords represent an abortive attempt to get into New 40K, and also to paint some models semi-properly. That’s one reason why it’s such a small force…

Anyway. Ever one to turn a problem into an opportunity, or at least to take an excuse to rifle through many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, I went looking for some White Dwarfs from the glorious mid-Nineties. These were my early years in the hobby, and I remembered well some sage advice and high wisdom from their pages.

WD205 brought us one Mr. Thorpe and his notions on Strategy Cards – both interpreting them in a way that added nuance and meaning and implicit backstory to your games, and on limiting the deck in some way which either manages their impact on the generic Mission Cards, or links to events in a campaign structure.

WD206 featured one Mr. Wood with some thoughts on Small and Beautiful games: specifically, playing narrative campaigns with 500-1000 points a side, small tense battles which allow the nuances of the rules to be shine out without quite so much bloomin’ STUFF in the way.

WD207 introduced the Great Unclean One. I mention this purely because I’ve always liked that model and, after the Zombie Dragon, it’s one of those for which I am always keeping out a weather eye. (The things I write to avoid stopping on a preposition…) But the big lug also makes a game-changing difference to any scenario in which it appears, and the summoning system allows for all sorts of cool possession or ritual moments in game. It also makes a prime target for at least one of the standard Mission Cards: a Witch Hunt takes on new and tense meaning when the highest level psyker in the target’s army won’t appear until you’ve taken at least ten casualties. That’s a fascinating dynamic, if you’re the sort of person who is fascinated by game encounters which force a bit of give and take.

Now. Let’s talk about army backstory for a minute. Premise: not everyone from Nostramo was on the planet when it was destroyed – it was trading with the rest of the Imperium, its society had short range space travel even before the Great Crusade, and so on. Now, that means some Nostramans survived the first Exterminatus. And THAT means elements of the Eighth Legion could still be working to either finish the job by wiping out the Nostraman diaspora or round up some OG space goth gangsters so they can recruit “true” Night Lords again. Given that it’s been ten thousand years in a galaxy-sized melting pot since anyone was actually from Nostramo, either plan is barking mad – but nobody said Chaos Space Marines were good project planners. I’m not sure if my lot are on the “kill ’em all” or “save what we can” side yet. Maybe both.

I have a couple of ideas. The first is hard to integrate into Ben and Paul’s campaign framework, because it involves non-standard forces without easy “percentage of points” calculations – the lads are avoiding edition warfare by saying come what may, the percentage of enemy points killed goes into the total for either Imperial or Xenos sides, and the details of systems and such are down to you.

Instead, let’s try something a bit more compatible with what other people are already doing. Here’s my rough and ready mini-campaign concept, each game mirroring a stage in the Night Lords’ plan for St. Valentine’s World. In campaign terms, my points will simply load onto the Xenos side, but I want to use the regular Mission Cards to give a shape and agenda to my army’s participation, as a discrete thing in their own right. So I can win or lose my games, achieve my own objectives, and still feed into what the boys are up to.

  1. Capture a base of operations: this orbital battle station will do nicely. Chaos: Take and Hold vs. Imperials (Paul) Engage and Destroy… on Space Hulk tiles?
  2. Recruit/kill identifiable members of the Nostraman diaspora: gotta get close and see the blacks of their eyes. Chaos: Guerilla War vs. Imperials (Paul) Dawn Raid… since the Guardsmen are just trying to run the hell away. (This approximates the Purge scenario and eases it into compatibility with the broader campaign.)
  3. Capture or at least destroy a key Imperial shrine, housing a relic from the Heresy. Meanwhile, the Space Wolves are on the hunt, having picked up the psychic scent of a powerful Chaos Sorcerer or even, maybe, a Greater Daemon… Chaos: Bunker Assault vs. Space Wolves (Ben) Witch Hunt.
  4. Turn the battle station’s guns on the planet below and… what? Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances… Chaos: Hold The Line vs. Space Wolves: (Ben) Bunker Assault… in SPAAAACE!

Four 1000 point battles which should be doable in a day or two, and leave one person free to take photos, check rules, and spam the Middlehammer community with updates. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

[WFB] I Have A Problem

Would you like to see my Problem? This is what my Problem looks like.

Last year, I hit on the idea of taking a Tomb Kings army to a sixth edition tournament in Essex, at the start of March THIS year. Circumstances have conspired against me and I haven’t been able to make the tournament, but I have still ended up with… all this. From different manufacturers, in different scales, primed different colours, but all adding up to a potentially v. interesting second army. Playable under fourth to eight edition rules, tactically distinct from my Vampire Counts while still running off the same reliable Undead core I know, love, and arguably can’t play WFB without. In particular, those SAGA Revenants provide a Liche, and 48 could-be-zombies could-be-ghouls. Wild thoughts of a Followers of Nagash army, a tip of the hat to Total War, are even now athrong in my noggin regions.

The only snag? My case foam is full of damn Vampires, and their associates. And I don’t exactly play stacks of WFB any more. A man in my position looks at large collections and wonders… is it worth it, or should it be liquidated? But it would be nice to have a spare army to host games with, and a big force to draw on for big games of the sort I’m more free to play now.

What would you do if you were me?

YOU WOULD PULL OUT YOU FINGER AND BUILD MORE DAMN SKELLIES IS WHAT YOU’D DO.

After a sleep-deprived night in which I was once again graced by Nurgle with Uncontrollable Flatulence (my first Chaos Reward, earned long ago when I first stepped on the path to damnation and running strong this weekend), I am learning all about a) multi-pose archers and b) regiment bases, none of which have featured prominently in my hobbying to date. Teddy did nearly leave the pram on a few occasions but at last I have sixteen plastic bowmen together, along with four ‘heavy’ horsemen mostly done. I’ve used all my Beastman skulls on the ‘heavy’ cavalry, on the grounds that something has to make them tougher than normal and they’re not wearing any sort of actually visible armour. If anyone asks, they’re clearly devotees of a ram-headed god of knocking your nut into a wall until either it breaks or you do. Them being Skeletons, I predict the latter.

My rough and ready plan is to use the relatively resilient Citadel plastics as an “away” army I can bung in a case and afford to abuse a bit. The more brittle and temperamental Mantic figures require more delicate handling (and superglue to fix) so I’m planning on treating those with a little more care, saving them for bigger games (maybe eighth edition, where the Tomb Kings seem to want swarms of relatively low-level characters to provide bonuses to their key units).

I’ve also – did I mention I didn’t sleep well last night? – remembered that Wargods of Aegyptus exist (and they do neat, chunky Ghouls, as well as a range of exciting animal-headed mummies and even a unit of chunky lads with spears who could pass for Tomb Guard), and discovered Tabletop Miniatures Solutions, who do a range of stuff which more than adequately fills in the eighth edition range of large monsters and additional character types. And there’s the rather excitingly posed Reaper Bones skeletal giants, too… Far better to give money to people who make things than people who hoard things for years and then charge triple RRP for them like they’ve done anything to earn it, if you ask me.

This army’s at the risk of turning into an incoherent mess, but I think as long as I stick to a simple colour palette based on Zandri Dust and things that look good over the top of it, it should all tie itself together. It’s a nice excuse to break out my favourite Polished Blue again, as well as that Totally Not Hawk Turquoise I’ve been looking for an excuse to use up…

Let’s have a little throwback to my Corehammer days and play ourselves out with a tune, eh?

Hour of the Geek #1 – “It’s Not A Man Cave, OK?”

God, that’s an awful thumbnail. Rest assured the others YouTube selected were even worse. I promise I don’t always look like a total derpazoid.

Anyway, this is another attempt at that thing I used to do back in the House of Paincakes/Year of Frugal Gaming days, when I was an absolute trollop and would offer myself to any blog that would have me at tuppence a post and a shilling on Sundays to spite the Lord. Further transmissions will follow because I made about three of these in one night.

The Power of a Good Pledge

As you’ll already know if you’re following my nonsense on the Twitters or the Instagrams @propergoffick, I’m doing the #hobby300 challenge. It’s very, very simple: you do hobby, in some form or another, for 300 days out of 365. Even scratching your arse reading old White Dwarfs counts, if you want it to.

I’ve also joined the Brush Wielders’ Union, in an attempt to break through the Pile O’Shame (I’ve never really had one of these before – must be coming up in the world if I can afford to have miniatures just sitting there). Instead of big grand resolutions for the whole year, which invariably fizzle by the end of February in the absence of any short term milestones to tie them to, I’m going quarter by quarter, proper turning hobbies into jobs territory. Capitalism must be so proud of me. Anyway, Q1’s mission is to assemble the Goblin and Undead Blood Bowl teams (I went all-in on the Undead team, because I’m a slave to my appetites. Bought the custom pitch and everything) and also finish everything I have on the table for the Vampire Counts. This amounts to:

  • 10 Ghouls
  • 5 Dire Wolves
  • 1 Black Coach
  • 1 Zombie Dragon
  • 1 Army Standard Bearer (still needs modelling)
  • 1 Witch
  • 1 Necromancer
Mordheim Bad Caster Crew, together at last
Someone has to take charge of this nonsense.

It’s started pretty well. I’ve patched over the Master Necromancer’s chips, sallowed his skin, drabbed his robes, and generally brought him into line with the fairly mediocre quality of the original army. Same deal with the Witch, who I’ve been meaning to paint up as a third Necromancer for years: it’s all about getting stuff done and looking coherent together, matching the low-effort paint jobs I put in at the age of eighteen. Which is all to the good, since I can’t really be arsed doing high-effort paint jobs these days.

A Battle Standard Bearer, Bearing the Battle Standard, and friend

Showing here are a couple of efforts to really round out the sixth/seventh edition lists. The second Black Coach is an option for Von Carstein theme forces, the Army of Sylvania, and for any old Vampire Counts army under seventh edition rules, so it makes sense to have two of them together. I’ve also finally picked up the Von Carstein upgrade pack, which means my new/old Battle Standard Bearer can finally have a banner top. I know Wight Lords are better for most Bloodlines, but I really rate the Von Carstein Thralls; their Bloodline powers allow for more static combat resolution stacking and/or magical interference and that helps the army a lot.

Of course, this leaves me with twelve (12) decidedly late-period shields on my hands. Now, back in the day I was a very salty boy about the lack of visual coherence between the Vampire Counts ranges of then and now, to the extent that I sold the army rather than modernise it. Things are different now, and the reason they’re different is visible in the background there.

Tomb Kings. Work with me here. Basically, I was working on a Tomb Kings army, to be done with Mantic miniatures and to sit on the side doing its own thing. But I needed Chariots, and I couldn’t find any better than the old GW ones, so I started eBay trawling for those. And then I lucked into an old Battalion set, so that’s more Chariots and some Skeleton Heavy Horse and some Skeletons that are… actually in scale with my old Vampire Counts army… and that’s when it started.

Basically, there was a lot of potential.

The current plan is to build the Battalion as two units of 16 Skeleton Archers, and stick the remaining 4 Skeletons onto my spare Steeds, which have plumes on and therefore make worthy mounts for unit champions and standard bearers. Those then join the 8 Heavy Horse from the Battalion (who will be made up with all the helmeted heads and armoured bodies I can put together) and give me two units of six, which happens to be the exact number of modern angled batwing shields I have lying around. I’ll also have three units of Chariots, plus one spare, which (when I glue Krell to the back of it and find the top of Kemmler’s staff) will give me all the bits I need for a small yet aggressively formed Barrow Kings army – Tomb Kings without the Egyptian aesthetic.

It’ll also give me Skeleton Archers and Horsemen with which to put together a fourth edition list if I want to, and a load of spare swords that I can use to bring my old Skeleton Warriors into line as light armour/shield line infantry. And those same units open up Blood Dragon or Lahmian theme forces, too! And there’d be enough elements of the new kits in there for me to finally feel like my Sartosan Vampire has a place to belong. It’s all falling into place quite nicely.

Of course, that has left me needing some new horseys for the Black Coaches. Enter these antiquated plastic dobbins, who have come out looking a bit like My Little Ponies (Friendship Is Dark Magic edition). This is an awkward bit of legacy around my Black Knights being on purple ghost horses as of seventh edition, but now that I have some other Black Knights, I’m going to reclassify those old lags as Blood Knights, repaint their horses, and repaint these horses so they look a bit less silly.

They are a bit chunky for the Black Coach yokes, but I’m sure I’ll figure out a fix for that in time.

Various Ws in P. Spooky dobbins, dead dogs, horrible Wraiths…

Of course, this has left me with some Egyptian-looking Mantic undead who are now a bit surplus to requirements. I’m not sure what to do with them. I might put them (and my Age of Sigmar starter set) up for sale, or I may keep them around as alternatives to paint up if and when I feel like it. I’m currently edging towards “sell”, if only because this many undead feels redundant, and I’m only really happy when I’m adding stuff to my old army and playing the rules sets I remember from adolescence, rather than trying to keep up with the modern Joneses.

Well. Mostly. There’s still those Blood Bowl lads, after all. I don’t dislike the new Undead. It’s just that they look out of place next to my old figures, which is why I’m starting to think I should save them for skirmish games. That would scratch the new-school itch without hooking me into army-level building projects for games I don’t actually want to play.

If you squint, you can see the results of some Coach conversions in back…

Keep your eyes on eBay (once again, @propergoffick) over the next few days. I’ll probably have some stuff going up.

[VtM] Interview with the Vampire Revised Edition fella, you know the one

Sometimes, I love my job.

A while back, when I was stuck for a title for a conference paper on Vampire: the Masquerade and Vampire: the Requiem, I tweeted out for help with vampire puns.

Enter Justin Achilli, stage right. Senpai noticed me. And he was quite intrigued by the paper, and by what it was going to turn into: an academic textbook chapter on Vampire (for Palgrave’s Handbook of the Gothic: The Modern Age, due out next year, more on this as deets emerge). So we bounced some ideas back and forth, and he courteously agreed to answer some questions, and was incredibly smart and insightful.

He also asked if he could share those ideas on his website, and I couldn’t really say no after all that.

So here it is.

What Is Middlehammer?

Right! That’s it! I’ve had enough! Everyone sit down, pin back your earholes and listen. I’m laying down the law and anyone who still disagrees after this is wrong.

(You are, of course, entitled by the Great Powers of Subjective Experience, Relativism, Bullheadedness and Free Speech to be wrong, but you’re still wrong.)

Oldhammer: That which predates the coming of the Great Beast called Tom Kirby

Which means the first, second and third editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, and the legendary Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.

Everything produced before 1992 is fair game here and I’m grudgingly going to concede that includes Talisman, Heroquest and Space Crusade because they had an air of the anything-goes, not aggressively factionalised and brand protected pre-Kirby vibe about them. Maybe the original Adeptus Titanicus too. Blood Bowl is Oldhammer in spirit even if it’s survived, thrived, and taken on the aspect of each later period: it transcends all else and endures, magnificent, as quite possibly the best thing GW have ever done.

This period is characterised by big hardback rulebooks, a vaguely interwoven background in which it’s just possible the WFB and 40K universes coexist, by terrible puns and pop culture references, by outsider art, and by a random table for literally everything on God’s clean Earth.

People who like Oldhammer can be aggressively puritan and I for one have not forgotten being one of those Kids for whose Pocket Money GW is Ruining the Hobby, back in the day, but I do like their battle reports and their general sense of humour.

Middlehammer: That which hails from the reign of the Great Beast called Tom Kirby

Which means the fourth to eighth editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the second to seventh editions of Warhammer 40,000, the Black Industries edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play and Dark Heresy et al from Fantasy Flight. Also all Specialist Games except Blood Bowl. Anything from 1991 to about 2015, especially if it came in a big cardboard box with rulebooks and swarms of near-identical single-pose plastic models in it.

I’m ruling out Hogshead’s WFRP because it’s a republication of the original and quintessentially Oldhammer game, a wrap-up of a legacy product that’s extremely off brand for the Kirby period and would be replaced before the Great Beast gave up his throne.

This period is characterised by big boxed games, and an attempt to get a big boxed game under the bed of every adolescent lad in the country. At first, things are bright and idiotic; later they’re dark and even more idiotic, once GW figures out that teenage boys like edgy shit. Compartmentalised ‘Army Books’ or ‘Codex Books’ deliver the rules for models in convenient faction-sized chunks.

The period subdivides further into three categories:

Herohammer

Second edition 40K, fourth and fifth edition WFB, Warhammer Quest, Space Hulk, Necromunda, Gorkamorka, Mordheim, Space Marine, Titan Legions etc.

Overpowered characters with a plantation’s worth of Wargear cards, cardboard counters, cardboard datasheets for their vehicles, cardboard vehicles in some places, and cardboard buildings. Game balance for competitive play is an emerging concern but they’re not getting it right yet.

Tends to be the most popular among Middlehammerers, especially the ones who drifted away roundabout the time they discovered Women and Beer. (I never found it that hard to have Gaming, Women and Beer in my life, but then I’ve never held down a Real Man’s Job for more than nine months, so that probably explains a few things about me.)

Borehammer

Third, fourth and fifth edition 40K, sixth and seventh edition WFB. Warmaster, Battlefleet Gothic, Epic 40,000. Black Industries’ WFRP.

A backlash against the dominance of overpowered characters and the overproduction of cardboard gaming accessories. Tournament players are hired to write and contribute to rules and the games enter their most streamlined, balanced state to date.

The core experience is admittedly a bit bland compared to the excesses on either side, but more variants are built into that experience than ever. This is the age of worldwide campaigns that work, Cityfight, Combat Patrol, Kill Team, Warhammer Skirmish, the General’s Compendium, and all that stuff. The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game is not Warhammer but has a distinctively Borehammer feel to it and came out at the right time, so in it goes.

Lorehammer

Sixth and seventh edition 40K, eighth edition WFB. Tournament types are out, Forging the Narrative (or having it forced on you by GW, if you’re a WFB player) is in. Balance goes out the window in favour of Herohammer nostalgia. Armies, models, rulebooks and destructive potential are all embiggened and while things look better than ever, the play experience is best described as an exercise in riding the randomisation waves.

Fantasy Flight’s WFRP and Dreadfleet are the quintessential Lorehammer period gaming experience; they look fantastic but basically play themselves and you’re along for the ride. On the plus side, the Horus Heresy starts to take off and get the rivet counter crowd into 40K. On the downside, GW is still locked into Kirby’s suicide pact with Peter Jackson’s dignity and we get saddled with The Hobbit as an ill conceived ‘battle’ game.

Newhammer: that which emerges blinking into the harsh light of dawn as the Great Beast called Tom Kirby cedes control

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, Warhammer Underworlds, eighth edition Warhammer 40,000 and revived Necromunda and Adeptus Titanicus. I don’t count the PC games here because they’re all self-consciously tied to Middlehammer intellectual properties that might otherwise fall out of copyright. Nor do I include the technically new Warhammer Fantasy Role Play because it’s set in the Old World and is self-consciously modelled on the Black Industries one from 2003. The AOS RPG will be definitively Newhammer though. Fans of Newhammer cannot be blamed. They like something that’s not really to my taste and that’s all there is to be said on the matter.

 

Obviously my tongue is firmly in my cheek throughout all of this and I don’t actually think my pronouncements are world-defining as the Plan of the Old Ones (although I am fat, somnolent, and possessed of a wart, so I have something in common with their chosen people the Slann).

I do genuinely, sincerely think that the rise and fall of Tom Kirby mark a sea change in how GW did business and developed games, and thus serve as useful parentheses around the ‘Middlehammer’ period.

Let me know if I’ve left anything out and I will either steadfastly ignore you or command the Skinks to double-check the ancient tablets and possibly even make… a change… to the ancient scriptures.

Here endeth the lesson.