Someone go to Holy Terra quick and toll the great Bell of Lost Souls once – Warhammer is dead. A world burns and, regardless of what you may have heard to the contrary, a man from Games Workshop is on his way to your house right now to smash up your models and force you to buy Space Marines.
Before he arrives let me share a few of my own thoughts on the passing of Warhammer. Be warned however, I am a long time 40k collector and painter – and nowadays a player of nothing. If you’ve just rage-quit in disgust rather than face the dawn of the Age of Sigmar then this may not be a good place to be. Spam your hatred of me in the comments box below, if it’s erudite – or even legible – I may just let it stay.
The truth is Warhammer never quite grabbed me in the same way 40k did. The miniatures are pretty nice, and that should be enough in itself, and it looked like it would be fun to actually play – something that never really clicked for me with 40k. I started several Warhammer armies over the years; my Skaven I’ve already shown, my Vampire Counts deserve an outing at some point as well. I’ve often dreamed of an Empire army (lots of black-powder, crazy contraptions and handlebar moustaches) or perhaps Wood Elves (especially post End-Times when I could add in some of the more feral elements from the Dark Elves to create a truly savage Wild Hunt). The only reason I never did much with either Chaos or Orcs was because I was already throwing all my ideas in that department into 40k. I even have a few Bretonian knights kicking around somewhere.
As it turned out none of these ideas went anywhere. As I have come to discover the hook I need to get me involved in a setting is the background. This is why, sidetracking slightly, I hate the term ‘fluff’. Fluff implies that what we are dealing with is extraneous extra stuff, designed to go around the key elements (the miniatures? the rules?) but hardly vital to them. Which, may I add, rather comes across as one in the eye for the ancient art of storytelling. No-one has ever put down a well-thumbed copy of Lord of the Rings, or sat in a cinema watching the latest Hollywood extravaganza and thought “Well that was some rather good fluff”.
The point I’m attempting to make is that a solid background makes a game. The Emperor has sat decaying upon the Golden Throne of Terra for more than two and a half decades now. What has happened to your miniatures in that time? How about your rules? With each new armybook or codex armies have risen or fallen in the “meta” and units have gone from “deathstars” to disposable and back again. Yet the fluff remains inviolate, the pillar upon which all else is built. And, when all is said and done, the 40k ‘fluff’ continues to excite me in a way that of Warhammer never did.
This isn’t a fantasy vs sci-fi debate, in fact I’d argue that 40k is far more fantasy than sci-fi (yes, it’s set in the future, but it’s also packed to the gunnels with magic, wizards, knights, dragons and elves – and not a single actual scientist in sight).
The problem with the Warhammer fiction, for me, is that it appeared to be founded on a principle of ‘Never make a single, logic narrative step when twelve highly improbable ones would do’. As a result my credulity was constantly being stretched and I spent more time trying to follow the plot and remember which convoluted steps which led us here.
From what I’ve seen so far this reboot seems to be continuing the trend. If they wanted to move the timeline forward then surely this could have been done without destroying the world they had created in its entirety? Why not stop the End Times at one minute to midnight with the world reeling, every faction battered but Chaos suddenly on the defensive as the Gods withdrew their power from Archaon, preferring to toy with mortal lives for another age than see the world destroyed outright? And before you tell me that’s daft let me remind you, a precedent has already been set by a little known guy named Horus… Of course the world would still be in trouble, its cities in ruins, its armies shattered, its people driven to their knees. Chaos Lords, enraged by the nearness of the victory that had been snatched from them, would still be rampaging around the countryside seeking to make their mark in the power vacuum left by the death of Archaon. Orcs and Skaven fight over the ruins and everyone is out to seize limited resources off everyone else just to survive. Luckily for the forces of Order golden armoured heroes are descending from the heavens! The tide is about to turn!
Perhaps you think my ‘post End Times solution’ is rubbish fan-fiction, in which case fair enough, but surely it seems more believable than all this nonsense about some guy flying through space, hanging onto a speck of reality, then rebuilding some worlds by magic or what-have-you. Also my way would have allowed any characters players wanted to survive into the new era to do so. That elf prince you wrote all that background about? Well in my version he survived the End Times by being terribly heroic (your Skaven hero hid until it was all over). In the official version they both snuffed it and if you want them in the new world some unlikely miracle must have occurred. No, the only way they can exist ‘in game’ (and they do – there are rules for Special Characters in the pdfs on the Games Workshop website) is if one is playing ‘pre End Times’ – in which case why not just leave things at one minute to mid-night and skip out the whole ‘Sigmar flies through space’ thing altogether?
All of which should not give you the impression that I’m anti-Age of Sigmar, I’m actually pretty excited about it. As I’ve often said I don’t really game at all nowadays, but I still maintain an interest in game design and some of the decisions made in the creation of AoS strike me as well worth investigating. It remains pretty doubtful that I’ll play it but I’ll still be reading the rules with interest.
This brings us to another key point – the fact that I can just pick up the rules and read them. I’m not being asked to invest large sums in buying rule books, I can just grab everything I need for free, legitimately and without fear of prosecution. Welcome, Games Workshop, to the world of modern business! It’s a strange and exciting place but I’m sure once you catch your breath you’ll fit right in!
The fact of the matter is, the rules have been available for free for quite some time. Piracy, once the sole domain of dashing looking men with eye-patches and poor dental hygiene, has come ashore and made its way online. If you know where to look – and who doesn’t – then all the rule books you require can be yours for free (albeit not legally). The aim of this piece isn’t to justify piracy, you can make up your own mind about that, but to deny its happening is the height of foolishness, especially for a company in Games Workshop’s position. The solution? Cut the rug from under the pirates’ feet, give the rules away for free and use them to sell a product that people are excited to buy – the miniatures.
As someone who’s main interest in the hobby is painting and converting models this is the real meat of the release for me; the warriors of Khorne doing battle with Sigmar’s holy warriors, the Stormcast Eternals. Obviously as a devoted servant of the dark gods I’m pretty excited about the former as I can already see all sorts of possibilities for adding them to the ranks of my own black crusade. As for the latter they too should translate to the dark future, one way or another.
Before I go on let me stress the point – these models looks pretty amazing as fantasy models, my 40k slant is purely that’s probably where I’ll be using them.
Anyway, as absolutely everyone has been saying, the Stormcast Eternals would look fierce as Custodes. Of course to truly match the Custodes they’d need those tall helms that must make them bump their heads if they ever find themselves fighting indoors. Still, there are plenty of options available to make that possible whilst the death masks of the sigmarites can be recycled onto Blood Angels, psykers, mutants, navigators, mechanicum thralls, Slaaneshi warriors or anyone else you can think of who looks debonair in a mask.
Even if you don’t want to turn these guys into Custodes they could still make for some damn fine Space Marines (to be honest I think the popularity of the Custodes idea springs in part from them being painted gold). Indeed if these models are as large as they’re said to be, and as plentiful as starter set models generally become, then we could be looking at a golden opportunity for true-scaling space marines. The Lord-Relictor is a few minor conversions away from being a jaw dropping Chaplain and how about taking the skeleton he’s holding and mounting it on the front of a dreadnaught?
Anyway, I’m writing this with hasty over-excitement in a cafe, so before they throw me out I’m going to wrap this up. As usual if you have any thoughts feel free to put them in the box below. Cheers!