Sunday, 29 June 2014

Acceptable in the '80s: Skaven background and miniatures

Just when you thought that Warhammer Third Edition was dead in the water, propped up with casual reprints from the Lost and the Damned and the monthly releases from Marauder Miniatures, White Dwarf published a completely out of the blue article of background. Not just a one page wonder either, but a deep analysis of the dark, underground world of the Skaven, from the pens of Rick 'Mr Wargiming' Priestley and Jes 'Mr Miniatures' Goodwin. 

Now we know that there were many such articles written in the Design Studio in the late 1980s and many of you may recall Graeme Davis' story about his background article about trolls. Sadly, for reasons he alludes too in his interview, few of this material saw print in relationship to Warhammer Third Edition, though I suspect it was ransacked for armybooks and further articles later on in Warhammer's history. 

So what do we have here then? Well its an article that gives a great overview to the skavan circa 1989. What really struck me was how little the background has changed to this day. everything we know and love about the ratmen is present in this article, even the iconic Screaming Bell and Council of the Thirteen! There are a couple of really interesting snippets of information within though, that are probably worth a little discussion and you fill find those at the bottom of the article. 






The model bottom left appears again in an 'Eavy Metal article. The third time at least if I recall correctly. That makes him probably the most republished model in WD until the creation of the Citadel plastic giant in 2006!
So what did you spot that was different? Well, for me two things stand out. The first is the way that Cathay is described. In this article it is described as an 'abandoned city', so its seems that both the country and its capital shared the same name, similar to Rome and Romans I suppose. Now I am no expert at all, but I am pretty sure that I have never read anything else about there being an abandoned city called Cathay in the Warhammer background, have you?

Now this little fact is fascinating for a nerd like me. Why was Cathay abandoned? Was the idea ever fleshed out back then? It implies in the article above that the Skaven simply took over the city of Cathay after it was abandoned but it doesn't seem to me that they were the cause. 

The second interesting thing that article brings up is mention of the Black Ark, which sounds all very Indiana Jones and the Search for the Lost Ark style, only with rats instead of Nazis and a chunk of warpstone rather than the writings of Moses. 

Interesting points. What do you think?

Orlygg

11 comments:

  1. You're right, the Black Ark does sound very Indiana Jones. It was first mentioned in the Vengence of the Lichmaster Scenario in the Spring 1986 Journal as the Black Ark of the Covenant, which is even more Indian Jones.
    You are also correct in the general background is largely the same. It has only been added to in the last few years with the Skaven backround/painting guide books, but the basic concepts are the same. Only a few new items Ratling Guns, DoomWheel, Lighting Cannon) were added post 3rd Edition.
    It's a great artlice and was a bit of a suprise at the time, and we thuoght it was a ploy to promote an army that was not being played a lot. If memory serves me right there was another Skaven scenario about the same time, with the new Bretonnians fighting Skaven over a burial mount with Undead.
    The thing that interested me most about the article, and the later army and battle report in White Dwarf #137 in 1991 was the use of the plastic heroquest Skaven. This seemed to be a move to get people using the plastic Skaven to bulk out the army as an all metal Skaven army would be costly even then! (the only other plastic Skaven were in the Warhammer regiments box, and you only got 10).
    Great blog update. I am just about to start my 1980's Skaven project, and so is a timely motivation for me :)

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    1. Nothing like a plastic Skaven for building up the armies> i recall going to Wonder World in Bournemouth and buying two boxes of Warhammer Regiments. All my friends did too that summer and we all swap the models so we had massive (in our eyes) armies of goodies and baddies.

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    2. I think the scenario was Dwarfs was it not? It introduced a rough idea of Runes.

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  2. Subbing rats in for nazis explains why they have something very closely approximating a swastika as one of their symbols. (I remember causing some offence to the fainthearted at BOYL last year by claiming that GW used swastikas in their design, but I think it's plain as day here.)

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  3. The Skaven symbol isn't a tetragammadion/tetraskelion, but a triskelion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triskelion , though it does bear a resemblance to the one used by the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging.

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    1. Poor old Swatsikas. Maligned by the Nazis, I know that they are an important Hindu symbol. I have seen Victorian Raj influenced buildings with them on in this country. But then, Hitler and his plonker cronies stole much of their symbolism from history and even Hollywood movies (the Nazi Salute, apparently) only to twist it to their fascist ends.

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  4. Was this about the time when WD was publishing loads (relatively speaking) of scenarios for Advanced HeroQuest? I always wondered if the Skaven were intended to replace the Fimir (a bit too much for kids) as GW 'signature' fantasy race.

    But re: the echo, at least, of a swastika on the shields, I've written elsewhere that I find GW's evolving approach towards 'safe for kids' curious. In 40K, for example, I feel that RT made it clear that the Imperium were the space Nazis - the ghoulish, disturbing picture of the Emperor being ingrained in my imagination - and there was plenty of dark, satiric humour too. Later 40K seems to ramp up the fascist iconography while stripping away the humour (especially the overt satire) and, as the books are deadpan, almost in-universe artifacts, they don't have the same sort of nods and winks from the authors.

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    1. As the emphasis switched, so did the in-jokes and comic touches. Interestingly, Oldhammer is full of in-jokes and comic touches too, as anyone who has seen a photograph of Chico will know.

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  5. Don't forget the Skaven launch article in the Citadel Journal #3. A lot of good stuff in that one.

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  6. As someone who loves the furry little b#ggers I'd say yes they're meant to be evil and they conduct experiments with gas. People play Germans in WWII games so what's so bad about Skaven being Nazi'ish?

    Rogue Trader certainly had facist overtones, just look at Commissars!!!!!!!

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    1. yep, and if you want humour in your 40K just read the Caphais Cain series, A Commissar who want's a nice cushy desk job!

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