Friday, 2 August 2013

Mythbusters: Oldhammer, Etiquette, Weekenders and the importance of Ethos

If your games not Oldhammer, you're not coming in! 

I have felt it necessary to write this article due to a number of posts I have read on a number of different forums. It seems that with only four weeks to go until the first ever Oldhammer Weekender at the Foundry in Nottingham, all kinds of ideas and views are being splashed around by various people, many of who are not directly part of the Oldhammer Community it seems. 

These two discussions in particular.

Making the Oldhammer Event Less Intimidating  on the Bloodforum/Oldhammer Forums

Oldhammer Debate (in Spanish) 

Before I begin, can I just refer you here. Have a read before we continue.

Is it just me, or are there some myths about Oldhammer that are spreading around the wider wargaming internet? Are something getting a little lost in translation? Both these questions are quite impossible to answer with any real certainty, but there are certainly interesting areas to explore. 

A couple of years ago, if you typed the keywords 'warhammer third edition' or 'oldhammer' into a search engine you'd get very little real information in your results lists. Believe me, I know, as I used to do it. In fact, it was in doing so that I discovered Gaj's seminal Warhammer for Adults which inspired me to begin my own blog. Through his site (and direct communication from Gaj) I was introduced to the work of Thantsants, Zhu, Blue in VT and several others. Old School affectionardoes who loved collecting, painting and writing about long out of production models and publications. 

You type those same keywords into a search engine today and you get a very different result. 'Oldhammer' is even being used on eBay to help market old school miniatures! Don't believe me, look here! Additionally, there are people not really connected to the 'Oldhammer Community' (which I mean to be membership with or involvement with the informal 'blog-circle', Facebook Group or Bloodforum) are using the term 'Oldhammer' to have their own discussions. 

There is nothing wrong in this. In many ways its a good thing. But it seems to me that there are a number of 'myths' arising from somewhere that just are not the case. Now, myths can be dangerous (as any student of history will tell you) and they can certainly distort people's intentions. I was quite concerned when I heard Warlord Paul describe how he found it hard to encourage members of his gaming circle to try out the Oldhammer Weekender in Nottingham as they perceived the event to be intimidating, as such as consequence was never intended by the organisers of the event. Really, the only aim we had was to get as many old school fans, bloggers, painters etc into a room at once so they could have a great time. It was certainly not to create an 'elitist' event. After all, such an approach is no different to the tournament scene that so many of us were in disagreement with.

I was hoping that this post may in its own small way 'bust' some of these myths open for what they are. Let me share the myths that I feel I have come across from spending some time reading through the internet. If you feel there are any more, please contribute in the comments below so we can discuss them further. Cheers. 

Myth 1: Oldhammer games must be played with Citadel miniatures produced between 1985-1992 only!

Not true at all, though there are some members of the community who prefer this style of miniature and have very large collections of old Citadel lead that they have been wanting to paint up and game with for many years. I am one of them. The research, collecting, restoration and finally playing with these miniatures is a major part of my gaming life. And I can see that a casual glance through the more well known blogs may well suggest that this is the case. It is not. If anything, Oldhammer players like me want to play against lovingly crafted and collected forces, with a rich a detailed background created by their owner. We will be interested in hearing what inspired your background, troop chocies, colour schemes and indulge you as you recount the spectacular eBay victories that ensured the armies creation.  

"Ahhhhhh! That's not original 1980s Citadel!"
We will certainly not suddenly point you out like some mulletted character out of the 1978 version of The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers if we spot something post 1992 or from another manufacturer. Start prattling on about how you are 'trying out a new list' or how you have 'optimised your magical items' and you may well find us wandering off. 

Myth 2: Warhammer Third Edition is the best version of the ruleset and no others can be used.

Again, not the case. Many Oldhammerers prefer second edition you know! In truth, there is no best version of the ruleset as it is all down to personal preference. We focus on the Third Edition because it is broadly contemporary with the Citadel range that many of us collect and because its has its roots in roleplay rather than straight wargame. The rule book also contains EVERYTHING you need to play and a wealth of bizarre creatures, ideas and rules, the most important one being freedom to change what you don't like. Editions 1-3 also had a rather natural progression. The main reason these edition are chosen is because they were designed to be played with a GM. Really good narrative games work brilliantly when a GM has designed the battle, presents you with a little piece of background and sets you off, only to introduce more detail as you progress. 

Myth 3: Oldhammer has no 'real' armylists or balance so therefore has no strategy.

Since when did picking the 'correct' units off a published army list constitute strategy? To me, strategy is not an army composition but the tactical choices you have to make when responding to a situation. Do I advance into the woods or use the apparently abandoned wizard's tower as a bulwark against my foe? And what about rescuing that Imperial agent guarded in the baggage train? By strength or guile? As Oldhammer promotes the idea of a story driven game, the player's strategy is going to be based on what they have to actually achieve, if you want to cut down the forest and construct a series of scaling ladders, or build a series of defences, such things would be possible with a GM controlling play. As for balance, that's your responsibility, not the rules writers!

Myth 4: You need hundreds of painted models to play Oldhammer.

Just not the case. You can have a great game with a dozen a side. I know because I have done it. Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness is a great entry point as you can build a warband out of just about anything. Collecting and painting up a handful of models is great fun and no great challenge for anyone. It is also possible to get your hands on the classic stuff too if you are so inclined. Also, during the Third Edition era it was very common for players to just bring what they had in the collection and come up with a scenario there and then, often organised into (roughly) goodies and baddies. Of course, a good GM would give secret victory conditions to each faction on each side to ensure that there may be friction within the ranks. 

Myth 5: Oldhammer is just Warhammer

Any old school game fits, though the games produced during the 1980s by GW do dominate. But I would expect to see games beyond Warhammer (or even Rogue Trader) being played at an Oldhammer Event. Space Hulk (any edition), Blood Bowl, Heroquest, D&D... the list goes on. These games share the concept that the 'game' is a shared experience that cannot simply be 'won'. 


I am going to keep this short. Oldhammer is NOT a game in its own right, based on Warhammer Third Edition rules. Its a mindset. Its ethos and aesthetics are heavily based on the game Warhammer 3rd Edition but are not ruled by them. The ethos is transferable and can be applied to any system, any game, any where and any time. 

As always, feel free to comment about anything that I have discussed here. Do you agree with me that certain myths seem to be forming in the community. Its obvious that Oldhammer 'has been noticed' by the greater wargaming world and is beginning to influence others. Detractors are nothing to be feared, and to be honest, are to be expected. But I am sure that there is something special about Oldhammer, after all, no other online wargames group seems to get praise quite like we do when fellow enthusiasts discover what we have created.

Taken from the comments section of a Realm of Zhu

I can't find the words to express, my thoughts at the moment in finding sites like this - expressing an ethos I've aspire to for the last thirty years!
I have the kit, I just need to find like-minded people to play the game!
Keep up the good work.

Oldhammer is about being YOUR own boss and doing what you want to do. Find like minded folk. Explore. Enjoy. 

Just don't believe the hype!



  1. Great post Orlygg, nice to see someone taking the tiller and steering things back on track a little.

  2. I don't really consider myself part of the 'Oldhammer' community, but having started gaming in the late eighties I very much enjoy the aesthetic and, yes, ethos behind this 'movement'. Personally I tend to use indie rulesets - things like Crom!, SBH, Mayhem and my own Cavern Crawl - and my minis are usually from 'unaligned' companies or are oop. It may be heresy to write this here, but I don't actually like any of the WHFB incarnations! However, as I wrote I like diy attitude ('ethos') that drives Oldhammer and can relate to it.

    Now regarding the myths that you mention, I feel that if somebody finds it hard to understand the Oldhammer spirit then they probably never will. Many - but not all! - gamers who slavishly stick to complete systems (ie. glossy rules + proscribed miniatures) - current GW, Privateer, FoW and so forth - are simply not independently-minded enough to grasp the looser approach that Oldhammer represents.
    I have seen this in my own area where, when at a gaming store, staunch 40K and Privateer players have approached myself and a friend during a game of Crom! and enthused about the simplicity and small amount of miniatures used. 'It takes ages just to create an army-list in 40K, let alone play the game' one of them bemoaned. These were young men in their early twenties, weened on the internet. We were happy to give them a quick demo, but at the same time I thought: if you actually could be arsed, a quick browse of a forum like LAF would very quickly give you plenty of superior alternatives to GW.
    So what I'm trying to say that, although I am fully willing to accommodate 'n00bs' I do also wonder at their lack of inquisitiveness. It's like Radio 1: there really is absolutely no excuse to be listening to it. Sometimes things are the better for a bit of 'elitism', which is not to be confused with being an arrogant sod!

    I wish I could make it to the weekender, but as usual harsh reality intervenes. I'm sure all involved will have a great time.

  3. I'm quite surprised to read some people can get intimidated. I've found in this community a lot of great people with whom I could share a lot. The shout outs, support, advices, tips and help I've got from a lot of its members make it something I really want to invest myself in.
    I can get why the myths you've brilliantly busted can get in people's mind.
    The way I see it, the oldhammer may look intimidating because it is demanding. Like many other communities, it needs you to give some extra energy, involvement, call it what you like. For me it means, (really) reading what people write, trying to bring proper elements in the debates, trying to give to your opponent's pleasure the same value as you give to your own, trying to respect sculptors/opponents/GMs by showing armies painted the best you could (whatever the brand or the year they come from).
    People like you or Thantsants, Zhu, Blue in VT or Gaj to name a few really invest yourselves in this movement and make it always more enjoyable. By showing us this hobby can be practised in an honorable and mature way, you just help us try to raise or own standards and that is a good thing for everyone.
    I hope my poor level in English didn't make my message sound weird : every drop you invest in this community is rewarded with a sea of help/support/laugh and more generally speaking good time.
    That doesn't seem much intimidating to me, seems quite attractive actually ;)

    If some people prefer putting the latest optimised unpainted armies on the board and refusing their opponent's charges by half an inch, good for them, it's just...different strokes...
    Thanks a lot

  4. Yet another interesting, intelligent and incisive article Orlygg, well done.

    As you may recall, I am not shy about trying to break down barriers for people hoping to give this Oldhammer thingy a crack. I think it's just the realist in me that wants those first steps to be easy and inviting, later on the desire to evolve your skills and ambitions would be a natural development of being part of the scene.

    When I started off the 'Making the Oldhammer Weekend Less Intimidating' thread it was for one reason, which is worth expanding on. I am a member of a 30 strong wargaming club that has abandoned modern Warhammer and 40k in disgust but recently re-embraced Rogue Trader with child-like glee. Most of them are 'offline' hobbyists but even if they don't really know it they are living, breathing exemplars of Oldhammer. The problem is they won't come to Nottingham for the BOYL weekend. I started off the thread on the BLOOD forum for those guys to look at and realise they and their 7th edition miniatures would be welcome. Instead of loads of 'hey fellas, come on down' comments it turned into something of a debate, while no-one actively pushed noobs away it was hardly the open arms response I was hoping to elicit either.

    I respect every one of the people that took the time to join in that thread and was quite sanguine about making the decision to avoid taking a full army down this year because of it. Talking about it helped me realise I am not where I want to be in terms of readiness so that's that.

    Of course, Oldhammer came across as... hard work. It should be of course, the whole hobby is hard work and that's part of the appeal. Getting ready for this year though shifted from plausible to... 'Myth Busted'.

  5. "The ethos is transferable and can be applied to any system, any game, any where and any time."

    Bravo, and too true! Even though I might never use a supposedly 'old-hammer accepted' ruleset, I still feel very much connected with this movement as it inspired me to do what I want with the games I want to play. The experience is yours, own it!

  6. Great post, Oldhammer to me is simply about enjoying my past or in another way reviving my past 20 years gaming but with a chance to get figures i missed first time around or getting out of the ''Must be GW'' midset, so i've been enjoying getting Grenadier, RAFM, Ral Partha figures for first time. But i use my large collections to play the current rule sets and go too tournments quite often with them (Both GW and independent events)

  7. Thank you.. Sums up what the community is about perfectly. Play with what you like and enjoy yourself..

  8. Really well put. Hopefully that will be as encouraging and inspirational as the Oldhammer ethos deserves to be. Very much looking forward to meeting likeminded gamers at the event.

  9. Great post. I hope this and the comments puts people at ease. For me Oldhammer is about maybe revitalizing my old collection and playing with my kids. It's 3rd for me because that's what I have. I have no idea if and when I'll buy more 28mm, but who knows I might play Oldhammer with my 1/72 plastics. Now there's some heresy for you.

  10. Well done sir - great post and a reminder that its an ethos not another set of rules to game by!

  11. +1 to what Thansants just said...a well thought out and presented post. Excellent work. Everyone should be, and, feel welcome at this event and in the community...we ain't scary.

    ...well....maybe Chico...:)

  12. Hit 'em again, Orlygg!

    Er. I mean...nicely put together, Mr Orlygg. Very good.

    I think Warlord Paul has highlighted a very real issue here, because before he mentioned it, I hadn't thought of oldhammer as being intimidating. But stepping back, I can see how someone who otherwise likes the idea might be too afraid to participate because having looked at the blogs of all of the luminaries of oldhammer described above (including the soul destroying posts of Goblin Lee and his Slann hordes - enough to cripple the most accomplished of collectors), they've discovered an inadvertent attack on modern 'soul-less' miniatures, which more often than not is an attack on the modern GW itself, than its actual figure range.

    And unfortunately, now that demand for these figures is increasing, there is a very real financial elitism that is being associated with this as well.

    I think Warlord did the best possible thing that could be done to combat this - he wrote battle reports for both Warhammer and Rogue Trader using modern GW figures.

    At its core, I think most of the oldhammerers with old lead are primarily reliving elements of their childhood, which is why it might feel a little inaccessible to the younger entrants - their own childhood's feature plastic multi-pose figures, the Warhammer 2003 Annual and an already arrogant, disinterested and lazy GW. It must be terrifying when you're talking to people who can identify who the sculptor is when looking at a figure - its not even thought about with plastic sprues.

    Unfortunately, there is a courage 'barrier' that new entrants must now climb. This is true for other hobbies - want to take up kite surfing - prepare to embarras yourself in front of the more experienced members - its the only way in. New entrants have to suck it up and take the plunge, regardless of the kit they bring. And, as one will find in any hobby, good players can use bad kit, but bad players can't use good kit.

    1. In the group of Martial Artists I hang out with we have a saying "How do you get better at Martial Arts? You suck at it for a while." Or put another way "Anything worth doing is worth sucking at for a while."

  13. Myth 1: Oldhammer games must be played with Citadel miniatures produced between 1985-1992 only!

    Sadly, while I would LOVE to have a collection of Citadel/Marauder etc. figures from the 85-92 era to play some Oldhammer games with, finances (and other shiny things) has meant I won't ever really be able to build up a good collection.

    HOWEVER I am not going to miss out on all the fun and I am currently building up some forces for 2nd Edition Warhammer using the Kings of War range from Mantic Games. They might be newfangled but I think the company have a good design aesthetic and seem to listen to their gamers as well as producing figures just for the hell of it then adding rules later. Sound familiar?

    I really do think the "style" of gaming trumps what ever figures you choose to use.

  14. Hey there!

    I'm pretty familiar with the old-school D&D...movement? Sounds way too organized. The term "OSR" is kind of our "Oldhammer" equivalent.

    It's great to see that this sort of thing exists for other facets of the gaming hobby (and particularly for Warhammer)! Will be glomming on to this blog, and several others in the blogroll, with great interest. :)

  15. I agree with all and preconceptions are what some thing and think thats the norm, what i have to say Oldhammer is remembering good miniatures and fun and enjoying them in the present using whatever they have or just to play and enjoy or look and be part of the company who do