Saturday 21 February 2015

Geheimnisnacht: An Interview with William King

Dead things, from the hills. An internal illustration from Wold Riders.
William King's contribution to the Warhammer Mythos is considerable. After all, he created the now iconic character of Gotrek (not to mention Felix) as well as penning the early tales of Ragnar Blackmane. His writings can also be found inside the rulebooks of several classic era games, including The Lost and the Damned and his witty mix of humour and dark horror exemplifies all that was great about early Warhammer and 40K. 

I had long been keen to interview Mr. King as part of my wider series of chats about old school Games Workshop. But it wasn't until Graeme Davis, legendary author of WFRP and many associated supplements, contacted me offering to set up such a opportunity that things fell into place. So thank you Graeme for that! And thank you too to William for taking time out from his busy schedule to talk about the old days with us.

I expect that like many of you, Geheimnisnacht was my first real contact with William King's work. I had seen the adverts run in White Dwarf about the forthcoming new range of novels and anthologies sometime in 1989, and was very pleased to see the first run of books for sale in Wonderworld when I visited. Sadly, I only had enough cash for a couple of books and subsequently chose Konrad and Ignorant Armies. I still own, and read, those copies today. In time, I managed to track down all the other anthologies that were published in the first run - Wolf Riders and Red Thirst. I reconnected with the saga of Gotrek while at university thanks to the Black Library's Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer.

One of the evocative advertisments used to promote the late '80s Warhammer book line.
Looking back through this first series of books, William King contributed quite a few short story gems during the 'Golden Age'. If you are unfamiliar with his work during this period, here is a little run down of what there is out there to  be inspired by:

Ignorant Armies - two stories, the already mentioned Geheimsnisnacht and the title tale, Ignorant Armies itself.
Wolf Riders - only the single tale in this edition, again the title story, Wolf Riders, the second Gotrek and Felix story.
Red Thirst - again, only a single contribution here, the third Gotrek and Fleix story: The Dark Beneath the World.
Route 666 (anthology version) - the short story, Uptown Girl, set in the Dark Future universe.
Deathwing - two short stories here, the title tale, Deathwing, co-written with Bryan Ansell, and Devil's Marauders

Happy hunting if you haven't read these stories yet in your Oldhammer journey.Right, enough of my waffle and time to talk to Bill about his recollections. Here goes...

RoC80s: Please tell us about your early life? What were your first experiences with sci-fi/fantasy literature?

BK: I was born in Stranraer, Scotland many moons ago. I discovered wargaming in the late '60s/early '70s courtesy of Don Featherstone and Charles Grant books from the local library and Airfix. 

I got into RPGs via D&D during my first year at University in 1977.

It changed my life!

The earliest SF/Fantasy I can remember reading was Andre Norton and Ursula Le Guin in the kids section of the aforementioned library. I soon started spending my own pocket money on Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E Howard, Michael Moorcock and Tolkien. I was also fond of Frank Herbert and Roger Zelazny. I was fortunate to grow up during what was probably the first great boom in fantasy and SF. A lot of the old pulp writers were being rediscovered and a whole new generation of very good fantasy writers was emerging. I can still remember picking up the Mayflower Moorcocks, the Panther HP Lovecrafts and Clark Ashton Smiths in John Menzies. 

If I close my eyes I can picture the psychedelic covers of the Moorcock books and the brilliant Bruce Pennington paintings on Lost Worlds and the Frank Herbert books.

RoC80s:How did you make the transition from a fan of the genre to writing for publications such as Interzone?

BK: I started submitting short stories. It really was as simple as that. I had no idea how to go about submitting books. I sent stories to Interzone because it was in the UK and had clear guidelines about how to submit right there in the mag. 

Before Interzone I wrote a few fanzine articles for Superhero UK and sold some stories to the semi-pro Dream magazine.

Route 666 Cover - this is the anthology version which contains Bill's Dark Future short story. There is a novel version with the same name but quite a different cover. 
RoC80s:At what point in your life did you first discover Warhammer and what was it about the game that caught your attention?

BK: RPGs were my thing in the 80s, mostly the Hero System. I did not really notice Warhammer all that much until the arrival of WFRP in 1986. I remember being blown away by the colour insert in White Dwarf which featured among other things a man being abducted by Skaven. When I got my hands on the huge hardcover it did not disappoint. 

What appealed was the combination of wild Moorcockian fantasy with a certain grubby realism. That, and the pretty brutal and distinctly casual attitude towards character death. When I read the books I had the feeling that it was written by people who knew their stuff historically speaking. It felt a lot different from most other fantasy games then available. I also think The Enemy Within campaign was probably the best campaign ever professionally published.

That helped.

RoC80s: How did you end up joining GW in 1989 with a remit to produce fiction?

BK: Just after I had sold my first story to Interzone, I read an article somewhere -- it might have been in a BSFA mag-- saying that David Pringle, then the editor of Interzone, had got a job editing for a new Warhammer book line. I wrote to him saying I play this game. I know this world. I can write this. Give us a job! 

He said yes.

The launch of Zenith, an anthology my second published story was in, was held in Nottingham. I saw Bryan Ansell in the dealer's room. I recognised him from his picture in White Dwarf so I walked over, introduced myself and told him I was doing some work for his company. He asked me if I was interested in a full time job working for GW? I stuck around for an interview after the convention and that was it.

I was in.

RoC80s: What were the earliest pieces of writing your produced for GW and were there really such tight restrictions about what you could write about?

BK: It was all a long time and many destroyed brain cells ago! I think the first thing I worked on at GW was Codex Titanicus. Then there was Waaargh, the Orks and Deathwing. Most of the fiction was commissioned to go into these books and I was given pretty tight briefs as to what was wanted. 

Understandable under the circumstances.

Deathwing - the single 40k anthology released during the Rogue Trader era. There is a rather good review of this book on the Lost on Fenris blog, which is where I sourced this photograph.

RoC80s: Did you spend a great deal of time within the GW studio when you were writing early fiction? If so, what can you recall about the atmosphere of the place in the late 80s/early 90s?

BK: I worked in the old Low Pavement Design Studio for a year or so starting in 1989. It was a pretty wild place. People would sleep on an old battered couch in the office and work late into the night. There was a buzz to it. Things were taking off. Warhammer was breaking out. People were excited by what they were doing and there were a lot of smart talented people about.

RoC80s: Please share with us the details behind the creation of Gotrek and Felix. Did they pre-date the development of GW Books or were the created as part of the range of anthologies?

BK: I noticed that among my WFRP players trollslayers were popular and I could see why. I mean what's not to love about demented suicidal dwarves with big axes? When I sat down to write Gehmnisnacht, the first appearance of Gotrek and Felix I used the plot of a scenario I had run for my Warhammer campaign. I actually killed Gotrek at the end of the story, you can see the moment it happened in the story if you look closely. Then I thought wait a minute, what am I doing? These characters could have a whole series in them.

Turns out I was right about that.

I was just winging it for the most part. I always wanted to write a classic sword and sorcery series where the hero wanders around and has adventures-- you know stuff like Conan and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. This was my chance to do it. I was still finding my way as a writer when I started. I had only sold about 3 short stories at this point. It took me about a decade to work my way up to being able to write novels competently.

That said, Daemonslayer was a book I brooded on for five years. At the time no one knew whether Black Library was going to be around for long (GW Books had been a failure after all) and I wanted it to get in everything I could about the characters. I figured it was my one chance to do things right. That's why it has our heroes facing the biggest toughest monster they are ever likely to. If I had been sensible I would have saved that for later. 

(As to Gotrek's fate) My original plan was to have him run over by a bus or possibly a steamroller :). To be honest, I have no idea. Part of the problem of writing a series like this is coming up with a suitably epic ending. I always treated the whole glorious death thing as one of the central jokes of the books, kind of like whenever they are hired/forced to protect some place it usually ends up burned to the ground. Here you have this utterly suicidal demented warrior who is just too tough and too stubborn to die.

RoC80s: Did you ever contribute to actual games development (rules) or was your focus always fiction?

BK: I ended up as a developer during my next stint at the Design Studio-- a couple of years in the early 90s. I did a fair amount of writing and testing on Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Man o'War. I contributed to a few of the early army books. I was the first person ever to lose to Jervis Johnson in a published battle report. (Now there's a real claim to fame!)

RoC80s: We have learnt over the years that many GW personalities made it into the artwork and background. Did you include anyone in particular in any of your fiction?

BK: I never knew that! For my sins the only one I can think of is Grey Seer Thanquol and he is based on me, specifically the me that plays wargames. When I win it's because of my tactical genius. When I lose it is because of the Gods are against me or because of the incompetence of my minions. 

I suspect there are a lot of gamers like me out there. 

Monday 16 February 2015

Happy Birthday Realm of Chaos 80s

This blog is three years old today! It has grown beyond my wildest expectations over that time and I thank you all for continuing to read and enjoy the posts I publish. Apparently, my style of writing isn't everyone's cup of tea but you cannot please everyone, can you?

They are probably resellers! Ha ha ha!

To celebrate the special occasion I had a bit of a splurge on eBay this week. Recently, I have been holding fire on buying any more miniatures as its hard to justify piling anymore lead on top of the mountain to a wary spouse. But with a new army underway I am eager to get my hands on suitable models to fill the ranks before the coming Oldhammer Weekend 2015. I hope to put on a scenario battle and act as GM and provide all the necessary forces, scenery and rules tweaks - but more on all that later!

So all that is left for me to say is THANK YOU to all of you who have followed, commented, read or just passed through over the last thirty-six months. Look out for another old school GW interview to be published tomorrow, too! 

Sunday 15 February 2015

McDeath: Banquo's Berserkers

Banquo's Berserkers - the toughest sellswords this side of Loch Lochsmythe
I have just managed to grab a couple of seconds to take a snap or two of my second little party of miniatures. If you remember, I hope to attend a game in Mansfield later on this month and each player needs to bring a small party of models to field. I so enjoyed putting together my Citadel barbarians earlier on this month I was eager to have another go. I chose to paint up some more of my McDeath models and put together a little unit around Banquo.

Banquo's Berserkers!

Juggo the dwarf didn't need any additional work. The clansman with the caber had his skin tone repainted as I wasn't happy with the original result and his tartan pattern was reworked to match that on the other models. Banquo (centre) was my first new model and was pretty straightforward as most of him is chainmail. The second clansman (with sword) was also a new model and one I really enjoyed painting. His tartan pattern was added to Banquo and the caber tosser to create a little cohesion, Finally, Raybees had his shield repainted in honour of the Scottish Saltire. Not wanting to repeat the same design for the sword wielding clansman, I opted to create a fairly symmetrical thistle motif for him - again using Scottish heraldry as inspiration. 

I love this range of models and its a shame that so many of them are so hideously expensive.

I am looking forwards to the game at Slayer on the 28th all the more now!

A second hurried shot - my attempt to show off the thistle shield design.

Saturday 14 February 2015

More Surprises from Stoke Hall: Signatures, Sickness and a Leatherbound Slaves to Darkness?

Attention hardcore collectors and completists! How about this then...? Its a photograph of Bryan's leatherbound copy of Realm of Chaos which has just been uncovered from storage in Stoke Hall, Newark. 

But what does it actually contain? 

I suspect that it contains the text from Slaves to Darkness, but that is just an educated guess. We now know that the history of this seminal tome had a long (and rather arduous) gestational period and was rather a breaker of games designers. But there were other unpublished versions and perhaps this is one of those. Time will no doubt tell on the detail, but I strongly suspect its a ultimate edition of the 1987 release.

I believe this to be taken from inside the book. Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt spot the four chaos symbols in the four corners. We can infer from the 'Merry Chaosmas' that this lovely book was a Christmas gift to Mr Ansell from the Design Studio and it is suitably sprinkled with the signatures of staff who worked there ate the time. How many scribbles can you spot?

Now, what happens to you when you are off poorly from work? 

Inside the leatherbound book, Bryan found this rather ancient 'get well soon' card sent to him during the 1980s by the Design Studio staff. Anyone recognise the self-portrait hidden in the guise of the doting doctor?

Its Tony Ackland! Who is also said to have been the artist behind this amusing cartoon. I love the Rolls Royce radiator on the end of the bed!

In typical 1980s Citadel humour, a list of questions was attached to the reverse of the card to help keep the managing director in the loop of the goings on in the office. I wonder what a Molly was?

Autograph fans can once again rejoice as they are spoiled with a second set of scribblings from inside the card. Who can you spot this time? 

Big THANKS to Bryan and Diane for taking the time to send these out to us. It seems that even after fifteen years of living in their Big Old House there are still boxes to sort through and little gems like these to discover. 

Saturday 7 February 2015

Citadel Barbarians!

Bryon Anvil and his Valkyrie bodyguard
I finished the little group of barbarian models that I started a few weeks back today, and managed to grab two minutes away from the needs of the wife and kids to take a snap of them. They are for use in the forthcoming Oldhammer game at Slayer Gaming in Mansfield on the 28th February. A game that bucks the trend of huge battles, as instead of bringing a whole army and fielding it players are encouraged to deploy much smaller forces. Even a single figure if the player so desires! Warlord Paul is GMing the game for us and I am really looking forwards to the meet up. 

Why barbarians? 

Obviously, they are a considerable step away from the stuff I usually take to games - and experimenting with new ground is an important part of any hobby. I have always been a fan of Robert E Howard's Conan stories after finding a battered copy of his tales in a second hand book shop in 1995 and fancied exploring the themes of bare (no doubt heaving) bosoms and mighty thews. 

The bare-breasted girl on the far right served as my test piece. I was keen to do something with flesh tones beyond just adding white. This was fine for my chaos models as the pasty-skin look is favourable to Slaanesh (and Chico) but not really for sun burned, mighty thewed barbarians. I used a mix of red and dark brown to shade the flesh itself and then worked back up to the original flesh tone - which was the new Citadel one called Kislev Flesh. I added a little Foundry Boneyard 9c to the final highlights and attempted to blend them all in. 

The rest of the colours I kept pretty much consistent, preferring to use a limited palette to convey the primitive nature of these savage types. I used spot colours of blue and green here and there to add variation. The bases were completed in my usual way. 

I haven't fully decided on the background for these figures yet, beyond the name of the chief and I hope they don't suffer the curse of all newly painted troops when the game begins. 


Monday 2 February 2015

Acceptable in the '80s: Dale Hurst's Tzeentch Warband

In yesterday's post we discussed the seminal dwarf army article by Wayne England, and thanks to some knowledgable fans of the force, we now know that more units of the army appear in several later issues of White Dwarf. I just need to set about tracking them down so we can have the pleasure of examining the models chosen in greater detail. We also heard from Wayne himself on Facebook and he mentioned that he is working on a brand new dwarf army as we speak - so hopefully we will get the chance to check out that force too at some point.
Today we are looking at another highly influential force from White Dwarf 135 - Dale Hurst's heavily converted Tzeentch chaos warband. Realm of Chaos fans hold on to that sanity and we turn the nostalgia factor up to 11!

If Wayne's article launched a thousand dwarf armies, then Dale's must have signed the death warrant of a thousand toy soilders. For the first time, White Dwarf published a comprehensive guide to converting troops for play and displayed the final result as a unit. Sure, during the heady days of the release of Slaves to Darkness, John Blanche had taken us on a little journey about how to manufacture mutations in metal - but that work was more broad in scope and lacked the nitty gritty detail that aided the inexperienced modeller's first steps with scapel, saw and wire.
So what do we get? First up is a little look at Dale's philosphy for the unit. Paint quick and play fast. Its a philosphy that we are perhaps more used to now as many wargaming companies promote huge forces and many of the paint sets and techniques used nowadays really aid the painter in getting stuff on the table faster. Painting culture in the late '80s and early '90s was, at least where I was based, very labour intensive - with many of us spending hours and hours getting the most out of our plastic space marines and never really having much time for gaming. Still, I don't recall seeing the horror of horrors - unpainted units on the tabletop - being pushed around in games until much, much later. In a Peterborough GW in the early 2000s, I saw a game being played entirely with boxes of miniatures, with the sprues still rattling around inside!!
Still, using Dale's block colour philosphy it would be possible to get a striking looking force on the table quite quickly, which would allow you time to get games in, while doing further work at your own speed in between bouts. Its certainly not an approach that I would take - preferring as I do to lavish time and energy to all of the models I field, so at least they look good as they are routed or destroyed by huge 'tar pit' units of skeletons! But its a perfectly acceptable approach that other people may well wish to employ.

This second page give sound advice about how best to choose which models to convert. The collector in me rails at the thought of chopping up my beloved Citadel models in anyway, and I do search out broken or damaged models just for the purpose of 'improving'. Obviously, at the time this article was written access to the classic models used was not an issue, but gamers today now have a huge wealth of companies and componants to turn to when converting models. Though its not something I would do myself, I really do enjoy seeing the intelligent ways many Oldhammerers make use of plastic and resin parts to update classic and modern figures and make them their own.
The photocopable banner is a nice touch here, and something that I love making use of. From my previous life as an archaeological illustrator, I suspect that this design was produced with technical pens at a much larger size, and then reduced down on a photocopier. Freehand designs always look more impressive with a good deal of planning behind them after all. Have a go, even if you are printing an image off the internet and painting over the top. You'd be surprised how effective this can be.
There is also some sound advice about using a knife properly. And the word 'hobby' hasn't been sprinkled around the text like confetti at a wedding either. In the later stages of my White Dwarf buying this really got up my nose... 'Use your hobby knife to cut the plastic parts from the sprue... Then use your hobby saw to remove the unwanted head... Before using your hobby glue to sit everything together...' Ahhh! I much preferred this type editorial style - as it made me feel like an adult and not some foolish child while it was educating me. 

Anyone setting out on their first conversion journeys needs to know about pining. Even tackling the much larger monsters (such as the spined dragon I worked on last year) is made all the easily with a good understanding of why heavy parts are pinned together. Before I read this article back in the day I had no idea whatsoever about supporting limbs, wings and other appendages with trimmed down paperclips. Thanks to this article I asked my dad what a pin-vice was! Luckliy, my old man was a highly skilled railway modeller (Scale Four you know) and understood exactly what I was referring to. Within a week he'd gone out a bought a nice new one, and I had his battered campaigner in my bits box. Sure, within the first few minutes of using it I managed to impale the bit into my hand and bleed all over my Bloodthirster, but at least its wings never fell off!

The article goes on to describe head swaps. One of the easiest techniques to master and something which many of use have lost the art for, especially with the tendancy of modern kits to automatically give us a range of options in this regard. Actually hacking off the head of one metal model and attaching it to another can be quite a challenge, but if done correctly it can breathe new life into an old model. Seeing the range of heads on display here, I mutilated much of my Heroquest plastics with ill-informed improvements. But at least I learnt how NOT to do it!

This final page gives further detail about how many of the more impressive conversions were achieved. Reading through it once again with far more knowledgable eyes Dale's words make much more sense. I seem to recall much of the discussion here was beyond my modelling skills back in the day - especially in the filling department. I read about how he used plasticine to fill gaps and copied this with the grotty plastercine I found at the bottom of my younger sister's art chest. Needless to say, the results of me building up a minotaur's back were utterly disasterous!
There is a great quote in here for all Realm of Chaos conversion affectionardos. "With some imaginative interpretation of its attributes, I ended up with a very strange-looking creature." Imagination is a vital part of any good conversion, and in a world of proscribed paint schemes, defined unit layouts and trademarked insigia - the conversion is one of the few bastions yet to fall to the 'hobby-suits' (look, there I am adding that dreaded hobby word on to nouns) who threaten to derail us from the freedom wargaming should allow us.
Get converting!

Sunday 1 February 2015

Acceptable in the '80s: Wayne England's Dwarf Longbeards

We draw near to the end of my long series of posts chronicling the history of Warhammer Third Edition. Our gaze must now fall upon White Dwarf 135, which was the last issue I bought if memory serves, as I switched back to Zzap!64, and later Amiga Power.

Warhammer coverage had been in decline for some time and this was a trend that wouldn't reverse until the publication of Fourth Edition in issue 150. We also now know that Bryan took nearly the entire painted collection of '80s style miniatures with him when he left and you will notice that older Studio miniatures do not occur very often from this point onwards. Even Marauder, long the 'official' designer of Warhammer miniatures, reduced their output in the magazine to 'army deals' rather than new releases around this time, though regular releases would return.

Still, there was to be a last hurrah for the edition in the coming year. A series of articles that many of us remember fondly and of which are still much discussed. Instead of new models and background, we got to see (for pretty much the first time) the actual armies of GW stalwarts published in the monthly mag. 

The first, and perhaps the most well known, were Wayne England's Longbeards.

What is interesting about this article, is it mentions some of the armies that were kicking around the Studio at the time. We can infer that these are most likely personal forces rather than the official armies we grew used to in later years. Stephen Tappin, the artist whose work we looked at a few posts back, crops up as contributor to the huge dwarf army that was being planned, but to my knowledge, this is the only time we get to actually see any of the miniatures.

The unit looks spectacular, and just goes to show how far some very simple techniques can take someone with artistic flair. The beautifully designed Perry dwarfs help too. When each sculpt is an individual character and not an identikit clone, the resulting unit feels much more like a swirling mass of boozy stunties and looks superb when photographed.

I love the sense of movement on the converted standard bearer too! 

Reading through the text, its evident that Wayne wanted to get a lot of miniatures painted up quickly and wasn't too concerned with winning a Golden Demon. In fact, you get a crash course in how to quickly paint up a great number of models and get them on to the the table, fast. 

If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, I really do wonder if this article launched a large number of dwarf armies. Though they were most likely not as beautiful as Helen, I am sure that in the eyes of their owners, they were every bit as remarkable.