Sunday 23 April 2017

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader - The ORIGINAL launch

Unless you have been living under a blanket, like me, you would know about GW's BIG ANNOUNCEMENT yesterday. In truth, I wouldn't have known about it save for the excited chitterings of my friends Stuart Klatcheff and Steve 'The Artist Formerly Known As The Citadel Collector' Casey. 

There is to be YET ANOTHER edition of 40k, albeit one that looks to be following a similar line to Age of Sigmar. Take a look here if you are curious (or have been living under a blanket.) Personally, I have lost count of the edition number now but I am sure that there will be readers out there who can put the record straight on that department, so please do in the comments. 

Considering the purpose of this blog is to document OLD GW products and chronicle, in a semi-literate way, my adventures in nostalgia I thought it prudent to travel back to 1987 and White Dwarf 93 to see how the original launched was handled. Not only will we look at that, but I also intend to discuss the early releases for Rogue Trader as the look and feel of the game rapidly changed as Bryan Ansell and co recognised its unexpected success. Rogue Trader/40k went through a series of changes before it became 2nd edition, and though this is a fascinating story in its own right, it it not the purpose of this post to go into great detail about it, simply to compare THEN with NOW. 

Okay, que whimiscal ancedote and let's get started! 

My first recollection of Rogue Trader? Hard to pin down really as I was really a fantasy fan, but I am sure it wasn't White Dwarf that switched me on to the game by a local boy who lived a few miles from my home. We got taking at school after I spotted him drawing space marines inside a school dictionary and within days we were regularly playing our version of the game. All I recall now of those early battles is the damp darkness of my friend's bungalow attic, the smell of mouldy carpets and ranks of appallingly splattered space marines and orks. 

But fantasy soon pulled me back, though I would return to the sci-fi scene with Space Marine some years later. In fact, my journey with Rogue Trader didn't truly begin to around 2004 when I started buying up old issues of White Dwarf, especially those I had never read previously. I started with issue 90 and collected them roughly in order. In the pre pdf days this proved to be a time consuming but rewarding experience as I saw how the game I new quite well by then, had its birth and brief childhood.

Enigmatic advert for Rogue Trader, published on the inner front cover of White Dwarf 91. The first major advert for the game published. 

The game certainly has an interesting history of development. GW always stated that they would release a game called Rogue Trader that would be a space age adventure roleplay system similar to Traveller. It took on many guises over the years but had mutated beyond the original remit. Bryan Ansell, who had control of the company by '86, saw where the money was and commissioned big book versions of Warhammer Fantasy and Science Fiction to help sell the miniatures churning out of Citadel Foundry. Rogue Trader was around, so it was affixed to the Warhammer brand and the most successful wargame in history was born. Along the way the game evolved from a wacky science fiction skirmish game into a detailed, large scaled battlegame that involved vehicles, fortifications and a great deal of Space Marines.

The first page published in WD concerning Rogue Trader. Nice graphics don't you think? Its all there from the very beginning; the aquilla, the chapter badges (though they are far more intricate here) and the star speckled background of a wild and varied universe. 

Launch articles are always a great way of exploring the original feel of any game, and thankfully we have a very nice one to explore published in WD 93. The first thing that strikes a reader when flicking through these pages is how focused the artwork feels, unlike in previous GW publications of the era (WFRP and WFB in particular) the artwork in Rogue Trader couldn't just be a splurge of the nicer pieces of fantasy art that GW had produced over the previous decade, it had to be something new and, for the first time, coherent. Another thing that strikes a cord when reading through this little manifest is that GW intended for their three core games (WFRP, WFB and RT) to share a certain philosophy  and a mythos, something they are keen to stress is not the case today.

"For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the Master of Mankind by the will of the gods and the master of a million worlds by the will of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is Carrion Lord of the Imperium to whom a thousand souls are sacrificed each day, and for whom blood is drunk and flesh is eaten. Human blood and human flesh- the stuff which the Imperium is made.

To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable. This is the tale of these times. It is a universe that you can live today if you dare- for this is a dark and terrible era where you will find little comfort of hope. If you want to take part in the adventure then prepare yourself now. Forget the power of technology, science and common humanity. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for there is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter and the laughter of thirsting gods.

But the universe is a big place and, whatever happens, you will not be missed...."

A so it began... The famous description of what Warhammer 40,000 really is. A dystopian wargame with medieval fantasy elements. This passage has be re-worked since, several times, but the crux of the piece 'There is no peace, no forgiveness; only war' is plain for all to see. I am without doubt that the new edition revealled yestarday will share many elements of this opening text.

I find this page rather interesting. What we have are the prototype chapter badges of many of the marine forces we know today.They are certainly more intricate than they would later become and several of them have disappeared from the canon (Rainbow Warriors anyone?). 

The first thing that strikes me when looking back over these documents with fresh eyes is the artwork. Its certainly very different to the black and white fantasy line work that GW had been commissioning for the previous ten years. Its black, scratchy and contains many meldings of flesh and machine. It is sinister too! No heroic Space Marines yet, just dangerously psychotic cyber warriors that seem more closely linked to a chapter of the Hell's Angels rather than the Angels of Death. It is clear that at the time of conception, the artists had a pretty free reign to draw what they wanted. Sure, they had the plastic kits and a few metal models but the 'look' of power armour had let to be defined so its far more wild and varied.

It is also pleasing to see the 40k 'thoughts for the day' evident at this early stage. These little snippits of wisdom were always of great interest to me and I have always felt they helped protray the blackness of the 40k universe without the need to be especially GrimDarktm.

'Our thoughts light the Darkness so that others may cross space.'

'Praise the Emperor whose sacrifice in life is ours in death.'

The article itself begins with a strident declaration that this is not a science fiction game. 'We call it a fantasy game set in the far future... a sort of science fantasy.' And that there was a strident attempt to link the game with the very well established Warhammer Fantasy Battle by calling it Rogue Trader's 'sister game'. Something that is clearly the case as 'Warhammer 40,000 uses many of the familiar mechanisms of WFB and even some of the same creatures, which are now revealed in their entire cosmic guise.' Another early confession was the fact that this was intended to be a skirmish game in which just 'a dozen' miniatures will do for a session, though, of course, there is a remark that you'd 'want to collect the lot'. Its clear to see that Bryan Ansell and co didn't quite realise the hit that they had on their hands and that over the next three years they'd expand the game considerably. 

We also have the first piece of 40k fiction. A short tale about one Brother Tork of the Space Wolves Chapter. It does well to communicate the small scale nature of the game and its themes of interstellar horror and corruption. Of interest here is mention of the homeworld of the Space Wolves being Lucan. I wonder why it was changed?

'Warhammer 40,000 takes the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay background into the Galaxy itself.' Mythos is a word used frequently in the launch article, as if GW were attempting to build a world comparable to Lovercraft, Howard or Tolkien. The three writers are obviously big influences (though not as great as Moorcock) on the development of the background. These days, GW work hard to tell us that their games do not share the same worlds even though certain deities and characters appear in both WFB and 40k. The aim of the background was explained at the time as 'to create an almost medieval attitude amongst the human societies. Fear, superstition, self-sacrifice and common acceptance of death are all strongly featured. Technology is present, but it is not central to the way people think. Most common folk see technology as witchcraft- so do the technicians!' This is still a core element to the background. 

The first ever Space Marine model is used here to give gamers a glimpse of the future. The prototype for the plastic Land Rhino!

The now familiar background is discussed in detail. Love that Blood Angel camo paint job!

Here's a nice quote:

'In Warhammer 40,000 technology takes a definite backseat, but that doesn't mean that there isn't any to be found. In fact, there's a whole range of advanced weapons, armour types and equipment. The range of technology available reflects the diversity of humanity, ranging from the primitive crossbows and slings used on feral worlds to the barely understood digital and force weapons carried by rich and powerful individuals.' 

I really like this about RT. If you are familiar with Warhammer Siege, you'll probably know the picture of a skirmish fought within the walls of the Mighty Fortress. Its a rogue navigator who's enlisted some primitives to aid him. These types of game (a mix of WFB and RT) have always really, really fascinated me and would be fairly easy to develop, considering I have some many fantasy models and plenty of scenery, I'd merely need a handful of spacey Citadel characters to provide the technology.

Oh, gods! Another project!!! Noooooo! 

Lovin' the Cowboy Style Inquisitor here!

Here is a thinly disguised advert for the initial 'forces' releases, Space Marines and Space Ork Raiders.

Ahhh, the first two box sets. Someday I'll get hold of these. The plastic space marines box set is one of the Holy Grails of collecting, though they do turn up with greater frequency that the Citadel Giant! The marines were a really ground breaking kit at the time and you really could go wild with the models and produce totally wacky miniatures. An iconic release really. The Ork Space Raiders were metal (why no plastic ork set?) and had a lovely whiff of the 'Black Widows' Biker Gang from the Clint Eastwood classic 'Every Which Way But Loose', mixed with 80s street punk. 

Here are the additional metals released alongside.  At this time, Citadel were still naming many of their metal releases and there are plenty of amusing names here; Brother Quiff? Brother Longun, Top-Knot Tone, Spiky Eddi and the brilliant Hippy Hogsbreath. The figures shown here are VERY different to what 40k would become and share much with popular 'franchises' of the day. 2000AD, Mad Max and WW2 clearly show their influence, though the orks look fantastic thanks to Kev Adams' genius. What ever happened to the gobinoids? ):

White Dwarf 94 - the first issue after the launch of Rogue Trader 

Really old people or retro consumers will be aware of White Dwarf's 'Open Box'. This was a section of the magazine used in the 1980s to review gaming supplements and general what-nots. On its hallowed pages you could read reviews of anything and everything from AD&D adventures to Ghostbusters the RPG written by such visionaries as Jim Bambra, Marc Gascoigne, Stephen Hand and Paul Cockburn. As the focus shifted away from Games Workshop (a trading company that sold fantasy games) to Citadel Miniatures (a miniature manufacturer selling lead and rule sets for lead) the decision was made to jettison the non company products and focus on GW's own stable of releases. 

Hence no need for Open Box any further. A new series what introduced, entitled Marginalia, which set out to give a soapbox to designs to talk about the decisions they had made during the design process of a particular product. The first to step up to the mark was none other than Rick Priestley, author of Rogue Trader. His account is fascinating and is full of interesting points. I have reproduced it here in full. 

According to Rick, Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader was something of a first for the erstwhile games designer, for it was the first project he worked on on his own. He'd previously contributed to Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Judge Dredd. Strangely, Rogue Trader had been written before any of the previously mentioned games were designed but it was always put to one side as other more pressing projects pushing their unsightly heads to the fore.

It was originally intended to be one of the 'freebie' games that would be given away with purchases by mail order customers, one of the other 'freebies' being what would eventually become Fantasy Battle. The popularity of this particular game (work was being done on its third edition concurrently with Rogue Trader) established the format for future games. Rogue Trader was 'rethought' from the ground up using many of the mechanisms worked out from Warhammer Fantay Battle. At the time, Rick thought this relationship was essential 'not only for the sake of the system, but also for the background mythos and general "feel" of the game.'

Rick describes the development cycle of the game as 'fitful'. He states that many ideas that were developed for Rogue Trader found their way into Warhammer 2nd edition. 'By now the "dark and dangerous" background for Warhammer had started to evolve, partly based on ideas by Bryan Ansell, and partly on the background of the Citadel miniatures ranges.' This point is interesting, as even at this early stage, GW were making design decisions based on the models that they were designing and selling. These judgments were a little more restrained than they are now, thankfully! By now, Rogue Trader existed as a rather tatty print-out (imagine the reams of that old concertina computer paper, the stuff with the removable holes) and rather than re-type up the manuscript, Rick chose to begin again afresh now that the unfinished WFRP had been handed over to Jim Bambra, Graeme Davis and Phil Gallagher.

Since a previous re-write, the basis of Rogue Trader had been based firmly on WHFB. There were a couple of problems as Rick explained, 'But the first crunch came with the change in emphasis away from hand-to-hand combat towards fighting with ranged weapons.' Problems persisted in creating a believable ground scale for weapon ranges. Priestley opted to work with abstract ranges and went on to state that 'even though ranges are very short in realistic terms, the differences between different weapons ensured that their vital qualities are less distinct.'

Another issue Rick had to deal with was the damaged caused by powerful weapons. He needed to rethink that standard strength and damage system used in Warhammer. 'With the new game (Rogue Trader) I wanted to allow more powerful weapons, but also had to maintain game balance. Simply increasing a weapon's strength would destroy this balance. To make weapons more effective, therefore, I introduced an additional modifier to the target's saving throw. In Warhammer this modifier is linked to strength but in Rogue Trader the link was broken. There are weapons that can cut through armour like a hot knife through butter, but then do relatively little damage - the laser for example. At the same time, I introduced a variable damage roll, allowing some weapons to do more damage than a wound with a single hit. This was necessary in the case of large weapons, where targets with large wound scored were likely to be engaged. All these modifications do make the shooting procedure more complicated than in Warhammer. I felt this was appropriate for a game involving fewer models and a greater variety of weapons.'

Again, Rick discusses that close link between rule development and model design, 'there was only so much modelling time available, so there was no point in having space marines armed with loads of tiny weapons if the figure designers only had time to create a single marine model. The models were influenced by the rules and vice versa. Just why is it that when you're just about to finish a section, some... person... walks in in which his latest cybernetic killer clone-armadilliod lobotomised space-nun and her amazing drone weeble dog, and wants the rules of using it... Sob.' However, there is no mention here of the Sales and Marketing boys who have just completed the number crunching and discovered that the forementioned space-nuns are are selling like hot cakes and need extra umphh adding to their stat line as well as an aggressive marketing campaign in White Dwarf liberally peppered with the adjectives 'cool' and 'awesome'. What we have here is a design relationship between the model makers and the rule writers that seems entirely positive and creative. If that really was the case cannot be known from this article, but it certainly seems far more healthy than the current regime's attitude.

Still, there were even more teething problems for Rick to resolve before the game could be published. 'By the time the game was ready for editing in December 1986, Games Workshop had decided to produce Rogue Trooper.' This game was based on the popular 2000AD strip of the same name and Citadel had produced and small range of miniatures to support it. 'The ensuing confusion was incredible, with people talking about Trader when they meant Trooper and Trooper when they meant Trader. Gurgling quietly often became the only option.' After discussion in the studio a new title was coined by 'some bright spark' that Rick confesses he would 'hate for the rest of his life' came up with Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader, though Rick preferred 'Warty Thou'...

'The publication of Rogue Trader,' Rick summed up, 'opens up a whole new area of supplements, scenarios, modelling, articles and more of everything. The first supplement is already in preparation, and I am looking forwards to throwing myself into further game development. The Rogue Trader universe was designed for gaming right from the start, and has plenty of room for future ideas - with over a million planets in the Imperium, there's room for players and other writers to develop virtually anything they want!

Go forth and develop!'

Little did they know what a juggernaut of gaming Rick had unleashed onto the world and develop it they did... Changing a small scale skirmish game into the most successful table top game in history.

Advert for Rogue Trader taken from White Dwarf 94. Note: before Chapter Approved reared its sci-fi styled head, the powers that were toyed with 'Imperium Approved'.

We willl remain with WD94 for a while longer and will discuss the second scenario published for Rogue Trader (the first being the rather lamely titled, the Battle at the Farm, in the Rogue Trader rulebook) called 'A Skirmish on Rynn's World', authored by the mega-talented Rick 'I am largely responsible for modern wargaming' Priestley (and no, that isn't an officialTM Priestley quote). 

This is a title that should be familiar with modern 40k audiences. Rynn's World has an iconic place in 40k history, with novels and fluff aplenty published about it. Subsequently, we needn't discuss the background to the scenario too much. A brief overview will be sufficient, I think!

The battle that this scenario describes is that of Jadeberry Hill. Not very GiRm DaRk is it? Jadeberry Hill sounds a bit like a place out of a girly children's programme and not a violent, futuristic table-top wargame. Still, it fits in with the Battle at the Farm for being suitably '80s naff. The article continues to explain that Rynn's World is part of the 'Rynnstar' system located near to the Orkish Empire of Charadon. This area of space is ruled by one Arch Arsonist by the name of Snagrod. This vicious and sadistic leader has plotted to invade the planet, despite the presence of the Crimson Fist Chapter of the Space Marines, and launched his invasion ten days previously. Incredibly, a one in a billion chance saw the shields protecting the Space Marine's base malfunction just as an enormous rocket crashed into it; wiping out most of the Chapter. Only the group at the Farm and one seconded to the Defence Force of New Rynn City guard are left alive... Suitably stirring stuff...

The rest of the article contains the GM's notes. Remember, at this time Rogue Trader was intended to be a skirmish game with a heavy roleplay element. The thought that people would go on to play massive pitched battles had not yet fully developed. The idea was that you would only need a few models to play Rogue Trader, after all, at this time Warhammer was king of the castle and Citadel were shifting over a million metal models for that particular game a month.

I won't elaborate on the GM's notes, I'll leave you to read them yourselves (just in case you're planning on running this scenario with some friends and don't want to be 'in the know' so to speak) but I can say that they cover a few interesting tactical problems for both the Orks and the Space Marine player. Just reading them gets me all excited for the tactical side of games like this instead of just 'Cleanse and Burn' tediousness. One thing that is interesting are the notes on the set up of the playing area. The name of the famous 'Pakomac' River is misspelt as 'Pakamac' on several occasions in the text and it makes you wonder with hindsight if this was the river's original name. If so, I can see why it was changed; 'Pakamac' sounds like a raincoat you'd screw up in a sack and take to a music festival, doesn't it? Again, not very GrIm DaRk is it?

There are a few notes that give suggestions about how to incorporate this game as sequel to 'The Battle at the Farm' from the Rogue Trader rulebook, as well as giving a few suggestions about how to create further games. They really is quite a lot of scope here for some excellent campaigning with a little effort.

Next up, we are given an interesting summary of the all the weapons and equipment used in the game, including some more typos (was this article produced in a rush?) and an intriguing mistake where the word '***piccy' appears where it should say 'Chainsword'. This is really quite useful to photocopy if you fancied a quick game as it has all the details needed to play any game of 'Early Rogue Trader'.

Two further pages remain in the article and these go on to describe the forces used in the engagement. Looking at the detail, I have most of the models required to play this scenario, though some missile launchers are still required for the Space Marines and some Heavy Bolters for the Orks, nothing eBay or a social media trading group couldn't remedy though.

Overall, a nice little article and I have included a link to a pdf copy of the scenario at the bottom of this section if you are interested in a little further reading.

Moving on, and there is a nice little colour page detailing some Rogue Trader releases for that month. Here we see for the first time some of the Space Elves (not yet Eldar) and the Space Dwarfs (not yet Squats). Both sets, I am sure that you agree, are instant classics. The Eldar at this point have that lovely '80s punky feel and sculpted by the genius of Jes Goodwin are absolute musts for any serious collector. The paint schemes too are suitably wild and alien and I just love the names that they are given... Kern Proudbrow anyone?

The Space Dwarf release is more substantial. Twenty models to the Eldar's (or should we call them Space Elves?) six. I love their design (I too never found GW's 'excuse' for dropping them in any way satisfactory) in a wonderfully '80s biker way (which many of the GW staff were at the time I am lead to believe...). The colour scheme is also fantastic; the green and red and blue working perfectly to create a gritty, almost Vietnam vet looking force of troops that even though are set in a sci fi universe are entirely believable. The names too are amusing, all puns or half-puns on famous guns. I am sure that you will agree that this set is an absolute must for any fan of Citadel miniatures.

Anyway, here is the link to Skirmish on Rynn's World.


An advert for the ruleset and, of course, the now famous first two releases; the plastic Space Marines
and the metal  Space Ork raiders by Kev Adams. I have most of these models now...

As you would expect, plenty of Rogue Trader material popped up in White Dwarf 95 to following month. As many of you will know, this particular issue was  Warhammer Fantasy Battle heavy... Not only was there a flexi disk of Warhammer inspired music but there was also loads of Warhammer Third Edition release material on offer. So significant is this issue of WD taht I have blogged about various aspects of it over the years. Detail on thre flexi disk cane be found here.  Subsequently, Rogue Trader was a little squashed up in this issue and rather limited.

Bob Naismith and the Perry twins produced a wonderful range of space mercenaries here. There are obvious prototypes to what would later become 40k standards. We have squats, ratlings, power armoured troops and Imperial Guardesque soldiers. All the sculpts in this set, as I am sure that you will agree, are extremely well executed and quite varied. These models must have been a real pleasure to paint back in the day (as I am sure they will be today, if you can get your hands on them...) and one theme that I am keen to explore myself when painting up Rogue Trader minis is the bizarre 'future camo' scheme evident on several of these models. I particularly like the colour scheme on Mad Morris with the jet black comet tail effect.

Upon first glance, they look a little disappointing, don't they? That is certainly how I felt when I first saw these models. Compared to the massive modern plastic versions the design boys at Citadel have certainly moved on a long way from these early concepts. However, in more recent years these models have really begun to grow on me and I find them rather endearing now. They positively reek of 1980s design ethic though don't they? What is interesting is the number of weapon options that these first releases were intended to have, and its clear that even at this early stage it was possible to create the armour you wanted.

The colour schemes for the red and blue dreadnoughts lack depth, especially when compared with their armaments, so I would not be taking any inspiration from there. The first model is must better and I really like the way the Citadel painter has managed to achieve that oily metal look, very apt for a giant, robotic killer really! And the faces? They are just begging to be painted, aren't they?

Those of you that frequented the 1980s will no doubt recall the classic television series, The A-Team. Many of you probably watched it on early Saturday evenings as I did. BA was always my favourite character, not because of his tendency to 'pity the fool' or throw bag guys through windows but his skill at building incredible vehicles and weapons from the tools left lying around in garages and lock ups. Rick Priestley shares many of these skills, but instead of fighting crime he produces wargames terrain from the junk that is left lying around.

In this famous article, he goes on to explain (with the help of a few other GW illumni) how to produce vehicles from (yes, that's correct) a deodorant stick and other bits and bobs. Classic '80s madness that is still influential today. People still make this model. 

Here is the article in full... Rogue-Trader-Eavy-Metal

The First Ever Chapter Approved! WD 96

Issue 96 of White Dwarf saw the launch of a series of articles that many 40k longbeards remember with a fanatical fondness- I speak, of course, about Chapter Approved. Its concept was explained in typical style by Rick Priestley at the beginning of the article (read the pdf here) and to paraphrase the series was designed to 'explain loads of new stuff, fluff and miniatures relating to Rogue Trader'.

The first subject was a new Jet-Bike designed by Bob Naismith. The Mk14 'Bullock'- hmm? I wonder why they dropped that name, eh? The article goes on to provide background about the vehicle, including an amusing 'in game' test report by a pilot by the name of John Blank (who looks surprisingly like a certain head of art) as well as full rules and background.

Additionally, the Raven Wing are introduced. With an interesting piece of fluff that expands on the Horus Heresy (as it was known in 1987) and even incorporates the chapter of the Dark Angels into the fluff set up for the Crimson Fists and New Rynn City. Major characters of the Dark Angels are also introduced and their bike configurations are given. Psyker rules are also expanded on.
The MK14 Mechanicus Armories Jet-Cycle 'Bullock'. Is it me, of does the Dark Angel on the back of the beast resemble Maniac from Mayhem? Obviously, Norwegian Black Metal was still big in the 41st Millennium. 

Further releases for the early Imperial Army range. 
Here we have more troopers for the, now extensive, range of Imperial Army troops. There are some lovely, and other not so lovely, sculpts here. My favourites? Trooper Jones with the ork head, Sniper Lang and Female Trooper Vaskez. I'm not a fan of the grey colour scheme though. I much prefer the expanded and developed Imperial Guard that came in later years. With many elements of this release shared with that range, it would be easy to paint these classics up in the black jacket and urban colour scheme design.

Jet-Cycle models were designed to fit the plastic space marine. The article also saw the arrival of the infamous Christmas marines! Sadly, no rules or fluff were provided for them!
In the '80s it never took GW long to produce something silly. And the Christmas Marines serve as a suitable bookend to this post. From issue 97 onwards, 40k became an increasingly dominant force at Games Workshop towers and would, eventually, push Warhammer Fantasy Battle out of the waters completely. The game would change considerably through '88 and '89 and turn into a mass battle game complete with armoured transports, chaos marines and terminators. But that game was very different in tone to the inital months of Rogue Trader's life. 

Early Rogue Trader is mad. A veritable box of frogs of ideas, adventure hooks and zany models. Forget GrimDark, this was just as florescent as my sister's leg warmers and the headband I wore to school. A funny, frothy and far fetched game brilliant for re-creating wild skirmishes across a billion trillion worlds. All you need is the rulebook and a handful of models. With a new edition of a the game just around the corner, why not pop back to where it all began and blaze a complicated trail of devestation across the 1980s once again. 

Go forth and play. 


Saturday 15 April 2017

The Problem with Platemail

Sir Stefan was determined to win this year's game of statues.
Morning all, if indeed it is morning at all when you are reading this. Today is my birthday and I am 38 years old and so have a little extra leeway today to get some hobby in. So I have used this advantage to write up yesterday's painting which, for me at least, was incredible as I finished four figures in a single sitting, a feat I have never before achieved! 

When I was last at Foundry I bought a few of the ex-Citadel Perry medievals on a whim. I fancied a challenge and eagerly ripped them from their blister pack and set to work. What followed was a 'knightmare' - see what I did there!? 

Painting single figures encased entirely in steel results in, to my eye at least, pretty dull models, even if they can be completed in about thirty minutes. I wasn't happy with the results at all and popped over to see what the examples on the Foundry website looked like. 

Not any better really, as the same problem occurred despite the nice basing tying the models together. So what to do? I tried edge highlighting next but that just looked silly and I abandoned the attempt pretty quickly and realised why painters in the '80s quickly moved to different colours to paint armour. It is much more interesting. 

In the end, I opted for a second shade to contrast against the silver. Inspired by the Nilfgaardians in the Witcher games, I went for black and after a little fiddling around found that just painting the helmets in this shade and ensuring that the scabbards gave some bright contrast the results were much improved. About a week or so ago I had admired the blacks on Jean-Baptiste's Noise Marine and wanted to try something similar, so drybrushed over the jet black with various shades of grey before adding a few edge highlights. 

The assualt on Trumpton was going well.
To break up the black further, on a couple of the models I added a few white additions, either on the helm itself or on a knee. Gold was used for the hilts of the double handers and the sidearms just to contrast against the silver further. Finding the pure silver a little garish still, as a final touch I gave all of the steel (save the sword blades) a couple of blue ink glazes to get the 'cold' look I was after. 

Simon Cowell's 'next big thing' were unsure of their latest makeover.
Having managed to get couple of suitable shots of two of the models, my camera battery gave up the ghost and by the time it had charged the light quality had changed, hence why the group shot is a little bleached out but it gives you a general idea of work so far. I still have the four remaining figures in the set to finish and they are all in various states of completion. I hope to get the unit complete at some point over the Easter weekend. 

One thing I am interested in though is dealing with the 'problem of platemail' a little further. I still feel there is much improvement to make to this particular skill and would like to hear other enthusiasts' methods and colour recipes. I will share mine in detail below so you can understand how I achieved my results in turn. 

1) Base in black. 
2) Drybrush in medium silver.
3) Black ink wash. 
4) Paint plates carefully in medium silver, leaving thin black lines between each piece.
5) Highlight plates in the centre with a bright silver. 
6) Wash over with blue ink glaze. 

Hopefully, I will hear from some of you soon and can apply your advice to the next batch!! 


Friday 14 April 2017

Marauder Landsknecht Halfling

I like to think he is patting his stomach either in appreciation of something he has just eaten, or something he will soon tuck into!
Last Friday, I posted my thoughts about how hobbywise I'd become stuck in a rut. One of my solutions (apart from focusing on blogging once again, I hope you are appreciating my efforts!) was to plunge my hand into my foot deep stash of old minis and paint the first thing my fingers clasp hold of. I was hoping for a beastman or chaos warrior but instead I ended up with this tiny figure. It being a Marauder fig, initially I considered dropping him back in and repeating the process but I stuck to my guns and painted him up. 

I am jolly well glad that I did too. As he was great fun to work on and took practically no time at all to complete. He comes from the Halfling Militia set circa that wonderful year, 1989. There were a small number of models in the set and I am sure Marauder did a second group of halfling figures a little later on, but I am no expert in their ranges. 

Obviously, he has shades of the landsknecht about him so I went for a myriad of colours on his outfit. Looking back, I feel that my shading was a little too heavy handed on the folds of the clothing and look too black. But he is the first model I have painted in this scale for many months. 

I hope you like him.

Sammy Shortsausage feared a long wait for the nearest loo!

Thursday 13 April 2017

AD 1989: GW's finest hour?

By their very nature 'Golden Ages' are subjective creatures immersed as they are in nostalgia, whimsy and pure pigheadishness. And has been noted many, many times before (perhaps most eloquently by Matthew Sullivan) the beginning of any downward spiral will depend on your own personal set of values. The moment in time when YOU believe a rock group, football club or even, dare I say, a British miniatures company ascended to the very heavens and reached their peak. After that moment, you have the slow decline where innovation is replaced with refinement and finally, sigh, repetition.

But this post is not going to be concerning itself with when and where GW's Golden Age should be situated, instead I am going to pinpoint a single year (in this case 1989) as the company's finest hour and rather than just belligerently shouting it from the rooftops as some lesser commentators may do, I am actually going to prove it!

What follows are sixteen different pieces of evidence that I hope will sustain my argument. You, dear reader, are of course perfectly entitled to disagree with me and that is absolutely fine. Of course, if you DO disagree I really do hope you can enlighten me with a differing year in with GW reached their creative peak. The comments section is eagerly awaiting your opinion!

Okay, let's get cracking with...

16) Troll Games

Perhaps its something about the outlandish boardgame titles, the brightly illustrated components or the totally bizarre music tapes but I just can't help adore the old Troll games. They were obviously aimed at a much younger audience than GW's usual fare and for some years were a bit of a mystery. I mean, what inspired the prime miniatures company in the world to produce little card games in the first place? Thankfully, Rick Priestley cleared things up when RoC80s discussed these games in 2013

"IIRC the Troll Games were one of our periodic attempts to produce games for customers like WH Smiths, Woolworths, and such. I believe it was Andy Jones (GW licensing last I heard) who created and produced the games at our studio on Low Pavement. The artist was Bil Sedgewick as far as I remember. The tapes were put together by and feature Andy Jones and Tony Cotterill (now Forgeworld) and assorted GW musical talent I imagine!"

Why include them on this list? Well, GW was still a functioning games company who actually produced new games for enthusiasts like us to play in 1989! Also, the daft songs on the tapes are very much in keeping with the zany Warhammer vibe that is evident in much of the later 1980s and my two children love listening to them to this day, finding words like 'bum' and 'pants' evidently slices of comedy gold. If you are intrigued at all about these notorious tunes you can experience them here, here, here and here


15) Goblin Fanatics

Next up we have Blood Bowl, then already on its second edition and coupled with the well loved astrogranite pitch. Now goblin fanatics had already appeared in Warhammer, but the crazy game of fantasy football was the perfect arena to develop them further. I can remember laughing out loud the first time I saw the pogostick wielding gobbos printed in White Dwarf and appreciated the humourous touches in the printed articles. Though based on a very American sport, GW's take is packed with a very British attitude. 

Of course, Kev Adams had a big role to play developing some of this insanity. He'd knock up wild and wacky models faster than the writers could produce background and rules for them. 

Pete Knifton's cartoon style illustrations really helped bring the concept of these maniacal green loons to life, and his artwork remains (in my opinion) the best Blood Bowl has ever had. The storytelling in many of these pictures (see above) often sold both the concept and the model to me before I ever saw the miniature. 

The goblin fanatics remain a hilarious idea for a wargames figure. They perhaps epitomise the comic creativity of Citadel during the later part of the 1980s.

14) Bolt Thrower album and tour

Grinding death metal and a game of Warhammer sadly no longer have anything to do with each other. They fell out around 1991 or so I have heard. Today, the corporate blandness of GW seems a million miles away from the world of R'n'R but in the year 1989 the company's association with heavy thrashing noises was only just beginning. If you are interested in learning more about GW's curious past with music then look no further than these articles from this humble blog

Sadly I never attended any of the Grindcrusher Tour's shows but I have met a couple chaps who did and the very thought of Citadel Miniatures and games for sale at thrash metal gig is now incredible. But apparently, it did actually happen. In 1989. 

13) Genestealer Cult

I spoke earlier on about GW's incredible creativity around this time. The ideas seem to have been coming thick and fast and one that really stands out for me in 1989 is the genestealer cult stuff. Not only were the hybrid models outstanding sculpts, their background and paint jobs were also first rate. I can remember spending hours pouring over the detail wondering how it was even possible to paint a model that well (I still think this way in fact) and I always take a few minutes to appreciate the old models whenever I am at the Wargames Foundry. 

White Dwarf published loads of very memorable background and rules supplements for the cults and looking at them once again, they are excellent. So good in fact, modern GW had to do twenty-first century versions rather recently. Looking at the modern kits I can honestly say they are easily some of the finest models to come out of their stables in many, many years. Yet, they were designed and developed in 1989!

For further information, have a read of the wonderful Steve Casey's work on the hybrids, with many photographs taken of Bryan Ansell's collection.   

12) Wardancers

Though the models depicted here are from 1987 (I have discussed them before) this little section is concerned with the glorious background material and adventure ideas published in White Dwarf. A supplement for WFRP, with plenty of scope for porting to games of WFB3, remains a vivid and magical adventure, with more than a few splashes of extreme Warhammer violence thrown in. 

I won't spoil the nature of the adventure or the fluff in the two articles published in WD 111 and 112, I'll save that for another time, but their inclusion into the 1980s Warhammer mythos was incredible, at least to me and my WFRP friends. 

We all stopped playing our version of the Enemy Within and began a short campaign around the forests of Loren. Generating wardancer characters was a very memorable experience, having previously been heavily focused on playing human type characters. Our GM at the time was called Daniel and he was two of three years older than us, he was on the cusp of starting at Cambridge and his intellect and experience really brought the forest world to life. It was captivating!

Now you are probably wondering how I can argue that the wardancers articles are vital to the 1989 GW peak, aren't you? Well we need to look beyond my personal experiences and look at the bigger picture. Not only were the articles very well written and designed, they were totally unique to anything WFRP had done before (or would again, if you like). The artwork that supported the supplement was also outstanding and penned by British fantasy legend, Russ Nicholson. His pen and ink battle scenes have never been bettered. 

Not so long ago I wrote a blogpost about Women in Warhammer and missed a trick, failing to mention the wardancers in the article. Here we have male and female warriors living on an equal footing and dare I say bare female breasts appearing in White Dwarf! Inconceivable today! Not that Nicholson's work is in any way gratuitous, reminding me of the way ancient cultures depict the human body in a natural, matter of fact way. 

The art and background material of the wardancers show a depth of culture and sophistication that would seldom be seen again. The two articles remain an unique and original piece of work to this day. 

11) Marienburg

Reading White Dwarf back in '89 was the single source of GW background material save the published hardback supplements (which were expensive). So for many of us, our monthly fix was an essential part of our hobby lives. To millennials (who's lives have been augmented by the internet) this dirth of information and the lack of almost instant gratification is very hard to understand. Marienburg was essential reading in 1989, if you were a fantasy fan at the very least. Each month, if we were lucky, we got to explore a tiny part of the Old World in exquisite detail and the articles put out by Flame were often my first port of call when picking up the magazine. 

Though some of the artwork appearing alongside the articles was old, such as this classic image by Stephen Tappin, much of it was brand new and produced in such grimy detail by Tony Ackland, it brought the Old World setting to life like nothing else. And remember, the Old World of 1989 was a far more realistic (and therefore easier to identify with) than the paper thin cartoony substance that came later. 

The scratchy, grubby look of many of the illustrations marked a world that really did seem grim and perilous as it was so closely related to our own. The more fantastical the setting became, the less and less I found I was truly identifying with the themes and characters. Too many of them became too two dimensional (that is a lot of toos!) and less sophisticated. 

Marienburg was a monthly excursion to another place; a place dark and dangerous, which gave Warhammer some of it's truly dark and macabre moments. Nothing else ever came close to expanding the background of the game (at least in a single city location) with such care, depth and skill. 

Legendary, in a time of legends. 

10) Marauder Chaos Dwarfs 

At the time in question, I thought the Marauder minatures line a bit off. They were different in style than the Citadel models I loved so much, and had a chunkier, more heroic look to them. Subsequently, no of my hard earned cash was ever dished out to buy up any of the ranges. In hindsight, this was a mistake as there are some truly exceptional models in the pantheon, which have gone on to excite and enthrall modern day Oldhammerers across the world. 

The chaos dwarfs (and look no further than Blue in VT's incredible project if you want to learn more about them) are rightly famed. Each was a parody/ode to a previous chaos warrior released by Citadel Miniatures and were filled with a love of sculpting and Warhammer history by the Morrisons. 

The Renaissance Imperial Dwarfs are also worthy of a mention here. They remain a famous selection of models that are still sought after today, even in the years before Oldhammer kicked off. Glorious minis released in 1989. 

9) The Forces of the Imperium

With Rogue Trader becoming an unexpected, runaway success - GW developed the background and miniature line in greater and greater depth as 1989 progressed. The brutal, zany and bizarre sci-fi fantasy world of Warhammer 40,000 developed before the very eyes of the White Dwarf reader. To have been then was an absolute treat as this was the period where everything was expanded and developed for the FIRST TIME. Not recycled or expanded, but original created. It was a magnificent journey into a dark and distant universe, that gave just enough detail to inspire and encourage you, but left enough unknowns for you to develop things any way you wanted. 

This development was supported by some truly exceptional art, produced by heavy weights such as Paul Bonner, Tony Hough and Pete Knifton. Their often black and white images brought the universe to life before our very eyes and many of us became hooked on this fascinatingly brutal world. 

Then came the long line of plastic boxset releases which gave us the opportunity to field larger and larger armies for the first time, with some enthusiasts' collections becoming so large that they put serious strain on the ruleset, which had really been design for skirmish level play. Imperial Guard...

Space Dwarfs.... later, Squats.

And the almost anachronistic Rough Riders, with their dark shades of a European Imperial past. Each set was supported by considerable material published in White Dwarf and the depth and quality of these articles still stands up today, even if the ruleset is seen as a bit of a chugging beast. 

More so, the 40k universe in 1989 was very different than the streamlined and turgid one of today. Abhumans (remember them?) marched alongside a wealth of units and vehicles that would eventual ret-conned out of existence. 

The model lines were also far more subtle in their nods to dystopia, as these fascist looking commissars show. 

While a great deal of the artwork aped historical war photography, as here in one of Phil Knifton's pieces. The Imperial Guard, and their Space Marine allies, would go on to conquer the wargaming world and to this day remains the dominant field of miniature gaming on the planet. 

And most of it was all created, by and large, in 1989. 

8) Death Roller

Back to Blood Bowl, and that gruesome yet comedic style GW had in the 1980s. The Death Roller is perhaps the most iconic of Blood Bowl models. It's concept is a simple one: a steam roller, crewed by a dwarf, used to mowed down unexpected players. Again, Knifton's artwork brings the idea alive in cartoon form and Michael Perry's model remains the most characterful interpretation of the idea. 

I can remember the buzz this model produced when it was first released and I can recall trying to get hold of a model for sometime. Only my classmate, Matthew Pitman was lucky enough get his mits on one, and we were all very envious of him at the time. Again, as we have seen quite a few times now on this blogpost, this now iconic concept owes it's birth to the year 1989. 

7) Space Marine

Space Marine, and Adeptus Titanicus a few months previously, gave us our first true taste of that worldwide phenomenon of the Horus Heresy, only in epic scale. If you were anything like me and read about the game during its development, you probably thought that the box would contain 320 28mm marines, 32 Rhinos and 16 Landraiders - all for £20.00! 

Obviously, the game didn't deliver such an incredible bargain but what it did give us was a sense of scale never before seen in a GW game. The battles we fought across our bedroom floors would extend to the most distant edges of space, the conflicts (especially when four or five of you put your sets together) could involve literally thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles and the painting, quick and easy. 

Coupled with the Titans, this became the 'must have' game at the end of the year. And linking closely with the background developed for 40k, the Space Marine universe was expanded considerably in White Dwarf. What I enjoyed the most about the first edition was the fact that it was set at a completely different time to Rogue Trader, and we got a sense that we were taking part in something both futurist and ancient at the same time.

A strange feeling really!

A some we have another 'first' for 1989. A proper wargame, set within GW's fictional universe, using epic scale infantry and vehicles. Over the next twenty-five or so years GW would continue to develop the idea but it has it's foundation in our chosen year. 

6) Warhammer Novels

We are getting closer to our goal now and we are almost in the top 5 reasons why 1989 was the pinnacle of GW's development. The previous eleven entries haven't really been in any real order. There is now deeper significance to their position in our countdown but that will soon change. Before we discuss the 5 main reasons why 1989 was such a mighty year we need to look at the first range of GW novels. 

These days the Black Library pumps out a steady stream of tiles and judging by some of the more recent efforts I have glanced over, the quality has been in decline for some years. Of course the modern books do have some real page turning classics, especially titles by Dan Abnett, but by and large the majority of the books have little real depth or characterisation. Which is a real shame, as the original Warhammer Books (released you guessed it, in 1989!) were very different beasts. 

For a start, they were an unusual size, which was fantastic for the reader but not so useful if you were running a bookshop. Apparently, these volumes were difficult to place on the then pretty standard sized shelves in branches of WH Smiths etc. 

The used 'proper' authors as well, with many of the contributors (even if they did hide under pseudonyms) being young gun writers in the fantasy and science fiction scenes.  They were beautifully illustrated too, with colour plates and the black and white pen and ink style familiar from the Fighting Fantasy books. The stories were also far less restricted than Black Library's and in some cases far more adult. In later republications (again by the Black Library) some scenes of a sexual nature were removed or edited (have a look at Zaragoz, for example) and conflicts will modern static background also altered, with characters being totally re-written. 

If you are a fan of fiction and Oldhammer, then these books are a real must. If you are used to the Black Library's version of the worlds of Warhammer and 40k, you may well be in for a shock! 

5) Combat Cards

Okay, we are now into the top 5 reasons and the evidence starts to become serious. Consider the original combat cards and what follows and fairly rough countdown of success. For me in this argument, the next few releases are what make 1989 so significant, especially when you take all the other releases and articles into consideration. With this in mind, why the Combat Cards?

In my view these gaming cards, really GW's version of Top Trumps, took the best elements of the Warhammer HobbyTM out of our bedrooms and into our daily 'outside' lives. You couldn't really carry your Space Marine box to college or school, but these cards could easily slip into a pocket or bag and could be used practically everywhere. I for one can remember long and varied games on the old school bus in my last year at secondary school. These elements were the collecting (you could strive to own all of the different sets, just like a miniature range) but also the admiration (and indeed mesmerisation) of the painted models. many of us spent hours and hours staring forlornly at the superb paint jobs of Mike McVey or Kev Adams. And so significant were these feelings that committed and high creative modern gamers attempt to recreate the look and feel of the models, just look at FimmMcCool's stuff on his blog and you can see what I mean. 

But this being late '80s GW, there was more to these cards than immediately obvious. Remember those strange symbols at the bottom of each card? Crowns, swords and fanged mouths? Though few of us realised it at the time, they were in support of two different 'games' that could be played with the cards if you wanted something deeper than Top Trumps. These games were called 'Attack' and 'Charge' respectively, and clicking on the links will give you further information about them. 

Later on in the very early '90s, GW plc tried to produce a new version of the Combat Cards but they were, quite frankly, awful, probably due to the fact the creative design studio had been sliced to the bone to help pay for the management buy-out and that Bryan Ansell took all the painted miniatures with him. They failed to capture the magic of the original release (a familiar story, sadly) and could be found in bargain bins all over the country for quite some time. 

The cards remain an iconic product from the glory days from the  'classic' Citadel Miniature/Games Workshop company. 

4) Skeleton Army

How could you not love skeleton army? Everyone seemed to own at least one box of these lovely old skeletons and they had a very long shelf life indeed, until they were replaced with some hideous plastic skeletons with enormous hands and spearshafts with a thickness that would have made John Holmes feel inadequate! To this day, many believe them to be the best plastic skeletons ever produced. Of course, sticking them into my argument for 1989 is a bit shaky considering that the base skeletons came from the Skeleton Horde release in 1986! But it was the addition of the cavalry models and the chariot that took this release further, especially when you looked at the price and a great number of undead legions were born thanks to this box set. 

3) Terminator Squad

The all metal Terminator Squad was an incredible release. Many of the GW 'heavyweights' of the era contributed to the project in some way: Wayne England, Mike McVey and John Blanche just a few. For a while, this became a 'must-have' product and launched the Terminator into the stratosphere. 40k would never be the same again. 

The release saw plenty of coverage in White Dwarf and unlike the thinly disguised adverts of later periods of the magazine, there is still much to see nearly 30 years later. What is rather strange about the Terminator box set is that you could watch the concept develop across 1989, as Citadel tried and tried again to work on the concept. Someone somewhere, perhaps Bryan Ansell himself, saw something in the idea and White Dwarf chronicled the development of the Terminator marine almost by accident. 

Enthusiasts will recognise this first model as Jes Goodwin's original sculpt for the terminator armoured marine. This started life earlier on in mid '80s as a one piece sculpt but as the months ticked by it seems that other sculptors all had a go and with each subsequent effort the background was tweaked. 

Take a look. 

If the Space Marines were destined to become the biggest selling wargames miniature of all time, then this Terminator set definitely contributed to that success. The design, advertising and in-house painting all came together and create a long lasting legend. 

2) Heroquest 

If Helen of Troy was the 'face that launched a thousand ships' then Heroquest must be the 'game that made a thousand gamers'! The ultimate gateway drug to both collecting Citadel miniatures and playing games with them. This product was a commercial and critical success shifting over a MILLION copies and remains a fan-favourite to this day. It was so good even my sister played it! 

The irresistible mix of high end GW design and MB's distribution and marketing clout it even fielded an television advert on release, the first and only time I saw a Citadel model on prime time British television, and almost made the uttering the statement 'I'm using my broadsword' in a silly northern accent a national pastime (apart from in the north.) 

Now I could wax lyrical about this game and it's significance but I am not going to for it has already been academically argued by a gentleman known only as 'The Bard'. Watch the video below and see why!

As a side note, let us not forget the 'cousin' of Heroquest, namely Advanced Heroquest was also released in 1989.

1) Space Hulk

Space Hulk remains the greatest GW game ever created and could probably be classified as the greatest miniature board game created by anyone ever! It remains a highly influential game to this day as whizzing through this excellent article by Rob Bradley will show.  It was a game that once played left you with a very strange sensation, especially if you were the marine player. It was tough and tense on the nerves and so easy to face total annihilation once the genestealer closed in. 

In no way shape or form did it hold your hand or dumb down to its audeince. It was also blessed with a large number of high quality supplements and later releases that both developed the game itself, but also added to the background of the 41st millennium. Looking back now at Space Hulk leaves a bittersweet feeling when you think about the fate of it's designer, Richard Halliwell, who I have often described as GW's lost genius. You can read more about his life and contribution of Games Workshop here

So hereby ends my argument. Sixteen key releases that should prove to the world that 1989 was the very peak of GW's achievements. The carefully nutured Design Studio with its skilled and imaginative designers, sculptors and artists were producing their finest work and pumping out incredible products day in and day out. Of course, many of the projcts described here would have begun their lifecycles before 1989 but that special year saw them released to the avid gamer and reach public consciousness. Before I depart and you begin the inevitable counter arguments against me, just remember this. The releases described here are just the tip of the iceburg for that year. There were many, many other notable products rushing to the Games Workshop store near you, too! 

I am so so pleased to have riden this particular wave (as surfers are prone to exclaim, or so I have heard) and been highly involved in the GW hobby during this time. I am certain that without the year 1989 and the products GW unleashed on us neither this blog nor Oldhammer would exist at all. 

Thank you and goodnight.