Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Glory And The Scum


Ahem. So as I was hitting up the local second-hand bookstore I managed to find another lot of old Warhammer books.

They're the 3rd edition Codex: Tyranids and the 6th edition Chaos Warriors army book for Warhammer Fantasy (back when it was Hordes of Chaos and Demons were still part of the book. Ahh those were the days). There was also a copy of the 3rd edition Space Marine codex and the 3rd edition Warhammer 40,000 rulebook. I was going to get the 3rd edition rulebook, but in between me checking it was still there and actually going to buy it (two consecutive days) some bastard swooped in and bought it before I could. The Space Marine codex was left, and as far as I am aware is still there. I was tempted to buy it as well, but I'm not really sure how much use I'd get from it since I have no desire at all to ever own a (loyalist) Space Marine army, ever.

The 3rd edition Tyranids codex was admittedly my main target, and was an extremely fortunate find as it was the next 3rd edition codex I wanted to get after the 3.5 edition Chaos Space Marines book. I have plans, you see, to get it and the 4th edition Tyranid codex that followed it in order to try and compile a full catalogue of every Tyranid biomorph that's been published in Warhammer 40,000's history. An impossible task to be sure, for the Great Devourer is constantly mutating and evolving, but I want to get a good idea of all the biomorphs that have been featured and what they do for use in designing homebrew rules.

A cursory look through Lexicanum seems to indicate that this was the last of the 'first generation' of 3rd edition Warhammer 40,000 codexes, released just before the famous 3.5 edition books, and it definitely shows. From the artwork to the background stories to the overall layout, the whole book feels like a prototype 3.5 edition codex. The cover artwork has the same sort of gritty, realistic style as most of the 3.5 edition cover art (in sharp contrast to the more vividly colourful first generation 3rd edition codex covers), and it's easily my favourite out of the Tyranid codex covers. The tortured, dying sun, the pack of gaunts barrelling straight towards the viewer, the sickly green glow from the barbed strangler, the fantastic use of indistinct background shapes and the dark brooding colour scheme all drive home exactly what the Tyranids are to me. The internal artwork also has a distinctly 3.5 edition feel, with many pieces in the softer sketch style of the late 3rd edition period rather than the comparatively sharper and more immediately Blancheian early 3rd edition artwork. There are a few exceptions, some of which (like a small piece at the end of the book depicting some giant Tyranid spores drifting between celestial bodies) would later end up in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. There is also a delightfully creepy background art on many pages that mimics the amazing inside cover, which lends a fantastic ambience to the book.

It is still at the same 40something page length of the early 3rd edition codexes, but pound for pound there's an astonishing amount of stuff in there. The rules are somewhat light, especially for biomorphs - I was expecting that most of the biomorphs featured in the 4th edition codex would have gotten their start here, but it seems like many of them (especially the Carnifex upgrades) were invented for the later book. Consequently the 'armoury' section is fairly thin, with most of the customisation options coming from the optional mutation and genetic engineering rules at the back of the book. The unit and weapon stats had some interesting features, bio-acid spore mines weren't quite as hardcore as I was anticipating them to be, and I'm still struggling to imagine why I would want to use Devourers, especially on gaunts - I know the models look pretty funky, but I'm just not sure exactly what 2 strength 2 shots are meant to accomplish. Is it a numbers thing where you're aiming to force wounding 6s and failed armour saves through sheer weight of dice? They seem slightly better on Warriors and Raveners where they get bolter strength and 6 shots each respectively, but then I can't help but think how much better Deathspitters look since they have better range, AP and strength, and seem like they'd hit just as many enemies per shooting round since they're blast weapons. Likewise rending claws seem kind of redundant on the monstrous creatures since they already ignore armour saves automatically, unless you want to giggle about Carnifexes getting AP22 against vehicles in close combat (which admittedly is kind of fun to think about). Ah what do I care, it's not like I've ever been interested in the competitive gaming side of this hobby anyway.

Speaking of non-gaming stuff, there's a healthy colour section nestled in the middle of the book with a lot of helpful hobby material and a layout that's eerily similar to the colour section in the later 3rd edition Tau codex. It has guides on converting and assembling Tyranid models, as well as plenty of photos of what is actually my favourite incarnation of the Tyranid model range. Yes, I like this one more than the 4th edition range - THERE I SAID IT! The 4th edition range has a lot of nice technical attributes in the form of bits and opportunities for customisation, to be sure, but in terms of aesthetics the 3rd edition range has it pretty solidly beat hands down as far as I'm concerned. The scything talons look like actual talons on the larger models (whereas the ones on the 4th edition models tend to look more like long chitin-covered fingers to me), and the whole range just looks more threatening to me than the later versions (I've never understood the 'friendly smiles' complaint that gets levelled at this range a lot - the grins on the models always looked more psychotic or sinister to me). Most of my favourite Tyranid models are also from this time, including the 3rd edition Lictor and Biovore (for some reason the later versions of them just never looked right to me), the Raveners with their wicked looking maws, the Tyrant Guard (I always liked the 'elite warrior bodyguard' style of the 3rd edition Tyrant Guard rather than the pudgy balls of chitin from the later editions) and of course the awe inspiring 3rd edition Hive Tyrant. I even have plans to convert one of the newer Hive Tyrant models back into the 3rd edition style if I ever start a Tyranid army...

Since I couldn't get the 3rd edition rulebook, I consoled myself with this, the 6th edition Chaos Warriors army book for Warhammer Fantasy. I don't remember exactly how it was received at the time, and I have some trouble discerning the community's memory of this book with that of the 7th edition one (wait there was a 7th edition Warriors of Chaos army book right? I distinctly remember there being one, that was an actual thing and I'm not going insane yes?), but GW certainly seems to have made a big deal about it at the time - right after the contents page there's a page-long introductory spiel about how this book will change everything for Chaos armies (There's also a corresponding page at the back with advice on how to proxy older Chaos models not represented in the book as stuff that does have rules for it in the book, which I quite liked) along with the later Beasts of Chaos army book and a mysterious second companion book that never seems to have materialised.

As far as army books go, it's massive - easily the lengthiest one I've come across so far, and full of background information about Chaos and the Northern Chaos-worshipping barbarian tribes of the Warhammer World, and a lengthy army list section not entirely unlike that of its 40k cousin the 3.5 edition Chaos Space Marines book. However, I've never actually been that interested in the Warriors side of Chaos in Warhammer Fantasy (or the Chaos Space Marines in 40k for that matter - it's always been the creepier sinister insidious paranormal horror side of Chaos that's interested me rather than the fightey punchy heavy metal side), so really the main reason I wanted it was to plunder the magic items section for goodies to give the Beastmen army I wanted but will almost certainly never get (the magic item armouries in the two army books are inter-compatible with one another you see - as I understand it a Beastmen character can take stuff from the Chaos Warriors armoury, and vice versa). There were a couple of things in it that caught my interest, like the Hellfire Sword or the Blade of Blood, but ultimately I was kind of let down by the magic items - again, they mostly seemed to be of the whole raging fighty warrior style of Chaos, and that's really not what I'm looking for when it comes to the Ruinous Powers. Still, there's a lot of neat stuff in that book.

If you follow GW news a lot then you'll probably know that they recently switched their hobby magazine, White Dwarf, back to a monthly format after a stint as a weekly pamphlet. I was going to write something about this sooner (I've actually had this copy for a few weeks now), but something came up and I had to delay this whole post by a couple of weeks or so. Unfortunately at least half of the content featured in it is for a system I have absolutely no interest in whatsoever (and no GW, taking the 8th edition Dwarf Slayer model and giving it a new paint job does not make it a special Grombrindal model), so it was off to a bad start already, but on the positive side I was pleased to see two female White Dwarf team members featured prominently on the staff list inside the cover - as someone who has wanted for some time to see more... girls? Women? Ladies? I'm not quite sure what the most appropriate term to use here is, but more female hobbyists at any rate (and more female computer gamers too for that matter) I'm always glad to see a blow against the whole male dominated hobby thing. All genders should be welcome in the world of tabletop wargames.

Other features include some background stuff about Imperial Knights, which might have excited me 5 or 6 years ago but is now of little use since I've grown almost entirely self-sufficient when it comes to tabletop background material (3-10 years of stupid official background will do that to you) and some designers' notes on the ungodly eyesore that is the 8th edition Nagash model released for the thrice-damned ET series, which much like the 8th edition Treeman model and its unclean spawn in the AoS sylvaneth range possesses an uncanny ability to make my blood boil even now over a year after its release. Ultimately it was a good attempt at putting more content back in, but after experiencing the glory of the early 2000s era White Dwarfs I don't think anything will ever truly compare.

The most profound reaction I had, however, was with the featured army of the month, a very large Biel-Tan Craftworld Eldar army featuring some damn fine paint work. Reading about it though, and some of the history behind it, I couldn't help but feel... sad. I've touched on the death of most of my hobby dreams a few times before, but one in particular I don't think I've mentioned yet is that I've sort of always wanted to have one of my armies or fleets featured in a White Dwarf article. Ever since I first started reading through White Dwarfs (and even before then on the old GW website) I would always liked looking at the featured armies (starting with none other than the legendary Tau army of Sebastian 'Tael' Stuart himself in the first issue of White Dwarf I ever purchased) and reading the owner's commentary about them - what made them go with that paint scheme, where the idea for the army came from, how they did this particular conversion and so on, and I would always dream of one day seeing my own army (later armies when I expanded into more than one) featured in White Dwarf so that other hobbyists might enjoy reading about it like I had before them.

Unfortunately it seems that my views have become diametrically opposed to GW's. I hate metaplots like the one they torpedoed Warhammer Fantasy with and the one they're driving into 40k, and I genuinely see nothing good in just about every GW model released in the last couple of years (the closest I get to having a positive thing to say about them is the occasional "Meh... it's kind of ok... I guess..." or "I suppose I could use one or two parts from that in a conversion... maybe..." which is a very far cry from the "WOW that's awesome!" that literally any GW model released between 1999 and 2008 universally gets from me, or the "Hey that's pretty neat/cool!" reaction that any GW model from before 1999 gets*). Ultimately, all the GW and Forgeworld models I love are from the past, not the future.

This means that in all likelihood I will never get featured in a White Dwarf article, or even on the GW website. My armies/fleets will never be showcased in lavish professional photographs, I will never be able to share any anecdotes or cool stories with millions of readers across the world, and worst of all I will never inspire another hobbyist the way the ones featured in those showcases inspired me. The closest I'll get is this blog, and considering that it's buried under 4 and a half pages in a google search for 'Naked Metal' I'm not sure how many aspiring young hobbyists are going to find it...

On that note however I do wish to express my immense joy and excitement at GW's new 'Made to Order' service for older models. As someone who has been calling for a cast-on-demand archive service for years now I was thrilled to discover the announcement on the GW website and the first wave of old Imperial Guard models to get the treatment. There are still a couple of kinks that could be ironed out (I still think a minimum availability period of 48 hours is too short to reach the most people who would be interested), but it's a definite step in the right direction and has my full support and OHMYGOD They're even in metal!!

Well done GW. Keep going down that path and you might actually start getting more money from me.

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