Sunday, 30 October 2016


If you were reading the last post on here, you might have noticed that I mentioned it had been delayed by a few weeks because something came up. That something was this:

A trip to the other side of the Pacific Ocean where I spent a week in the lost city of San Francisco. Aside from one rather nasty incident towards the end it was quite enjoyable, but this is a hobby blog, not a travel blog, so I will spare the details of my holiday here, save that the Americans of the Bay Area appear to have through some diabolical nefarious sorcery stolen the Southern Hemisphere's climate - despite it supposedly being in the middle of Autumn when I was there, the weather was routinely at summer levels of warmth and lack of cloud. I was told that they were going through an Indian Summer, but I suspect that the truth is something far darker and more insidious...

While there however, I did make an effort to hit up the local hobby stores over there. They were... well I guess they were what I'd expect them to be. There were only two model retailers I could find within walking distance of the hotel, and of them only one was really a hobby store in the tabletop sense, and it wasn't really that different to the few in Auckland that I've been to, save for slightly more artwork on the walls. In hindsight I don't know why I was expecting them to be noticeably different.

As I predicted though, they did still possess some examples of older models in stock, and so I was able to return home in triumph with these spoils.

Three blister packs of models (One Fantasy, two 40k), a box 'O' skeletons and two books - the 3.5 edition Codex: Imperial Guard and the 7th edition Beastmen army book. A fine haul to be sure, especially given the limited budget I had to spend on mementos.

The full gaming store that I visited possessed quite a few old blister packs still available, but after some thorough searching I found three that were most desirable for me. Fortunately being older stock meant they were massively discounted, and so I was able to get them all. They include a classic metal Tau Pathfinder Shas'Ui, which was the one metal Pathfinder model I never got around to getting - I decided to paint up a standard Pathfinder model as the team's Shas'Ui instead as I liked the pose better. Because of this I was determined not to pass up this rare second chance, and the model will make a fine leader of my future Pathfinder team(s), though I'm still working out the specifics of integrating him (or possibly her). The most promising solution I've thought of so far is making the model a higher-level Pathfinder commander and simply attaching him (or possibly her) to the Pathfinder teams when needed (AKA putting it in charge of a Pathfinder team in games every so often when it takes my fancy).

Perhaps even more valuable to me though was the classic metal shield drone bits that were included in the blister pack (by the way, have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE the old blister packs? Because they are amazing and I still hate GW for switching over to those infernal clam-packs). Again, shield drones were never really something that I stocked up on, since I always worked under the assumption that if I ever assigned drones to characters that gun drones would offer more bang for my buck (pun intended). This changed when I began to read up on the utility of shield drones in keeping Broadside Teams alive (this was back in the dark days of late 5th edition 40k, where railguns were kind of the only thing Tau still had going for them so the survival of anything with a railgun on it was sort of a priority) while freeing up a support system slot for target locks to maximise the number of targets one could shoot at with a Broadside team, and since my Tau army could only affort a maximum of one Broadside team that was somewhat important. While I improvised in games by using weaponless gun drones as proxies, that was only ever meant to be a temporary stopgap until I ordered some extra shield drone bits from GW online. Unfortunately the classic metal/resin shield drone bitz pack was discontinued by GW before I could get around to purchasing one, and the newer plastic version they brought out as a replacement is not only woefully less cost-efficient, yielding only one shield drone compared to the four you could make with the old bitz pack, but also produces a noticeably different shield drone design, with different antennae and a considerably redesigned shield generator. Since I consider the newer shield drone model to be totally lame compared to the cool older version, this leaves me in somewhat of a dilemma, and so any older shield drone components I can get my hands on is welcome.

They also include a Bretonnian Mounted Yeoman for Warhammer Fantasy. Given the rarity of these models (they were, I believe, among the first Bretonnian models from the 6th/7th edition range to be discontinued and never reappeared for the rest of Warhammer Fantasy's time as an official GW game) I'm still amazed I was able to get one for so cheap. I was somewhat expecting to find three of them in the blister, as I dimly recall GW selling them in threes at one point on the website, but in hindsight that was probably a small white box number like the 5-strong units of Eternal Guard and Wardancers. Speaking of which, there was also another incredible find there - one of the special release Wardancer models (I believe it was a Whirling Death if I recall correctly), which I also never ended up getting. I was deeply tempted to pick it up, but unfortunately it was a little bit outside my price range, and I figured multiple blister packs for different systems would give me more value for my money. I doubt I will ever see it again in my lifetime, so I can only wish that whatever lucky bastard manages to buy it fully appreciates and cherishes the treasure they own, and does not squander it.

Anyway, back to the yeoman, it may have been a letdown to only get one, but at least I got that one. He will make a fine addition to my small Bretonnian army, especially if I can find another 2-5 friends for him.

This mighty fortunate find was found at a different place, a collectables store in the Japantown centre (oh yes, there's a Japantown in 'Frisco as well as a Chinatown). Their assortment of GW models didn't feature as much in the way of older stock, making this one a much easier choice to purchase - it was either this or a classic metal Chaos Dreadnought, and I figured this one would give me more value for my money, again. It is an older (5th edition vintage if I'm not mistaken) box set of Skeletons for use in either of the two Undead armies in Warhammer Fantasy (in fact depending on when it was first released they may still have been just one Undead faction). Eventually it was replaced in the Vampire Counts model range by a newer Skeleton box, but apparently from what I gather the kit soldiered on in the Tomb Kings range, albeit with a repackaging and some extra bits like more Ancient Egyptian-styled shields. The box was in fantastic condition too, the damage in the bottom right corner coming from being crushed in-between other suitcase contents on the trip home, which is great because it means I can enjoy the fantastic artwork on it (if you remember I tend to be fascinated by model box artwork).

A lot of people apparently aren't fond of this Skeleton kit, but I've always really enjoyed it. It helps that I'm quite fond of a lot of classic Fantasy tropes, and I'm very tolerant of technical shortcomings when it comes to models; it's aesthetics that I really value, so if I'm given a choice between a dynamically posed, perfectly realistically proportioned plastic model with tons of options that I can't stand the look of and a static, exaggerated metal monopose model that I love the aesthetics of, I will pick the latter every single time. As a result I've never really understood the hate for this Skeleton kit, especially as it contains a full 20 Skeleton models (which is twice as much as the later kit contained) which is enough for an entire complete unit that's a NORMAL size rather than those gargantuan 30+ strong abominations that people were obsessed with in 8th edition.

This means that I also actually have an Undead infantry unit for my Vampire to lead when I eventually get around to painting her, and ironically fits with the Lahmian theme perfectly. I still want(ed) a Vampire Counts army that was mostly if not entirely, well... not skeletons, but hey you can never have too many Skeletons in a fantasy adventure and they'll work well with the other handful of Skeletons I got with another purchase - I have some ideas for how to use them in games. I was going to name them Gashadokuro. on account of getting them from Japantown and all (plus still being blown away by Kubo: Legend of the Two Strings), but a quick spot of research on wikipedia suggests that they'd probably be too small for that, so I'll have to default to plan B and give them a unit name that has something to do with barrows. Y'know, given that barrows are basically hills you bury dead people in, and I got them in San Francisco which is notorious for being full of hills.

As well as old blister packs, I also discovered a cache of older books, including a copy of the 3.5 edition Codex: Imperial Guard. The Imperial Guard books weren't the highest on my list of old gamebooks to get, but finding it there, combined with the repeatedly-slashed price, made this a target of opportunity that was too much to pass up. It continues the trend of concentrated weapons-grade EPIC that is common to all 3.5 edition era books I have come across, with a fantastic piece of cover artwork by Karl Kopinski and a beautiful inside cover illustration that really captures the anachronistic grandeur of the Imperium in relation to its mainline standing army. One thing I found unusual was the book's layout. Most 3.5 edition codexes I have seen all share a broadly similar pattern of: Background > Army List > Colour Hobby Section > Extras, but the Imperial Guard codex instead has the colour section towards the front, just after a few pages of introductory background. I guess this was so that they could consolidate the rules material all into one place, but then the even more rules-heavy 3.5 edition Chaos Space Marine codex still had the colour section in the back, when you'd think it would make sense there too. This also marks the second 3.5 edition era codex I have encountered that doesn't include a special scenario in it somewhere, putting the total tally at 50/50 between ones that do and don't have scenarios in them. Come to think of it, the 3rd edition Tyranid codex never had one in it either, which is very weird because you'd think that it would be the perfect place to drop in a special 'Tyranid Attack' scenario. I'm starting to think that special scenarios in the codexes and army books might be the exception rather than the rule, which is sad because I always thought including a special themed scenario was a really neat idea.

Also of note in this codex is the legendary Doctrines system, perhaps best described as a kind of Chapter Tactics for Imperial Guard regiments (and by Chapter Tactics I mean the earlier version where you could pick and choose from a bunch of different options that could be combined, rather than the rigid version 6th edition 40k introduced). There weren't quite as many Doctrines available in the codex itself as I was expecting, so I imagine a lot of the ones people tend to reminisce over were included later in White Dwarf. Even so there are some pretty cool ones included - Light Infantry seems particularly kick-ass (Infiltrate on everyone? Giving one infantryman in any squad a sniper rifle instead of using up two to make a heavy weapon team? Yes please). All in all I think I know exactly which ones I'd take for the regiments I've invented.

As well as the Imperial Guard codex, I also found a copy of the 7th edition Beastmen army book for Warhammer Fantasy, which  was high on my to-get list. As I understand it this book was the last army book to be released for 7th edition Warhammer Fantasy, and it definitely shows. I mentioned in the last post how I thought the 3rd edition Tyranid codex felt like a prototype 3.5 edition book, and if that's the case then this book feels like a prototype 8th edition army book in a lot of places. There's still plenty of cool black and white artwork in it, mind, but there are a lot of times where the writing has a particularly 8th edition, dare I say even Wardian style to it - one piece about how Beastmen Warherds often take down castles in Bretonnia by goading something called a Ramhorn into charging the castle gate (and how a lack of widespread Ramhorn numbers is apparently the only thing stopping them from overrunning Bretonnia. Y'know, because it's not like there's any heavily armed Knights that can fight back or anything) stood out as particularly egregious to me, It also has a disturbingly similar layout to the 8th edition books, right down to the formatting of the bestiary section and a colour illustration of shield and standard designs at the end of the colour hobby section.

On the positive side, this book also includes a selection of magic items that I enjoy much more than the 6th edition magic item armoury. The in-game effectiveness of a lot of them is up for debate, but some of the background descriptions are exactly the sort of creepy side of Chaos that I look for - particular standouts include the magic weapon Everbleed, the Chalice of Dark Rain and the Manbane Standard. Not only that, but this book includes the Lore of the Wild, a unique spell lore for Beastmen armies that I've always been really fond of. I've always loved unique spell lores, and the background behind the Lore of the Wild is fantastic, not to mention the thematic side of it making an excellent dark and twisted mirror to my favourite Warhammer Fantasy spell lore of all time, the Lore of Athel Loren in the Wood Elf army book. On top of all that there are rules for Jabberslythes, which I've always liked, and a host of what are actually some very interesting special characters with really fascinating backstory ideas.

And in other news, I experienced a stunning revelation the other day when browsing the GW website. In the distant past GW went through a phase during the 1990s that is known to many as the 'Red Period'. It is often remembered with scorn by many Warhammer grognards as a time of childish background, poor model designs and a general dumbing down of everything by GW, as well as garish colour schemes that frequently made use of the colour red (hence why it's called the 'Red Period'). I was just thinking about this as I looked through the GW website when I saw the new Horus Heresy Custode models. And then it hit me.

We are living in GW's Gold Period.

No, seriously, think about it. This era of GW that we're living in is a brand new 'Red Period', only this time with gold instead of red. All of the parallels are there. Juvenile, one-dimensional background? Check. Poor model designs? Oh yes. General dumbing down of rules? Depending on how you view AoS, you betcha. And I'll tell you what, over the last four years, GW has started using a lot of gold in their studio paint schemes. The new Custodes and Sisters of Silence, the Sigmarines, the Tempestus Scions, and those are just the examples that immediately come to mind - the GW studio schemes today have just as much gold in them as the GW studio schemes of the 90s had red.

Will we see a 'Bronze Age of GW' afterwards, the same way that the Red Period heralded the legendary Silver Age of GW? That is the question, but I have my doubts. Even assuming GW survives that long, I have a feeling that the current trends aren't going to stop anytime soon.

Man this time I'm spending out in space is really helping me clear my head and think about these things. I think I'll stay up here just a little while longer...

Lousy Zogg'in Squig-thiev'in Sunuva'Grot only sold me 'alf a Krooza!

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.