Sunday, 31 January 2021
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve fallen deep into a Warhammer-shaped rabbit hole.
As a pre-teen and young teenager, I was obsessed with the Warhammer franchise. Although it started with D&D—I think I picked up the classic red box around the age of 11 or so—I eventually discovered Games Workshop’s grimmer, darker, and altogether more coherent take on a roleplaying universe. My hardback copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fell apart, it was so well-thumbed, and together with my younger brother I branched out into almost all of the games GW was churning out during that period: Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Blood Bowl, Dark Future, Warhammer 40K and probably a handful of others that I’ve forgotten about.
Alongside the growing collection of games and related paraphernalia was, of course, a plethora of lead and plastic miniatures. We would spend most weekends hunched over the dining table (carefully covered in a protective layer of newspaper), surrounded by pots of paint with evocative names like Goblin Green and Mithril Silver, squinting as we tried to apply the drybrushing or ink-wash techniques we had read about in the pages of White Dwarf magazine to the inch-high knight, orc or Space Marine held in our paint-stained fingers.
Eventually, as tends to happen, I moved on from the hobby, distracted by heavy metal music and girls among other things. The boxed games and collections of partly-painted figures made their way to who-knows-where, probably sold to slightly younger and still-enthusiastic schoolmates; I bought an electric guitar and a leather jacket. Time passed.
Then, earlier this year, I found myself reading about the Warhammer universe once more. I bought Total War Warhammer last year after reading positive reviews, and I had added the r/warhammer subreddit to my subscriptions as part of my New Year attempt to spend more time reading about ‘stuff that interests me’ instead of news and politics. Those led me to YouTube videos on army choice and painting techniques, which in turn led down research rabbit holes to discover more about what had happened in the last thirty years to the world I used to love. (tl;dr: it got blown up. All of it. GW seem to have gone scorched earth on the Old World that was home to my favourite games and stories; now the fantasy side of their universe takes place in eight “interconnected realms” powered by magic. Unsurprisingly this change, referred to in lore as the “End Times”, wasn’t hugely popular at the time, particularly as it retired several entire army types, rendering players’ existing collections irrelevant. Things have settled down a bit now though.)
During all of this reading and watching, I also added a couple of Warhammer-related games to my Steam wishlist, and coincidentally they both went on sale shortly after. Both Vermintide 2 (a 4-player co-op first-person-hack-and-slasher) and Blood Bowl 2 (a faithful recreation of the tabletop game, complete with dice rolls) turned out to be pretty enjoyable games. I also have Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine sitting in my library, courtesy of a free giveaway at some point in the past, which I plan to return to at some point.
Finally, still riding the nostalgia-driven high, I picked up a couple of “Warhammer Omnibus” books from eBay, namely Gotrek and Felix (which gathers together the first three books in the popular series) and The Rise of Nagash, which deals with vampires and the lord of the undead. The place names and references are comforting, transporting me back to a time when my imagination was full of plans for armies I would build or roleplaying scenarios I might create.
So, do I want to return to the hobby? Many of the people still active in wargaming are of my generation, and I’m certainly in a much better situation financially than I was as a twelve-year-old with a paper route. But I don’t think I want to take that step, at least not right now. For a start, it would be a massive investment to make—paints, inks, brushes, craft tools, miniatures, rulebooks, and all the rest—and while I enjoy learning how to play new games, I’m not sure I want to join the local gaming club to get beaten by pre-teens.
No, I think for now I’ll stick to the vicarious enjoyment of watching experts painting their collections or discussing the game, or even resurrecting poorly-painted models they find on eBay. Nowadays you can even watch people painting live on Twitch. It’s interesting how there seem to be a higher proportion of British YouTubers involved in the hobby than most other subjects I dip into on YouTube; it’s nice to watch videos narrated in a soft Midlands accent rather than a Californian drawl for a change.