Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Warhammer Undead

Although I've never really embraced the hobby, I've always been fascinated by the Games Workshop idea, and the collecting of, painting of, and playing with armies in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40k settings. The Warhammer setting is an interesting one. I've heard it described (and I'm paraphrasing) as a setting that you think is D&D, but it turns out is actually Call of Cthulhu in fantasy drag. I've been following it as a fringe member of the fanbase for many years--since at least 1994 when I started collecting a run of White Dwarfs. Although at the time, the setting was more tongue in cheek parody with cartoonish and clownishly colorful and often silly art and miniatures, the background flavor text from the darker days of the 1980s was still sufficiently evident that I could see the potential in it. That dark fantasy was naturally right up my alley, and the overt Cthulhuisms spread throughout the setting (especially the fantasy setting, but it's true for both) were kind of exciting in their new milieu.

From this inauspicious--yet curiously sufficient to hook me--beginning, Games Workshop has since almost completely restored my faith in the system, the setting and everything else. The art is now very dark and evocative, since hiring artists like Adrian Smith as one of their primary stylistic leaders, revamping almost their entire miniatures line--several times, actually--and improving the look of the sculpts not only from a technical aspect but also from an artistic and stylistic perspective as well, and focusing much more on the playing the setting(s) straight rather than using them as a dumping ground for pop culture references and lame puns. I've reviewed a bit of their more recent fiction here, and I've had Eisenhorn on my reading list all summer (although sadly, my progress through it has been fairly slow as I've been distracted by a lot of other things.)

I had, however, other than this fiction, dropped out of Games Workshop mainstreamiana for a variety of reasons, and considered that a past hobby that never really was, something that I was over and done with. But, for a variety of reasons, that may not be completely true, and I went out and bought 4-5 current White Dwarfs, looked over the online catalogs a lot, and even called my younger brother, who was much more invested in the hobby, and chatted with him about it for an hour or so the other night. What changed?

First off, my oldest son expressed a lot of interest in acquiring some miniatures. He wasn't necessarily interested in playing Warhammer or 40k (in fact, I think he's feeling motivated to try and make up his own game rules for the minis, believe it or not) but he loves the minis and wants to have a few. Secondly, the final volume of the Nagash trilogy by Mike Lee just came out. I've had the first two since--heck, since they were new--but I haven't read them yet, because I didn't want to start and then be left hanging. Since the final volume just came out, and I just ordered it, and it should be arriving at my house within a few days, I'll be all set to put it on the docket of my reading list, cutting to near the front of the line most likely. And thirdly, after picking up the White Dwarfs--nominally for my son, but realistically I'm the one who's much more likely to read them all the way through, and when we're "done" I'm going to keep them--I was extremely impressed with the fantastic look of the newest miniatures. And fourthly, I heard rumors that Blood Bowl, the best game Games Workshop ever produced, will be re-released. Probably not in the gloriously fun and somewhat wacky state that it was shorty after the Third Edition release, but in the more "favoring the Chess-player hyper competitive mode of the Living Rulebook as its evolved in more recent years. Anyway, that's just a rumor anyway.


As luck would have it, of the White Dwarfs I picked up, two of them focused on Undead. Back in the day, in my 1994 White Dwarfs, the Undead was a single army in Warhammer with no obvious counterpart on 40k. More recently, 40k got the Necrons and the old Undead army was split into the Vampire Counts and the Tomb Kings. Sadly, in my opinion, most of the "cool" stuff went to the Counts, and the Kings were left with nothing but a bunch of skeletons, skeletons with slightly more armor, skeletons on skeletal horses and skeletal chariots. In other words, they were a rather boring army.

Now, two hundred issues after my first foray into the Undead, the Tomb Kings and the Vampire Counts have both been revitalized with a slew of new miniatures, including big honkin' monsters, and a lot of cool and new variety for the Kings. Now with colossal animated statues in an ancient Egyptian ouvre, strange snakelike constructs and more, the Tomb Kings have gone from being about the most drab and boring of the armies out there to one of the most vibrant and exciting. I've attached a picture of one of their Necrosphinx, a huge new monster that's basically an animated statue of sorts, but which is scary beyond all reason as a monster concept.

The Vampire Counts got a new Vampire Lord on a zombie dragon that looks incredible too. In addition to that, the kit allows you to build a terrorgheist, which is probably my favorite new miniature at the moment. I'll let you GIS that one yourselves.

Why do I post this? I dunno. I've long had a love for the undead. They are about as iconic in supernatural horror literature as you can possibly get. And I like to see them treated with some respect for tradition, yet with some new takes that make them fresh and exciting, and mostly I like to see them treated as object of horror and fear, not of kitsch or romanticism, as our society is fairly keen to do in pop-art these days.

In addition, you may have noted that my "On Deck" shows two new Pathfinder setting supplements that deal with horror themes; the Ustalav book and the Undead Revisited book. We'll see how they go.

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