Why Warhammer?

Your Monday morning fix is brought to you courtesy of Jonathan Schafer, long time member of the Bolthole (and several incarnations of the Black Library forums before that) who has gotten all excited about us starting a blog and kindly offered to write some articles for us. We are equally excited to have him on board, and so without further ado…

Why Warhammer?

Warhammer. Warhammer 40k. The universes of the Games Workshop intellectual properties and the works of fiction set within them published by the Black Library. The chances are that you are familiar with and possibly have a liking towards one or both of the universes and/or the novels and what not that explore and expand them. You are after all reading the blog of a community based around a Black Library fansite.

Why do you know and love these things?

I don’t know, mental deficiency can’t be ruled out. You’ve got that crazed look in your eye, but so does everyone else round these parts. It’s a mystery worth exploring though, at least to pass the time. I have reflections, considerations and thoughts on the foundations of my love of these things. I have this blog as a platform and a bus full of orphans set to blow if my demands aren’t met community of folks with which to engage and discuss things with. How about we get to the bottom of this thing.

Am I really going to get to the bottom of this in a single blog post?

No. No I’m not. I’m going to take a couple, maybe even a few to get said what I want to say. There are two universes to cover (and potentially sub settings like Necromunda, Mordheim and Blood Bowl) as well as perhaps an appreciation that there is a whole different set of appealing qualities to the settings that can only be perceived by the storytellers. Also I want to hear what you have to say on the subject. I appreciate the Bolthole because of the level of discourse the community provides. Lets not allow this blog to alter our relationship, you can talk to me about anything at anytime and I’ll treat it with the same level of disdain I’ve always done. That is a promise.

So now we’ve established the central premise for some of my blogging adventures here I can hear you asking yourselves with voices laden with excitement “where is he going to begin with all that to cover?” Good question excitable people of the future. I’m going to begin with where it began for me many moons ago. A wonderful game called Warhammer.

Who’d have thought a book could be fun?

Picture the scene. I was 10 years old standing over the body, the knife held in my trembling hands, my breath misting in the cold predawn air. That never happened, I sometimes wish it had though. What did happen was that I started reading Lord of the Rings over the summer holidays (having received the Hobbit from my father the previous Christmas and consumed it with glee) and I was also getting involved in old strategy based board games, Backgammon, Chess, nine man’s morris. It wasn’t surprising that I had no friends, I did however have a father who discovered the viking chess game Hnefatafl and it’s variants and was happy to print out the various board set ups so that we could play.

It is this backdrop that made me fall into Games Workshop’s nefarious clutches of doom. For in the toyshop on the high street of the small market town I live they sell Warhammer. Back in the mid 90s multipart plastic sprues didn’t really exist. You could however buy a box of 8-10 solid plastic figures for what I recall was a fiver. The models were far below the quality now produced but I purchased a bunch of them to use as Hnefatafl counters. Goblins with sharp spears (deadly to step on barefoot) and dwarfs with primary coloured jerkins and little small axes. The fantasy fiction I was enjoying and the liking of games came together and I started to notice Warhammer.

My first Warhammer novel will be a novelisation of this game featuring Goblins and Dwarfs.

By that Christmas I managed to get involved with it heavily, purchasing from that same toyshop a version of Warhammer that was cheaper than all the rest and yet had goblins and elves in it which were so much cooler than Lizardmen and Knights. Oh in my youthful naivety I purchased an edition that had been replaced and went for goblins and elves, tropes that I loved from Tolkien (well maybe not the Elves) over the boring humans and the Lizardmen who were pretty much a mystery to me. Back then the game came with a separate bestiary. I read that book many times, still have it in my bedroom amongst my throng of White Dwarfs and Codexes and rulebooks old and new.  Warhammer was exciting, it played to the familiar fantasy I was getting from books but twisted it in dark and funny ways. I was hooked and it would be years before 40k would really get it’s hold on me (and that’ll be another story for another time).

I honestly think that for me Warhammer is at its best when it casts something recognisable in a light that makes you clink your head to the side and go ooohh. 40k has an entire galaxy and what is arguably a more identifiable uniqueness to it that Warhammer can never achieve. The scale and basis of the setting mean you can’t hide your influences and inspirations as easily. The setting compensates by throwing everything together. Clockwork/Steampunk ideas alongside arcane mysticism. Grim dark faerie tales set against hilarious surrealism (and not to mention British pop culture references from the 1980s). It’s all there together detracting from any claims of being too derivative in nature and just compounding its quintessential awesomeness with further awesomeness. This is the recognisable heroic fantasy that a ten year old boy can latch on to perverted and distorted with bells and whistles with pop culture references that will take the lad ten years to notice. You latch on to what you recognise and you get your horizons expanded by this rich detailed expansive setting where anything can and will go.

Take the Gotrek and Felix novels. Skavenslayer is perfect for illustrative purposes. Let’s see what it details:

  1. The inside of an Imperial Engineering school.
  2. The many facets of Imperial society, the secret societies protecting mankind, the unsaid acknowledgement that mutants live in the sewers, the deliberate ignorance of the middle classes, the politicised police forces of the Imperial courts.
  3. Skaven and all their crazy shenanigans.
  4. Magical duels.
  5. Fighting, heroism and the complex relationships between man and woman.
  6. A sullen Dwarf.
  7. A friendly innkeeper.

Third Black Library book I ever read, set in a universe I adore and it had EVERYTHING in it. But that’s a very broad strokes appreciation of Warhammer and a bit simplistic. My tastes have refined and developed, I have been ravaged by age since the mid to late 90s. Cluttered with awesome isn’t the main interest now, I have focused interests in the universe things I just find terribly interesting. I’m sure you have yours, feel free to share them with me but here are some of mine.

The Hobgobla Khan: Nothing has been done with them since I got introduced to them back when GW was pushing some characters and regiments of renown from the realms of the greenskin nomads back before the Millennium changed. But interest peaked in the concept back then hasn’t diminished. Smarter than average greenskins filling a mongoloid archetype that outnumber the humans of the Old World. The kings of them live in tents the size of cities and they send their generals such as Ghazak Khan to the West to ply their trade as mercenaries and learn about how the powers of the Old World wage war?  The potential threat posed to mankind and the forethought in planning and preparation for any war with the nations of the Old World just strikes me as so very very juicy.

What about those colleges of magic? Well answer me! The organisation of wizardry and witchcraft given official approval in a society that mistrusts and burns magic users (or those accused of it) often. Organisations set up for and by people who know that all their members are going to become corrupted by the ruinous powers they wield unless they die first. How do wizards operate in relation to their colleges and the rest of society? That scope for conflict there is impressive (though we’ll play with that concept more when I ask “why is Warhammer and 40k good for storytelling at some later date) and intriguing. That’s before we even get into the individual colleges themselves. Read Grey Seer by C.L. Werner (that is an order, do it at once), the take there on the Grey Colleges stance that they are guardians (and have the sword as their emblem in a quasi-knight fashion to highlight this) really opened up doors for me as to how to interpret the flavours of the colleges.

The two novels I used to illustrate my ideas feature cool things about Warhammer and humanoid talking rat monsters. Coincidence or conspiracy? That’s for our humanoid rat monster overlords to decide.

The politics of the Sigmarite Church, oh dear hammer holding god, this is exciting. In contemporary lore as far as I am still aware the head of the Sigmarite church died and then got reanimated by a daemon prince of chaos. The church itself has a corrupt (materialistically if not physically by the dark gods) centre and there is a gulf between various schools of Sigmarite thought some of which are fundamentalist and fanatical in nature. This is a Church which plays a pivotal role in selecting the nominal leader of The Empire and which influences if not fully controls many of the mechanisms of state through funding, public support or just having allot of soldiers and knights sworn to it’s service. That is such a core thing to the Empire and it just interests me.

Radical Dwarfs and the Engineers guild, back when I was a lad the head of the Dwarf engineers guild had a mechanical arm replacing the one he lost in an engineering accident. Several hundred years prior to that the Skaven built a cyborg assassin that hunted for Wyrdstone on the streets of Mordheim. Somehow the focus on radicalism within dwarf society has been lost in recent editions of Warhammer. That is a shame because I still feel that the Engineer’s Cult and the Slayer Cult are the only two aspects of the society that are open to inventiveness and radicalisation and to my mind it still exists and needs to be played with more.

Dwarf advancements in artificial limbs have been stopped by GW since the early 90s.

The game plan of the Seafarer. The political and strategic considerations with how Ulthran deals with the Old World under Finbar intrigues me, I’d like to see more of that. It’s the only Elven aspect that holds my attention for any length of time.

Anyway I’ve probably been melting your eyes too long now. I haven’t even touched upon how Warhammer sells absurdity as a basis of fear better than most anything else I’ve seen. It does that as well, maybe I’ll elaborate on that some other time. It’s an aspect that 40k has moved away from as I’ve watched Games Workshop develop the setting so may work as a yardstick for comparisons between the settings. So the floor is now open to you, why do you like the setting? What parts of it do you find yourself thinking about too often and too deeply for it to be considered healthy?  Do you have any opinions on any of the stuff I’ve highlighted as being at the top of my list of things that I think are awesome? Let me know.

Next up I’ll be tackling 40k so if you have any thoughts on that and want to colour my opinions before I air them on the internet you can give it your best shot, the blog is pretty much written ahead of time but I may revisit it to make it less of a one way conversation. Depends when the evil taskmasters of the Bolthole want me to hand it in and how pathetic and worthless your opinions are.

Love to your mothers. Until next time sport fans (I’ll try to make my next blog a bit more sporty for you as well).


About the author:

Schaferwhat‽ is a leader of men, Vietnamese goslings and of thought. He has lingered like a bad smell on Black Library related forums long before he embodied the qualities of surprised exclamation under the username Schaferlord. He has had many namesakes killed off in many Black Library books although he insists that he is beloved despite the ever increasing frequency and graphic violence of his imagined deaths at the hands of the Black Library authors. If his blog posts here haven’t left you scared for the future of humanity you can follow him on twitter @perturbedschafe and have every thought that occurs to him transmitted directly to your very own brain instantly


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