The Ratling Project: Final Concept Art

Svirfneblin snipers standing around dramatically in some smoke

My brother Chris has sent me some final concept art for our alternative Svirfneblin-inspired Ratling project (or “the nebos” as he’s taken to calling them in his very . . . Aussie fashion).  He’s just finishing up another miniatures project, and then he’s ready to start sculpting the greens.  I think they will look pretty amazing.

Svirfneblin snipers on a break

Svirfneblin sniper rifles

There are more images on Chris’s blog here.  I particularly like the NCO.


Could There Ever be Another 40k? Part II – Rick Priestley and Gates of Antares

Last week the D6 Generation podcast had a very interesting interview with Rick Priestley.  They had a problem with their soundboard just before the show so the audio quality is not perfect, but it’s still easily listenable.  They must have been gutted for that to happen when they were talking to the grandfather of fantasy wargaming; their show is normally very professional sounding!

Anyway, I’ve never met Rick or heard him interviewed before, and I really enjoyed it.  He talked quite a bit about how he came to write Warhammer and WH40k, and he had a few slightly and sadly critical remarks about how Games Workshop had managed his creation, both background-wise and in terms of rules.

I’m bringing this up because it relates to my previous post Could There Ever be Another 40k?, which sparked one of my favourite discussions on this blog so far.  It was pretty clear within about fifteen minutes of the interview that Rick Priestley, while he presents himself with typical English understatement, was born to design games and has most of a working lifetime of experience doing so.  In other words, he’s a natural talent who also really knows what he’s doing.

So what, in Rick’s mind, did he actually do that made Warhammer 40,00 so successful?  Two things: firstly, he deliberately tried to make a universe with infinite potential, and secondly, he married occult elements to science fiction.  Now the second one is I think relative to time and place.  If you were going to make a game now that really blew people’s minds, you would do something else like, say . . . well, if I knew that I wouldn’t be sitting here like a sucker writing this blog.  I’d be designing the next 40k.

But the first one is important.  In the interview Rick mentions that he was disappointed by the way the 40k universe was perpetuated.  Unlike a lot of people on the internet, he wasn’t talking about it never moving forward in narrative.  Personally I think that’s totally unimportant, and in fact I think the background for a successful game needs to move slowly, if at all.  What you need is breadth, not motion.  No, he was sad that they had shrunk it.  The universe he designed was intended to be large enough to let players do whatever the hell they wanted.  Over time though, it has become restricted to the one galaxy, and the one (oh sorry, two) eras, and the factions available in the books are all that there are.  Maybe not theoretically, but practically.  The way Rick intended it the Orks, the Eldar, and all the rest were just some species among many possible ones, there to sort of kick-start the universe.

But what happened was that the GW higher-ups interwove the background too much between the existing factions for change to really be possible, and closed off the wilder elements that wouldn’t fit comfortably.  So now, as Rick put it, there is no sense of time and space in the 40k universe.  Every faction is everywhere at once, fighting each other, and it doesn’t really seem as though anyone else is around.  It might as well be the Warhammer Old World, with the Orks, Necrons, Imperium and the rest as races on the one planet, unable to leave.

The focus has contracted, so instead of a universe that can grow, it only gets smaller with each new book.  We start to get endless sub-divisions of the existing factions, and re-iterations and fleshings-out of minor factions mentioned in past books.  There is a strict historical timeline to be adhered to that is reproduced in nearly every codex.  Everything must be canonical.

This is how 40k is now.  But this is not what made it dynamic and attractive in the beginning.  It has ossified.  And the thing is, very few other games (OK, none) have even been attempted with the openness and scope of the original 40k background.  Every single sci-fi wargame I know of follows the tried and tested formula of several more or less imaginatively sketched factions locked in a violent stalemate, and leave it at that.  The reason I suggested that Infinity was different in my previous post is because it is all about beginnings.  Nothing has really happened yet, and if they’re smart, nothing really will but it will always feel like it could.

Now this open-ness that marked the original 40k is something I personally like, and it’s a hallmark of Rick’s design.  I’ve been thinking of picking up Fanticide for example because it will allow me to buy a bunch of samurai models and maybe throw in some samurai rabbits and invent my own working, legal faction.  Because you can do that with Fanticide.

What all of this is leading to is that Rick is working on another game, and it’s one that he has put a great deal of thought into in terms of background and modernized game play.  It’s called Beyond the Gates of Antares.  I won’t tell you any more as the D6G team manage to get a detailed run-down from Rick in the interview.  So check it out.  It was on Kickstarter but was cancelled a few days ago, the team stating that they were going to produce it via other means.

Incidentally, Rick had a few interesting things to say about companies on Kickstarter.  Beyond the Gates of Antares was aiming for £300,00 which seems like a lot, but they were trying to use Kickstarter to fund the game from scratch and start a company as well.  Apparently each green of a miniature from a sculptor or piece of concept art takes months and costs around a thousand bucks, so when these companies like Fantasy Flight or CMON jump on Kickstarter and reveal greens and art week by week as people pledge, it’s because they already have all that stuff ready.  They are not really using the Kickstarter to fund the game, they are using the Kickstarter to pre-sell a bunch of copies of the game.  Which is not entirely in the spirit of the thing I think.  For a good read on this issue from a blogger who predicted that Gates of Antares would fail and why, read this.

Anyway, I am very curious as to how this will turn out.  Rick Priestley is a bit of a hero of mine, as I’m sure he is for many of us, and I wonder if his crazy no-holds-barred visionary design style could ever be the source of another industry behemoth.  If there ever could be another 40k, maybe he’s the man to do it.  Certainly he has the boldness and the experience, and he’s done it before, right?

We’ll have to wait and see if anything comes of this I suppose.  Do you think Rick could do it again, or do you think it was mostly luck and good management that made 40k what it is?  Or something else?

Confessions of a Hipster Gamer

imagesThis used to be a post where I lamented the growing popularity of Infinity and complained about it possibly becoming the game of choice for people I’d rather not play with.  I have since deleted the article.  It was written in the weeks just before I wound up the blog, I was in a very bitter place when I wrote it, and I like to think – I hope – that it wasn’t like me at all.  I have always tried to have a positive voice in my blogging about gaming because games are supposed to be positive things.

So you’ve been spared the pessimistic rant.  Instead I’d like to say a couple of things:

First of all, Infinity is a great game and I wish the people at Corvus Belli all the success in the world.  I would be more than happy if the game really took off.  Genuinely.  I apologize for the uncharitable and unnecessary opinion I expressed earlier.  If for some reason you haven’t heard of Infinity and you like the sound of a quality anime-themed skirmish miniatures game then look no further.

Secondly, who am I to judge anyone?  I barely have time to play anyway, am unlikely to ever play anyone unpleasant, and even if I do so what?  We all have to deal with jerks in life at various times and places, and sometimes we even are those jerks.  Why should I expect gaming be any different?

So that’s it.  I’ve also deleted the comments, so sorry to all the people who took the time to respond to my er . . . poisonous whinge.

I kept the picture of the hipster hobbits because I think it’s funny.

Have a good one,

– James

Games Workshop Claims Rights to the Term ‘Space Marine’

…world slaps forehead.


Some of you might have heard this already, but here’s a link to an article sticking up for a science fiction writer who has had her book removed from Amazon in response to a request from Games Workshop.  Because it has the words ‘Space Marine’ in the title.

That’s right, good old GW have decided to expand their muscle tactics beyond the small world of hobby games and miniatures and have started telling sci-fi writers that they can’t use those two famous words.  I’ll be interested to see how this pans out – bullying garage miniature sculptors is one thing, telling authors (many of whom presumably have publishers much bigger than GW) that they can’t say ‘space marine’ is a whole other kettle of fish.

As one of my mates said: “why don’t those asshats just fucking trademark ‘war’ and ‘future’ while they’re at it?”

Another internet commentator pointed out that in the US, the Unites States Marine Corps owns the rights to the term ‘marine’, and that they do in fact have actual, real-life marines trained for space.  So good luck prosecuting that one GW, you monumental basket case of blundering, flailing evilness.

You know, really nothing they do surprises me any more.  I don’t know why I bother even paying attention.   It’s fascinating, I guess…?

The Ratling Project

Svirfneblin snipers

A little while ago I mentioned that I was dissatisfied with GW’s hobbit-inspired ratlings, and the only way I could see getting my hands on ratlings I liked was either to do a massive modelling project or commission a sculptor.

Well, last week you might remember I mentioned my brother Chris’s blog, which mainly chronicles his D&D adventures.  Chris is a trained printmedia artist with a long-term interest in sculpting miniatures, and I had a chat with him about making some tough, leathery little bastards inspired by the aesthetic of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Svirfneblin (deep gnomes).

He agreed to give it a go and the above sketch is his first rough whack at the job.  I’m pretty excited, and will of course keep track of how this goes on my blog.  He has a cartoonish style that I think suits this idea well, given the exaggerated features I’m after. I particularly like the mandarin collars, the sneaky ninja boots and the felt helmets, which Chris tells me are based on World War One Romanian felt helmets.

For anyone who’s interested, here’s a link to some greens he has made and some of his future projects in miniature design.

Two Painters

One of Ben's "Helm" paintings.

One of Ben’s “Helm” paintings.

Hey everyone, hope you had a fine festive season etc.

I just thought I’d show you all a blog that belongs to a good friend of mine.  He lives in Melbourne now, which is an eight hour train ride from my place, but he visited me for a couple of beers recently and we talked about miniature painting and books and stuff.

Anyway, his name is Ben Guy and he’s a painter.  Not a miniature painter (or indeed, a house or sign painter) but a picture painter.  Specifically, he does a lot of comics, fantasy and sci-fi based art as well as landscapes.  I happen to think he’s really good, and I’m not the only one – he was recently showcased in a French book about Geek Art.  If you’re in the market for some original art then you could do a lot worse.  Just contact him via the blog I presume.

Also, for those of you who haven’t heard, Larry Elmore’s Kickstarter ended as the second highest funded Kickstarter ever in the publishing category.  This makes me really happy, as Elmore was always my favourite D&D artist as a kid.  I’m friends with him on facebook and it’s really warmed my heart to see the total gratitude and shock he’s expressed.

It just goes to show that if you just keep on doing what you do, you’ll most likely get there in the end.  Not that Elmore hadn’t made it already.  But now, as he says, he has money to fall back on when work is slow and it’s all because of the ordinary people who love his work.

I always wanted an Elmore original but I doubt I’ll be able to afford one after this!  Well done Larry.

And even though I couldn’t afford to contribute to the Kickstarter (the postage was huge outside the US), my brother Chris (also an artist, strangely enough, and with quite a funny blog about D&D) gave me this for Christmas:

Larry Elmore's iconic "Red Box" in T-shirt form!

Larry Elmore’s iconic “Red Box” in T-shirt form!


Army Sharing: the Way of the Future?


This somewhat sensational title refers to something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Frontline Gamer has been worried for a while about an up-coming crisis in the way our hobby grows, and I think I’ve come up with some food for thought on that score.  This is going to be a long one, I’ll warn you now – I decided against splitting it up into parts because who knows when I’d finish it, if ever?  Here is the gist, in case you aren’t in the mood for reading the whole thing:

The way we collect and play in the miniature wargames hobby is traditionally focused on individual army ownership.  I collect the miniatures I want, I build them, paint them, and meet you to play against your miniatures.  But there are a lot of problems with this way of doing things.  Some people only enjoy some parts of the hobby.  Others may have more time than money, or vice versa, and the ordinary way of doing things is very demanding in a lot of ways.

Imagine a club where no-one in particular owns the armies.  Each member pays a fee, and the grown-ups with more money than time buy the models they want to use or see.  They are then stored at the homes of whoever wants to store them, or at some central location.  The folks who love painting, the teenagers and the students with more time than money paint the models, and people simply arrange which armies they want to use on any particular game night.  No-one has to have a house full of stuff if they don’t want to, and there’s nothing stopping or forcing you from participating (or not) in any way you like (or don’t like).  If like many keen gamers you love to buy, convert, and paint armies, instead of sticking them in your shed or selling each one off to fund your next one you simply donate it to your local club.

Sound strange?  Maybe even crazy?  Allow me to explain a bit more. Continue reading

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