Tuesday, 24 September 2013

McDeath and the Miners Strike 1984-85

McDeath | John Blanche
The Miners Strike was a  long running industrial dispute that took place in the Mining communities of Britain 1984-86), seeing the effective end of the Coal Mining industry in the UK. McDeath is a Fantasy wargame scenario for Warhammer, written by Richard "Hal" Halliwell and released in March 1986. I do like soundtracks to blog-posts, and if you want something to listen to, Which Side Are You On – Miners Strike Album (1985). Or seeing as the Industrial Archive website is down, alternatively "Panic" by the Smiths (1986) might suffice, but Billy Bragg doing "Which Side are You On?"
is possibly nearer the mark.



Apologies in advance for any offence or inaccuracies, all opinions and corrections are more than welcome in the comments.

Arka Zargul - Miners Leader



Arthur Scargil - Leader of the National Union of Mineworkers
Arka Zargul isn't a straight homophone like most Warhammer puns (Eeza Ugezod for example) a slight shift in phonemes, but nontheless it's clear enough pun on Arthur Scargil, the leader of the NUM. Perhaps coincidentally Zar Gul is a name  in Urdu meaning Shining; Brilliant, whether this is a reference to Scargils leadership qualities or the silver in the Dungal mines is anyones guess. A look at the Banner (Tony Ackland?)...

Arka Zargul's Dwarf Miners

'I Ho! I Ho! Go Slow' obviously a reference to 'Hi-Ho hi-Ho it's of to work we go' of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but with 'off to work' replaced by "go slow" - a reference to a form of industrial action commonly used as a protest prior to calling out a full strike. In a "Go Slow" workers purposefully reduce output in order to economically damage the bosses until their conditions (such as pay) were met. And of course, Arka leads a force of seven dwarves.

The dwarves diminutive nature, their association with Snow White and that dwarf miners are 'the good guys' in Tolkien and fairytales in general (although not Norse myth) generally makes them sympathetic characters. They are also a people oppressed by a foreign overlord, their wealth stolen from them, and almost forced into slavery by the villain of the piece, Een McWrecker...

Een McWrecker - McDeaths Lieutenant


Ian McGregor Head of the National Coal Board
A pun on Ian McGregor, the Head of the National Coal Board - Een McWrecker - is intalled at Dungal Hill by McDeath to control the mine, much as Ian McGregor was installed by Thatcher to run the National Coal Board and shut down the mining industry.  McWrecker promptly steals the dwarves gold, casing the dwarves go on strike refusing to work for him. At the battle of Dungal Hill he leads 40 Orcs. His banner is one of oppression:




Stunties shall be slaves, while we rule I could be wrong but it does seem to have echoes of  Rule, Britannia! rule the waves: Britons never will be slaves. British nationalism, a strange thing in todays atmosphere of devolution, but the word-soup is similar enough.

The portrayal of Een is entirely unsympathetic, with his halfling man-servant Raybees ready and waiting to stab him in the back at the first opportunity. Even the naming pun, McWrecker positions the character as ner-do-well, a wrecker. Orcs are symbols of evil aggression, from Tolkien and beyond, they are filthy disgusting creatures, that the AD&D Orcs are Pig-headed makes them all the more castable as a vision of an oppressive law and order.

Dungal Hill - the Field of Battle


There is a place, Dungoil Hill in Scotland which was the site of a silver mine. I'm not aware of it being part of the Miners Strike, as the vein was apparently mined out some 184 years previously, still the name is a pun. Also this seems to be very, very, obscure. Silver mines in Scotland seems odd enough, but digging out this sort of nugget of information in the pre Internet 1980s would have needed a lot of spadework, or an foreknowledge and background reading in such archaeological  geological matters.

The Battle of Dungal Hill pitches Arka Zarguls Dwarf Miners against Een McWreckers Orc Army. It's not a not a straight forward historical staging of a specific conflict in the Miners strike such as the Battle of Orgreave (Battle of Orcgrave methinks) but rather an expession of the ideological conflict.  Police and Government are cast as evil oppressors, orcs and wicked magicians, whilst the miners are the stalwart dwarves.

For a historical reenactment (if it's good enough for Turner Prize Winning Artists on Channel 4 it's good enough for wargamers) Offensive Miniatures produce police in riot gear and rioters, although their dress-code is perhaps a little more more Battle of the Beanfield, eco-protest or Occupy than mid-80s South Yorkshire, which I assume was all flat-caps, whippets, bubbleperms, denim jackets and mullets, and the police are in riot gear - some standard uniform coppers wouldn't go amiss.






But why not? Why didn't Games Workshop just repackage the miners strike straight out? Why disguise the conflict as anything than what it was, which is a complex contemporary socio-political, thing which to this day still causes division. Perhaps it's just too political, offensive, even today historical and modern wargaming make some people uncomfortable. Certainly Citadels self-image was  that of a fantasy games company and riding the wave of the D&D boom was their raison d'être.

Fantasy as satire allows us to cut a straight moral line without the complexity of real life, the scenario gives the Miners an uncontestable moral high-ground, the Dwarfs are clearly in the right and oppressed by the evil McWrecker. The messy ideological conflict of the Socialism vs. Capitalism, Middle Class vs. Working Class, Shopkeepers vs. Manual Laborers, the viability of long term socio-economic reliance on fossil-fuels, all these difficult aspects can be put aside in favour of a "simple" battle of Orcs vs. Dwarves, Good vs. Evil. Yet in doing so perhaps Hal shows us his own sympathies,  many in Nottingham would have been aware the plight of other miners in other towns, as well as their own.

The distancing of Fantasy may also mitigate the emotional connotations of the real events. These events were recent, people had been killed, lives had been ruined. The game deals not with the individuals, but with ideas and figureheads. In the literary genre we can think of Swift or even Pratchett where the social and political moires of the day are projected in fantasy.

But on July 19th 1984, Thatcher (the great Empress Margaritha) made her infamous speech demonising the Miners as "The Enemy Within" - a phrase used by McGregor as the title of his 1986 book on the conflict  and then late 1987, Games Workshop moves the obsidian warpstone Mirror of Warhammer away from the world of picket lines and Militant tendency, to the world of Cold War paranoia, of insidious influence and corruption.


22 comments:

  1. So good! thanks a lot Zhu!
    Though some of us are handicaped with not being born on the right side of the channel, it's very intersting you porvide this historical context that made it into the fantasy story.
    It's also very good to see the names were not only references to pop singers but had deeper and sometimes interlinked origins.
    You made me want to read McBeth...I mean McDeath again and the sooner will be the better.
    Your mention of the preinternet information the studio was using is also very intersting. There's a ton of culural references concerning many ages and many places in the old world and the fact we get puns so many years later says a lot about the people who wrote these jewels...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The past is another country as people say. I only remember seeing the Miners Strike on the TV as a child of the south (although these are vivid recollections, which have had a huge impact on my politics). Maybe the tone of my post is a little more serious than intended, McDeath is more a political cartoon sketch than a dry meditation on the downfall of British socialism. Glad it's interesting.

      Delete
  2. It was interesting taking a third look at McDeath recently, in the wake of the Oldhammer Weekend. It's significance had completely passed me by at the time of it's release (I was 8) and when I reread it a year or so ago I was mainly disappointed it had little to do with Macbeth (my favourite Shakespeare play). I was chatting to Thantsants and Marcus Ansell about the three big scenario packs of the 80s and sort of wrote it off as the least interesting one. I vaguely had an idea about rewriting it to be a more Kurosawa take on Macbeth but at the third time of asking things started to jump about about the miner's strike a bit more. I still think it could do with a bit of a makeover by the GM running it but I've changed my mind about it's worthiness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. McDeath is far, far, from being the least interesting. Just look at the first scenario, a pitched battle at a sporting event, while I'm not sure an occasional fight might break out at the Highland games, Football Hooliganism was rampant in the 80s, along with Scotlands infamous Rangers and Celtic rivalry. I'm not a great football fan (or Hooligan) so there might be puns or references I'm not picking up on.

      Delete
    2. Yes, it feel's like I'm still missing some things. More research needed!

      Delete
    3. It's taking ages, piecing it all together. Did anyone know about the prequel scenario in WD 76? I've never seen it unfortunately, does it shed any more light on things?

      Delete
    4. Yeah, sure. I don't have much to say about it really, nice narrative driven, asymmetrical game. Dunco. must. die.

      ...it just dawned on me McCoughlagan is probably Mc Hooligan.

      Delete
    5. There's mor than a hint in the designer's notes at page 24 ;)

      Delete
  3. A very thorough analysis, Mr Zhu - that's filled a lot of blanks for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm. Not sure I've been as thorough, or as coherent as I could have been, but I'm glad you found it enlightening in parts.

      Delete
  4. Not being particularly familiar with this scenario I'd no idea about the political angle it had - most interesting!

    I still like the idea of doing some Kurosawa inspired Warhammer though...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kurosawa Warhammer would be fun. Warhammers peculiar on/off relationship with orientalism (Steppe Nomad Hobgoblins, Undead Samurai, Tau Manga Comunists?), A Shinya Tsukamoto 40k / RoC... But what we have, without our own take, is something slightly more Ken Loach by way of Luck and Flaw and Jim Henson. Inevitably everything ends up a bit Terry Gilliam.

      Delete
  5. Very interesting. These scenarios are a big gap in my Oldhammer knowledge. Thanks for posting about this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers. Does seem like only scratching the surface of McDeath, the 3rd of 4 battles and each one seems to approach a different set of ideas. Winwood Harbour being football hooliganism, Loch Lorm being the Loch Ness monster and Scotch, and Runsinane Castle being Macbeth.

      Delete
  6. Re: era appropriate miniatures, judging by the video of my uncle's wedding - he was a miner, this was South Yorkshire, and it was the early eighties - sculpting some green stuff moustaches onto Miami Vice miniatures might be the route to go...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They make Miami Vice miniatures ?!?

      Delete
  7. Great post Zhu - I was never any good at spotting the puns in Warhammer - what's the Eeza Ugezod pun?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Apparently, WFB as leftist agit-prop has worked! WFB players have lower Social Dominance Orientation scores than historical wargamers!

    http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2013/07/academic-study-of-tabletop-wargamers_14.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very interesting! SDO looks like an ideological minefield. Consider that the author of the article groups "LGBT individuals, immigrants, Muslims, low-income people", so we're already dealing with a baseline bias about in-groups and out-groups i.e. why didn't he list White Supremecists, Survivalists, Christian Fundamentalists, etc. ? Also scarily looks like a Lawful-Chaotic alignment graph applied to real-world psycho-social processes!

      Also I'm only seeing potentially leftist sympathies in McDeath, the rest not so much.

      Delete
  9. Very interesting to think about a lot of this. And the miners strike was not as big here in US. Definitely we don't know the players.....or references as well. Strangely enough, it also gave rise to Global Warming as a science. (Regardless if you believe in that or not, the roots for the science came about from government efforts to attack the mining industry as a whole - before this scientists thought we were going to enter an ice age). Thank you Zhu, a well-done blog post. For some, the images of the real world players may have been in their heads, but from across the pond, it is very interesting to see.

    ReplyDelete