Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Greatest Battle Report 2018: Nominations Open

Welcome back to the second annual Greatest Battle Report Awards!

The Greatest Battle Report 2018

After the success of the first Greatest Battle Report Award in 2017, I've decided to organise another one for this year. The format is much the same, but have introduced a few innovations in the process that I hope will encourage more entries and more visibility for the Nominations.

Stage 1: Nominations

Nominate a Battle Report - for any tabletop, miniatures gaming system, as the Greatest Battle Report of 2018. We're looking for anything and everything great in the world of Wargaming and Tabletop Miniatures, perhaps it has a great narrative, perhaps the table layout and photography was stunning, perhaps the models were just really cool, perhaps the improvisation and counts-as thinking reached genius level, or maybe everyone playing had a really great time and the love for The Hobby™ shines through. Whatever you think makes for a Great Battle Report - that's what we want to see nominated.

If you want some idea of the amazing efforts gamers go to in creating their Battle Reports, feel free to view last years nominations, and last years glorious winner  Pitch Invasion by Nico.

You can easily nominate a Battle Report by a number of ways of doing that:
  • Post a link on twitter using the hashtag #BatRep18 
  • Post on the thread on The Oldhammer Forum
  • Leave a comment to this blogpost
  • Email  Zhu with the subject line "BatRep18 Nomination"
The Battle Report must be publicly accessible. Nominations for Battle Reports behind paywalls, on register-to-view sites or published in magazines or commercial wargaming companies websites will be discarded. The Battle Report must have been published in 2018. All nominated entries will be listed in a blogpost on this website.

Self-nominations are allowed, and in fact encouraged! If you nominate a third party Battle Report, and not your own, please notify the author in some way (comment on the blogpost) that they have been nominated for The Greatest Battle Report of 2018. Feel free to link to this post by way of explanation, but it is by no means a requirement.

In 2017 we had 10 Nominations, which was a great response and an easy number to deal with.  Should we have more than 12 Battle Reports Nominated in 2018, these will be shortlisted to a maximum of 12, on a first-come, first served basis. The closing date for Nominations will be  30th November 2018, so get your nominations in quick!

Stage 2: Voting

Voting will probably be by SurveyMonkey, starting around 1st of December, running to 31st December 2018.

The aim of the Greatest Battle Report is to spread the word, and get more people to read the many great Battle Reports that are out there, so once Voting is under way, it is critical to get as many people to vote as possible, motivate your base and mobilise your clamouring cult of followers to vote for you.

Stage 3: The Award

The Greatest Battle Report remains a stubbornly fannish affair, curated and voted for by the community. Everybody wins because everybody gets to read great Battle Reports they might have otherwise overlooked.

The reward for coming first place and being crowned The Greatest Battle Report 2018 is to bask in the admiration of your peers, and know that your creative endeavours have been recognised as a example of hobby gaming. You can also display "The Greatest Battle Report 2018" banner alongside your blog to honour the recognition your Battle Report has received - although of course this is entirely optional.

Let the well documented, entertainingly written and presented battle commence!

Friday, 26 October 2018

Bored of the Rings

The History of Lower Middle Earth: Part One

"Don't judge a book by it's cover" goes the old cliche trotted out to denigrate the fine and exacting work carried out by illustrators and book jacket designers the world over. But no, book jackets are important. Not only do book covers serve as marketing tools to entice hapless saps to pick-up some half-baked tome of drivel off the creaking shelves of their local black-windowed publications emporium, they also serve as a flag of social stigma and embarrassment should one undertake the social faux-pas of carrying or worse, actually reading a book conspicuously in public. This, of course, explains the popularity of e-book readers. It's not the convenience of carrying 40,000 digital documents in your pocket, which is quite pointless as none of them appear to have that exact recipe for mixing the perfect Pan Galactic Gargle-Blaster that you're looking for when you need it.

I could really do with one of these about now | via

No, the real value of polymorphing books into anonymous grey plastic rectangles is that one can sit in a coffeeshop in Rickmansworth sipping a skinny latte or stand on public transport on the commute to work whilst reading Shifty Shapes of Grey without the risk of anyone batting an eyelid, and avoid being even slightly embarrassed about peering at the grimey print hidden behind the glossily airbrushed homoerotic thews of Gonad the Barbarian, or being pelted with rotten fruit for reading the XXVII tome in the Horribillis Hearsay of the Grimdank Universe series. Or indeed, avoid entirely the intense social stigma and certain ridicule that comes from wielding a mini-placard embellished with the hookah-pipe and mighty bosom of a militant mutant sow riding pig lady and curvaceous elf girl astride  a black ram emblazoned upon on The Harvard Lampoons Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings":  Bored of the Rings that announces loud and proud your lack of literary discernment and pervy stoner nerd credentials.

Bored of the Rings | Michael K. Frith | 1969

Considered in isolation, the cover of the Signet first edition of Bored of the Rings is a thing of finely crafted wondrous beauty. The composition is harmoniously balanced, rendered in jewel-like colours and with  montage reflecting oneric, fantastical vision, oozing with quirky detail and charm. The combination of visual splendour, simple messaging and dubious sexual content make it a near platonic ideal of the most effective persuasion technologies of the commercial arts of Madison Avenue.  But before we indulge ourselves by observing the contents of the cover in  Bored of the Rings in minute yet pedantic detail, it behoves us to turn our baleful eye towards the first American paperback edition of The Hobbit published by Ballentine in 1965.

The Hobbit | 1965
Upon observing this exquisitely wrought piece of mid 60's pop-psychedelia, the author of the book had this to say (with moderation) on the matter:
I wrote to [his American publishers] expressing (with moderation) my dislike of the cover for [the Ballantine edition of ] The Hobbit. It was a short hasty note by hand, without a copy, but it was to this effect: I think the cover ugly; but I recognize that a main object of a paperback cover is to attract purchasers, and I suppose that you are better judges of what is attractive in USA than I am. I therefore will not enter into a debate about taste – (meaning though I did not say so: horrible colours and foul lettering) – but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who had read the tale (I hope you are one) could think such a picture would please the author. ... 
...When I made the above points again, her voice rose several tones and she cried: 'But the man hadn't TIME to read the book!' (As if that settled it. A few minutes conversation with the 'man', and a glance at the American edition's pictures should have been sufficient.) With regard to the pink bulbs she said as if to one of complete obtusity: 'they are meant to suggest a Christmas Tree'. Why is such a woman let loose? I begin to feel that I am shut up in a madhouse. 
J.R.R. Tolkien Letter to Stanley Unwin 1965 

The Hobbit cover, and the many obtuse excuses used to cover it, was only the beginning of Tolkien being psychologically terrorised by his time-poor, gender confused and cash hungry American publishers. The disliked vignette itself was taken from the left hand side of yet even more grander vista in a painting by Barbara Remington - a woman of the female persuasion, and not as Tolkiens mind-game playing American agent insisted, a male of masculine orientation. Why, as Tolkien asks, are such women let loose? Who knows, perhaps they are simply sent to torment bookish old professorial elf-fanciers of Oxford, but perhaps because in their lack of time, like a Hobbit scrabbling at answers for riddles in their nastly little pocketses, true genius finds its way up, out of the subconscious darkness of the Goblin Mines, out through the dark and twisted passages and past the secret doors, up and into the light of the world.

Indeed, the vignette for The Hobbit was but a prelude to the unveiling to the world of the epic triptych which would be the 1965 Ballentine edition of Tolkiens Lord of the Rings trilogy of books. If the lion and emus and bulbous fruit of The Hobbit had managed to summon such disgruntled bile from the Professor who knows what words of scorn and derision the flying horses and piles of snakes may have spurted forth from the raging nib of his enraged and bitter quill. 

Barbera Remington | Lord of the Rings | 1965
The attention to detail in Harvard Lampoons parody of Remingtons Lord of the Rings cover is second to none.  Not only is the illustration style, colour and tone a dead match, the typography perfectly errs on the correct side of a hugely expensive and drawn out copyright dispute and outright plagiarism.  The book titles are rendered rather plainly and quite handsomely in Goudy Sans, offering an austere yet organic, anti-industrialism echoing the hand-lettered rather than mechanical and authors name in rather florid psychedelic-age redrawing of William Morrises Troy lettering, itself something of a victorian revival of medieval insular calligraphy. Tolkien being a massive fan of Morris should have approved somewhat, but instead, alas, cried 'foul'.

It is clear that whole cover of Bored of the Rings has been near fraudulently designed to entice a mushroom-stuffed hippy student of the early1970s to fumblingly pick it up from the rickety wire carousel of paperbacks on the newspaper stand while buying a pouch of Longbottom Leaf and some cigarette papers  and hand over the loot to the newspaper vendor (played, for some reason, by Richard Prior) without noticing they'd been hoodwinked before it was too late.

As well as setting up the books persistent self-referential gags about being a crass attempt to cash in on the commercial success of Lord of the Rings,  the aping of the Ballentine first authorised edition of The Lord of the Rings cover design serves to tie Bored of the Rings to that very specific time and place, one single Thursday afternoon in the America as the sun slowly set on the 1960s. Nixon was in the Whitehouse, Students were taking over Harvard University, moon landings were on the horizon (of the moon, presumably, but maybe the Nevada desert, who really knows, maaan?), the Manson Family were planning to unleash Helter Skelter upon the West Coast and Bryan Adams was standing on yo mommas porch. Yes, it was the Summer of 69. Ahem ahem.

Bored of the Rings is very much an artifact of those ancient days and is as much about the late sixties or early seventies America as it is about The Lord of The Rings. Besides being a parody of Tolkien work, the novel is riddled with puns and references that mean absolutely nothing to a contemporary reader, many of which have sank so far deep into the collective unconscious as to be completely unrecoverable except by all but the most determined delver of cultural detritus. One such unponderable reference,  Garfinckel, an elf, named for a department store chain that went bankrupt in the 1990s. The contemporary publishers conceit of updating the books cover to reflect the visual language of more recent movie adaptations, while keeping the tongue-in-cheek mercantile humour, lose much of the specificity of the text. Other non-movie tie-in covers attempt to position the book as generic comedic fantasy, glossing over the precise context. What the book really needs in 2018 is not an updated cover, but a critical edition with endless footnotes and meandering commentary that firmly establishes the historical context while explaining the referential jokes for the undereducated and elucidating upon the long lasting legacy of the esteemed work.

The Harvard Lampoon was itself an grotesque overblown student magazine reinvented by Doug Kenny and Henry Beard that served as an exclusive, gentrified breeding pit for their peculiar class of  self-indulgent comedian whose natural habitat - the publishing niche that occupies the cocaine filled valley that lays between the great stone Argonath of Hugh Hefner and Alfred E. Neumann - was about to spill out of the gates of Harvard and take their Lampooning to a National stage, as the National Lampoon, then promptly go on Vacation with Chevvy Chase. But while all that was in the far future of 1983, which is now the dim and distant past on 1983, the spectre of fantasy genre parody never quite left the Lampoon frat-house.

Conan the Barbarian - Frazetta
The National Lampoons Vacation - Boris Vallejo

It is at about this point when writing an article, when it is traditional for the Scribes of Zhu go off on a third pointless tangent, weaving the text into a kind of pseudo-intellectual equivalent of a bunch of dozey Boggies poking aimlessly at some suspicious looking mushrooms in their back garden when they said they were going to take the recycling out to bins in the Dark Lands beyond Backdôr. This is usually because the aforementioned scribes have got completely bored with the original subject, but also to pad out the post with as much verbiage as possible in the vain hope that the reader is distracted by the advertisements on the right hand side of the website and decide to buy an Oldhammer T-shirt or maybe some Dungeon Floorplans. And this article will prove, regrettably, no different.

Unfortunately Barbera Remington's paintings for the covers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings gives us the perfect, but also ideal, material for just such a meandering diversion. Having already discussed at inordinate and mind-numbing length the vicereal physical response by the esteemed yet grouchy author of the original book to the artwork, and its profound yet significant influence on the cover of Bored of the Rings  it is perhaps not too far fetched to examine the legacy of this maligned work of genius beyond the confines and out into the wide world beyond the paperbacked borders, and into the nefarious realm of knock-off-publishing and authorised fully-licenced merchandising tie-ins that is Fantasy Gaming.

The Hobbit | Poster via

Lord of the Rings | Jigsaw Puzzle via Two Warps to Neptune
The blotter paper soaked with dramatic blue and magenta splodges of paint expressing a volatile quazi-Hendrixian purple haze, perfectly suited for expressing the contents of what is, effectively, a book about going on a very. long. trip. Remmingtons stylistic flourishes and bold painterly approach continued to have a lingering influence on fantasy art that long outlasted the grumpy outpouring of bitter disdain and reproach from Tolkien. A fact that would have no doubt annoyed him considerably.

War of the Ring | Tim Kirk | FGU | 1977

Tim Kirk's dramatic cover for FGU's WAR OF THE RING is obviously inspired by Remmingtons masterpiece, and skillfully employs the motif of savage Orcs bringing their putrid red stench with them wherever they travel, great steaming clouds of noxious gasses staining the sky and land, laying down some really heavy vibes. The bright clean spring air of the proud upright banners, wholesome trees and noble warriors railed against them. Meanwhile the contrasting FGU logo and the masthead create a yin-yang effect of cosmic balance.

Divine Right | Kenneth Rahman | TSR | 1979
The cover of TSRs tactical wargame Divine Right by Elladan Elrohir aka Kenneth Rahman. Mount doom spewing clotted red clouds into the sky populated by a ghostly wild hunt. The 

 Lord of the Rings | Ralph Bakshi | 1978

But it is Remmingtons rendering of the power of evil to materially distort the doors of perception and stain the world with evil was something Ralph Bakshi had played with while working on Spiderman, where the psychotropic mise-en-scene and no doubt was partly responsible for the lurid evil kaleidoscope in his cinematic adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

Mark Rothko | Untitled 'Orcs in Mordor'  |1961 | via
It's unquestionable that Remmingtons work had significant impact in the genre, but eventually "Tolkien Art" gave way to various forms of naturalism, from the clean bright renderings of the Hildebrandts to the soft, misty drawings of Alan Lee.

Returning to the subject at hand, it is worth noting the Lampoons cover art of Bored of the Rings is an early work by none other than the great Micheal Frith, and it clearly displays the tongue-in-cheek mix of whimsy, subtlety, fantasy and humour that would serve him well as the Creative Director of The Jim Henson Company and as the Concept Artist responsible for the creation of  Muppets such as Scred from Saturday Night Lives Land of Gorch and the frankly maddening and carefree and song-obsessed denizens of Fraggle Rock, who bare more than a little resemblance and maybe owe something of their starey-eyed madcap ways to Bored of the Rings hobbit analogues, the Boggies. In fact it's difficult not to see them as some form of distant yet annoying cousin who only ever phones to borrow money. "In a hole in the ground, there lived a Fraggle."

Look Ma, I caught a Boggie
Micheal Frith with Spam, Frito and Lavalier from the screen adaptation
Concerning Boggies | Micheal Frith | via

Leaving the unspeakably middle double-constonanted family tree of Hobbit, Boggie, Fraggle (and Hoggle from Labyrinth) aside, not to say, chopping the whole thing down for the sake of all our sanities, we return to the cover of The Bored of the Rings. Here we can see Frith was less following in Remmingtons  esteemed footsteps than creeping up behind her with a cudgle, ready to mug every last ounce of artistic license available. Having waded through the groan inducing pun-drenched excuse for a novel, myself it's clear that Frith either, like Remmington before him, just didn't have time, or just couldn't be bothered with it or thought he had a better idea of what should have been going on. And who could blame him? It's hard to know where to begin, except to say that having a cover so profoundly divorced from the narrative contained within could only be part of a studiously wrought meta-parody - perfectly reflecting the Ballantine editions lack of fidelity to the text. Pure coincidence, or rather pure lack of coincidence, could not have missed the mark so astutely.

Starting with the central visual feature of the composition, a dazzling white toothbrush emerging from a river. There is no lady of the lake dismembered arm raising an excalibur-like toothbrush from the waters scene at all. Whatsoever. At all. Unless I missed it, which is entirely possible as I'm not infallible. There are references to tooth-paste, tooth-fairies, and well, just teeth. But no Tooth brush.  If you don't believe me you can go read it yourself, it's like an epic quest, but more pointless "Hunt for the Toothbrush"

C69: Pig-faced Nozdrul on Wild Boar

The Nozdrul - evil servants of Sorhed only dress up in lady pig costumes while they are in disguise in the sordid and provincial village of Whee, but not riding around the country-side on the back of giant pigs, which they do all the time. I suppose this shows Frith had made some acquaintance with the text, but really either didn't care about the basics or couldn't pass up the opportunity to paint a pig riding pig.

The buxom sow-riding pig-woman Nozdrul is a blindingly genius concept of geniusness.  It's hard to overstate the sheer cultural impact and magnitude of this perilous porcine picture. The fearsome yet saucy Nozdrul as buxom pig-lady predates the creation of the fearsome yet glamorous buxom pig-lady Miss Piggy (designed by Bonnie Erickson at the Jim Henson company) by a whole seven years. The Hildebrandt Brothers infamous but debatable Lizard Goblin Pig Orcs by the same seven years and the emergence of the archaic and  Pig-Faced Orcs of Dungeons and Dragons by eight. All in all this may be the first image of an anthropomorphic pig riding a pig in all of humanoid history. Then again, it probably isn't. But it's certainly one that joins the dots between Tolkienesque Fantasy and pig-monsters.

C69: Flying Beasties

I don't recall any giant flying black grinning hippopotamuses, or the Nozdrul  taking winged flight at all, so this seems to be a reference to the original book, or Remmingtons weird crows and sky-leaping horses from the Lord of the Rings cover although the Pegasus-knight does seem to be referencing the Pirated 1965 Ace Paperback cover of The Two Towers. Remmingtons bulbous pink Christmas tree fruit also make an appearance, like a sinister art nouveaux streetlamp triffiding its way onto the page and demarcating the territory for the twisted gods of parody, even if they do not appear in the book.

Frito | Goodgulf | Nudie-elf | Arrowroot
Mounted. on Sheep.
There is something in the round-eyed stare of Frito the hobbit reminds one of the manic stare of Gobo Fraggle, an unfortunate family resemblance that suggests dubious parentage we've already dwelled on for too long, and is probably best to gloss over at this juncture. Needless to say, this is not how Frito crosses any river in the book.

The general air of wanton smuttyness returns with the rather pink elf-lady riding a sheep. No saucy elf lady rides a sheep in Bored of the Rings. There is a saucy elf lady who tries to seduce Frito into giving her his ring, but that episode itself is presented as a quote from the main story, and doesn't appear in the main story. And there aren't any sheep involved in that bit, fortunately.

Next we have the Wizard Goodgulf. Shades and a dark green speedway-rider motorcycle helmet. Perhaps coincidentally ZZ-Top formed in 1969 the fated year that Bored of the Rings was published, releasing their first sub-Led-Zepplin single - Salt Lick, but wouldn't don the sunglasses and extreme beard image they would become famous for until the late 1970s. Perhaps Goodgulfs transformation from discredited rosicrucian to southern blues-rock fashion icon was his greatest feat of magic.

Arrowroot Son of Arrowshirt a somewhat ghostly pale-faced impersonation of The Lone Ranger. in his cowboy hat and fringed jacket, a gag that draws Aragorn, and Lower Middle Earth with it into a certain frontier Americana.

Finally, we see one of Tolkiens hated emus, dead at the bottom. Possibly strangled by a hookah pipe, in the library by Colonel Custard.  The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien  were not published until 1981, some 11 years after Bored of the Rings, so it is doubtful that Frith got wind of Tolkiens dislike of the beast and symbolically slaughtered the bird on Tolkiens behalf. As far as I know Tolkien never read Bored of the Rings, nor passed any comment upon it, but I can't help thinking he'd have been mildly gratified by the murder of this irksome antipodean intruder, if quite outraged yet incensed by the rest of it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Furui Hanmā: A Journey to the East. Part Two: The Men of the Orient

This is the second stage of our Journey into the East - looking at the visual and sculptural elements of the Orient in Warhammer. Inspired to finish this write up by the announcement that Dave Morris and Jaime Thompsons Tetsubo - an unpublished draft of an Oriental supplement for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is being resurrected by Daniel Fox's for his  Zweihander RPG.

 The original intent for Furui Hanmā II was to cover all the Orient, Nippon and Cathay material produced for Warhammer in 1984, however there is really too much material to do any kind of justice to in just one blogpost, so this has once again been split into future posts. I also made a quick banner for these posts, based on the Oriental Heroes logo (which we'll get to eventually) and featuring Two Dragons in Clouds by Kanō Hōgai...

Furui Hanma Banner
The story so far: Furui Hanmā: A Journey to the East. Part One covering the Citadel miniatures and Warhammer material produced between 1982-83, where Oriental and Occidental fantasy tropes rub shoulders in a funky fresh East-West fusion.

Now read on...

The Men of the Orient 

While a couple of Samurai  do appear in Warhammer 1st Edition Tabletop Battles book in artwork taken from an earlier flyer they not given any separate rules game-wise from any other kind of human in armour with a sword, they are fairly generic warriors, in eastern garb, fighting Orcs, which by the 1980s had become a generic western fantasy genre trope of evil.

All that changes with the publication of the Forces of Fantasy supplement. The East-meets-West approach is abandoned and instead the fantasy humans based on different historical cultures are split up and  given their own distinct geographical settings to exist within, and given statistics, profiles and special rules to differentiate them. Forces of Fantasy makes the Samurai statistically the best fighters and archers, outclassing any other humanoid troop type in the game. Alongside the superior Samurai, there are the more mundane Ashigaru or foot soldiers.

Men of the Orient

Hieta Noh mask.

The illustration accompanying the army list (I think by John Blanche, although clearly the style is different to his other work, perhaps intentionally to reflect the oriental feel) resembles the Noh mask called Heita.

Noh masks are found in traditional Japanese theatre, each mask expressing a specific character type that appears across multiple plays in the Noh genre, rather than a single specific character. The Heita mask represents the idea of a mature, heroic, victorious warrior. His bushy eyebrows and ruddy complexion due to the time spent on the battlefield, rather than plucking his brows. Noh masks are extremely influential in Japanese character design beyond the theater, in comics and videogames, from Wario to Ogami Ittō, providing a shared language of short-cuts that define characters that can be overlooked by western audiences. The choice here, in using Hieta to depict Oriental warriors is completely accurate and culturally appropriate and goes some way towards integrating Japanese cultural ideas and visual language, into Warhammer rather than simply providing an image of a western ideal of the pseudo-medieval oriental warrior.

As well as the standard warrior-types, there are several specialist troops. The Kamikazee are obviously named after the suicide bombers of World War Two, and play as suicidal shock troops. These have nothing to do with the 16th century Japan that the Samurai are based on, and have no medieval historical origins. The Kamikazee are as clear an indication as any that the Men of the Orient are grounded in contemporary notions of the Oriental warrior, rather than an attempt to create a strictly historical fantasy.

Forces of Fantasy also introduces Vim-to Monks.  For those readers who may be unfamiliar with British soft drinks that are extraordinarily popular in Arabian countries during Ramadan, Vimto is a mixed fruit flavoured beverage, sold as both a syrup and a carbonated drink. They do sweets as well. I assume "Vimto", being born in Manchester in 1908 and not having any particular relation to the far-east, or kung-fu, seems to have been chosen purely as a pun on "Shinto", the traditional religion of Japan.

This crude punning is somewhat essential to the early Warhammer experience, running throughout the names of Slann, Ogres, Halflings, and other humans, but is also displays a somewhat disrespectful  attitude towards what is an important religion.
C05 Specialists | Martial Arts Monks

Fizzy-drinks based puns aside, the description of Vim-to Monks given in Forces of Fantasy describes them as unarmed, unarmored, or with sword, bo-staff or nagitana, so only cover the C05 Martial Arts Monks miniatures that are derived from the Chinese Shaolin school of kung-fu, wearing tunics and trousers, and not the ones based on the Sōhei Buddhist warrior monks of Japan, who are hooded, armoured and carry polearms.

While Shaolin can be found in Japan - it crossed the sea from China to Japan in the 18th Century, like the Kamikazee this is quite a distance from the 16th Century Momoyama period of the Samurai and Ashigaru. As well as contracting historical periods, the Men of The Orient also collapses geography, combining both Japanese and Chinese forms,  a vague concept of The East which blending, or ignoring, of the differences between Oriental cultures and history, strongly shaped by a Western lens rather than any attempt to create any kind authentic Eastern voice or a historically accurate basis from which to build the fantasy.

While defining troop types, Forces of Fantasy also gives us a brief guide to the iconography of The Men of the Orient as might be found on their banners and other regalia. Alongside the mitsudomoe shinto symbol for Hachiman - the god of war and archery - and the Heita Noh mask, both of which go along way to showing that whilst wildly historically innacurate thought out and researched the iconography of the Men of the Orient is. One of the symbols in particular stands out - a rendition of the traditional Japanese manji 卍.

Yurr dere's a swass sticker top left.
The manji can be drawn in either direction, turning to the left, or turning to the right, the manji in a Japanese context relates strongly to Buddhism, is used to mark temples on map, and seems to mean something like 'good luck' or 'positive vibes' and usually goes to the left. 

Japanese Manji
The symbol appears twice, both in the army list iconography and in the depiction of two oriental warriors.
Samurai Rising Sun and Mount Fuji motifs | John Blanche | Forces of Fantasy 

However, instead of the usual Japanese left-wards manji, Warhammer presents us with the right-wards turning version.

Of course, the symbol is more familiar to western audiences as the one appropriated by the Nazis from the Hindu to propagate the idea of Aryan racial supremacy, and is probably one of the most recognisable and reviled visual symbols in modern European history. There is no necessity for the use of the Swastika in Warhammer. It could easily have been avoided in favour of more obviously Eastern symbols like the yin-yang or any number of Japanese family crests (or mon), but given that it appears twice, and the Noh Mask and mitsudomoe it's hard to see this as a mere accident or casual historical reference.

various mon or family crests.

There are number of possible readings of the Warhammer Oriental Swastika, none of which are exclusive to the others.

The Warhammer Oriental Swastika, could be a reclaiming of the Swastika symbol as a Manji or Kamon - the symbol is being deliberately re-aligned away from its association with Nazism and Aryanism, and placed into an previous historical context as an act of semiotic disarmament, robbing the symbol of it's specific power in singular political context, a form of genericide, where a symbol is shown to be so generic that any claims for specific use become ludicrous, and any flag-worshipping power it might have for those gathered under the banner diminished.  There have been periodic attempts at reclaiming the swastika over the years and are generally frowned upon as being 'epic fails' or worse, attempting to normalise the agenda has come to symbolise. The symbol itself has no intrinsic value, it's just some geometry, it is purely the narratives that surround it and its repeated use within specific contexts that form meanings, and while signifiers do shift, escaping the weight of history is not something that happens easily.

Then there is a  'punk' repurposing of the Swastika as pure agitprop (in a literal sense of 'agitating propaganda') the symbol only used in it's intent to shock and offend, as instigated by the prime punk provocateur, incidently of Jewish decent - Malcom McLaren, and carried out by future Queen of the Goths and Bromley Contigent superstar Siouxie Sioux.

Siouxie Sioux 1976 | Caroline Coons |via
While the adoption of the swastika by punks may have only been to upset and annoy the previous generation, it was swiftly taken up by far-right youth as an endorsement, with the all too predictable confusion and violence ensuing as the cultures clashed in the gig venues, dancehalls and streets of the late 1970s.

Notably Siouxie herself is no stranger to Orientalism, with the lyrics of The Banshees debut single, Hong Kong Garden, released in 1978 ostensibly being inspired by her local Chinese staff takeaway being abused by gangs of neo-nazi skinheads. The song is by no means unproblematical lyrically, celebration and condemnation ring out alongside crude stereotypes and witty rhymes in something of a stream of consciousness embracing all things Chinese, and there are later forays into 80s Japanomania.

Siouxie 1982 | Sheila Rock | The Face |

Siouxie Sioux Hannya Noh Mask / Onibaba T-shirt | Rabatu Smitu | 1982?

Similarly we could look to David Bowies Thin White Duke persona flirting with fascistic imagery and Orientalism:
Visions of swastikas in my head,
Plans for everyone
It's in the whites of my eyes,
My little China girl 
David Bowie - China Girl 1983
Oldhammerists often talk about the influences of 80s popular culture on Warhammer in a vague way, as if the statement itself provides validation of some innate quality, or that locating something in time explains it. In Warhammers appropriation of the Swastika / manji in a Japanese context as the Warhammer Oriental Swastika, clear parallels can be drawn with sifting of post-war cultural detritus and ambiguous play as performed by eclectic post-punk magpies Siouxie and Bowie.  Whether Bowie or Siouxies entanglement of the orient and fascism directly inspired Blanch or Priestly or Halliwell, or not, they are part of a broader cultural milieu superficially adopting the appearance of the rejected (fascistic) and exotic (oriental) as a performative, creative strategy, pushing against and challenging the mainstream consensus culture.

The Tale of Sanyo Kawasaki | Book of Batallions

The Warhammer Oriental Swastika can be read as a reference to the Japanese role as one of the Axis powers allied to the Nazis in WW2, as a kind of 'honorary aryan' proxy-nazi. We already have the Kamikaze which establishes Warhammers Men of the Orient as being based on as much post-war stereotypes of Oriental as medieval stereotypes, and this is a further continuation of a post-war influenced theme, rather than a pseudo-medieval one. Then The Book of Batallions which appears in Forces of Fantasy describes Sanyo Kawasaki (named after a well known Japanese electronics and motorcycle company, respectively) - who feels his government is 'weak and liberal' and besieges their capital city for not sinking a 'foreign' ship on sight, a cartoon of a strident insular ultra-fascist, who is ultimately made ridiculous by committing ritual suicide by standing upside down in a bucket of cold water.  The combination of anti-liberalism and violent xenophobia with the Swastika leaves very little room for doubt of what ideology is being pointed at in the character of Sanyo Kawasaki.

Samurai | Sanyo Kawasaki (?) | Forces of Fantasy

There is some irony in this as it takes what is essentially an occidental movement, bundled up with ideas of the racial superiority of Western Europeans and projects it onto a foreign, exotic culture, while swastika waving Nazis themselves were more than happy to use the kinds of romanticised Medieval imagery that Warhammer would produce for the Men of the North and Men of the West to promote their aims. On one level it can be read as a form of psychological splitting - the externalisation of unwanted or negative traits that can't be admitted to or integrated  and the subsequent psychological projection of those traits on to a foreign or distant Other. Rather than accept and deal with (one way or another) the complex relationships between the fantasy of medieval Europe and fascism they remain hidden, or sublimated, and instead Warhammer renders it 'elsewhere'.

While it should be noted the Tale of Sanyo Kawasaki only describes one clan, or one faction, by no means are all Men of the Orient, nor even the dominant clans, portrayed as fascistic this certainly wouldn't be the last time Warhammer attempted a cartoon of fascism.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

[RBG] Warbands of Wrath and Ruin

Mighty-thewed Barbarian miniatures emerging from the mists of prehistory to raid and pillage under the auspices of Dark Gods.

Warbands of Wrath & Ruin | Campaign Banner

Barbarian Slave Fighters


Untill now RBG miniatures have been largely 'northern' in inspiration, weaving Nordic and Arthurian influences into a frostbitten Dark Ages milieu.

With Warbands of Wrath and Ruin, RBG steps into a new direction.  The primeval dawn of time, before the sinking of Atlantis to a world of ruined empires, a world of gods and magic, of flesh and bronze a world or barbaric heroism.

For me it evokes the imagery and worlds of 1970s pulp fantasy fiction Robert E. Howards Conan the Barbarian, Richard Corbens Den,  John Normans Gor, Boris Vallejo, Chris Achilleos, Frank Frazetta, Brom,

Sandro Symeoni

Boris Vallejo

Val Mayerik
Joe Jusco
Les Edwards

A gaming world and rules set is under development, in the meanwhile the figures have obvious use for skirmish warbands in Songs of Blades and Heroes, Warhammer (Chaos Thugs) or barbarian themed Frostgrave warband. Bronze Age / Barbarian adventurers or NPC encounters for pulp, Swords and Sorcery remixes of contemporary Dungeons & Dragons or even  Age of Sigmar, and excellent character or encounter pieces for the various Conan RPGs (from TSR to Mophidius) and the ever burgeoning range of classic swords and sorcery inpired games, Astonishing swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Crypts & Things, Barbarians of Lemuria or Adventurer, Conqueror, King

Warbands of Wrath & Ruin on Kickstarter: (updated and relaunched campaign)

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Renegade Scout - Review

Renegade Scout - Retro-inspired Sci-fi Miniatures Rules is a 179 page e-book (pdf) published in August 2018, by Nordic Weasel Games and written by Ivan Sorrensen, containing 50 colour photographs of various science-fiction miniatures and some scratch-built scenery.

Renegade Scout. Front Cover

"Retro-inspired Sci-fi Miniatures Rules" hmm? sounds interesting...

Ivan is quite open about his inspirations and sources - the original 1987 Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader and 40k 2nd edition, his introduction even goes as far as to suggest a musical play-list including Slough Feg, Bolt Thrower and The Sword, all hopefully familiar territory to long time followers of this blog, and firmly in the centre of my gaming obsessions. It has to be said, rewriting the ruleset that built a gaming empire is a brave move, not only taking on Rick Priestly's 1980s design decisions, many of which lasted through 30 odd years of tinkering by inheritors, but also the legions of grongnards who appreciate the original game like a vintage motorcycle.

My original falling apart Rogue Trader
Like a vintage motorcycle, spends most of its time in the garage.

Renegade Scout is touted on it's OBS page as a retroclone. To me, the word 'retroclone' has a very specific meaning, in that the game mechanically reproduces or 'clones' the original, as near exactly as legally possible. So OSRIC is without a doubt a retroclone of the 1978 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, while Lamentations of the Flame Princess - based on 1974 'oD&D' and somewhat compatible is not a retroclone of it, but instead takes some of the core ideas and takes them into a new direction. Renegade Scout is an example of the latter rather than former.

If you're looking for a retroclone of Rogue Trader to use at the table as a straight alternative to your original hardback that fell apart because the binding was iffy, or to compile the various additional rules from White Dwarf - Renegade Scout is not intended to fill that role. Most notable deviations the core combat mechanics have been overhauled, the To-Hit and To-Wound tables have been replaced with a roll-under stat mechanism, much like contemporary 40k, which  Renegade Scout then uses as a universal mechanism for action resolution.   The turn order is different, with the players taking turns within each phase (movement, shooting, combat etc.), rather than completing all their phases before play passes to the other player. As Ivan states in his designers notes, having produced a reasonably accurate retroclone as a draft, he then took it into a new, simpler and more streamlined direction. Whether the ideals of simpler and more streamlined can produce an authentically old-school experience is very much a matter of taste, nontheless, much of the attitude and game style of the original Rogue Trader remains - the open universe, narrative gaming and providing a large toolbox of ideas to play with.

The whole thing is written in a clear, friendly, personable style, not a dry rules-lawyereese nor the incessant sales-pitch nor constant self aggrandisement that plagues many genre games. The attitude is  both casual and enthusiastic, but doesn't intrude on the clarity of the rules. Although the PDF has not been professionally designed, the page layout is very clear and functional, not suffering from paragraphs breaking over pages or many of the typographical and layout problems we see in small press games. While there are no diagrams, the explanations are clear, but for primarily visual learners this might be something of a drawback.

There is much that will be familiar to the 40k Grognard and appeal to those looking for something similar, in function, playstyle and attitude, yet different and not explicitly tied down to the extremely narrow narrative tones of 40k setting such as the recent 40K:Kill Team or Necromunda. The profiles, with renamed statistics are very much the same as Rogue Trader / Warhammer 2nd - keeping the Leadership, Cool, Intelligence, Willpower - and expanding on their use to make them more . There are familiar equipment lists and several archetypal species statlines - these are given within the lightweight "Unified Space" setting, which like the original Rogue Trader is pretty much a hodge-podge of sci-fi sources designed to enable you to tell your own stories, and easily convert from one fictional universe to another as you'd expect from a generic game.

It's easy to recognise what the Unified Space the creatures might represent from other universes - alongside both stalwart and scummy  humans there are even Necron and Tau types for those interested. So you can easily stat-up pretty much any model you have or want to make by deciding what kind of creature is closest to it, and selecting the kind of weapons it is armed with and keeping this all consistent. Renegade Scout suggests estimating force strength and judging whether the forces appear fair. There is a similarly a relaxed attitude to creature creation, where just tweak one of the example profiles to make a different creature. As someone who advocates for well thought out and predictive points systems in wargaming, I find this is a bit of a shame, but I appreciate such interests are extremely niche.

Renegade Scout Infiltration Games

The 170-odd pages of rules cover an awful lot, there several specialist troop types, Jump Troops, Fire Teams, Swarms, Cavalry, off-table heavy support weapons. There are dangerous and deadly Terrain tyes and various Flora and Fauna, some of which will be familiar to Rogue Trader players, and others adding new twists. There is a Psionic / Magic phase and attendant powers (graded in 4 levels) rather nicely titled Wyrd, with a fun critical failure table and a serviceable list of powers (from psionic blasts, to healing). While the focus of the game is small squad and character actions, there are some lightweight vehicles rules - much simpler than those presented in Rogue Trader, you won't need to work out acceleation, deceleration speeds and turning circles. This might lack the crunch for a dedicated heavy armour game, but again has an entertaining critical failure table to ensure the pushes the story forwards.

By far the biggest highlight for me is the 'Problem Solving' section, here Profile characteristics used to determine outcomes - so if you want to break down a door, roll under Strength, if you want to pick the lock, roll under Intellect, use modifiers if the problem is more or less difficult. This kind of streamlining, rather than tagging on a slew of special skills, rules and keywords to model actions is an elegant solution. Renegade Scout goes on to provide a number of useful examples, like using stolen communications equipment and barricading doors that not only illustrate the rules system but help provoke narrative scenarios and inspire the kind of games that the 'there is only war' crowd don't. It's a lightweight flexible framework that successfully expands the core engine beyond just shooting and punching stuff, towards more action, adventure and discovery without bogging the rules down or overcomplicating the game, and easily lends itself to improvisation.

Renegade Scout also has guidelines and advice on writing and running different kinds of scenarios and campaign games, as well as optional, advanced rules, many of which belie more of a nu-school game design philosophy, taking some of the better innovations of more recent game design and adding them to the core.  There is a skills system based on special rules to supplement the statline tests and provide further diversity of character and troop types,  and a Decision Point system that can be spent to invoke special rules and abilities, much like how Command Points and Stratagems/Tactics work in 40k 8th Edition/Killteam, where a certain number of points are generated each turn and these can be spent on activating special rules. These are flagged as optional but well worth playing with - Renegade Scouts modular approach encouraging experimentation and rules tinkering.

Renegade Scout: aliens on the battlefield

My biggest gripe, actually has very little to do with the game itself - unfortunately the miniature photography doesn't credit the manufacturers of the models, or note what ranges they are from, or who painted them.   On the one hand it is refreshing to read a sci-fi miniatures ruleset that doesn't exist primarily as a sales catalogue, on the other hand, there are some quite cool aliens I wouldn't mind seeing more of. Speaking of models, there is, in grand old Rogue Trader tradition, a modelling and painting section, with some solid advice on getting half decent looking terrain and models on the table quickly so you can get on with playing a game, rather than posting 4K Ultra HD tilt-shift digital photographs on Instagram and dreaming of winning Golden Demon competitions.
If you're hankering after a version of Rogue Trader that gives you narrative skirmish gaming, but with considerably little less 'clunk' in the form of table referencing and taking a steer from modern trends in tabletop gaming. Or if you're new to tabletop miniatures gaming, and perhaps not convincefd of the "there is only war" (i.e. there is only 'combat') schtick or want something more generic and not explicitly tied to one specific science-fiction universe, with a little more RPG-focus that encourages you to tinker with the rules a bit, and not treat them like the holy gospel, then Renegade Scout might just fit the bill.

Renegade Scout is available from Wargames Vault, priced $19.99 / £15.54

Friday, 17 August 2018

Hordes of the Auld World

A look at the graphics supporting Red Box Games Hordes of the Auld World Kickstarter Campaign, which s aims to get a range of 28mm Modular Orc and Goblin miniatures produced in high quality plastic.

Main Header

Main Kickstarter Banner
Red Box Games Orcs and Goblins are a crude, barbarian, primitive animalistic peoples, not really given to the arts beyond exercising raw physical violence against their foes.  With multiple and modular models on offer, showcasing just one or two to make a bold, dramatic image misses out on the full range, while trying to cram in every variation visual.  Instead the banner loudly shouts 'evil monster!', let's you know it's miniatures, then rewards curiosity with the full product unveiling down the page. 

 "The Face of the Orc God" motif, developed as a stylised cave painting based on angular geometrical forms and rough edges, combining orc, skull, beard, tusk-fang and horn elements to express the primitive attributes that the Orcs might worship.  The kind of symbol that might appear daubed and scratched on an Orcish menhir in the blood of their slain enemies, or painted and scraped in clay and woad by Goblin Shaman on their crudely constructed shields.

Box Set Graphics

These are designed to give an 'at a glance' overview of what you get for each pledge-level.  The silhouette being drawn from the original metal miniatures that the plastic versions will be based on. 

The "Face of the Orc God" motif appears as a watermark on the box set graphics to reinforce the campaign identity long with the Red Box Games logo. 


By now it has become customary for Red Box Games Kickstarters to include a T-Shirt of the main campaign graphic. In this case, the Face of the Orc God . Again the graphic serves is to express the idea, rather than try to visualise the final product which will be produced when the Kickstarter ends.


A number of subheadings, featuring motifs that keep the same graphic language as The Face of the Orc God, perhaps demarcating different Orcish tribes. The two below inspired by the Red Eye and White Hand of the Orcs of Mordor and Isengard from J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of The Rings, tying them into the literary origins of the Orc species.

Production - the Orcish Eye

Add Ons - The Orcishhand

Red Box Games Hordes of the Auld World runs on Kickstarter until 2nd September 2018.