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.
Arthur Scargil - Leader of the National Union of Mineworkers
Arka Zargul - Miners Leader

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 - a rather toothless, throwaway and uncritical pun) 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 turned it's own obsidian warpstone mirror of Warhammer away from the world of picket lines and Militant tendency, to a world of Cold War paranoia, of insidious influence, conspiracy theory and corruption.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Oceans & Ogres

Octonauts to your stations!
Octonauts explore the Great Big Ocean by MEOMI.

Professor Inkiling (aged, wise old Octopus) playing what is obviously an Old School retro-clone called "Oceans & Ogres" with the Vegemals, miniatures, modules, octocups, polyhedral dice. Awesome! Of course they went for the classic TSR look, non of this modern D&DNextwhenever mumbo jumbo for Prof. Inkling, just pure old school goodness.

I don't usually talk about personal life on this blog, and it's kind of pseudonymous and I like that. Anyway, my kids really love the Octonauts, and I'm a fan too. It's a great pre-school TV programme that educates without being preachy and has lots of adventure and excitement and fun stuff. It's a bit like Star Trek - the central cast of Medic, Captain and erm, Pirate, go off exploring and every episode we get to learn about a different sea creature, and I'm a fan of the design - cute big-headed chibi characters but with a slight Cartoon Modern twist.

Anyway I was reading MEOMIs latest adventure The Octonauts Explore The Great Big Ocean under the covers (it's got glow in the dark pages) and noticed the D&D reference above and thought I'd share.

Random Encounter Table
The books are generally slightly more fantastical than the TV Series - which is much more rooted in science and reality - yes sea-creatures talk but they don't wear awesome viking hats. I'd love to see MEOMI do a rules lite RPG, stat up all the sea-creatures with their unique fantasy twist, the Creature Catalogue would be a wonder to behold, one can but dream...