Friday, 24 May 2019

An Interview with Gav Thorpe

Last year I had the good fortune to interview the one and only Gav Thorpe. A legend within Games Workshop and wider gaming circles. It was originally published on Table-Top Test and now re-posted here.


Gav Thorpe







What has been the most rewarding part of building such strong foundations for the stories and games we currently enjoy through Games Workshop?


I think it is that idea of legacy. Aside from taking satisfaction from individual bits of background I created or expanded, there’s a sense of being part of this ongoing venture. These days a lot of folks coming into the hobby will only know me as a Black Library author, but when they talk about some cool piece of lore I helped develop, or build an army based on something I’ve written, it’s nice to know that those ideas are still inspiring fans the way I was inspired by what came before (and what’s still being written).
And then you get something like the Ynnari, where an idea that was almost throwaway at the time gets picked up by the writers and turned into this whole big thing! Back in the mists of time, it was things like the ‘quiescent perils of the C’tan’ mentioned in the Codex Imperialis book that inspired the team to develop a huge chunk of history and a new race; it’s gratifying to think that my words continue to do the same to for the current crop of writers and developers.

You are well known for a commitment to representing all fans. Have you faced any barriers or opposition when dusting the narrative cobwebs from the Black Library shelves?


I don’t think there’s opposition from within GW itself, but there are barriers when trying to evolve ideas that have been three decades in the making. Given a blank sheet, ideas about trans-humanism could be explored very differently, form Space Marines to the Adeptus Mechanicus to portrayal of gender and body modification in the Aeldari. There’s not so much an overt barrier to overcome, simple the same weight of legacy I mentioned in the first answer.

How do you personally approach the concept of ‘canon’ and narrative consistency in Games Workshop literature and games?


There is no canon. The closest to such a thing is the latest iteration of codexes, rule books and battle tomes. These contained established ‘facts’ about the universes and their history. Facts that are true at that moment, but possibly weren’t before or will be after. I tend towards the expansive, inclusive approach in which something remains true in the universe until explicitly contradicted or ruled out. Something referenced in a battle report piece of colour text back in White Dwarf 231? Yep, that’s true to a given value of truth even now. But there’s been so much written over that time we cannot expect anyone to be entirely consistent with every line of text ever written.
When I was writing the Legacy of Caliban series, and Christian Dunn was also working on Dark Angels, we tried to compile a list of current company commanders. That was okay. But then once we started looking into what had been said about when Azreal took over as Chapter Master, or the histories of other characters, anomalies appeared. Did we go with what was in his codex description, or Forge World’s Siege of Vraks material? In those instances it goes back to whether it’s a codex or not, and how recent was it written.
And personal preference… Everyone had an ideas of how certain things should or shouldn’t work. There’s bits of background that we gloss over because they would ruin a story, or don’t gel with our personal view. And that’s fine. Other than some current ‘facts’ the universes are defined by individual interpretation. Some of us are privileged enough that we get to write stories and books, but if we considered them definitive in any way we’d paint ourselves into a corner pretty quickly. Guy Haley’s recently written books about the Blood Angels and the Tyranids, so does that rule out anyone ever writing about or collecting Blood Angels in the Dark Imperium timeline that doesn’t adhere exactly to what he’s written? Of course not. There has to be room for players and writers and painters and modelers to create what they want, without constantly looking over their shoulders or second-guessing what might come in the future.
If nothing else, the sheet output of material these days makes the idea of anything but a loose framework of facts unmanageable – much like the Imperium itself!

Both Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar have undergone some profound changes in recent years. If you could make one significant addition to either game right now, what would it be?


I’m not really concerned with additions – that’s like the world-building thing I’ve just been talking about. I like exploring themes within the context of the universes, which comes down to creating characters and story lines that enable that.
Although, thinking about it, between my Phoenix Lords novels and where I’m going with Rise of the Ynnari, I am using the fiction to flesh out the events of the Fall and the War in Heaven. As an Eldar fan that’s immensely satisfying.

What advice would you give to upcoming writers looking to add their exciting ideas to the Warhammer 40,000 or Age of Sigmar worlds?


Concentrate on the story first. I get some folks that talk about how they want to delve into this obscure piece of background, or write about a character that they feel hasn’t got enough attention from twenty years ago. That’s cool, but that seems to me more like an exercise in world building rather than storytelling. If that’s your thing, keep an eye out for openings in the GW narrative team, not BL submissions windows!
As much as it appeals on personal level to flesh out this piece of universe for yourself, what really stands the test of time is a good story. That has to be point A and B and C, and if you can do it whilst creating your own Chapter of Space Marines, or delving into some obscure timeline reference about the Halo Star, or re-imagining the adventures of Obi-Wan Sherlock Clouseau then go for it.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Plunderbolt - Making a Thunderbolt fighter

Since the launch of Forgeworld I have longed to own the amazing Imperial Navy aircraft they produce. Whilst entirely reasonable for huge chunks of resin; the prices have always been beyond my means. Fortunately I had some generous relatives and purchased a Valkyrie kit for my birthday.

Fuselage


This was the make or break stage for the whole model. Get the proportions wrong here and the end result could be disastrous. There was a lot of seconding guessing myself and balancing components precariously. Eventually a solution presented itself.




The twin tails of the Valkyrie formed the sides with the top of the Valkyrie becoming the top rear of the fuselage. The inserts that would have attached to the inside edges of the tails became the bottom sections of the rear fuselage.




At this point the fuselage had taken on a beautiful taper. I also had a straight line running the length of the model from which to build put from. Brilliant. All that was left for this phase of the build was adding a plasticard strip to the bottom of the structure.




Wings


The Valkyrie provides a sturdy pair of wings and jet engines. To begin I attached the engines to the wings. The engines are tapered on one side due to how they sit on the parent kit; it was crucial at this point to fix the wings on the centre line and not be distracted by the flat surface. As the front of the Plunderbolt will be heavily built up I elected to have the detail side of the jets downwards where they could be admired.




As to the positioning of the wings I played around until the proportions looked right. As there wasn't a specific plan here you could say I was... winging it.

Nose


I had intended to save time by adjusting the front of the tail sections. After a few failed attempts I figured it was best to put in the work and do the job properly. Quick application of a hobby saw removed the front from which I took measurements to guide the drafting process.




I'd love to say the drafting process was all my own work. It was based heavily on the designs in a papercraft Thunderbolt pattern I had studied beforehand.




At this stage I neglected to fill the gap in the turbine casing. An oversight I came to regret later.

Engine Casing


To get the iconic look of the Thunderbolt I needed to build up from this base. No point going with sleek and speedy when you can make it a celebration of Brutalist principles. 
This process required several different layers, each building on the previous and tapering up over the fuselage. Key features of the design include the chunky cabling over each engine and the vents either side of the cockpit.




The Plunderbolt started to look really nice as the engine casing took shape. Due to slight variations it was necessary to tailor each side rather than making one template for both. On some models this isn't an issue but I wanted smooth transitions between sections. It was worth the extra effort. The image above shows the gaps in the turbine casing I had neglected to cover and still hadn't noticed at this stage.

Fuselage revisited


It was time to taper. A fine balance between raising the height of the fuselage to fit the iconic cabling each side... and not completely obscuring the pilot's forward view. I made a habit of placing the canopy on the cockpit regularly to get a feel for the overall proportions.



Greebling


My golden rule for terrain making is 'texture, texture, texture'. When making a model like this we need a fancier term: Greeble. Essentially sticking stuff on a boring shape to make it look cooler.
The key additions were the forward guns, side vents, cabling, a few rivets and probably 100 indents on the panels to match the fixings on the wings. I also took the time to fill a few gaps and cover a few mistakes with milliput.




What next?


Like an Ikea cabinet I was left with a few spare bits and bobs once the build was finished. Largest being a troop hold. Pulling out the blue stuff I took a quick mould of the turbines and set to work...




What could I be up to? None other than that lifty boi the Arvus Lighter... or in this case the 'Cheapass Lighter.'




Stay tuned for updates.







Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Yes, it does happen

I guess this relates to my previous post. I will get back to hobby content but this is important. 

It does happen


If you haven't seen inappropriate behaviour in Games Workshop stores, gaming stores or conventions that doesn't mean it never happens. It does happen.

It happened today


I was in a Warhammer store in London. Not my local which is a lovely place. There I was happily browsing whilst some kids were playing a game and some guys were painting. 

One of the grown men at the painting table makes a joke about girlfriends and wives. The other guys (including a staff member) laugh and don't challenge this behaviour.

NOT ON MY WATCH


I turned slowly around. Looked him in the face. Then asked 'Could you be any more misogynistic '

He apologised immediately and looked sheepish. I carried on browsing and the store was silent until I went to make my purchase. 

The bar to making sure women don't feel unwelcome was so fukken low. This guy still failed to clear it. Keeping that kind of joke to your private spaces is trivial. 

It happens 


If you don't take my word for it then you are part of the problem. If you don't see anything wrong in his comments you are part of the problem. If you would have laughed along or left his comments unchallenged you are part of the problem. Fix the problem. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Last stand of the Old Guard



The Trouble with Grognards


We owe a huge amount to the pioneers of our hobby. Unfortunately our heroes aren't perfect. Society has progressed overall, yet there are still many battles to be won, especially in arenas straight white men have historically held dominance.
Games Workshop has taken huge steps to increase representation in the last few years. This is somewhat unique in the industry as a whole but we are gaining ground in the fight for hobby equality. I still have trouble with some traders ignoring me entirely at conventions whilst happily engaging any nearby man. Suffice to say my money doesn't go to those companies.


A Legacy of Ignorance



Veterans of Games Workshop have gone on to accomplish some amazing things. Perry Miniatures produces excellent historical figures, Warlord has dominated 28mm Historical gaming and Mantic has an amazing catalogue for fantasy fans.
Being well known and successful veterans does not mean a diverse and representative team. Having good intentions doesn't mean a largely male, pale and stale design team will make the best decisions.

Warlord is pretty bad in this respect. The Black Powder rulebook is full of uncontested, jovial references to British Imperialism sometimes straying into overt racism. Bolt Action has the tendency to gloss over some aspects of WW2 when marketing their model range. The reported unwillingness of senior staff to acknowledge these issues is disappointing.

Perhaps the worst example was found in promotional material for the 'Shield Wall' expansion to 'Hail Ceaser'. Rulebooks and new releases are usually accompanied by a promotional miniature or diorama. In this case a Viking theme was chosen as shown below...



Yeah. The promotional model for 'Shield Wall' was a sexual assault joke. Attitudes towards non-male wargamers are already hostile or dismissive. Industry leaders depicting women as commodities is both irresponsible and breathtakingly ignorant.

Warlord did respond positively to complaints about this model. It was withdrawn and a new promotional model released. It seems the message sunk in and they have been improving their attitude since.



Fighting for our Fantasy






Ian Livingstone is a legend in the gaming industry. His influence on the games we enjoy today is undeniable. It is no surprise that he can be found at events, conventions and seminars sharing his wisdom and experience. Unfortunately this experience is of a limited perspective.

Attendees at a recent event reported the following observations from an Ian Livingstone lecture...

'Just seen Ian Livingstone stand in front of a room full of early-career gamedevs & deny that gaming has a reputation for toxicity, blame "the media" for that reputation and say in 40 years he's never heard of any sexual harassment cases.'

'He backtracked a minute later. Identifying it as a larger problem not specific to the games industry.'


'His slides included both lip service to "We should hire more women" and a photo of him leching at a model dressed as Lara Croft with the slogan "It's a Tough Job!"


'...and a photo of Miss Wisconsin 1980 for literally no reason'


This is someone respected in the industry. This is someone who has shaped the games we have today. This is someone serving as inspiration and guide to new talent. This is someone reinforcing the sexist and ignorant attitudes that plague the hobby without robust challenge.

We owe a great deal to the Old Guard but they need to open up to the experiences of a more diverse audience or fuck the fuck off.








Saturday, 30 March 2019

Slaanesh returns



Slaanesh has returned. Since Age of Sigmar launched fans have been asking where to find the Prince of Pleasure and her followers. Rumours spread that he had been erased from the setting and replaced in the Chaos pantheon with that horned prat.
Fast forward to the Daughters of Khaine army book and she once again featured in the narrative. The General's Handbook also introduced three distinct types of follower (Invader, Seeker, Pretender) with their own rules. The stage had been set. 


The First Glimpse



Umm. Wow!

I could leave it there but I guess I need to write something about journalism and analysis.

There stands the new Keeper of Secrets. Take that in. Now step back and do it again. This is a bold direction for Games Workshop and one I dearly hope the narrative supports. GW has had a rather iffy track record when dealing with gender and sexuality; a record that could be redeemed or cemented when the Army book lands. Until we know more I'm commenting from a purely visual perspective.

Non-binary presentation

The Keeper of Secrets above is an utterly beautiful exploration of queer sexuality as power. Sexual power and agency is usually reserved for cis-gendered bodies (and even then with several caveats and such) so this is a welcome statement. We see a powerful and confident stance, feminine gait, masculine shoulders, that amazing chest. A character expressing malice and allure in equal measure. As one person put it 'You would fine them sexy if your genitals weren't terrified of them.'
It's nice to entertain the idea of queer bodies being recognised as beautiful. However Slaanesh does represent an evil and corrupting influence, not the best start for representation. When the Army Book arrives we get to examine the context of this release more closely; that will be a big factor in determining if this is a positive step.

Intersex?

I'm not qualified to make any comment from an intersex perspective on a model range displaying male and female coded physical traits. If I find commentary by someone more appropriate I'll link it from the blog as it deserves exploration.

Femme Coding




A result of the queer essence of Slaanesh is a delightful amount of femme coding in the range. We saw some in the Daughters of Khaine release and a little in the Idoneth but even the new Stormcast ladies were beautifully butch.
The amazing model above shows demons with flowing robes, long hair and jewelry. Whilst also retaining the sharp edges and metallic elements that makes the Slaanesh aesthetic menacing. Not an easy design feat. Not content with leaving it there, Games Workshop elected to position them beckoning unwary opponents toward a massive, magical, metallic vagina.
This kind of Yonic symbology is usually the purview of Blood Angels and Tyranids. I wonder if this will make certain gamers uncomfortable?

Hedonism




Hedonites of Slaanesh. Devotees of self-indulgence and sensual pleasure. There are so many ways such a complex subject can be handled really, really badly. Especially in a game which is ultimately about warfare. The Daughters of Khaine Army Book had an extremely uncomfortable narrative around Morathi. Often mirroring the experience of trauma survivors finding a lack of support and understanding. Not to mention an unhealthy dose of victim blaming when removed from the context of her previous incarnation.
We have an image of the book with a dangerous and powerful daemon front and centre. Meanwhile the current Warscroll highlights their desire to inflict pain upon others. Together with the implications of sensual pleasure and allure there are some red lines around consent that could easily be crossed. I hope the writing team are on form.


Endless Spells





That is some Hellraiser style right there. Clouds of swirling blades, hooks designed to entangle flesh, another huge magical vagina. I had been looking at the new Necromunda Delaque models; wondering about modelling them as Cenobite style cultists to follow the Keeper of Secrets. That kind of over-blown and ridiculous horror I can really get behind. Puzzle box artefacts corrupting greedy mortals; condemning entire towns to B-movie storylines. Although that's hardly doing the only overtly queer coded faction a favour. It would be nice if deviation from patriarchal cis-het norms was an heroic rather than horrific venture.

Sex Positive


If we're going down the hedonistic route then sex positivity is a must. A Goddess of Pleasure like Slaanesh could make safe sex and mutual consent his guiding principle. Sensuality as an exploration of the self rather than temptation toward damnation. That probably isn't going to happen in the context of chaos and the mortal realms. Nice to think it could though.


In Conclusion


Great models, Queer as all heck, it will all come down to the narrative in the army book as to whether I'll celebrate or head desk. Slaanesh isn't and will likely never be without problematic aspects. Some parts of the fanbase introduce their own aspects that aren't actually there or overly highlight more subtle parts could also undo any positive steps. I'll wait and see.


Thursday, 10 January 2019

Space Marine Heroes - Review

When these were originally released in Japan they were the coolest thing around. Limited edition, unique sculpts, Japan only and the point of sale box was a Rhino tank! Now they have spread across the globe with new packaging. I needed to get my hands on one for a review...

The Box





I didn't reach into a Rhino to select this so not a great start. Fortunately the bold and metallic title makes the whole thing feel super heroic and the Ultramarine branded 'Series 1' conveys confidence on a par with Lego minifigs.

Centre of attention is an Ultramarine sergeant looming over us. He isn't even looking at us, that's how unimportant we are compared to such a warrior. We can only stare in awe at the out thrust crotch with Ultramarine branded loin cloth. Seriously this guy is so cavalier in attitude that he will even highlight his own head in a bullseye red, taunting the foe with no regard for safety.

Finally the box declares itself to be '1 Citadel Miniature' which is a bit bizarre given it is clearly a box.

The Contents





First up is the glossary of available items. Just like the shiny leaflet in a box of chocolates displays glorious treats and crap with nuts in. Half of these are disappointingly generic which provides a sense of elation if you were lucky enough to get a good one. Honestly Brother Castor; you are a like a crisp golden wrapper lovingly untwisted whose contents when placed upon the tongue reveal the disgusting taste of hazlenut.




What, what? What is this? Apparently there is a mystery 9th marine? This is some next level forbidden knowledge. What could this silhouette disguise; other than a Captain with cloak, power sword, pistol, Iron Halo and scenic base? Jokes on you because the real misdirection is in the name. This is in fact the long awaited female space marine. Probably?


Excellent. You can't have a mystery box without a collectible card to play 'got, got, need' with. My box had Brother Garus who is an immense badass. The guy has a state of the art mass reactive bolt rifle and wields it with casual disregard for the foregrip. Check out the lucky rabbits foot dangling from that pistol and the generic white guy action hero face that is instantly forgettable.

The card also provides guidance for using Brother Garus in a Space Marine Heroes game. The first box can be pressed to level up the character. The second box displays his spell slots with the 'turn around bright eyes', 'stack boxes' and 'tightrope walker from above' abilities. The number presumably indicates the cooldown time.

The Model





Here we have it. The prize itself. 

...
...
...

I have a burning need to convert this guy into a Primaris marine.

Rating: 3 Squigs

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Fallout Ephemera for Wargaming




This is a quick one. I love Fallout and with the release of Fallout: Wasteland Warfare I got really excited about playing skirmishes on the tabletop. Unfortunately the game is a hideous mess of tokens and fiddly information cards. Alright for some but a big NOPE from me.

I digress. I still want to play Fallout themed skirmish games so my mind turned to terrain building and I produced this handy set of printable ephemera to spruce up the buildings when I finally make them. You should be able to download the file here.

At some point I'll also upload my own ruleset for wasteland tabletop.