When anyone mentions philosophy, I immediately imagine a polo-neck wearing intellectual, pipe very much clenched in teeth, brooding over some intangible facet of human existence. The mental image is always strangely '50s or '60s in nature and black and white. The philosopher figure stands straight in monochrome, bearded and balding, with those thick framed glasses so favoured by thinkers fifty-odd years ago.
This is not the image that springs to mind when I consider the philosophy of the retro-enthusiast of course. The image I have chosen to begin this post does that better than words. Glance up, and you can see fans of all ages poring over the astonishing work of Tony Hough. Each will very likely have a different outlook on what 'Oldhammer is' and each will ultimately seek to pursue their passion in relatively different directions.
Yet they are all part of this community.
Some are beginning to say, and I agree with them, that if you need to inquire after what 'Oldhammer' means or seek to debate your understanding as being the correct interpretation, you have totally missed the point.
It is a personal thing. And its only natural that those whose sympathies and interests are going to band together into collectives and get on to the business of gaming, collecting or painting. All are very evident in our disperse communities. The forum has over a thousand members, the Facebook discussion group over three thousand and the Google + group hundreds of likewise interested individuals.
That is a lot of Oldhammerers, especially if you were there at the beginning when there were about five of us!
But what is YOUR philosophy concerning HOW you play? How do you like to organise your self or your group, what miniatures do you use and more importantly, how do you interpret the rules? Later on, I would be very much interested in your views towards gaming philosophy and I will make an attempt to explain my own. I think things can be broken down into four categories for the purpose of this discussion. And here they are:
1. Gaming Group Dynamics
2. Miniature Choice
3. Scenery Usage
4. Rules Selection and Interpretation
GAMING GROUP DYNAMICS
Players with a similar point of view will always gravitate towards each other. That fact is true in wargaming as it is in any other communal activity. The photograph I have posted above shows my regular group in action, though we tend to only meet three of four times a year. Paul Mitchell (centre) and looking rather blurry is our main GM. He creates the scenarios we get involved in and books the venue. From right to left we have Steve Casey, the Citadel Collector, Richard Irvine, Nik Dixon and Ashley Rogers. Steve Beales, Thantsants, is also a regular group player, Stuart Klatcheff has got involved recently and there are a couple of other guys who drop in from time to time.
So we have a core a players, and those who are more fluid in their contributions. All are welcomed. We suffer no elitism and generally enjoy the spirit of the game without worrying about true winners and losers.
Our style of game tends to lurch towards the parody or satire. With recent political events making their mark or humourous and affectionate nods to friends and Old School fantasy personalities. Humour runs rife and often riffs off our personalities. The 'Milking Stool of Chaos' is one such example, or Bryon Anvil or the 'Spirit of Northern Independence'.
Paul is very much in charge of the game and works hard to control our exuberance. He is always open to our warped suggestions though, and uses the dice, and chance, as a quick and simple way of resolving these ideas. Sometimes these suggestions can be game defining, as in the case of the game that became known as the 'Battle of the Burning Tower'. Paul had set up a game involving my Khorne army, lead by The Deathfist, invading an undead empire lead by Steve Beales' undead. Early on in the game, our characters entered a tower and were given the option of searching for clues. This roused the guards and in the resulting skirmish, a wizard launched a fireball spell. I inquired after the likelihood of flammable oils or gunpowder being present in the tower. Paul used his chance based method to answer the question, with such material being present on a 6 (or 1), I cannot recall. The Dice Gods played true and the required number was rolled.
BOOM! Went the tower and the flaming remains lit the battlefield for the rest of the game.
Little details like these are really appreciated by our group. For it is the narrative that counts, not the outcome of the game. Personally, I really appreciate not really knowing what is going to happen and the possibilities this places in the mind. The options of what risks to take or what to do with my miniatures are many, rather than the tried and tested 'line them up and advance' approach of my tender years.
Anyone who follows this blog will know that I am a hardcore Citadel collector and that my primary focus is '85 to about '90. I am also a retro-painter, and attempt to capture the look and feel of the 'Eavy Metal output at that time. My enormous collection of support materials make a handy reference point for inspiration and regular access to Bryan's collection at Stoke Hall also helps a great deal.
But I don't expect every other player I make contact with to follow my philosophy. I don't feel its necessary to judge another player on their painting skills. Effort is important to me, and I wouldn't want to game with someone who hasn't attempted to get their models painted up for the game. As we play quite frequently at Slayer in Mansfield, we often get to observe the more 'up-to-date' gamer in his natural environment and the number of grey plastic kits pushed across tables was disheartening.
As for the models themselves, we use a varied collection of stuff. Paul has an enormous array of painted monstrosities, so he has plenty to keep us occupied, but these models are drawn from a range of manufacturers and periods.
The image above illustrates how varied everything can be during one of our games. The barbarian models are from my collection, the elves (again taken from a period later than 'original Oldhammer ethos' would have liked) belong to Nik Dixon, the clansmen (again from a range of manufacturers) belong to Richard Irvine will the crossbow dark elf and the troll are from Paul's GM menagerie.
I suspect like many other groups who drawn their materials from many places, the beginning of any game involves a long session of peering at each other's figures (the lead kind) and discussing the merits of certain models. Painting tips are discussed and exchanged. Even a little lead is traded.
Some say that the battlefield upon which our figures must tread should be treated as the 'third army' and be lavished with all the attention our miniature collectors receive. Now that is a lovely dream to have and a paradigm to cling too, but in reality it can be very hard to achieve. Especially, if like us, you are using private facilities and making good use of their resources.
With my gaming group, we are happy to use what ever we can lay our hands on. Over at Slayer Gaming in Mansfield, there are lots of tables on offer with a number of different themes. Modern 40k, WW2 and generic 'fantasy' style tables. Some of these can be seen in the photograph above. Taken at Slayer, you can see several tables of differing styles. Scenery is provided on shelves and Paul dips into this, or indeed creates his own, as necessary.
You can also see that we make use of card sections from classic games. Our dungeon was created from Warhammer Quest parts and served us very nicely as we ended our game. Like the miniatures we use, the scenery pieces come from a range of different sources and are often part of our collection.
The Wargames Foundry, another regular haunt of ours, have even better tables and a decent range of scenery suitable for the fantasy style games we play. Its here that the use of scenery is put to the test. I remember Marcus Ansell once commenting to me that 'hardcore' wargamers tend to prefer less scenery on the table so they are able to move their considerable forces around with ease. And that he had observed times where the initial scenery ended up on the floor to better facilitate the movement of troops.
Game size is obviously going to affect the way you approach using scenery. The battle game you can see above (note the suave Gaj from Warhammer for Adults in the blue t-shirt) from the 1st Oldhammer Weekend has a much more of a minimal look. A few hills and trees give a little tactical depth to the field - and it certainly isn't as packed with items as the game I showed from Slayer.
Of course, big games can easily incorporate custom made scenery. Here is Padre's famous 'Rumble in the Jungle' game from the 1st Oldhammer Weekend. This gigantic table can easily accommodate hundreds of figures but can also provide plenty of scope for utilising scenery projects - in this case, those fantastic meso-American style temples.
Perhaps the most ambitious use of scenery I have seen to date is shown here. The spectacular siege game put together by many of the members of the Oldhammer Forum. This game really had it all when it came to laying out a table. Multiple sets of the Mighty Fortress (including at one point, the original metal master, sculpted by Trish Morrison), stacks of model houses, fields, fences, woods and so on. The scale is awe-inspiring and just goes to show what collectives can create with a little help from a venue.
And inspirational it was too, with a similar game (shown below) being put on at the first American Oldhammer Weekend last October.
The same team behind the massive Siege game from last year are planning a similar feat this year. The theme will be 'Warhammer Ahoy!' so expect wacky fantasy style battleships, sea monsters and so on. This game will most likely be my first port of call (if you pardon the pun) come BOYL3 and I will take plenty of photographs to share here.
When you get scenery 'right' as the lads who put on the Siege game last summer, you really do get the spectacle that miniature gaming is all about. Just look at this shot from the battlements!
In my opinion, this is the biggest single factor in any philosophy. For it is the way in which the ruleset is used that most affects the games as it is played. As far as I am aware, there are three distinct groups of players that I notice at Oldhammer events.
The first we shall call the 'rules as written group'. For these players, if its not in the rulebook it just ins't going to happen. A very good working knowledge of the key rulebooks are essential to play this way and the guidance of a GM can help cease the friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) arguments that will inevitably flair up. I am well aware that some gamers to adhere to this philosophy really enjoy moments like these, as multiple players prise open their creaking '80s tomes in search of a particular reference. A hearty discussion then commences, and once resolved play can continue onwards.
A second group could be labelled 'the house-rulers' who play a much looser version of the rulebook. Discarding the parts that don't work for them (and at times, completely forgetting them too) and adapting things to ensure the required results the game demands. Its much looser, and the GM here is expected to make rapid decisions to keep the game moving along. Players of this philosophy seem happy to invent rules on the spot to overcome problems to create situations that the rulebooks don't provide for.
I think I have noticed a final group. These players seem to dispense with most of the rules at all and move towards a nearly pure narrative game. Often, only the movement and combat system is retained and the remaining rules are invented on the fly.
"I want my two dwarves here to jump on the back of that cart and push off the barrels of pitch. The remaining troops will then roll them towards the enemy." Says the player.
"Okay," the GM responds, "a successful I test for climbing up onto the cat and a S test to push the barrels over.
They roll and discover what happens.
So what is my personal philosophy? How do I really want to game? In the perfect world I would like to be the GM and put on the whole show for players actually. For me, all of the categories I have discussed today need to come together to create a unified whole.
I like the idea of creating and painting all of the forces required. This results in a rather unified look for all of the models on the table that I find quite visually pleasing. If I am being honest, I am am also a bit OCD when it comes to bases, as I like them to be nice and uniform too. If possible, I would like the scenery to follow the basing material as closely as possible. The photograph shows a game I put on a couple of years ago using purely my collection and my old 'mini-table', which is now sadly very much on it's last legs.
The narrative of the game is also of high importance to me. I want the players to be able to immerse themselves in a complicated story with multiple characters. If I have enough players on side, I enjoy creating conflict and secret objectives within each 'side' so allies are not always working on the same objectives. Inspiration for scenarios like these come from many places; other gamers, discussions with other players and many of the packs that GW put out inthe '80s, like McDeath.
I don't want to become bogged down with the minutae of the rule system, rather create an open world where anything can happen.
And it frequently does!
But what about you dear reader?
Where do you stand in regards to a philosophy of gaming. What makes a satisfying and engaging game for you? I am sure that many of your opinions will be different from my own, and that is all part of the fun I think.
So let me know.
What is YOUR philosophy?