Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not your regular Sunday session #1. Of GWers, gamers and swag

It's been a long time
With no gaming the previous week because we had decided to go for a walk in the lovely spring sunshine, last Sunday's session was also cancelled because Andy and I had chosen to accept our mission: to attend GW's premiere Scottish gaming event, Conflict 2010. My last Conflict- at which I was a competitor, was back in 2002, so it was nice to go to another and to see what had become of this event in the intervening years. Neither Andy nor I were competing this year so we had plenty of time to take in the sights.

The writer
The Black Library stand was the first thing Andy and I noticed on our entry into the venue- the Braehead Curling Rink, but we barely had time to register its presence as we were both making a rapid beeline for the bargain stand across the far side of the hall. On this first of several visits I spotted a shopworn copy of Heldenhammer: the Legend of Sigmar, the first in Graham McNeill's trilogy of novels about this founder of the Empire in the Warhammer Old World; a bargain at a mere £1. Result!

Andy, Graham McNeill & myself

Pausing only to pay, naturally enough, and accompanied by Andy I made haste thence to the Black Library's outpost, there to meet the author himself. A much more avid reader of BL than myself, Andy had of course brought a novel from his own collection for this purpose, one of the Ultramarines series. We did the signing thing and fell to chatting.

I've read the second of the Ultramarines series myself- Warriors of Ultramar, which I found in my local library a few years ago. Talking about the book with Graham I told him that my favourite scene was the barroom brawl which introduced the underhive gang; a scene in which the characters came instantly to life both as individuals and as a group with strong relationships with each other; and in which the action was depicted vividly and with a lot of humour. Graham explained that this was because he'd already written about the gang in a short story so that they were already well defined and alive in his mind when he came to include them in Warriors of Ultramar.

I also told Graham that I was a bit disappointed at the role the gangers played in the novel. Unfortunately I didn't explain this very well last Sunday. The thing about Warriors of Ultramar- as is the case with any space marine novel, is that it is difficult to make a sympathetic protagonist out of an ideologically-driven, genetically-engineered super solider who lives for nothing but war against heretics and xenos: there's just not enough humanity there. These difficulties are compounded when such a character is an Ultramarine- the most orthodox of the orthodox among the space marines; and when you put such a character where he belongs- on the battlefield: because these choices both further limit your options as a storyteller.

So when the hive gang appeared I was hoping for two things:
  • A 'behind the lines' look at the 'reality' of a conflict as terrible as that which is the main thrust of the story in Warriors of Ultramar.
  • Some unlikely heroes to provide a more conventionally redemptive twist to a story whose outcome I expected to be grim even in the event of 'victory'.
If I remember rightly: I got the first- albeit not as I'd wished for, the gang's naturally larcenous proclivities being what determined their main role in the story; and the second?- well that might've been there, but it's been a long time since I read the book. Thinking back to the story as I write this I realise that I was essentially the victim of unrealistic expectations. Looking for a humanistic counterpoint to the horrors of war? Then don't read 40K novels; after all: "In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war." And hoping that the hive gangers would turn out to be some variant on the Robin Hood archetype? Not utterly implausible per se, but rather unlikely given the nature of the beast.

All of which turns out to be a positive reflection on Warriors of Ultramar. Strange? Not really. If my only negative memory of the novel is that it didn't fulfil what turn out to have been unreasonable expectations then it must obviously have fulfilled my reasonable expectations. So I have to say I'm rather looking foward to reading Heldenhammer, to see what Graham makes of this epic character in the Warhammer canon.

Speaking of Sigmar, it seems as if Graham has been, erm... strangely affected by the experience of immersing himself in this character at the time when Sigmar and his army stood alongside the dwarfs in the battle to defend the young Empire against the greenskinned tide. I say this because later that afternoon I happened upon Graham calling out an Ork Stompa model for a 'square go'.

Like Gulliver in Lilliput, with added Glasgae!

Graham wouldn't be persuaded that his antagonist was beneath him figuratively even more than it was literally. Unfortunately he didn't enjoy script immunity in the ensuing carnage.

WAAGH! I win!

The doing dished out can't've been serious because Graham was seen back on duty soon enough. I suspect the application of Irn Bru was involved.

The games
As well as the impressive array of tables for the 40K, WFB and LotR tournaments, there were participation games laid on for the non-competitors. Here are some which caught my eye- photographed after asking permission, naturally enough.

Waagh! That sassafrassarassin' pigeon!
Alan Hobbs, John McGarrie & Kenny Hall

This is a racing game run by Glasgow club St. Aidan's Warriors and featuring the lovely Ork Deffkoptas from the Warhammer 40K: Assault on Black Reach introductory boxed set. John told me about the St. Aidan's Warriors- part of the Gaming Club Network, and explained that the game had been inspired by the Red Bull Air Race and the "Catch the pigeon" exploits of Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines in the old TV show (you can see the pigeon highlighted in the picture). This looked like a really fun game in the best tradition of club creativity. I was hoping to get a chance to play it but there wasn't enough time in the end. Another time maybe.

The Battle of Macragge
The Battle for Macragge in the First Tyrannic War of 745.M41 has long been a key feature of the mythos of the Ultramarines (it is mentioned as early as the 2nd edition Codex: Ultramarines, which dates from 1995). In fact I don't think it's going too far to suggest that this battle is second only to the Horus Heresy itself as a definitive battle of the Chapters Astartes in the 40K setting. As such it features regularly at GW events. The pictures below show the game which was staged by staff from GW's Gateshead Metro Centre store.

The Tyranid horde assails Fortress Macragge

As this picture shows, the high standard of modelling for which GW participation games are justly renowned has only got better with the recent spate of new plastic kits for terrain, Tyranids and space marines alike.

Celebration for the Tyranids, dismay for the Ultramarines

David, from the Metro Centre GW

GW participation games are also legendary for their shoutiness, for which I was long ago way too old I must confess. Still, David above was going great guns while I watched; narrating each dice roll with gusto, and with imagination with which any roleplaying GM'd've been only too pleased. I just have to wonder if there was an otherwise inexplicable shortage of throat lozenges in Glasgow on Monday morning.

With the recent release of the new Blood Angels range it was a cinch that there'd be a big BA game at this year's Conflict. The massive game seen below was laid on by a combined effort of the Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Livingstone stores and was GM'ed on the day by Neil- Edinburgh, and Rob- Aberdeen.

View from the Blood Angels' end

View from the Tyranids' end

Once again this table shows the lovely models available in the new range of plastic kits, as well as the fine hobby skills of the GW staffers.

Have you got a toothbrush and some mouthwash buddy?

The grinning beastie above- a Tyranid Scythed Hierodule, comes from the Forgeworld range of resin kits. I just had to get a close up because it was such an impressive looking piece.

The scultptor
As is typically the case at major GW events their design and production teams were also represented, in the person that Sunday of trainee sculptor Giorgio Bassani. Andy and I caught up with Giorgio late on in the afternoon and we had the time for a lengthy chat.

Giorgio Bassani

One of the younger generation who were weaned on GW, Giorgio was a freelance illustrator for 4 years before he won a place in GW's recent intake of 3 trainees into the miniatures development team. As someone who once tried- and failed, to get a job with GW as a trainee games developer (I believe Gav Thorpe was one of the people who got in that time) I can appreciate how thrilling it must be to come out at the top of what must've started out as a very long list.

We talked about how GW have continually raised the bar with the sculpting and production of their models to the degree that their plastic kits are now as good as any; with the added attraction that they are always designed with the gamer in mind, so that simplicity of construction remains a prime consideration. Similarly we discussed how much miniatures painting- in both the materials available and in technique, has advanced since the days when I was a teenage tankie. Giorgio was particularly fascinating when he told us how exciting it is to be part of the GW miniatures development team (21 people IIRC), brainstorming, and critiquing each other's work until the finished product fits the chosen vision just right.

Some of Giorgio's trainee sculpts

Inevitably, in the case displaying samples of Giorgio's work our attention was most attracted by the Tallarn Desert Raiders. Andy in particular was disappointed to hear that these were training sculpts- Giorgio's first 3 in fact, which are not part of a planned new plastic Imperial Guard range. I confess I too was a bit disappointed: the Tallarn are probably the coolest IG regiment awaiting the plastic kit revamp GW fans have every reason to expect we will see some time in the future, for one regiment or another.

I asked Giorgio if he'd had any of his sculpts released. He told us that he'd had bits and pieces in some accessory sets. It is a mark of just how seriously GW take staff training that someone can be working with them for 16 months and still be waiting for his first full credit on a sculpt. Giorgio was a pleasure to chat with- enthusiastic, interesting and interested, so I can only say that I hope he doesn't have to wait too long to see his name on a new miniature going out on shop shelves all across the world.

The surprise encounter
Passing by the BL stand again I got to talking with one of the staff about the legendary Gotrek and Felix of the Trollslayer series. The subject turned to Gotrek's doom and I had to confess that there is still only one person who can write this story as far as I am concerned. The talk moved on through the general subject of dwarfs and I expounded my theory that the Trollslayer is GW's unique addition to the dwarf archetype, which remained otherwise essentially unchanged throughout the 20th century.

THE Ragnar Karlsson

For some reason- your everyday friendly curiosity I imagine, I asked the guy his name after that. It turned out we're internet acquaintances: from the days when Bill King's Trollslayer site had a forum; and more lately from fB. So I took a picture, naturally enough.

And the ever cheerful...
The people who saw the most of me last Sunday were the staff running the bargain stand, to which I made several visits. As the day wore on and the stock ran down, the stand became quiet. And so I found myself talking to the cheerful gentleman below.


A former builder, Charles is GW's property manager, a post whose job description remains vague in my memory (was it managing the property portfolio, or managing the development of the properties themselves?). We had a good blether sharing our enthusiasm for GW and our different routes into the hobby. Charles was also good for a couple of last-minute special bargains with the few remaining scraps of the stock.

The swag
You can be sure dear readers, that I wasn't going anywhere near a GW event without an idea of something I wanted to buy. Last Sunday I'd decided it was time for me to get myself a Venerable Dreadnought. This is a lovely kit: beautifully detailed; three different guns which you can swap about; and lots of parts for the spares box, some of which I have already earmarked for my other dreads. This is one I've been looking forward to getting my mitts on for a wee while now.

Everything else I bought was from the bargain stand. What GW seem to have done was to tell all the stores participating at Conflict to empty their stock rooms of shop-worn or out of date stock; all the scrap sprues which couldn't be sold because parts had been used for store projects; plus any other old junk to boot. There were bargains galore, including 6 sets of the new Space Hulk (where did they find those?)- these were auctioned off; and- unbelievably, a copy of the 1988 game of highway combat Dark Future!

Apart from the Heldenhammer novel most of what I got was scraps, and sprues full of random bits which will prove useful for building myself some new terrain. Another choice pick was a cheap Necron Destroyer Lord. I don't play Necrons and likely never will: too many armies and too little time; but the techy parts are nice for conversion projects. I was also pleased to get my hands on a copy of the Warhammer 40K Wargear book. Although out of date now (it was for 4th edition) it was only £1 and I've already got an idea of the use to which I'll put it.

And that's it for today. I'll be rounding off this report on Conflict Scotland 2010 in the next day or two. ;)

Andy has corrected me about the title of the book Graham McNeill signed for him.

Not your regular Sunday session
- #2. Of gangers, competitors and winners
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