We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Of all the great poems about Warhammer (and most great poems have been about Warhammer, or at least about wargaming in general, have they not?), this snippet from Eliot stands out to me as the most relevant to our historical moment. We stand poised at the end of an era and the beginning of something new; something we are not at all sure is what we seek, or is in fact any improvement on what has gone before. And so we are anxious.
A counsel of despair. And, if you look closely, symbolic of round bases. But we aren’t listening!
The world of tiny plastic men is on edge in these last days, neurotic, prone to frustrated outbursts and needless conflict. Though these are the End Times for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the waning days are marked less by GW’s cartoonishly brutal apocalypticism than by a spirit out of fin de siecle Vienna: cynical, decadent, pessimistic. Perhaps some GW exec will yet play the role of Hapsburg prince to the gaming community’s Serbian nationalist. That would, at least, be exciting.
Twice, I, Thuloid, have spoken about the End Times. By what authority? I am no prophet nor the son of a prophet, but a painter of rats and a mid-range finisher in tournaments. But the Boss Lady took me from my gaming and said to me, “Go, prophesy to the House of Paincakes.” Now then, we will speak of the things to come. Rules and army lists are behind us–we have a future to consider, a ninth edition, and our own place in the great game to account for.
Before we talk about the possible shape of 9th Edition WHFB and what we’re all going to do next, I want to make a suggestion as to why reactions to the End Times have been so schizophrenic. To do this, I’m going to borrow a concept from the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, oddly enough, one originally formulated with Biblical criticism in view: the second naivete. The notion is that once we accepted a thing (in our case, gaming) at face value, uncritically. This is the golden youth of gaming that we all remember and cannot return to. Our own Beat Ronin wrote a lovely post on the topic this past August. In those days the world was young, and all things were new, and each box we opened or character we rolled up was the start of an adventure.
(Used to see these guys every chance I got.)
Many of us became uncritical GW fans–not because GW did all things well, but because their products gave us joy and we saw in their anarchic spirit a joy that mirrored our own. But the years went by and we became critical. The flaws grew more apparent, both in us and in our games. Frustrations accumulated. Rules changed, armies changed and we changed, and what was once a spontaneous outpouring of energy became a grind, a task. GW also changed, of course–that really did happen. The company that now publishes Warhammer is humorless, clearly not driven by the same passion to create better games that once seemed to permeate it.
Some of us still game merely out of habit, hoping to find that remembered joy again. Others very much enjoy their gaming, but know they have to work at it, and still hope for the easier pleasures of past years. Maybe a few of us are really still in their golden youth of gaming. Such a person would hardly appreciate the rather cynical House of Paincakes, and might even take offense. The fanboy frustrates us, but we can’t begrudge that person their enjoyment. They have what we only wish we did. But we can’t go back.
The different reactions to the End Times and the conflict within our community are much easier to explain if we consider these different stages of gaming life. And that consideration, in turn, helps focus us on what we’re really looking for. So this is Ricoeur’s second naivete–to return to what we once took so easily and to find it meaningful without abandoning the hard lessons learned since. We want what Eliot spoke of: to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. But how?
Tastes like the beginning. Or another sign of round bases?
I wish I knew the answer to that. I suspect it may involve growing up more than we have, taking a responsibility for our gaming lives that we’ve rarely admitted is ours. I can complain, legitimately, that GW has put out some poor products. That’s true. But I’m the gamer. The quality of the game rests in the hands of me and my opponent alone. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years, and wherever I go in my gaming, it’s the one I have to keep in view. It’s an essential part of my second naivete as a gamer.
So let’s talk End Times, 9th Edition, and Warhammer’s future. I don’t like the fact that GW has killed off practically every memorable character in the Warhammer Fantasy universe. But then, I didn’t always like the things they did with those characters when they were “living”–in terms of
both rules and fluff. I love the silly map of the Old World, and am not thrilled to lose it. I love the Empire’s 16th century feel–it drew me to that army instantly. I don’t want that to go away, but it may. I love having a dizzying variety of factions, more than any other game I’ve played. That looks like it’s also disappearing.
And then there are the rules changes. We’ve talked about some of that. The rumors are contradictory on the extent of the 9th edition rules changes. The round base rumors, in particular, are confusing. A handful of pictures have shown evidence of some round bases (some–not all). Warlock had a good recent post on this. Read it. This may not be a thing to panic about. Having said that, there are also rumors of movement that will look more like 40k, of a loss of the precise angles and turns that define the tactical side of Warhammer Fantasy. The assurance that troops will sometimes rank up to form a shield wall (this was an assertion in some of the rumors) does nothing to dispel that worry. I am confident I won’t have to re-base all my rats and halberdiers. But I’m worried about the shape of a game that can as easily use square as round bases.
I don’t know whether 9th edition will be a good game–balanced, fun, a little faster playing, perhaps even good for tournaments. Maybe it’ll truly revitalize Warhammer Fantasy. I want to keep an open mind. But it won’t be the same game, and it’s possible that it will be a good game at a price point that I don’t want to stretch towards. So what to do, if I decide I’m done with GW? Is that it for me and Warhammer?
Is this the future of Warhammer?
No. First, because I can still play the game. Tournaments may disappear–but they may not. Tournament organizers will do what they need to do to keep their events going strong. In most Warhammer tournaments in my part of the US, that already means significant comp or even more radical house rules (in April, I play in an event that allows no magic items whatsoever–will be fun).
But there’s something else to consider. We all saw what happened with D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder. The game continued, but not under the name D&D. The field shifted–the once undisputed market leader suddenly didn’t control its own game. Exactly the same thing can’t happen unless GW sells off some properties, but it can happen in part. The Chapterhouse lawsuit demonstrated that GW’s hold over what it presumed was its own IP is often tenuous. And Mantic seems to have picked a good year to do a second edition of Kings of War. That game has most of the tactical elements I loved about Warhammer, with a lot of the fiddly stuff removed. It’s fast to learn, and you can plug your old Warhammer army right into it with little fuss. I can play three games of Kings of War in the time it takes me to play one similarly sized game of Warhammer Fantasy.
So, this March, I’m going to Adepticon again. But I’m not playing Warhammer there. I’ll certainly drop in on the Warhammer Fantasy events, talk to players I know, check out armies. I may play 9th edition when it drops, I may not. But I’m not worried that I’m losing something. The game I love will continue to be there for me, if I am willing as a player to approach it in the right way. In this way, the End Times is a kind of gift, though a strange one–it pushes us back toward the realization that gamers control the games, that the game is what we do with it and nothing more. This summer I’ll get my Dwarf King’s Quest stuff. That’ll be fun–Hero Quest all over again, at age 36. I intend to enjoy my gaming, to return to where I started, and to know it better than I once did.
That’s all for now. Here’s a little Roy Orbison to send you off:
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