What does Warhammer mean to me?

This post will (hopefully) not be as piss-and-vinegar as my last one, and since I’m back to painting and working on models again I’m hoping that this will help me set the direction for this blog going forward, for my painting, and for where I go from here. It’s been a wild couple weeks. The last time I posted here on WordPress, TTS was still a continuing Warhammer fan-series, and…well, we know how that’s all turned out. I also intend to attach a copy of what I write here in a written complaint letter to Games Workshop, since this will be a conversation/rumination that largely revolves around their recent changes to how they safeguard their IP, the controversy surrounding Warhammer+, their general FOMO business model of late and…why I’m probably going to avoid their products for at least a while, even if boycotting GW is doomed to have some pretty minimal success.

So, when I think about Warhammer, I hop into a time machine and end up about eight or nine years ago, when I was just a few years out of high school and working at a call center here in St. John’s. I’d played a little bit of the Dawn of War game and a mutual friend of myself and my partner at the time kind of bit us with the tabletop wargaming bug. She picked up some Daemonettes of Slaanesh and I decided I wanted to build Eldar, but miniatures were expensive and I was very broke at this time in my life. After a long while of watching and waiting for the right moment, I got a hold of a couple of boxes’ worth of Eldar Guardians, two Warlocks, a Farseer, and a squad of Howling Banshees. They were second-hand, and in rough shape, but I was thrilled to get to put together my own army and branch into a new world and new hobby.

I remember sitting at my work desk and planning out the painting meticulously, before giving it my best shot – and the results weren’t great. But I liked them and I poured a lot of heart and soul into them. They were also touchstones because I made many of them homages to friends in my gaming community at the time, and to our weird, but wonderful online guild. Everything crashed after that. The Eldar ended up put away for years because me and my partner fell out, and I spent about a year and a half bouncing from apartment to apartment, trying to hold down a job, and was generally in a really dark place in my life. When things stabilized, and when I went back to school, I was bitten with the bug to start painting again, which started with a few little projects, like ships from the X-Wing miniatures game, but…the moment I picked up a paintbrush I knew I was going to have to go back and tackle the Eldar.

It was easily like…I want to say six years or so between when I painted the models the first time and when I decided I was going to get back into the hobby for real. I felt like I’d grown and had become a totally different person than I was when I’d painted the Eldar last time, and…painting them all over again and finally finishing them in a way that I was satisfied with was therapeutic and…when I look back on it, kind of a cornerstone part of a long healing process for me. Rebuilding my Eldar was a huge part of how I rebuilt myself. I played my first game with 35 PL of Eldar – the Guardians, Farseer, Warlock, and Howling Banshees I’d picked up before, and a brand-new Wave Serpent that I built to be their party bus. This was where I took my real first steps into this larger world, because I solidly enjoyed the game, I enjoyed the lore, and I enjoyed the social aspect of being able to play and paint and collaborate with people.

When I got back into Eldar, and finally finished painting an army, this was it – all 35 PL of it. And this, folks, is why I’ve always kept my army psyker-, Guardian-, and Banshee-heavy.

And…really, it only got better from there, and I only got more invested in the hobby, especially after making a couple friends locally who were into the game, and after I helped XenonMage get started by building her a “starter” batch of Tyranids. I took on Death Guard as a second army because Nurgle is fun, and because I like their interactions with the Eldar in the lore, and snippets of lore like the Eldar goddess Isha still being alive and imprisoned by Nurgle, with speculation that they’re actually quite fond of each other. I digress however. I started going as a semi-regular to my local store and trying to pick up kits there whenever I was able, or just a bunch of new paints or terrain bits and bobs when money was tight. And I wasn’t just buying Games Workshop kits for myself, though I certainly did more than my fair share of that, I was buying them as gifts to spring on the friends that I’d made.

I’m not going to pretend everything I’ve bought from Games Workshop was new-in-box from a brick-and-mortar store, but a huge swath the models I have were just that. While I’m very fond of doing Ebay “rescues”, picking up third party kits to customize my army (and add special characters for my Crusade campaigns and the like) there was a while where it was almost a ritual for me to order in new books and codexes from my local store, to try and pick up a box of models every time I went in, and where I felt great about giving Games Workshop money because they had cultivated a lot of goodwill from their fans, myself included, and 8th edition and early 9th edition felt like a great time to be getting invested into the game. I was thrilled to see Necrons get new models, and everyone was thrilled to see the new models Orks got lately! It feels lately like that high was too good to last.

The last couple months have felt like kind of a splash of cold water, and a wake-up call, and it’s given me a lot to think about. The new rules that Games Workshop introduced on their tournaments – where nothing could be third-party or 3D printed whatsoever – meant that a lot of my conversions, excluding the ones I’d done using Sigmar kits, were now suddenly verboten so far as Games Workshop was concerned. Was I ever going to go to one of their official events? Probably not, but the option was off the table and it felt like a slap on the wrist for enjoying Warhammer the way that I wanted to enjoy it. Something that also became apparent with 9th edition as it went on was power-creep, codex-creep, and whiplash from trying to keep up with drastic changes in the rules and scoring mid-edition. I also had some concerns that I pointed out in my Death Guard codex review that it felt less like Warhammer was being written out of love of the universe and more like Games Workshop just turning everything into toy commercials for us as consumers.

The changes to Warhammer’s IP guidelines, which I offered a satiric take on, legitimately frustrated me because I’d been in fandoms before where similar IP safeguarding changes had functionally choked the life out of these fandoms and made it virtually impossible for large swaths of those fandoms to engage with the material the same way as before. Hell, me and some local chums made our own Star Trek fanfilms before CBS/Paramount changed their legal guidelines surrounding it and we had to mothball the whole operation. So this was frustrating for me to see play out on a somewhat personal level, but I was also very concerned for the content creators I follow, including some people who have done phenomenal work on promoting Warhammer 40K and Games Workshop through their animations and through their attention to the universe.

It wasn’t that long ago that me and XenonMage binge-watched the whole Behemoth series by TTS, which is an absolute hoot of a time and a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in Tyranid lore, even if it’s a satirical and parodical take on the subject matter. (It’s also relevant to the upcoming Warzone Octarius, since Inquisitor Kryptman plays a prominent role in both!) Finding out that some of the life and vibrancy had been choked out of this fandom and that TTS was shutting down their operations was sobering and saddening. And it made me think about Games Workshop, my hobby, and how invested I really was in this and whether I wanted to continue enabling the kind of changes that they’ve been making lately.

Hexfire and many of the other recent box sets sold out almost immediately – what the fans themselves haven’t scooped up, scalpers and resellers have been quick to get their hands on, so I really don’t imagine that there’s much that individual 40K fans (especially casuals) can do to make an impression on Games Workshop’s bottom line, even by boycotting their products. But I think it would leave a bad taste in my mouth right now to buy anymore Games Workshop products for the foreseeable future, even if I’m getting them from my FLGS, so…what am I supposed to do?

Well, I think it’s worth recognizing that Warhammer isn’t the only kid on the wargaming block anymore. Me and a couple friends are reviving some old Star Wars: Armada stuff, we’re getting into Star Wars: Legion, and another friend has given me a taste-test of Battletech so that’s something that could be on the horizon as well. We can still support our FLGS without supporting Games Workshop, and I think that’s an important distinction to make. There are alternative companies for paints, like Vallejo, and tons of new, alternative games if we want to buy something on an in-store whim to help keep local businesses afloat in what’s been a tumultuous year and a half.

On the bench at the moment – lots of my Warhammer 40K backlog, some Star Wars: Legion, some kitbashes and some other cool independent and third-party stuff. Can you tell I’ve been switching to Vallejo?

And…here’s what I think is probably the most important piece of this whole puzzle for me, and something I’ve heard a couple other content creators pipe up on: Games Workshop is not Warhammer. Games Workshop owns Warhammer, but Warhammer is the hobby, the social experience, the friendships and connections and foolery that we find by painting tiny plastic or metal or resin miniatures and rolling dice with the people around us. I think someone can enjoy Warhammer without being happy with Games Workshop, and I think someone can enjoy Warhammer without supporting Games Workshop, either, unless such a time comes that they change their course. There are plenty of old rulebooks and codices, second-hand models, and the third-party and 3D-printing scenes have just exploded over the last few years and…there’s a reason that Games Workshop has only done so much to shut that down: they’ve tried it before, and they’ve been slapped down in court.

My Eldar aren’t good because Games Workshop made great miniatures. My Eldar are a mish-mash of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K and Sigmar lines along with bits and bobs from all sorts of weird, wonderful outside sources, and that’s part of what makes them fun and unique and great. I don’t want or need Games Workshop’s approval to enjoy the game with XenonMage, KinpatsuSamurai, and the rest of my friends. Building these elves, kitbashing them, painting them, that was all work that I did – I could have done just as good starting with any batch of miniatures, from any manufacturing company, as a base for that. My miniatures are good because I painted them good, and my games are fun because the people who I play with are great, and because we all genuinely love the Warhammer setting, the universe, and the armies that we’ve built over the course of years. Games Workshop didn’t pull me out of one of the worst slumps of my life – I pulled myself out, and became a better person, and became a better painter.

I’m going to continue to enjoy this hobby on my own terms and in my own way – I still have some old GW kits in the pile of shame that will pop up on the blog from time to time, but I think this is the kick in the rear I needed to start branching out a little more, and maybe it’s a splash of cold water that others in the fandom have needed, too. Maybe someone at Games Workshop will notice, and maybe it will make a positive difference in how they interact with their fandom going forward. Regardless, the Warhammer universe and community (‘Warhammer community’ lower-case, of course) will survive and Warhammer as I know it and enjoy it will survive, even if it means that moving forward I have to enjoy it more on my own terms.

5 thoughts on “What does Warhammer mean to me?

  1. Dave Stone says:

    A great write up Mick, the struggles you went through seem to have made you a stronger person, and your right that what you did with your life and hobby is what made you better and stronger.
    Normally I have a couple of lists of models placed strategically around that my wife can find of models I’d like, to help with ideas for birthday and Christmas and father’s day, this year I haven’t done one for GW or Forgeworld and actually concentrated on other companies for similar reasons

    Liked by 3 people

    1. mick says:

      Thanks Dave, I much appreciate you saying that. And I never thought about doing the strategic list thing, that’s clever. I’ll have to remember that. And yeah, mine will probably be non-GW too for the foreseeable future.

      Liked by 1 person

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