Plastic Addiction: Games Workshop and Me

Featured Tabletop Games
AoS or 40K
‘Age of Sigmar’ or ‘Warhammer 40,000’ – which is best? Images copyright Games Workshop.

Welcome to the first of another regular series of columns from me (this is where I should point out that I’m an ideas generator and not at all a completer-finisher, so who knows how long any of these columns will last!) The aim of these posts is to explore my relationship with  Games Workshop, the much loved and equally pilloried UK games manufacturer.

Not long after joining GeekDad, I explained in one of our “Formative Years” posts, that Games Workshop is hugely responsible for my passion for games and geekery. From the age of 12 onwards, just about every moment of my spare time was devoted to Games Workshop and its games. I played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as often as I could, and when I couldn’t do that I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle. When I couldn’t do either, I read about them, made up armies, or rolled up new characters.

But time passes and other things absorb it. I fell away from the hobby. I returned a couple of times, mainly to paint, rather than play (curiously something I loathed doing as a teenager,) but I was merely a dabbler on the fringes of the scene.

Then I heard about Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and I was, frankly, appalled by what I read. So much so, I wrote this. Yet, despite feeling like my childhood had been ruined (more on hobbyist entitlement in a future post,) I found myself inexorably dragged back into the Warhammer world. Even to the point where I’ve started making YouTube videos about it. I’ll be honest, I still sit on the fringes of the hobby. There are some amazingly talented people far more deeply immersed in the lore than I. I consider myself an enthusiastic dabbler rather than anything resembling an expert.

I’ve come back to the game. I love the ease of access of Age of Sigmar. I’ve enjoyed the battles I’ve played, yet there a still a number of things that just don’t sit right with me.

Here’s the first: Why destroy the Old World?

Okay, I partly know the answer to this; Intellectual Property. As well as a rules overhaul, GW wanted (needed?) to rebrand; to stop being generic. Elves became Aelfs, Dwarfs, Duardin, and my beloved, Arthurian inspired Bretonnians were consigned to the cosmic graveyard.

The sadly defunct Bretonnians on display at Warhammer World. Photo: Robin Brooks

And there is the crux of my inability to engage fully with the game. I’m just not that interested in this new-forged world. I concede it’s partly my fault. I haven’t read very much of the “fluff” that goes with it. (As an aside, the term fluff irritates me. It’s possibly part of the reason I can’t engage with the backstory – fluff is something you pick off and discard. Fluff adds nothing.)

The Mortal Realms are, to me, a crappy concept. Eight realms all different, each with its own characteristic race dwelling there.  It’s the sort of idea a twelve-year-old creates. From a battle perspective, it’s fine. You only need a tabletop and some mystical scenery and you’re off, but once you start trying to tell stories within the construct it starts to look false.

I don’t understand what the people who populate the Mortal Realms are doing there. What are their jobs? Where do they live? Where are the farms? Where does the gold they pay their bills with come from? The boring stuff of life is no longer implicit in the setting, and I think it’s needed to ground the stories.

The surroundings don’t, so far, support good storytelling. It’s like eating Michelin starred food inside a McDonald’s. The Old World, like many fantasy stories, had that grounding because it was based on Europe in the Middle Ages. Not particularly strong world-building, but it did at least have firm foundations.

I’m caught in a Catch-22 situation. The stories don’t interest me because I know little about the characters and settings. So I don’t read them, which means I haven’t built a foundation on which new narrative blocks can be placed. With each new release comes a new block, but I have nowhere to put it, so I largely ignore it.  As a result, I’ve found it difficult to buy into the new models that GW have produced for Age of Sigmar.  I appreciate the craft that has gone into them, but none of them excite me. So far, there has been no “Shut up and take my money” release.

What has been exciting me are the models from Warhammer 40,000. I have never played “Space Warhammer” in my life. During my formative years, I was always about Tolkien and fantasy. Now, though, I found myself drawn to the setting.

The 40K universe has now been in existence for 30 years, and a huge number of books and rules supplements have been written for it. The wealth of information available for the various Space Marine Chapters is almost overwhelming. There are even two distinct periods, the 41st Millennium, and the hugely fleshed out 31st Millennium, with its Horus Heresy story arc.

When Games Workshop announced their 40K “Gathering Storm” campaign, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. This promised huge universe-changing events, the destruction of planets, and the return of sleeping heroes. The narratives being told here are built on solid foundations. The stories and the characters have meaning and a wider significance. It’s what I’ve found lacking in Age of Sigmar. 

Shut up and take my money! The awesome Triumverate of the Primarch. Image Copyright: Games Workshop

It helps that the Games Workshop studio designers have been knocking out it of the park with the new 40K miniatures. Which is why, despite not playing the game, I knew I had to have the “Triumvirate of The Primarch,” boxed set when it came out.

The quality of these models is breathtaking, as it was for the models from the first two parts of the Gathering Storm arc. The detail and the dynamic poses spark a visceral need for them to be painted, played with, and new stories created.

I haven’t quite taken the plunge into playing Warhammer 40,000 yet. There are a number of rumored rules changes and the game seems unnecessarily complex when compared with the pared down simplicity of Age of Sigmar. I find myself in the curious position of liking the mechanics of one system and the setting of the other. For now, my colors are still nailed to the fantasy mast but I will be watching the 40K announcements with interest.

In the meantime, I want to paint my Primarch and the amazing Cypher sculpt. I’ve been painting a fair amount this year, but have failed to convert any of my daubings into a GeekDad Paints! post. For the Primarch set, I intend to document as I go, and hope to deliver a series of posts that describes the trials and tribulations of triumvirate tinting.

Until then, what do you think of the Age of Sigmar setting?

Do you fail to get it? Is there some vital link I’m missing to realize the true majesty of the Mortal Realms? Where do you stand with Games Workshop?

The company is on an upward curve at the moment – what do you hope to see in the coming months? Please add your thoughts in the comments below. It would be great to have some GW, GD & GM discussion!

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23 thoughts on “Plastic Addiction: Games Workshop and Me

  1. And this is why I’m going with Blood Bowl instead of tipping over into the slippery slope of WH and WH40k proper.

    What’s the story? KILL, SCORE, KILL MORE
    Why’s everyone mad? see above
    What’s my motivation? see above

  2. I agree completely on what you say my good sir!

    I love the new AOS rules set and such, it is simply fantastic and doesnt give me a headache while playing 🙂

    but the AOS lore is way to weak and dull.., I too am hoping for some more High Fantasy old school stuff like Gotrek & Felix with epic sieges of cool castles and the quest for enchanted weapons in the wilderness. I have read all the 10 Realmgate wars books hoping to fill the plot holes, but they give way to little insight, simply stormcasts trying to be besties with Orks and Undeads…which as usually dont turn out as well xD (the 3 first books are pretty rad thou)

    So as the Stormcasts are cool, we really need to se more of the mortal humans shine, and get some more interesting characters who do interesting things.


    Game rules: EPIC, Easy to learn, hard to master.
    Lore/Fluff: Meh, waaaaay to much stormcasts being stormcast.

  3. I struggled with the same thing, until I just read one of the new Age of Sigmar novels. I started with Book 8 Bladestrom, and it is awesome! It has really got me jazzed about aos.

  4. Quite a lot of the epic is hidden in the novels. The fluff is there, not well developed but it is there. Think of the mortal realms more like Planescape than the old world and you start to get it. Even with cities spanning two realms with a realmgate between. Hammerhal from the new Warhammer Quest setting.
    The epic sieges and stories are there, just not the old fantasy tropes. It’s no longer LoTR, nor is it the old world, but there is a lot of scope for storytelling in what is arguably a more fantastical and varied setting.
    I am not an AoS fanboy as I was completely dead set against it, but learning about the lore piecemeal has made it interesting.
    There are some mis-steps, I don’t really like some of the fluff of the Seraphon for example, but in general it’s shaping up as interesting and more varied, although less grounded, than the old setting.

  5. Hi there, I know how you feel , started around the age of 10 years old. and fantasy was always a big part of my childhood. how in the hell would they dare to kill the fantasy setting..

    so needless to say i was angry aswell. and started to expand my 40k army.
    now 1,5 year later I felt like i was missing a part of me. And decided if they really killed fantasy… the least thing i could do is read the End Times.

    so after reading the End times, I have to say they killed it with respect. so i found my closure in it. and decided to start reading the realmgate war books,, to help me get in the age of sigmar lore. (havent started yet tough) but getting quite enthausiastic about it.

    but totally understand your feelings.. the game of age of sigmar is fun and easy to get into. while 40k is a drag with special rules to keep up with. ( remember the times i knew every rule of all the armies of Fantasy good ol times haha )

    keep up the blog, enjoyed reading it.

    (native langue is not english , probally already guessed so haha)


    1. Cheers Dian, thanks for commenting.
      The rules changes are what brought me back to the game – and to be honest, in many ways understanding the world, doesn’t really matter to me.

      I just noticed that myself being pulled towards the 40K stories more and more, in a way they never did before.

      I think it’s simply the wealth of background available; it’s possible to fit the 40k stories into a wider picture.

  6. As an old fantasy fan and someone who thoroughly enjoys the fluff of the new game could you further explain your comment

    “The Mortal Realms are, to me, a crappy concept. Eight realms all different, each with its own characteristic race dwelling there. It’s the sort of idea a twelve-year-old creates.”

    You’ve stated your opinion here as fact, but giving no examples in the system or in the wider fantasy genre as to why. Its a bit sloppy really, and doesn’t help us understand your point.

    Edit: This is also applicable to your comment “The surroundings don’t, so far, support good storytelling.” You don’t provide any examples to back up your opinion.

    If anything this reinforces the possibility that you are coming towards the system with such a large bias that might render your opinion valueless to a wider audience, as you show a lack of research or refusal to engage with the system you are reviewing.

    1. From reading some of your other comments on FB – I know that you and I come from opposite sides from this.

      I haven’t stated my opinion as fact – unless it’s a fact that it’s my opinion, which it is. I created stories with different realms when I was around 12. Each realm had it’s own property or race of people. It’s a very simple device to set up conflict.

      It’s great for setting battles in – but it just doesn’t pull me in as a narrative setting. Some of this is the GW style of using large words and many, many adjectives. I read the Nagash novel and it was cringeworthy. Endless battles, characters introduced or name-checked with no thought for the uninitiated. So perhaps the second line you quoted is incorrect. Perhaps the setting does allow for good storytelling, and I’ve been unfortunate and only read a bad example of it. A couple of people have recommended some titles, and it’s my intention to go away, read them and see what I think.

      Which in many ways was the point of writing the piece – tell me what I’m missing.

      1. To address some of your points.

        I feel we are more similar than you think. AoS is quite new, and as a hardcore fantasy fan, when the game was chucked i was left with a similar choice, 40k or AoS.

        Articles like this would have been really useful to someone like myself.

        On that point, I feel this piece in particular presents a slightly less useful and informative article than it could have been.

        To jump around a bit

        The realms all seem to house their own internal conflicts which gives them a slightly more interesting character than your 12 your old self might have written. Within the realm of life for example we have Pestilence in dominion and life, previously dormant, trying to regain control.

        A traditional theme, slightly skewed with a warhammer flavour.

        The realms in AoS don’t display much or any external conflict with each other, although having patron gods who were once allies, they are home to a sizeable collection of inter-warring factions with their own interests.

        I enjoy the setting as I feel it portrays a more ancient understanding of the gods with a modern twist.

        A similar setting might the battle between the greek pantheon and the titans.

        On to novels!

        It is a shame you didn’t mention the Nagash Novel in your article. Its not very good, actually its pretty rubbish.

        Picking out authors who write sloppily can help others in a similar position as yourself dodge less readable books rather than generalising about the setting as a whole, possibly turning people off the better books that they might have enjoyed.

        I would say, stay away from the big campaign books unless you want to run a huge narrative campaign. They are pretty uninspired in terms of writing.

        To tell you what you’re missing.

        You’re only missing what you put into the hobby, very little is handed to you on a plate in 40k or AoS,

        It is an endless toolbox to create your own fun, and that makes it uniquely rewarding.

        1. Thanks for such a thoughtful response – apologies for the delay in replying, I’ve had a stinking cold and coherent thought wasn’t high on the list of things I could manage!

          Thanks for the tip about the campaign books – duly noted, I want to read some well-executed stories in the Mortal Realms. ( I have actually mentioned that the Nagash novel is pants in a couple of places on GeekDad, so a third time felt like belaboring the point – but you’re right some context would have helped.)

          As to your last comments – you are, of course, absolutely right you get out what you put in. That conundrum hits at the heart of so many GeekParent things. Time to immerse oneself as deeply as one might like is not always easy to come by. On that score, 40K is currently more appealing as I’ve absorbed some of its lore by osmosis.

          Next up for me is a small Stormcast army, and hopefully to read the novels recommended in the comments here. No doubt, I’ll report back how I got on.

  7. I love AOS and loved the old world. AOS has some great lore that’s just starting to get fleshed out. City of Secrets is an amazing book that shows the human side of the mortal realms.

    WHFB had 30 years of lore to draw from and AOS is in its infantancy. It will get much better and they’re already starting.

    As much as I loved the old world it had defined boarders. Which as a game limits the new races or ability to create something new. With the mortal realms anything is possible, which is the advantage 40k always had with a whole universe.

    1. I definitely agree with you there Chris. I do feel like the world (or realms) are the designer’s oyster under the new world. Just nothing has really grabbed me yet. Some of the individual sculpts are amazing, but as yet none has screamed “buy me, buy me!”

  8. I’m fine with aos rules but the setting is rather flimsy and weak. The over arcing story isnt too bad, but the lore doesnt have a lot in it. I recommend to do what I do, play aos but have it set in the old world.

    1. In my head, that’s what I do. I actually only play with one friend and the moment – so in many respects, where the battles are, is irrelevant!

  9. Newb at lore here, so probably my comment will sound stupid. Loves AoS in term of gameplay, and the models are all “buy me” for me. but that’s just our different taste in model, so understandable. In term of lore, in my understanding, isnt AoS is a continuation from the end times? It’s a sequel, so the old world still the foundation for AoS right? And end times basically old world is destroyed by chaos(yay), then sigmar changed the world to realm(i think) and create stormcast to fight chaos. So with lots of chaos people still conquering almost everything, everything is already destroyed, doesnt it make sense if at the beginning everything they do is fighting to reclaim their conquered land? They need to push back chaos to live peacefully. That’s why it’s full of stormcast, coz they are the only one that can push back chaos at the beginning. Now that it’s started to become more stable, lifes started to sprout out again. i think in the latest novel they explain about normal human in there. I think end times as an apocalypse, AoS is just almost the post-apocalyspe state, and hammerhal is the start of the new life.

  10. Great article of your personal experience, and some great feedback from players who both love and dislike the setting. When Aos hit there was a pull in the podcast community and so a buddy and I started the “Mortal Realms” podcast and we read as much as we could and we share the stories.

    That said, Warbeast by Gav Thorpe is a great read and shows us human survivors and the skaven we know and love as well as more complex Stormcast.

    I think GW is trying to fill in the blanks quickly and point to all that’s possible in the realms. Sure we all created these worlds when we were 12 but all the worlds we geeks play in are not the one we live in. Having elements of realism doesn’t make them more “adult” or mature. But where AoS needs to go next is to give you more to care about. And for everyone that’s going to be different. The Stormcast POV is alien, but they are mortals that cared about real things and people, thrust into a crazy epic battle and trying to wrap their head around it just like we are. Maybe that’s enough to relate to.

  11. Thanks for writing this – I agree with much of what you said about GW and AoS, but I’m going to disagree (or maybe just comment) on a few points:

    I think AoS is a good system only when comparing it to WHFB, esp. at the end when it seemed very cumbersome. Compared to some of the other games of more or less the same scale that are out there, I don’t think it’s that stellar. I’m really enjoying Kings of War, Frostgrave, and Lion/Dragon Rampant, for example. GW has always tried to market itself outside the larger minis hobby, but we have a lot of choices, I think.

    I know that many don’t share this view, but I Really don’t like the stories in 40k. You make a good point with how developed it is, but I just find it ugly and unpleasant – not in a cool way. I painted a bunch of Grey Knights before ever playing just because I liked the models, but a little time with their narrative turned me off completely. The story and setting of Beyond the Gates of Antares, for one example, I find much more compelling and smart, And Rogue Stars has some real potential, even as sparse as it is.

    1. You make a good point about other systems out there. I’m one of life’s loyal customers. I rarely change my bank or phone provider. I have a history with GW, and that’s hard to break away from. Add into that the cost in money and time of learning a new system, for me at the moment, GW wins.

      That said, I’ve heard lots of great things about Frostgrave and I believe any minis go with that ruleset, so I should really give it a go.

  12. I love Age of Sigmar! I have no problem following it’s lore and you are painting it in poor brush strokes with dull colors. It’s a world they are still building but it’s already had a lot established. It’s in the Campaign books and the novels. If you aren’t buying and reading them how do you think you’ll understand it?

  13. I have bottomless envy for those who can put together a Warhammer collection. I am always blown away by it.

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