Sunday, 2 October 2011

Living on the edge

I get the impression that GW are currently pretty happy with the current range of armies available in Warhammer. It has been a long time since I heard any real rumours about a new race being introduced to the game. To a certain extent, this is understandable there are currently 15 full-blown races to choose from, and GW seem to be in perpetual catch-up mode to re-release the existing armies in order to try keep things fresh and players interested.

When you think about it, 15 distinct races, each with their own model range, is a lot for a single game. It must be a constant headache trying to juggle them all and ensure that everyone gets their time in the limelight, instead of being forgotten in a dark corner. Im sure most players feel that GW dont always (or ever, depending upon how jaded you are) get these things right. For all that I get frustrated too, I do sympathise. However, as bravely as GW might juggle all these armies, there have been victims along the way.

In the time I have been playing Warhammer, there have been 2 full-blown armies that have been introduced and sustained for a while, before falling by the wayside. There have also been a fairly long list of “temporary” armies that were created as part of campaigns or other devices, and which have outlived their usefulness. And I can think of at least one example of a list that was somewhere in between. All of these things are, for all intents and purposes, dead. But they once lived and deserve more than being forgotten.

Storm of Chaos
First up, I want to discuss the campaign that was Storm of Chaos. This was released back in 2004 (I admit it shocks me a little bit to think that it was 7 years ago, but the internet would never lie to me. Never!), and was accompanied by a book, much the same size as any given army book of the period. Inside the book was the background of the campaign, rules for the main special characters involved, and a suite of army lists, generally built around existing books but with distinct character. The following lists were included:

Archaons Horde
A Warriors of Chaos list that saw the introduction of the Hellcannon. The list was meant to be used in a special scenario where the Chaos army was twice the size of its opposition…

Daemonic Legion 
A complete revision of the existing Daemon list, it took the army from useless to extremely powerful (they skipped the middle ground), and was the proving ground for Heralds and a number of units like Bloodcrushers.

Army of Middenland 
A variant of the Empire army book, with Ulric-themed priests and units in place of the usual Sigmarites. This is where those Teutogen Guard models that are so sought-after came from.

Grimgors Ardboyz
An Orc and Goblin army without the Goblins. It was loaded with BigUns and Black Orcs and was meant to represent a gathering of the biggest, meanest brutes Grimgor could lay his claws on.

Slayer Army of Karak Kadrin
A Dwarf army comprised entirely of Slayers, with a selection of new units to give the army some kick, and skills for its characters. The unbreakable nature of the army, its free surge onto the table and the fact that Slayers killed in close combat by high strength or toughness opponents actually earned back victory points meant this was a frustrating army for many to play against.

Cult of Slaanesh
This was a Dark Elf army that employed Slaanesh Daemons and Warriors in some sort of kinky alliance. At the time the Dark Elf book proper was under-strength and under-used, so this list was something of a relief. It was marginally stronger, and added some interest to a struggling army.

Army of Sylvania 
A Von Carstein Vampire Counts list where the army was based around a single Vampire, backed by static markers that constantly streamed bound spells to generate more Zombies and Skeletons. The ultimate list for spamming hordes of the shambling dead, it was meant to represent the home-ground advantage enjoyed by the Von Carsteins when fighting in Sylvania (apparently the whole land is just cunning placed mass graves, ripe for the raising).

Erranty War 
A rather limited variant of the Bretonnian list, loaded with extra-eager Knights Errant. It was a plot device to include the army, but it offered little to the player in terms of variation.

Skaven Clan Eshin 
A Skaven list built around sneaky Assassins and Night Runners. Offered some amusing possibilities in terms of using Skitterleap to teleport Assassins into combat against juicy targets, but somewhat lacking in terms of balance.

High Elf Sea Patrol 
A High Elf army designed specifically to be a wall of shooting. Regardless of how effective it may have ended up (this would vary depending upon opponent), the list was never going to make many friends.

For a couple of years tournament organisers were permitting Storm of Chaos lists, treating them as entirely valid armies until they started to be superseded by newer books for the races in question. The extra variety and the fact that the additions did much to bolster a couple of pretty weak army books made the inclusion worth the danger of some unbalanced lists turning up and spoiling peoples days. Whether this was ever GWs intention is questionable (I recall a Melbourne Grand Tournament the only tournament GW ran that year in Victoria banned Storm of Chaos lists, even as everyone else permitted them). The lists accompanied a finite campaign that played itself out within half a year, and were more based on theme than balance. The fact that Daemons went from being one of the worst armies to clearly the strongest at the time says something about the effect Storm of Chaos lists were having on tournaments.

Storm of Chaos stirred things up, and captured the imaginations of some players with the themed lists and opportunities for modelling and conversion (most of the new unit choices never received official models). Of course, the players who got into the converting and painting the most were also the ones who suffered the most as the campaign wrapped itself up and events gradually began to refuse the army list variants. You might argue that they were taking a gamble in putting time and effort into something that was in danger of vanishing in a puff of smoke, but then that was the whole point of the campaign and the new lists and units.

Of course, players still have the option of pulling lists like this out in casual games with their friends, however with the underlying books having been replaced and the complete lack of support for Storm of Chaos 7 years on, I doubt many players embrace this course of action.

Back when the Empire book was released at the start of 4th edition, Kislev units were included in the Empire army. They were in good company, of course the list also included Halflings, Dwarfs and Ogres. Kislev is a sovereign realm in its own right, however its main involvement in Warhammer back then was as provider of Horse Archers and Wingled Lancers for its Empire ally. Given Horse Archers were largely included as a meat shield for drawing out Night Goblin Fanatics, it was a pretty lousy job indeed.

When the Empire book was released for 6th edition, the Kislevites were gone from its pages. Instead, they came the closest they have ever been to having a list of their own in 2003. The Kislev Allied Contingent received its own book, complete with background and artwork, and included the addition of a couple of new units and some characters. The list could be used in its own right, however with the only Lord choices being special characters (Tzar Boris and the Ice Queen), and the list as a whole containing 1 Hero, 3 Core, 1 Special and 0 Rare options, it was clearly only really intended to be used as allies for an Empire army (just like the old days).

The Kislev Allied Contingent never really gained mainstream status, and Im not sure I ever attended a tournament that permitted its use. This is a great shame, as I like the models and the character of the army, even if its options were cripplingly restrictive. I also cant say when the book began to fall into serious disuse (given I never really saw it used in the first place).

Models were available for all of the options in the Kislev list, however they were all metal and their availability was always somewhat restricted. It wasnt long before you couldnt buy them from GW at all. Nowadays you could bankrupt yourself trying to buy up an entire army of Kossars on EBay.

The Storm of Chaos and Kislev books were on slightly confusing ground in terms of how official they ere and the support they received, but now we get onto those that properly “made it”, before beginning to unravel…

Dogs of War
The Dogs of War were introduced to Warhammer as an army in their own right back in 5th edition. There was a full-blown army book, a complete model range, and a set of special characters. Everything an army needs to be successful, right? Well, apparently not.

From their inception, Dogs of War occupied a slightly grey area in the game of Warhammer. They were a mercenary force, who would fight for almost anyone. You could include them as allies in your existing army, or you could go all-out and field them as an army in their own right. How sporting (or in the case of tournaments, how legal) it was to fill gaps that had been left intentionally in your army as part of their character with mercenary forces was always questionable. Sure, your race has no cannons. Maybe its not meant to have cannons. Oh wait, you found a way to bring some anyway? Depending upon how far you took this, it could be shaky ground with your opponent. This is despite the fact that this is almost certainly how GW imagined the army would be used…

The other grey area occupied by Dogs of War was special characters. A lot of players banned special characters as being too powerful, unbalanced, or even boring (in cases where the same character would be used over and over again). Dogs of War was in essence an entire army of special characters. The entire list was built from Regiments of Renown famous units with predefined options and named characters (often with magic items) leading them. If you were going to ban special characters, what did you do about Regiments of Renown? This was a slightly challenging issue.

It was precious few years down the track when GW started to offload their Dogs of War models. It was one of the rare occasions I have ever seen a serious sale in a GW store, and the deals were excellent. You had to buy things in a bundle of infantry, cavalry and characters, however this was not enough to deter me. I bought a couple of bundles, and ended up with multiple units of pikemen, crossbowmen, Slayer Pirates, Ogres, Halflings and even Dragons. It was great fun, and if Id had slightly more money at the time, I might even have bought more.
However, I should have realised that such a sale does not occur without reason. Presumably sales of the Dogs of War had been particularly lacklustre. Promotional sales might have helped address this, however selling things off this cheaply was not GWs idea of a promotion. It was a clearance. The writing was on the wall for the mercenaries, and they were being dumped as a properly supported race.

A while after 6th edition was released, Dogs of War received get-you-by lists in White Dwarf, and later in the 2002 Annual. These lists covered everything that was in the old army book, however they went a step further. The Regiments of Renown were all there, as you would expect. However, the list now contained “vanilla” versions of all the units. There were generic units of pikemen, crossbowmen, light and heavy cavalry, etc. In addition, you could get units of Dwarfs, Ogres and Halflings (even the Halfling Hot Pot) the very units that had been unceremoniously cut from the 6th edition Empire book. Their inclusion here appeared to be an offering toward the Empire player, suddenly bereft of a use for half his army. The Dogs of War army now had a huge raft of options it was quite exciting for those of us who had the units, ready to be used.

Unfortunately, the “get-you-by” list was actually an “all-you-get” list. It has been 9 years now, and there is no proper army book in sight. This should not actually be surprising, given GW had gone to the extent of selling off all Dogs of War stock. They were highly unlikely to re-launch the entire army especially when they had been reduced to dumping stock in order to shift the army the first time around. It would have been a huge (and arguably stupid) commercial gamble. As I said, 15 armies is a lot of choice the smarter money was to focus on them.
Leopold's Leopard Company now do duty as Empire Spearmen
So, where did the Dogs of War go wrong? How did they fall foul of players to the point where they were dumped after only a few years? I have a few suggestions:

No plastic models
Dogs of War had a full range of models available in 5th edition, in support of the army book. There were 4 distinct units of pikemen, 2 of crossbowmen, several other infantry choices, a number of cavalry units, and more exotic things like Ogres and Giants. What they did not have is plastic models. By this point plastic options were becoming more widespread for other armies, and it was possible to build a relatively affordable army around a plastic core. This development entirely passed the Dogs of War by. As such, they were left with dozens of choices, all of them metal. Buying an entire Dogs of War army was expensive. This meant you really had to want it, which was in turn affected by the concerns below.

No customisation
Building an entire army around predefined Regiments of Renown was a gamble. It meant that each unit was distinct, led by an often substantial character, and often accompanied by a range of special rules. However, it meant the player was reduced to the basic decisions of which units to select, and how much to boost the size of the unit. There was no more customisation available. You could create your own characters, however this was it. A later White Dwarf provided rules for creating such oddities as a mercenary Elf or Ogre general with special rules and a unique profile, but semi-official additions like that are unlikely to sway a players decision regarding the army as a whole. The lack of customisation meant that it was hard to put a stamp on the army and really make it your own. The “temporary” 6th edition list largely rectified this problem, however by then it was a bit late to attract new players.

Lack of unifying character
For all that you could not really customise the units individually, as a whole the Dogs of War army lacked a unifying character. The same army could include Dwarfs, Hobgoblins and Elves races that under normal circumstances would simply not get along. The diversity of the units was potentially a great attraction to some players, however it meant that the only features common to all units were a willingness to fight and a love of money. The army would ultimately be a hodge-podge of different units, and this prevented the list as a whole from generating a real “feel” as you might find in other races. As above, the 6th edition list made it possible to unify and theme your army more strongly, but as I stated it was a bit late by then, and the solutions to these issues only arose once the rules were relaxed and the player could stray from the original armys theme.

Grey area
I talked earlier about the grey area occupied by Dogs of War. The ability to use elements of the list as a mercenary force in another army should have been one of its great selling points. It was a level of flexibility above and beyond any other race, and should have meant that everyone would want to buy at least one unit to use in their existing army. However, it didnt work out that way. Its hard to put a finger on where this plan went wrong it could be that the Regiments of Renown lacked sufficient appeal. Alternately, it could be that part of the appeal of Warhammer is each race having strengths and weaknesses the very things that tend to give the armies character. Perhaps the idea of fielding mercenary Dogs of War units to plug the gaps didnt appeal to players as GW expected, either because it undermined the character of the army, or it felt too much like bending the rules.

Regardless of all this, Dogs of War have basically ceased to exist as an entity. It is still possible to buy many of the models from the GW webstore, however this will do nothing to win new players to the cause, especially when its apparent that if a new book has not been released by now, its never going to happen.

Chaos Dwarfs
And finally we get to the Chaos Dwarfs the reason I started writing this article. The Chaos Dwarfs first appeared in the pages of White Dwarf during 4th edition. In 1994 the various White Dwarf releases were rolled together into a single volume. White Dwarf presents: Chaos Dwarfs was an army book in its own right, albeit one somewhat undermined by its title. The title make sense in that the material contained therein had previously been published over time in White Dwarf, however it in some way detracted from the feel of the book being a full-blown, completely official release.

Chaos Dwarfs combined Dwarf resilience and mastery of artillery with the potential to field teeming hordes of greenskin minions, and the flying monsters and magic available to other races. They had a character all their own there was no mistaking a Chaos Dwarf for a regular Dwarf, even if it was just due to the height of the models (The Chaos Dwarf was twice the height of his foe, courtesy of his ludicrous hat).

The list was accompanied by the release of a small armys worth of new models, including Chaos Dwarf Warriors, Blunderbusses, Hobgoblins, Bull Centaurs, artillery and characters. This was further bolstered by the ability to use Orc and Goblin models, who they kept as slaves and herded into battle. In other words, there was no lack of model support. Players had everything they needed.

Chaos Dwarfs never seemed to really resonate with a large number of gamers. People bought them, but they were never one of the most popular armies. It may have been the slightly hybrid personality of the list, with it being based around Dwarfs, yet largely compromising the things that characterise a Dwarf army. Effectively piggy-backing on Orcs and Goblins for a large number of models may not have aided the armys appeal, although you would have thought it would make the army an ideal extension for players who already had those models from an existing greenskin army. 

Maybe people dont like big hats. This may sound like a strange thing (especially if you do like big hats), but the attire of the old Chaos Dwarf models tends to polarise opinion. These models really epitomise the GW Red Period of the early to mid 1990s. Chaos Dwarfs are very cartoon-ish, with their huge hats, massive hooked noses and curly beards. Some people (myself included) love this period, and find the models rather amusing. Others dislike it intensely, and as such the models would not appeal. The style of the models is also very different from any older Chaos Dwarf models you may come across, such as two-headed mutants and short, hooded men with long, wickedly barbed swords. In completely restyling the stereotypical Chaos Dwarf when the list was released, GW may have effectively lost what following the evil little guys had beforehand, meaning the army was trying to establish a new supporter base from scratch, backed by a less than full-blown release.
Who you calling short? My hat is as tall as you are...
When 6th edition came around, the Chaos Dwarfs were included in the temporary lists in Ravening Hordes (the free booklet with basic, compressed rules for all armies). Unlike every other race, this list has never been replaced with a proper army book. This means the “temporary” lists has now been in play for 11 years (and 3 editions). The models have long since disappeared from GW, with no sign of them ever being replaced. The only Chaos Dwarfs we have seen in recent times have been the crew for the Chaos Hellcannon, and those guys are styled so differently that you have to wonder whether GW have disowned the old style with the big hats entirely (ignore it long enough and it will go away).

The Chaos Dwarfs are still safely ensconced in background material, so there is no question of them disappearing from the Warhammer world entirely. However, it may be that GW have decided that there is no place for them as a stand-alone army in the game. This is sad enough even if you dont have an army of them gathering dust and waiting for their time to come again…

The breath of life
I say Chaos Dwarfs are the reason I started writing this article, but they lie forgotten, a decade of dust protecting them from the horrors of the outside world and the progress of the game. They are dead. Or are they? 

Recently there has been talk on the internet revolving around a new book being released by Forge World. This book is on the cusp of being released, and it includes (of all things) a whole new list for Chaos Dwarfs. Forge World are going where GW proper has not in many years, and stirring the Chaos Dwarfs back to life. This is exciting news for lovers of the army everywhere, as it comes alongside a raft of new models (sans big hats). 
New Forge World Chaos Dwarf Infernal Guard. They must add the big hats after the photos...
But this release brings with it a problem. For all that Forge World are a division of Games Workshop, they are not part of the core development team. So how official does that make this new army list? Forge World have been releasing “experimental” rules alongside their models for years, however this is the first time that a full-blown Warhammer army list has come our way. How openly will the community (in particular tournament circles) accept it?

GW has a long history of muddying the waters around “official”, “semi-official” and “unofficial” rules. The problem has always revolved around the fact that the games the company make are not aimed at competitive play. When its just a group of friends playing on a kitchen table, the firmness of the rules doesnt really matter you can agree what to use before you play. However tournaments are a group of strangers meeting up with the intent of competing, and firm rules (and ideally a level playing field) are a necessity. 

GW has done its best to clarify things over time, starting with the old Chapter Approved and Warhammer Chronicles items in White Dwarf clearly flagged as official and tournament-ready. In recent times we have seen fewer official and semi-official rules floating about the magazine, with the rules being firmly contained in the various army books and rulebooks, and in the FAQs. However, the recent introduction of the Terrorgheist and other Vampire Counts units has seen the pattern change again, and now we are presented with an entire new army list from Forge World. These developments push the decisions back on the community.

Allowing a new army book that was not written by the core Warhammer developers and is not readily available in stores presents problems. The obvious question is whether the rules are balanced, and who makes a final decision like that. The other question is whether it is acceptable to permit a list that most people will never have seen, and can only obtain by ordering it from overseas or by illegal means (for instance if they dont have time to wait for an international parcel). On the other hand, this is an army previously published by GW, for which players have armies, and which has obviously been dumped with little hope of mainstream revival. Rules published by GW (albeit a different division) may be the closest we will ever get to a fully official army book.

How important these decisions are and the pros and cons need to be weighed up by individual tournament organisers. I am not going to delve into the arguments in this article.

Another consideration is where this leaves the many fan-developed army books out there. If you dont know what Im talking about, have a look below. You may be shocked by the quality of what has been developed, and areas of the Warhammer world which may never be expanded upon by GW have been laid out in impressive detail. These books may never be permitted in a tournament (rightly or wrongly), however they deserve to be noticed. Like the Chaos Dwarfs, alternative sources like this may be the only way the Dogs of War, Kislev and others will ever see the light of day again. 


  1. This is a really good read and poses some interesting questions about the direction of the game. I like the idea that the decisions should be taken by the community of gamers. I had a conversation just this morning about how this is an excellent time for the game... as long as you have broad horizons. GW are pumping out some great miniatures and the 8th Ed books have been great (so far..!) AND other manufactures are really getting their act together and producing some amazing models of their own - I'm just glad I'm not still 16 and getting by on Saturday job cash!

    I think the Storm of Magic 'bound monsters' approach seems to be what we'll be getting for a few years in terms of 'official' rule supplements. This is ok if you've got the monsters already, but the idea of buying some of those new ogre beasties just to field them in another army... hmmm, that's asking a bit too much in terms of expenditure.

  2. Oh and I should've mentioned I'm reading the unofficial Albion book as we speak... or as I type, if you will... Well worth a look.

  3. GW have suggested that Storm of Magic is the first in what could be a series of rules supplements. And yes, they are "official" as far as that goes. Unfortunately they were too wild to be considered for competitive play, so the whole book got sidelined and is in danger of being forgotten. If that trend continues, much of the community will end up benefiting little from the effort GW put into these supplements, when it could be spent on "core" additions like a new Chaos Dwarf book.

    I think we tend to get too hung up over things like "official" rules, although lines do need to be drawn where tournaments are involved. GW have always encouraged players to tweak and make their own rules as they see fit, but I suspect many of us never really embrace this side of things. Maybe the "fandexes" are a way for more people to do that.

  4. I'm a constant rules tweaker, so Storm of Magic is a goldmine for me - as, I hope, will be further supplements. But then I'm not a tourney player, so the official/unofficial boundary is one I can always negotiate within my regular gaming group.