Waaagh It All Began
Second edition 40K is technically where I came in.
I didn’t really play properly – I must have set up and played the Battle for Armageddon scenarios (compressed onto a barely 3′ by 2′ folding table) half a dozen times in my grandparents’ house, but other than that I think I played two chaotic games against other eleven year olds who had even less grasp of the rules than I did and hadn’t even bothered with “army lists” or “staying within one Codex”.
SOMETHING about it had me by the throat, though. I think it was the sheer density of the thing: the rich, vibrant, busy art style; the encyclopaedic Wargear and Codex Imperialis books alongside the rules; the short fiction, some of it really haunting in how it portrayed the futility of life in the forty-first millennium (‘Griznak at the Bridge’ gave an Ork a kind of self-doubting, self-aware tragedy you’d never see in today’s tie-ins, and ‘Dark Communion’ is still the essence of Chaos for me) all the damn cards and templates, some of them for strange weapons I would never see fired in anger. And dear god, some of those rules were complex, some of that art was grim!
I know there was hue and cry on the early-days domestic Internet about GW “dumbing down for the kids” with the rise of the Kirby era box sets (my first Internet fight was with one Christopher Valera over his Burger Workshop pastiche, when I was one of those very kids and defending the space opera genre with intensity only the barely pubescent can muster – I doubt he remembers, and I would prefer not to). Having looked from third edition WFB to fourth I can see where that came from, but I’m not sure how it sits with 40K. Second edition 40K was a complicated beast for an eleven year old to grasp, and artwork like the Pontifex Maximus (which still gives me the conniptions to this day!) still made it in.
I played Necromunda, though, and found the rules (especially hand to hand combat – sweet mercy, what a mess that was!) much more accessible when single models were targeting single models. I suppose that’s what I really remember second edition as, in retrospect: rules for individuals, creaking and groaning as whole squads were forced through them. It took another go around for 40K’s developers to work out how it needed to be more than Fantasy In Space: the increased complexity of movement/placement, and the varied weapon loadouts in squads, were accommodated by knocking out the modifiers and conditions that applied much more smoothly to a regiment.
But all of this is just preamble. You see: I collected Orks. They were also in the box and Adrian Wood’s piece about his own army was in my first ever White Dwarf and look, Space Marines just seemed boring. The Orks were in this for a good time, a bunch of lads doing their best in a hostile universe. They had Gretchin with silly names, they had the comedy voices, they had that cool as shit Dreadnought with the four arms. And nobody wanted all of theirs so I ended up with a lot of extra figures.
No photos of that Goff army survive. This was 1996, and nobody was about to waste physical film on taking (bad) photographs of toys.
Evolution of the Orkoid
When I started out, Orks were hunched, round-jawed, gormlessly charming hooligans held over from the Rogue Trader days, whose look gave the lie to the whole “we’re so ‘ard we are” character of the army and revealed them for what they are: lazy-but-dangerous thugs. They looked hard, but they also looked silly.
The plastic Warbike and Warbuggy just released when I started were hints of things to come: by 1997 Gorkamorka had landed and Orks were more compact, more low-tech, with straps and fur and primitive weapons with slightly silly but evocative names.
I got quite into Gorkamorka at the time and was on the cusp of picking up metal mobs when BLAM, 1999 rolled around and Brian Nelson appeared on the scene and suddenly Orks were big, angry, slabbed with muscle, roaring and gorging. It was all very impressive but even as a kid I felt something had gone. These Orks weren’t funny. These Orks looked angry, and any funny bits in the rules were more… “random things happen sometimes, that’s how comedy works right?”
Don’t get me wrong, I shelved my second edition starter box Goffs and my Gorkamorka mobs who’d been pretending they were Fast Attack choices, sold my Dark Eldar on the spot, and went right in with one of all the new infantry models and that glorious new Warboss. They were ready in time for Armageddon and were the start of my ‘proper’ 40K-playing career. The rules were pitched at a level my third-form chums could wrap their heads around and so we actually played more or less properly.
But with the benefit of hindsight I see the newer, beefier, scarier Orks as a symptom of the universe: the start of that long slide away from “everything in this universe is self-ridculing and we all kind of know and accept that” into, well, the po-faced fandom object that attracts very serious people with important and grown up political ideas who’ve read all the Horus Heresy novels like they matter.
Game was still fun, though.
No photos of my third edition armies survive. This was 1999, and we still didn’t have cameras in our pockets. All these models are long gone, too: car booted at my own behest because if I didn’t do it, my grandmother would, and she’d have sold the lot for ten pee and a hot chocolate. At least I could ask for something like what they’d cost.
Oh, Manchester, so much to answer for
Time passed. I sold everything going into my GCSEs and when I came back to the hobby two years later, the Great Bet won and grandparental silence on the matter assured, I was distracted by Chaos 3.5 and all the Bearing of the Word that went on therein. But I still loved me some Orks, and when the time came to let go of my rather bedraggled Chaos Space Marines and do something new for fifth edition 40K, there was a starter box full of Orks and here was Edd flogging off his spare Guard tanks and I ended up with a Blood Axe army.
I enjoyed these up to a point. Building my new Warboss (my half-complete old Warboss with a Space Marine Terminator head and arm bolted on for “cybork parts”), Battlewagon (a magnetised, articulated land train monstrosity towing a sawn-off Earthshaker and a platform big enough for twelve) and Buggies (literal scrap; sprues and chariot wheels with an Ork and an engine buried inside them somewhere) was a giggle. Painting even forty Slugga Boyz was at this stage not.
I think what went wrong here is the same thing that went wrong with my Four Horsemen Chaos Warriors. Manchester (where I was living at the time) had a very competitive gaming scene and I just wasn’t into it, placing just above wooden spoon territory in most events. Beyond that, my startup business was failing and I was ill all the time; my MA was hard and dull compared to the BA and I just wasn’t having a good time in general. A lot of my stuff from this period just vanished. Something must have happened to it.
There should be some photos of these, and battle reports. I was active on the-waaagh at the time and I’m sure I posted a few. But this was the age of Photobucket, and we all know what happened to Photobucket, and the Waaagh forum is down at the time of writing. If I ever find them I’ll get back to you.
Money for Old ‘hammer
Time continued to pass. This damn’ blog got started and life happened, as it does, and on the cusp of my thirtieth year alive I ended up in Abergavenny living the hermitic life of the freelance writer and not entirely sure how I’d got here.
But because I was thirty, and because my twentieth Hobby Birthday was coming up, I knew exactly what I wanted to do to celebrate. I was going to do an Ork army. For second edition 40K. Only this time, I wasn’t going to do it on a pocket money budget.
L@@K GENUINE OOP OLDHAMMER CITADEL wasn’t the “let me pay my mortgage flogging old tat!” battlecry it is today, so I was able to amass quite a collection of old metal Orks. In fact… there are pictures.
EDITED TO ADD: In fact, there are WAVES of pictures! Every so often I trawl the Wayback Machine looking for caches of this blog’s previous iteration (for those late to the party, I deleted the blog in a fit of self-loathing fury a few years ago, only to repent and recreate it a few months later; sadly, the photos were all very, very gone by then) and I found a whole bunch of Ork photos. So here we go.
What happened to this project? Well, I lined them all up on a shelf and did nothing with them for two years. And then I thought “that’s money, just sitting there, that you’re doing nothing with,” and so I sold them.
I also bought myself a couple of plastic kits around this time (and Ross, my brother in law to be, was kind enough to spot me a resin Big Boss for Christmas), because there were some conversions I wanted to do just to see what they looked like. Here they are.
I really enjoyed putting these together, but… again, they were orphans really, something I did for the sake of doing. There was never a grand purpose to them and they went on to… hmm. I wonder what did happen to those? Can’t find them on my eBay profile, so it must have been a Facebook trade.
During the Oldhammer trip I also picked up some Rogue Trader era plastics. A Land Raider, which Ben-n-Jess gave me for helping Jess with her dissertation (along with most of her Chaos Space Marines, about which more later, probably), and a box of the original Space Ork plastics, which I put aside to make an army with the Land Raider and then… yes, sat on for years and did nothing with.
Until this year.
This year I signed on for the Old World Army Challenge and resolved to paint 40-odd grotty old Space Orks and a grotty old tank and a single new model, a metal Warboss to lead them all.
As you can see, I did it. I haven’t actually enjoyed painting them very much (old, soft, blobby plastic sculpts in vibrant colours aren’t really my natural painting style) but I’d settled in by the time I got to the tank and the Warboss and they, at least, look good. Everything else passes the Four Feet Away Under Flourescent Light test and is fine.
But the experience has awakened something in me. See, I have enjoyed doing the green skin, and mucking around with the technical paints on the tank. I have been thinking about how the Ork range is one of the most continuous in 40K: the Ork Boyz you can buy in shops now are a retool of the same ones I was building and half-arsing in 1999! (Goffs are very forgiving like that; with a black primer and a steady hand you can avoid painting half the model and literally just base, face and blade the whole army.)
And all this got me thinking about ways in. See, I like to escalate with an army. As we’ve seen with The Maven & The Witch, skirmishing helps me maintain some mojo and actually get the core stuff painted in good order, and build background. And it’s… actually quite easy to do this with Classichammer Orks.
Imagine I started out with a Gorkamorka mob. I’d have a Trukk, because they’re an efficient way of ferrying a bunch of lads around; I’d have a Nob, obviously, a couple of mekanikally-inclined Orks to run the vehicles, and a few other lads to do the fighting; and being me, I’d probably load up on Warbikes so I could have a squadron of screens and hunters around the core vehicle.
I could do all that with current kits.
And that would be, co-incidentally, two Troops choices for a Speed Freeks army. Stick a Warboss on the top of that (I’m quite fond of that new giant trike kit) and I’m ready to roll.
Beyond that… well, there are “modules” I’ve wanted to muck around with ever since the kits came out. I want to see if I can bash a Predator, a Battlewagon and a Land Raider into, effectively, two Battlewagons and a looted Vindicator. All the spare arms from Ork kits are crying out to be stuck on Kromlech bodies. I might even revisit my old Nobz mob conversions.
I’m at least decent at painting Ork skin (I’ve had enough practice), gunmetal is always easy and takes well to the technical paint/ink glob approach, and I have a lot of mid browns and reds in my paint collection – they could all do with using on something.
And I have always, in some capacity or another, liked Orks. One of my schoolmates skewered me with this observation years ago – I like my baroque evildoers and scheming villains well enough, but part of me has always loved the sheer free-spirited little-c chaos of an Ork army and isn’t quite satisfied with any of the boring stuff I do for WFB at the moment.
It’s even been pointed out to me that ninth edition 40K is built to suit 500/1000/1500/2000 point “blocks”, with different missions for each scale of engagement. I don’t know if I could stand the theatre of rules again, but it’d be nice to have the option.
I’m not saying I’ll do it. I’ve said I’ll do it before and, as we’ve seen from this behemoth of a post, it’s come to nowt. But I might do it.