[Meta Gaming] Winterborn: 2021 Hobby Retrospective

Around this time last year (just before my birthday, in fact), The Twisted & The Twilight released for Total War: Warhammer 2. It was something of a shot in the arm for me, coming along after the six months in which I didn’t do much other than play Total War (I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I had the depression), and before the “circuit breaker” lockdown put me back in my cupboard for four months.

I enjoyed playing the Sisters of Twilight (incidentally, I’d like to issue a correction for my previous post. I’ve just completed a Hard/Hard campaign with them and I think I lost… two battles. I haven’t had to lift a finger to fight off the Ritual armies. I can confirm the Sisters are Pay To Win, as I have Paid for them, and Won). I really enjoyed playing Drycha, and tearing up the very familiar borderlands of Sylvania with my screaming purple trees, then turning on the Asrai that I might attack and dethrone (demi)god. And I had an indefinite period of short working days ahead of me. So… I started a Wood Elf army.

I’ve always enjoyed building miniatures and playing games, but the bit in between often loses me, so I was determined to build, paint, build, paint and so on. My most successful army-collecting efforts have always been punctuated by small games, but of course I was trapped in my quiet little mountain town and not really able to go anywhere. So… I had to improvise.

Inspired by the four-part Campaign Packs of yesteryear, the titles of those TWW2 packs and the rough background I’d thrashed out with Dr. Shiny over Christmas, I set up The Maven & The Witch – a four episode jaunt into warband, skirmish and asymmetric play that I could generally tackle of a morning before work.

Later, I took the first 2000 points Covenant to Warhammer Resurrection in the summer of 2021, to unspectacular results. After some brief hobby wobble I resolved to stick with them into the 2022 events. I like the army aesthetically, but tactically it needed some different bits; a second Treeman and Branchwraith, some Wild Riders to open up additional threat vectors, and I’ve also taken the opportunity to add a new general.

A heroine has arisen in the faraway Forest of Gloom – a Highborn whose elegant solution to the Covenant is to not be part of it, thus free of the curse and able to think clearly. This gives me a) an excuse to paint up the dramatically action posed wood elf archer lady from Cursed City and b) an opportunity to port my long-suffering CRPG character Nivienne into yet another fantasy universe. Murderous Forest Gremlin Nivi didn’t ask to be in charge of an army, but since they’re crap at being in charge of themselves she didn’t think she had a choice.

While confined to barracks and not in a fit state to paint I have also put some research into the names I was using for background (I’d like to pretend I didn’t steal “the Twin Princes of Tiernmas” from a Vampire: the Masquerade supplement, but I never got anywhere by lying), and found them surprisingly correspondent with what I’d come up with! Tiernmas was mythic Ireland’s first idolater king, warned by his sage advisor Celann to defer his descent and punished for his transgressions by divine wrath.

Now, I’d spent a good chunk of the year idly scheming about some fifth edition games covering the fall of Deadwood. In the face of a winter that never ended came a desperate or hubristic turn to ancient powers best forgotten about, that had already claimed one kingdom and reached out insidious talons for another. The details are still simmering down, but I’ll tell you this much; it involves the Crown of Sorcery.

I think what’s stitching together in my head is that the Crown was brought out of the Badlands by Orcs, returning from the sack of Mourkain; was seized by the human tribes that founded High Tiernmas, a kingdom of black magic and stolen power; and was sealed away beneath the Heart of the Forest by the first elves who came out of Athel Loren and settled there.

(I should add that, because I’m fitting in with Shiny’s Bretonnian backstory, the location has already been set outside Athel Loren; we’re in the forest of Chalons. I’m also not in a position to explain exactly what’s behind the endless magical winter that blights the region, although I am choosing to believe that all the necromancy made it worse.)

Of course, under great and terrible pressure, the Asrai aristocracy might have turned to the Crown and its forbidden power – and this is where I actually came in. All I wanted to do was play one of those “High Magic and Dark Magic” Wood Elf armies in a non-eighth edition of Warhammer, because eighth gives me the conniptions. Fifth had the Crown of Sorcery, which turns a character into a Level 3 Necromancer, able to cast with Dark Magic (alongside the Wood Elf Archmage who can use High Magic), but having to take a Leadership test every time they do so; clearly the better elven nature of the wearer reasserting itself over the malign influence of the Crown’s occupant.

And incidentally, this has given me a backstory for the Druid as well: a elven mage from the long-long-ago, returning to the site of his greatest failure in a noble effort to make good. Perhaps he’s the one who took the Crown far, far away, leaving it in the Chaos Wastes in the hope it wouldn’t bloody well show up again and co-incidentally returning it to THE LOAR in time for Jervis Johnson to use it in a battle report c. 1994? Or maybe I’ll just admit that I’m setting all my games in a weird parallel version of the World that touches THE LOAR here and there but is often off playing at Wild Beasts under the table.

So! All that top-of-the-noggin rambling aside, here’s what I have in the build-paint-build-paint cycle queue for next year.

  • 10 Eternal Guard
  • 2 Glade Guard champions / Waywatchers
  • 5 Wild Riders
  • 5 Wardancers (these are older metal figures, who might well end up based as a Mordheim warband, a “counts as Shadow Warriors” sort of deal)
  • 2 Great Eagles
  • 16 Dryads
  • Treeman
  • Branchwraith
  • Highborn

This army’s definitely going to the 2022 Resurrection campaigns (May and September). If I can find an opportunity to play some fifth edition games I would very much like to do so. I have also thrown down the gauntlet to Herr Doktor – we’ve been threatening to ram our new armies into each other for a good couple of years now (since before the debacle at Isca, if you credit it), and have settled on a 1500 point engagement (to be fought in Tor Caerdydd or Brycgstow) so neither of us has anything to paint. All of this merely impends, of course; first, there is the winter season, in which I sincerely hope my hands will behave themselves and I’ll be able to get some blasted figures done.

Concurrently with my Wood Elves, I was also taking my first/last/only attempt at the Old World Army Challenge. I won’t be doing this again, mostly because I don’t have any more old-school figures and I’m a forward looking “pay the wages of people who make things today, not the mortgages of people who bought things twenty years ago” kind of hobbyist, but I am… proud isn’t exactly the word? I’m glad I did it. It cleared a bottleneck and made good on a promise and I learned something about myself along the way.

My mission, should I have chosen to accept it (and I did) was to produce a 1000 point army for second edition Warhammer 40,000. Beneath this, there were personal challenges: “finally paint up that Land Raider I’d had on the shelves since 2015”, “beat the standard established by the Orks’ previous owner” and “perchance give a damn about painting again” as I was in a real goddamn slump when I first signed up.

This is in fact a 1300 point army of Rogue Trader Space Orks (plastic) with a Rogue Trader Land Raider and a metal Warboss, who was the figure I actually enjoyed painting. (All right: I suppose the tank was OK too.)

What I mainly learned from this is that the crisp and bold 1990s paintwork, beloved of many of my peers, isn’t really my thing. I had quite a miserable time figuring out where to place the blacks and reds on these, and the Ork Flesh Wash has left them looking a lot glossier than I remember my originals being, and the less said about those Goblin Green bases the better! I gave it a good college try and I don’t regret making the effort, but I don’t think I can fake-it-till-I-make-it my way back into Herohammer. But here’s the thing: I have given a damn about painting again. Having an opinion, even an unpopular opinion, is a perspective and a motive and even if I’m a scruffy painted who just slaps layers of cold glazes on things forever, I know that’s what I am.

As if spurred on by this dislike for the Old School, for the pre-history I am slightly too young to have experienced, I turned my gaze upon the Middle School, that for which I was there, and painted up a bunch of early-to-mid 2000s figures contemporary with my old Word Bearers army (RIP).

My Chaos Space Marines have settled into the status of a passion project. Since there isn’t a King of Editions, Edition of Kings with an active retro-playing scene to spur me along, I only pick up a Night Lord when I feel like it, which probably explains the four years between build and paint, and the four months between the first and second squadlets. Here’s what I still have (and the state it’s in):

  • 1 Terminator Sorcerer (painted, but I’m not happy with him)
  • 5 Possessed (primed)
  • 2 Chaos Spawn (primed)
  • 5 “display” Cultists (primed) (I don’t think Chaos Cultists should hang out in nice neat Power Level brackets divisible by ten, so I bought another box to paint up just for the look of the thing)
  • 15 Raptors (various states of “just bought”, need rebasing and sorting into proper squads)
  • 5 Warp Talons (half-painted with a different method to mine)
  • 12 contemporary Chaos Space Marines (on sprue)
  • 1 Chaos Lord (on sprue)

Unless someone decides to organise a third edition meetup I very much doubt these are getting done any time soon, but the good news is that I’ve bought more or less everything I really want for this army. (I’ve also bought a small Battlefleet Gothic fleet, on a whim, which I might sell on in the New Year as I am extremely unlikely to play any Battlefleet Gothic.) This is simply something for me to tinker with and keep on the shelf, while my WFB armies are more of a playing concern. At the rate of one squad a year they will probably be done by 2030.

What else does the future hold? Well, I still own about 3000 points of TTCombat Tomb Kings (I consolidated the collection into one range earlier this year and regret nothing; good riddance to Mantic rubbish, hello sturdy single piece figures), but someone else will be painting those for me, as i have no enthusiasm to take on another huge batch painting job. (I’m only going to get the Wood Elves done if I approach them sprue by sprue, almost.) There are the various RPG-ish figures – the Bad Squiddo Dracula range and Otherworld adventurers – languishing in a drawer waiting for the right moment. But the big thing, in a perfect world, is terrain.

Last year I moved out of my large three-bedroom house (with unused garage, lots of wargaming and hobby space but godawful heating bills and too far from work) into a cramped two-up two-down (handy for work and quite snug but I can’t even spray prime in here and it’s basically a corridor full of bookshelves and they’re all full and there aren’t enough shelves). This has put a bit of a crimp on my plans to build a battlefield of my very own, but IF I can sort out some bigger shelves and clear some floor space, I want to find room to set up my GameIn5D cubes and fill them with a few big set pieces around which to set up dioramas and play some basic games. I legitimately love building terrain and, much like the army painting, I want to get some done while I’m still physically capable of doing it.

And that, folks, is your lot. Thanks for joining me in the self-indulgence parade. Drop me some links to your retrospectives if you’re writing them – I do need to come out of my cave and talk to other bloggers more often but, like the Vampire, I’m happier with an invitation.