One Life, in Middle Hammer
The rot started to set in early, of course. In common with many foolish young lads of my generation, my first contact with fantasy gaming was Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, then Advanced Fighting Fantasy – but those were solitary pleasures.
Then came August of 1996. The primary school craze of the year was Warhammer 40,000, in accordance with Tom Kirby’s designs. The big release at the time was the first Codex Chaos, and I actually bought the first (metal) Ahriman on release. Sadly, there were no Chaos lads in the box, only a handful of Thousand Sons available, and at pocket-money prices an army of metal models flush with Tzeentch Daemons was a dubious proposition. Especially since you had to buy three times as many metal Horrors as everyone else. So… I built up the Orks and Space Marines in the box instead. 1000 points of Goffs and Dark Angels. Happy days.
Six months later, the Circle of Blood campaign pack came out for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and White Dwarf ran a feature on revamping their Undead army into something that looked… like an army, instead of a collection of technically well-executed models with no unity or cohesion. It was stark, austere, and… really quite impressive. I started my first Undead army within the month.
Six months later the Studio Undead saw their first battle, against the newly-released Realms of Chaos Beastmen. Another all-metal army, again well outside my price range, but what was that in the same wave of releases? Plastic Chaos Warriors? Cheap kits, each one making up a substantial portion of an army? I even managed to sneak in a Greater Daemon – the metal Lord of Change just about sidled into a 3000 point army provided a Sorcerer was there to dance around and summon him. Obviously, I was sold – and by this stage I was at secondary school and actually playing games on the reg too.
Six months later, third edition 40K came out: the rules were streamlined, and every army got its multi-part plastic kit. I sold off a bunch of my old Dark Angels and Orks, and sunk the profits into plastic Berzerkers, one prized box of metal/plastic Chaos Marines, and repainted my Dark Angels Predator in a fetching shade of midnight blue.
I was a mug, of course, the classic schoolkid who’d buy whatever he was told to by the hobby rag, but what a happy mug I was. I was also settling into the paradigm: buy it, play it, sell it, buy the next thing…
So affairs continued for a year or two. Then came the bet. My grandmother (I come from one of those strict, matriarchal lower-middle-class families where grandmother is the name for God) had never approved of “all that bleddy Games Workshop” and wouldn’t shut up about it during the build up to the most important exams I would ever take in my life (or, you know, a bunch of irrelevances that wouldn’t matter after my twentieth birthday). I made a bet. I’d quit for two years. If I could manage that and pass my GCSEs she’d have to button it.
She said nothing about roleplaying, of course. This is the time in my life when I started getting into what my mates were running – WFRP, VtM and Call of Cthulhu for the most part – and taking a shot at running games. I was, by all accounts, quite good at it, or at least the best on offer.
2002 rolls around and I pass all but one GCSE, and that’s hardly my fault – my teacher resigned halfway through the course, before he could be sacked for selling weed to sixth formers, and the school didn’t bother recruiting a new qualified Food Technology teacher, and he’d had my coursework with him for marking… so that was that one written off.
This was a high old time in the hobby. Big global campaigns every year, and I had a weekend job and these newfangled things called ‘free periods’, to whit ‘excuses to bunk off for an afternoon’. I spent mine building and playing with an Army of Sylvania – not the best looking army I’ve ever done, but undeniably my favourite and most played, and I was so lucky to get them back.
I also had a run of crushes on gothy girls who were into VtM, or who could be persuaded into it because it was marginally less dull than hanging around the sundial of a Sunday afternoon. Again – not technically the best game I’ve ever played, but my absolute fave, simply because we had so much fun with it for so long.
By the time I packed myself off to university (easiest way to get out of my home town, unless you joined the Navy), I had more stuff than sense. It got worse when I had regular cash injections three times a year, met Goth Dave and started playing Warmachine just in time for the Hordes release. This was Warmachine Mark I, which had a sense of humour and a refreshing lack of pedantry and a range that wasn’t creaking at the seams, and I bleddy loved it, and I still kind of regret parting with my Cryx.
It wasn’t sustainable, of course. As a postgraduate student, I had even less sense, and no student loans. Possessions started to be whittled away. It became clear – especially since the Research Assessment Exercise put the future of many departments and funding options in doubt – that I’d need a proper job. Something like… teaching.
So I went home, and started teacher training, and… that brings you more or less to the start of the blog.