Thursday, November 10, 2011

On armies and themes

Welcome. I know it's late, but my day was so terribly idle and discomposed I only brought myself to updating now. I hope you can forgive me.

What I wanted to talk about today were armies and specifically themed armies; and let's face it, who does not do a themed army? Is it even possible to make an army that is a haphazard collection of miniatures from the same army list and still call it a playable force?

To me, theme is put in an army just by the sole fact of using a limited palette of colors throughout the force. It doesn't of course have to end here and it usually does not, but sometimes it's just that: an army is 'themed' by being painted by the same person, using the same techniques and the same style of basing, even if it's just sand and static grass glued to the bases. And this is fine.

Some of us go more or less further. Be it basing (the abundance of resin bases and basing products has made it very tempting to try), or unified color scheme (with armies like the Empire, the high elves, Bretonnia or even the vampire counts it is not only possible, but strongly suggested to make your force coherently dressed), or both, as is most often the case, very many gamers really sit down and think how their force is going to look like and what colors, techniques and materials they're going to need. And this is fine.

Still others really go nuts over their themes. I'm talking about naming their commanders, actually writing pieces of fiction about them or their armies and going insane over the conversions. If such people have the skills to match their plans, what you get in the end are forces that stick in any viewer's mind forever. And this is also fine.

However (you knew something was coming), there are some hobbyists who just can't stick with one fictional world at a time. Who mix Dungeons & Dragons with Warcraft, Middle-Earth with Westeros and the Imperium of Man with Narnia. And that is not at all fine.

Don't you catch my drift? Haven't you ever heard something like
I really wanted to style my dark elf force as the drow from the Underdark!
This is not OK. Warhammer is not a D&D setting nor does it have drow as you know them from Baldur's Gate or whatever. The races in our beloved game are, despite what haters will have you believe, quite well-established as far as fable is concerned and the world really offers plenty of scope to experiment and come up with a them that is purely your own. For the first time since a long time Games Workshop has not only acknowledged the existence of such old gems as Araby, the Kingdoms of Ind, Cathay or Nippon but actually seems to be giving the unexplored parts of the world a nod of approval. There is simply no explanation for such mixing of settings.

Or another gem:
Why don't I make my necron force steampunk-themed? With top hats! And whirlygigs for guns!
 Because  it's Warhammer 40.000 and it is not a steampunk setting. Nothing in my mind makes an effort less worthy than such things. Want to play steampunk (and with it being SO fashionable and 'in' right now, why wouldn't you? It's not that you by definition engage in escapist hobbies that tend to drift away from concepts of "fashion"... oh wait, you do!)? Then there are so many possibilities! SMOG 1808 is one, with miniatures that regularly put me into gorgeousness-induced coma. Or Dystopian Wars. Just not Warhammer. Warhammer is dark fantasy - and 40k is too by the way, given the literary definition of 'dark fantasy'. It has nothing to do with any other fantasy setting.

"But wait" - I hear the screams. - "Such things only prove how creative some people are"! And I can just answer "no". This is not creativity. This is striving to be "original" at any cost and has nothing to do with creativity. Being creative is being able to make something original and unique, but without breaking certain constraints and guidelines - in our case, the system's setting. Putting top hats on ancient, sinister synthetic life forms does not make for a creative effort. It just makes for a wasted effort. I'm sorry, but that's the harsh truth.

There. I know it was not a pleasant read but at least it has the benefit of being true to what I think. And I suppose I'm entitled to an opinion after being in the hobby for at least fifteen years.

See you on Friday!


Anonymous said...

I think you have a very narrow view of what creativity is. I have seen very wonderous examples of WhF and WH40 using a starwars theme for example. Maybe you should be more concerned with waht you are doing as opposed to what others are doing

Drazhar said...

Thank you for your comment!

See, this is why I have to disagree with your definition of creativity. Taking something others have already done (especially if it's as well established as the example you mention) is specifically the lack of creativity. I'll always admire skill, however.

Davey said...

Even though Star Wars is done to death (culturally I mean) doing a SW themed 40k army IS creative. It's not worth getting bogged down in semantics here, but it's an extremely broad concept to try and place strict parameters around. Although I can understand some things aren't to your taste, and that's fine.

What I would add, however, is that what is offered by GW is not (and should not be) the final word on everything that exists in either WFB or 40k - they provide open systems for people to embellish any way they want or desire. You can play 'by the book' if you like - nothing wrong with that - but if someone wants a steampunk army, that sounds great to me!