Saturday, 15 March 2014

Highlanders for the Oldhammer Challenge; or, Albion as a campaign setting

(Arthur Rackham's illustration of the Scots Ballad Twa Corbies)

So I've loads of different projects on the go right now, trying to get things ready for games in the near future. But as I said in my last post, I've been inspired by Whiskey Priest's Oldhammer Challenge. In his words:
"Let's do something to show that it's all about the game and camaraderie rather than the rules and the figures. We each make a warband - a tiny army - a posse, based in the Warhammer world. A maximum of 21 figures. Two units of 10 and a hero or any similar configuration. You are entirely free to do what you want! The figures must be either a) insultingly cheap from ebay or b) easily bought from current manufacturer."

Preach on, Whiskey Priest! And I've been so inspired by this that I've decided it's time to paint these guys:

I can imagine people clucking their tongues and rolling their eyes. "Are you completely thick? Did you not read what Whiskey Priest wrote? Are you just trying to contradict him and prove that oldhammer IS elitist and exclusionary and about wasting money on ebay? Are you just trying to spit in his face and kick him in the bollocks, &c. &c.?"

Well, ok, hear me out. So yes, these are the clansmen from McDeath. They're oop, and although I didn't pay stupid money for them on ebay, they don't fall into the "insultingly cheap" category. So what relevance does this possibly have to Whiskey Priest's challenge? The thing is, for Christmas I was given a bunch of the Warlord Games Highland Clansmen from their Pike and Shotte range. There are some very characterful minis in this range - especially in their "Highlander Arrant Scum" selection. The obvious thing to do? To use these to supplement the expensive and hard to find Citadel McDeath highlanders and show how you can put together an East of Albion force using minis that out there at the moment, alongside just a small handful of oop masterpieces to satisfy the inner archaeogamer.

So this is the start of my warband: 4 Citadel McDeath highlanders; 7 Warlord Games highlanders; and 1 Black Tree Design "Jamie McCrimmon" from the Doctor Who range, who I've given a sickle from S&D models (a company that makes railway scenery accessories).

And to summarise, my reasons for choosing these for the challenge:
1) I already own them, so this is a chance to paint stuff from the leadpile rather than buy new minis.
2) It demonstrates how one can combine old and new minis to do even something as "old school" as McDeath.
3) It feeds into my current fascination, which is using Albion as a campaign setting. And the rest of this post will be about that.

Albion as a campaign setting

In GW's official material, Albion has shapeshifted a lot. Here's the depiction that oldhammerheads know and love from the 1986 campaign pack "The Tragedy of McDeath":

McDeath deals with just one chunk of Albion - East Albion, which, inspired by Macbeth mixed with a heavy dose of the cultural stereotyping that gives shape to the Warhammer world, is a land inhabited by clan-based kilt-wearing porridge-eating caber-tossing highlanders, living alongside militant trade unionist dwarf miners, mercenary orcs, treemen, and others. This is the Albion that inspires my warband.

Then fastforward to 1991 and the Warhammer novel Storm Warriors by Brian Craig:

Here, the map is a clear approximation of the British Isles, but Albion is divided into 4 separate islands, Great Albion, Albany, Morien, and Aeryn, meaning that England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland each get their own individual island (thus allowing for further stereotyping - just non-comedic in form - by the GW stereotype factory.) From the extracts I've read, the culture described is a predominantly celt-inspired one, and the source of tension in the novel is the arrival of an "alien culture" of sinister immigrant sea elves.

The "Albion as multiple islands" model from Storm Warrior is also used in the following map, which Zhu Bajie has traced back to the (now defunct) Warhammer FRP site "Critical Hit"; bit of Anglo-Saxon thrown in here for good measure:

It's the pre-Roman celtic flavour predominates in the release of the "Giants of Albion", along with druid, as part of the Dogs of War army in the 5th edition era; Albion is the land of ancient Ogham stones and ancient magical forces; mysterious land of myth - at least, until the arrival of the Tilean "Curious Gesar". Then came the 2001 "Dark Shadows" campaign, in which Albion was a single misty, rainy, blighted isle to which Truthsayers (good druids) and Dark Emissaries (naughty druids) summoned great forces; Albion became a battlefield between order and chaos, ripping the land apart.

Here's the map from the start of that campaign:

Now the fact that there's so much variety in the background is a really good thing for the oldhammer gamer, in my opinion, because it leaves Albion open for our own creative imaginations. Let's strip it down to basics.

Deep History
The idea that Albion is home to an older civilisation - as evidenced by the Ogham stones - I think gives a deep rooted mystery to the landscape. I've always found interesting the idea that when the Romans left Britain, they left behind structures that nobody knew how to repair; similarly, I feel that Albion should be full of unsettling reminders that there was something here before, and it's something that we don't understand. Druidic and bardic religious knowledge tries to piece together these mysteries and interpret the landscape.

The key dynamic of any campaigning land is its landscape and in Albion, we have a land of highlands and lowlands; mountains and marshes, hills and mires. The highland clans of the East of Albion (as per McDeath), then, might be distinct from the more town-minded lowlanders, who trade with the Empire and are therefore far more cosmopolitan in their outlook. Yet the lowlanders are surrounded by the sinister bogs and fens where the Fimir dwell; and attempts to drain the marshes to create fertile farmland and increase the wealth of the kingdoms have led to increasing numbers of Fimir raids.

The sea, the sea
As a land surrounded by sea, Albion would have a history of settlement, trading, and raiding. Norse from the west and Sea Elves from the east would send ships to the shore; their motives sometimes peaceful, oftentimes not.

I'll probably type up more of my thoughts at a a later date, but I'm deliberately keeping this to bare bones, because I think the storytelling should come through gaming. Anyway, I hope it gives you the sense that when I'm painting up this bunch of guys in kilts, it's not just about the figures, the nostalgia, or the ruleset - it's about the story, and thinking about the world they inhabit and the way they link up with the other forces I have is all part of that process of storybuilding.

What do other people think about Albion as a campaign setting? Have I missed any key essentials out? Anyone else want to play a game there?


  1. I've always felt that Albion was always vague and never fully developed, like so many areas of the warhammer world, so it'd be ideal for campaign building, discovering a strange faux-Celtic world distinct from the old world.

    1. Yup, I think "vague" = open; the better fleshed out a setting is by published material, the more your own imagination is closed off.

      Anyway, glad I'm not being excommunicated for including some McDeath minis in the challenge!

  2. Great stuff! I'll be following this one, as my own warband is East Albion Inspired. Hopefully you can inspire me to keep at it!

    1. Excellent, just a shame you're based so far away, your warband would make the perfect campaign opponents/ allies! Love your idea of a Tristan and Isolde themed campaign.