I've enjoyed reading Whiskey Priest's recent missive "When is oldhammer not oldhammer and does it matter? or How I stopped worrying and learned to love my miniatures". It goes beyond the usual "whither oldhammer" musings and gets into some pertinent questions. I say pertinent, because Whiskey Priest and I will hopefully be playing Frostgrave with the OGRE crew before too long, and although we're a group brought together through the revival of our interest in old warhammer via the oldhammer movement, if we're playing a new ruleset, and not restricting ourselves to old miniatures, are we still an oldhammer group on that occasion? Or only on those occasions when we're archaeogaming with the 3rd ed rulebook?
Now, part of his post concerns 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle and its hallowed place within our movement: "3rd ed is a bit of a clunky monster. It takes a fucking age to play. Let's be honest, most of the time it's a bunch of 40 year old blokes flicking through a 25 year old book looking for a rule they don't remember (and was probably from a different edition anyway). Don't get me wrong, it's brilliant to be playing a Fantasy Wargame on that scale and the aesthetic of 3rd ed is what brought me back but I've only actually played a single game (and a couple of skirmishes) and I can't see me confining my Fantasy Army to 3rd ed for ever." He's not wrong. It can be a pretty hefty bugger of a game (although I'm sure some historicals wargamers who favour classic rulesets, or even Runequest roleplayers, will scoff at that suggestion.)
I'm in an unusual position among the oldhammerers, in that 3rd edition isn't my childhood edition. I came in with 5th ed, and I pretty much left with it too. So 3rd edition is new to me as of my becoming part of the oldhammer community, it's not an object of nostalgic adoration. I've been playing it for a couple of years now, and although I'm certainly not an expert, I think I have enough experience now to make some comments in praise (ish) of 3rd edition.
1) 3rd edition is full of possibilities
At its core, warhammer is a pretty straightforward game. And you can play it as simple as you like. I've played a very basic version with my 6 year old son with no problems. However, 3rd edition is probably the most fleshed out edition in terms of the possibilities for varying your tabletop adventures. The bestiary is full of monsters I've yet to meet. Then there's the range of formation options. Now be honest, when was the last time you used a shield wall?
An archer wedge?
There's loads of opportunities for fun and variety trying out these things in battle!
...and this leads me onto perhaps the most important way of thinking about the possibilities for gaming in 3rd ed: this was the last edition to include the all-important psychology stats, all mushed up into "leadership" in later editions. I can't tell you how often I've made ad-hoc use of these psychology stats in the narrative games I've played, especially the small-scale skirmish games, because these are crucial for the storytelling element that I believe is at the heart of oldhammer.
So if 3rd ed is a bit misshapen, then that's partly because there are so many ideas crammed in there. (and that's without getting onto the glorious creative mess that is Realms of Chaos)
2) 3rd edition is slow
Really? Is that an advantage? Well yes, it can be. It depends. You see, I like the idea of my hobby being an opportunity to break off from the rest of life. I like games that take the best part of a day, and so I usually schedule a handful of these in the year rather than trying to find time for more frequent shortish games. And so the slow grind of close combat in 3rd edition, the wheeling, etc., all that has an appeal to me. The world is so fast paced, we're urged to work fast, consume fast, we're bombarded with constant stimuli. I love standing around with a beer chatting and letting games flow. (Actually, anyone who has played with me knows that's a lie - I do have a beer in my hand, yes, but I'm always trying to jog people along and keep the games moving! Sorry, can't help it. But it's not the length of time that the game takes that bothers me, I just like to keep momentum going.) To take time to do something gradually and enjoy it for a protracted period of time is a precious, glorious luxury.
Of course, being a luxury, that means that it needs to be recognised that it's not possible for everyone. As Whiskey Priest says, "Actually finding the time to indulge in a game of 3rd Edition Warhammer is a major piece of logistical juggling and weighs heavy on the spousal favour matrix." I agree. And for that reason, I think while a game of 3rd edition is a precious thing, I don't think we can restrict our games to that. The first decision, really, is about hand to hand combat: the 3rd edition combat table makes it harder to hit, and generally makes it longer before a unit breaks (with no modifiers on break tests). If you have time for that game, it adds tension and interest. If you don't, or if you're playing a scale of game where this is going to cause things to grind to a halt in the mud, then go for the combat resolution from a later edition. 3rd edition doesn't work for all circumstances. So don't be afraid to mix and match. Experiment.
3) 3rd edition is our lingua franca
But in the end, this is the one it all boils down to. The decision to adopt 3rd edition is largely a pragmatic one. It was the "best fit" for the model collections and the interests of the oldhammer community when it came into being, and for now it remains so. It seems to be the easiest to cram the different things we want to do into. We've had massive games with thousands of models, and skirmishes with just a handful. Bonkers fantasy adventures, and games that look very close to historical. But a lingua franca arises from particular circumstances, and different circumstances will require different languages. In the future, will oldhammer gamers still gravitate towards 3rd edition as the 'best fit' for their requirements? Or will they look to different rulesets that meet their needs? 2016 will be an interesting year to see whether new lingua francas might develop...
...or whether 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle retains its place as the ruleset that brings us together.