When I was a teenager I used to spend a lot of time playing fantasy role-playing games and wargaming. It was, I thought, the perfect way of drowning out the howl of misery that came from never having a girlfriend. That the two might be related never occurred to me until much later. But anyway, you didn’t come here to have a window opened on the rich agonies of my younger years. This was way back in the mists of the mid seventies and early eighties so my roleplaying and my wargaming were separated. If you wanted to fight orcs it was generally a few orcs in a chamber in some mines (‘They have a cave troll!’). If you wanted to fight a war it was generally, for me, at the head of an Ottoman Turkish army circa 1520 coming up against a French army of the same period. I always lost. But anyway, you didn’t come here to have a window etc etc.
Warhammer changed all that. Suddenly you could command an army of orcs and lay waste to Rivendell if you wanted to (and who didn’t?). Or you could watch wave after wave of hapless goblins crash fruitlessly on the ranks of your doughty (if stumpy) dwarves. Or you could call in an airstrike (a dragon) on the enemy’s command and control centre (the wizard in the pointy hat). It was bloody marvelous.
And Warhammer has gone on to be a mighty thing. Warhammer shops throng with pre-teens, teens and once-teens alike. When the Lord of the Rings Films came out the War of the Ring was fought in countless dining rooms and sportshalls on countless occasions. The last charge of the 7,000 men of Rohan re-enacted by fifteen mounted figures that had bankrupted their owner and taken weeks to paint.
By then I was looking on from afar and with wistfulness but I remember the thrill that these re-enactments gave. I remember the worth they had, their value as history (yes even Warhammer had some lessons) but most of all I remember the fun – just how completely they swept you up. Could we find a way of feeding into that, beyond the obvious of publishing more great fantasy to act as inspiration (and let’s be honest the excellent Black Library are pretty good at that)? Could we do something that would feed into the game-playing more directly? Add a little depth and richness to the background? Give gameplayers a knowing look into the background of their armies?
And then I had a thought. What about if we published a war fighting manual? A manual written for orcs by an orc. A book describing tactics and war-fighting traditions. A book with details on weapons. A book that told an orc how to beat and dwarf and an elf in a battle (humans are beneath contempt – we ignore them). A book that gave the ordinary orc soldier a sense of why and what he was fighting. And what if we did the same for dwarves and elves? (Humans are beneath contempt – we ignore them).
I got some funny looks in the publishing meeting but the idea got the nod. But who to write them? The Gollancz team think-tanked it. (Thought-tanked it? Thinked-tank it? Thunk-tank it?) and the name Den Patrick came up. Den used to work at Titan. There was little he didn’t know about gaming. We’d seen some of his writing. We’d seen some of his drinking. And now he worked round the corner at Blackwell’s on Charing Cross Road. It all seemed to fit. I met him, we talked, Den seemed to like the idea. He went away and came up with some ideas. And he nailed it. Square on the head, one, two, three strikes of the hammer and in. A commission followed, Den knew an artist, an immensely talented guy called Andrew James and he’s going to illustrate the books and, come, August, September and October of 2013 we will be publishing Den’s Orc, Elf and Dwarf War Fighting Manuals. But these aren’t just dry manuals. There is a world here, there’s a history, there’s bloody battles (told from three very different and competing perspectives) and there is a huge amount of fun. I can’t wait.