Sunday, October 5, 2014

Warhammer's Evil Influence on War of the Ring and Middle Earth

I have never been a Games Workshop gamer.  My start in the hobby was playing Napoleonics and then branching out to the Seven Years War and dabbled in WWII.  I gamed with a group that met every Saturday night at a community room at a local police station that started about 7PM and usually ended around 2AM.  Our only exposure to any type of fantasy gaming was Gary Gygax's Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1st Edition) which we played in our pre-teens and grew out of, preferring the more serious study of historical gaming.  The idea behind the games that I played such as Napoleon's Battles and Koenig's Krieg (Seven Years War or SYW) was to play a simulation of 18th and 19th century warfare.  Uniforms and tactics were extensively researched and Games Workshop games were sneered upon, as they were thought of as cartoonish and not real wargames.

So in 2001, I was in the local mall and noticed a painted Fellowship in the store window and asked the sales clerk if he was willing to sell the painted minis as I thought they would look nice in a glass case in my war room.  The clerk would not sell the painted figures, but twisted my arm into buying the Fellowship of the Ring box starter set, along with the Fellowship box and the starter paint set.  I'm not sure of I regret or rejoice in this decision.

I painted my Fellowship, Goblins, Elves and Warriors of Men as they were then called and even bought some of the metal orcs.  I solo played the first few scenarios of the first rulebook, and was reluctantly impressed.  It was a good skirmish game, something I never really cared for in my wargaming experience.  When I went to the local historical game days, I found that the same people who were playing Napoleonics and SYW were also playing the Strategy Battle Game (SBG).  But when I went to the local Games Workshop store, nobody was interested in playing SBG as the teen and twenty somethings were more interested in Warhammer Fantasy and 40K.  The people who I played SBG with were my age or older who remember the Glory Years of high fantasy of the 1970s and 80s when AD&D was king and films like Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger graced the screen.

So when GW's War of the Ring (WOTR) came out, it was the natural progression for me to evolve into mass battles in Middle Earth.  But, there were a few things about the system that for me, were not Tolkien.  Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestly, the original creators of SBG, were no longer with GW and did not design WOTR.  Alessio (a big AD&D player) even said in an interview that SBG would always be a skirmish system and he had no desire of developing a mass battles game.  The designers of WOTR, Matt Ward and Jeremy Vetock, were from the Warhammer department at GW and not part of the original SBG design team.  What they did was incorporate the SBG stat lines to some new ideas they were working on for Warhammer Fantasy.  WOTR was in essence a Beta for Warhammer Fantasy 8th Edition.

Now I do enjoy WOTR or else I wouldn't be playing, but I have found that most of all the things I find wrong with the system come from Warhammer Fantasy.

Here are some things that in my personal opinion should not be in WOTR:

Orc Shamans - Orcs can cast spells?  What?  Where is that in Tolkien?  They are supposed to be the cannon fodder weaker servants of the Dark Lord.  Warhammer Fantasy incorporates a lot of magic and the shaman comes directly from Fantasy.  Magic is supposed to be subtle in Middle Earth, or else Gandalf, Elrond, and Galdriel could have easily marched into Mordor, destroyed Saruman and his armies and the One Ring along with it.  The shamans give to much magic ability to the evil side, and I don't use them in my games.

Dwarf Rangers - This is the ultimate oxymoron.  A ranger is one who patrols the borders and forests and lives off the land.  Tolkein's dwarves delved deep in the mountains mining gold and precious gems.  I will never field dwarf rangers.

Isengard Trolls - GW insists on giving every evil army a monster of some sort.  Since Tolkein never mentions Saruman employing monsters, GW took it upon themselves to add trolls to the Isengard army.  I prefer every army being unique and using the strategy and tactics of their inherent units to defeat overwhelming odds.  For me, Isengard trolls are right out.

King's Champion - Again the need for monster type in an army and another mechanic from Warhammer that has no place in Middle Earth.  You mean to tell me that Durin or Thror need someone to fight their battles for them?

Vault Warden - Aside from not being mentioned in Tolkein, the cost of the models themselves make it unrealistic to have a player field one company let alone two in a formation.

Named Ringwraiths - Giving each ringwraith an additional special ability makes them too powerful for their cost and can make lower point games unplayable.  This is because Warhammer has the Gods of Chaos and the desire of each to have their own special ability.  I play that each ringwraith has the generic stat line and knows all the Spells of Dismay and Darkness with a Mastery level of 3.  The only difference for the Witch King is Might 3.  Yes, I know Tolkein mentions Khamul the Easteriling, but this doesn't mean each ringwraith has to be named and have a special ability.

Epic Heroes - Warhammer is all about Lords and Heroes and is big part of the game.  Tolkein's Middle Earth had it's share of heroes, but not entire armies made out of them.  Yes each formation should get a captain, which coming from a historical gamer background makes sense to me.  But, if a "power gamer" bring the Nine are Abroad, Sauron, trolls, and just a few orc formations, the Kingdoms of Men will never have a chance.  I have a house rule of one Epic Hero for every 1000 points.  This way you can field plenty of formations to eat up hits of the powerful epic heroes such as Sauron. 

Tolkein's Middle Earth is a very rich gaming environment and I disagree with many Warhammer players that the universe is too limited.  Much like historical gaming, it requires a little research into what Tolkein wrote to get a feel for battles in Middle Earth.  I guess this is why more historical gamers are attracted to SBG and WOTR than Warhammer players who they feel that they are limited and can not make up their own narratives without worrying about not following cannon material.

I think there is room for both types of players, and I have nothing against anyone who plays both systems.  But there is a divide between the Warhammer side of GW and the Middle Earth side and it is rare to find someone who plays both.  This is why I prefer to play WOTR at historical gaming circles and stay clear of Games Workshop stores and events.



  1. Liked this post and I completely agree, I'm a big lotr fan and loved the concept of wotr when it came out in 2009 so I put a link to it on my blog too :)

  2. I too liked the idea behind WOTR - mass battles in ME... but there were too many 'glitches' in the rules and army lists, and spell abilties to unbalance the game and make for some crazy action. I'd prefer to try and play ME mass battles using Hail Caesar Fantasy mod... BTW I dont mind the idea of an orc shaman and like the SBG ones, Gandalf did say he once knew all the spells of men and elves and orcs...