Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Oldhammer Community

What is it all about?

I joined the Oldhammer forum a little over a year ago. Having read various threads and topics for some time as a 'lurker' I decided it was time to make my own contributions to the community. It had been around for a while and is still growing by the day. Its still in its infancy in many ways.

But why this community and not an up to the minute forum like Warseer? In answering this I want to address an issue that seems to have dogged the Oldhammer community since its inception - defining what Oldhammer is. More specifically I want to propose why Oldhammer as a concept is flawed when viewed outside the context of those that contribute to it, as a community.

A Little Slice of History.

Since my rekindled interest in war gaming of the fantasy variety (by which I also mean science fantasy and science fiction) I bought some models, painted them and then bought some more. It wasn't long before I decided to take on commission work and painted single models and entire armies for other gamers, mostly GW stuff. As the workload increased the variety increased and the more models I painted from other manufacturers. Keeping abreast of developments in miniatures outside the Games Workshop brand widened what you might call my 'aesthetic horizons'. I was thinking about the design of individual models and the styles of the factions from the game systems and how these might be customised or changed to suit different, personal gaming and aesthetic motives.

I started looking beyond this as well, to the artwork and literature that accompanies those miniatures. I could see how every company was working hard to create an original, noticeable brand and how it all felt so different to the games and models I aspired to all those years ago. Disillusionment soon set in and both my own painting and that of the commissions I was working on began to falter. What exactly had happened? Why was I helping people to create armies that only used models and parts available from Games Workshop or Wyrd Miniatures. What had happened to the 'anything goes' attitude I had when I played with my brother and friends as a boy. I dug out some old boxes and looked at the battered remnants of my childhood gaming. 

One of the things I found was a plastic goblin spearman on a palanquin made of glue melted sprues, extra shields and paper flags coloured in with felt tips. Awful to behold but it served its purpose in the games we played perfectly and I can remember to this day what I had in mind as I made it. Maybe one day I'll build the "Goblin King of Undermountain" properly, with the tools and materials - and skills - that I lacked as a 9 year old.

Why join over any other fantasy war-gaming forum?

With the flame of nostalgia burning brightly I started looking for some of the models I had always wanted to own and paint as a young'un, and for the artwork and imagery I aspired to back then to inform my own sense of aesthetic. I discovered  that many of the figures were no longer available and the artwork hard to track down. In my searches across the internet various blogs kept surfacing and eventually those bloggers grouped together and formed the Oldhammer forum and Facebook pages. These are still growing and perhaps it is due to this rapid growth that people who have come across it are asking what it is. I never bothered to ask for a definition, I could see from the threads and discussions that it suited what I was looking for. Having re-found my love of fantasy miniatures in the early 2000's and almost lost it again in 2012, the Oldhammer forum and associated blogosphere allowed me an avenue to take it further, in the direction I wanted it to go. There are people who've played every version of Warhammer from 1st through 8th, people who'd never played any of them but have incredible collections of beautifully painted miniatures and others, like me, who just like to immerse themselves in imaginary scenarios and see what they can find!

So What is it Then, this Oldhammer

To answer this I want to respond to, and elaborate upon, Zhu's point (bottom of p4) that Oldhammer is a community, in the "What is Oldhammer?" thread. Community is exactly the word I didn't have at my fingertips at the time! Without the contributors to the forum and (though I haven't joined it) the Facebook group, there wouldn't really be an 'Oldhammer' to argue about since individual gamers/painters etc. with blogs is a somewhat solitary affair, albeit loosely affiliated. 

Let me use an example to express the contrast I have in mind. Warhammer is typically defined as the most current editions of rules released by Games Workshop, characterised by the current set of models, literature and artwork. This is a fairly straightforward idea - a product, a brand, a business. It changes over time but it can be viewed as a singular concept at any given time, and is distinct from those who are buying the products. Gamers buy the products, sure, but Warhammer is the game.

On the other hand, the Oldhammer forum doesn't promote one specific ruleset, a certain release of miniatures or any specific brand or business. It could be argued that it is much like a political party or, arguably, a protest group! The title 'Oldhammer' is almost impossible to define without making reference to the community of active contributors. It's us that give Oldhammer its focus as a basis for gaming, painting and discussion. There are always going to be aspects of a community that are uniform across most of the members (a love of historic, non-current rules being the most obvious maybe) but like any community there will be those who join because they feel attracted to more peripheral aspects of it - such as enjoyment in making turbo charged, gunned up cars a la 'Dark Future' or discussing the history of 25mm fantasy miniatures. This doesn't mean that any of these ideas is enough to make for a singular definition, they are simply differing aspects of the community at large.

Viewed in this light making a statement such as "Gun toting orc miniatures in the Oldhammer style" is wrong; gun toting orc miniatures will never be the dream of every member, and their style may be completely at odds with the preferences of some who frequent the Oldhammer forum. Its like saying "Tory styled suits" when the Tories have no specific uniform - do they mean power-shoulders like Thatcher or clean-cut charcoal, like George Osborne? 'Oldhammer' is not a style, or a set of rules or even a particular range of miniatures (see the Alternative Playing Pieces thread and The "How To Oldhammer" Thread). Oldhammer is the name of a forum, coined by a bunch of, mostly, blokes, who wanted to discuss gaming related stuff on common ground. It is about what can be learned and what can be shared.

In a phrase...

From my observations, and the reason I joined, the Oldhammer community is formed around the principle of continuing, or for some resurrecting, an historic, fantasy gaming mentality from the 70s/80s/90s that for many died with increasingly tournament/competitively driven gaming using only GW models and their subsequent near monopoly of the industry. This mentality is best summed up as narrative gameplay, where even the lowliest commoner caught up in a conflict has an interesting backstory or a hilarious motive. Its about escapism and imagination. This also covers the numerous members who are only really interested in living the gaming experiences they dreamed of in their youth, but couldn't attain (like me!) but also stretches to those who are primarily collectors/painters/sculptors of models from the period that this escapist, fantasy gaming was born to its heyday in the late 80s. 

Vague and long winded as a description it may be, but what else could it be? This is the only way I have ever viewed it, with my introduction to the Oldhammer term following similar lines to many others. Sure there are those who are driven only to build a collection of models they love with little interest in the gaming side of things - kudos to them, I'll envy every model they have painted - but that's not everyone's cup of tea. Other discussions revolve around game books and fantasy gaming magazines, aspects of that 80s culture that many 'Oldhammerers' are very familiar with - but not everyone is interested in that either. In the end it doesn't matter what draws members in, that idea of escapism seems to be at the heart of things.

There are of course numerous other aspects that are covered in the day to day discussions on the boards and on Facebook. In any motivated community common ground between members will be found and these will then be talked about. This simply add to its richness, rather than detracting from some pre-defined set of characteristics.

In a world where defining a brand is increasingly becoming the overriding factor of life, through social media et al, let's not get sucked into this idea that something has to be clear cut and simplistically delineated. Instead let's just enjoy the diversity of ideas and constructive argument that being a member of an open, multi-faceted and (to me!) infinitely interesting community is all about.


  1. A good read mate.

    It's an overwhelmingly great community too.

  2. Time for incredible fun now !

  3. Great post - very thought provoking. Incidentally, I'd very much like to see a photo of the Goblin King of Undermountain.

    I agree with pretty much everything that you wrote, except for the idea that it's wrong to say this mini is a "Gun toting orc miniatures in the Oldhammer style".
    While the Oldhammer aesthetic is pretty nebulous, and people might fight over its boundaries, I still think that there is such an aesthetic. In fact, for me, Oldhammer is primarily an aesthetic approach to gaming. I want to play 2nd or 3rd edition Warhammer not because its an inherently better game than Warhammer 5th edition, but because I like the feel of the older games.
    And for me (perhaps idiosyncratically - but I think there are others like me), I also really enjoy combining the Oldhammer feel with new games. For me, that is part of the Oldhammer spirit. It's not really the games you play, but the look and feel of the miniatures you use, and the spirit in which you play the game.

  4. Sorry for the delayed uptake but thanks for reading, and leaving your thoughts everyone.

    Matthew, I would certainly agree that Oldhammer is tied up with and linked to a certain, as you aptly described, nebulous aesthetic. However, the premise of the argument I am making is that, when Oldhammer is viewed as a forum & a group of gamers/painters/sculptors/collectors etc., the aesthetic is what is brought to Oldhammer by us, not dictated to us by it. I think that this forms one of the fundamental principles of Oldhammer compared to most modern tabletop gaming where a ruleset is accompanied by a very specific set of figures following a defined sculpting style. Put simply we are shredding away the commercial aspect of gaming and getting back to having fun with whatever gaming tokens/counters you prefer - whether that's classic Citadel lead or (as some forum members have shown) acorns vs stones!

    Oh yeah, I should also mention that the Goblin King is, er, somewhat indisposed at the moment... (ie in pieces!) but I'll see what I can do ;)