Free

I’m really enjoying casually playing 40k at the moment, among other things. As regular readers know, I have a long and ambivalent relationship with this game. Any decades-spanning relationship has to have its ups and downs I suppose. And I’m in a positive place with it right now, because I feel as though I’ve worked out a way of playing and collecting that is mine and no-one else’s.

What do I mean?  The best way I can think of to succinctly put it is that I have started to think of my 40k model collection as a living three-dimensional story, inspired by, but not restricted to, events in-game. I track the fortunes of my army, and I incorporate or cut models when I want to paint something new or stop using something that I’m finding boring, or that’s not working for me. Where possible I re-paint, re-organise or modify my existing models rather than buy new ones. And then I make up a story to explain the change.  Sometimes the story comes first; sometimes the physical changing of the models. But whichever it is, they go hand in hand.

This all sounds a bit complex, I know. Maybe it’ll be clearer if I just explain what I’ve actually been doing.

Years ago during the 5th edition of 40k I started my Imperial Guard army, and developed a simple back story for them.  They were the St. Arkham Rifles, a regiment drawn from an Ecclesiarchy-administered factory world with a culture roughly analogous to England around the time of World War I. This allowed me to field my Sisters of Battle (The Order of the Revenant Maiden) alongside them. I had a lot of fun using them in tournaments and in a long-running campaign. At the end of the campaign, the world of St. Arkham had been invaded and purged by the Ultramarines, and I had gone off 40k – mostly because of the clunky and long games and the financially punishing army sizes. I bowed out of 6th edition completely and sold most of my models except for the core Arkhamites…

…and when my old opponent asked me a year or so later if I’d like to play some casual games of 7th edition with him, I thought what the hell, and I did. But I wasn’t interested in starting a new army: researching, building, paying all that money, climbing back into the conversation; the endless dialogue. I just wanted to keep the story of my little army going. But a lot of the models had been sold. So I decided that my remaining models were now the Kings of St. Arkham: mercenaries composed of orphaned Arkhamites and Cadian deserters.

Then, I sensed my newfound freedom on the horizon, and I began to become properly interested in the Tau. I’ve always liked their aesthetic, but building a usable 40k force is designed to be a huge amoebic sucker of time and money. With the complete integration of all out nonsense allies in contemporary 40k though, I could add as many or as few Tau as I liked and easily use them alongside my Human mercs.  And so I came up with the Fallingstar Cadre.

I’ve now played a few games with my combined Human and Tau mercs. I pretty much always lose, but that’s nothing new. My opponent is a very good player and has been honing his Ultramarines for about fifteen years(!) I truly don’t care if I win or lose though, because it gives me grist to change my models either way, if I choose to allow it.  For instance, I’ve grown bored with Hanzo constantly falling in battle lately, and I think I’d rather my Tau were of the stealthy and cunning variety. Low-tech scum-Tau infantry, with some wonky drones and a single beat-up hover tank. So I’m swapping him out for Darkstrider – or my version of Darkstrider. How the games are playing out is changing the story of my collection and my collection changes the games.

I feel free.

Free from worrying about optimisation and competitiveness.  Stories of loss and survival are just as interesting as stories of victory; it’s all in the telling. My models represent my vision of the 40k universe. That’s all I need to take into account.

Free from the official creators’ sales and development cycle. What do I care if editions change? Rules? All those things are temporary, but my collection lives on. It has a spirit of its own now. If I like something new, I’ll incorporate it; otherwise, I’ll ignore it.

Free from buying models on impulse. Anything I add from here on in is added for a reason, and will become part of the whole. Sometimes things won’t stick, like Hanzo, but that’s not the same as getting carried away and buying things I’ll later regret.

Free from worrying about models sitting unused.  If I never, ever use my collection again, I can still keep them proudly on my shelf. Because they’re not just game pieces any more: they’re a self-contained artwork, with personal meaning. The same goes for my other little collections too – my SAGA and Infinity models. And any more collections I add in the future.

But they’re also more than that.  They’re toys I have taken to heart and played with the way I did when I was a little boy, making up stories. And that’s a damn hard thing to do when you’re thirty-seven, I know, so I’m proud of them.

After all these years, I’m finally just playing with toys again.

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11 thoughts on “Free

  1. Von says:

    ” I track the fortunes of my army, and I incorporate or cut models when I want to paint something new or stop using something that I’m finding boring, or that’s not working for me. Where possible I re-paint, re-organise or modify my existing models rather than buy new ones. And then I make up a story to explain the change. Sometimes the story comes first; sometimes the physical changing of the models. But whichever it is, they go hand in hand. ”

    I think you’ve achieved hobby Nirvana. That or you’re playing army-scale Necromunda.

    I do like what Allies and Unbound have done in legitimising the people who don’t want to buy in deep to one force, and giving them a route into playing that’s enshrined in Da Roolz. Not that that matters to you, but it matters a great deal to some, and being able to smile a big beatific smile of the “he who lives by the rulebook dies by the rulebook” variety is tremendously soothing.

    As far as self-contained artwork goes… I generally see my miniatures as an investment apt for re-investment, and I’m not keen on covering my home in ornaments, but I must admit that even if I never use my WFB army again, it exists as a memento – twenty years’ guiding obsession on twenty-millimetre bases. That army, oddly enough, has been through exactly the process you describe, and so did their contemporary Chaos Marines.

    Do you think I could get to where you are, from where I am? I’m not sure. Not without some serious body-and-soul ownership of an extensively modelled collection that goes from skirmish to battle over time, anyhow…

    [At this point, your correspondent glances at the Ork Nobz on his shelf, suspecting that a step in the right direction might well have been taken.]

    • beat ronin says:

      “I think you’ve achieved hobby Nirvana. That or you’re playing army-scale Necromunda.” Maybe it’s the same thing, in this case anyway. I do feel very at-peace, I must admit.

      I also really like the Allies/Unbound stuff. It does matter to me, funnily enough, because it’s helpful to have some sort of framework to build your collection on, at least at the beginning. And I do like to play in the odd tournament or event when I feel like it. So it opens up that possibility.

      Interesting that you mention seeing your models as an investment. From where I am now, that seems to me to be one of the single biggest places I went wrong. Seeing them as objects to be bought, used and then sold meant that I had to cut off my emotional connection a bit. Then I slowly cared less and less and eventually wondered why I was even doing this.

      “Do you think I could get to where you are, from where I am? I’m not sure. Not without some serious body-and-soul ownership of an extensively modelled collection that goes from skirmish to battle over time, anyhow…”

      That slow build was a big part of it. I drew my IG up from 250 points to 2500 within the framework of connected campaign battles. I just couldn’t sell them when it came to the crunch, but my Orks and my Sisters (who I’d done previously) are gone now with no regrets.

      I think another big part of it is the mercenary band concept. It means I can go almost anywhere with the collection that I choose to go, without feeling like what’s come before is wasted. I’m sure once I get into larger battles again Hanzo will come back for the odd special guest appearance.

      I’m playing in an event in May actually, and thought I’d bring my old Ordo Xenos Inquisitor. She has a history of fighting the Tau, but is now employing the Fallingstar Cadre and the Kings. In uh, meta-game terms, she’s popping back up because I need more bodies and a psyker for the game. But it feels like a recurring character in a long-running TV series showing their face.

  2. Thor says:

    It’s a great feeling, being free from the game, figuratively speaking of course. I had gone through a spell where I tried to be competitive. I got tired of having my head caved in and wanted to step up my game. Long story short, it sucked the soul out of me and the game was not enjoyable. Once I stepped back and focused on the hobby, giving my army life – as you’re saying, it become far more enjoyable. What I take away from games now are stories, creating sagas for my little men, and it’s far more rewarding than destroying people at a tournament.

    Von said it well, you have achieved hobby nirvana.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Thor, seeing you here reminds me, I need to add Creative Twilight to my roll! In fact I need to re-add a few blogs I used to really like…

      Hobby nirvana is right. I have this nagging feeling that I’m not even really gaming any more, if gaming implies trying to improve at the actual game. The game to me now just seems to be totally subsumed into the hobby. It exists for me as a sort of randomising machine, to point to where my hobby is going next.

      I could just as well pull tarot cards out of a deck or throw some divination sticks or something, and decide where to take the story and the models based on that. But at least playing it as a game is a fun shared experience 🙂

      • Thor says:

        Glad you found yourself at a good place.

        I still love playing for the sake of playing. I will, however, create interesting situations for the sake of the story. I will pit my Lord against anyone because, well, when would a Chaos Lord shy from an opponent? Sometimes those choices cost me the game but the fun and stories are worth it. Basically, I use my army to narrate games.

        Now that I found you again I’ll be adding you to my blogroll as well 🙂

    • beat ronin says:

      Whoa, I’ve just been over to your blog man, it looks fantastic! Professional format heaps of good content. Nice one 🙂

      • Thor says:

        Thank you.

        Design is ever evolving but progressively improving I think. I also have two other authors that help contribute great content. Having other authors lets me focus a bit more on getting the blog out there and making it look good.

  3. Kelly Kim says:

    Fantastic article. I know what you mean… too many of my former gaming buddies have gone over to WarmaHordes in search of “The Perfect Tournament Game”, but I’m still happily building and painting Sisters of Battle and Inquisition stuff, adding to my army whenever I feel like it, and not caring if it’s particularly good in terms of game competitiveness. The same thing goes for my Warhammer Fantasy armies as well.

    I really love your sentiment in thinking of our armies as on-going art-pieces. Creating art is good for the soul, and that’s what my miniatures do for me.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Kelly, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I think you’re right about art being good for the soul too; Thinking of my hobby in that way has really given me more purpose, and makes it seem more valuable personally than just “being the best at [whatever].”

  4. Adam says:

    “After all these years, I’m finally just playing with toys again”
    Hallelujah, brother! In the hustle and bustle of modern day life, it is freeing to be able to play with toys. Some people would say it’s an aversion to growing up; I rather think of it as avoiding growing old.
    When you invest in your toy soldiers and create back stories and theme it makes using them so much more rewarding.
    Testify!

    • beat ronin says:

      Thanks for the kind words Adam… and sorry for the late reply to your comment. It’s been a long journey that’s for sure, with the hobbying. But I’m glad I got it in the end.

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