Thursday, 20 June 2019

A brief history of British literature in Warhammer armies

This is all Solomon VK's fault. In a comment on my previous post he challenged me to imagine Warhammer armies for three British authors - Belloc, Waugh, and Greene - and now I can't stop doing it. So now you all get to suffer the consequences.

The Medievals: Geoffrey Chaucer plays a Bretonnian army heavy on peasants. Thomas Mallory also plays Bretonnians, but his army is mostly knights, and he spends a lot of time trying to reconcile different versions of the game's lore. The Gawain poet plays a weird Bretonnian - Wood Elf allied army which he insists is rules-legal in some edition or other. William Langland plays dwarves, who he says are much better than humans because they're harder workers. The Beowulf poet plays Space Wolves, but it's OK because he only plays 40K first edition, and back then the rules and armies were Warhammer compatible. The whole group sometimes organises tournaments with their rivals, the Welsh Bards, who mostly play armies of Wood Elves and Beastmen and place a premium on freakish and spectacular conversions.

The Renaissance: Phillip Sidney plays Empire. Edmund Spenser plays Empire too, but squanders all his points on knightly orders and High Elf allies, and had to be banned from trying to include a 40K Necron in his Warhammer army list. Shakespeare prefers historical wargaming, with Imperial Rome and the War of the Roses as his favourite periods, but he's got a pretty good Dogs of War army going on the side. Thomas Middleton plays ludicrously murder-happy Dark Elves. John Webster plays Undead.

The Seventeenth Century: Rochester plays Slaanesh. John Donne used to play Slaanesh as well, but then got really serious and switched to Dark Angels. George Herbert has an Ecclesiarchy army. George Etherege has an army of beautifully-dressed High Elves. Herrick collects Halflings. John Aubrey mostly just writes anecdote-heavy blog posts about the good old days of first edition.

John Milton has two collections - Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines. He claims that the Space Marines are his 'real' army and the Chaos Marines are just there to give them someone to fight against, but it's obvious that the Chaos Marines have been painted with vastly greater skill and care than their loyalist counterparts.

The Augustans: Jonathan Swift plays Orcs, carefully converted to look like caricatures of various political figures. John Gay plays Skaven with a heavy emphasis on gutter runners. John Dryden and Alexander Pope only play historical games set during the Classical era: Pope used to play fantasy as well, but ragequit after one too many dwarf jokes. Henry Fielding plays Empire. Thomas Grey plays Halflings. Horace Walpole plays Undead.

The Romantics: Jane Austen has a custom Imperial Guard army, with dashing red uniforms and far too many officers. Mary Wollstonecraft plays Sisters of Battle. William Wordsworth used to play Wood Elves but switched to Imperial Guard after the war started. William Blake plays Chaos Daemons, and sculpts all his own miniatures. Walter Scott used to play Undead, but then switched to historicals, and now spends most of his time obsessively refighting the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge keeps buying new armies and then changing his mind about who he wants to play, leaving behind a couple of half-painted figures and a stack of unassembled models. Percy Shelley plays Slaanesh, and keeps writing interminable blog posts about why they're actually the real good guys. John Keats plays Eldar aspect warriors. Lord Byron plays Vampire Counts. Thomas De Quincey plays Chaos Undivided.

The Early Victorians: Elizabeth Barrett Browning plays Sisters of Silence. Robert Browning plays Dogs of War. Christina Rossetti plays Sisters of Battle, but maintains a secret collection of painstakingly converted goblins and beastmen. Charles Dickens plays Goblins and Skaven, because he can paint twice as fast as anyone else and thus has time to maintain two collections. Alfred Tennyson plays Stormcast Eternals. Lewis Carroll plays Tzeench.

Ann Brontë plays High Elves. Emily Brontë plays Dark Elves. Charlotte Brontë plays Wood Elves. Bramwell Brontë used to play Vampire Counts, but sold all his models on ebay to buy more gin.

The Late Victorians: Thomas Hardy plays Imperial Guard. Algernon Swinburne plays a Dark Eldar army heavy on sexy dominatrices with whips, and makes everyone a bit uncomfortable with just how into it he is. Bram Stoker plays Vampire Counts. M.R. James plays Nighthaunts. Lionel Johnson plays Dark Angels (obviously). Oscar Wilde plays Eldar Harlequins.

The Modernists: Virginia Woolf plays Tzeench. W.B. Yeats plays Wood Elves. Henry James plays High Elves. D.H. Lawrence plays Beastmen.

Ezra Pound plays Space Marines, and obviously loves the Imperium for all the wrong reasons. T.S. Eliot also plays Space Marines, but he always loses on purpose in order to make some kind of obscure moral point.


  1. It's more beautiful than I could have imagined. The child of The Write Stuff and White Dwarf.

    Putting Rudyard Kipling down as Imperial Guard seems a bit easy; perhaps he fields Tau with a lot of auxiliaries.

    Laurence Sterne almost has his army painted, almost. He's just working on some setting notes, and getting the scenery right, and putting some siege equipment together....

    1. Tau with Kroot auxiliaries is perfect for Kipling. 'Take up the blue man's burden...'

    2. This whole thing is so brilliant I wouldn't go so far as to say "fault" ... this is the seed for a whole alternative universe!

  2. This is the absolutely obscure content I crave in my bones and never knew I needed

  3. I'm desperately trying to put together a joke about the nerd shit contaminating the hardcore shit but I can't for the life of me decide on which is which.

  4. Not gonna lie, this sort of breakdown gets me interested in some of the authors/poets I'm not as familiar with, but approve of their army choices.

  5. I knew someone had invented blogs for a good reason!

  6. —E 'l duca lui: «Caron, non ti crucciare:
    —vuolsi così colà dove si puote
    —ciò che si vuole, e più non dimandare»

    Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is spread out against the sky
    Like an army organized upon a table;
    Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
    The muttering retreats
    Of sleepless nights in stores with old card games
    And Chinese restaurants with oyster-shells:
    Streets that follow like a tedious argument
    On obscure “concealment” rules
    Which lead you to an overwhelming question ...
    Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
    Let us go and make our visit.

  7. I am really quite impressed that you switched the Dante quotation as well as the lines of the poem itself. That's going the extra mile.

  8. of course. a stanza about doing as you're told was the most relevant i could find, however. dante wrote very little about tabletop games.

  9. Swift's Ork army is led by Mag Uruk Thraka.

  10. Mary Shelley did well at Golden Demon but some suggested her entry looked uncannily like Percy's style...

  11. What army would Lord Dunsany use? He is currently more known for his fantasy, but in his own time it was mostly plays.

    Also, what writer would use Khorne or Nurgle armies? I see some Slaanesh and Tzeench but not these two.

    1. Dunsany's trippy Orientalism is an aspect of fantasy that's traditionally been ill-served by Games Workshop. Maybe Thousand Sons?

      I feel that Khorne and Nurgle just aren't very literary. I guess Khorne might appeal to someone like Bertran de Born, or to some 20th century fascist writers. I'm not sure about Nurgle, though.

    2. Maybe Nurgle would be somebody filled with self-loathing and masochistic urges. I am struggling to thinking of somebody but they must be out there...maybe Malcolm Lowry.

    3. Dunsanay would be Idoneth Deepkin. Kipling might be Tau but also Kharadron Overlords.

      I want to know who's playing Tyranids.

    4. Hm. Literature is about thoughts and feelings, so factions that treat people as just so much meat (Khorne), protein (Tyranids), or filth (Nurgle) are hard to match up with literature because their relentless and reductive physicality seems almost inherently anti-literary. Nihilistic materialist horror writers like Lovecraft might come closest.

      Frank Herbert would totally have played Tyranids during his 'Green Brain' / 'Hellstrom's Hive' phase, though.

    5. Joseph Manola, "factions that treat people as just so much meat (Khorne), protein (Tyranids), or filth (Nurgle) are hard to match up with literature"
      I'd say it is not much different from factions that treat people like tools of pleasure (Slaanesh) or puzzle pieces (Tzeench). Nurgle is also about self-preservation and endurance, and Khorne is about battles, and, arguably, some small measure of war honour. Surely, there is somebody who wrote about glory of wars.

      I'd say Emile Zola is more Nurgle, although he is French author.

      pjamesstuart, yes, I think it is a good fit, aesthetics-wise, even if Dunsany, in my impressions, was more about deserts - so he probably modded/painted Idoneth Deepkin for the deserts.

    6. Kyana, I think Zola would definitely play Nurgle, but only to make a point. His miniature painting would be excruciatingly detailed.

      The only writer that I could think of as an enthusiastic Nurgle player is Bukowski. But he's not British either.

  12. Khorne and Nurgle feel a bit more like certain American authors.

    This is all brilliant by the way. I am humbled by the knowledge of both literature and fantasy wargaming on display here. Bravo!

  13. Brilliant. What about contemporary authors? Martin Amis, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, etc.?

    1. Unfortunately, my knowledge of British literature declines rapidly after about 1940. Maybe someone better informed - yourself, for instance - could make some suggestions?

  14. Ann Radcliffe plays Wood Elves, and spends a lot of time building really nice terrain for her tables.

    (Thanks for recommending The Mysteries of Udolpho before, by the way!)

  15. --The Gawain poet plays a weird Bretonnian - Wood Elf allied army which he insists is rules-legal in some edition or other. William Langland plays dwarves, who he says are much better than humans because they're harder workers. The Beowulf poet plays Space Wolves, but it's OK because he only plays 40K first edition, and back then the rules and armies were Warhammer compatible.

    --W.B. Yeats plays Wood Elves

    Moronic. Painfully stupid to read this post.

    It is unfortunate that you expect your readership to be comfortable at that level which loudly groans out a zombie patois. Unfortunate but extremely perceptive, you know more than anyone how stupid your readership is, but you should not encourage them.

    1. Ha ha, I enjoyed this post, but also scrolled down waiting to see what Kent would say. You've become a gimmick, mate.

  16. Hilarious stuff!