Forgotten Armies

As I have said in a previous article, Warhammer has been changing over the years. This should hardly be surprising, as everything changes sooner or later. The years go by, editions come and go, players drift into and out of the hobby, and miniature ranges grow old and are replaced. All of this is to be expected, as things have to change if the game is to grow and retain the interest of those already involved. However, for all that there are many positives involved in these changes, there are also some negatives. More specifically, there are some armies that become victims of the process.

Futuristic Stunties

If you were to do a survey of how many Warhammer 40K gamers remembered the Squats1, I wonder what the response rate would be. I suspect that a lot of players know of them, but how many would actually have seen the figures, or even seen an army of them used in a game? If the rather youth-dominated 40K scene at our club is anything to go by, I suspect the answer would be a very low percentage.

Squats were victims of 2nd Edition 40K, where they were included in the temporary army lists provided with the rulebook (rather like Ravening Hordes for Fantasy). Unlike the other armies in these temporary lists, they were never re-released with a proper codex and new miniature range. They were, in effect, sentenced to a slow decline and eventual extinction by the developers. Only the most die-hard players would still own an army of these little fellows, and if they actually wanted to use them, they would need to be using home-made rules.

It could be that the Squats were really the victims of their own lack of popularity, and that the bean-counters at GW made the hard decision that it would not be worth re-releasing the army, because history had shown that nobody would buy them. I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time that something like that has happened in the commercial world, although it is easy to forget that the Warhammer universes are in fact part that commercial environment. Certainly it would be hard to imagine that GW would drop an army when it was massively popular, and a huge outcry would have come from their dedicated supporters. You would also see a lot more of the poor little lost souls floating around on EBay, looking for a loving new home.

The truth is that the Squats were never really dumped publicly. I do not recall a statement being made by GW that they would no longer be supported, and that players who owned them already could expect to find themselves with a practically useless army. That is not the way these things happen, and it could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is because such a declaration would likely create a swell of sudden support for the doomed army, with players who previously did not care about them (and likely would not in the future, either). It could be that the decision was made very late in the piece, and by the time someone declared that the army would never be re-released, nobody cared or was surprised (indeed it can take a long time for an army to be released after the new rules come out – Wood Elves are notorious for taking about 4 years to make it into fully-fledged army after the new edition is released). Or maybe there never really was a decision made not to continue supporting Squats. They may have been simply put on the back-burner over and over again as newer and more exciting projects took priority, until they simply faded out of peoples’ minds and into obscurity.

Noble Stunties

It is interesting to see that GW do not always take the same approach to an army that struggles for support. In my experience, Dwarfs never seem to have enjoyed as much popularity amongst the Warhammer Fantasy community as most other armies2. There have never been more than a couple of Dwarf players at the club, and they have been few and far between at tournaments over the years. Unless there are a lot of people who own them and never use them (or all the Dwarf players live in Norway, or somewhere else a long way from where I am), I would have thought that Dwarfs were not the most popular of armies.

However, unlike the Squats, GW still supports the Dwarfs. It is interesting to note that the Dwarf book was the only one to be re-released before 7th Edition came out. This seems likely to be a response to flagging sales and popularity, given that the Dwarf army was just as capable of fielding a competitive force as some of the others. The Dwarfs are also included in the Warhammer box set for the first time, which could be seen as another push to improve their support3. Perhaps Dwarfs are seen as a more integral part of the Warhammer world than their cousins were in 40K, but whatever the reason, the Dwarfs seem destined to stick around (after all, that’s what Dwarfs do best!).

There are other armies that may not be so fortunate, however. Indeed it is possible that some current gamers are not really aware that some of the “current” armies exist at all. I refer to two armies in particular: Chaos Dwarfs and the Dogs of War.

Nasty Stunties

Chaos Dwarfs are in the slightly unusual situation of being a race that did not arise in the normal fashion. The army was first released in White Dwarf, back in 4th Edition. Along with it came a range of rather comical miniatures with ridiculous moustaches, enormous noses, and hilarious towering hats. Naturally they were a success, and the army list was re-published as a stand-alone book like all of the other races4.

However, when I say stand-alone, that may be too strong a term. Chaos Dwarfs did not introduce as many new units to the game as your average army does. Instead, they made use of Orcs and Goblins as part of their standard list, in honor of their slaving habits and the background of the army. While this gave the army a fair amount of variety, it was also an indication of the fact that the army had really been developed to make use of existing miniatures, rather than needing a vast new range to be produced all for itself (after all, this was not going to be a full-blown army to begin with). When you added Orcs, Goblins and Black Orcs5 to the new Chaos Dwarfs, Bull Centaurs and Hobgoblins (who, unlike the other greenskins, are unique to this army), you had plenty to choose from.

As I say, the Chaos Dwarfs must have enjoyed some early success, given that the army was in demand enough that a proper book was deemed appropriate, but that success declined over the years. Some people feel it is positively indecent for Dwarfs to use magic (Chaos Dwarfs have sorcerers who use their own form of volcanic magic), while others can’t abide the fantastic hats that make the figures what they are (I just don’t understand some people). Since the old army book was rendered obsolete by the release of 6th Edition (some 6 or 7 years ago now), I have only played against Chaos Dwarfs once, and only seen them used in tournaments the same number of times. This is hardly surprising; given that the army that has no proper list and no currently available miniatures, it is not likely to prove the most popular choice amongst newcomers6.

What popularity the Chaos Dwarfs once enjoyed has long since waned, and the army is fast fading to a distant memory. In may be that the army will still be legal for the duration of 7th Edition (given that the list in Ravening Hordes is still compatible), but its life expectancy beyond that is non-existent.

Stunted Growth

As mentioned earlier, the other army most under threat at present is the Dogs of War. This is an army in limbo; with the only currently accessible list a “temporary” one that was released 4-5 years ago (the list can be found in the 2002 Annual). One can fairly imagine that if the Dogs of War had been given a list in Ravening Hordes the way the Chaos Dwarfs were, they would not have been given the slightly elevated status of an entry in the Annual at all.

The Dogs of War are another unusual army, although they are very different from the situation of the Chaos Dwarfs. When they were first released (in 5th Edition), they enjoyed a fully-fledged army book like any other race, and a full miniature range. However, the army was strange in that it consisted entirely of Regiments of Renown – units that each had their own idiosyncrasies, and were led by a “special” character of sorts. The army could be led by custom-made characters, but the units were rather restricted.

The army was also unusual in that it was intended as much as a source of mercenary units for existing armies as it was an army in its own right. These were in the days when each race could recruit allies from a number of different armies of a similar alignment, and the Dogs of War were perhaps an attempt to keep things slightly more under control, and to encourage players to field standard mercenary forces, rather than specialized entries from other armies.

In my experience, the Dogs of War never really got off the ground in terms of popularity.  It is possible that players did buy the occasional unit as mercenaries for their existing armies, but not many decided to collect them as an army in themselves. It could be that players were not attracted to an army that was almost mapped out for them before they began, with pre-named regiments of a fixed nature. It could also be that players were disinclined to buy an entire army of metal miniatures, given that not one of the Regiments of Renown was ever available in plastic. Whatever the reason, eventually GW decided to more or less pull the plug on them. They remain the only army I have ever seen that was really jettisoned en-masse by stores, fetching prices far below what they were originally sold for.

Interestingly enough, it was only once the old army book was obsolete and the army more or less abandoned that generic versions of the Dogs of War regiments became an option. This may have been something of a stop-gap measure, but it adds a little more flexibility to an otherwise fairly rigid army. This, coupled with the release of more mercenaries in the form of the Ogre Kingdoms units, goes some way to breathing new life into the army.

However, it is unclear whether this is a real attempt to pick the Dogs of War back up and dust them off, or if it just comes across that way. The fact remains that it is very difficult to find the miniatures for the Regiments of Renown outside of mail order and EBay (where they fetch considerable prices). The lack of supply is likely to choke any enthusiasm most gamers may feel, as will the seemingly permanent “temporary” list that suggests you’d be putting your money into a dead end.

It is also unfortunate that there is something of a stigma attached to fielding mercenary units in regular armies. The practice of supplementing the army’s normal forces with a Dogs of War regiment to fill a gap or compensate for a weakness is frowned upon, and considered by some to be cheating. Players are meant to choose a race and then embrace any quirks that come with it. Adding a mercenary unit to try to eliminate some of those quirks is felt to be weak or against the spirit of the army (or by extension the game). This sentiment is clearly shared by tournament organizers, who often ban the use of Dogs of War except as an army in their own right.

Whilst I agree that I don’t want to see a player always using the same Dogs of War units in his regular army in order to bolster the army’s effectiveness, I think it’s sad that there is such a negative vibe regarding their use in general. Mercenaries have always been a part of warfare, and they are naturally used to fill gaps (or to boost an army’s numbers in general). I think having the option to field the occasional Dogs of War unit mixes things up nicely for players, and there is little ground for complaint when they are used in moderation.

If it were not for this seemingly prevalent attitude amongst players, it is possible that players would find themselves almost accidentally owning an army of Dogs of War just by gradually accumulating units as support for their other armies. As things stand now though, that is unlikely to happen.

I have heard it said that GW have as much as admitted that they’re not sure what to do with the Dogs of War. Presumably they would like to reinstate them as a full-blown army, but are wary of their lack of popularity in the past. The inclusion of some plastic miniatures (something that GW have definitely embraced in recent times) and the “vanilla” regiment choices would probably go a long way toward ensuring that the army gathers a sufficient following. As things stand at the moment though, the Dogs of War are in danger of simply being left behind, rather like the Chaos Dwarfs7.

In Summary

I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to remove armies from the game once they are firmly ensconced. The background has been developed, a figure range is in place (and can be built upon where necessary), and the army will already be collected by at least a modest number of players around the world. Surely it is far preferable to look at an army, decide why it is flagging and address the problem than it is to simply push the project to the back of the shelf and focus on things that are performing better. It is understandable that there are financial pressures driving some of these decisions, and it’s even possible that the armies have been looked at, and declared to be beyond salvaging, but the hobby as a whole suffers.

Even if an army has been truly abandoned by GW, it would seem preferable that some form of community-based development could take place under their watchful eye, and help keep the army standing, even if not on the same terms as those that enjoy the company’s full support. For instance, the Chaos Dwarfs are currently in the “out of sight, out of mind basket” for many, but those few who persevere do so against the current. Those who field Dogs of War enjoy a better position; however the lack of magic items for their characters leaves them inadequate and exposed.

It is a tragedy every time an army is abandoned, and those who play armies that suffer from neglect start to fear that their race might be going the same way. Given the support of the gaming community and the resources of the internet, it would surely not be so hard to prevent this fate from claiming any more victims.


1 For the benefit of those who have no idea what I am talking about (thank you for proving my point), Squats are (or rather were) the Dwarfs of the 40K universe.

2Actually, Dwarfs and Squats certainly have a lot in common, including this lack of popularity. Maybe it’s the stumpy legs.

3For those who don’t know or can’t remember, the following armies have been included in the Warhammer box set: 4th Edition – High Elves and Goblins; 5th Ed – Bretonnians and Lizardmen (both new armies at the time of release); 6th Ed – Empire and Orcs; 7th (current) Ed – Dwarfs and Goblins. As you can see, the greenskins have enjoyed a certain amount of favoritism in this respect.

4Although it should be noted that Chaos Dwarfs were still the only book to have the distinction of carrying a “White Dwarf presents” label on the front, in honor of their unusual history.

5Useless Trivia No 95783 - The Black Orcs were actually bred by the Chaos Dwarfs as superior slaves in the first place, but rebelled and spread across the world. Too ‘Ard, I guess.

6It’s funny, but obsolete miniatures such as Squats and Chaos Dwarfs tend to command the best prices on EBay. Obviously this is a supply and demand thing, and there is still enough demand to outstrip the (practically nonexistent) supply, but it is funny how people only ever seem to want something when they can’t get it anymore. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, as the song goes.

7Rather disturbingly, the newest army book (Orcs and Goblins) does not include the Rare choice for Dogs of War, the way all of the other books do. It is not clear if the army can no longer select them, or if GW have decided that the option is implied (and therefore does not need to be stated specifically). It is possible that this is the beginning of the end for Dogs of War in other armies, although I certainly hope not.

( categories: )