09/11/2016

Age of Sigmar and the same old High Fantasy

This post will perhaps be a little petty, a little uncharitable, but if so it will be of its time given recent events.

I went browsing recently for new alternative sources of Dwarf models, and I kept bumping into old blogposts regarding the death of Warhammer Fantasy and the creation of its pseudosuccessor Age of Sigmar. Of course there were the expected rageposts by people like myself, who'd been involved in the setting in one form or another for decades and still had substantial passion for it, as well as a smattering of entries that amounted to "I don't care, but I might look into it", but what surprised me were the number of posts, some from people who's hobby work I have a lot of respect and admiration for, that were filled with optimism.

Some of those, like the one to whom the title of this blog is a wee homage, were from people who simply didn't particularly care for Warhammer Fantasy; some had a faint sense of desperation about them, of people not wanting to acknowledge what they knew deep down was coming; some were genuine declarations of optimistic acceptance, but almost all had a common theme running through them, which could be paraphrased as:

It's OK that Warhammer Fantasy died, really, since it was just tired old Tolkeinesque high fantasy with a few twists, and the brave new world of Age of Sigmar will be "created from imagination, not from tropes".

Well, here we are, AoS has had plenty of time to bed in now, for the fiction to begin to develop, and I can't help but feel a touch of the old Schadenfreude as The Hives play away in my head.



Because just as many of us said at the time, there's been no brave new world, no fantasy renaissance, no glorious elevation. GW just chose a different set of existing tropes and IPs to draw ideas from this time, and most are every bit as well trodden as the ones behind Warhammer Fantasy. Norse/Classical mythology meets World of Warcraft meets Dungeons and Dragons planes, with a sprinkle of medieval Space Marines - Age of Sigmar.

Even more hilariously, from the perspective of the slightly bitter Warhammer Fantasy fan, is that GW don't even seem to want to take full advantage of even that small chance to be "truly creative" granted them by breaking with their own fictional history. Other than combining generic High Fantasy tropes with their own existing IP(Paladins + Space Marines = Stormcast, Troll Slayers + a hint of D&D Azer = Fyreslayers etc), nothing they've produced either in models or fiction is so radical or so truly original that it wouldn't have slotted comfortably into Warhammer Fantasy as-was. Indeed, much as with their 40K output of late, many of GW's big reveals for AoS have been nothing more than wholesale plunder of their own back catalogue; Tzaangors, Fimir, Path to Glory, all the old hits being played.

The initial premise was always false, of course; Warhammer Fantasy wasn't merely a Tolkein ripoff any more than 40K was merely a Dune ripoff - both were true pastiches, drawing from history, mythology, folklore, existing fantasy tropes, and popular culture to create settings that were more than the sum of their parts. Tolkein's influence on WHF was clear, as was Moorcock's, Lovecraft's, Howard's; as was European history's; as was the Brothers Grimm and so on.

The setting undoubtedly produced some duds, and some stories certainly did tilt more to the Tolkein side of things, but I think to argue as some have that WHF is fundamentally Tolkeinesque and that all the myriad stories and factions that don't fit that thesis somehow don't count is fatuous nonsense. A fundamentally Tolkeinesque, generic High Fantasy setting could not produce stories like Ancient Blood, or Beasts in Velvet, or the Black Plague trilogy, or Skarsnik, or the Mathias Thulmann tales, or even dark fantasy adventures like Gotrek & Felix, Florence & Lorenzo et al, or borderline-comedy homages like Zavant. A fundamentally Tolkeinesque, generic High Fantasy setting could not have supported an RPG like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

But regardless, here we are. GW took away a setting with thirty years of development which was still unfinished and fair bursting with potential, and many rejoiced because with that history went all that tired, generic, Tolkeinesque High Fantasy they didn't find appealing and in some cases never bothered to look beyond, all the boring Elves and Dwarfs and Goblins and Ogres. And in its place the bright, shiny future of Age of Sigmar, with its Aelfs and Duardin and Grots and Ogors, with its Land Marines and its on-the-nose naming conventions and its mining of a slightly different set of fantasy tropes.

*hums* Hate to say I told you so...

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