Gnomes have never been a big part of the Warhammer mythos, but they were in WFRP 1st edition, and in the first couple of editions of Warhammer itself. To celebrate the month of Gnomevember, here is a roundup of their brief history in Warhammer and WFRP.
Back in 1986, Citadel did have a few Gnome miniatures in its catalogue, so I included stats for them in the WFRP1 Bestiary. I’ve written before about how I tried to include stats for every miniature Citadel had ever made.
Gnomes weren’t included in the rulebook as a player race, even though they had been a PC race in D&D for some time. We were quite happy with Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. Even Halflings didn’t convince everyone, but at the time we felt they needed to be in the book: somehow, in the 80s, you just couldn’t have a fantasy RPG without Halflings. Since then the Halflings, too, have vanished from both Warhammer and WFRP. But back to Gnomes.
Phil Gallagher wrote “Out of the Garden” in White Dwarf 86 (reprinted in Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now), which gave Gnomes a culture and a place in the Warhammer world, as well as PC rules for WFRP, a patron deity, and a unique career of their own, the Gnome Jester.
The article also included a plethora of Gnome puns, possibly inspired by David Bowie’s novelty record The Laughing Gnome.
A gnome character starred in Carl Sargent’s Poirot-inspired adventure “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which was published in White Dwarf 105 and reprinted in the Warhammer Companion.
And that was it. Like Halflings, Gnomes just weren’t fearsome enough to make a good Warhammer force, and Citadel stopped making Gnome miniatures. Actually, I think they had already stopped by the time WFRP was published, but perhaps someone from the Oldhammer community can correct me if I’m wrong.
It didn’t help that these two articles were jokey even by WFRP1 standards: somehow we just couldn’t take Gnomes seriously enough to incorporate any grimdark horror along with the jokes. We probably thought it couldn’t be done, although some 20 years later my erstwhile colleague Keith Baker did a very good job with the Gnomes in his pulp-inspired Eberron setting for D&D.
Anyway, it was only a matter of time before Gnomes disappeared from WFRP as they had from Warhammer. By 2nd edition they were gone, and a Gnome thief in my adventure “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers” was changed to a Halfling for the 2nd edition reprint in Plundered Vaults.
But as with so many things, WFRP fans weren’t ready to let go of Gnomes. The Strike to Stun forums include various discussions of Gnomes, some with links to fan-created Gnome rules for WFRP2. And now, the final issue of the excellent Warpstone fanzine includes no less than three articles on Gnomes.
And appropriately enough it appeared this month: Gnomevember!
I’ve been writing a lot about the Oldhammer movement lately. Until now, the emphasis has been firmly on the battle games and the love of old lead, but now there are signs that the roleplayers are catching up.
There has always been an active group of WFRP 1st edition fans on Facebook, and there’s one on Google+ as well. A lot of these folks go back to the old WFRP mailing list from the 90s, but there are new names popping up all the time. And we mustn’t forget the Strike to Stun forums, which are always worth a look. But it wasn’t until today that I saw someone use the term “Oldhammer Roleplay.”
It’s the title of the first blog I’ve seen dedicated to looking back at WFRP 1st edition. It’s early days at this point, but the author (who goes by the charming nom-de-keyboard of Waaaagh) clearly knows his stuff, and he’s already raised some intriguing questions. I plan on weighing in when I can, and I look forward to seeing this fledgeling blog mature into the WFRP equivalent of the mighty RealmofChaos80s, which is one of the flagships of the Oldhammer movement.
I mentioned the first-ever Oldhammer USA event in a previous post. It took place over the weekend of October 25th-26th at Dropzone Games in Glen Burnie, Maryland – fittingly, on the site of the old Games Workshop Battle Bunker.
The Oldhammer movement was started a little while ago, as fans of Games Workshop’s “golden age” in the 1980s found each other online and began disscussing their favorite games, their latest finds on Ebay and elsewhere, and their various painting, modeling, and gaming projects. It’s flourished in its native UK, with Bryan Ansell’s Wargames Foundry hosting its second Oldhammer weekend in August. Here in the United States, where distances are greater and fans are more widely scattered, it was more of an undertaking to bring the community together in the same space.
But at last it happened. Thanks to the dedication and determination of Blake Shrode, Rusty Gouldman, and others, Oldhammer fans converged on the former Games Workshop US headquarters bringing a treasure trove of old lead and piles of old and well-used books. Because Glen Burnie was only a couple of hours away, I went to see. Phil Gallagher lives even closer, and he popped in too. It was the first time we’d met since I left GW in 1990.
As a first-year event, I think it was a resounding success, and I’m hoping for even better things in 2015. People came from as far afield as Maine and Michigan, driving 14 hours and more to meet other members of the various online groups and spend a couple of days wallowing in nostalgia.
And there was plenty of nostalgia. One of the first things I saw was a pristine, boxed Skull Crusher Goblin trebuchet. The silly story on the back was just about the first thing I wrote after joining the GW staff in 1986. There were games of Space Hulk, 40K, and a massive greenskin attack on an Imperial city (and when I say massive, there were 400 Orcs in just one of the attacking units). I got to roll some dice, help judge the painting competition, share some of my memories of Games Workshop in the 80s, and sign some books.
Signing books is a strange experience for me. It always has been. Perhaps it’s because of the first two times I was asked to do it.
The first was at a Dragonmeet event in 1986. I had been at GW just a couple of weeks, and I was completely unprepared for the hordes of fans who burst the doors open and poured in like an invading army. At one point a young boy planted himself in front of me and demanded to know if I was famous. I was still pondering the question when he impatiently thrust his programme under my nose. I had to use my own pen. I watched him carry on down the line of tables, getting signatures from two of the Citadel sculptors and one of the hall’s janitorial staff. He didn’t seem to care who signed the thing, and it occurred to me that he was probably going to sell it at school within the week.
The second time was later. I was hanging out in GW’s Nottingham store on my lunch break when a teenager called me by name and came up to me with a copy of Warhammer Siege. Normally I don’t like to sign things if I haven’t worked on them, but I did have a couple of snippets of color text in Siege so that was okay. I signed the book and then watched as he took it to the register and demanded a discount because it was now soiled. Enterprising young man, that. I still wonder whether he went on to become a successful entrepreneur or a criminal mastermind.
But I digress. This and many other memories came up during the course of the day, and everyone seemed to have a good time.
And if you’re interested in the Oldhammer community, here are a few links to get you started:
Realm of Chaos 80s – one of the best Oldhammer blogs, updated regularly and featuring lots of news and interviews with old GW types, including me.
Oldhammer in the New World – the organizers of Oldhammer USA.
The Oldhammer Community on Facebook – a good place to discuss vintage Citadel miniatures and see other fans’ work.
Oldhammer Community Plus – the Google+ Oldhammer group.
Gaming in the 80s – links to various interviews I’ve done.
Yesterday was Halloween, and Rogue Games took advantage of the occasion to open preorders for Colonial Gothic: Player Companion.
If you don’t know Colonial Gothic, it’s Rogue Games’ tabletop RPG of intrigue and supernatural horror at the dawn of American history. If you’re a fan of Sleepy Hollow – the TV series, the original story, or any of the movies – and you enjoy tabletop RPGs like Call of Cthulhu, you’ll find a lot to like about Colonial Gothic.
I call it “the American Revolution as imagined by H. P. Lovecraft and Dan Brown,” but that’s just a starting point. It can be played like a tabletop version of Assassin’s Creed III, or as “Cthulhu 1776,” or even as “WFRP 1776.” We’ve heard from teachers who use it as a classroom tool, discarding all the supernatural elements to give students a first-person perspective on the birth of the nation.
As you’d expect, The Player Companion includes a lot of new player options, including skills, weapons, spells, and combat. There are also completely new systems for character advantages and disadvantages, social level (very important in those times), plus an updated version of the character templates from the old ebook release to make character (and NPC) creation quicker and easier. It comes in both print and PDF versons.
Following on from the Bestiary, this book is part of an effort that has been close to my heart for a while: to build out from the 2nd Edition Rulebook and provide Colonial Gothic with a strong suite of core books that give players and GMs the ability to tailor the game to their own preferences. Richard and I are already talking about a GM’s book to complete the set.
As for me, I’m working on a super-secret project that will see me working with an old friend from my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay days. All I can say about it for now is that it’s going to look amazing, and I expect it will cause quite a stir when I can finally talk about it.
So if you like the idea of facing down scheming Freemasons, monsters from folklore, and Things Man Was Not Meant To Know as you uncover the secret history of the 18th century, give Colonial Gothic a try. We think you’ll like it.
The Colonial Gothic Player’s Companion is due for release later this month. Among its pages you will find many new weapons and combat rules, but here’s something I decided to keep back for a more detailed treatment. The Puckle Gun was a revolutionary design, capable of three times the fire rate of a conventional musket. However, it was never adopted by the British Army and history regards it as a failure. This need not be the case in a Colonial Gothic campaign. This article covers the history and design of this unusual weapon, and presents expanded rules and game stats for four versions.
English inventor, lawyer, and writer James Puckle patented his “Defence Gun” in 1718. A tripod-mounted, heavy musket, its main purpose was to defend ships against boarders. The gun used a revolving magazine that made it capable of firing nine rounds per minute – more than three times the fire rate of a conventional musket in the hands of a trained and experienced soldier.
Another innovation was the weapon’s choice of barrels: one firing conventional round shot for use against Christians, and another firing square shot for infidel Turks (which, it was suggested, would convince the Turks of “the benefits of Christian civilization”). The Turks, or more accurately the Barbary Corsairs who owed nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire, were a constant threat to Christian shipping in the Mediterranean and Atlantic until their bases in present-day Libya and Tunisia were conquered by France in 1830: the United States Marine Corps famously went to “the shores of Tripoli” in the First Barbary War of 1810-1815.
The Puckle Gun was demonstrated successfully more than once. The London Journal of March 31st 1722 reported that “one man discharged it 63 times in seven minutes” in a rainstorm. Damp is one of the greatest problems facing black-powder weapons, and this sustained fire rate in the rain (which must have included time spent changing magazines) was impressive. Despite this, the Puckle Gun was not adopted by the British armed forces and Puckle had trouble finding investors. One newspaper of the time observed drily that the gun “only wounded those who hold shares therein.”
A major drawback was the complexity of some components. Although details are sketchy, consistently machining the breech and the cartridges to the tolerances needed for a good gas seal must have been a challenge.
Although the Puckle Gun never entered military service, Lord Montagu purchased at least two Puckle Guns in 1722 for an expedition to colonize the Caribbean islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent. Threatened with French intervention from Martinique and unable to secure the backing of Royal Navy ships in the Caribbean, the expedition withdrew before accomplishing its goal. It is not known whether the Puckle Guns were ever fired.
The details of the Puckle Gun are hard to pin down. The few documentary sources report its bore as 1 inch, 1.25 inches, and 1.5 inches; its revolving magazine is said to hold either nine or eleven shots. Puckle’s drawing shows six and nine-chambered cylinders for round shot and a six-chambered cylinder for square shot.
The barrel of a Puckle Gun was 3 feet long and made of “brass,” which at that time meant cast bronze. The choice of metal may reflect the gun’s intended use as a shipboard weapon: an iron barrel would have been prone to rust.
The pre-loaded brass cartridges were mounted on a circular plate that screwed into place at the breech of the weapon. After firing, the screw was loosened, the plate was rotated to bring the next cartridge into position, and the screw was tightened again before firing.
The weapon was swivel-mounted on a tripod and had another screw mechanism (called a “crane” in Puckle’s drawing) to elevate and depress the barrel.
Blackmore and Willbanks (see Bibliography) both mention a Puckle Gun in the Tower of London Armoury, and imply that it is an original. There are references online to one at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, which was opened in 1996 to display more of the collection. At the time of writing it was not possible to confirm whether this is the one from London, but it seems likely.
Two Puckle Guns are on display at former Montagu homes in England: one at Boughton House in Northamptonshire and the other at the Palace of Beaulieu (pronounced Byoolee by the English) in Essex. It seems likely that these are from Lord Montagu’s ill-fated Caribbean expedition.
There is a replica Puckle Gun at the Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum in Hampshire, England. The village of Buckler’s Hard was founded by Lord Montagu as a port for the Caribbean trade, and was originally called Montagu Town. However, Montagu’s trading enterprise fared little better than his expedition.
The Puckle Gun was a heavy weapon, designed to be fired from a tripod. The tripod weighs about 20 pounds, and takes a full round to set up. Characters with a high Might score (10+) may try firing the weapon without a tripod; this imposes a -4 penalty to hit and reduces the ROF to 1.
Historically, problems of engineering and cost doomed the Puckle Gun to failure. However, this need not be the case in a Colonial Gothic campaign. The following paragraphs present a selection of adventure seeds in various times and places.
New England, 1721-25
Known by various names (including Dummer’s War, Father Rale’s War, and the Fourth Indian War), fighting has broken out along the border between New England and New France (modern-day Maine, Vermont, Quebec, and New Brunswick). Backed by France, warriors of the Wabanaki Confederacy have attacked British settlements, sparking a series of reprisal raids by British forces. As matters escalate, three British forts at the mouth of the Kennebeck River are attacked.
The Puckle Gun was designed as a point defense weapon, and its presence at any of these forts will strengthen them considerably. PCs (who may have been accompanying Lord Montagu’s Caribbean expedition) find themselves sent to New England to strengthen the frontier forts, and must run a French gauntlet to reach their destination.
The Ohio Territory, 1754-63
The Puckle Gun was aging by the time of the French and Indian War, but it could still outperform a standard infantry musket. As France and Britain struggle for control of the Ohio Territory, both sides build forts along the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers. Control of these forts is the key to winning the war, and any weapon that strengthens their defenses is valuable.
As a British expedition under Captain William Trent constructs a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, Major George Washington of the Virginia Militia returns from a diplomatic mission and reports to Governor Dinwiddie that the French will not withdraw. War seems inevitable. Washington, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, is ordered to strengthen Trent’s forces at the new Fort Prince George.
The most pressing need is for artillery, but Dinwiddie’s arsenal at Williamsburg is small. Washington strips a handful of Puckle Guns from the city’s walls and orders the PCs to hurry ahead while he assembles more reinforcements. They must make their way to Fort Prince George through largely unknown territory, confronting natural hazards and hostile natives along the way. They may arrive too late and find the French have destroyed Fort Prince George and begun construction of their own Fort Duquesne – or they may be just in time to fight off a determined French attack and change the course of history.
As tensions escalate during the siege of the city, General Thomas Gage strengthens the fortifications on the Neck, which protect the British-held town from its Patriot-controlled surroundings.
Gage’s American counterpart, General Artemas Ward, learns that a shipment of Puckle Guns is coming from London aboard a Royal Navy frigate to help strengthen the defenses. These heavy weapons would be a valuable prize for the American cause – but can the Heroes intercept and board a fully-armed enemy warship to seize them?
This incident would make a challenging side-adventure at the start of the Flames of Freedom campaign. It would work very well immediately after A Surprise for General Gage (from The Gazetteer), in which the Heroes are introduced to Ward and prove their value as an irregular special-missions unit.
Philadelphia, Paris, and London, 1776
Benjamin Franklin has heard of the Puckle Gun, and longs to obtain a specimen which can be reverse-engineered to develop a rapid-firing heavy weapon for the Continental Army. He sends the Heroes to Paris, where confederates of his equip them with false identities that will enable them to operate freely in London.
One set of plans is in the Patent Office in London, and another is at the offices of the Master-General of the Ordnance, along with a working prototype. Both these locations are fairly secure. The two Montagu houses of Boughton House and Beaulieu are softer targets, but they are set in smaller communities where outsiders of any kind will draw attention. The Heroes will have to be stealthy and resourceful to spirit a Puckle Gun away from either place.
For an added complication, Franklin’s French allies may have an agenda of their own. They may be early Revolutionaries, inspired by America’s resistance against an oppressive monarchy and critical of the growing economic crisis which arose from the expense of the French and Indian War and which, in history, would carry on to become a major cause of the French Revolution of 1789-1799. They may be royal agents ordered to obtain the British weapon for France. They may even be secret agents of some shadowy organization like the Freemasons, or of a powerful individual like the immortal Comte de St. Germain. Whatever their loyalties, these supposed allies will turn on the Heroes and try to take the stolen gun for themselves.
The Caribbean, 1778
Montagu’s expedition to St. Lucia and St. Vincent was the only confirmed instance of Puckle Guns going into the field. Historically, the French fleet at Martinique did not attack Montagu’s seven ships, but in a Colonial Gothic campaign this need not be the case.
Montagu’s two guns may be in a French armory in Martinique, and the Heroes may find themselves sent by Washington or Franklin to recover them. How they do so is up to them; they may try diplomacy, bribery, or theft – but if they are caught, they risk jeopardizing the delicate but valuable alliance between France and the United States.
Blackmore, Howard, British Military Firearms 1650-1850. Herbert Jenkins, 1961.
Peterson, Harold L., The Treasury of the Gun. Golden Press, 1962.
Puckle, Owen Standidge, James Puckle, N.P.: His Books and His Gun. No publisher listed, 1974. This title is listed by the British Library, but seems impossible to obtain.
Willbanks, James H, Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of their Impact. ABC-CLIO, 2004.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puckle_gun gives basic information on the weapon; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Puckle, on Puckle himself, gives more.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nTqV7o2jE8 shows a model Puckle Gun firing. A hot wire is used instead of a flintlock firing mechanism.
After my last post, Gideon on the Strike to Stun forums asked about another piece of Warhammer archaeology:
Perhaps I can challenge you on another piece of early Warhammer lore. What was the Tower of Screaming Death? I recall it was to have been a solo adventure in Hrothyogg’s Tower, but can find nothing about it now, apart from the Josh Kirby cover. Does it ring any bells?
Here’s the little I remember.
The Tower of Screaming Death was a Warhammer solo boardgame in which you played a band of Orcs exploring a wizard’s tower and coming across a lot of undead.
Bob Naismith was the driving force behind it. A Josh Kirby cover was commissioned but never used because the game was canceled. The artwork wound up being used for Warhammer Companion, and later for Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now. You can clearly see the Orcs and the spirit of the evil wizard dominating the tower.
I don’t remember a lot about the game itself. In fact I don’t think I ever got to play it because Bob was still working on the rules. I may be wrong about that, though – it’s been a very long time. From the bits and pieces that I do remember, it seems that the game petered out some time in the design stage and never got onto the development schedule.
Both WFRP and 40K were just out at that time, WFB3 was in the works, and Blood Bowl was in development, so it was hard to get a new game on the slate. It probably didn’t help that Bob wasn’t one of the regular game designers. He really needed to find a champion for the game within the design department, and all the designers (including me, I’ll admit) were a lot more interested in promoting their own ideas.
Bob fought to keep TSD alive, but it never happened. Just another of the lost designs from the 80s.
Gideon over at the Strike to Stun forum has trawled through a lot of early Citadel publications and traced the growth of the Warhammer mythos from 1983 to 1987. His work gives a perfect insight into the grimdark world’s light-hearted origins and early development, and it brought up a few memories that I had forgotten all about.
Strike to Stun is one of the first WFRP/Warhammer fan forum sites, and it’s still one of the very best. If you haven’t already checked it out, I’d recommend taking a look.