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WFRP Memories: A Rough Night at the Three Feathers

October 27, 2017 3 comments

 

Orlygg at the Realm of Chaos 80s blog has just posted a very nice piece about “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers,” which I wrote back in 1987. I wrote it largely as an experiment, to see whether multi-plot adventures could even work: people liked it, and it has gone on to be one of the most-reprinted pieces written for WFRP. After its original publication in White Dwarf 94, it appeared in The Restless Dead, Apocrypha Now, and – with Second Edition stats – in Plundered Vaults.

I’ve returned to the same format twice for WFRP, and once for d20. “Nastassia’s Wedding” appeared in Pyramid #19 in 1996, with stats for GURPS Fantasy was well as WFRP, and the Third Edition adventure The Edge of Night included a society party where Skaven were just one of many problems. “The Last Resort” in Green Ronin’s Tales of Freeport returns to an inn location, on a night beset with mummies, assassins, loan sharks, serpent cultists, and more.

In 1987, though, all this was in the future. My initial impetus for writing “Three Feathers” was the popularity (at the time) of bar-room brawl scenarios. White Dwarf 11 started it off with “A Bar-Room Brawl – D&D Style” by Lew Pulsipher, which was reprinted in The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios. Others followed – including “Rumble at the Tin Inn” for RuneQuest – and when WFRP was published in 1986, we knew it would need some adventures and articles in White Dwarf to support it (more on that here). One possibility was a bar-room brawl scenario – they were simple in structure and should be fairly quick to write, which was just what was needed since there was no official budget and schedule for producing WFRP support material during work hours.

I set to work, coming up with the Three Feathers inn (though in my mind, the feathers were bunched together on the inn sign, like the three ostrich plumes of the Prince of Wales’ insignia) and a diverse cast of characters, each with a reason for being there and some cross-plots that would bring them into conflict with others. But, as I always do, I had way too much fun developing the characters and plots, and the concept grew beyond the needs of a simple bar-room brawl scenario. First, I thought I would pick one plot, develop it, and file the rest away for future use – but then I had an idea: why  not use all of them at once?

In my mind, the Three Feathers’ inn sign looked a little more like this – but without the crown.

As far as I knew (and still know) it had never been done in roleplaying games before, but there were strong precedents in other media. On stage, colliding plots have been an element of farces since Roman times. One commentator described “Three Feathers” as “a classic British hotel farce,” and anyone old enough to remember the names Ben Travers and Brian Rix will know exactly what he means. I wanted to capture the manic action of farces like Fawlty Towers, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, and so on, blending it with the sneaking action of caper comedies like The Pink Panther.

I had to think quite hard about how to present the adventure. There was no way to know what might happen with all these plots taking place at once, especially when a group of PCs got involved. So I simply described the location and the NPCs, outlined each plot, and compiled a timeline of what should happen if the PCs weren’t there. A few words of encouragement for the GM (which can be summarized in Douglas Adams’ timeless words, “Don’t Panic!”) and off it went to White Dwarf.

Honestly, I had no idea whether it would work or not. I knew that I could handle it as a GM, therefore it was theoretically workable by others, but had I set things out well enough? Would it just confuse people, or would it all come crashing down mid-game leaving players and GMs dissatisfied and angry? It was a great relief when the first positive responses began to come in.

Oh, and WFRP did get a bar-room brawl scenario of its very own, just a couple of months later. Jim Bambra and Matt Connell wrote “Mayhem at the Mermaid” for White Dwarf 96. Then the fashion for bar-room brawl scenarios faded, and as far as I know people simply stopped writing them. Today, they are a largely forgotten style of adventure: perhaps a blogger somewhere will trace the history of the form and assess its lasting contribution to RPG adventure design. I would certainly be interested to read it.

Oh, and one last piece of trivia. I got the title from a Western called A Rough Night in Jericho. I have never actually seen it, but evidently it includes a bar-room brawl scene, as I saw a still somewhere or other and the title stuck in my mind until I stole it for “Three Feathers.” Make of that what you will….

More
My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography
The Restless Dead: The Forgotten WFRP Campaign

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Warhammer Prehistory: Find the Lady

June 8, 2015 20 comments

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A few weeks ago, I had occasion to scan the last AD&D adventure I wrote before I started work on the game that would become Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. You can find it here.

The adventure was called Find the Lady, and it was published in issue 2 of Paul Cockburn’s AD&D magazine GameMaster Publications, which came out in December 1985, shortly before he joined Games Workshop. Paul started GM Pubs after the closure of Imagine magazine and the rest of TSR UK’s publications department; it was written by various Imagine regulars – and several former TSR UK staffers – and lasted for five issues before Paul took over as editor of White Dwarf. Like Imagine, GM Pubs only bought first rights, which is why I feel comfortable making it available online now.

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Rereading it thirty years later, I can see it has many of the qualities that would later become characteristic of WFRP: in fact, it wouldn’t require much work to covert it to any edition of that game, with the action set in Altdorf, Middenheim or Marienburg rather than the Pelinore setting that was born in Imagine and continued in GM Pubs. Three years ago, Coop over at the Fighting Fantasist blog made some very astute observations about Pelinore and the development of WFRP, and Phil Gallagher and I both weighed in with comments.

Like many of the early Enemy Within adventures, Find the Lady is primarily a city investigation. As with much of WFRP, I had too much fun creating colorful NPCs. I had been playing a lot of Bushido in the few years before I wrote it, and had fallen in love with the trickster fox-spirits called kitsune. I had also been running a first-edition Call of Cthulhu campaign which involved a great deal of investigation and NPC interaction and very little combat: after all, taking a D&D approach to Call of Cthulhu combat made for very short adventures! Both of these games were an influence on Find the Lady, and of course Call of Cthulhu would be a significant influence on the Enemy Within adventures.

Looking back, it’s easy to see Find the Lady as an intermediate step between AD&D and WFRP as far as my own work is concerned, but it’s also a reflection of roleplaying in general – especially, I think, British roleplaying – as it stood in the mid-80s. Several London-based fanzines led the “rolegaming” movement, which emphasized character interaction over combat and decried commercial success – including the success of WFRP – as somehow having Betrayed Art. Less vocally, roleplayers across the UK were drawn to Call of Cthulhu for the way it supported options other than combat. AD&D was still in its first edition at that time, and had a notable lack of non-combat skills.

Warhammer, of course, was – and remains – a miniatures combat game, so it is perhaps surprising that its roleplaying spinoff should have taken such a different course. Partly it’s because the WFRP combat system turned out to be so deadly and there was little time to fine-tune it, but in large measure, I think, it was a product of its time: a time when Call of Cthulhu had shown the way, and other tabletop RPGs were looking beyond the dungeon. Find the Lady is another sign of those times, and although it’s not as polished as it might be, I hope you enjoy it.

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography

May 1, 2015 26 comments

I recently had occasion to put together a complete bibliography of all my work on Warhammer, WFRP, and Advanced HeroQuest, so I thought I’d post a copy here for anyone who’s interested.

If I have time later on, I might add my work on Warhammer 40,000, Epic Scale, and related games, but for now this is just the Warhammer Fantasy related work.

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Warhammer
Products
Warhammer rulebook, 3rd ed. (1987) – Colour text
Warhammer Siege (1988) – Colour text
Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988) – Contributing writer
Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (1990) – Contributing writer

Articles
“Crush, Crumble and Chop,” White Dwarf #103, Aug 1988
“The Crude, the Mad and the Rusty,” White Dwarf #83, Dec 1986

Box Backs
Skull Crusher Goblin Trebuchet
Lead Belcher Goblin Organ Gun
Great Fire Dragon
Green Dragon
Blue Dragon
Elven Attack Chariot
Harboth’s Orc Archers
Man-Mangler Orc Mangonel
Great Imperial Dragon
The Nightmare Legion
Bugman’s Dwarf Rangers
The Skeleton Horde
Orc War Wyvern
Goblin Battle Chariots
The Dragon Masters
Skarloc’s Wood Elf Scouts
Gob-Lobber Dwarf Onager
Roglud’s Armoured Orcs
Prince Ulther’s Imperial Dwarfs
Skeleton War Machines
Snotling Pump Wagon (magazine ad)

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Products

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3rd Edition
The Enemy Within (2012) – Co-author Buy it here
The Edge of Night (2010) – Author Buy it here

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2nd Edition
Plundered Vaults (2005) – Contributor (reprint) Buy it here
Paths of the Damned: Ashes of Middenheim (2005) – Author Buy it here
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Second Edition (2005) – Contributor (adventure) Buy it here

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1st Edition
Fear the Worst (2002: Hogshead) – Developer Download free here
Dwarfs: Stone and Steel (2002: Hogshead) – Developer
Corrupting Influence (2002: Hogshead/Warpstone) – Contributor (reprint)
Apocrypha 2 (2000: Hogshead) – Editor/contributor
Gamemaster’s Screen (1997: Hogshead) – Author (insert booklet)
Apocrypha Now (1995: Hogshead) – Contributor (reprint)
Castle Drachenfels (1991: Flame) – Developer
Death’s Dark Shadow (1991: Flame) – Developer
Warhammer Companion (1990: Flame) – Editor/contributor
Doomstones: Dwarf Wars (1990: Flame) – Developer
Doomstones: Death Rock (1990: Flame) – Developer
Doomstones: Blood in Darkness (1990: Flame) – Developer
Character Pack, 2nd edition (1990: Flame) – Author (insert booklet)
Doomstones: Fire in the Mountains (1989: Flame) – Developer
Lichemaster (1989: Flame) – Developer
Empire in Flames (1989: GW) – Contributor (author brief)
The Restless Dead (1989: GW) – Contributor (reprint)
Something Rotten in Kislev (1988: GW) – Developer/co-author
Warhammer City (1987: GW) – Contributor
Character Pack, 1st edition (1990: Flame) – Developer (insert booklet)
Death on the Reik (1987: GW) – Co-author/developer
Dungeon Lairs (1987: GW) – Author (booklet)
Shadows over Bogenhafen (1986: GW) – Author
The Enemy Within (1986: GW) – Developer
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1986: GW) – Co-author/developer
Dungeon Rooms (1986: GW) – Developer (booklet)


Articles

“The Exorcist,” personal blog (https://graemedavis.wordpress.com), November 2015
“The Gong Farmer,” personal blog (https://graemedavis.wordpress.com), August 2013
“Secrets of the WFRP Writers, Part 2,” Warpstone #15, Winter 2000-2001
“Secrets of the WFRP Writers, Part 1,” Warpstone #14, Summer 2000
“Secrets of the Warhammer Artists,” Warpstone #6, Summer 1997
“The Warpstone Interview,” Warpstone #5, Spring 1997
“Nastassia’s Wedding,” Pyramid #19, May/June 1996 Buy it here
“Pit Fighting,” White Wolf Inphobia #57, August 1995
“Social Level Rules,” White Dwarf #138, Jul 1991
“The King Beneath the Hill,” White Wolf #26, Apr 1991
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #135, Apr 1991
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #133, Feb 1991
“Ironstone Pass,” White Dwarf #132, Jan 1991
“The Great Hospice,” White Dwarf #130, Nov 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #128, Sep 1990
“The Emperor Luitpold,” White Dwarf #122, Mar 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #121, Feb 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #120, Jan 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #119, Dec 1989
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #118, Nov 1989
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #103, Aug 1988
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #102, Jul 1988
“Fimir,” White Dwarf #102, Jul 1988
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #98, Mar 1988
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #97, Feb 1988
“A Rough Night at the Three Feathers,” White Dwarf #94, Nov 1987
“A Fistful of Misprunts,” White Dwarf #92, Sept 1987
“Oops!,” White Dwarf #91, Aug 1987
“Onwards & Upwards,” White Dwarf #89, Jun 1987
“Hand of Destiny,” White Dwarf #88, May 1987
“On the Road,” White Dwarf #85, Feb 1987

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AHQ logo


HeroQuest/Advanced HeroQuest

Products
HeroQuest (Milton Bradley, 1989) – Contributor (initial consulting)
Advanced Heroquest (1989) – Developer
Terror in the Dark (1991) – Author

Articles

“Treasure,” White Dwarf #139, Aug 1991
“Henchmen,” White Dwarf #138, Jul 1991

Also on this Blog
All posts tagged “Warhammer”

Other Bibliography Posts

My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends

 

Phil Gallagher: The Rest of the Enemy Within Campaign

February 28, 2015 4 comments

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People ask me about the Enemy Within Campaign a lot, and I can’t always answer their questions. Sometimes I used to know but the answer is lost in the mists of time, but more often I never really knew to begin with. Jim and Phil did most of the planning for TEW, and I wasn’t always privy to the longer-range plan. I’ve already blogged about what I do know/remember, but last October I met up with Phil for the first time in over 20 years at the Oldhammer 2014 event in Maryland. I asked him to help me fill in a few details (fill/Phil! Ha, ha! What – nothing? Please yourselves…) and he was kind enough to agree.

Phil and me (at left) at Oldhammer 2014.

Phil and me (at left) at Oldhammer 2014.

So here we go:

What was the original plan for the Enemy Within Campaign after Power Behind the Throne?

The original plan? We had a plan? I think the “plan” was to keep creating linked, campaign-style rpg adventures with some great role-playing scenes, and plenty of action…

Did you and Jim get as far as a plot for The Horned Rat? If so, what was it? How far did it get? Anything else you can tell us about it?

The Horned Rat idea was all mine. Mine, I tell you. Who knows how it might have panned out, but I had this idea that a bunch of Skaven were developing a means of bringing Morrslieb down to earth… and/or they had created a portal to enable them to teleport to the surface to mine it… Chaos-mutations a-plenty!

In particular, what was the plan for the Purple Hand? They kind of vanish after the events in Middenheim, but it seems to be implied that they have active cells elsewhere.

The Purple Hand were supposed to be just one of a number of underground cults all working to related but slightly different ends – a sort of SPECTRE for the Warhammer world; probably never the focus of a scenario, but always there in the background to complicate life for the PCs.

How close was Carl Sargent’s published Empire in Flames to the original intention? Did you have much input into the brief Carl worked from?

Jeez… Empire in Flames… I’ve no idea… that was you and Mike, Graeme – all you and Mike! 😉 I think it was probably the usual convoluted Carl Sargent adventure, that you and/or Mike undertook to shoe-horn… er… adapt to fit into the existing campaign.

Hmm… I don’t think it was me, so it must have been Mike. I must remember to ask him one day.

Apart from The Horned Rat and Empire in Flames, were there any other Enemy Within adventures planned that never came to fruition?

Any other ideas? I’m sure there were – but it’s all so long ago, now… it was all probably going to come to a head with a major chaos incursion and a WFRP-meets-WFB big climactic battle…

And I’m sure that any digressions and random memories you feel like throwing in would be more than welcome, too.

Random memories: it was Hal that gave the Drakwald forest its name. He was taking the piss for the way we came up with names for places in the Empire. He suggested that all we were doing was taking English words, changing them a bit, and then adding “-heim” to make town names, and “-wald” to name forests, “So, the Dark Forest, could be Drakwald?” he joked. And so it did.

Many thanks to Phil for taking the time to reply. If you want to read more of his WFRP memories, check out the interview he did for the excellent Realm of Chaos 80s blog.

The Restless Dead: The Forgotten WFRP Campaign

January 9, 2015 18 comments

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A lot has been written about the Enemy Within campaign for WFRP, and rather less has been written about the Doomstones campaign. But the Restless Dead campaign is almost forgotten.

Restless Dead

This modest, 104-page hardback is not a common find on Ebay or elsewhere. It was never reprinted, although a good deal of its content wound up in Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now and Apocrypha 2. And much of that content was reprinted from White Dwarf.

Edited by Carl Sargent, the book falls into three parts. First is the Restless Dead campaign proper, which consists of seven adventures from WD. Carl expands my own On the Road (mentioned in an earlier post) to provide the campaign’s overarching storyline, and I think he did a pretty good job pulling together a bunch of unrelated adventures to make a reasonably coherent campaign.

Night of Blood and A Rough Night at the Three Feathers can also be found in Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now, and The Ritual and The Affair of the Hidden Jewel are reprinted in Apocrypha 2. The other two adventures, Eureka! and The Haunting Horror, have not been reprinted for 1st edition, although Plundered Vaults has a 2nd edition version of The Haunting Horror as well as A Rough Night at the Three Feathers. and can only be found in this book. The Haunting Horror has been widely criticized as too deadly even for WFRP, while Eureka! features an array of wacky inventions, including hang-gliders and a submarine, which Hogshead chief James Wallis thought were a step too far. Each adventure is accompanied by a page of campaign notes from Carl, giving advice on how it can be used in either the Restless Dead campaign or the Enemy Within campaign.

Altogether, the Restless Dead campaign takes up 58 pages, or a little over half the book.

The second part of The Restless Dead consists of a single adventure for the Enemy Within campaign, specially written by Carl (with Derrick Norton) and found nowhere else reprinted from WD98. Titled Grapes of Wrath (and known in the Studio as “Flying Death Skulls” for its defining encounter), it runs to 16 pages and features a crazed wizard terrorizing a peaceful village. It is reprinted with 2nd edition stats in Plundered Vaults.

Finally, there are 24 pages of optional rules. Jim and Phil’s Practice Makes Perfect takes a detailed look at career progression, while Hack and Slay! introduces some optional combat rules. New spells and magic items round out the rest of the book.

The Restless Dead is a curious little volume. It was put together in a hurry in 1989 with the intention of getting more WFRP material out at the lowest possible cost. The John Blanche cover art was re-used from the Skeleton Horde boxed set, a move that would be repeated in later WFRP books. But Carl’s editing and development of the Restless Dead campaign saves it from being just another miscellany like the Warhammer Companion and the two Apocryphas. First edition completists will probably want it for the bits and pieces that were never reprinted elsewhere, and while it doesn’t approach the heights of Power Behind the Throne, Grapes of Wrath is definitely one of Carl’s better adventures. There are some typically silly NPC names like Isolde Guderian, Seel Baldurich, and Knud Gropenfrotteur, and Carl claimed to have based Wuder Lechart, the village idiot, on GW’s lead graphic designer, Charlie Elliott.

While it is definitely a little brother to The Enemy Within and Doomstones, The Restless Dead doesn’t deserve to be entirely forgotten.

Terror in the Darkness

December 11, 2014 7 comments

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There was a miniature painting contest at Oldhammer 2014, and one of the winners was a beautifully painted Ambull miniature. That brought back some memories, and a recent Facebook post in the Oldhammer Community finally stirred me to action.

Ambull mini

The Ambull miniature is pretty rare. The beast was created by Rick Priestley and can be found in the 1st edition Warhammer 40K rulebook along with quite a few other critters that were never used in WH40K army lists. As far as I can remember, it was the only one of these unaffiliated monsters to be made into a miniature. Since it didn’t have a home in any army list, I’m sure it didn’t sell well.

But that’s not the story I wanted to tell. I want to tell you about Compleat Encounters, and how an Ambull came to be featured in a WFRP adventure.

It was 1988, just over a year since WFRP and WH40K had been released. TSR UK’s Imagine magazine was gone by this time, but its former editor Paul Cockburn was now editing White Dwarf. One of Imagine’s many good points had been “Brief Encounters” – short, 1-2-page adventures showcasing a particular monster or situation – and Paul (or someone else in GW management) had the perfectly sensible idea of doing the same thing with short WFRP encounters in White Dwarf. They were called “Compleat Encounters.”

I loved the idea, all except for one thing. I wasn’t allowed to write any. Nor was anyone in the GW Design Studio. In a move that foreshadowed one of my greatest frustrations at GW, it was decided that all the work would be farmed out to external writers. We were to write briefs, but not encounters.

It’s already on record that I wanted every miniature in the Citadel catalogue to find a place in WFRP. As I set about churning out briefs (which, to be honest, took just as much time as if I’d written the encounters myself), I turned to the miniatures catalogue for inspiration. One of my early efforts featured a renowned sculptor who cheated using a cockatrice; it was written (by whom, I no longer remember) but as far as I know it was never published. I used another encounter brief to import the Ambull into the Warhammer Fantasy setting.

Tony Ackland's Ambull illo from the WH40K rulebook. You can see how closely the miniature followed it.

Tony Ackland’s Ambull illo from the WH40K rulebook. You can see how closely the miniature followed it.

At the time, there was a lot of discussion within the Studio about the relationship between the Warhammer world and the WH40K universe. The Ruinous Powers of Chaos were active in both settings, so there had to be a link – but what was it? Was the Terra of WH40K actually a future version of the Warhammer world? Was the Warhammer world a remote feral world in some backwater of the WH40K universe, where degenerate members of the various WH40K races lived in ignorance of the galaxy and its greater conflicts? The question was never definitively answered, and in time it was forgotten altogether – but not before several photographs had been published showing a mix of Warhammer and WH40K miniatures on the same table.

Historically, I think this was probably a stopgap measure allowing players to bulk out WH40K forces with “feral world” Warhammer miniatures until the WH40K miniatures line could be expanded. Once that happened, the whole matter was quietly dropped. I don’t know. Still, it was against that background that I started combing through the bestiary section of the WH40K rulebook for more monsters to bring across to the Warhammer world and WFRP.

Of all the WH40K creatures I looked at, the Ambull struck me as being best suited to a fantasy world. I converted the stats for WFRP, came up with an idea for an adventure to showcase it, and wrote the brief.

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The result can be seen in White Dwarf 108, written by Carl Sargent and titled “Terror in the Darkness”. I haven’t been able to find a scan of the original, but here’s a link to a fan-converted WFRP2 version. When I talked about this adventure at Oldhammer 2014, I wrongly said that I’d written it myself. I had completely forgotten about the Compleat Encounters and the time when WFRP staff writers weren’t allowed to write anything except briefs for freelancers.

Gnomevember the Second

November 24, 2014 1 comment

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A blog called Where the sea pours out has picked up on my earlier post about the short career of the Gnomes as a Warhammer race and made some very interesting observations about Gnomes in general. There is solid information about their origins in folklore and alchemy, and some thought-provoking comments about the way they have come to be depicted outside fantasy games and how that affects the way people think about Gnomes in games.

It’s worth reading, and in a previous post the writer promises to show us some of his collection of old Citadel and Grenadier Gnomes. I’m looking forward to that.