When I was about 10 or 11 (around 1989), already a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, I was able to read an older lad’s copy of a magazine that left me slack-jawed and hungry for more. That magazine was… well… the leading magazine covering the wargaming hobby that, at that time, still covered 3rd party systems. It was an issue that was full of photos of wonderful warriors of chaos and demons, miniatures painted in brash reds and bronze or hedonistic pastels. You may notice that I am avoiding any terms that might be copyrighted… no point poking the sleeping beast.
Anyway – I dived into the hobby. But with no hobby shops nearby, nobody to show me how to paint, nobody to play with, it was mostly me dabbing paints (I had an odd set of paints with no black, dark brown or white) on metal goblins. After a few years, however, the hobby had spread and I found other uncool kids at school to dungeon crawl with, to fight massed battles against…. nights were spent planning armies, painting…. It was a great time to be a teenage nerd.
And yet…. I could never keep up. I only ever managed to get one regiment painted – everything else was scraps – a bit painted here, a bit painted there. A sea of grey, metal and plastic interspersed with blobs of colour… and yet still my army had more paint on it than any of the armies it faced. Something was wrong with the hobby we were engaged in. The main focus was obviously buying more and more. New editions of rulebooks that made your previous setup unviable, new more powerful units and armies… everything was geared towards quantity not quality. Even the miniatures themselves had become less characterful. It never occured to me that the hobby could be any other way.
Anyway – life intervened. I left home and moved to Germany ( I started off in the UK). I found work for a brief spell in retail for a leading hobby company… and hated it with a passion. I had so many other interests: music, literature, history, and, being a single 22-year-old, women. Any interests other than wargaming were effectively discouraged though, thanks to the pressure put on us to serve as an inspiration in our free time – ‘collect armies! paint them!’ I couldn’t spend 24/7 thinking about miniatures and nothing else. Add to that the bullying, mobbing and bad pay. I left.
For all practical intents and purposes the hobby was dead for me. Some miniatures I gave away when I left the retail job (dragons, rare miniatures of all kinds… I was sick of it all), some I sold for money in the 15 years or so that followed (for example that single unit that I had managed to paint).
And then. I started up again. I suffer from a chronic illness that flairs up from time to time and makes me feel awful. I was going through one of these periods where I feel as if I had just been scraped off somebody’s shoe… when I decided to paint something. Sitting down and wielding a paint brush wasn’t too strenuous and felt like something I could manage. I wasn’t great to be honest – I noticed that my eyes weren’t as young as they used to be. But discovered that good lighting and magnification more than made up for that. I decided to look up the game system I used as a teenager – basically the only massed fantasy battle game on the block… and, shock horror, I discovered that it no longer existed. The game was no longer in production and the world had been killed off. I cast around aimlessly… what was the point of painting miniatures without a ‘purpose’? Without a regiment to put them in? Without a cunning battle plan?
Then the scales fell from my eyes. Searching through the internet looking for something to replace the game that had given me a reason to paint miniatures, I discovered that there are many smaller miniature companies out there – many fantastic rulesets for skirmish games… it was possible to be involved in this hobby without the constant grind of painting (or at least trying to paint) endless regiments. I discovered that many of the smaller companies were producing miniatures and rules that were much more suited to my needs. I discovered that I really enjoy painting miniatures that just happen to appeal to me, and then being able to fit them into small, flexible skirmish games with roleplaying elements – rather than having to slog my way through huge regiments of similar miniatures.
And that is where I am now. I still love the aesthetics of those old miniatures (a topic for another day). But I no longer feel tied to the rules, miniatures and worlds of one particular company. I feel free to paint what I want and imagine the worlds I want. And after all – isn’t that what fantasy is all about? It has taken over 30 years, but I am enjoying the hobby now more than ever before.