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This Gaming Life: Toy Soldiers Part One
I’m standing on a stage in a dwarven tavern in the bowels of Lenton, Notts. I work for Games Workshop. I’m an area manager for the retail stores in London. The crowd are chanting my name back to me, over and over, louder and louder. Xena, Warrior Princess, stands stage left, hands resting on the pommel of her sword. She smiles at me. The noise of the crowd slowly subsides as the Head of UK Operations takes up the microphone. “And the area manager of the year is….”
Ten years earlier, and I’m sitting on the toilet thinking about the Winds of Magic. Sitting opposite me, on the safe in the stockroom, is the regional manager for the south east. He’s interviewing me for the position of Trainee Squad Leader and wants to test my knowledge of Warhammer. I want to work for Games Workshop more than anything, so I tell him what I think he needs to know. “Magic? I don’t need to know anything about magic. I have a dwarf army. Magic is for girls, elves and the feeble minded.”
He taps his pen on his teeth for a second. “Welcome aboard, you start Monday”
A few years later, I am an Ultramarine. It is Operation: Deepstrike. Me and the rest of my squad are hunting plague Marines in north Wales. We have a prisoner too. We caught him late last night when he tried a solo raid on our camp. A few of us couldn’t sleep because of the incessant midges so he was an easy catch. It was our only victory that day. Earlier the lads had fallen out over on what came to be known as Bacon Ridge when Gary had called Nige “son” while snatching a botched grill tray from him. Tempers had flared. That evening we could barely gather enough fuel for a fire, let alone get it lit. We dined on biscuits and lukewarm water. The Head of Retail and the Company Chaplain produced a side of salmon and a bottle of red from their tent.
We’ve arrived in Prague for the National Managers Meeting. We got off the plane drunk, we had another drink in the taxi. We get to the bar before we get to reception. Someone tells us this hotel used to be the headquarters for the Communist Party. Cool. Who wants a Budvar then? Six hours later there are about eight of us in our own group. We all have freshly purchased tank commander furry hats on. We are in a club, and are showing the locals how to strut down a catwalk in the manner of Marneus Calgar. Dangerous Tim is trying to explain this all to a bemused local girl. They are interrupted by Ken lurching into them “finish your potato love, you’ve pulled”. The night turns into dawn on the fifth floor balcony of the hotel. We are now musketeers. Al is dancing along the balustrade fencing with a bottle of lager. He slips, and disappears over the edge of the balcony. The rest of us sober up instantly. Oh my god. He’s gone…
A raspy chuckle floats up from the fourth floor. The rest of the musketeers peer over the balcony to see Al, spreadeagled on his back, 12 feet down in a hedge. He sits up, finishes his beer, straightens his hat and burps. “Let’s see what they’ve got for breakfast round here shall we?”
It’s just before Christmas. I’m heading down the escalator at Tottenham Court Road tube. In each hand I have a straining carrier bag. In each bag is a a gallon of Bugmans Brew complete with illustrations of the infamous dwarven brewmaster. Present to all the staff from the management.
Regular as clockwork, Games Day has come around again. Three months of laborious painting drill to produce another mega display. Three months of selling tickets to kids, convincing the parents it’s an educational trip and that yes, little Jimmy will be well looked after by the pierced, dark eyed, sallow skinned leather clad regulars. I’ve never done a Games Day sober and this one is no exception. I’ve got my clipboard so I’m unlikely to be stopped and asked to do any work by a Big Boss. I keep moving form coffee station to smoking area, staying one step ahead of the Commissar. My staff are running the thousandth session of Gorkamorka that day. There’s a crashed Rhino under a bridge on the table. Rich has converted the driver to look like Diana. The kids never notice. I have an appointment with a kid and his mum. He’d had poor service in one of my stores last month, I think someone called him an idiot or something. As recompense I’m to show him round. I need to get him behind the scenes at the Golden Demon awards. My booze addled and sleep deprived brain can only think of one way in, I tell the studio minion on the door that the kids got a terminal disease and that this is his last ever Games Day. The kid thinks this is the best idea he has ever heard. He puts on a cough. We’re in, and my skin is saved.
Me and the other guys are roaming the Mail Order alleys, surrounded by shelves stacked to the tunnels with bins chock full of tiny metal soldier parts. Each of us has a box, and we have been told we can fill them today. Our staff discount means we get a kilo of models for £20. I pick up a kilo of Lizardmen bits, which includes enough bits to make five left halves of a Stegadon. I pass another recruit busy snipping off the tabs of his minis “makes em lighter” he mutters without looking up. Another manager is counting Red Gobboes into his box “298, 299, 300. Perfect!” I forget to go back and get the right hand parts of the Stegadons. How about some sprues? “Nah, you’re mad mate, buy them from your own store at 50%, that way you’ll hit your targets for the month”
It’s another National Managers Meeting. We all sit in Warhammer World in ranks of chairs waiting for the first presentation. It’s been a poor year for sales. This will likely get a mention. The Boss strides up to the lectern. He isn’t smiling. The hall falls to silence. The Boss claps his hands. Then he does it again. Then a third time. It dawns on us that he’s doing a slow hand clap. He finishes, turns on his heel and leaves. The meeting is over. We go home.
The Plaza, Oxford St, the flagship GW store. I’m speaking with Sparky Marky, he’s new to the store. I’m briefing him on the regulars, who to avoid, who to show the new releases to. “Be careful with Mo, he’s a bit sensitive about his looks. You see, he’s got a kind a funny shaped skull, it looks a bit pointy, so try not to draw attention to it.”
A few minutes later I’m standing on the shop floor with said staffer. I spy Mo coming in the door. I give a nudge “that’s him”. Sparky grabs a flamer template, slaps it to his forehead and strolls towards Mo. “Oi Conehead! What’s going on!”
I’m at an area meeting in Bromley. The Regional Manager is flanked by his Hobby Manager and his Sales Manager. They stand like Sergeant Majors in their pristine black shirts and polished collar badges. One of them decides a good lesson for us would be to study the strategy and tactics of the SS. The other one, a kiwi, decides we need to all stand up and do the famous All Blacks Haka with him to get our blood flowing. My mate Paul takes his career in his hands and says “boss, it’s the 11th November, shouldn’t we be respecting the two minutes silence?”
…I’m back on stage. The man who will make me redundant in less than a month is shaking my hand before the crowd surge the stage. They gather me up and carry me round Bugmans shouting “Banzai! South East! Banzai! South East!” While spraying beer all over me. I holding aloft Archaons Chaos Sword, that I’ve just taken from Xena in a duel. I’m carried back to the stage where I use the sword to cut the mould for that years special edition model. I’m ordered to drink a yard of ale or get the sack.
Oh well, in for a penny….