Tamurkhan - The Throne of Chaos.


In spite of large chunks of my free time having been devoured by Skyrim, November wasn't such a bad month as far as my interest in the GW hobby goes: first off, myself and a good mate have made some tentative steps in sorting out how to get our hobby mojos running again in the new year, but I also received three publications that have reignited some love for the varying GW systems. I thought I'd review each of them in turn, starting with the first I received, and indeed the first expansion from Warhammer Forge: Tamurkhan - The Throne of Chaos



I'm not entirely sure where to start with this book; if I could sum it up in one word it'd be bittersweet. The whole volume feels slightly tinged with a sadness of missed opportunity, which I'll try to explain anon. When the Warhammer Forge project was announced, the initial plan was for Rick Priestley to be given free reign to do pretty much whatever he wanted. There was an announcement that the project would follow a similar path to the Forge World Imperial Armour expansions, each focussing on a seismic event within the old world, with miniatures to represent the main protagonists. The first four books from Warhammer Forge would focus entirely on a champion of one of the four chaos gods and their rampages through the world: book one, Nurgle vs. the Ogre Kingdoms and the south of the Empire; book two Sla'anesh vs. the Elves of Ulthuan and Naggaroth; book three, Tzeentch vs. the Bretons and the Tomb Kings; and finally Khorne in book four, who I think was heading North into the Chaos wastes themselves. Tamurkhan is the first and only of these books to see the light of day as GW and Rick Priestley parted company in November 2010 and WF took the, uhm, executive decision to hand the first book over to Alan Bligh and to shelve the rest. The redundancy of Priestley came as something of a shock to most given his almost revered status amongst gamers as being one of the last of the real Old Guard at GW HQ, however, not only this, it was widely known that he was working full time on the expansions which had become his pet project, and most were hoping for a real skewed look at the machinations of the dark gods, similar to the classic chaos treatment in the twin Realms of Chaos books and MvS's Liber Chaotica tomes. Tamurkhan doesn't quite live up to those expectations, sadly. 

The genesis of the four narratives is still present as a tiny kernel in the first chapter of the book, which outlines the Kurgan father with four sons, each of whom are pledged to the Gods but is then quickly forgotten as the book shifts it's focus on to Tamkurkhan himself. As a protagonist, Tamurkhan makes for an interesting (anti-)hero, as he's no more than a giant parasitic slug, possibly even entirely formed of maggots, always in search of a suitable host body which can never hold up to the ravages of Father Nurgle's many gifts. This, and some of the other more interesting initial vignettes are the real strength of the book - there's one particular instance where the young Tamurkhan goes to visit the lair of female Great Unclean One, which is particularly memorable - however the narrative loses pace quite quickly afterwards and becomes a bit dull. Not interminably so, it's still a fairly good read as far as game expansions go but it quickly devolves into a series of battle reports: some of, which, though, cleverly use in-game mechanic and special rules s as narrative devices - which is no mean feat, but on the whole, there's little to really capture the imagination. It's not badly written, aside from an overuse of certain stock phrases (something which seems to plague GW books) but there's just not much going on. 

The biggest problem that I have with the book, though, is that the characterisation of Nurgle's forces couldn't be further from the mark: the real interest in the psyche of Nurgle's followers is their unrelenting, interminable jollity - there's always been a careful crafting of the interweaving of abject physical collapse with an manic joie de vivre. It's a Bakhtinian world-turned-upside-down of the carnivalesque and the grotesque, sheer unbridled joy in filth and decay and the sense that entropy is all that there is: today we play for tomorrow we sleep. This is the real core of Father Nurgle's raison d'etre in the Warhammer World - and it's fascinating. However, it's  completely absent from the book - no joy, no play, no jollity, nothing, not even as much as a chuckle. The psychology of Nurgle's followers isn't explored once throughout the eight or so chapters, and it's a real shame. I don't want to labour his point too much, but what is a book about Nurgle for unless it's to really get under the (scaborous) skin of Nurgle's protagonists? I was always mildly peeved by GW's decision to refocus the narrative of the forces of chaos away from being a dark cancer eating into the old world and toward a refiguring of the tribes as just being a culturally 'other' human grouping at the northernmost tip of the world. However, I thought that at least some of the psychology of how certain tribes are drawn to certain gods might be expanded upon in this volume - and well, it isn't. 

This isn't to say that the book isn't entirely without merit: in fact, I highly recommend it. As a product, it's one of the finest I've purchased this year - the quality is staggering and is something of a bibliophile's dream. The paper is a good, thick weight, the printing is superb, the artwork absolutely glorious - it's a beautifully crafted tome of a book. The decision to not include any images of miniatures throughout really works to give the feeling that it's an in-world artifact of sorts. It was a risky strategy for what's supposed to be a promotional device, but it works by not patronising the  audience in the way that some expansions can: there's no, 'this guy is cool, here's what he looks like when you buy him!', instead, just a brilliant editorial design decision to allow some space for imagination, the kind of decision which GW could really do with more of. Also, the rules for using 'mixed' chaos forces seem particularly good - I'm itching to get those rules on the table, partly as the armies should never have been separated and I can now 'legally' use my Chaos army again, but partly because they actually seem really interesting and offer a kind of dynamic to the game that should serve to make the army feel like a unified whole, rather than just some blocks of guys.  

The book has the kind of price-point expected of FW expansions coming in at £45, which is a lot of money: I could go to a good bookstore and get several art monographs for much less than that - indeed, I picked up a copy of Dinos Chapman's They Teach Us Nothing, which contains page after page of hand finished prints for less. That said, I do think the book is worth the price for the quality alone - it really is a sumptuous book, and if anything, I want Warhammer Forge to succeed, even if it's had a radical change of direction, and the next few books are instead simply bestiaries of miniatures produced.  

I really recommend the book to those who have an unhealthy interest in the workings of GW: it's an interesting exercise and seems riven with a sadness of what could have been - not only in the now missing three other expansions, but also what might have lived if Priestley had been allowed to continue with the project on his own terms before the company got jittery or had an about turn for whatever reason. Whether I'd recommend the book as a story or as a piece on the Nurgle's forces, then no, I probably wouldn't. As an object, though, I definitely would - and I'm pleased it's worked it's way into my collection. 

Next up: FFG's The Book of Judgement

10 comments:

  1. Good review. Your point about the psyche of Nurgle is interesting. On a related note, sometimes I don't know whether they're staying true or dumbing down. And yes, the production is great. Those pages... they look gross. Cool! lol

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice review again , i also found your nurgle psyche thing interesting , the last nurgle stuff i read was about fifteen years ago , and i had forgot how jolly the nurglings and plague bearers looked.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello guys - thanks for reading. I could have written a lot more on this book but I thought the post was getting a little long as it was.

    There will be more on the psychology of Nurgle (as I see it) in the new year as I'll be moving a WHFB Nurgle army blog that I started elsewhere over on to here - and finishing it all off.

    Mr.Phiq, could you elaborate a bit more on what you mean by staying true or dumbing down?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I suppose what I mean by "staying true" is keeping the important, but small details of the lore alive today, rather than skipping over them or choosing not to mention them much (which would be "dumbing down"). My relatively recent realisation is that the original creators of GW lore, some of whom still work on the stuff today, were/are in fact pretty intelligent blokes and know their history well and intentionally infuse it into the two settings. A lot of game universes don't have this, and I think it really shows. GW produces worlds with a strong sense of both myth and reality, and it's what sets their lore apart from almost everything else in the scene, so my concern is that some of the newer chaps who possess too much "geek" and not enough "worldliness" will inadvertently gloss over some really effective/evocative details. I think that's partly what I derived from your article here. Having said all of this, I have a lot of faith in Alan Merret and am glad he's still in the job!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes - they were all very bright: but more than that they all had a diverse and complex range of interests (which we sometimes forget wasn't always so easy before the age of the internet) and weren't afraid to reference them. I remember coming across a painting by Theodore Gericault whilst at school and thinking 'hey, that's that JB Knight's Panther painting'. That kind of referencing used to be in *everything* that GW did - it was everywhere.

    I had a conversation with one of my fellow club committee members recently about some of the problems at GW head office at the moment: we were musing on the way that GW employs it's staff, rising up through the stores and into Lenton, and everything that that brings with it: low pay, not a particularly nice place to live, and therefore the people that it attracts join through a real devotion to the hobby. I wonder if this is also accidentally adding to that lack of worldliness.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not being a resident of the UK, I really have no idea about any accidental lack of worldliness due to those reasons. I think the general trend can be put down to the fact that people don't read as much as they used to. As a result, stories for games, as well as films and other media, get crappier and are made with an equally crappy sense of taste. Horizons are not as broad as they once were, so there is simply less material to draw from.

    As a creator of stuff myself, I have to ask: why would you want to do that to yourself?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fuck my toaster this is a bloody well written review. I saw the book but the shrink wrap kept me away. :(

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks Vish! I can bring the book down to the club if you like, it's definitely worth a flick through.

    ReplyDelete
  9. just rereading this after my own fantasy post and feeling like I am still very much out of my depth coming back into the hobby after quite a few years away. You and Phic , do very much know your stuff , when it comes to the nitty gritty details of warhammer.. it was joy to read first time and is a joy to read again. cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  10. very nice review - and I agree wholeheartedly. The reason uncle Nurgle is my favourite amongst the Chaos Gods is that almost dichotomous nature of levity and grotesqueness and the way he revels in the poxes and diseases (or gifts, as he'd call them) that he spreads.

    I think aspect of Nurgle is missing entirely, though as you, said its still a great book for a bibliophile to collect.

    ReplyDelete