Confrontation.

Les Edwards's excellent depiction of the true Imperium of man. 

This post initially began as a reply to The Responsible One in the thread under the link to Tony Ackland interview that I posted some time ago, although I'd been mulling on the idea for a while, and it's something that keeps returning to my mind every now and then - most recently this morning as I began drafting a reply to Jack on my 'Light falls Backwards...' post. This is a topic that colours much of my understanding of the 40k setting, and has come to the fore again in my recent thoughts on the Yggdrassilium campaign.

I have a feeling this'll be a long post, so if you want the tl;dr version it's this: in short, this is a love-letter to the game Confrontation. Now, I'm not the first person to write such a love-letter (you can see the Tears of Envy post on the matter here), and I'm sure I won't be the last: indeed, the system seems to be something of a touchstone for gamers of a certain age; for me, this is because the system defined certain aspects of life in the Imperium in ways like nothing before it, but it's also having several other resonances which I believe are important to highlight.



As a quick précis for those unaware of the system, Confrontation is a skirmish-level game produced by Games Workshop in several issues of White Dwarf in 1990-1. Depicting the vicious gang-warfare of life on the Imperial Hive World of Necromunda, the system is an exceptionally detailed and complex game of brutal survival as rival factions scavenge, trade, loot and steal food, equipment and weaponry. It also provides us with one of the most complex and thorough depictions of an Imperial planet - everything from it's hierarchy to it's geology is outlined. With very much an adult focus, not least due to it's complex mechanics, the game included detailed rules and exposition on themes like drug taking, injury, and hacking bits off your opponent's gangers, as well as some peculiar additions like the Caryatids: psychic-sensitive, bat-winged, self-harming, blue space-children. The system was re-imagined and released in 1995 as the Kirby-box Necromunda game, still available in various forms on the Games Workshop website. Whilst Necromunda codified the rival fighting gangs as belonging to differing industrial Houses in the Underhive, Confrontation instead presented us with a range of gangs whose ties of allegiance were based more on dress or style, class, ideology or philosophy, or some other more innate characteristic - like small bands of apostate mutants or rogue psykers.



The game is a curious gem in it's level of scope and detail, as well as it's simultaneous flexibility of rules (almost any action imaginable has some guiding system in place), and it's pitch towards realism (with rules for how much weight gangers can carry before counting as over-encumbered, for example) - making it very much a narrative skirmish game, or tabletop RPG. This narrative element is further emphasised by the fact that each gang member has just three characteristics, WS, BS and I, the slightest of statistical sketches to flesh gangers out; everything else that defines their persona is entirely down to the player. It's within this that I see Confrontation as being the true precursor of the Inquisimunda systems, where narrative is the aim of the game: a story unfolds in the interactions between gangers, their opponents and their setting in a way that can't quite develop in a larger scale war-game. Whilst larger-scale systems allow for cinematic moments to occur, often by statistical odds being overturned, a smaller scale game where each miniature counts, and develops a personality through the things they manage to achieve (or more often not achieve) has a greater power to really draw and immerse a gamer within the setting and the events being revealed as they occur. Or for example, within a game of this scale and complexity, a world of things are possible that just couldn't be factored into a larger scale game - looting knocked-out opposing gangers, setting elaborate traps, cutting out an opponents eyes (yes, this has happened in a game) - become far more narrative-changing than simply removing miniatures as wound counters. However, more than this, this method of gaming becomes the complete inverse of competitive, tournament style play, with opposing players working together whilst simultaneously playing against one another - one discursive eye is kept on a meta-narrative whilst the other is kept on the minutiae of one's strategy to achieve the gangs goals. Points values are eschewed, 'balance' is ignored in favour of story arc, and rule of cool reigns supreme. It's a joyous way to game.





The second major reason why Confrontation seems so relevant to me at the moment, though, is it's extraordinary aesthetic. It's an absolute masterpiece of art-direction. Establishing so much of what makes life in the 41st millennium so rich, the pencil imagery that accompanies the short articles are real visions of glory: imagine a grotesque cluster-fuck of 2000AD, Travis Bickle, Stephen King's It, Byron dandies, Aliens metal hives, horrifically mutated children, witches and ghouls, Tiepolo's Punchinellos, Napoleonic native Americans, Cronenbergian bodily abjection, Easy Rider set in Catholic France, redundant technologies worn as fetishes, Riddley Walker, The Warriors, Renaissance masquerades, ritualistic body modification, New Romantic Nipponophiles, Baroque architectural reliefs... Take all of these ostensibly disparate visions and then bind them in a mittel-European Gothic cloak, a truly nightmarish vista where hell is real and life is short, and you're about halfway to appreciating the majesty and horror of Imperial life.



I noticed a forum discussion recently where a member opined that miniatures of Imperial citizens would be very welcome - well, these visions are they: the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the human debris and filth that make up the drawings produced for Confrontation (however fancifully attired some are). There's no man on the Clapham omnibus in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. No average white man. What struck me about the suggestion (and this may be an unfair misreading on my part) is that the Imperial citizen is somehow separate from the Imperium at war: perhaps it bears repeating, there is only war. Whilst not all citizens are directly involved in toe-to-toe combat with the xenos or the heretic, for example, all are armed, all are involved in some kind of struggle, even a basic struggle for survival amongst the countless billions of other human sludge. Sedition is rife, resources scarce, rationing abounds, lives pre-destined based on class and status. The war effort is king. The imperium is feudal and fascist, the only way to survive is to fight, to know your place and protect what's yours by birth or by taking.



This pathetic aesthetic is fundamental to Confrontation, and is even written into it's rules: granted, your gang may be lucky and scavenge a laspistol, but good luck finding an ammo pack for it. Pray over it all you like, but the Priests of Mars care not for your sobbing. Or alternatively, try coshing a rival gang member with a sock full of bolt shells, as you don't have anything as useful as a gun to put them in - yet think of the prestige they bring, possibly enough to trade one for a week's food rations, or a couple of doses of spook... provided you can survive the night with them stashed away from jealous eyes...

This is the setting that Confrontation presented us with those decades ago, and you can see how it's coloured my perspective. It seems so vital, so rich, so dark, so gothic - so necessary. It's here that the grim resides: the pathetic and hopeless cause of humanity that calcifies and slides into entropy. This is life in the Imperium, and it's horrendous - but it's more than a little beautiful, too.




63 comments:

  1. I think Confrontation represents a peak of sorts, for GW and the people involved, but also a local peak in gaming, and British tabletop gaming especially. In the imagination and the depiction of the facets of a familiar world through a circus mirror more than in the mechanics for exploring it, but one of the best and possibly most sustained and influential evocations of a space in the setting beyond the conventional battlefields. It's a fusion of so many streams. Necromunda was soft, even cuddly by comparison, and Inquisitor arguably too much of a compromise to be an heir. We'll always have those dark and precious images, whatever that says about us.

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  2. Couldn't agree more about the importance of narrative content in games. Too much emphasis on "balance" and it all becomes an abstract math problem, which is far less interesting. Firing up the imagination and evoking a tactile and compelling world is where all the real fun is.

    Same for the spirit of Confrontation. I think that one of the main role of the Arts is to represent the dark and difficult side of life, which is especially important in a society as generally comfortable and prosperous as ours. There's a lovely comment by Tolkien in one of his essays about the soul yearning for storm wracked cliffs in the sea despite the great peril of the place, the man might not want to go there physically but the spiritual yearning still exists. Very apropos of 40K and really all disaster/post-Apocalyptic stories.

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    1. An excellent comment. Do you have a source for that? I know little Tolkien, but that ties in very nicely with some other writing I've been doing of late.

      I agree with you about balance, too: I greatly love playing chess for that reason - the game is beautifully, mathematically abstracted, and allows tactics and particular kind of gameplay to flourish, but sometimes, I want to tell a story, or allow one to emerge, and my idea of miniature gaming is much more aligned with systems that allow that to happen.

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    2. It's from his "On Fairy Stories" essay (can be found in full here: http://brainstorm-services.com/wcu-2004/fairystories-tolkien.pdf), the full quote is: "I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in
      my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood, intruding into my
      relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind,
      free from fear. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fáfnir was richer and
      more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril. The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may
      hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the
      heart is hard though the body be soft."

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    3. Thank you so much, this is superb.

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  3. Confrontation's imagery was one of the main inspirators for my Punk Moth Inquisitor gang; weird hair-cuts, grotesque silhuettes and nu-baroque appearaces. I've always wanted to make a glamrock inspired gang in Confrontation style...

    Thank you once again for such a splendid assay, Fulgrim.

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    1. Funnily enough, I always thought that Punk Moth sounded like the nom de guerre of a Bratt gang.

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  4. Yeah, great work!

    It's hard to believe GW created such a great thing and eventually ended up like today: toy soilders with no character =|

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    1. In my opinion it is good thing that GW doesn't put frames to everything they do and instead give us hobbyist the freedom to convert, create and write the characters for their universe.

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    2. Ah, I disagree - I think GW's miniatures still have buckets of character, even I do think they got some things wrong along the way and some of this vision of the Imperium has been forgotten (or jettisoned).

      I agree with Kari, it's always good that there's space to breathe and to create in, although I'd personally refocus some things slightly.

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  5. I have much material unpublished from conversations I had with Tony Ackland about confrontation. It is a little known fact that Confrontation started life as a pure RPG, hence the very detailed background and art. It was to be the 40k version of WFRP I suspect. Tony hopes to collect much more of the artworks associated with the abandoned project this summer, so we may well see more in the future.

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    1. This makes sense, as the game does feel like a peculiar composite of RPG and tabletop game - one that I personally like - but now you mention it, it does feel a bit like it was being designed for a larger RPG. It was also dropped quite quickly, appearing in just four or five episodes of White Dwarf and then never again. I knew that the Les Edwards image had been commissioned for a box game cover, so had assumed it was supposed to eventually become a general release game, but no more than that, really.

      I'd love to see any more that had been planned for this, though, if it ever comes emerges.

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    2. Thats great news Olrygg i really want to see more material for Confrontation.
      Artwise and rulewise..

      I would love to see gang concept arts featured in WDs in better resolution than in the magazines

      And rules need some FAQ
      As it is now, I have troubles with creating gangs, Ive newer played but gang creation is cool metagame that give me ideas for modeling miniatures
      and for ex my favourite
      (Brat gangs lack information about equipment tables in any material Ive been able to gather)

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    3. You'd be lucky to get an FAQ - the game has been out of print for 22 years :)

      It doesn't state anywhere, but I'd suggest that Brats use the same tables as Venators.

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    4. Use Venator, tech gang and choose from any table (as their main advantage should be extra cool pricey equipment)

      Last option produced most interesting result, but Venator table was most playable.

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    5. Sorry for double post but i somehow miss first part of my reply:



      Well, maybe they had some FAQ in 1991 that somehow survived unpublished.. One have to hope :)


      I tried 3 ways to work this out:


      I used Venator, tech gang and choose from any table (as their main advantage should be extra cool pricey equipment)

      Last option produced most interesting result, but Venator table was most playable.

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  6. Thank you for the great post. As I missed out on these glorious times I'm always fascinated to hear first hand accounts, instead of Wikipedia articles etc.

    I must say that you really have a way with words!

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    1. A pleasure; and thanks very much.

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  7. Oh Beelzebub's baby what a write up. I think its fair to say confrontation is my fave thing in 40k . even though I have never played it. Everything you said is spot on. As well as the stunning miniature's too. I would love to game in this necromunda, a big draw for me to this setting , apart from that stunning Ralph Mohr illustration and Mr Blanche's pencils , is that the setting had a definite classic sci fi vibe alongside the proto gothicness ,class based warfare . necromunda from confrontation is 40k for me. Dune meets 2000ad with everything between' I so want to play it right now, bagsy brats and caryatids :-)

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    1. It's my dream to eventually play a Confrontation campaign with you guys eventually. With everything else we have lined up it'll have to wait until about 2015, but it will happen :)

      Whenever I think of Confrontation it always makes me want to go and watch this:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAUMri0mv8M

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    2. Hmm, would it be too early to have a game of Confrontation when Spikey boys come visiting you guys in the UK? ;) It would be not only spectacular but also something different to INQ28 and Yggs... I sure would like to make a small gang for this happening, 3-4 members tops. Wouldn't take that much time after all...

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    3. It could be possible, I suppose :)

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    4. Love the warriors ;-) have you ever played the game its ace !

      Caaan youu diiig ieeeet ! (in a baritone voice )

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  8. so much eloquence here - im not good with words - for me these are the populace of the 41st millenniumme - nothing mundane and without grotesque character - brats, rad scavs, byron cultists, venators have never left mi vision - really dislike that edwards cover tho - not his fault - rendering is stunning - content is very lacking - scavs are boring and the marine is just an ordinary chap from today, not what it should be - not the best art direction at all - the blanche pencils are very evocative and i must point out that jes played a massive role here and had very characterful ideas that still insert there shadows even today - 'lace punk' or 'regency gothique' have never left that vision ....

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    1. Ah, I like the Edwards cover for it's content, even if it does look a little inaccurate to me now. Not often you get to see a Marine shooting citizens in the face these days. Agreed, the Marine looks too much like a 'marine' and not enough like an Astartes and they appear to be fighting in Los Angeles, but it's a useful depiction.

      Jes's concept sketches of the gangs are superb. His psyker is a glory, and a miniature I intend to eventually make. I love his different Bratt styles, too - the Necros, the Strypers, the Jaggers, the Rakehellions (very David Sylvian), Danse Macabre, and the Fright Knights - you could easily build an entire game from rival Bratts gangs.

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  9. yeah it would but much to much 80's big hair juice going on in them days - drilling down into the imagery - hardening it - weirding it out - plus the knowledge and experience of 20years would take it deeper and denser no doubt ...

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    1. It was right for the time. And there's always space for a ruff and some cloven-hoof boots.

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  10. Great article, theres nothing I can really say that hasnt allready been said allready in much more eloquent comments.
    Keep them coming mr fulgrim, I always look forward to your posts, and not just for the fabulous art.

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  11. Confrontation was years before my time, and I prefer my 40k to be a bit more...rational, however; I do appreciate the deep background and detailed rules, and the art gives an excellent techno-barbarian vibe.

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    1. Thanks for the link. Although, hrm, I think I pretty much disagree with your position completely (as respectfully as I can). I'll pop a reply on your blog over the weekend.

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    2. I figured you would :)

      Differences make the world go round and all that, so it does not bother me any. Looking forward to your comments if you manage to make it over.

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    3. Also, if you are interested, I have a pretty extensive pinterest board of my conception of 40k, and it has a different aesthetic to, say JB's. (although to my mind more in keeping with efforts by the various and sundry BL folks, and some of the lesser GW artists)

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  12. Awesome article. I've dabbled in Necromunda and heard of Confrontation, but have never played it. It sounds fantastic?

    What's the best way to get a copy of the rules? Should I hunt for old WDs, or are they compiled somewhere?

    Keep up with the musings!

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    1. They were only ever released in those White Dwarfs. I can provide you with the issue numbers if you like? There is a compiled PDF of the rules online somewhere, I think (or there used to be many moons ago), and a geocities site (showing my age!) although I think that's long gone.

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    2. The issue numbers would be great, thanks!

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    3. Ive been able to track it in 6 White Dwarves

      137,138, 142 contain rules
      132 has gang creation
      131 has gangs background with mentioned gang art
      130 Has Necromunda background

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    4. Awesome article, Fulgrim!

      I have a PDF of the compiled Confrontation works. I am under the assumption since it is long out of print, there is no harm in sharing it. If you send me your email I can send it to you.

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    5. Thanks, Starfarer.

      I'm not sure what the legality of distribution is tbh - I don't know if they'd be under copyright or not due to their age.

      I'm fortunate enough to have all my old WDs (worrying hoarding mentality...)

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    6. Well, my email is mattias.s.darrow@gmail.com if you don't mind the daring the question...

      Thanks!

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    7. Starfarer, youre a saviour! Id surely love a copy of that pdf, particularly for the background and artwork. My email address is vehemer (at) hotmail dot com

      Great post btw, with really evocative writing too

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  13. I love Confrontation. Those issues of WD give an almost visceral thrill, recalling my joy in reading and re-reading them, all those years hence.

    The art, the ideas... all wonderful.

    But when it comes to actually playing the game... endless random tables and a ludicrous, unnecessary level of detail actually undermine the sense of freedom you want, surely?

    Still, the hours I spent poring over those sketches.... Neuromancers. Heh.

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  14. Confrontation is a resource I've not really looked at using, but certainly for Inq28 there is obviously stuff there that can be used. I seem to remember the rules having their basis on rules from Laserburn, but I do remember fondly playing on space hulk boards set up to allow two very disparate gangs to fight over.

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  15. I remember forcing a couple of friends to play games on confrontation when we were about 14. I've always had fond memories of it. I recently had some of my old mini's returned to me after living in a mates garage for 20 odd years and my confrontation gang was in there. It brought back my memories of the game. I went hunting and was able to track down PDF's of most of the offending White Dwarfs and even managed to get a hold of a photocopied manuscript of the full rules (no pretty pictures but everything that would have been in the full rules). Maybe after all this time I might actually get a full game in at some point! Thanks for the great post and the conversation that it has inspired.

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  16. Confrontation was before my time, but like Dark Future it was one of those things that certainly looked cool. I know Anthony Case made some Brat Gang rules for use in Necromunda that I always thought looked interesting - looked like a bit of a Clockwork Orange theme to the gang.

    I've just seen this on ebay that might be interesting to a Confrontation collector: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Necromunda-1989-prototype-transcript-of-rules-UNIQUE-RARE-collectors-item-/330899209870?ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:US:1123

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    1. Bloody hell. That is an incredible find (is it yours?).

      If I wasn't broke I would buy that in a shot.

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    2. No not mine, just a complete coincidence that I saw someone post about it elsewhere.

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  17. we now have those rules so thx mr bruticus for pointing that out ....

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    1. great, glad they are going to a good home.

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  18. Thank you for posting this great article and all that wonderful artwork!
    As soon as I saw it I went looking through my WD archives... unfortunately I only have the first of the issues that featured Confrontation. Might have to go on a mission to find the rest now.

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    1. A pleasure. I'm glad it's been an inspiration. I hope some of it's essence drizzles into your drawings - I had a quick look at them this morning and they're excellent.

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  19. Terrific and thought provoking post, I really love your blog.

    Especially admire the poetic tirade centered around the image of "Easy Rider set in Catholic France". I also have spent a considerable effort on exploring the everyman, every-citizen of the 41st century and hope that you might stop by my blog for a visit, Mr. Fulgrim.

    http://guardsman-a-day.blogspot.com/

    I'll make tea.

    Slovak

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    1. Haha! A very nice concept indeed: a great blog.

      Thanks for your post, too!

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  20. Go read some of Enki Bilal's stuff, especially the Nikopol trilogy. His artwork, but also the Metabarons by Jodorowski have been doing this sort of thing for ages as well. I think it will really inspire you! (as it did with 40k) :)

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  21. how did it inspire 40k - i never heard of these until a couple of months back in talking to fulgrim .... still never looked at one tho ....

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    1. Really? Funny. You should really try to get your hands on some of them though, it's some pretty gnarly stuff.

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  22. have little interest in comic art generally - nor computer games art - but medieval and renaissance art of northern europe really grab mi attention and always have - roger dean introduced me to the work of druillet and tony ackland introduced to the work of frank miller but ive not gone much further or followed them - it could be a generational thing as there was only spiderman and superman when i was younger when the mind is more eclectic ......

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    1. John, have you seen Wayne Barlowe's Hell paintings? They're grim, surreal and grandiose in a way few artworks are, and, I think, close in spirit to Renaissance depictions of hell. There's also the late Zdizslaw Beksinski's work, which is sublimely weird, unsettling and vaguely post-apocalyptic.

      They aren't games or comics art by any stretch, but since the topic turned to recommendations thought I'd mention them.

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    2. The novel 'god's demon' is wonderfully evocative also. A great read

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  23. dont know wayne but i shall google it now - know beksinski whoes name reminds me of besinski [ bet ive spelt that wrong ] - he makes music - try the disintegration tapes - miles off topic now - sorry tim ...

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation. Got to listen to a few of the Disingegration Loops on YouTube and seems there's more similarity between them than just the names. Really powerful atmospheric stuff.

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  24. God, though everything's has been said, it's good to say it once more.
    This article really gives me the will to dig in my lead pile and to make new perverted gangmabers.

    I only have the 3 issues about the rules and those were captivating me like hell! I can't imagine reading the fluff now.

    If someone would have the kindness to send me a copy of the pdf at
    asslessman(at)gmail(dot)com

    I'll make my blog crawl under creepy people from the underhive...

    Thanks Fulgrim for this very excellent article

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