Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Imperial Knight: An interview with Andy Chambers


Our latest contributor to the interview series is the one and only Andy Chambers, author extraordinaire of many a 40k rulebook and supplement, who had a influence over the game that, I suspect, a great deal of long term Warhammer 40,000 players and fans must dearly miss. He has enjoyed a varied career after his time at GW, moving to Mongoose Games for Starship Troopers and later Blizzard Entertainment, working on the StarCraft games. More recently, the American boardgames publisher, produced Dust Warfare, a game written by the great man himself. Of course, many of you will know that he still contributes to the Black Library, most recently with Path of the Renegade. 

For me, the face of Andy Chambers was the face of Warhammer 40,000 for many, many years. The distinctive hair and beard combination gracing numerable battle reports and hobby articles, when all around him began to resemble junior members of the Conservative Party. I could imagine him roaring up to work in Lenton on a huge motorbike, clicking the stand of his ride with a steel toed cowboy boot and striding through reception with the scent of oil and gasoline about him only to wade through all comers with a gretchin only army during the office campaign!

No? Just me then... 

And, as we have learnt, Andy was a member of that very early group who seemed to lurk around Asgard Miniatures in the very early '80s. It is this point that we join his story, though somehow not as I would have imagined 'when I was a yoof' as it seems Andy's young age resulted in some considerable mickey taking being flung at him. This seems hard to conceive now, as if you have any interest in the history of 40k, Andy stands as a titan. You would imagine that Mr Chambers arrived on the wargaming scene pre-formed with his mighty beard bristling and raven hued locks billowing in the rubber scented wind.

Before I hand over to Andy, can I just be the first to thank him to taking the time to dip into his memories for us and mull over the old school days. I am sure that many of you will be fascinated to hear his tale and so without any further ado I will quit typing and hand you over to a true British Gaming legend...

RoC80s: Jamie Sims mentioned that you were one of the 'Asgard Circle', was this group where you began your dark descent into fantasy gaming or were you already hooked?

AC: I was already a neophyte before I found Asgard, which is why I went looking for it in the first place, I was playing WW2 Airfix and SELWG Middle Earth rules with my mate from school from age ten or so. Me and my mate eventually went to find Asgard in its poky little shop in Nottingham's Lace Market in 1979 or 80? They were mean to us younglings, of course, so my mate never went back, but I basically never left. I was introduced to a gajillion new games and ideas through Asgard and what had been an interest fanned up into a blazing passion. I'm still in touch with many of the people from Asgard thirty-plus years later. Slim clearly remembers me at age 14 kicking him under the table for screwing me over during a game. I'm not proud of that, but fortunately he's a forgiving sort.

RoC80s: Tell us about how you first came aware of Citadel Miniatures or the early versions of Warhammer.

AC: The absolute first time would have been at a wargames show in Nottingham, it might even have been an early Salute. Anyway Citadel were there with a big demo game of first edition Warhammer including a memorable Stegosaurus with a howdah full of goblins and a hobbit being dangled in front of the confused herbivore like a carrot on a stick. I remember Rick Priestley being there running the game, even though I was not to meet him properly for many more years to come and I didn't play - just too young, too shy. Nonetheless, having been brought up on rather staid men of Gondor and Misty Mountains Orcs the exuberance and craziness evident in Warhammer was appealing.

New Arrivals: Here is how Andy Chambers arrived on the White Dwarf Scene. The beard and the amusing facial expressions would remain a part of the magazine for many, many years.
RoC80s: How did you end up being employed at Citadel/GW?

AC: That's a two-part answer because I basically worked at Citadel, left and then worked at GW later.

I first worked for Citadel as a mail order troll back in 1986 at the factory in Eastwood. I was an extra hire to help deal with the Christmas rush, Pank and Tim from Asgard were already working in mail order which is why I got the job (although the requirements weren't exactly taxing). The things I remember most about the first day was the Christmas music being blared over the tannoy and the smell of burning rubber from the vulcanising presses. Due to all that time at Asgard the burnt rubber smell made it feel like home. I quit after three months when they introduced compulsory weekend overtime.

After a few years of bumming around after that, I was nearly crippled in a bike accident and I decided I needed needed to do something constructive with myself. As it happened I'd been playing a lot of Adeptus Titanicus and buying White Dwarf to see about new stuff for it. I heard from Tim, who was now at the Studio, that the rather snacky-looking one-man Titans (Knights as they're called now) I was seeing in the stores had no rules in White Dwarf because Jervis Johnson was off on sabbatical. At this point I'd been tweaking other sets of rule for years and had written my own, dreadful set, stealing ALL the mechanics I liked from other games. So I wrote a WD article for one-man Titans, made sure to follow their format exactly by including colour text, quotes and so on, plus rules of course (they were way too powerful). I got my friend to type it up (we are pre-desktop computers in most households at this point) and submitted it. A few weeks later I was called in to see Phil Gallagher, who was studio head at the time.

RoC80s: What were your roles within Bryan Ansell's famous Design Studio? And what was it like to work there?

AC: It was certainly the most interesting place I have ever worked, and I include later iterations of the GW studio in that. When I started I shared an office with Jervis, just down the hall from Richard Halliwell and Bill King, turn the other way and you'd find Jes Goodwin and the Twins, Aly, Trish, Colin, Kev and the other designers. Upstairs were artists and paste-up (fuzzy felters), downstairs were admin and management, downstairs and over a bit were 'Eavy Metal although I'm not sure if they were called that at the start or not.

I was hired on for two weeks to 'finish off' the one-man Titans article (i.e. completely rewrite it to be Knights instead) when the Studio was still at Enfield Chambers in Nottingham city centre (not far from old Asgard). It was a strange, narrow, twisty Victorian kind of place that had been partitioned and re-partitioned into distinctly non-Euclidian geometries. After the Knights I got another article to write (Space Marine army list for Adeptus Titanicus, kinda) plus doing stats on new models and such. Jervis was already back so I was convinced I was going to get fired any day, but Si Forrest kept wanting me for more WD articles.

Eventually, I started doing photography too because the professional they had, Chris Colston, was a lovely guy but not really a gamer and we felt like we wanted to see pictures of games, even made up games, rather than just showing attractive model displays. I also did a stint helping out paste-up The Lost and The Damned. Odd jobbing, really, and doing White Dwarf articles. I was first published in WD127 (Baneblade and Ork wagon stats).


An Imperial Knight. I've got a few of these lying around somewhere.
RoC80s: How much did you contribute to the later development of Rogue Trader? Was there any overall strategy for development or did it just become the behemoth that it is through hardwork?

I started in 1990 so Rogue Trader had already been out for a couple of years at that point, army lists and additional rules were starting to agglomerate. There wasn't much overall strategy that I could see, but I was pretty junior so it's not like I was in a position to tell. Me and Jervis worked on ideas for card-based magic/psyker systems, campaigns, scenarios and battle reports that saw fruit later in the Dark Millennium and Warhammer Battle Magic card sets. Most of my time was being taken up with transitioning over to Space Marine at that point to do the supplements, and getting into Warhammer. Personally, I'd played plenty of Rogue Trader before getting into Adeptus Titanicus and honestly while I loved the concept I thought it was a bit of a glorious mess as a game, back then. Hard work, more hard work and a bit of luck was what made it a success.

RoC80s: Do you recall any cancelled projects or 'never made its' that may be of interest to readers of Realm of Chaos 80s?

Confrontation, the retweak of Bryan Ansell's Laserburn system - one of the three most overly complex tabletop games I've ever seen. It eventually saw the light of day as Necromunda in terms of background, but that was quite different in play (i.e. actually fun). Richard Halliwell's follow up for Space Hulk that was going to be the original Battlefleet Gothic but that never materialised except in the form of Space Fleet using the components. Hal also had a fantasy battle game similar in concept to the eventual Warmaster, but with quite different mechanics, I'm not sure it even had a name.

RoC80s: We have heard quite a few wild tales of life at GW over the last year, have you got any to share?

Nothing especially wild, I felt like I had my head down working too much for wildness. My raciest memory is of stepping through a door at the studio on Castle Boulevard (fantastic location, literally twenty yards from my flat on Fish Pond Drive - or Piscina if you're a 40K fan). Anyway I stepped suddenly through this door to find myself in between Bill King and Wayne England literally at the point of coming to blows over something. They're both big, big guys who are respectively a Scot and Yorkshireman so big on their testosterone and unable to back down from an affront. Never before had I understood the phrase 'you could cut the tension with a knife' so well. Out of a sense of self-preservation, being between them, I calmed them down with what I felt at the time was remarkable coolness and oratory, more likely I just gave them a suitable outlet for not having to go through with punching each other. To this day I don't know what set them off.

Oh yeah, and there was that time at the strip joint in Baltimore too, but we won't get into that.

Andy's Skaven army, published in White Dwarf 137, remains famous to this day. Here are a number of the units. Note, the wire wool smoke spurting from the fire thrower and the Jes Goodwin banners.
Andy's skaven army in battle with some Bretonnians. Remarkable difference in painting styles too, something rather refreshing to see. 
Large scale shot, notice the 2nd edition plastic horses that had just been released when this article was published.
RoC80s: Everyone remembers your third edition Skaven army, did you still have it or what became of it?

AC: I still have it in three ancient black army carry cases because I can never let anything go. It's travelled across the Altlantic with me twice and hasn't seen a battle in probably twenty years. I do still look at it occasionally though, sadly some of the thinner-ankled Clan Eshin guys are on the verge of snapping off due to degradation of the white metal with them being so old. Varnish your figures people!

RoC80s: The article is too good not to have another look at. Here it is below, missing a few pictures here and there that were difficult to scan.


RoC80s: Looking back, what are your views about the early editions of Warhammer (1-3), Rogue Trader and WFRP compared to the more recent editions?

AC: Nostalgia aside the more modern versions are superior products in pretty much every regard. I don't know WFRP very well but that's been well received in the new version by the players I do know.

And yet.

You can never beat your first time. The second generation is shinier, stronger, faster and superior in every regard save one, and it's an unfair criticism to level, but it simply can't be as original.

RoC80s: Do you have a single product or project that you feel represents your finest moment at GW? And is there anything you are responsible for that you would rather forget?

AC: Battlefleet Gothic is the project I view as my Magnum Opus at GW, because it was a complete package of art, miniatures, background and rules set in the 40K universe, but cut from wholly new cloth - except for the name which I hijacked from Hal's old project because it's a truly great name and there was already some anticipation for it. Nothing revolutionary, Necromunda had already done the same thing for example, but I felt it was also nicely done in BFG so I'm proud of the work we did there. The one's I'd like to forget are a toss-up between Titan Legions and Gorkamorka, which is a shame because there's good stuff in both and a lot of people enjoy them. I. Just. Didn't.

Andy Chambers, mid-90s by the look of the T-Shirts and the minis on the table. 

In the grim darkness of the far future, there are only... Sunglasses!

RoC80s: In your opinion, how did GW change after the buy out in December 1991?

AC: There wasn't an overnight shift, it was far more gradual and most easily measured for me by the transitions between studios. Enfield Chambers was, not to put it too finely, a bit of a madhouse but very, very creative. 

It was the Realm of Chaos. 

Castle Boulevard was bigger, more professional and very dynamic, but attention was exclusively focussed on the big selling systems and races as the relationship with the stores became ever more apparent and important. We did all our best work there, in my opinion. 

It was the Great Crusade. 

Finally, the studio moved to the Lenton Lane site to integrate more fully with manufacturing, retail, and administration divisions. Procedure and paperwork became paramount, long range plans and campaigns were hatched, meetings were held about meetings, huge victories were won, but all under a weight of existential dullness. 

We had arrived at the Age of the Imperium.

14 comments:

  1. One of the best interviews so far :), Chambers is a legend.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This "We had arrived at the Age of the Imperium." have somehow smashed me like a fanatic's ball&chain. So very, very true.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent stuff, love that skaven army, probably the most memorable "old" army I can recall from the early 90's. But you missed out one burning question to Andy C - Are you related to Lemmy?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Chambers is the man! Some great insights, as usual.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Awesome, I've been waiting for an interview with James Hetfield!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm with Old Fogey, I always thought he looked like Lemmy.\m/ Motorhead \m/

    ReplyDelete
  7. That 1980s skaven army is just the best. Andy also mentions (in contempory WDs) ideas which only later got realised: ratling (gatling) guns, and the Screaming Bell. A later WD also features Andy's home-made Screaming-Bell, pulled by 1980s Bloodbowl Skaven. Fantastic Stuff. The man's a legend. Oh, and not to forget, Jervis constantly getting beaten by Andy in every WD Battle Report (or so my memory suggests). Great Stuff. Andy and Jervis: The Stop-It and Tidy-Up of GW.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks to Jaekel Alone (http://jaeckelalone.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/buy-skaven-sell-dwarfs.html) and a poster called "hunk", here's Andy's complementary Screaming Bell Cart: http://www.imagebam.com/image/c95fde267199080

      Delete
    2. Your memory is correct. Jervis lost so often it became a running joke.

      Delete
    3. i remember at a golden demon there were 2 guys with t-shirts that said "jervis couldn't beat us either"

      Delete
  8. Great interview! Interesting that he didn't enjoy GorkaMorka, since it's such a harmless fun game :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. man, I remember Andy's Skaven from the early 90's it is the one army I saw which I wanted to have and own for myself, I did try building one like his but my talents were never going to equal it so I gave up, but bear in mind I was only about 12-13 at the time!

    ReplyDelete