Saturday 31 May 2014

PREHAMMER 1981-83 (pictures that fired me up to start fantasy wargaming)

Like many mid 40 year old  fantasy wargamers, I started on this road to penury and madness by being introduced to Dungeons and Dragons. My first experience of the game was in 1979 (I think) playing the dungeon in the Blue Basis Book and of course I was hooked after that, desperate to source figures. The only shop I knew of at the time that sold figures was in Gosport, but luckily my Dad worked for the Admiralty and made regular trips there, so I gave him a shopping list of figures (3 skeletons 2 zombies, 1 Balrog etc) which he dutifully purchased for me (great old stick that he was).

The breakthrough came in 1981 however with this fuzzy picture in White Dwarf 27 showing a game laid on by Joe Dever at Dragonmeet that year.

(a clearer picture from

 I was absolutely entranced by the idea of actually recreating a full scale fantasy battle rather than just re-reading The Lord of the Rings and imagining it. I guess it was a tad ambitious considering my budget was £5 a week from a paper round, but 33 years later I have managed to source the castle that Mr. Dever used in his game, made by Elastolin. They often sell for hundreds of pounds but a lucky day on ebay picked me this lovely fortress ( a wee bit damaged, but repairable) for a few quid (although the postage was high).

Fiend Factory goblin for scale

The next inspiring picture came the following year in WD 35   featuring another of Joe Dever's battles (how I wish I had been able to see them in the flesh), and this time it was possible to identify figures. I spent many a happy hour poring over it with a magnifying glass working out what was what.

(if you are wondering, the disembodied legs in the picture above are from some gamers dressed up for a game of Gangbusters)

from left to right I can work out most of them.
Back row- Airfix dinosaurs with Sherwood castle howdahs. Citadel FT orcs. Minifigs elves in the little fort, 
and I guess at Prince August orcs in front of the fort, but could be wrong. In front of the dinosaurs are 3 Ral Partha Trills (yes Trills).
Front row- Minifigs Pig face orcs? Asgard and Citadel trolls, and then a row of Citadel and Ral Partha cavemen and berserkers....... a properly mixed Fantasy army!

I managed to copy the amazing dinosaur models by chopping up my Airfix Nottingham castle, and for a while they featured in many games at Bath Wargames club and the surrounding area (Devizes, Lyncombe Barn etc) , before I sold them off with most of my fantasy collection in 1988 (arghhhhhhhhh, never get rid of anything) when I was going off fantasy stuff and getting into English Civil War armies. I did see them crop up as a show piece on a trade stand for a couple of years after that, but they are now lost (if anyone knows where they are please let me know).

Recently I picked up this magazine, a sort of supplement to Military Modelling from 1983

 in which is an article on Fantasy wargaming.

 The text itself is rather incoherent and dissolves into an analysis of different races in Tolkien's work, but there are 3 pictures of rather nice battles again featuring Joe Dever's collection.

Battle 1
(some Pal Partha ents are emerging from the woods, and I can make out Minifigs foot soldiers. The mass of white cavalry centre right are Minifigs Knights of the Silver Rose who also appear in Mr. Dever's Thistlewood scenario in WD45- see pic below. The hill or volcano to the extreme left seems to appear in a number of Joe Dever's games as well, see pic above with the dinosaur models)

Interestingly the caption to the photos (attributed to Games Workshop) describe them as showing a game of "Warhammer" (in inverted commas) underway, but there is no mention of the rules in the text. I should think that they were playtesting the rules, then about to be released in the first 'white box' edition.

Battle 2
(in the foreground from left to right we have Ral Partha goblins from the WWW range, then Minifigs kobolds, and a mixed unit of Minifigs skeletons, Citadel Zombies headed by a Ral Partha wraith. Far right I think we can see Minifigs VFW Forest Orcs. The main body of orcs are a right old mix of Heritage, Ral Partha, Minifigs etc).

the same battle from the other side of the table.
(Minifigs foot soldiers I think, and I can see a Citadel 2 headed troll in the far left group of trolls. Catapult is Minifigs or Hinchliffe)

In WD 45 is the wonderful scenario Thistlewood, the first official scenario for Warhammer, more of which can be found elsewhere on this blog. Although Joe Dever is using many of the figures featured above, the terrain is more professional, and the article figure recommendations are primarily Citadel, Ral Partha (produced by Citadel) and Essex, despite the fact the armies in the pictures clearly show plenty of Minifigs.

(left to right, not sure of the eastern types but the standard bearer is a Citadel illusionist. The orcs are Citadel FT, and the knights Minifigs as discussed above. The wyvern is Citadel Fiend Factory, and the troll chucking the rock a FT troll).

Also in WD45, is this little picture of the man himself involved in a game at Games Day 1983. I can't make out much of the game, but the omnipresent volcano terrain is there in the background. The opponent looks suitably dejected so I assume Joe is winning.

If anyone reading knows Joe Dever, I would dearly like to ransack his collection and take more pictures of it, as well as shake his hand for inspiring me with these battles.


  1. What an enjoyable post and terrific castle. I got rid of one when my mum moved into a flat and they family home was broken up after my dad died. I too have got rid of too much stuff and books some of which I have bought again...

    1. Yes, it;'s so tempting to shed stuff to make room, but it always comes back and bites you on the bum.

  2. That Joe Dever was a very busy little boy with a paintbrush.

    I remember reading battle reports taken from his home, seeing swathes of soldiers laid out on his awesome gaming table, thinking to myself "there's not enough hours in the day to paint that much!"

    Very impressive any era!

    Thanks for the post :)

    1. Yep, he must have had a fairly decent income as a callow youth too to afford all the figures! Can you remember where you saw the battle reports from Joe Dever's home? I would very much like to read them.

    2. It was from an old GM magazine. I can't remember the issue & I don't have it with me my stupid youth I cut them all up for their pictures :(

      But I do remember quite a lot about it, coz it was one my favourite battle reports from all time.

      It was part of a competition prize, I think two or three lucky ducks got to go to his house (along with Wayne) to have a battle between good and evil.

      They used the then new "Reaper Fantasy Wargaming Rules", written by none other than the great Rick Priestley.

      I used to read this over and over, loved it.

      I wish I had taken better care of those mags!

  3. I third the above comments, Springinsfeld, thanks for posting these fantastic classic pictures!!! It is super to see them in large size and all together! And I laughed and loved and agree completely about your "properly mixed fantasy army"!! Yes! I can see why these were all huge inspirations for you. I think they will continue to inspire for years to come! I know I feel inspired right now to fight a proper fantasy battle. Also congratulations on scooping up your castle! What a wonderful centre-piece!

    1. Thanks Private W. I hope to get to work on mending the castle soon, once I have re-based my Prehammer figures with tetrion (wall filler). If you have any pics of Joe Dever's armies or battle reports let me know.

    2. Hi Springinsfeld, alas no, I just have the ones only from WD 35 and 45 that you listed here. I went looking in later WDs 'cause I was sure there was something but so far have not found anything. You have me very curious about the current goings on and collection(s) of Mr. Dever now. Wouldn't it be great if it turned out he had unadvertised, promotionless boutique-style blog hidden away somewhere that displayed all of his classic battles and present happenings?! This dream drives me...

    3. Yep, that would be a fine blog. I looked him up on Wiki and was amazed at his output. I was going off fantasy gaming about the time the Lone Wolf books started to appear (maybe a year or two later) and I had no idea there were so many and all the spin offs too. I suspect Mr. Dever might be a bit pre-occupied but if we could get in touch with him and appeal to his nostalgic core, maybe he would blog a load of pictures for us. Maybe Gary Chalk would be a possible conduit to access the Dever collection. I assume they are still buddies.

    4. Ah, that would be so great!! I would also like to see more of Gary Chalk's figures/armies/battles too!

  4. Congratulations on sourcing the Elastolin castle: once fixed up it will complement your vintage hordes of lead perfectly! The period on which you focus is rather before my time (I entered the hobby exactly a decade later than yourself), but I have since acquired some of the crumbling tomes (read: WDs) in which these pictures and their accompanying articles appeared. Dever really was a potent force in the development of fantasy wargaming and it wouldn't surprise me if he was now an honoured denizen of Aman.

    1. I had to look up Aman (to my everlasting shame) having forgotten my Tolkien lore, and found not only is it the resting place of the Valar, but also a collection of luxury resorts in the far East.

  5. Thanks for sharing the photos and taking the time to identify the figures, much appreciated. It's not completely surprising that the Fantasy Wargaming article " dissolves into an analysis of different races in Tolkien's work" as it was written by John Treadaway, author of the venerable WRG 6th Lidless Eye army lists, which are an, erm, an analysis of races in Tolkiens work. There is a wonderfully photographed but woefully catalogued selection of Joe Devers Magnamund miniatures on the Mantikor site - lots of gloss varnish over the Citadel Lone Wolf range and others from the mid 80s, but much that I don't recognise and appear more recent.

    1. Thanks for the info Zhu. I had heard of Lidless eye, but have never seen a copy, so the PDF is really useful. I want to get a hard copy of Wizards and Warfare from the mid 70's as well. The link to the Magnamund figures is interesting too. I guess these are from Joe Dever's own collection? The basing looks familiar from old Tabletop hero articles in WD. The Lone Wolf thing was taking off just as I was turning my attention to other things in life, although the figures are still pre-slotta which is usually my cut off date when doing specific retro armies.

    2. Thank you too, Zhu!! I just was loving that Mantikor link! What a treat!

    3. Yep, the basing on that link is suberb and a fine mix, of figures from 1976 - 1986 I would guess . I've been experimenting with tetrion and green and yellow paint this evening on some blank bases.

  6. bit late to this, but seem to remember there was a large table basically given over to Dever's miniatures (I definitely remember seeing the Minas Tirith 'ram' etc there more than once) in the basement of what, iirc, was the Games Centre on Oxford street.
    I guess you didn't get along there - bringing back strong memories of 'them was the days' for me ...

    1. Never too late.... I remember that ram in White Dwarf, the wolf head was made from an Action Man Alsatian dog (I made 15mm copy here

      I wish I'd seen that table, but living down in the west country didn't get up to London much. I wonder if Joe Dever still has all those figures?