Daily Archives: March 31, 2008

Reviewlet: Achtung Schweinehund!, By Harry Pearson

You can’t judge by looking at its cover, Bo Diddly assures us in a bid to convince that, despite looking like a farmer, he is, in fact, a lover. The cover of Achtung Schweinehund! features a British and German armoured car straight from the pages of a Commando comic, the back has that distinctive dagger, and blurb about a childhood spent re-enacting the Second World War. For the first part, that’s just what it is, reminiscences close enough to my own to provoke frequent laughter and a warm wave of nostalgia, but his childhood was around ten years earlier so also interesting in a sort of “compare and contrast” way. Arsenals of toy weaponry ranging from cowboy six-shooters to sparking laser blasters, Battle Picture Weekly and Commando comics, Action Men, legions of plastic 1:32 scale Airfix soldiers…

The second part, though, suggests that Diddly chap might’ve been on to something. As the author leaves childhood, the focus moves to more serious wargaming. Where he stuck with historical warfare, my divisions of plastic soldiers were joined by Star Wars figures and Orcs, I started on fighting fantasy books and roleplaying, then computers got involved. This presents something of irreconcilable difference, I sense. Pearson says:

The whole fantasy thing turns my stomach. To my mind, three men are responsible more than any others for the creation of this abhorrent perversion of the hobby: J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of Middle Earth, Robert E. Howard, creator of Hyboria (which was a kind of Middle Earth with breasts), and E. Gary Gygax, the mild-mannered Canadian inventor of Dungeons and Dragons. ‘All three of them should be put up against a wall and shot,’ I said to TK one day when I was feeling particularly aggrieved at World of Warcraft’s continued encroachment into our territory. He raised an eyebrow. ‘I think you’re getting a bit carried away there, mate’ he said. ‘Are you sure?’ I said. ‘Oh yes.’ TK said. ‘I mean, two of them are already dead. It would be a waste of bullets.’

Ironically, Gygax died while I was reading Achtung! Schweinehund, though I don’t think Pearson was in the area with a rifle. I’ve long said that some of the most heated flamewars on message boards are between people who fundamentally agree with each other, but get into vicious point-by-point rebuttals over exactly how they agree, so after bristling with incandescent rage over such heresy and writing a stiff letter to The Times Points of View White Dwarf magazine involving the line “why oh why oh why oh why oh why etc. (ps: I totally expected the pig, don’t you go trying to put one over on me, no piggy-wiggy)”, I figured hey, that’s the rich and diverse world of specialist interests (or, if you prefer, geekdom) for you. Fantasy vs Historical is another blood-feud over barely-perceptible-to-outsider differences to file alongside Metal vs Plastic, Collectors vs Wargamers, Marvel vs DC, PvE vs PvP, Hard Science vs Space Opera, Normal People vs LARPers (I kid, I kid, don’t hit me with foam-covered axes).

I don’t think it was just being put off by that quote, but I wasn’t so keen on the second part of the book. It meanders around somewhat, and where Pearson doesn’t care for fantasy, I don’t have a great interest in pre-mechanised 20mm miniatures. The bits and pieces about the history of wargaming, Napoleonic dioramas and such are fairly dry, and I’d mostly picked up elsewhere. The descriptions of fellow enthusiasts and characters, the embarrassment of such a terminally uncool hobby and hiding it from “normal” people, ring true enough, but though there’s a few funny moments on the whole I found it tended more towards the depressing than the heart-warmingly eccentric, particularly the gamer, alone in a squalid house stuffed to the point of structural failure with metal figures. It drifts off rather after the promising start; overall, not bad, but not brilliant.

Wildlife strikes back.

It’s a curious thing: there I am playing a throwaway rogue alt that I had quickly rolled for that five seconds of fun, that quick hit of quintessential MMOness that one sometimes desires: mad levelling without honour or humanity, where you slaughter everything in the local area with wild abandon, with not a chance of it putting up enough of a fight to cause you anything more than a sprained fingernail or perhaps a fractured eyebrow, and where you gain levels so quickly that you’re in danger of meeting a lower level version of yourself and ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe. And all with the added benefit of not having to spend five hours flying across seven continents to get to your next quest, or having to wait for a group of fellow adventurers to gather and then spend the next fifty minutes coming up with the forward-thinking, radical plan that the tank archetype will tank, the healer archetypes should probably heal, and that the rest of the group should probably take up haberdashery, or DPS, whichever is easiest.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that sometimes it’s fun to roll a level 1 character, get them to level 10 in as fast a time as possible while enjoying all the basics of MMO game-play without any of the hassle, and then delete them and go back to one’s main character. Until the next time that the shakes occur, that is, and your MMO dealer is standing there furtively opening up the lining of one side of his coat to you, displaying the delicious alts within, that you could be playing right now for the low low price of your soul.

At any rate, trying desperately to drag this back towards some sort of point: there’s me, there’s a low level rogue, and there’s slaughtering, mainly of the wildlife variety. The curious thing, so briefly alluded to at the beginning of this post before it all went a bit Alliance PvP Tactics (waywardly running all over the place with little focus), occurred whilst fighting a deer; I say fighting rather than slaughtering because this fellow put up a remarkable struggle, including at one point parrying my attack.

A deer. Parried. My attack.

It wasn’t a simple miss, or dodge even, nope it was parried, as in “Ho! Haha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust!” parry. A deer. How… with the… and legs that don’t… daggers… but that’s… isn’t… hmmmm.

So one has to wonder at just what sort of wildlife finishing schools they have around Ironforge, I guess they have to be pretty harsh, more like training camps, what with all the mad dwarves running around the area trying to kill everything with a pulse.

Badger :”I am Gunnery Sergeant Badger, your Senior Drill Instructor. From now on, you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be “Sir!” Do you maggots understand that?”

Wildlife recruits: “Sir, yes, sir!”

Badger: “Bullshit! I can’t hear you. Sound off like you got a pair.”

Wildlife recruits: “Sir, yes, sir!”

Badger: “If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training … you will be a weapon, you
will be a minister of death, praying for war. But until that day you are pukes! You’re the lowest form of life on Earth. You are nothing but unorganised grabasstic pieces of amphibian shit!”

Frog: “Hey, I resent that remark.”

One envisions huge camps hidden high in the hills overlooking Kharanos, where legions of boars march in unison across parade squares, while panthers crawl along under barbed wire as they make their way across various assault courses. Waves of owls drop from the sky into the rocky fortress, dropping off supplies and a vanguard of badgers and rats in a cloud of stirred-up dust and leaf litter. In the nearby forests, wolves and bears wearing shinobi shozoku slink from tree to tree, perfecting the art of the stealth aggro, and in the mountain-top retreats deer, raptors and clefthoofs master the sword fighting techniques that will allow them to defeat some of the greatest and best armed fighters that the Alliance and Horde have ever produced.

And this arms proliferation can only get worse; why just today I heard rumour that Age of Conan has shield-wielding hedgehogs that can block attacks, and that Warhammer Online will feature sheep armed with a main-gauche, such that they not only have a chance to parry but that they will also have a chance to break the weapon you’re attacking them with! Of course you’ll never actually see them wielding these weapons, and they’ll certainly never drop them as loot, but believe me when I say that you should keep a close eye on your combat logs.

The wildlife is striking back.