RETURN TO WYRDWORLD
With the Wyrdworld Recreated Kickstarter campaign finishing this week we spoke to Fenris Games' Ian Brumby to find out more about it and how he got into the business of making pangolin monks and club wielding armadillos...
Showing my age a little here but as a kid one of the things I used to love most was poring over the adverts in White Dwarf, back when the magazine wasn’t solely devoted to Games Workshop products. There, amongst the terrible puns that accompanied every Citadel Miniatures advert, you’d find dozens of smaller companies touting everything from a 25mm scale ‘War Mammoth of the Undead Legion’ (£5.95, supplied as a simple kit in a colourful box!) to computerised Play-By-Mail games like Capitol and home produced cassettes of proto-dungeon synth, perfect to soundtrack ‘all adventures and dimensions’.
When you just had £1 a week in pocket money to keep you in fizzy cola bottles, window shopping was generally the best you could hope for but each of these adverts, in their rough and ready glory, acted like a portal to much wider, wilder world that existed out beyond the neat suburbs of London and I could, at least, while away the hours dreaming of owning a Gremlin Miniatures Orc & Troll starter army (only £29 complete with free Dead Orc!).
Anyway, all those memories came flooding back when we spotted Fenris Games’ ‘Wyrdworld Recreated’ Kickstarter. Not only did the models - a growing range of anthropomorphic weapon wielding critters, South American ruins and strange giant flora - remind us of the more anarchic sculpts that used to be commonplace back then but, as it turned out, Wyrdworld itself was originally a Play-By-Mail game launched back in the late 80s, the kind I'd gawped at in joyful confusion as an uncomprehending child.
I mean look at this description and tell me your curiosity isn't a little piqued...
"Barbarian hamsters, ninja lemmings, surfing aardvarks, armadillo aromatherapists with back problems and many more weird & wonderful personalities charge roughshod over a detailed background that's also populated by psychotic mutants, raiding insect hordes, bickering small-minded gods and ancient evils awoken by bloody-minded people with an overdeveloped sense of curiosity. Prophecies come true, monolithic leyline markers threaten to rip the world apart, newspaper reporters go missing while interviewing rebel leaders, and massed armies clash in the shadow of artificial mountains haunted by etherstream daemons.
Elsewhere, pregnant chimp acrobats, frog assassins, wolverine commandos and small boys with bells on their hats travel through a world of floating island continents which occasionally bump into one another, promoting brotherly love and plummeting coastal property values. Flying ships, bronze toads, militant cult pub crawls and Mad King Ralph all carry on about their business as if the rest of the Wyrdworld wasn't in the throes of a not-so-minor Armageddon. People try so much on."
Ours certainly was, so with that in mind we hunted down Fenris Games’ Ian Brumby to find out more…
Wyrd Science: So the models from Wyrdworld Recreated are based on a play-by-mail RPG that you ran back in the late 1980s, so could you just tell us a bit about that and, maybe for the benefit of some of our younger readers, just what a PBM game actually is?
Ian Brumby: Yup, at the time (1988) I was still at college studying Industrial Modelmaking & Pattern-making but doing freelance work for a Play By Mail RPG called Further Into Fantasy. This was a game where each player sends in a list of instructions for their character and a GM writes a text response of a page or two of ongoing adventure.
Unfortunately for the Laboratory (the owners of the game) one of their players was a certain Michael Ryan, and when his affairs were investigated after the Hungerford shootings, The Laboratory were heavily investigated and under suspicion for their own slice of Satanic Panic - the suggestion being that the game had egged Ryan on…
Anyway, the PBM bug had bitten me by then so I began writing and running several games of my own, with attendant zine, and Wyrdworld ran to about 120 regular players around the UK, plus a handful overseas, enough to keep me just about full time employed as a writer (when I wasn't at college) for around 18 months. Real world work in film & TV model-making picked up again after I finished college and like most of my RPGing around that time, Wyrdworld and everything else went into the Deep Freeze.
I moved on from freelancing to running model teams and workshops and eventually relaunched Fenris Games as a hobby and miniatures version of its former self in 2008 when the property crash in the UK effectively wiped out my then bread-and-butter job of making architectural models.
WS: What was it that made you decide to revisit it in 2021?
IB: So, yeah, we never really left Wyrdworld - and were still dabbling with ideas all these years later. Sketches, writing, and models related to the setting kept popping up and my younger brother Jo took things and ran with them to write a novel and Edda-like poem version of some of the stories we'd come up with.
Then, around the start of Lockdown in 2020, Jo started sculpting again after a hiatus of a year or two himself (he's also a professional model-maker for an architectural planning firm, but has been a part time sculptor for Fenris, Bad Squiddo, Otherworld and others, and was the lead sculptor on Cthulhu Wars and Gods War for me/Fenris) and got his teeth stuck in to some character designs for what's always been one of his first loves.
I've always found that the freelance mini sculptors I've worked with produce their best work when their design briefs are fairly loose - and with Jo having written for the Wyrdworld setting, his head was already absolutely in the right space for sculpting again.
WS: Can you just talk us through the process of how these particular models were designed, sculpted and produced?
IB: Whilst we also work in digital sculpting spaces, both of us are old school enough to prefer the physical media, and all of these models are traditionally sculpted, by hand, in a custom mix of material known to many Games Workshop hobbyists as Greenstuff - an epoxy putty with chewing gum like consistency that air cures and is strong enough to withstand the high temperatures and pressure involved in vulcanising and centrifugal metal casting for white metal.
They're teased onto a wire armature and sculpted with tools very similar to what a dentist puts into your mouth; when cured, they're (for metal) sandwiched in a vulcanising press under a couple of tons of pressure at high temp and then pewter's spun into the voids in a centrifuge.
However, in this case - partly because of the size of some of these models, but mainly because of the incredible price increases in raw materials for metals this past year, we decided with our contract casters to produce the whole set in urethane resin. This is a more sustainable polymer plastic than those used in your typical injection-moulded model kit, and produces finished pieces that are much lighter and more durable than the white metal models we all grew up with.
WS: Tell us a little about how you got into all this, what was your introduction to tabletop games? And how did you then make the leap into model sculpting?
IB: RPGs came along as a second cousin to wargames - we'd done the usual Airfix soldiers and tanks route using HG Wells rules from the village library, but when a mate on the school bus got hold of a copy of Basic D&D's B1 module, we had to try and figure out what the hell this game was.
Subsequently it was directly into Basic/Expert and then AD&D, by way of Runequest, Traveller, Gamma World, all the usuals. More of that through both art college and modelmaking, via Shadowrun, GURPS, and all the usual suspects.
Again, all into Deep Freeze when work, beer, and relationships came along in our twenties... Modelmaking itself presented almost as an accident when a touring exhibition of the Dark Crystal models made me realise somebody *made* this stuff, and when a prospectus for Medway turned up at Lincoln College, that was it for thoughts of Graphic Design & Illustration...
WS: You went on to have a pretty extensive career building models, sets and all sorts of things for film/TV, museums...
IB: At the time I was there, the Industrial Modelmaking course at Medway was the only one of its kind in the world, which meant a guaranteed job in industries like SFX, product design, advertising, engineering, architecture - you name it, anywhere needing prototypes, one-offs, short run production was hungry for the very few students coming fresh from that course and we had the choice of projects and salaries on completion.
I spent seven or eight years freelancing for workshops and studios on everything from film sets and props to the full-size prototype for Eurostar (as featured on Tomorrow's World and subsequently at the exhibition centre at Folkestone ahead of the tunnel's completion) to a life-sized Apache helicopter pilot trainer simulator for GEC Avions and the MOD as well as prototypes for everything from the SA80 rifle to the Ariel detergent ball and a bodyshell for Brabham's F1 team, by way of Red Dwarf, Pixies album covers, Natural History Museum models too numerous to count and a Bradley AFV for the Smithsonian collection.
Jo did, broadly, more organic work after completing the same course three years later - and worked for the likes of Disney and Sony on merchandise for characters as diverse as Mickey Mouse and Godzilla…
WS: So going back to games, what are you playing these days? And how well have you adapted to playing online over the past 18 months or so?
IB: Despite having been the one player trying to push our regular 12y+ Runequest campaign into trying virtual gaming in the years pre-covid, for various reasons (largely the physical move of both home, workshop and business from Kent back to Lincs under lockdown conditions, all solo) I was slow to the VTT uptake once we were into full pandemic.
I've always been more of a GM than a player, but have managed to get in some Dragon Warriors, Cthulhu, Alien, Runequest and BRP through the early months of 2021.
Currently I'm playing in regular GURPS and Mechwarrior Destiny mini-campaigns and due to start a Cthulhu game tonight! Still trying to find time to run more of my own games, I'm one of those endlessly frustrated GMs with way, way more rulesets than I'll ever have time to run…
I'm glad to find, though, that suspected ideas of how well the VTT might allow ongoing gaming to work have proved pretty much accurate, and I can definitely see it continuing to be a way to get more games in even post-pandemic. Not least because it's allowed us to play games with geographically distant friends with ease...
WS: Speaking of which, the past 18 months have obviously been pretty testing for most people, but I know you’ve been dealing not just with the pandemic, but the effect of Brexit and recently the price of metal shooting up too, is there any good news on the horizon for smaller miniatures companies?
IB: Not going to lie, between Brexit, pandemic and the relocation, it's been incredibly difficult to keep the business going this last 18 months. I'm one of the lucky 3 million SMEs who hasn't received grants or loans from the UK government throughout, so while I've seen other similar-sized setups continuing almost business as usual, I've had to pretty much redesign the entire business model around regular Kickstarters just to generate cashflow.
The current Wyrdworld ReCreated KS is our second this year, with a third already in progress - more 28mm character models, this time largely anthropomorphic ducks aka the Army of Duckness - all sculpted by Citadel's Goblinmaster Kev Adams, the hands behind 99% of all the orcs and goblins us Grognards grew up with.
Then beyond that, I've already got another three or four KS pencilled in for 2022...
The Wyrdworld Recreated Kickstarter is running now and ends at 7pm (UK time) on Friday September 10th.