Article updated: 2021.10.09
You might have heard the word 'Oldhammer', referring to older editions of games, or earlier Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 sculpts from Games Workshop. You might even prefer this oldschool style to the newer miniatures on the market - but you might not be able to tell, why is that. I've gathered my thoughts about the Oldhammer figures, and about the differences between Oldhammer sculpts and more recent ones.
What is Oldhammer?
Oldhammer can be multiple things, based on different definitions.
- The use of Oldhammer models
- Using Oldhammer-style modelling
- Using game systems in an Oldhammer way
What makes a model Oldhammer?
There are several opinions, listed in the order of restictiveness:
- Being produced before 2010 / 2000 / 1990 / 1980
- Being sculpted by the same people who created miniatures before 2010 / 2000 / 1990 / 1980
- Sculpted in a style similar to the miniatures produced before 2010 / 2000 / 1990 / 1980
While the easy approach would be to choose 1. or 2., I try to find what would be considered a "similar style" to the old sculpts.
The people who sculpt the Oldhammer miniatures are also hobby enthusiasts. They love their minis, they assemble and paint them. They create new sculpts to fill in gaps in their preferred range.
Many of the new 3D sculpt creators might be awesome in 3D design, but they have never ever assembled and painted a single miniature in their life, and it often shows.
Most of the Oldhammer figures are more chunky than regular minis with realistic proportions. This is often called Heroic scale. They have big heads, big hands, big feet, everything is about twice as wide as normal, and their faces take up a large proportion of their heads. All of this is to make them easier to paint, and from across the table it's easier to recognise Heroic minis than realistic ones. Also, having chunky proportions made metal casts easier to make.
Now that it's easy to make very thin figures with realistic proportions, many companies go that way.
Most of the Oldhammer minis have hard details, that are easy to pick out an paint. This is partly due to the Heroic proportions, but also due to the sculptors knowing how to create minis that will be easy to paint, and easy to cast. Soft details can be lost during production, and it's harder to paint them right.
As reproducing soft detail is easy nowadays, it's more common to see them on recent miniatures.
Focus of details
The sculptors knew what is important on the miniature, and focused on that. This meant that a character with a strange face might have a plain coat to draw the eye of the viewer to the face, and not filling the coat with additional detail just because there is space for that. If the figure was stuffed with equipment, it was for a reason - for example, it was a trader, or a depiction of an average D&D character.
I've noticed, especially on recent GW miniatures (I look at you, Death Guard!), that they have lots of unnecessary detail, thus losing the focus of the mini.
Most Oldhammer figures feature specific characters, instead of a generic member of an army. In the old times they were even named to differentiate them. If you had more copies of the same sculpt, you either used several colour schemes, or converted them to make them unique.
Nowadays most companies try to create generic minis, with optional add-ons to make them individuals.
Many Oldhammer figures look unusual. They can look funny, goofy, as if the sculptors didn't take themselves seriously. They might look obscene, show rude gestures. They could be horrifying.
Most recent miniatures try to feature grim and realistic characters, while maintain an imagery that can be sold to 10 year olds.
What products do I consider Oldhammer?
Old Citadel (Games Workshop), EM4, Grenadier, Wargames Foundry.
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What makes a modelling style Oldhammer?
There are some who consider Oldhammer a modelling style, similar to the ways modellers used in times of old (specifically the 70s-80s).
Creating individual models
Even if you have multiples of the same sculpt, you make each of the models look like individuals by adding accessories, repositioning them, or using head-swaps.
Creating your own visions
You come up with an idea of what kind of character you wish to have. Then you choose a model that is the closest to that idea, and use conversions or sculpt additional pieces until you get the character you wish to achieve. You can check the Blanchitsu articles on this kind of approach.
Scratch-building and kit-bashing vehicles and scenery
Back in the old times, most companies focused on infantry, cavalry and creature miniatures. When you wanted to have a building or a vehicle, you usually had to build it for yourself. Nowadays players look down on home-made models, so get used to that if you intend to create your own hovertank from a deodorant bottle.
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What makes a game system Oldhammer?
Oldhammer games had some similarities in their design.
Toolbox of rules to use
Instead of giving a strict system to play with, these games offered plenty of options for the players to use. These were not always intentional, and some might have been published due to lack of communication and parallel developments, but in the end, we had plenty of ways to use the published rules. Or sometimes there were situations with rules missing for them.
Probably this kind of playing approach was that allowed players to constantly introduce home-made rules and units into their games. We constantly came up with solutions for problems on the spot, when we realised that we run into a situation not covered by the rules.
Also, many players did not have the rules, or at least not all the rules, as they were often published in multiple tomes. This lead to players learning the rules of the game from other players, instead of from the official source. When one of the players introduced a new rule, supposedly published in an official publication, we accepted that, and started to use it if we liked it. (And by official publication, my group meant everything that was printed, even fanzines.)
The games offered the players an immersive stance, where the player got into the character of the hero, and played accordingly, instead of having to think about the rules to be used. Many new systems add so many meta-elements to the game that immersion is basically impossible.
Although it's not necessary, having a game master can really help with the immersion. That way it's the game master who has to handle the "fog of war", and secrets of the scenario, you can focus on the knowledge of your characters.
Lack of careful balance
The goal of the game is for the players to have fun, instead of allowing all the players to have an equal chance of winning. The scenarios reflect this - they can be interesting, memorable, but often asymmetrical. If the players are really competitive, they can play the same scenario again, swapping forces, to see who is the best.
Army lists are based on the setting, not on the models
The army lists cover everything the army might have. The rules are not limited to the models currently in production. Many units never had any models released for them, so you had to create them for yourself.
Using your whole collection of models
Modern games often assume that you collect a single force, and build the scenarios upon this. Oldhammer scenarios often feature specific kind of models to be used, in a very specific environment. For example, there could be an underground research facility, where a worker cyborg goes mad and starts a rampage, and you have to evacuate all the unarmed scientists in the area through the cargo lift, and their only way to defend themselves is that they can open or close the bulkhead doors, while the cyborg can spread to infection to the other cyborgs in the holding areas.
If you have the right models and the proper scenery, you can use the scenario as it's written, otherwise you either come up with substitutes (maybe even create them), or you rewrite the scenario to fit your collection. Random events can add monsters, creature swarms, deadly vegetation to your games, and you are expected to come up with something from your collection.
What games do I consider Oldhammer?
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How can you get into Oldhammer?
1. Get some Oldhammer style rules to get into the mindset
2. Get an idea about the models you wish to have
3. Buy models you fancy when you find them cheap, even if they don't particularly fit into your existing collection
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How do you paint in Oldhammer?
There is no single way to paint Oldhammer miniatures, but bright colours are usually used.
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Resources - Oldhammer miniatures
Nergling: What is Oldhammer?: Humorous video.
Oldhammer miniature recommendations
Asslessman (for Oldhammer Blog): Oldhammer models: Article about Oldhammer models.
In-production Rogue Trader alternatives: Forum about Oldhammer miniatures for Warhammer 40,000.
airbornegrove26 (for Give'em Lead): A Quest for Stillmania: Article about Oldhammer style gaming, based on the Stillmania articles of Nigel Stillman.
Realm of Chaos 80s: The Oldhammer website of Orlygg Jafnakol, with lots of interviews with Oldhammer designers and sculptors.
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|Buy miniatures from Element Games (UK) ref. code:KAD935
Buy miniatures from Firestorm Games (UK)
Buy miniatures from Wayland Games (UK)
Buy miniatures from Noble Knight Games (USA)
Buy board games from Book Depository
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Do you like Oldhammer miniatures? What do you think of them? How would you differentiate them from new sculpts? Tell your opinion in the comments!