Mordheim is a skirmish wargame set in Games Workshop's Warhammer universe, where warbands fight in the ruins of a city destroyed by an apocalyptic event. Released in 1999, Games Workshop ceased support a few years later, but the game still thrives, thanks to its active online community. For its 20th Anniversary, Mordheim's designer had a celebratory miniature produced by Heresylab, who also produces fantasy miniatures that work extremely well for Mordheim. We caught up with Mordheim's creator, Tuomas Pirinen, and Heresylab's Giuseppe Chiafele, who is the artistic director for Heresylab's current Kickstarter.
TechRaptor: Tuomas and Giuseppe, welcome to TechRaptor. For our readers who don’t know your work, could you give us a little introduction? How did you start gaming, where have you worked, and what have you worked on, and what do you play currently?
Tuomas Pirinen: I started like most people of my generation, with the D&D Red Box. I also began my video gaming addiction with Ultima IV on C-64. During the dawn of time (well, the beginning of the Internet) I wrote game design articles on newsgroups, and Games Workshop’s Jervis Johnson discovered them, offered me a job. The rest, as they say, is history.
I worked years at Games Workshop on Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and wrote Warhammer Siege, Vampire Counts, the Realm of Chaos, and a bunch of other Army Books as well as Mordheim, of course. Since then I’ve worked in the video games industry at EA, Ubisoft, Remedy, and many, many other places. But I’ve never given up on my passion for tabletop.
Giuseppe Chiafele: I started as a hobbyist in South Italy when I was 13. Warhammer was a very little niche in south Italy, in an era without the internet, when we could only drool on magazines. There was only one shop in a 100km radius. I kept gaming and painting while growing up until while at university I started to paint as a part-time job between economy exams. After university, I started working properly as a commission painter for private collectors and some brands, mainly Blood Bowl related manufacturers. Then the first transfers, working for MK1881 in Amsterdam, the Lucca world Cup with Rolljordan, and then, the call of the Emperor came and I joined the Forgeworld studio for almost three years.
I worked mainly on Horus Heresy Blood Angels with my Ferrari red style, then Blood Bowl, the Warbringer Nemesis Titan, and more. After I left and returned to Italy, I started working again as a freelance painter with my own Axia Painting Studio until I proposed Heresylab to give me a chance to create some miniatures with a style that remembered from Tuomas' era, the time of Warhammer 6th edition and Mordheim. Mordheim is the game that I played the most. I think I am one of the few that "finished" Mordheim, with a captain with full XP and max stat heroes. I am currently working on a second one-year-long campaign of 10 players, something very uncommon in South Italy, especially if you consider that we play with painted warbands and we have almost 6 complete tables.
TR: Where did the initial idea for Mordheim come from? Was it always a Warhammer skirmish game or did it change through development? And what was your part in the project? Were you involved from the start?
TP: Mordheim was inspired by the real-life end-of-the-world scare, Y2K. At the Design Studio, we followed (with great hilarity) the blind panic around the world about Year 2000. Allegedly, it meant that every computer in the world was going to crash, and since the Mayan calendar was running out of years (it was not) Quetzalcoatl was about to return and burn the world to a cinder. This led me to think, what if it WAS true and the world was going to end, not in the real world but in the Warhammer World?
Of course, I could not destroy the Warhammer World -but I could destroy a city! So in the story of Mordheim, the righteous fury of god Sigmar smites the city of Mordheim in the Empire in the year 2000, and ruins it, making it a perfect place for a skirmish game.
As for the bragging rights, I came up with the idea, and I was the main designer and project lead throughout the game development. That takes nothing away from the huge and dedicated team that worked on the game. Especially the efforts of the GW art department, led by the legendary John Blanche, who outdid themselves.
TR: Mordheim ceased official support a while ago, but still sees a large community playing and creating fan rules, aside from it being an awesome game, why do you think there’s so much support for it after so long?
TP: I think partly it is that there is no game like it anywhere else. It is wholly unique. Mordheim started the fantasy ruined city post-apocalypse game sub-genre, which has seen other entries like Forstgrave. The unique look and feel of the game helps as well: the dark, gothic art style is something that everyone remembers, and the huge part the post-game meta-management has in the game means that no campaign of Mordheim is ever the same.
The Mordheim video game also created a large influx of new players, and social media has been a huge boom for cult classic games like Mordheim. When enthusiasts around the world have been able to connect with each other, it has become a virtuous cycle that feeds itself. If anything, Mordheim might be more popular now than it has ever been. Just the main FB group has over 15,000 active members, which is absolutely fantastic for a 20-year old tabletop game.
TR: If someone wanted to play Mordheim now, what would they need and what’s available for it?
TP: The community maintains a huge repository of all the official publications and an absolutely staggering number of fan-made add-ons. A website called Broheim has everything you need, rules-wise, including the core rulebook which GW was already giving away as a free download before the game was discontinued.
Then you need a handful of miniatures (typical starting warband has 8-15 models), someone to play against, and perhaps then the most daunting task of all: the ruined city terrain. Mordheim was designed to work the best when the tabletop is full of ruined buildings that create interesting scenarios. Luckily there are a lot of options available today if you do not like to build your own scenery, which I really recommend though, it is incredibly fun.
TR: Heresy Lab are producing miniatures perfectly suited for Mordheim, along with the anniversary Luther miniature. How did you become involved with Heresy Lab?
TP: It was all very organic. I just started chatting with the folks from Heresy online. I really liked what Heresy was doing quality-wise, and we concluded we wanted to do something together. When we decided to celebrate the 20th year of Mordheim with a special model for the FB group, and Heresy was willing to step in. Not that many people are ready to do a non-profit venture like this.
GC: I've always been a fan of Tuomas’ work, and Mordheim is my favorite game. So when I came to know he was on the Facebook group I started chatting with him and showing some of the first ideas of the Citizens line. As he said things went on naturally, and now we are at the second Luther no-profit project and more will come.
TR: Last year the release of the anniversary Luther miniature blew up and sales went a bit crazy. What can you tell us about the design of the miniature and why do you think its sales exceed your expectations?
TP: It was a really collaborative effort. People with applicable skills in graphic design, miniature sculpting, art, layout, translation just stepped forward to help the community. I wrote the rules and had to do just a tiny amount of coordination to help things along. A real triumph of people willing to work for the privilege of giving something back to the community.
We even got one of the original key artists of Mordheim, John Wigley, to do a brand new art piece in the traditional art style for us. I had a lot of fun making the rules, and I think it shows in the sales, too. The price was very cheap since there was no profit to be made, and any extra money was plowed right back in to give the people extra freebies that increased the sales as well. And ex-’Eavy Metal painter doing the miniature helped too.
GC: the design process was very cool, it went smooth but still it was quite an experience for me coordinating none less than Tuomas with Heresy Lab, the sketch artist, and the sculptor. I was very surprised to see the volume of sales, Tuomas can tell you that my estimate was way more conservative. I think the main point was the role of Tuomas, like a guarantee seal, the number of options, the cheap price and also some extra exclusive stuff like dice, card art from John Wigley and the packaging too. The result of the work and effort of all the team
TR: Heresy Lab currently has a Kickstarter, Witchfire and Sword, with some great looking miniatures, what can you tell us about them?
GC: This is the 4th and biggest Kickstarter of the Citizens series, in which Heresy Lab and Axia put a lot of effort in order to create another wave of non-combatants along with two additional warbands. The warbands are a recent addition, small groups of characterful individuals that fight skirmishes defending or attacking a city or similar settlement, while the Citizens are civilian focused individuals, with a grimdark twist that makes them unique: just look at the coffin-maker with a huge coffin on his back or a cat throwing lady.
Warbands wise, the first one comes straight from the polish legends and movies like With Fire and Sword and The Deluge, so Winged Hussars with sabers and cool mustaches. The second is a great classic of fantasy gaming: a horde of dead citizens turned into zombies and driven onward by the Undead leaders: a fully armored multi-component vampire, a necromancer, and Wights.
TR: What’s the future for Mordheim? Do you have plans to rerelease it, or release it under a different name? Are you working on any supplements for it?
TP: Mordheim is very much owned by GW, and I no longer work for them. Perhaps they will re-release it one day, who knows? But as far as the community goes, there is an annual Mordheim design competition, a continuous stream of fan-generated content, an extremely lively painting and collecting community, a feast of incredible painted models you can view on Instagram, and tons of dedicated forums around the world. We also just did map-based campaign rules as a gift to the players, and tons of people are now using it to run their own leagues around the world.
TR: Which is your favorite Mordheim faction?
TP: Witch Hunters, by a mile. They were the first Warband I created, and the one I played in the original design studio Dark Moon Campaign. Besides, who doesn’t like burning heretics alive? And soothsayers, blasphemers, deviants, witches, utterers of profanities, and composers of corrupting music.
GC: Human mercenaries. I love their main strong point, the versatility, nothing is cooler than sending out of action the best enemy monsters with a crossbow shot (Reiklanders) or a belly charge (Ostlanders!) With just a mere Human with an average profile.
TR: Thank you very much for your time Tuomas and Giuseppe. It's great to see Mordheim going so strong and we wish Heresylab every success with its current and future Kickstarters.