“Yer one of us now, lad.”
An early Warhammer story from back in 1997, Andy Jones’ Grunsonn’s Marauders introduced readers to the titular band of roguish adventurers – the dwarf Grimcrag Grunsonn, Jiriki the elf, young Imperial Envoy Johann Anstein, and the wonderfully named barbarian Keanu the Reaver. You can probably work out the tone of the story just from the names! It sees the four marauders taking on a quest to find a powerful magical relic, on behalf of a friendly old wizard. As you might expect, things don’t turn out quite as simple as they hope, and much adventure ensues.
If you’re looking for dark, gritty fantasy this is not what you’re after. It’s unusually light in tone, riffing on the classic Dungeons & Dragons-esque stylings with tongue planted firmly in cheek, happily throwing in adventure cliches left, right and centre…but somehow pulling it off. The characters, cliched though they may be, are written as though the reader is already familiar with them and their previous adventures, which gives the whole thing a feel-good air, and the simple but entertaining plot keeps things moving suitably quickly. Overall it’s light, funny, full of knowing little references and enjoyably easy to read.
Like the previous few instalments of Forgotten Texts, this is one of those classic early Black Library tales that comes freighted with nostalgia for readers of a certain vintage. It gently pokes fun at loads of fantasy tropes, even loosely referencing Gotrek and Felix (Grunsonn is perilously close to Gurnisson, after all), and is instantly familiar due to its character archetypes and plot devices.
Does it feel like a Warhammer story though? Well…not really, no. On the one hand there’s lots of Warhammer-esque elements (bearing in mind that most of Warhammer’s early influences were classic fantasy tropes themselves) and references to a familiar setting, but on the other hand it’s just not the tone that you would expect from a Warhammer story. At least, not any more it isn’t.
Back in the day, you could get away with selling games that came with silly songs tapes, and writing stories with characters cheekily named after movie stars. It was an earlier, less developed time for the setting, with much less structure put in place – lots of the familiar ideas were there, they just weren’t fully cemented in. These days however, even though the Old World has bitten the dust and been replaced by the Mortal Realms, there’s a certain tone and sense of gritty style that typifies the Warhammer world. You can’t really get away from the fact that Warhammer doesn’t really do tongue in cheek humour.
I’m not saying this is a bad story, mind – far from it. It’s pretty simple, arguably even derivative, but there’s something fun about this story that makes it all work. If you can’t enjoy reading about the adventures of a barbarian who speaks in a terrible cod-German accent, a snooty elf and a gold-hungry dwarf, what are you even doing reading this?! It might be a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it’s hard to deny the fun of this story.
Sadly, like a lot of these stories, if you want to relive the early days of Warhammer in this story then you’re going to have to go digging. Once again this was first published in Inferno! Magazine (Issue 1, in 1997), and then it was reprinted a few years later in the Realm of Chaos anthology (not to be confused with the legendary Realm of Chaos book for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay) alongside other early Warhammer stories by guys like Gav Thorpe, Jonathan Green and Chris Pramas.
As far as I can tell it’s not been reprinted since then, so your best bet is going to be getting hold of a second hand copy of the Realm of Chaos anthology. To be fair though, a quick look on Amazon shows there’s plenty of second hand copies available, from as little as 1p plus P&P. There are some cracking stories in that anthology, so if you’re a fan of early Warhammer then it might well be worth the price of picking it up.
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of Forgotten Texts. If there are any classic Black Library stories that you would like to put forward for a review, please do let me know, and likewise if you’ve got any comments or feedback. Next week I’m going back to 40k with an Imperial Guard story from a familiar name.