Monday, 16 January 2023

The Time of the Troll

 The age of Marketing is Over*, 

Not the internet Trolls, and not Elon when he is vibing, but the Mail Order Trolls

Remember them? Its these guys!

This idea sprang from a Goonhammer article about the development of the short-lived game Gorkamorka, which I would recommend you read first, its excellent and you can find it here.


The article describes an internal conflict at Games Workshop between the Design people and the Marketing/Executive faction. To the surprise of no-one, creative lost and the future of the company would be decided by marketing. 

This happened around the time of the development of Game Workshops Kitbash Space-Ork racing game Gorkamorka and the article is mainly about that.

However it does mention that a part of the company largely forgotten in this conflict was a big fan of Gorkamorka. The Mail Order Trolls loved it.

At that time it was possible to call up Games Workshop and order 'bitz' - individual bits and pieces of various models, which one could find in printed catalogues. These would be pulled from, one assumed, vast bins and drawers of various bits and pieces and send off to the lucky gamer, who would then glue them onto whatever the fuck their Gorkamorka Orks were building The people in charge of this, and in charge of all mail order stuff at GW were called 'The Mail order Trolls'.

As the article describes, the Mail order Trolls loved Gorkamkorka because it was a kitbash-based game. Several elements of the game and setting contributed to this;

The Orks live on a giant trash planet and build their vehicles out of whatever they can find, meaning almost any part can reasonably be included. Orks naturally adopt a rather 'bricolage' handmade aesthetic, so a piece of toy glued or drilled on by a 14 year old doesn't seem out of place and in fact adds to the immersion.

From a rules perspective models were based on strict WYSIWIG, meaning if you wanted a new gun or a ram or something else on your trukk, you had to actually glue or attach it to the model. Each trukk could also only carry as many Orks as that model could actually carry, and there were few restrictions on adding insane extensions or additions, since thats what Orks would actually do.

All of this lead to a LOT of hobbyists calling up the Mail Order Trolls asking for this or that particular piece.


I imagined if, instead of a conflict between marketing and creative, which, as in Tolkiens high catholic description of a fallen world, evil will often superficially win, yet only thereby hastening its own destruction, what if, instead, the Trolls had been in the room, and had won that argument?

What would a 1990's Games Workshop run by and for its Mail Order department look like?

Games, worlds, stories and systems created specifically to maximise the volume and range of bits (not kits) manifested and to maximise the demand for those bits. A world where Gorkamkorka was not the end of a failed evolutionary branch, but the beginning of one. Gorkamorka II, Necromorka, then Warhamorka, Warhammer Fantasy Bitsamorka.

These games wouldn't be based around kits, or at least only partially around a small number of very skeletal kits, but around bits and pieces, highly individualistic arrangements of parts in imagined works where increasingly sophisticated aesthetics of bricolage were embodied in the model range, the rules and the imaginary cultures described.

Such games would start with Orks and Orcs, since they by nature love bricolage, but probably move to Chaos, with its love of additions and mutations, and then perhaps the Renaissance Dwarfs and Humans, with Rube Goldberg-esque steampunk contraptions.

Only with difficulty would they involve Elves or other factions for whom an harmony and flow of aesthetic is primary. But it is not impossible that a sophisticated enough development of a 'bitz-and-frames' culture could gradually work up to an Elfamorka, a game where each major piece was still a bespoke assemblage but where the options and possible arrangements of pieces lead almost inevitably to harmony.


The dream of a Troll-Lead Workshop suggested to me a possible path forward for GW's very slow and multivarious adaptation to the growth of 3D printing.

(I am actually pretty ambivalent about 'helping' Games Workshop with new ideas but I like having ideas so whatever.)

Much and probably most of GW's profit margins come from its highly sophisticated skills with plastic injection moulding. Specifically, adapting the complex needs of three dimensional shapes to the liquid flow of a mould across a single dimension.

Many of Games Workshops sprues are themselves works of strange industrial art.

It is an art which is dying out and they know it.

Easily available 3D printing is not quite at the level where it can beat GW for quality of manufacture and especially for ease of manufacture. (Unless you are really into it, dicking around with a printer is a big investment of time and energy compared to going to a shop).

But the ease, power and ubiquity of the printers is only growing, and Games Workshop is a company that makes its money from controlling the production of shapes. GW's expansions into the general culture area with games and especially their desire to control all fan produced narratives and bring them all within their umbrella, is probably suggestive of a company that knows it has to diversify away from the magic money well of plastic injection moulding and is trying to transform into a brand which exists across many forms of manufacture.


A future for Games Workshop would be to become traders in forms and arrangements, and in systems of connection, rather than in plastic kits, and the games Systems, fictions and imaginary worlds made to work this culture of printing and individual selection, would be more like the Worldsamorka I described above rather than modern games.

Games Workshop already has a well developed internet ordering site, (after experiencing many of these from different companies I have a lot more respect for how well Games Workshops site works and how useful it is in listbuilding or arranging imaginary armies). This could form the basis of a new expansion where, instead of just being able to rotate images of painted miniatures, one could rotate living wireframes of printable shapes, and could select ones own "bitz", starting with armaments and decorations, but expanding into mounts, heads, limbs, and finally the basic arrangements of form themselves.

Given the power of a digital modelling system to control or shape choices and the forms which result, producing highly modular forms which still contain and express the most organic and sophisticated aesthetics, should be even more possible.

These arrangements could be printed bespoke for you either in Nottingham or at a local Games Workshop store (a fresh and unexpected adaptation of use for those locations), and either sent to you or picked up. Or the finished pattern could be sold to you (watermarked of course) and you could print it yourself.

In this case, Games Workshop would be selling not just the model itself, but selling (probably renting, god I hate myself), access to the bespoke software, but more importantly, the arrangements of possible forms and shapes, rather than the shapes themselves.

GW is already unusually good at creating highly specific yet adaptable arrangements of shape, volume and pattern which signify and express the various characters and factions of their imagined worlds. (Have written on this previously). Now that skill, developed for one set of purposes, would be remodulated into, not design advice or design bibles communicated to sculptors (or at least not only that), but into the very systems of digital arrangement which customers use to create their models. Transformed from a series of rules into a tool.

The ghost of that failed evolutionary tree may be resurrected in a new world.

*It probably isn't over. This was wishful thinking on my part but a boy can dream.


  1. Ah, but to live in that gorkamorka-branch timeline.

    I've heard others suggest Warhammer shops finding double duty as print farms, and I think 1) it's a great idea, and 2) something they will never do. There seems to be some form of inertia within GW when it comes to recognising 3d printing. The same kind of inertia music distributors had over downloadable music, I expect.

  2. I don't know if anyone other than me remembers this, but in the dying days of the 8-bit computer gaming scene, when the PC was starting to become viable as a gaming platform and consoles were starting to take off, shops decided that there wasn't enough profit in devoting shelf space to Commodore 64 and Spectrum games, but there was still an audience out there.

    So what they did was offer a service in which you could go into the shop, buy your C64 game, and they would record it to cassette right there for you, from a database of available games. This is in the days before the internet made this easy for anyone to do.

  3. Strikes me as something similar to that Lego CAD-like thing where you build your Lego model with the digital tools and then they send you the instructions and break it down into an order for all the needed bits - certainly seems doable in todays world...

  4. Just want to say that Gorkamorka history lesson was...amazing. I got into GW in '96 so I experienced that tumultuous period (from the perspective of an American consumer) first hand. This was after college and I spent huge chunks of time (and money) in the local GW-licensed shop ("Games & Gizmos") just a couple blocks down from my then-girlfriend.

    Roughly 2-3 years later, that shop was gutted and..shortly was gone.

    Never saw anyone playing Gorkamorka. Ever.