Interview with Rick Priestley

Rick Priestley1

Rick Priestley is a tabletop games designer and author who lives near Nottingham, England. Together with Bryan Ansell and Richard Halliwell, Rick created the Warhammer Fantasy Battle Game for Games Workshop and went on the develop the Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 games and supplements. Other notable design credits include Necromunda, Warmaster, and the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game.

Rick left Games Workshop in 2010 and has since worked on a number of projects with various companies including Warlord Games and River Horse. With Warlord games he has designed or co-designed Black Powder, Hail Caesar, Bolt Action and Beyond the Gates of Antares.

At the end of 2011 he was elected to the committee of the Society of Ancients.

Rick Priestley is one of the big authors in wargames.

Rick Priestley

Born in: Lincoln, England

Date of birth: March 1959

Personal blog: http://rickpriestley.com/ To be honest I’ve not touched my website for some years and really must get around to starting up a modern blog – it would be so much easier!

Website: http://www.warlordgames.com/ You can find all of the games I’ve produced for Warlord on their website as well as much additional material and free downloads.

Favorite roleplaying club: I’m not really a role-player so I’m sure I don’t know!

Favorite book: The Lord of the Rings.

Favorite role-playing game: Again… not really my thing these days! The original D&D is probably my favourite. Warhammer Fantasy Role-play was good in its day, though I say so myself, although largely due to the efforts of some very good developers and module designers.

Favorite boardgame: Warlord! The original version of the game Games Workshop later sold as Apocalypse. Though Kill Doctor Lucky comes a close second.

Favorite wargame: Whatever I’m playing at the time!

Juegos y Dados – Welcome Rick, thank you so much for your collaboration. It is a big pleasure that you are here with us.

Rick – It’s a pleasure to be here Rubén.

Juegos y Dados – How did you begin in the world of wargames and what was the first wargame that you played?

Rick – I started out like most of my generation with a passion for models and ‘toy soldiers’ as well as a general interest in warfare, military history and World War Two in particular. You couldn’t avoid it… back then it was always on the television, war films were a staple of the movie industry. If it wasn’t WW2 it would be Westerns. So, when I came across a book about playing wargames with rules in a local bookshop I was ripe to join the ranks. That book was Battle – Practical Wargames by Charles Grant. It was a set of WW2 rules with plenty of photos of Roco-Minitanks models as well as the Airfix figures and kits that were pretty much all you could get at the time. The game was very carefully explained and presented. In part this was due to the fact that it was actually a compilation of articles originally published in Meccano magazine. I built an army for that game, and I persuaded some of my friends to join in. We played that game – and our own versions of it – for years afterwards.

Juegos y Dados – What was the first wargame that you created?

Rick – Oh I’ve no idea! There were so many. My gamer friends and I made up games all the time, developed our own rules, and dreamt that once day we could actually publish them! Because we were big fans of science-fiction and fantasy books, this being a time before such things were even remotely mainstream, we made up lots of games with those kinds of themes. I remember my school-mate Richard Halliwell and I came up with a game based on a spaceship boarding action. Boarders and defenders would fight down corridors, into engine bays and onto the bridge, to take control of a spaceship. We drew out all the spaceship plans on gridded paper. Years later Richard would go on to create Space Hulk, of course!

Juegos y Dados – How does a designer know when a system is completely finished?

Rick – When the deadline is about a week away! At that point you know that if something doesn’t quite work you’re only option is to cut and keep on cutting until all you have left is what you know works. You can always add later in supplements anyway. In that sense games are never really finished at all. They are all ‘work in progress’ even once they are published.

Citadel design team as it was in the early 80’s Rogues Riff Raff & Vagabonds
Citadel design team as it was in the early 80’s. Rogues Riff Raff & Vagabonds

Juegos y Dados – How did you start to work in Games Workshop?

Rick – I had already met Bryan Ansell back when he and a couple of his friends were running a model company called Asgard Miniatures. I did a bit of painting for Bryan when I was maybe 17 or 18, and Bryan encouraged me to have a go at designing models too. I did design a few models for Asgard before I went to college. I even made models in my first year at college, just to try and supplement my income, although I soon found myself distracted by other things. Beer mostly. By the time I left college, Bryan Ansell had set up Citadel Miniatures in partnership with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson of Games Workshop. Bryan offered me a job. He was looking to get someone in to run the mail order. At the time I was trying to earn a living as a freelance model designer, mostly working for Tabletop Games, the company that produced some of my early games including a fantasy wargame called Reaper. I also did some figure design for Citadel, mostly bits of straight-line work. I was keen on sticking to freelance design, and maybe setting up on my own, but I agreed to go in to Citadel and work for a few days just to help out. It was easy – way easier than freelance design – and relatively well paid too. Soon I was ‘helping out’ pretty regularly. Eventually I was ‘helping out’ more often than not! Before I knew it I was working there full time, dealing with the mail order, sorting out the literature that went with that – the newsletters and pamphlets and such like. You might say I sort of joined Games Workshop by degrees.

Juegos y Dados –How did Warhammer come about?

Rick – One of the reasons why Bryan Ansell wanted to get me on board at Citadel was because I already had a track record as a games designer, having co-written and produced a fantasy wargame called Reaper and a Science-Fiction wargame called Combat 3000. Both of those games were written with my friend Richard Halliwell, who was also working intermittently at Citadel as a mould-maker at that time. Bryan wanted to produce a new tabletop wargame to support the Citadel range of models, which was mostly a mix of historical ranges and role-playing miniatures in those days. Most roleplayers would only buy one or two models to represent their characters and maybe a handful of monsters such as goblins or skeletons. What Bryan realised was that Citadel could sell a lot more models if there was a battle game that would enable players to field dozens or hundreds of models at once. Bryan asked Richard Halliwell to come up with a game, and because we always worked together on projects, Richard and I came up with the game that would become Warhammer. I did the production work with our artist Tony Ackland – who was the chap who used to draw all of the miniatures for the mail order flyers and catalogues – there being no photos of the new models in those days – just little drawings.

 Juegos y Dados – I have heard that Warhammer began like miniatures for roleplaying at late 70s. Could tell us any details?

Rick – When the first version of Warhammer came out Dungeons & Dragons was at its height. It was quite a phenomena. Any number of role-playing games and fantasy board games sprang up as a result. All the toy and model shops were selling these new role-playing products from America. Of course, Games Workshop was the distributor for D&D in the UK, and the company had really been founded off the back of this new and exciting hobby, importing and distributing American made games. In those days everyone wanted role-playing games. To launch our new ‘battle game’ we had to make it a role-playing game too – after a fashion. If you look at a first edition of Warhammer you’ll see that it’s described as a ‘mass-combat fantasy role-playing game’. The rules are very much based on individual models, heroes and characters that you could bunch up into units too. There was a simple system for character progression as well as random generation and the sorts of things that were common to role-playing games in those days. We also had an adventure scenario with briefing notes for the players, much as a games master would brief players and lead them through a dungeon adventure. So, Warhammer as it was conceived had a lot of role-playing elements to it. Over time players developed an enthusiasm for the battles over the role-playing part, and the game evolved into a more conventional wargame, but its roots are in role-playing as much as in historical ancient and medieval wargames.

Games Workshop Team 1982 Andy Patterson, Anthony Epworth, Bryan Ansell, Diane Lane, Gerry Ball, Chrissie Lane & Alan Merritt, Rick Priestley, a young lady whose name I forget
Games Workshop Team 1982 Andy Patterson, Anthony Epworth, Bryan Ansell, Diane Lane, Gerry Ball & Chrissie Lane, Alan Merritt, Rick Priestley, a young lady whose her name was forgotten

Juegos y Dados – What is the best mechanic you have created into a system that you are most proud of?

Rick – I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that! You just use whatever mechanic best suits the subject at the time. I thought the basic combat mechanic for The Lord of The Rings Strategy Battle Game worked very well. It’s a very simple system, and with very simple mechanics it’s difficult to get much variety or depth into the outcomes. However, with the help of my friend Stefan Hess – who produced a little computer program that allowed me to run simulations of results – we managed to keep things simple but still allow for a lot of detail in representation. Since then a lot of games have adopted a ‘stripped down’ combat mechanic, but when I did the LOTR game it was quite an innovation – and some people thought it was a very brave one too!

Juegos y Dados – You was author or co-author in some of the best fantastic wargames of the history. What do you think the fact so many people have copies of the games you have written in their homes?

Rick – I think I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time! So many people have contributed to the development of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 over the years that I know much of the credit for those games belongs to others. The last version of Warhammer I wrote myself was the 1996 version (5th edition) and the last version of Warhammer 40,000 I wrote was the 1993 version (2nd edition). So, when I hear players talking about the latest versions of Warhammer 40,000 or the latest Warhammer: Age of Sigmar it’s all quite different from the games I worked on. I don’t know anything about those games at all!

Juegos y Dados – I suppose that you met some of famous designers of that age. Could you explain any funny story?

Rick – I don’t know who that would be! Gary Gygax the inventor of D&D was the only big name amongst game designers back then. I never met Gary Gygax I’m afraid. I think we largely worked as a closed team at Games Workshop. Later on the team grew to include many other designers. One of those was Richard Halliwell, who used to intersperse periods of work at GW with long foreign excursions to Africa, Asia and South America – we never knew when we’d see him again when he took off! One of Richard’s party tricks included spraying cigarette lighter fuel all over the table and setting light to it whilst shouting, ‘King’s Cross… King’s Cross!’ as everybody else either ran for it or tried desperately to beat out the flames. (King’s Cross tube station in London was the site of a notorious fire on the escalators in 1987 in which 31 people died). Games design was a much more hazardous affair in those days.

The 1st Black Powder Open Day
The 1st Black Powder Open Day

Juegos y Dados –Why did you join Warlord Games?

Rick – Whilst I was at Games Workshop I worked for many years with my friend John Stallard. John was Sales Director when I was Product Development Director, so we worked closely together over the years. John left GW a few years before I did and set up Warlord Games together with ex-White Dwarf editor Paul Sawyer. When I left GW John asked me if I’d like to work with Warlord and I’ve since come on-board as a shareholder. I help out when I can and I’ve done various projects with Warlord including the Black Powder game, Hail Caesar and Bolt Action. Most of the Warlord team are people I worked with at GW, so it’s a familiar crowd, and we all rub along together pretty well.

Juegos y Dados – What is distinctive about Warlord Games games?

Rick – I don’t know if there’s one thing, although we do try and bring our experience to bear and make a book that is fun to pick up and read. We think inspiring photographs of well-painted models are important, and the whole thing should be generally nicely presented. A book of wargames rules is more than just the rules of play. It should entertain and inspire too. It should make you dream! The Black Powder, Hail Caesar and Pike & Shotte games are all based on the same command and control mechanic – so they form a series really. The mechanic is actually derived from my Warmaster game, but adapted for big games using 28mm models and generally for two or three players a side as well. That might not sound very commercial! When Jervis Johnson and I developed Black Powder it really was just a case of writing up the game we were already playing, usually in company with the Perry twins of Perry Miniatures fame. We just wanted a set of rules that you could use to play a big game with two or three players a side over an evening of beer drinking and conversation. We had tried various rule sets, but we found that the games took hours just to get going, and often by midnight the armies had only just started to fight. Black Powder, and the other games in that series, are all about playing big battles in a single session, and are designed for multi-player participation. They are very sociable games – and they rely on players getting on together come what may. Bolt Action is very different, because it was designed as a competitive wargame right from the start, with two players and a modestly sized wargames table. We still think photographs and presentation are important, but as Bolt Action is published by Osprey you’ll see that the format and presentation are somewhat different to Warlord’s house style.

Juegos y Dados – You have some famous wargames like Beyond The Gates of Antares or Bolt Action in Warlord Games. I think that you enjoy creating and innovating in new wargames for your costumers, don’t you?

Rick – That’s what makes games design fun! You do have to combine the desire to innovate and experiment with a sense of commerciality if you want to publish, or if you’re designing a game for a company that obviously wants to sell product on the back of it. Sometimes a game works best if it’s just a standard iteration of established ideas, and that can be very successful if done well. But, as a games designer it’s always fun to dream up new ways of approaching things.

BeyondtheGatesofAntares

Juegos y Dados – You have a very wide and varied product catalogue. WWII with Bolt Action, Futurist Fantasy with Beyond the Gates of Antares, Bronze Age with Hail Cesar, American War of Independence and Napoleonic Wars with Black Powder, Renaissance Warfare with Pike and Shotte, and furthermore you have wargames about Judge Dredd, Zombies and Terminator. Do you think creating a medieval fantasy wargame?

Rick – Warlord is a bit stretched just trying to keep up with all the games we currently sell. That’s especially true since I wrote Beyond the Gates of Antares, because everything is new for that! So, I can’t see Warlord being able to support a fantasy game, even though that’s something we have often talked about. Personally, I have a number of fantasy games under development, I just don’t know when I’ll get a chance to finish them! A while ago I started a fantasy variant of Hail Caesar for big battles. More recently, I began an adaption of my Beyond the Gates of Antares system for smaller warband sized forces – which is proving interesting! On top of that, I have a dungeon crawl game which I’ve been working on for years, and who knows I might finish that one day!

Juegos y Dados – What do you do with River Horse Games exactly?

Rick – River Horse is Alessio Cavatore, who was at GW for many years, and we worked closely together on the Warhammer 40,000 game and Lord of the Rings game. Alessio left GW before I did and set up River Horse – a company to produce new games and to provide freelance design for other companies. When I left GW, Alessio asked if I’d help out with some projects he had on the go, and finding myself with time on my hands I was only too happy to do so. We worked together on All Quiet on the Martian Front, which was a commission from Robot Peanut studios in the USA, with Alessio doing games design and me working on background development. Alessio is really great to work with because he understands the design process and is very inventive when it comes to finding solutions to those niggly issues that bedevil all complex design projects. We did a similar thing with Bolt Action, with Alessio working as lead designer and me helping out with design but primarily dealing with the descriptive text and writing-up. More recently though I’ve been working on my own science fiction project, whilst Alessio has been busy with various licenced projects of his own, so we’ve really not had much chance to work together for a few years.

Juegos y Dados – What do you think the wargame industry nowadays?

Rick – There’s a lot more going on now than ever before and so many talented games designers and sculptors. 3-D digital sculpting is something that’s really changed the way that models can be made. This has made it possible to have much more detail and clarity than you ever could with a traditional putty sculpt. A lot of ‘wargames figures’ are now ‘collectable models’ and real works of art in the hands of the best modern painters. You can only wonder what the future holds!

Rick Priestley2

Juegos y Dados – Do you think creating any new wargame in the future?

Rick – I’d like to get at least one of those fantasy games finished one day! Otherwise I have quite a bit of work writing more for my Beyond the Gates of Antares game, and that’s going to keep me busy for a good while.

Juegos y Dados – How often do you play wargames? Which ones?

Rick – I often find I’m playing every week or even twice a week for a while and then it all goes quite for a week or two when people find other things they have to do. I guess on average I play socially about twice a month. If I’m developing a game or testing out a scenario I have to play every day or two, just to keep in the zone. I’ll play solo just to keep myself focussed on a project if necessary. I generally get a game of Black Powder or Hail Caesar round at Alan or Michael Perrys every few weeks, and John Stallard hosts a regular game of Black Powder most weeks. We usually play Napoleonics if it’s Black Powder, but there’s planet of American Civil War, Revolutionary War and Carlist War games as well! My own favourite for historical games is Hail Caesar and John has quite a collection of Romans and Britons on top of all his Napoleonics and Zulus. Michael and Alan stage medieval games including Crusades and War of the Roses. Bolt Action is another favourite, of course, and I have a fair sized Russian force for that. All those are Warlord game, of course, but I’ll happily join in anything so long as there’s someone to lead me through it, I’m shockingly bad at learning rules… too many in my head already!

Juegos y Dados –I would like knowing funny moments in amazing battles.

Rick – Gosh there are so many moments when you’re playing – but you have to be there don’t you! There are those occasions when, having rolled a double 6 command roll in Black Powder your unit takes off randomly in the opposite direct, goes into a mad charge, or otherwise upsets your plans. In one Hail Caesar game we played, a single unit of Celts hacked their way through an entire Roman legion following a blunder and an uncontrolled charge… go get ‘em boys! What sticks more in the memory are all those marvellous moments with friends. I remember a game of Warhammer in which Nigel Stillman insisted on flying his Harpies over to a remote pond because he thought it was the sort of place they’d like to be. He lost. There was also the Warhammer game I played to help out with playtesting a new version sometime in the early 2000’s. I hadn’t played Warhammer for a while and I’d got used to playing Warmaster, where at the end of the turn you can automatically move all of your characters. I duly waited to the end of the turn and moved all my Warhammer characters. My opponent’s jaw fell.

Drawing by Tony Ackland that was published in Warhammer Fantasy Role-play to illustrate the Scribe character class. It shows Rick Priestley scribbling away.
Drawing by Tony Ackland that was published in Warhammer Fantasy Role-play to illustrate the Scribe character class. It shows Rick Priestley scribbling away.

Juegos y Dados – Is there anything else you would like to tell fans?

Rick – Yes – I’d like to say thank you for playing and participating and for making it possible for folks like me to earn a living doing something we love.

Juegos y Dados – Thank you so much for your time. We are very happy for your collaboration in this interview with Juegos y Dados.

Rick – You’re very welcome… now get rolling those dice!

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