GI Joe was there...and so were we!

I loaded my two sons into the family all-terrain-transport (read: minivan) for Frisco, Texas--and the final day of JoeCon, the 2008 National GIJoe Collector's Convention.

The hobby of GIJoe collecting subdivides along very specific lines: the primary arbiter is one's preference for 12" 'classic' figures versus 3 3/4" 'star wars era' figures (there is also a new 'inbetween' Sigma scale, where the figures are about 8" tall, but that line doesn't yet have a noticeable fan/collector base). The 3 3/4" scale figures were just starting to dominate collecting when the lady wife and I went to the 1998 Convention on a nostalgic whim (and because it was in San Antonio, and there is never a bad excuse to visit San Antonio, and the Alamo); ten years later (and with a big-budget Hollywood movie coming out in 2009 based entirely on the 3 3/4" mythos), I found the 2008 con heavily geared toward the smaller line. Though that scale of figure and all of its attendant Cobra/Dreadnok/'Yo Joe!' mythos postdated my childhood, it had an advantage for my boys, and younger enthusiasts in general: the smaller scale figures and accessories are sufficiently inexpensive that a *lot* of them were given away as door and event prizes (kudos Hasbro and RadioDisney!), so both boys came home with such figures of their own.

I do not consider myself a collector. While I probably have enough action figures to qualify, most were bought for who or what they represented (I have Joes of many figures of historical interest, from Teddy Roosevelt to Ulysses S. Grant to George Patton, for example, and commemoratives of Tuskegee Airmen and NASA events as well as the Sea Wolf-class submarine launch) rather than specifically because they were Joes; moreover, I don't know nearly enough about the hobby. 12" Joes *were* the toy of choice in my youth, however...and I belong to a 'subera' within the 12" classic collector base, the Adventure Team, that didn't get much love a decade ago--but seems to be flourishing now, even dominating the (admittedly diminished) 12" market at the convention. This year's 'convention exclusive' figure pack was a 12" Adventure Team set, the 'Search for the Sasquatch,' which we had to have (and I can say 'we' legitimately, because the boys and I took it out of its packaging and set it up for play as soon as we got home)...and I noticed several such exclusives from recent conventions, including deep sea and polar bear themed sets, had decided 'AT' qualities about them, as well. I suspect the traditionalist Joe collector, whose interests are 12" scale and authentic military reproduction equipment, probably despairs of seeing the smaller scale overtake the hobby generally, and the more lightly-regarded Adventure Team era dominating classic scale--but it was a quite pleasant blast of nostalgia, for me: memories of my (admittedly hard-haired and hard-handed classic) Joe leading my brothers' and neighbor's life-like-haired and kung-fu-gripped Joes on day-long adventures through the cattle pastures and watering ponds of my rural youth (and later across the artificial dirt mountains of construction sites, as it became less rural) with all the great Adventure Team equipment of the era--led by the greatest classic toy I ever owned, the ATII Mobile Support Vehicle (thanks Mom and Dad :)--flooded back to me, as I walked the aisles with my own sons.

Any confluence of subcultures always fascinates me, at events like this: though I did not encounter the local 40K hobbyist who has built a small space marine force fully converted to represent the GIJoe villains Cobra, as I half-expected, one of the first people I bumped into in the hall was Mike Y'Barbo, former Warhammer 40,000 Grand Tournament Winner and a regular opponent of mine in the early tournament days of 40K third edition, toting a bunch of Cobra figures and models out to the parking garage (Mike, a Chaos and Dark Eldar player, and first innovator of what became a GT-dominating army theme for a time, the 'all dark lance all the time' mobile DE force, obviously has a villainous streak in him somewhere). Most pleasant surprise, however, was discovering artist Dave Dorman was a convention guest: Dave is one of my favorite talents, and among his many beautiful licensed paintings for various superhero, Star Wars and other GIJoe products, Dave also did the gorgeous box art for the Sasquatch con exclusive and con Tshirt, which he was happy to sign (you probably know Dave's genre art from somewhere, as his luminous style is very distinctive: Check him out at or his original science fiction work at

Kudos to longtime organizer Brian Savage and all of his con crew (check out the sponsoring GI Joe Collectors Club at for subscriptions to the club newsletter/magazine, which also provides access to exclusive premiums like the Sasquatch set and first word, once it becomes available, about the 2009 JoeCon). I was particularly impressed with how much effort was made to insure kids--like the two I brought in tow--got fully caught up in the excitement: at noon, two score 3 3/4" Joes with functioning parachutes were dropped from a remote-controlled helicopter for the kids to chase, there was a 'GIJoe Boot Camp' where kids could earn merit badges for various thematic tasks like sharpshooting (with water guns), knot-tying, and team-boot-polishing; and a portable rock wall was set up in the parking lot (which my five-year-old at least attempted, and my nine-year-old triumphantly conquered). Inside, there was a 'play pit' with a handsome variety of vehicles, figures and clothing/equipment from all eras for kids to get hands-on with, and an obstacle course with 12" scale remote-controlled Stuart tanks that my sons could have stayed and played with for hours. Uniformed scouts (and, I believe, active-duty military personnel) were also welcomed to the event with free admission. All in all, a first-rate effort to make a collector's event, an adult-oriented con by definition, into something thoroughly family-friendly.

The 2000s are a different era to grow up in than the 1970s were. There are many, many more diversions in terms of toys alone to occupy a boy's interest, to say nothing of electronic games, ownable and rentable movies and hundreds of television channels (instead of five). And there aren't many places where a handful of boys can run off for hours unsupervised and turn an empty dog house into Adventure Team HQ, complete with tanks, all-terrain vehicles, helicopters and jet-packs parked outside to soar off in ever direction in, with only your kitted-out 12" Joe and your imagination to define your day. My boys have a couple of 12" Joes--and now some 3 3/4"s, courtesy of the con, as well--and when they choose to unpack them to play with, a great time is had...but in their 'toy hierarchy,' I don't suspect GIJoe will ever have the kind of supremacy for them he had for me, at the same age. I didn't have Star Wars figures and MegaBloks Dragons and Heroclix superheroes and, for my boys probably most paramount, Warhammer 40K to compete for my attentions. But it is nice that 'America's Moveable Fighting Man' (and his international co-conspirator, Action Man, who was also much in evidence at the con) is still out there, when he *is* called upon. It is nice that there is an event like the annual JoeCon which celebrates so enduring and positive a bit of subculture. And it is especially nice that they do it so well.

I re-joined the Club, before I left the convention. I look forward to receiving the newsletter again, especially as next year's movie ramps up. And if a JoeCon another year happens to be close, or happens to coincide with a family-vacation-worthy destination, I will look forward to going back. And I can guarantee I won't be the only one in this household now eager to return.

Whither the Eldar?

One of the interesting phenomena of fourth-edition Warhammer 40K has been the relatively thin embrace of the Eldar amongst hobbyists, since their new Codex.

When it came out, I genuinely thought their popularity would increase significantly—or rather, would again begin to approach its old levels. You see, the Eldar were the power army of V2 40K, a designed-Space Marine-killer race that had the necessary tools to beat almost every other faction at the time at their own game, as well. The Eldar kind of hung on to that reputation in the transition to V3 (especially with the original third-edition black book Wraithlord sporting a Toughness 9!), then steadily lost their pride-of-place as a power army of choice once their codices began coming out. They were still powerful—the Wraithlord remained (and remains) one of the best bang-for-its-points units in the game, the Craftworld supplemental codex essentially allowed Eldar to become the only army who could cherry-pick Elite units and make them core Troops choices (something the new Codex elegantly still allows with a few more game-balance-oriented controls), and then the codex supplement which gave us the Eldar Seer 'Jedi Council' created one of the most infamous army compositions for tournament play in post-V2 history—but they were already moving in a direction this most recent codex carried them completely to: the ultimate 40K combined arms force. The Eldar have almost no jack-of-all-trades type units, which can forgive their player a deployment or movement blunder by simply hanging in until he gets a chance to correct it: the Eldar general has to use each unit he chooses for his army to its best advantage, to excel. They are very unforgiving, if misplayed (or even casually played). And as there really aren't as many genuinely tactically gifted players out there as the trashtalking in an average game hall would suggest, many hobbyists in this edition have encountered Eldar armies they've been able to make short work of...and assumed the army plays like that under every hand. It doesn't. Once you've met an Eldar army in competition played by a truly skilled general, you will be wary of them ever after—perhaps most of all because when an Eldar general beats you, there aren't many 'codex' excuses to blame, or lucky die rolls to finger. The Eldar reward skill.*

I still admire the current edition codex very much. With the possible competition of the most recent Orkdex, I think it is the best of the 'new generation' codices.** I have come to realize its very complexity in use will probably mitigate against it ever becoming as popular as I expected it initially to be...but I also suspect that it will appeal to more and more hobbyists who reach a point where they want more complexity, more challenge, less 'obviousness' from their chosen tabletop army. And I think that combination—of veteran, experienced gamer and army list full of highly specialized but outrageously-effective-if-used-right tools—will bring more and more Eldar armies to the table in the near future which will need to be reckoned with.

Of course, they are still prancing, arrogant, pointy-eared xenos scum who nearly destroyed the universe once—and may yet still—through their utter inability to control their basest, most debauched urges. Whatever compliments I may direct toward their codex as the hobby's most currently challenging—that always needs be said of them, too.

* Though I have faced a number of genuinely nasty Eldar armies in Independent, Rogue Trader and Grand Tournaments over the years (including several of those aforementioned Seer Councils), for sheer 'Jedi Mastery' of the Eldar on the tabletop, credit in my personal experience goes to a gamer from Winnipeg, Canada named Dave Violago, a regular attendee of what I consider hands-down the finest hobby experience 40K has to offer, Canada's Astronomi-Con circuit, who left me feeling exactly like most 'monkeigh' feel around Eldar in the game's background fiction (about three steps behind them)—except that he was a gracious sport all the while he elegantly outmaneuvered my Daemonhunters all over the city ruins, and generally schooled me in all aspects of gameplay. If you ever get a chance, play him: you will never underestimate the Eldar again.

** Both the current-edition Codex: Eldar and Codex: Orks were written by Phil Kelly. Both rulesets are both competitive and marvelously evocative (the Orkdex has the distinction of being the only rulebook I recall which made me laugh out loud while reading it. Repeatedly.) and are a credit to the game system. I recommend them highly.

The Outrider

The Outrider: Special Character

(a wholly-unofficial, 'by-opponent's-permission-only' special character for Warhammer 40,000; by Christopher Allen)

Points Cost: 100
Force Org Slot: Fast Attack
Unit Type: Jet Bike

4 4 4 4 (5) 1 4 1 10 3+ (4+ Inv)

Individual: An army can only include one Outrider

Wargear: Jet Bike (armed with a Plasma Cannon and Twin-linked Storm Bolter), Power Armour, Bolt Pistol, Power Weapon, Frag Grenades, Krak Grenades

Special Rules: Fearless, Veteran Space Marine, Legion of the Damned

Veteran Space Marine: The Outrider is possessed of the experience of a Veteran Space Marine; as such, he may have either the 'Furious Charge' or the 'Tank Hunter' skill (but not both), chosen by the player before each battle.

Legion of the Damned: The Outrider appears from nowhere, in the midst of combat, at the moment of the Imperium's most dire need; the Outrider may be taken as a Fast Attack choice by any Imperial army (Space Marine, Imperial Guard, Inquisition, etc), and is ALWAYS held in Reserve, regardless of any mission-specific rules of deployment.


The Outrider exists on the periphery of organized, documentable experience, in the universe of the 41st millennium. Most authorities dismiss reports of his existence as aberrant; if he ever existed, they say, he is no more. His reputation has been sullied by the heaping on of gross exaggerations to any substance of truth his story may once have contained. Now he is a thing of 'might have been' or 'once was,' if he is even acknowledged at all, and the powers that be would just as soon the Imperium forgot him.

However, out on the front, in the field, where what is said matters infinitely less than what is done, the tales of the Outrider persist; and those who claim his experience and strong sword arm appeared at their moment of greatest need, to guide them safely through the perils of the 41st millennium, will swear both to his reality, and his nobility of purpose.

Documented reports of the Outrider's appearance conflict: many sightings describe his gear, equipment and general appearance as consistent with the black armour and skull-and-flame motif of the mysterious 'Legion of the Damned' (cf 'Fire Hawks'), and certainly the instances of commonality of reported battlefield appearances by both the Legion and the Outrider suggest some sort of link (if one is to believe either exists, at all); however, a minority of reports describe the Outrider appearing in the midst of combat clad not in the livery of the Legion, but rather in the trappings and colours of the very Space Marine chapters he reportedly appeared to aid.

Of the reports which cannot be definitively dismissed as fictitious, certain consistencies stand out: the Outrider never appears until the actual battle is joined; the Outrider rarely—if ever—communicates, once on scene (there are numerous anecdotal reports of him speaking to individual space marines, Guard soldiers, Inquisitional storm troopers or battle sisters, but he appears to assiduously avoid their more organized chains-of-command) ; the Outrider appears to be possessed of the most experienced of battlefield skills, rivaling the most veteran space marines, whether he appears to reinforce a gun line or lead a counter charge; and the Outrider always appears skimming onto the battlefield on an ancient Bulloch-pattern Imperial jet bike, of the sort which has largely fallen into disfavor across the Imperium as a tainted, 'xenos' technology. Curiously, there are instances of the Outrider appearing in the battle livery of recently-founded space marine chapters, as described above—chapters far too new to the Imperium to have ever boasted such jet bikes in their arsenals, to begin with.

Much like the Legion of the Damned to which he is putatively linked, the very suggestion of some supernatural quality to the existence of the Outrider makes him suspect and anathema, to Imperial authorities- -no matter how many noble deeds are attributed to him, in unconfirmed and unconfirmable after-action reports. If he does exist, the forces of the Imperium will continue to deny him and to try, with as much vigor as mankind's alien and daemonic enemies, to wipe him from the face of Imperial history. Until they do, he will likely continue to appear across the galactic frontier, driven by his own internal motivations, where those who have faith in him need him most.

If he even exists...

The Outrider

Outrider Who?

What the hell's an Outrider, and why should I care what one has to say?

The answer to the first question's objective, and therefore easy; the answer to the second's wholly subjective, personal, and ultimately up to you, the reader. I'll tell you what you can expect me to say in these Despatches, though. That should make it easier for you to decide whether you care enough to come back.

The hub around which this all revolves is the Games Workshop hobby. Probably you know something about that, especially if you've reached Despatches through, the far-more-important part of this web-connection—and a site dedicated to said hobby, particularly as it relates to the North Texas region. If you found your way here through some other portal, please check Adeptus out: it is designed to be the site for the GW community in this area, with links to all current product stockists, descriptions of as many upcoming events as we get information about, and product updates as soon as they are official. It is not a 'rumour' site; everything which appears on Adeptus is fully vetted first. So it is a bit less salacious than some other hobby sites out there...but hopefully makes up for that in reliability. It will also link you directly to Games Workshop's own vast and extensive website, if you are unfamiliar with the hobby generally. If much of what follows sounds incomprehensible, go there to start.

I am a 'hobby volunteer.' It is important that it be understood that means I am not a Games Workshop employee, nor an insider in any way. I don't have backdoor connections to Studio designers; I am not privy to secrets—either corporate or Intellectual Property—any faster than such information becomes public knowledge. I am not, in other words, in any way 'significant' within the hobby subculture, save in the same way every hobbyist is significant: as a consumer of said hobby.

A 'hobby volunteer' is someone who organizes events for Games Workshop's various game systems—primarily Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000, these days, though the occasional opportunity to do something with a Specialist game like Epic, Mordheim, Battlefleet Gothic, Necromunda, Space Hulk or Warhammer Quest is always something I look forward to. I run tournaments, host multi-player mega-battles, moderate campaigns, do school presentations and introductory painting/army constructing/game playing sessions; I can be a judge or an instructor, by turns, but what I most enjoy is facilitating the storytelling behind games. From my perspective, the best aspect of this multi-faceted hobby is the way miniatures wargames can play out a story on the tabletop—a story in which the players are direct participants. My approach is, if you want perfect balance you must choose abstraction over narrative; the game you are seeking is called chess...and this isn't it. Though I enjoy competitive tournaments (and judge plenty of them) and find introducing the hobby to new participants very rewarding (and do it as often as I can), enhancing the simulation is what I emphasize. You will find that emphasis evident as these Despatches unfold.

GW used to have a formal organization of such 'hobby volunteers'...and they were called Outriders (to return to our initial column premise). I was one of them; making that cut wasn't easy, and I was proud of earning the label...and when Games Workshop decided the organization had outlived its usefulness and disbanded the Outriders, I didn't let go of it easily. In fact, I didn't change much of anything at all: due primarily to a great relationship with a local retailer and an enthusiastic interest in participanting in such organized events by my oldest son, which of course required my continuing to run them else no such would exist, I kept Outridering along, all through that vacuum. Nowadays, Games Workshop has begun putting their new 'hobby volunteer' organization together again, under a different badge entirely (which you can find more out about on their website if you are interested, and which I am sure is a topic I will eventually return to in greater depth here in a future Despatch)...but I've been the nominal 'Last Outrider Standing' for so long, I'm not changing. I'm old and hardheaded that way.

So that's what the hell an Outrider is in this context. In Warhammer Fantasy Battle's current edition, it is also a kind of advance-scouting light cavalry, out on the tip of the spear, armed with enough interesting equipment to make an impact but not core to the forwarding of things, and not likely to last if not quick on its feet. There's a worthwhile analogy there for any 'hobby volunteer' who gets notions of self-importance. In Warhammer 40,000, there isn't an equivalent Outrider—so I've written one. See the related link for his completely unofficial and grossly overpriced (but great fun) rules. The Outrider in 40K has intentionally been written to be a model almost any Imperial army could add, with the option of customizing his appearance to match one's own livery; this was done because 1) I absolutely love the 'Master of the Ravenwing on Jetbike' model but loathe the Dark Angels, and wanted to co-opt that model for Chapters other than the Unforgiven (including mine) without challenging the original statistically or in game-impact terms; and 2) I harbour a hope that enough hobbyists who read and (hopefully) come to enjoy Despatches will be motivated to paint an Outrider using that gorgeous model for their own armies, and send images in to create an entire gallery of the mysterious, nigh-mythical do-gooder (a Fantasy Battle Outrider gallery would be equally cool).

As to what you are likely to find in Despatches that might so motivate you—obviously, an interest in (or at least familiarity with) the games and/or the universes of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 will place you and I on common starting ground. Despatches will cover all aspects of the hobby, from formal product reviews to 'states of the game' observations to recommendations about other media based on the WHFB and 40K universes (including comics, novels and the roleplaying games Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Dark Heresy). But Despatches has taken a bit of time coming together because I felt strongly that it needed to be distinct from Adeptus North Texas...and part of that was because I intend to write also on topics peripheral to the hobby, at best. Those may include film reviews, especially if there's a GW slant there somewhere; reviews of competing product; original hobby content like the Outrider rules, developed for local community consumption but with potential wider application. Background fiction plays a big role in 'advancing the story' in local campaigns; some particularly choice bits of it—whether written by me or by local hobbyists, might fit here, on occasion. And I can virtually guarantee the Despatches won't be very far advanced before some anniversary of historical significance rolls around, and I feel compelled to go on about it. My intention is to stay generally on point—but I think any hobby which first describes itself as 'miniatures wargaming' has an inherent connection to war...and war, as they say, is history.

So there will be 'plastic and pewter model pushing' Despatches...and there will be Despatches about the Berlin Air Lift, Britain after the retreat of Rome, and (inevitably; you have been warned) the Alamo. It will fall entirely to you, subjectively, personally and individually, whether you care enough to want to read them. Any of them, some of them, all of them.

I promise I will care about every one of them I write.

Christopher Allen,
The Outrider
June 2008