Graham McNeill - Empire

Welcome to history! For the first time ever, an Army Book writer was brought into a live mIRC chat to discuss inspiration and themes with the general Warhammer community, with questions being taken throughout the course of the chat to be put to Graham. If you missed the interview, then here it is in all of its nitty gritty detail. Enjoy!

Helstrom: Well, first of all, thanks for being here tonight. This is a Warhammer first as far as I know, so we're kind of writing history!

Graham: Good to be here. Looking forward to getting started. Got me a coffee and a comfy chair, so let's do this.

Helstrom: So, Graham - before we go into any specifics, is there anything in general you'd like to say about the new Empire book? Such as, what are the bits you're most pleased with, or what ended up on the cutting room floor?

Graham: First off, I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. As swan songs go, this was a nice one to end on. I think we nailed the background in tone and content and the army list turned out well, with the right blend of fantastical stuff as well as solid Warhammer units. To be honest there wasn’t really anything that ended up on the cutting room floor. In fact we got more in than we planned from the start!

Helstrom: Could you tell us what the general design aims were?

Graham: Sure. The aim was definitely NOT to reinvent the wheel. The Empire was a fundamentally solid army and we didn’t feel that much of the mechanics of it needed changing. The main aim was to bring it back to ‘fantasy’, as when you laid out an Empire army it looked much like a real renaissance German army did. In fact, the real armies were far crazier than the Warhammer one, and that wasn’t right. As such, we went to reinforce the Warhammer-ness of the Empire, while updating the army list with tweaks and so on.

Queek: There were several units that were not taken very often by Empire generals in 6th edition. What, if anything, was done to make halberdiers and engineers more attractive choices?

Graham: Halberdiers were a unit that went up and down in points more often than I care to remember and when compared with other units we didn’t feel we could change too much about them. Though I think having them at 5pts a guy isn’t bad…

Queek: True.

Graham: As for engineers, well, I didn’t like them as Van Horstman’s Speculum carriers, so took away their shiny magic items and made them concentrate more on their guns. I know some folk will miss that, but Engineers aren’t about magic, they’re about guns and weird, fiddly bits of technology. And guns, big guns.

Queek: And their pigeons?

Graham: Well, that was one we had to put in after I saw Karl Kopinski’s drawing!

Queek: Thank you.

Voodoomaster: Why were there no new magic items in the new army book?

Graham: The Empire is a land of men. They fight with the strength of their sword arms, not fancy magic toys. I wanted the emphasis of the Empire to be the men who make up its armies, not some uber-character with a souped-up sword and a magic hat.

Angron: Many people groaned seeing the new Helblaster rule (roll to hit). It's mainly considered an unreliable piece, and therefore useless. Is it a design choice to introduce "roll to hit" for any missile weapon?

Graham: One of the principles Alessio was (rightly) hammering home is the drive to cut down the number of special rules attached to units. Making things work within the core mechanics of the game is a GOOD thing. Hence why the Helblaster was changed. Plus it made sense. After all, how come it was as good at shooting skirmishers as it was tightly packed units…? Yes, maybe it’s not as effective as it was, but, let’s be honest… it was a bit too powerful, eh?

Helstrom: Not mine, that one always blew up!

Graham: Mine too!

Queek: Ever see the 4th edition version in action?

TheeForsakenOne: I usually shot it with skinks...

Graham: But when they worked... man!

Helstrom: True.

Queek: Graham, this one is from Grutch, who owns the Warhammer-Empire site. Did you do any research on the various online forums prior or during the development process? In order to see what Empire players thought about the army, and what they hoped to see in the new book?

Graham: Not a lot, no. I browse a few forums, but I’ve a pretty good idea what Empire players want in their army (being one myself). Internet forums are tricky beasts… they can give you info straight from the horses mouth… but they can also filter out the reasonable ideas amongst the ones who can shout the loudest or the guy who just had every one of his cannons blow up. Like everything else, they’re subjective.

Queek: Certainly can be!

Graham: I browse to catch trends rather than specific ideas. Most of what I wanted to do came out of many years of playing the Empire myself.

Helstrom: As a somewhat related question - how is play-testing done these days, and by whom?

Graham: Well, these days I don’t know, I left GW in June, but when I was there, we would meet on a Monday morning, decide what projects were most in need of play-testing and then sort out amongst the Games Dev team who would play and test what.

Helstrom: No external playtesters then?

Graham: We also used to have an external playtester list for each system, but whether that’s still going I don’t know.

Helstrom: Ah, okay. Thanks!

Angron: Since Empire tech has moved on well into the gunpowder age, why hasn't the full plate been dropped parallel to developments in our world?

Graham: Well, gunpowder is still (relatively) new and unreliable in the Empire and, like our world, it took a while before the nobles realized that their armour was pretty much obsolete.

Voodoomaster: Another question relating to this topic - how do you see the Empire in level of Technology compared with other races?

Graham: In some ways very advanced, in others quite backwards. This is a culture that, in the cities embraces science, reason and the arts, but in the wilderness has roving bands of self-mutilating flagellants roaming around…

Voodoomaster: Another Engineer question here. With the new Engineers concentrating on what they do best, is this a wish to see more themed armies featuring war machines?

Graham: I hope so. After all, this is Engineers doing what the background says they do. I didn’t want them simply as ‘upgrades’ as that diminishes the uniqueness of each mad engineer and reduces him to the level of a gunner.

Angron: A question from Trick_44: what was the intention with the MechHorse? Since the Engineer isn't a combat character it seems like an abstract addition, also what were the thoughts behind coming up with something as bizarre as a clockwork horse?

Graham: It was something that turned up in Dave Gallagher’s concept sketches (if I remember rightly) and was too cool an idea not to run with. After all, it reinforced the ‘mad engineer’ aspect and you can imagine it’s the Empire’s attempt at inventing the car!

Voodoomaster: What unit was the hardest to revise in the new book? Why?

Graham: The hardest to revise? Easy…the Steam Tank. Getting its rules to the level where they were still fun to use, but could fit on two pages (along with its background…). That was a real challenge, but I think it worked out pretty well.

Helstrom: Okay, here's something a little different so you can catch your breath - in the Ambassador novels, has Kaspar died?

Graham: Ha! Well, not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the Ambassador books… But, yeah, I killed him at the end – even though you don’t actually see it. But he’s as dead as Tycho.

Queek: Another halberdier question for you. Was any consideration given to adjusting more than point values?

Graham: Ok...go for it.

Queek: It’s a bit of a bummer not actually *using* the weapon even when the unit is on the field.

Graham: Yeah, I added some new rules to the detachment rules to make State Troops behave more like the disciplined troops they are, but in the end it was just too fiddly and made for more questions, which is when it’s time to kiss a rule goodbye… Not 'using' the weapon?

Queek: More often than not, its more advantageous to just use hand weapon and shield. So in combat, the halberdiers are often just second-rate swordsmen

Graham: Hmmm... maybe, but I'd take S4 any day. The one thing the Empire isn't short off is bodies. I play like an aristo!

Queek: It’s not just an Empire problem, my Storm Vermin suffer the same problem.

Graham: Then maybe it’s an issue with the halberd rules rather than the Empire.

Voodoomaster: Shall we move on?

Graham: Sure, let's go!

Voodoomaster: There was a rumour of Pikes in the New Empire book; did anything come of that in the development of the new book?

Graham: Sure, let's go! No, pikes were never in the frame for Empire. It’s a Tilean thing, not an Empire one. It was always Halberds, Spears and Swords for the close combat troops, as that was what could be made to work on the plastic frame.

Angron: Why did you bring the Outriders back?

Graham: When redoing an army book, you want a few new exciting things to release alongside it, such as Outriders. Plus we felt that people who had the models in the first place should actually be able to use them! Mad, huh?

Helstrom: I can say that that pleased a few of us old grognards.

Graham: Grognards... there's a term I've not heard in a while.

Voodoomaster: Indeed, I haven't seen that in a long time.

Helstrom: How about the Cult of Ulric - are there any signs of bringing them back into the new Empire fold, and also, why were cavalry hammers dropped from the White Wolves?

Graham: The Cult of Ulric weren’t in the book, as the Empire is primarily a Sigmarite nation and we felt that this would simply dilute the character of the Empire. The cavalry hammer was changed as we felt it wasn’t distinct enough to warrant the rules it had. And only one unit used it!

Voodoomaster: Would you consider yourself a competitive player Graham? By attending tournaments and such…

Graham: Not at all. I like to win, but I play for the fun and kinda roleplay it a bit. I've been to a couple of tournaments, but I enjoy playing my mates. Campaigns...that's where it's at for me.

Queek: Fair enough. As a follow up - what do you see as the Empire's strengths and weaknesses? And do you think that they can compete at the tournament level?

Graham: Its strengths: lots of cheap troops, lots of missile weapons and strong artillery, hard-hitting cavalry and its diversity. It a true combined arms force. Its weaknesses: its troops aren’t exactly Rambo. They’re just men. And in a world of Orcs, Chosen Chaos Warriors, Ogres, etc…that can be telling. Can it compete at tournament level? Absolutely.

Queek: What would you consider your favorite character set up at 2000? The Arch Lector seems to be appearing in many of the online lists.

Graham: I was always fairly traditional with this. A Lord with Meteoric Armour and a hitty sword, a Captain with the Battle Standard, A Warrior Priest with the Rod of Command and either an Engineer or Wizard (depending on who I was playing).

Helstrom: How come that Greatswords are no longer allowed a magic banner, and why are Huntsmen a 10+ unit?

Graham: Greatswords had their 0-1 restriction lifted and we felt that being able to take a magic rag on a stick as well would mean we’d see every banner in the Empire arsenal being brought out… as to the Huntsmen, well, it made things a lot easier in terms of rules just to keep them as upgraded Archers.

Helstrom: As a follow up - 10+ greatly comlicates actually using them as scouts - is that intentional and, if so, something we'll see in future books as well?

Graham: I suppose it does make them trickier to use, but I guess that’ll be a new challenge for generals. As to whether it’s something you’ll see more of…I can’t say, as I’m not part of the team that develops the rules now.

TheeForsakenOne: As a follow up to your reasons behind Greatswords losing their banner option. Why couldn't you have used something similar to the First Among Equals rule from the High Elf book so one could take a banner?

Graham: I like to keep rules distinct from one race to the next (where possible), but it felt appropriate that if you want a magic banner for the Greatswords…the Count’s bodyguard…then it should carried by a Hero.

TheeForsakenOne: Fair enough.

Angron: If the focus of engineers is on guns and not magic items, which I agree, was their discussion on raising his BS to 5?

Graham: Remember Engineers invent the kit for others to use (most of the time) and they’re inventors, not hardened fighters. Also, the heady heights of BS5 is for the likes of the General of the Empire and the Emperor…can you imagine every Engineer being as good a shot as them?

Voodoomaster: What was the inspiration behind the Helstorm Missile battery? And was its name related to a certain Administrator on a site, which shall remain nameless?

Graham: The inspiration behind the Helstorm was dictated to a degree by what could be made to work on the same frame as the Helblaster. We had lots of ideas, but none that felt viable enough to work on every battlefield or that didn’t feel too similar to another army’s weapon. Its name came about because I wanted a similarly themed name and it seemed to convey the character of the weapon!

Queek: Graham, a question regarding the costing of a certain magic item… what was the design process behind the Banner of the Daemonslayer? 50 points is the usual rate for a "unit causes fear" banner, and even considering the Empire issues with Fear causers, 50 points for a "charge turn only" ability seems to be a hefty premium.

Graham: It is, yes, but I think units of cavalry that cause fear are a nightmare and didn’t want Empire knightly orders taking this banner as a ‘must-have’ piece of kit. The Empire is all about men on foot in my book.

Queek: Fair enough.

Angron: What was your aim with the Flagellants? I mean, they were rather a solid unit, but now, with T3...

Graham: The T3 thing with the flagellants was all about them looking so scrawny that they just didn’t look like a T4 unit. Also, with them coming down in price, you can have more of them. Which you’ll probably need with them martyring themselves…

Voodoomaster: What is your favorite empire miniature, Graham?

Graham: Of the new ones, I’d have to say Brian Nelson’s Empire General is fantastic. Of the older models, I love the General on Griffon.

Helstrom: OK, here's one I'm not sure you can answer

Graham: Ok...

Helstrom: The new image. This is mostly about the new models - there has been a marked reduction of some staple Empire features, like slash-and-puff clothing and "slipper" footwear. How come? One particular model that caused a bit of a stir is the new Engineer on Mechanical Steed, which has a remarkably sleek and futuristic look compared to the rest of the range - was this the way the models was envisaged when the rules for it were written?

Graham: The puffed sleeves and slashed doublets etc were a bit too ‘historical’ and were eased off on. As to the mechanical steed, well, the rules were written before the model was made, but I like the look of it and don’t think it’s particularly sleek…it looks quite clunky and piston-like…which is exactly right I think.

Angron: What are your opinions on the future of the hobby? Should the core rules stay roughly as they are and the designers focus on expansions such as siege or should they work towards refining the rules?

Graham: The future’s not mine to see… But I think Alessio’s done a great job with this edition of the rules. The core game is solid and if GW continues to focus on Army Books, while still punting out the odd ‘fun’ project – like siege supplements / City Fight etc…then they won’t go far wrong. Part of the problem before was the proliferation of supplements and extra rules that meant you had to carry a hell of a lot of stuff with you if you wanted to play a game… Now all you should need is the rulebok and your army book.

TheeForsakenOne: I miss the old cards.

Queek: Graham, when you're playing your Empire... what do you use for combat detachments, and in what formation?

Graham: I usually use halberdiers or swordsmen in blocks of ten.

Queek: Was anyone using 3x3 detachments in play-testing?

Graham: 3x3...nope.

Queek: Ok, was curious about that.

Graham: I can see why it would be attractive, but it looks damn odd...

Voodoomaster: Why are Dogs of War not a rare unit in the new book?

Graham: That’s kind of the way all armies are going. It was a decision made above my head.

Helstrom: Any idea what's going on with DoW then?

Graham: Not really. It was a subject no-one really had an answer to.

Queek: Ok, one for the fences…what Knightly Order(s) are in your army? And if not the usual orders, what paint scheme do you use?

Graham: I have White Wolves. A big unit of 10. And they're painted in the traditional red!

Queek: Yay!

Eldacar: 'Cause red goes faster.

Graham: I like the big, burly bearded warrior aspect of them. And they're clearly Scots!

Queek: And if its not Scottish...

Helstrom: Time to say "grognard" again

Voodoomaster: Agreed there.

TheeForsakenOne: Yay, Scots are clearly the best.

Graham: They're always the hardest in any historical movie (and I exclude Braveheart from that).

Voodoomaster: Have you played Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and does you like it?

Graham: I haven't, no. I don't have a pc...I'm firmly in the Mac camp. I haven't played the game, but I read the book.

Angron: “I hear that you are starting work on a High Elf novel - any chance of a Dwarf novel? I thought you loved the Dwarfs!"

Graham: I am writing a High Elf Novel, but I've no plans to do a Dwarf novel...and I detect a question that's come from Mr. Reynolds in there...

Queek: On the topic of Special Characters? We've noticed that a lot of old favorites have returned. Both in the greenskin book and the Empire book How much emphasis was placed on their development? How much emphasis was placed on their development? And was Valmir, the Elector Count of Ostland, considered for inclusion? I've always liked him as a character.

Graham: The same as any other part of the army. Given they had to play as part of a regular army, they were designed to play a certain way and achieve certain things when used. Valmir wasn’t really in with a chance of inclusion, given the amount of characters that had to be in the book as it was. Each had to exemplify the particular aspect of the Empire that they represented.

Helstrom: Something that's been asked a lot on (and caused a lot of thinking): with Inner Circle Knights now a Special choice, and the Outriders added to the list there's an awful lot of competition for special slots. What was the thought behind this?

Graham: Again, this was the drive to make Empire armies more foot based and take the emphasis away from Inner Circle knights, who are the best of the best and don’t turn up for every small skirmish.

Angron: Ok, last question! What made you take the Imperial Dragon out of its cage? Was it more than just to bring back the Fantasy aspect?

Graham: It was a discussion I had with my boss at the time, where we thought it would be cool to make more of the Imperial Zoo. And Dragons are just cool. What Empire player wouldn’t want a dragon and the chance to have a big monster in his army, like most others do? Plus Dragons are just too cool!

Angron: Y'know what? You're quite right!

Queek: And there's that new model coming out...

Graham: Indeed there is... Almost like it was planned. Almost.

Ricold: Well, that's just about it now. We (the ops) would like to thank several people. Graham notably, for being so patient with us and answering all our questions, all the members for turning up, allowing the technology to fail, and asking the questions and the other ops for working through all this. Anyone who wants to join in this sort of a chat more often should consider #Albion. It's a WV chat project, and currently accessible from (click the chat link at the top)

TheeForsakenOne: I second both those thoughts.

Queek: Also, Graham, you're invited to stop by Warhammer-Empire.

Helstrom: We pushed this for quite a bit longer than we expected, and the turnout was awesome!

Graham: Ok, guys, thanks for being gentle with me. I enjoyed this and would sign up again if the chance came up. Good questions, guys.

TheeForsakenOne: Thank you very much for putting up with our intterogation for just over two hours.

Helstrom: Cheers Graham, it's been a pleasure talking to you!

Angron: Thanks Graham, it's appreciated!

Queek: Indeed it has.

Voodoomaster: The thanks for all of them go to the members who have been giving us the questions.

Graham: Yeah, almost two and a half hours! Not a bad wee chat.

TheeForsakenOne: Aye.

Ricold: Yes, thanks. (despite the fact I've not said much here)

Voodoomaster: Agreed.

Eldacar: And I'll echo Ricold's comment. :-)

Helstrom: Ric was keeping all the nuts and bolts in place :-)

TheeForsakenOne: And it's always nice to chat to a fellow Scotsman.

Voodoomaster: Agreed with that TFO.

Graham: Ok, well, if that's everything...I'll see you in the funny pages. Or is there more yet to do... Slanj...

Helstrom: Nah, you're off the hook Graham... For now!

Eldacar: That's everything.

Voodoomaster: Indeed.

Queek: I'd say so long and thanks for all the fish, but that would be a Mordheim reference.

Graham: Right, I'll sign off now. Thanks again, this was fun. Take care.

Voodoomaster: Well I think I speak for everyone in saying thanks for this. And thank you Graham for giving up your evening to talk with us tonight.

So, that's that! The first ever Live Chat with a Games Workshop writer. Will it be the last? Well, judging by the success and popularity of this one, you can bet your rear-end it won't be.

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