Friday, October 14, 2016
Terror of the Lichemaster: Heinrich Kemler
Heinrich Kemler, the Lichemaster, is the most iconic villain from the golden age of Warhammer Fantasy Battle. He was invented by Rick Priestly for Terror of the Lichemaster (1986), a boxed scenario pack that included a campaign book, counters and 15 cardboard buildings. The three sequential scenarios in Terror of the Lichemaster were extended by a fourth scenario called The Vengeance of the Lichemaster which appeared in the Spring 1986 Citadel Journal. Finally, Priestly and Carl Sargent resurrected the Lichemaster in Return of the Lichemaster (1989) a mini-campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay that revised and reconfigured the events of Terror.
So welcome to the first of several posts unearthing a complete painted set of the miniatures from the Terror of the Lichemaster.
Kemler has been an obsession of mine for years. But I'm not the only one who found him stalking me in my dreams. From the very beginning, the Lichemaster had a grip on the imagination of the Games Workshop studio. No other Warhammer character was portrayed so often or by so many different artists. John Blanche, Tony Ackland, Gary Chalk, Ian Miller and Dave Andrews all tried their hand at illustrating Kemler.
My favourite picture is Dave Andrews' frontispiece from Terror of the Lichemaster... a simple black and white affair resembling a woodcut. This portrait of Kemler is also the one that most closely resembles the Lichemaster miniature:
Tony Ackland, whose prodigious output provides the backbone of so many Warhammer publications, created two sketches of the Lichemaster for Terror:
John Blanche painted the cover for the Spring 1986 Citadel Journal, a dreamlike depiction of Skaven, monks and undead all battling before the gates of La Maisontaal. Here's a detail of Kemler's ghostly visage:
Ian Miller's cover art for the Spring 1987 Citadel Journal shows his talents in full flower: a Giger-esque horror mixed with flaring colours and composition. This painting was also used as the cover art for the 1987 re-issue of Terror:
Gary Chalk painted the original box cover artwork for Terror of the Lichemaster. And although Kemler doesn't appear by name in Warhammer 3rd edition (1987), the Orange Book does contain this portrait of the Kemler and his lieutenant, Mikael Jacsen (p. 164):
So who is the Lichemaster? According to Terror of the Lichemaster, he was a "necromancer and man of power" who studied magic in the great cities of the Empire. However, a life of dark magic ravaged his body until his enemies (witch-hunters? rival warlocks?) saw their chance and began hounding him from city to city.
At the very end of his strength and with his pursuers closing in, Kemler washed up in the remote Frugelhorn Valley in the Black Mountains. There he discovered the burial mound of a long-dead Chaos Warrior named Lord Krell. Kemler reanimated Krell and his undead soldiers but the rite sapped what little life was left in the necromancer. At the edge of death, Krell offered Kemler a hellish pact: assist Krell in leading his skeletal horde, and in return receive the power to extend his life by killing others. The Terror of the Lichemaster then follows Kemler's attempt to slay the inhabitants of the Valley, culminating in an attack on the village of Frugelhofen.
Even Heinrich Kemler's name conjures up some fascinating associations. His first name evokes Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), the German occultist who traveled across Europe and frequently found himself accused of heresy. His name also closely resembles Heinrich Kramer, the author of the 15th century witch hunting manual, the Malleus Maleficarum. But the clearest influence on the Lichemaster is the legend of Dr. Faustus (circa 1480 - 1541), a scholar who allegedly bargained his soul to a demon for great magic powers. In other words, Kemler highlights the close connection between the Warhammer world and the German Renaissance, where secular learning opened up a new world of scholarly inquiry that would often challenge the accepted morality of the Church.
I think we also have to say something about his title, "Lichemaster". Dungeons and Dragons popularized the notion of a Lich as an evil wizard who uses powerful spells to animate his own body after death. But in doing so, Gary Gygax and co. greatly extended the meaning of the word lich, which originally meant merely a body or a corpse (hence Lichgate means the covered entryway to a churchyard and a Lich-house is a mortuary). For this reason, Lichemaster is a better term for Kemler -- his is a Master of Corpses. (It is delightfully unclear whether Kemler is himself a corpse now or merely suspended on the edge of death).
Although the Lichemaster might be an iconic Warhammer villain, his is a hell of a rare miniature (it seems that he was only available by special mail order to Games Workshop during the mid-1980's). This is one of the reasons I became obsessed with him -- I just couldn't find him! When I finally stumbled upon him on eBay a few years ago, I paid too much but never regretted my lightening fast "Buy It Now". He is a beautiful miniature (the work of Aly Morrison if I'm not mistaken). But his rarity and cost made me scared to paint him -- it took me a few years to build up the courage. Terror of the Lichemaster indeed!
Thanks for visiting! And now I've posted the next installment of this journey - the Lichemaster's Lieutenants, Ranlac the Black and Lord Krell...
(And many thanks to Zhu who helped me with the provenance to some of the pictures featured in this post.)