Thursday, 21 September 2017

Happy Birthday Bilbo!

Bilbo Baggins is eighty years old!* Or rather, the book The Hobbit was first published on September 21, 1937. You could argue that this is day zero for all the fantasy stuff we read, we watch on TV and the cinema, we play games over. Without The Hobbit there would have been no Lord of the Rings, which is widely regarded as the grandfather of the fantasy genre, from Dungeons and Dragons to Warhammer Fantasy gaming.

Legend has it that Tolkien, an Oxford professor, was marking exam papers and was so bored that he doodled in the margin, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit", the first line of the book, thus beginning his epic tale.

*As any self-respecting Tolknerd (that should be a word) will tell you, Bilbo's birthday is actually tomorrow, September 22nd. As is Frodo's for that matter. 

I am a self-confessed Tolkien nerd. And to prove it, here's a photo of my nerdy bookshelf. There is a lot of Tolkien material there, either written by him, about him, or art based on his works. Look closely and you will see that I have five versions of The Hobbit, from a pop-up book designed for young readers, to an annotated version for the full-on geek.


The pop-up book was recently rescued from a trip up into the loft (attic), I presume it was bought for my two young boys years ago - I really cannot remember! It's very sweet and the illustrations are actually very well done. 


Another unusual format is this graphic novel - a step up from the pop-up but still plenty of pictures for the word shy readers. Again, there are some lovely art spreads in this version.




Moving on to the more typical versions, I have an illustrated version and a facsimile of the classic standard version, with a few illustrations by Tolkien himself, which I find to be very charming.


And finally there's the wordiest, nerdiest version - The Annotated Hobbit. This book describes in detail possible sources of inspiration that Tolkien used, from experiences in the trenches of World War 1 to landmarks of his home environments, and plenty of references to academic and mythical influences. If you are the kind of person that would be fascinated to learn that nearly all the dwarf names come from the old Norse poem "Voluspa", that Rivendell was probably inspired by a walking holiday in Switzerland, or the origin of the name Baggins, then this is the book for you. 


So let's raise a glass to the old boy, without whom none of us would be here now, blogging or gaming or watching the movies. Cheers!


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Lord of Bleak Fell

Shunned by man, haunted by fell wolves and restless spirits, Bleak Fell lies deep in the jagged mountain range known as Helsridge. At one time in the distant past, it was the burial place of kings, a place where the dead were honoured. Interred in palatial tombs, those people are now long gone, a lost and forgotten civilisation, whispered of only in ghost stories. And yet, a few still seek this place. Most perish, for the road is long and hard, the old paths are gone, and many terrors lie in wait. For any mortal foolish enough to seek out the rumoured treasures, there can only be pain, failure and death. 

Kulgin Bachensteiner long gave up his mortality. His foul necromantic rituals and unspeakable acts have extended his life far beyond the span of any mortal. He has studied old maps and lore for decades, to seek out the Lord of Bleak Fell, to enact the magic rituals to restore his corpse, to learn from him the deep, dark knowledge. And so he braved the dark forest path, hidden from the wolves and beasts by his magic. He ascended the long, icy road to the summit, the freezing winds and snow no hindrance to his cold, unbeating heart. He found the hidden entrance and descended into the dusty crypt, with no fear of the spirits haunting those old passageways. Finally, he unlocked the mystery of the tomb, chanted the forbidden verses, and saw the Lord of Bleak Fell rise once more, to do his bidding.......

Or something like that. This is an old metal figure from the 1990s, a wight. Back in those days, the Undead army book contained wights as a unit and a small number were released. At the time I thought they were really cool. Now I look back and think that the Undead were possibly the goofiest army ever released!

Still, when I was looking around for a figure to lead my new Undead force, I chose this old wight for nostalgic reasons. The Undead were my first fully painted army, the first army I took to a tournament. Though I never actually owned any of the wights at the time, I did pick up a few on ebay in later years, again mainly for nostalgic reasons. And finally one of them is painted. The only concession to the modern era is the plastic skeleton shield.

In truth, as an Undead lord, it's not a particularly special figure. The plastic army of the dead figures would have probably been better candidates. But I wanted to pay homage to the old times, so here we are, the Lord of Bleak Fell rises once more......

Skyrim fans will recognise the setting I have stolen from been inspired by - the Bleak Falls Barrow. I live on the edge of the Lake District in the north of England, and here our mountains are called fells. It didn't take much work to arrive at Bleak Fell as a location for my Undead Lord.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

X.III - Daemons

In this, the third of my celebratory posts, I am looking back at the year 2010. I painted lots of fantasy in that time, and played it almost exclusively, so there's a good selection of potential candidates. I added a few units to my orcs and goblins army - black orcs and green squigs stand out - and made more progress on the wood elf army. I also built but two pretty big conversions - a treeman and a shaggoth, which get honourable mentions. I reckon that already qualifies as a good vintage, but my biggest achievement for the year was putting together a small contingent of daemons.



I started by building and painting a unit of daemonettes. My aim at the time was to try something a little different, and a pink/purple palette was definitely that. These days I tend to paint in small batches of eight or twelve, but I obviously had more stamina in my youth - eighteen daemonettes.



After that I rewarded myself with a character model, a herald built from an old Warzone figure, with a whole host of (cute?) little attendants.



Then I finished off the project with a unit of pink horrors, the classic metal figures from that time and still my favourite renditions of the model.


Though the daemons started as an add-on for my chaos warriors, I did have grand plans to develop them into a full army. I have metal plaguebearers painted up and bloodletters half-painted, plus more daemonettes, screamers and various other figures. However, as with so many grand plans, nothing came of it.

One figure I did add a few years later was a Daemon Prince, converted from an old Azazel model. I left off the wings and replaced the head with that of an old school metal Fiend of Slaanesh, the tail I forget the source. I had this model half-painted for a good few years, but thought it would be nice to finally complete it as part of my celebrations.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

X.II - Chaos Marauders

The second of my celebrations of ten years of blogging. 2009 was a return to a more typical year for me. I returned to my wargaming heritage - painted and played mostly fantasy. I made a solid start on a chaos warband, painting marauders, spawn, hounds, warriors and a few characters. Then I had a crazy idea to develop an elf army that could be used as either High Elves or Wood Elves. From all those models I have chosen this unit of chaos marauders as my pick of the year.



This was the first time I had tried something new in painting terms. Previously, I had stuck to the prescribed method of base coat, shade, then highlights, but I felt that this was only really suitable for darker coloured models. With all the light flesh to paint, I tried a white primer, then used glazes to add the colours, in just one or two easy steps. It proved to be very quick and very effective and I started to use this method on more of my painting. So this unit marks that significant change in the way I paint. It saves time and looks better (in my eyes) to the old layering method.

This unit was also the first of a chaos army that was to feature heavily in coming years. Chaos had always appealed to me for so many reasons. There was huge variety, there were so many units to choose from. The background pantheon allowed for great creativity - these marauders as followers of Slaanesh would have looked different had they taken up arms for Khorne, or been blessed by Nurgle. The army could also be built up quite quickly as many units (though not marauders) were low count - chaos warriors, ogres, knights, trolls and the like. This unit was the start of a big, ongoing project.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Blood Rage : Bear Clan Vikings

I painted these figures as a little experiment - to see how the pvc miniatures would look after my usual speed painting techniques. These are the Blood Rage bear clan, consisting of a leader, eight warriors (in just two poses) and two mystics.

The first thing I did in preparation was clean the figures of mould lines. I used a knife blade rather than a file, the material is very soft and easy to cut, with such small details you have to be careful you do not remove too much sculpted material. Luckily, the mould lines were usually hidden away and not too visible. Next, I glued a penny into the base. This acts as a weight to keep the figure upright. If you use UK currency it's also magnetic, which can be useful if ever you want to rack them up on movement trays. After a soapy wash and drying, I spray primed them white, then washed with a brown to provide a rough guide to the details.

Most of the painting was very basic - thin coats, washes and drybrushing. I did zero highlighting. Even the bases are very basic paint washes slapped on. I think the end result is fine - nothing amazing, but decent enough for the basic techniques used. On the whole, I would say the pvc takes the paint in a similar way to all my other figures, mostly like painting resin - any bare patches that are missed by primer can be a little resistant to paint adhesion. There are tons of detail, but none is as sharp as any other material. For some reason I cannot explain, I do not particularly enjoy painting the pvc figures, there's something about the softness that I find saps my usual enthusiasm with the brushes. The end result is fine, but the road to get there is a chore. Still, it's a few less minis in an unpainted state, which has to be a good thing.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

X.I - Orks

I thought the easiest way to celebrate my ten years of blogging was to pick something from each of the years, starting back in 2008. This first year I actually started the blog in June, so there's less to choose from, but I still managed to find three contenders.



I painted a Norse team for Blood Bowl and a few regiments for my Warhammer Orcs and Goblins army, but my pick of the (half) year would be these ork shootas. They were the start of a new foray into this ruleset. I never quite got to grips with the 40K gameplay, I found it far more fiddly than the fantasy rules. In recent times I have enjoyed playing the orks using one-page-40K, but sadly these boyz have been in storage for the best part of the decade.

As a celebration, a ten year old snap is a little lacklustre, so I have dug out the boyz and persuaded them to pose for a few more photos. The whole force was painted in fits and starts over a couple of years, with many units left abandoned as grey plastic or still in the boxes. Shame really, as there are some really nice models here.



First up, the original mob of shootas, with a nob (boss) and the warlord in the background, persuading the boyz to get stuck in. The yellow was chosen as something I would not usually paint, and also as a less frequently seen ork clan the Bad Moons. According to the fluff, this meant more shootas than usual, hence this first unit.



The Bad Moons are the richest ork clan and thus have plenty of equipment. So I gave these ard boyz some serious amounts of armour. If memory serves, these are all converted from various plastic and metal bits, some fantasy parts in there too. They have a truck that is 90% painted, just waiting for the final touches.


Finally, my favourite unit of the force, both in gaming and painting terms. The warboss is a lovely model, seeing this figure was one of the main reasons I started collecting orks in the first place. And I just love the squigs, which I painted in a funky blue to contrast with the yellow. 

There's far more sat in storage waiting to be loved again - nobz, deffkoptas, burna boyz, grots, lots of standard boyz, a few meks, kans.........maybe in the next ten years they will get finished.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

X !

I was flicking through some of the older posts in the blog, looking for something from days gone by, when I suddenly realised that I have been writing this nonsense for ten years! A little bit more in fact, as I started blogging in June 2008. A little celebration is surely in order, so help yourself to a slice of cake.

I will be marking the occasion by trawling back and showcasing some of my hobby highlights from the last decade. I will get the first of these celebrations on the blog over the weekend.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Dwarf Gunners revisited

Remember these movement trays? I picked them up from warbases some time ago. The slots are 2p sized and the little holes fit a 5mm magnet. I finally got round to adding the magnets. Super glue didn't seem to work as the fit was quite loose, so I used a little green stuff on the bottom of the tray.

I originally bought them in this 2x2 configuration because I thought most of the time I would be playing with either 4 or 8 figures to suit Saga gaming, or 12 figures to suit Dragon Rampant. Now that I know they work, I have ordered some more, but at size 3x2.

When loaded up with figures they look rather nice. I should really stick with one basing style across all my armies, then I could use one set of trays for multiple forces. However, I do like to change the bases for each project  - the dwarfs have a rocky, mountainous look for example.

The hold of the magnets on the coins is really strong. I can hold these upside down and they hold fast, even the metal figure in the centre. Though not too strong so it's impossible to remove them from the tray! So I can pop them out for skirmish games, or leave them ranked up when required.


A couple of close ups, I was pretty pleased with the way these turned out. Must get back to the dwarfs some time.....

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Eomer and Rohirrim

Spurred on by my recent quick paint job on the Mordor snaga, I had a look through the part-painted projects, hoping to find something that would be easy to complete. You probably know how this goes - you start a project, get a few models/units painted with great enthusiasm, then it tails off and you start something else. Then something else again, and again, until you have several projects in various stages of (non) completion. Eventually, there comes a time to return to that almost finished job. Today it was time for Eomer to finally ride forth!

There were three models to complete here and they were about 90% done. I just had to finish a few details, mostly Eomer's red leather armour, and then tackle the dreaded banner. Having forced myself to practise on freehand recently, the design came quite easily, though matching it on each side of the flag was a challenge. I think it turned out okay in the end. Not bad for an hour's work on a dreary Sunday afternoon.

The Rohan force now contains two units of six knights, ideal for Dragon Rampant. In Saga games they would probably be used as elite units, so three units of four. Along with two/three units of infantry, there's just about enough for gaming with these figures now. Every time I paint some of my Lord of the Rings collection I like them more and more.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Mordor Snaga

Snaga is a term used by orcs for lesser of their own kind, or slaves. They are usually smaller, less able to wield a weapon in combat and often equipped with bows. I wanted some in my Mordor force, but not the standard bow armed orc models. There's not much chance of me getting the old metal models, so I went with some Moria goblins. In Tolkien's world, orcs and goblins are all the same species, there's no real distinction, not even a size thing. So while they are officially goblins, they pass as orc snaga in my eyes.

There's twelve in the unit, so they can be used in both Dragon Rampant and Saga games. Unfortunately there's not much variety in the poses - though arguably all bowmen look the same when loosing their arrows. I didn't want to spend much time on them - I picked up these on ebay already painted and just painted over them. It's cheating I know, but they were very cheap and it saved me some time. More reinforcements for my Mordor force on the way.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Mordor Orcs

The host of Mordor

A few days ago I played a game with this force and thought it was high time I photographed them. It's something I had painted a few years back but have seldom had the opportunity to use on the field of battle. It could be used, of course, in Lord of the Rings strategy battle, or War of the Ring, or even Saga, but for the most recent game we played Dragon Rampant. Units are allocated to one of about a dozen profiles, some can be given upgrades or fantastic traits.

Morannon Orcs - offensive heavy foot

The backbone of the army was two units of Morannon orcs, which I fielded as heavy foot. These are not the best infantry in the game, but are pretty competent. Foot troops tend to be statted in a defensive way in the ruleset, so I gave these units the offensive upgrade, which makes them effective on the charge. I gave each unit a banner to further differentiate them from the common rabble - this is purely a visual thing and has no effect in the game rules. One of the units contained the force leader, Dagalur, seen on the left in the photo below.

Leader's unit

There was also a couple of units of lowly orcs, which I designated as light foot. These troops are reasonable enough, especially if they "form ranks you maggots", or form a shield wall in Dragon Rampant terminology. This makes them a static but very effective defensive unit.

Orc rabble - light foot

"Form ranks, you maggots"

The cheapest unit on the battlefield were these scouts. Useless in combat, they are quite mobile and can be very annoying if they can get themselves into terrain from which they can shower the enemy with arrows. Fun Fact - if you give them the cowardly downgrade, they become zero points!


"stick em with arrers lads"

There's nothing small or cowardly about the Mordor Troll. I fielded him as a greater warbeast with a fear upgrade, though this turned out to be quite poor in truth. For some reason I cannot fathom, greater warbeasts are absolutely rubbish at defending themselves. In future games I would probably go for heavy horse with some upgrades to make him scary and perhaps more effective in combat.

Hammer time

Finally, for some fast moving action I added a unit of warg riders, which I fielded as heavy horse. Again, not the best mounted troops in the game, but not the worst either, which seems about right to me. 

Warg riders - heavy "horse"

Dragon Rampant is a nice, fast game with easy to learn rules and ideal for a relaxed gaming session. The profiles for the most part make sense, with one or two oddities (hello greater warbeast). I reckon it wouldn't take too much effort to conjure up some traits for each race to further differentiate them on the battlefield and add a little more flavour. All in all though, it's a decent little game.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Ambush in Anorien

Anorien is a region in the north of Gondor in Middle Earth, just to the south of Rohan. This skirmish took place some time before the epic events related in the Lord of the Rings. Brothers Boromir and Faramir are still young men and were returning from patrol, having heard rumour of orc movements. After several weeks of fruitless search, they were on their way back to Gondor, when they were ambushed crossing a marshy area on the border of  Druadan Forest. A small force of orcs appeared from the trees just as the Gondorians were picking their way through the treacherous marches.

It's been a while since I played a game, so we settled on Dragon Rampant for a nice, relaxed evening of dice rolling. Matt suggested Lord of the Rings and I dusted down my Mordor force. The ambush scenario fitted the bill - the Gondor troops have to traverse down the length of the table, getting as many units off table as possible, while the orcs simply have to stop them by routing them.

The orcs came on in ragged fashion and slowly formed a defensive line between the marsh and the woods. The Gondorians moved up in a more ordered way, but it was a long way to go. On the eastern flank, Faramir rode forward on his horse, a huge troll in his path. The troll charged, Faramir spurred his horse on to meet his doom. Both combatants reeled back injured from the clash. But the odds were always in favour of Faramir and eventually he was able to cut down the mighty beast (note to self, greater warbeasts are not actually that great). In a similar clash, Gondorian knights smashed into orcs, but the orcs were unyielding (hmmm, it's not like this in the film).

On the western flank, orcs again formed ranks to block any Gondorian advance, with orc archers sneaking into the marshes and letting off an occasional volley of black fletched arrows. Howls in the distance heralded the appearance of warg riders from the woods. The Gondorians marched forward slowly, their archers taking a toll on the orcs but unable to force them back.

Knights and orc clashed on the eastern flnk many times. Eventually the Gondorians hacked down their foes, but at great cost. Faramir lay wounded and was carried away by the lone surviving knight, brother Boromir following on behind. He had spent much of the battle commanding the foot troops but then left them to their fate (always had my suspicions about his heroism).

A determined attack from the orcs resulted in the slaughter of one Gondor foot unit and slowly the survivors were cornered in the boggy ground. Picked off by arrow fire, abandoned by their leader, then charged by brutal Morannon orcs, they left only unmarked graves in the marshy ground. It was a sad day for Gondor, one long forgotten by the tale tellers.

It was a hard task for the Gondor force to break through, hampered by marsh lands and a determined defensive line. Knights can be very lethal in combat but difficult to control - they just about managed to punch through on the eastern flank. From my side of the battlefield I had an easier task - form a defensive line and then wait for the enemy to come on to infantry who are much better in defense. I felt that Boromir was far too cautious, blowing his horn to command troops but not once drawing his sword. If he had stood by his men and swung his sword, that may well have been decisive enough to force back the orcs. 

A thoroughly enjoyable evening of dice rolling, hopefully it will not be too long before we can play again. Faramir will no doubt heal his wounds and maybe Boromir will pluck up the courage to hunt down his tormentors and restore his cowardly reputation good name?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Two weeks later.....

It's two weeks since my last update and I really wanted to have this unit finished by now. However, as you can see in the photo, it's only just started. I blame too much work and home DIY projects. I did get a decent session in, painting on the robes, which I then roughly drybrushed over with some grey, then applied some inks for shading, and some matte varnish to remove the inky shine. And then just today I quickly painted the metal areas. That's it, just two painting sessions in two weeks.

I chose the cool colours of the robes as a change to my usual approach of going for a realistic, muted palette. I just wanted to try something a bit different. Recently I have been admiring different painters' work on the web and one thing that attracts me is the vibrant command of colours that many have. It's something I am working on myself in my own way. I had a stark reminder of my adherence to realism when I pulled out some Mordor orcs today, in preparation for a game over the weekend. The palette is so dull and murky, realistic perhaps but uninspiring. I will get some pictures in the game and post them over the weekend. Hopefully I will get some painting done too.....

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Necromancer

Kulgin Bachensteiner has sought answers all his long life. From the deep, dank forests of RukenWood he journeyed across the Hard Hills to StoneGrave Moor. Here it was that he discovered the long lost cairns and barrows of an ancient civilisation. Within these cold tombs he sought not the tarnished treasure and ancient gems, but dark knowledge........

It's cheesy I know, but somehow it's fitting for a model like this. It's probably some kind of unholy sacrilege to criticise these much-loved classic figures, but I have always found the undead range to have that clunky, 1980's vibe. I did toy with the idea of removing the ridiculously large skull head and sword blade, but in the end decided to go full on nostalgia and just paint it up as it stands.

Painting the necromancer was a reward to myself for completing the zombies. However, as I have no real love for the model, it was a rush job completed in a couple of sessions. It's not my best work, but it's good enough and keeps the momentum going on the Undead project.


Here's a shot of Kulgin surrounded by his mindless minions. As I had my camera set up I took the opportunity to reshoot the zombies, the butcher and the ghouls.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Barrow Guardians WIP

A little progress on the Undead force. These are the Barrow Guardians of StoneGrave Moor. They are the elite troops, the one unit that might actually cause some damage on the battlefield. Originally I had intended just eight models for two Saga points, but decided that three points gave me more options and makes sense from a Dragon Rampant viewpoint - units of elites are six strong in that system.

They are built from plastic Army of the Dead figures from the Lord of the Rings range. A few have weapons from the plastic GW skeletons, plastic shields from Gripping Beast Saxons, plus a few other bits here and there. Nothing amazing or ground-breaking, but they do fit the bill nicely.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Zombies

Two dozen zombies speed painted. These are predominantly plastic figures, mostly mantic with some GW bits. There's also some Wargames Factory historical bits from their Saxon range. The two main characters in the centre of the front row are metal figures from the now defunct Rackham Confrontation series. It's tempting to spend a little more time on these two "leaders" but I am trying to whizz through these figures so will call them done for now.

My aim is to use these figures in several systems. In Fantastic Saga they are Undead levy troops, so two units of twelve - theoretically they could be split into smaller units but I would probably field them big as they are very poor and need the numbers. They would also be similarly used in Dragon Rampant. They could also be ranked up on magnetic movement trays to play mass battle games.

After just over a month I am pretty pleased to have painted up four points of my Undead Saga force - these two points of levy and the previously painted butcher and ghouls. I am continuing with the fleshy elements - some fliers and a necromancer are in my sights. Then I will move on to the bony bits - I have already started the rather tedious task of building a legion of skeletons. Onwards we shuffle!

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Butcher

The Butcher of StoneGrave Moor. You probably recognise this as an ogre kingdoms butcher, at least that was it's title when I bought it years ago. I swapped the head for a plastic one, think it came from the leadbelchers set. I also added a little greenstuff here and there to hide joins. Then it sat in the cabinet for years - I originally had intended using three as Nurgle ogres but never got round to the other two. Now that I am painting an Undead force, I thought it was the ideal model to lead a pack of ghouls. Yes, I may well have played Castlevania at some time in the past.

I am currently working on twenty-four zombies for the force, a task that is testing my resolve to the limit. Any excuse (like writing a blog post) to not pick up the brushes I am jumping at. I can happily paint commission regiments of twice this size, but am very impatient with my own figures at the moment.


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