Tuesday, 16 September 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different

So, while this blog is supposed to be about my forays into various adventures with miniatures, I am shamelessly going to add this little post about another forthcoming project... my first book!

I submitted the manuscript for Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons From the Age of Steam months and months ago, but last week the initial advances were delivered to the office. Suffice to say I'm over the moon, and spent much of the weekend looking back through it and praying that I didn't spot any spelling errors!

Published by Osprey, and due out in November, Steampunk Soldiers is a look at a range of Steampunk (or Victorian Science Fiction, if you prefer) troop types and equipment. It's broadly in the style of a Men-at-Arms or Elite series book (but hardback and 150-something pages!), and presents illustrations alongside a caption describing the unit's kit, history etc. Below, I've included a shot (apologies for the poor lighting) of one of my favourite pieces, a Tirailleur Sénégalais from the French chapter, to give an idea of the layout and look of the content.

I co-wrote this with Joe McCullough (The Renaissance Troll), already the author of a number of books, and we tended to split the responsibility for various nations, based on personal interest and concepts. All the Great Powers are included in the book to some degree, but there is also a section looking at some of the Minor Powers that bring their own unique contributions to the table (one of my favourite pieces in the whole book, and the subject of one of the few inter-author disagreements, is a Chinese one...).

Much as I love the book (and it is a very nice book), I think the best part of the whole process was the research! I took some time off work to really break the back of the project, digging into unit histories, prototype weaponry, and watching classic movies (Zulu, The Man Who Would Be King etc.) for inspiration. Good times.

The book is available to pre-order on Amazon already (.co.uk here and .com here) for anyone wanting to explore the arms and armour of an alternate bygone age.

Friday, 29 August 2014

A Little Bit of Frostgrave

I'm always hard at work. Allegedly. So this afternoon's 'work' saw me and the author, Joe, playing a game of Frostgrave, Osprey's forthcoming (2015) fantasy skirmish game.

I'm biased, clearly, but even so it's a cracking game. Initiative each turn is determined by a die roll, but activation alternates within each turn: the Wizard with initiative (and up to 3 henchmen within 3") acts first, then the opposing Wizard (and, again, up to 3 henchmen), next, the Apprentices (and up to 3 henchmen) in order of initiative, and finally any henchmen not already used. This keeps play fast and furious, and no-one goes for long without having the chance to do something. Each activation is move (or reload for crossbows) and another action (shoot, attack, move again, cast a spell etc.).

So, here are a few pics from our first game. I was using my vaguely Mongol-themed gang, and going up against Joe's splendidly named 'Mareek of the Monkey God'.

We're playing on the delightfully ergonomic spare desk in the Osprey Games office (affectionately known by a number of names: 'Isengard', 'The Games Dungeon' etc.), using the pre-painted Gothic terrain from Gale Force 9. On an aside, I can't rate this stuff high enough - it looks great, and is solid as anything.

The scenario was pretty basic, but indicative of the kind of games that Frostgrave offers - not only were there 6 treasure tokens scattered around the board (green plastic meeples as my dedicated tokens are still awaiting paint), and a central well from which a Wizard can drink to get a boost to his abilities in a campaign (which would be great fun to play through - the game and its myriad options are very pro-campaign). Guarding the well were 4 zombies which activate after all the players' gangs and either dash straight for an enemy within 10" and LOS or move randomly according to a scatter die roll.

As you'd expect, both gangs rushed toward the treasure, with my Wizard picking off the zombie guards and reaching the well with 3 treasure tokens slowing down the less important members of my gang. Joe's more elite, but fewer in number, troops advanced more cautiously, and ran into my waiting forces, looking to do some damage, then clean up what treasure remained.

On the right flank, our Apprentices butted heads, with a raised zombie under my control tying up Joe's advancing troops quite effectively until reinforcements could arrive, but at the cost of my Apprentice being poisoned by a spell and reduced to 1 action per turn!

Around the well the rest of the gangs clashed, with some dramatic moments, climaxing with one of my crossbowmen leaping over the well, landing, and picking off Joe's Wizard with a critical hit (straight 20... double damage!).

With his Wizard, a man-at-arms, and a thug knocked out of the game, Joe eventually decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and withdrew, leaving my gang in control of 5 treasure pieces (at the death, one of his thugs grabbed an isolated token) and with a Wizard MVP who had taken out 2 zombies and drunk from the well. Clearly, a clever author letting his editor win!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

All Aboard!

It's been two months since my last blog post, and in that time Summer, work and general distraction has kept me away from doing pretty much any painting. My orcs aren't basecoated, let alone fully built, and the Corsairs of Umbar still haven't made an appearance.

Still, this week, with a few days' holiday taken just 'cos, I revisited a project that had been on the back burner for a while – The Usurper, pride of the Umbar fleet.

Over a couple of days, I got the thing from basecoat to finished (feeling appropriately guilty for leaving it so long). Like all my painting, it's a really simple affair – dark brown all over, with the deck drybrushed in khaki and details picked out, and then a wash all over. A bit basic, but it does the job, and suits the feel of a hard-used pirate vessel. The poop deck rails did get a bit of colour – red – in order to visually tie in with my Umbar forces and just to give it a bit of a lift.

All told, not displeased at all, and a pretty successful first real modelling project. The sail came out a little more dark than I expected, but not enough that I want to go back and repaint it!

The 'planking' on the base Playmobil ship's hull is far too wide to really suit, and I thought that it would really annoy me once the ship was painted. Happily, however, it turns out that it looks alright (the minimal highlights actually work in its favour there).

Hands down my favourite element, though, is the scratch-built ladder. Given how vague I am with scaling for most of the vessel (the hold door being a prime example), I'm a little surprised I bothered to build it, but I do really enjoy the end result. The ship's wheel looks good, but I do wish that I'd stuck to my guns and built a rail around it – right now it looks very exposed, and I think that drawing some more attention to the quarterdeck wouldn't have been a bad idea.

Still, I could fuss over it ad nauseum, so will leave it as is for now. Pirates, be they historical or Tolkienesque now have a ship of their own. Of course, what they don't have is a home port, but that's a project for another day...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Sauron's Blue-Eyed Boy

After a bit of a lull, I'm back in the Umbar frame of mind, and polished off the crew's troll over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Inevitably, he's waiting for a coat of varnish, and will continue to do so until it stops raining, but apart from that, he's pretty much done.

Maugor ('tough warrior' in the Black Speech – thanks to those who suggested alternatives, but this one was used as a placeholder for so long that it stuck!) is intended to represent one of Tolkien's mysterious denizens of Far Harad:

"...and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues."

Now, as Maugor comes in far too tall to really represent a half-troll or a man who resembles one, I'm using him as a full troll.

As mentioned in a previous blog, in Lion Rampant Maugor is going to count as a full unit of Fierce Foot on his own. This makes him a suitably fearsome and somewhat tricky-to-control element, and one that should compliment nicely the (slightly) more reliable Umbar Marines and Corsairs.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Love/Hate Relationship

I'm sure the work of Jeff Vader must be familiar to many already, but it's always worth a look:

Were it not for the fact that Jeff is a great guy and a talented artist, I'd hate him. His kitbashing is incredible, and I'm not even going to compare our painting standards.

That said, Jeff's Inquisitor conversions led me to attempt not only my own Inquisitorial force, but also to dabble with 'true-scale' power armour. This gets back to the GW fluff that says Marines are huge compared to a normal man, and away from the models where everyone of the same rank is the same height!

This motley crew are my inquisitorial gang. All of them are converted from GW plastics, and were built over the course of a few months with bits and bobs as inspiration struck. They are most definitely not built with any system in mind!

Left to Right: the Inquisitor, the Scout, the Paladin, the Runt, the Abbot, the Gladiator, and the Gunner.

The Inquisitor, is the true-scale one, and is built using GW Terminator and regular Marine parts. The amount of green-stuffing alone made this the most time-intensive and difficult conversion, while the Runt is simply a Warhammer Ghoul head on a 40K Grot body. The fit was so perfect no other work was needed. I think my favourite, however, is the Gunner (better seen in the close-up, left). Again, a simple piece: a Marine Scout with Heavy Bolter, a Catachan command head and an Ork 'shoota' barrel replacing the original. A simple, but effective heavy stubber. 

My other Inquisitorial gang is the complete opposite of this one. With one exception (the Deacon), all these are stock GW models, though the Missionary did receive a bit of a re-sculpt in the form of a green-stuff hood and back to cover up the socket and flat area where his backpack would have gone.

The Guards are simply Cadian infantry (from the snap-fit box, rather than the proper kit), and the Zealots are Necromunda Cawdors. The Missionary is just that: a Sisters of Battle (or whatever they're called now) Missionary (or whatever they're called now). I love the Cawdor models, especially these two shotgunners, and I'm glad that I finally have a use for them! It's worth noting that all the lasgun barrels have been sawn off into more compact, carbine-style pieces. A minor change, but I much prefer the sleek look it gives the weapon.

The Deacon uses Marine Scout, Empire General, Dark Angel and Cadian Command bits. This is by far one of my favourite GW heads, and currently I'm looking for another to use in another D&D Duergar conversion (so if any kind reader has one going spare...). Eyepatch, grizzled beard, bald. The epitome of a veteran soldier.

Similarly, the Missionary is one of the most characterful models GW has ever done. The eyepatch, bionic arm, reliquary and plasma gun really tells the character's story as a long-serving, dedicated servant of the Ecclesiarchy.

As you will have noticed, I like eyepatches.

Monday, 21 April 2014

An excercise in compromise

When I first made the Usurper, I decided that it would have some firepower in the form of a bolt-thrower or ballista or something. I duly snaffled a couple of Roman scorpions from Warlord Games... and then broke a key part of one of them.

So, with a solitary scorpion and a set of rules that requires 6 figures per unit, I was a little stumped. My initial plan had been to represent the scorpions as a unit of Crossbowmen – two machines and four crew, making a small battery. Due to my clumsiness, that was no longer an option. Happily, the Gripping Beast Arabs provided me with plenty of good crew figures, but I didn't really want 5 crew for a single war machine!

I was looking over the scorpion sprue when a realisation struck – the number of figures in a unit are merely a representation of that unit's combat functionality, so all I needed to represent would be elements crucial to the operation of the device. Off the sprue came two quivers of spare ammo, and all of a sudden I had a semi-vignette that would serve as a plausible unit.

The shields were a late addition as the crew looked a little bare without them, and Pavises are an optional upgrade for a unit of Crossbowmen, so I thought it made sense to model them right off the bat in case I want to use them in a later game.

Painting has just started, but I'm pretty chuffed, and the unit will look great once I get everything in a movement tray.

Umbar goes to war

...well, some of them anyway.The Umbar crew is up and running, with the unit of Marines and Bûltungin the Mûmakani (the latter still, alas missing his Savannah Warg companions) all painted and awaiting a spot of clear weather to be varnished.

Despite having converted Bûltungin before The Renaissance Troll did his, I was beaten to the punch on painting (not surprising, really). Happily, I went with a more Masai-influenced palette, and kept the warpaint/scarring to a minimum, so there's going to be a pretty complimentary couple of Mûmakani/Mahud running about the place. He was painted using exactly the same painting style as I employ for all my models, albeit with a darker base skin tone – all I changed was which Army Painter tone I used: "Soft" is my default on for most models, for this one I switched up to "Strong". I'm very happy with the results.

I didn't enjoy painting these Marines, so I'm glad they're done. The Mongol shields I used look great, but are a nightmare to paint. I'm not a fan of painting then gluing, so these were affixed to the models pre-paint. Normally not a problem, but these shields are so concave that they took almost as long as the rest of the figures! Still, quite happy with the end result, and they've set the the colour scheme for the force as a whole.

The Marines are still a little squat for my liking and, depending on how they fit when all the other corsairs are done, they may get updated. In retrospect, I'd rather have them with pikes anyway, as that fits both the role I have in mind for them and the explanation for arming Maugor the troll-thing as I did.

Still, no doubt they'll get a run-out for a few games at least. Perhaps if they perform admirably I'll let them stay!

Oh Captain, My Captain

The only thing I pre-ordered for Salute was Gripping Beast's wonderful plastic Arabs. While I would have been content to simply use them as-is for my Umbar corsairs, I had high hopes that they would be compatible with my Fireforge plastics (another box bought at Salute, by the by) and, rightly so, they're a perfect fit! A couple of the Fireforge arms don't work with the Arab bodies intended to be used as archers, but nothing I can't work around.

Sunday morning, then, I put together these chaps as the basis of a Corsair unit for my Lion Rampant crew. They're a mix of Gripping Beast and Fireforge, mainly for test purposes, but as nothing went majorly wrong (the guy in the top left is nearly headbutting his spear shaft, but the high shield gives him the appearance of sheltering from arrows...) I think I'll stick with them.

In Lion Rampant terms, these are going to be Foot Yeomen. Pretty uninspiring infantry, but with a variety of options that make then suitable for a rag-tag pirate crew. As I'm planning on putting together a unit of archers further down the line, one option is to give them 'Mixed Weapons' that allow a combination of ranged and melee combat, albeit at the expense of melee toughness.

Of course, eagle-eyed readers will note that there are only 5 corsairs here, while all my previous ramblings have gone on about 6-figure units. Well, there's a very good reason for that, and he is...

Erentur, Captain of the Usurper
"He's a ruthless bastard, and there's nothing he likes best than pursuing his old grudge against Gondor. Still, for all his recklessness and rage, he's got a gift for picking out the prime targets, so if you can keep on what little good side he has, there's wealth aplenty for you."

Erentur ("Iron Ruler" in Quenya), is my second attempt at a captain model. I discarded the first as being too fantastical, and not in keeping with the more "historical" Middle Earth I envisage. This guy is a pretty standard Bretonnian build, with arms, body and head all coming from the Men-at-Arms kit. The cloak is Fireforge Templar, and the shield is Gripping Beast Arab. I'm avoiding armour as much as possible (except for my Marines) as it has no place being worn by fast-moving pirates! I went for something a little more Western as this guy is of Numenorean descent, and less influenced by Haradrim influences as are the rest of his crew.

In Lion Rampant, commanders are not treated as separate characters – while the do have certain unique skills and abilities, they are attached to a unit (so Erentur here will make the corsair unit above up to the required 6).

Monday, 7 April 2014

They Have A [something] Troll

I'm a great fan of including a large monster or similar model in armies, especially smaller, warband-size ones. Not only does a suitably impressive model make for a cool centre-piece (and arrow-magnet, if you're lucky), but it also breaks up the outline of the army and gives it (to my mind, at least) a much more pleasing aesthetic. I've had Shaolin gangs with yeti, Sinbad gangs with djinn, even a VSF Mexican army with Cabrakan!

It comes, therefore, as no surprise that I felt the urge to include something... chunky in the crew of the Usurper.

The obvious choice was a troll of some kind – definitely in keeping with the (still nominally) Tolkien stylings of the force – but my ship simply isn't large enough to accommodate a full-size troll! I thought then of the half-trolls and troll-men that Tolkien mentions at the Pelennor Fields, but wasn't overly keen on the official GW models. I considered doing something with one of the Abrakhan Guard figures, but while they're chunky, they're more fat than tall. So, I did what I always do when faced with a need like this: looked to plastic pre-paints!

While pre-paints are usually pretty rubbish, many of the larger models have great potential – all they need is a bit of cleaning and a neater paint-job.

I found this chap in the D&D Dungeon Command range, and picked him up for a couple of quid. His paint-job was all over the place (literally – a good centimetre off in parts), and his right arm was a discernible distance from his torso, but, by and large, not bad for the money.

First thing I did was slice him off his base. Some pre-paints have a foot peg, others are just glued on. This guy was the latter, and I haven't quite got the measure of my new scalpel, so he lost a couple of toes. Whoops.

Next, I clipped off the axe as it was too cartoony, and I wanted something a little more in keeping with the rest of the force. Cue a spot of drilling and the insertion of a boarding pike. The pike is a little on the weedy side compared to the big guy, but I quite like what it says about him: it's a human-sized pike that he's wielding in one hand, so he's clearly strong, and armed with something the crew has lying around, but it's something other than a huge bludgeon, which suggests some kind of intelligence and ability – much more compelling than the bestial trolls of the LOTR movies, and much more in keeping with the troll-man schtick I was after.

Finally, the green-stuffing – rejoining his arm and torso and filling in a small crack on the back of his knee. I took advantage of the spare green stuff to place a small blob under each foot before supergluing him to the new base. I'm told this gives a rock-solid bond, which is useful given the relatively top-heavy model. I did the same for a small rock I pulled out of the garden. A little larger than I was initially after, but it had a mostly flat bottom, which was too convenient to overlook!

Here, then, is the big guy for my Corsair crew. He's currently unnamed (suggestions?), though I'm considering Maugor – 'tough warrior' in the Black Speech. He stands twice as tall as a man, so he might actually be a full-fledged troll, rather than a half-troll. Still, he's big and will fit in with the rest of my crew, which is all I really care about.

In Lion Rampant terms, I'll be fielding this guy on his own as a full unit of Fierce Foot – fast, unpredictable, aggressive. Disco.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Bebop and Rocksteady

Busy day at the office today, so didn't feel like starting painting when I got in. I did, however, feel like gluing some bits of plastic to other bits of plastic, so I put together a couple of bodyguards for my Orc command group.

Having decided to use GW Gor arms to give them a little more beef than their regular Orc brethren, I equipped them both with two-handed axes – a nice callback to the chieftain, and also setting them apart from the other figures in the army. With fewer useful off-hands from which to choose (as i didn't want dual-wielding of immense weapons), I ended up with two 'fist-shaking' poses. Having used the same body for one of the bodyguards as for the druid/shaman model, I decided that these two bruisers were the henchmen for the chieftain and the druid respectively... and did not get on.

So, here we have two angry, angry Orcs, quite happy to let their personal feuds get in the way of their duties, threatening each other behind the backs of their commanders. With such a back-story, and my love of 80s cartoons, I have nicknamed them Bebop (top) and Rocksteady (bottom).

The plan is to build the standard bearer and the missing 3 Orcs from Hand Weapon Unit 1 then get them all painted. That will then be half my projected force done and dusted (though I suspect I'll have enough bits left over for at least one, possibly two, more 5-Orc units of spears, bows or hand weapons).

Command Group (Chieftain, Druid, 2x bodyguard)
Spear Unit 1 (5/5 warriors)
Hand Weapon Unit 1 (2/5 warriors)
Command Group (Standard Bearer)
Hand Weapon Unit 1 (3/5 warriors)
Archer Unit 1 (0/5 archers)
Spear Unit 2 (0/5 warriors)
Hand Weapon Unit 2 (0/5 warriors)

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Pointy Orcs!

With the arrival of two bagfuls of Bretonnian Men-at-Arms bodies, and with the last Frostgrave gang drying from varnishing and the Umbar Marines on deck for basecoating, I took the opportunity to put together some more Orcs for my little clan.

I must have been in Lion Rampant mode still, as when I'd clipped everything from the sprues and cleaned them up, I discovered that I had 6 models ready to go. In my sawn-off adaptation of LR, 6 figures makes a basic infantry unit – for most other games, I stick to units of 5 or 10. Still, there will be enough models to work up something for LR if I want to further down the line. So, depending on my requirements, the club-wielding Orc in this happy little band will serve in another unit.

As before, all arms and heads are GW Ungor, and all bodies are the Bretonnians.


5x warriors (spear) (1 unit)
2x warriors (hand weapon)

Standard Bearer
2x bodyguard
5x archers
13x warriors (hand weapon or spear)

Friday, 28 March 2014

Laughing Boy

One of the things I like about Umbar is how its history and geography lend it of a kind of melting-pot position. With close ties to Gondor and Harad, not to mention a reputation founded upon sea-travel, it seems plausible to include a few elements from other regions of Middle Earth.

While the majority of my crew will be vaguely Arabic corsairs (clearly a strong Harad influence in their dress – only sensible, given the climate!), I do want to include a few distinct individuals as characters to flavour the pot.

For some reason, I find hyenas to be fascinating (if repulsive) creatures, and really liked the vaguely hyena-like treatment the Peter Jackon LOTR movies gave to the Wargs. That said, I'm not really a huge fan of GW's Warg models, so I looked for alternatives. These from North Star look like just the ticket – they’re pretty chunky, and will work well as smallish Wargs (at least, I hope they will – I have yet to see them in person).
So, combining my two aims, I put together this little chap (though he's a head taller than my Umbar Marines, which is unfortunate – not enough for me to re-do all the marines, however – they'll all be shorter than their fellows, but they'll all be short in the same unit!):

Bûltungin the Mûmakani
"All I know is that he's from far to the south and he turned up one day with a pack of those hideous savannah wargs in tow. I guess he's some kind of exile or outcast, but he doesn't talk much and seems to prefer the company of those filthy creatures. Still, when he comes along on a raid, those pets of his terrify the locals, so I can see why the captain keeps him around."

More of a fussy conversion than is my usual preference, this one – essentially, I wanted the clothing style of the Perry Sudanese figure that formed the base, but with arms of the Warlord Zulus. Unfortunately, the Warlord Zulu arms attach at the elbow, not at the shoulder (like nearly all other plastic box sets), so I had to build a new shoulder and bicep. Fortunately, the Wargames Factory Numidians were on hand, and even gave me a really useful left arm holding javelins as well as the upper part of the right. The head is simply a Perry Sudanese one, but was the only one I had left and had a skull cap on. As I wanted it bald, I had to shave off the whole hat. The head thus looks a little elongated, but I think it'll look OK when painted.

In game terms, for Lion Rampant, Bûltungin will be accompanied by five hyena-wargs, and will thus be a unit of 'Fierce Foot', which lends it exactly the kind of aggressive, agile melee role I envisaged.

For anyone wondering, the name 'Bûltungin' is a cosmetic Middle-Earthing of a Kanuri word for "I change myself into a hyena".

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Umbar Rises

With the Usurper (freshly named for Castamir, father of the Corsairs of Umbar) en route to being seaworthy, I thought it was about time that it started to get a crew. With the Gripping Beast Arabs due out as Salute in a few weeks, my main force is still theoretical, but I have been mulling over a few options for more specialist units.

One of these is Umbar Marines.

And here is where I apologise to all fans of Tolkien's books, Peter Jackson's films (and even Ralph Bakshi's animation) – this is my interpretation of the Umbar forces, and is only very loosely grounded in any source other than what I want to build and field.

"The marines that are stationed aboard many Corsair vessels are some of the most seasoned soldiers the city can boast, and are typically recruited from amongst the many mercenaries and sell-swords that call it home. While not as effective at sea as the majority of Corsairs, the marines' discipline and experience are invaluable to a crew when raiding ashore, and their shield-wall can provide a well-armed and -armoured anchor for a Corsair battle line."

With most of the Corsairs looking set to be lightly armed and negligibly armoured mariners (as they should be!), I thought that the force would need something a little tougher – for tactical variety as well as for kitbashing entertainment. Marines were an obvious choice, and offered a bit of uniformity in what was looking set to be a pretty irregular crew. With it looking likely that the rules of choice for LOTR games will be Dan Mersey's forthcoming Lion Rampant, I'm grouping everything as per those rules... more or less. The game generally advocates units of 12 or 6, depending on how elite a unit is, but as I prefer the skirmish look, I'm going to be running everything at half-size (i.e. elites have 3 men, regular units 6). While units don't have a leader each, I just prefer to model things that way – the chap with the jaunty plume will count as just another foot soldier in the game.

So, yet again these models are a laundry list of different kits, most of which should not be overly surprising to anyone who has read a previous blog of mine! The legs and shields are Fireforge Steppe Warriors, the torsos are GW Dark Elf spearmen (not the most recent incarnation, mind you) with the ridiculously spiky shoulder pads filed down to something a little more manageable. The arms are Fireforge Foot Sergeants and the heads are all Perry Wars of the Roses 'European Mercenaries'.

The photos above unfortunately make the models look a lot more squat than they really are, but this obligatory group shot is a bit better:

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A Return to Frostgrave

With only one gang already painted, and terrain starting to make its way into the office, I felt that I'd better step up the pace on my Frostgrave gangs for the office demo game.

Having played around with a vaguely Mongol flavour for Gang Number 1, I went with something a little more Western with this one. The basic concept is of some kind of Templar-like order so, naturally, Fireforge's Templar Infantry was the ideal starting point, and all use bodies from that kit as a base.

With Gang Number 1, I went for a very simple manpower-heavy line-up, consisting of mostly Thugs, with a couple of more specialist henchmen options for flavour. With this gang, I decided to introduce more variety from the outset, and build a themed list, rather than a more efficient one.

So, in reverse order of importance, we have:

2 Thugs
Thugs really are the workhorses of Frostgrave, and represent the most lowly of henchmen. These two axe-men represent new initiates to the Esoteric Order of TBC. Bodies are Fireforge Templars, arms are Fireforge Foot Sergeants, the bandaged head is from a Warlord Roman veterans sprue, and the other head is from a Perry Wars of the Roses box.

2 Archers
As anyone who has gamed with me will attest, I like long-ranged weapons. Given a chance, I will volunteer to command the artillery (assuming supporting naval bombardments aren't an option), and quite cheerfully ignore the rest. Even in such a small-scale game as Frostgrave, I can't bring myself to omit bowmen of some kind. Again, Fireforge Templar bodies are used as the base, here with Warlord Roman veteran heads and Perry WOTR arms. The Roman heads are just a little too big, but nothing I can't live with.

2 'Swordsmen'
In Frostgrave, the 'Swordsman' henchman class covers anyone with hand-weapon and shield (probably something I will attempt to change once the manuscript is delivered), so these guys get a spear each as I prefer the look, especially as I'd already decided on using the Roman shields. Construction is as per the Archers, but with Fireforge Templar arms and the aforementioned Warlord shields rounding out the build.

Wizard and Apprentice
The Wizard (seen to the right, above), is 100% Fireforge Templar, save for the blue flame he's conjuring in his left hand – that is a tassel from the standard in their Steppe Warriors box. I'm particularly chuffed with this addition, even though the photo doesn't really show it off to its best effect. The left arm itself is simply a loose crossbow arm, while the right is a sawn-off spear arm. The Apprentice (left) is another Fireforge Templar, but with Perry WOTR arms. The posture is less 'bullet-time' than it appears in the photo (thankfully).

The Esoteric Order of TBC
All told, I'm very happy with these guys. I probably prefer the finished look to that of my first gang, though I much prefer the conversions involved in that initial project. Gameplay-wise, these chaps will probably have a slightly tougher time of it – they're outnumbered, and have quite a few eggs in the Swordsmen basket. While that pair hit hard, they will need to be looked after a little.
I probably need one more gang for the office game (two would be better). I'm already planning on forcing my Corsairs of Umbar to multitask once they're available, so I'm scouting for new themes... something Viking-y, perhaps?

Bigger Orcs!

As discussed in a previous blog post, I've decided to build an entirely kitbashed Orc warband using Bretonnian and Beastmen parts.With the arrival of some components, I got started straight away on the chieftain for the gang...

I wanted a nice, large model, preferably standing a good head taller than his henchmen, and preferably wearing something vaguely in keeping with the pseudo-100 Years' War look of the Bretonnians. I picked up some of the Chaos Warrior infantry from eBay, and slapped an Ungor head onto the body. Turns out it works really well, especially with the addition of some Beastmen Gor arms (the Ungor arms looked a little weedy). The huge axe I selected is a little more over-the-top than I was expecting, but once I dry-fitted it, I couldn't say no (though I did file down 50% of the spiky bits)!

(The Big Boss in between his henchmen)

On a miscellaneous note, while I like the heavily armoured Chaos Warrior look, with the cloak and the fur stole thing, this is an absolutely horrible kit to prepare. The mould lines run right over the top edge of the fur, leaving a lot of cleaning up and fixing needed.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Thanks to a generous donation from a colleague, I now have more GW Ungor bits than I can ever possibly use.It did, however, mean that I had a chance to do some proof-of-concept converting before ordering the kits I plan on tearing apart.

A bit back, I threw together this Orc for a D&D Underdark-themed warband:

(Seen here with his two Duergar mates)

I really liked the combination of hornless Ungor head with Bretonnian body, but after thinking it over for a while I was a little put off by the comparative slightness of the Fireforge arms (not the mention the prospect of clipping off the upper arms from every Bretonnian body I might want to convert).

So, with the pile of Ungor bits going spare, and a couple of Bretonnian bodies left over from other plans, I sawed off some arms and got this chap:

With the addition of Ungor arms and weapons, I've for a much more savage-looking creature, and one that suits my image of Orcs as being a little beefier than the average human (bearing in mind that I'm using regular 28mm kits for humans, so this guy is appropriately chunky in comparison). This sword is probably the most ridiculously bulky of all the Ungor weapons, so I'm a little surprised at how chuffed I am with the end result. In theory, if this works fine, the rest shouldn't look bad at all!

With proof-of-concept achieved, I then got bored and started mucking around with bits I had no real intention of using, as they didn't really fit with the rest of the aesthetic – chiefly the fat 'Friar Tuck' body from the Bretonnian command sprue and the quad-horned Ungor champion head. While the champion head was easy enough to trim down to become hornless, it did unfortunately mean that the ears (sculpted against the lower horns) were lost. I was going to chuck it away, but then thought about adding a hood (well, first it was a bandana, than common sense returned). Once that image was in mind, I glued this chap together:


Voila – one Orc shaman/priest/druid/skald. The forearms are an Ungor archer arm (right) and a shield arm (left). All told, not that displeased with what was essentially going to be a throwaway piece, and he'll be finding a place as an advisor to my Orc chieftain. I need to polish the hood bit once the green stuff is dry, but he's otherwise done as is.

As the kit I want for the Corsairs of Umbar isn't out until Salute (Gripping Beast Arabs), this should keep me occupied for a while. It's only a small gang, and I don't expect to expand it into a larger army (never say never):
  • Chieftain (got a nice conversion in mind for this, but need to find a few bits first)
  • Druid (or whatever)
  • Standard Bearer
  • 2x bodyguard (maybe – not sure yet)
  • 5x archers
  • 10–15x warriors (sword and board or spear)
I also kind of want to drop in a troll or something a little larger, primarily because that's one of the best scenes in the LOTR movies and I'm a big fan of size variations in small armies – gives a more interesting profile on the table.


With everything built, and everything finally dry, the sail for the HMS Umbar (really need a better name for her...) is complete. I've gone much (much!) simpler than I originally intended, and it's a simple furled sail made of kitchen roll (soaked in PVA for strength) and dowel of various thicknesses.

It fits nicely into the existing slot in the deck, and can easily be removed as needed.

Construction is officially complete. Painting begins in earnest... soon. I'm going to take a short break from the ship to get some more Frostgrave painting done (and hopefully get it out of the way before the rest of the bits for my Orcs arrive).

One complete vessel!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A pirate's life for me...

A quick update on the HMS Umbar, my post-Playmobil generic pirate/LOTR corsair/dockside terrain project...

The door to the hold has been outfitted with (wonky) hinges and a door handle. These were all made from a ridiculously useful GW dwarf shield emblem (presumably from one of the previous editions of Warhammer). It started out as a hammer striking an anvil – the latter became the hinge, the former the handle. Yes, it's left-handed, but that was solely down to the left-hand edge of the door not sitting flush with the wall, so I figured I'd leave it a tad ajar...

Also new are the eagle-head emblems. Again, GW dwarf shield emblems, just added to give a little bit of razzmatazz to the vessel.

A trip to the local art store also furnished me with the materials needed for the mast. It's a simple dowel affair at present, and I will be keeping it removable.

The crossbeams and the furled sail (seen here drying in between the original Playmobil crossbeams!) are still works in progress, but as I'm going to be building and painting them separately anyway, I decided to push the button and get the rest of the ship base-coated. Brown paint, here I come...

A little weekend painting

Between an old friend coming up to visit, the finals of the Six Nations, the start of the Aussie Football season and the return of the HMS Umbar, I didn't find time this weekend to do much painting.

I did manage to sit down with a brush and belt out this little fella for my friend's D&D character. A gnome sorcerer, with hair and clothing as defined by the player.

As usual, I'm happier with the conversion than with the paintjob, but c'est la vie!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

This is the Orc (and Duergar) I am looking for

With the HMS Umbar on hold until I can pick up some dowel for the mast, and with paint drying on the second Frostgrave warband, I took the opportunity to muck around with some additional figures for the vaguely conceived Underdark raiding party (to accompany the Mindflayer and Cleric already built).

Two Duergar and an Orc.

I make no secret of the fact that I like Orcs. As a standard fixture of fantasy fiction, they're great. Unfortunately, I can't stand the GW-esque interpretation of bandy-legged, massive-mouthed green ape-things. The Peter Jackson version comes pretty close to my own image, but I can't say as I'm a huge fan of the LOTR figures (for the orcs, at least). I got a few plastic bits through the post today, and while most were earmarked for my two Duergar (evil dwarf) slavers, I thought a couple might be worth looking at alongside the two Wargames Factory Orcs I was given by a friend. Unfortunately, while I appreciate the Angus McBride-style feel of the WF set, they're a bit too gangly for my taste, even with slightly less simian arms from a Fireforge sprue. I really like the generic fantasy feel of the Bretonnian Men-at-Arms, and have used those bodies in a number of projects. I'd love them more if they didn't have the unfortunate join at the elbow for weapon and shield arms – it demands cutting off both sleeves in order to really do much. I also like the Beastmen Ungor heads – they've got a great savage look that I think is more effective than the actual Gor that form the bulk of a Beastman army. I'm amazed it took so long to combine the two, but here, finally, is what I suspect is as close to the perfect Orc as I'll ever get. I will make more in this vein, but probably keep the polearms and tower shield armament of the Bretonnians – the Ungor heads with the horns shaved off are enough for me without needing to go too wild on the weapon front.

As for the Duergar, they're based on my earlier dwarf conversion and again use Bretonnian bodies as the base. The chap on the left has an Empire head (shaved bald, of course), and Chaos warrior hands (like the Bretonnians, ending at the elbow – but much bulkier) trimmed down to fit. The only real effort was cutting back the left elbow and shoulder to get the mace resting nicely. The centre Duergar has an Empire flagellant head and a Chaos warhammer head (with the iconography filed off) added to an otherwise entirely Bretonnian physique. The hammer head is a) a little wonky and b) a little large due to my misjudging the length of the handle. Still, as he's a little shorter than the other dwarfs I've made, it's not too bad.

All in all, really quite fond of the lot of them. If I can find a spare Empire General with beard and eyepatch head (as seen on one of my Inquisitor models, below), there will be one more Duergar, otherwise I've just got plans for a couple of Drow and a few more Orcs as arrow-fodder.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A Good Weekend's Work...

So, with the sun shining, rugby on TV, and beer in the fridge, I finally set to on a project that has been sitting around for a couple of months now:

I've seen a variety of Playmobil ship conversions on various forums, chiefly Lead Adventure, and have always been tempted to try my hand at something similar. With the purchase of a discount ship, a pile of lolly sticks in different sizes (seriously, I have about 8 times as many as I need... may have overestimated a tad...), and a commercially available ship's wheel (well, two, as I tend to break things), I broke out the trusty hot glue gun and got cracking.

The I started the decking with the lowest of the four decks, on the basis that I was inevitably going to mess up, and better to do so in the least noticeable place. True to form, I managed to mess up with pretty much the first section of decking. In hindsight, I should have cut off the plugs in the middle of the deck (and did so for one of the other decks), but instead attempted to lay the planks around it. The steps were scratchbuilt using more lolly sticks around a core of plastic taken from a clipped-off part of the ship. It's probably a little under-sized, but I'm happy enough with it.

(That grey blob at right is a polystyrene block included with the Playmobil kit to allow it to float. I'd have got rid of it, but the bulk of the rear deck sits on it, and without it has a tendency to tip backwards.)

 Close-up of the steps, with an (inevitably) unfinished Pied Piper for scale.

The rear decks, being larger, were much easier to plank, even with the steps. As the ship isn't large enough to really merit a cabin, I added a small door leading down into the hold. It'll get a handle and hinges in due course. It was at this point that I burnt my thumb for the first time.

The ship's wheel hasn't been attached yet, but I've dropped it on to see how well it fits. Happily, I didn't break it. Yet.

That's all the planking done. It's a little wonky in places, but I'm pretty happy with how it came out, all in all. It's been given a wash of watered-down PVA, but that's it until the painting.

As you might be able to tell from the cover of the Playmobil box, the ship is intended to have a piece that fits on the front much like the blue section at the rear. Unfortunately, it really raises the height of the hull so much that a 28mm figure can't see over it. What's more, I really didn't like the lines it gave to the ship – the base hull with the attachment at the back seems better-suited for the kind of small, raiding vessel I wanted.

Not for the first time, I started with a project (i.e. 'build a ship') than with an idea ('build a ship for...'), so this will probably end up as a relatively generic craft, suitable for smugglers, Corsairs of Umbar (more on that project later) and, perhaps most likely, as terrain for port-set games. You can get about 15–20 figures on deck, which is about the size of the biggest army I'm ever likely to field!

Next up will be a mast and sails. I'm not quite sure how to do that – the Playmobil mast is ok, but would need to be filled in with green stuff or something, as it's U-shaped, rather than solid. I'll probably go with dowel, but I'll have to have a think about how to handle the sail. Having it furled is less attractive, but more use for actual play.