Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Some experiments with contrast paints

A few weeks ago, I got hold of a batch of Games Workshop's new contrast paints. They're designed to speed up miniature painting by delivering shading, base colour and highlights in one.

I like them. They're 'oilier' and richer than the standard GW washes, and they do tend to slip away from the raised points on a surface, creating pretty decent highlights. This effect is enhanced if you use the accompanying spray primers, which create a very smooth finish. I think they're particularly useful for miniatures with lots of detail that's too fine to respond well to drybrushing, as with the Grenadier demon/griffin thing above. I plan to use them heavily with the Ral Partha and Grenadier stuff in the leadpile.

They're certainly quick. I've been racing through large batches of miniatures, some in preparation for my son's birthday RPG extravaganza (and so under wraps for now), some to give to friends' kids, and some for various domestic gaming purposes.

I think they're probably even more useful for RPG encounters than wargaming armies. If you put a wargaming army together, you're probably planning to use it more than once. But RPG encounters - like the skeleton group above - might only feature once, or not at all. So an extremely fast means fo churning these out is a boon to the miniature-using GM.

They're also very handy for finishing off the hundreds of partially painted figures that I (and I suspect many others) have languishing in drawers. These goblins, for example, had lain dormant since 2015:

But perhaps the best use of contrast paints is in something that Games Workshop doesn't do at all: 15mm. That scale benefits from bright colours and bold contrasts, but can be fiddly to work with. The contrast paints help a lot here:

I'm working on creating some Hordes of the Things armies using 15mm miniatures on 28mm bases. That gives much more of a "massed battle" effect, but it does take a bit more work (seven to twelve miniatures to a base rather than three or four). So the contrast paints are a huge help here.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

A ten-year-old's take on At the Mountains of Madness

For the past four months, my son's been working on his first RPG scenario. He based it on Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness after reading first the graphic novel and then the story itself.

Using Fimo, tin foil, cocktail sticks and hot glue, he made all the monsters himself. He also painted up miniatures for the player-characters (in a single afternoon after school!) and made floorplans from cardboard, white glue and loo roll. He drew designs on index cards to show the carvings on the complex's walls.

This Sunday, he ran the game for four friends. It seems to have been a hit, and he's planning to repeat it with a couple of other groups of friends. The giant penguin - in lieu of the group of merely large sightless albino penguins in the story - was my sole contribution to the set-up. It's a Hobbycraft papier-mache shape with some added extras in Milliput.

I'm sure we'll find ways of recycling the monsters in other games. There are three Elder Things:

The Whistler in the Darkness (an original creation):

A captive Mi-go:

And - of course - Shoggoths:

My son also drew this to encapsulate the scenario:

All in all, it somewhat outstrips my efforts at a similar age; those were largely confined to graph paper.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Chronicle kobolds!

I've had some of these ugly little fellows since I was in primary school. A couple of years back, I based them on pennies for our 15mm RPG campaign.

They work pretty well at that scale as gnolls or Gloranthan dark trolls. Nick Lund's creations tend to be quite tough and aggressive-looking regardless of size, so they might actually work best as big, burly beasties in 15mm. 

The big one, Gnar, is supposedly a 'mutant goblin' - or at least that's how he was described on box of Eeza Ugezod's Death Commandos. But he's very clearly a kobold.

These were very quick to paint. I was playing around with Citadel's Nighthaunt Gloom on the skin; one coat of that and then just a few dabs of Vallejo silver grey to highlight. Nighthaunt Gloom was apparently a prototype of the new and much-hyped contrast paints. I was pleased with how it worked - it gave much better shading, etc., than a normal wash.

These are rather different from my other kobolds, so I saw no point in attempting to match them up colour-wise. They're also singularly lacking in missile weapons, though I do have a wizard for them (indeed, several: he's one of those miniatures that crops up all the time in eBay job lots). I'll have to get him painted up shortly.

Friday, 7 June 2019

More Heroquest orcs

Another couple of these Stygian fiends to add to the one I did earlier in the week. Their swords make no concession to gravity!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

A Heroquest Orc

This is roughly how I'd have painted this orc when I was a kid. Then, my impression from Tolkien (and from dodgy 'secondary' sources like the Tolkien Bestiary and the Bakshi film) was that orcs had black skin. In fact, only one small one is explicitly "black-skinned" in LotR, which implies that most are not - although they are described in several places as "black" and "swart".

A closer reading of LotR (noting the references to the half-orcs in Bree, Isengard and the Shire) indicates that most orcs are "sallow" - and Tolkien confirms this in a letter. That suggests that the "black" in "black Uruks of Mordor" probably refers to livery (predominantly black for Mordor, Isengard and the North), to armour (as in "clad from head to foot in black mail" like the big chieftain in Moria) or to a generally dark countenance (as in "Black Irish").

So, with his sallow jerkin and sable skin, this fellow's a sort of negative of a Middle Earth uruk. Incidentally, there's nothing in Tolkien to suggest that orcs had the glowing red eyes that are so often associated with them except the description of the Moria orc-chieftain's eyes that "burned like coals". That could suggest glowing eyes, but it could equally just mean that the eyes looked fierce. But hey-ho - this fellow's got the Bakshi glow.

Friday, 24 May 2019

A cannibal

The marvellous Mutants and Death Ray Guns rules from Ganesha Games make provision, in one fo the supplement, for "cannibals". They're represented as tougher than normal humans, but they're restricted to primitive weapons. I thought this fellow and his ilk might fit the bill.

This one's a test - I might add some warpaint or tattoos.

He'd also pass muster as a Fomorian, I think.

Monday, 20 May 2019

The Fantasy Trip

Last year, I found my curiosity piqued by The Fantasy Trip and looked into a couple of the retroclones. I resolved to get hold of it when it was republished - in part, because I couldn't remember if I'd ever played the minigames on which it's based: Melee and Wizards. Steven Jackson Games were popular as lunchtime diversions when I was at primary school; we played Car Wars and OGRE quite a bit, but I'm not sure about Melee.

Having bought the Legacy Edition of The Fantasy Trip, I'm still not sure. The rules seem familiar, as do some of the counters. But it was a long time ago - and if we did play it back then, we played Car Wars and OGRE much more. I never owned any of them, and I do remember designing some grid-based combat games shortly after I moved schools - possibly to recapture the counter-and-grid thrills of those lunchtime sessions.

Anyway, the kids and I played four games of Melee over the weekend. It's terrific. I'm planning to use it for most RPG sessions with the kids and their friends from now on, simply because it'll make combat encounters so much more compelling than the various D&D clones we've tried. Whitehack will doubtless remain a go-to for small, focused groups, and I'm playing Tunnels & Trolls with some old friends next weekend, but for dungeon-crawling with the kids, The Fantasy Trip/Melee appears perfect.

So why is that? Well, the sheer amount of decisions to be made - formalised in the game as options - gives a tremendous range of outcomes. I can't think of any one-figure-per-player skirmish game that offers quite so many options in combat situations.

And yet the game is very simple. For Melee (the TFT combat system as a freestanding game), characters have three stats: strength (ST), dexterity (DX) and movement allowance (MA). You design your character(s) by deciding the balance of their ST and DX and then choose whatever weapons and armour you like.

And that's where the real genius of the game comes in. It combines a reasonable amount of realism with a tremendous amount of game balance. Strong characters can take and hand out more punishment: ST acts as your hit points, and allows you to use nastier weapons) But DX decides who attacks first - and the higher your DX, the higher your chance of landing a roll. Armour absorbs damage - but also reduces DX and MA.

So sufficient ST to wield a grisly weapon like a two-handed axe will impair your DX when you initially assign points between them - and heavy armour will impair it still further. But you will be appropriately tank-like and able to deal terrible damage on those rare occasions when you hit.

Alternatively, you could choose high DX to allow you to hit quickly and often. But against heavily armoured foes, you'll be relying on lucky shots to get through the armour.

You can see how this is perfect for gladiatorial combat: secutor v retiarius, or whatever.

And then you've got the hand-to-hand option - grappling, essentially, in which no weapon larger than a dagger is useful, but a dagger is very useful indeed. That creates a whole extra dimension. If you're determined to grapple with a foe, you'll probably want to drop your main weapons and draw a dagger - but there's a chance that they'll be able to do the same when you close, or even just clobber you with their main weapon and step back.

It's a fantastically elegant combat system. There are certainly lapses in realism; I suspect armour wasn't quite so constricting/slowing, at least initially, and of course many strong people are very dextrous too. YOu don't need to be terribly strong to use a two-handed sword or battleaxe; a two-handed sword isn't usually twice the weight of a regular sword. And the weapons list has some oddities (a pike axe?). But for a balanced game, it's just right.

Incidentally, while the RPG rules (In the Labyrinth) give a whole list of real-world weapons that might fit into the various categories, these make very little sense. The glaive and the naginata - essentially the same thing - are in different slots, for example. None of this matters, though - it's very easy to look at a miniature and decide that its big fantasy polearm is the very quintessence of pike axe.

After an initial one-on-one run through the rules, we played three lizardmen against three orcs, then a couple of games with two burly, armoured hobgoblins and a smallish giant against five orcs: two heavily armoured types and three skirmishers (two with javelins and one with a light crossbow). Both times, the orcs won, because they were able to surround the unsupported giant and pierce it with many weapons. There was something of the mammoth hunt about it, which seemed quite appropriate.

We're eager to play more, and to try the wizard rules. There are printable hex papers of appropriate size available online, so drawing out some floorplans on those will be no more onerous than drawing them out on traditional grid paper.

The labyrinth beckons ...