Wednesday 26 December 2018

Some speed-painted orcs

Fast 'n' dirty!

I've been meaning to finish off a few skirmish warbands for the children of some of our friends - a project I started far too long ago. So getting a few more finished quickly was the key thing. Here's how I did them.

The first step was to undercoat the orcs in black gesso. After that, I drybrushed them in mid-grey:

I then drybrushed them in white. The two layers of drybrushing create a rough gradient that provides highlights and shading through thin coats of colour.

I painted in the metals next. Metallic paints are the worst for polluting other areas of the miniature, so I wanted them in before the colours.

The colours for other areas are heavily diluted with water, so that the greyscale gradient shows through:

Then come the washes (Citadel washes in this case). If I'd been particularly pressed for time, I'd have used a single wash of sepia over everything. But as it was, I went with brown over metals, leather, hair, fur and weapon hafts; yellow over yellow cloth; red over red cloth; sepia over the green skin; and watered-down Blood for the Blood God over the pinkish areas of skin.

I then painted the tusks in buff, then highlighted them quickly in white. I used the same dab of white to pick out the eyes and brush lightly over the hair.

Next came a very few highlights in Vallejo silver-grey (which is the same as GW's Wych Elf Flesh). It's a nice 'universal' highlight as a kind of non-descript off-white that works on almost any colour. I highlighted only the pinkish flesh and the odd bit of the yellow clothing and fur, where raised areas had become too dark.

After that, I painted the eyes red and then added a dot of yellow, washed the shields in watery black, which I also used to black-line any messy delineations between colours, and roughed out a shield design in buff. I also used a bit of silver to roughly highlight the metal (an obvious stage to skip if time were short).

A few last touches finished them off, and then it was time for the bases.

The paintwork is pretty rough, but it is (I hope!) roughly pretty too. The advantage of this approach, apart from speed, is that you need take very little care. Most areas are painted by simply washing first a paint and then a purpose-made wash over the greyscale effect created by drybrushing. Only the faces and the shields get any real attention.

It occurs to me that this colour scheme - the same that I used on my pig-faced orcs - is very close to the Monster Manual's description:
Orcs appear particularly disgusting because their coloration — brown or brownish green with a bluish sheen — highlights their pinkish snouts and ears.
As Gygax said that he conceived of his orcs as less porcine than Sutherland's illustration, these fellows may come fairly close to the original conception of the D&D orc. Whatever - at least they're done now!

Saturday 22 December 2018

Brazen giants - Taluses of Typhon?

I've been re-reading Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun recently and listening to the marvellous Alzabo Soup podcast. And yesterday I finished Nightside the Long Sun. It's the first book in The Book of the Long Sun, which has sat on my shelf for a few years. The Book of the Short Sun is still probably a year or two off, unless Long Sun leaves me slavering for more.

One of the themes in Wolfe's Solar Cycle is the difference in human forms created by genetic engineering, cybernetics and eugenics. The soldier and aristocratic classes, for example, are easily identifiable by their height. That made me think about these outsized space marines, which I'd picked up for two quid in the local newsagent, with a promotional issue of some GW magazine for kids.

I don't find the current GW take on space marines particularly interesting; somehow, it seems less than the sum of its parts (Herbert's Sardaukar, Heinlein's starship troopers, warrior orders of the Crusades, etc). And I preferred the original rulebook's illustration of renegade humans in power armour just hanging out in some low dive to the monastic conception of the later books, in which maverick marines seemed impossible - unless they were chaos renegades. But I do like the idea of Wolfean super-soldiers. That combined with Wolfe's concepts of 'taluses' (war robots named after the brazen giant of Greek myth) and long-forgotten, dimly understood technology to give me a quick scheme for the painting of these fellows.

I like the idea that they've been in their armour for a very long time - and possibly immobile for decades or centuries until springing into life when a distant communication from their emperor (Wolfe's Pas/Typhon?) reaches them.

This method was very quick. Before I added the GW oxide paint to effect the verdigris, I painted them bronze, washed them in brown and drybrushed them in gold. They looked pretty good at that stage, so I almost held off 'ruining' them with the oxide. But I'm pleased with how they turned out. And, by sheer chance, I came across a box of 10 more for a third of the standard price in a most unlikely shop while performing Christmas-related drudgery today.

The qhal and the Slann. Or: did CJ Cherryh invent the Old World?

The qual?
The other day, I was in an second-hand bookshop and picked up Gate of Ivrel, a novel by CJ Cherryh, published in 1977. I've read nothing by her, but have heard a fair bit of praise of her work. So I bought it. It appears to be a sort of science-fantasy: a medieval setting with an sf backstory.

On opening it, I was struck by familiar elements in the prologue:

The gates were the ruin of the qhal. They were everywhere, on every world, had been a fact of life for millennia, and had linked the whole net of qhal civilisation - an empire of both Space and Time, for the Gates led into elsewhen as well as elsewhere ... except at the end.
It continues, later on the same page:

So the qhal migrated through future time, gathering in greater and greater numbers in the most distant ages. They migrated in space too, and thrust themselves insolently into the affairs of other beings, ripping loose a segment of their time also. ... They simply used the lesser races as they were useful, and seeded the worlds they colonized with the gatherings of whatever compatible worlds they pleased. ... The qhal in the end had little need left, and little ambition but for luxury and novelty and the consuming lust for other, ever-farther Gates.
Until someone, somewhen, backtimed and tampered - perhaps ever so minutely. 
The whole of reality warped and shredded. 
Ring any bells?  Here's second-edition Warhammer on the Slann:
The Slann are a unique race in the Known World. Their origins are uncertain, but they appear to be descended from the ancient race of Old Slann. The Old Slann possessed a civilisation far beyond anything we have even today. Science and philosophy were as one to them, they were the lords of time and space. There was nowhere they could not go and nothing they could not do, it is said that the High Age of the Slann was a golden era for all sentient creatures. It is probably that the Old Slann came from the stars, as Slann legend recalls. The Slann of today are a race fallen from power, they have turned their backs on the past and have grown to hate and fear the old technology. What brought about the decline of the Slann is not known. However, Slann legend connects the fall of the Old Slann with galactic catastrophy and the creation of theIncursions of Chaos. 
[Emphasis mine]
Then, in the third edition, we get this (p. 231, under Slann):

The Slann are an ancient race whose past and origin stretches beyond the horizons of this world. Once they roamed the stuff of Chaos, moving between planets in their marvellous silver spaceships, seeding the universe with their genetic experiments.
 Earlier (p.189), there's this:

One of their greatest achievements was the creation of spacial gateways between worlds, facilitating rapid travel over vast distances of space. Spatial gateways, or warp-gates, were constructed near habitable planets, looking very much like huge black holes over the firmament. ... On many worlds the Slann discovered living creatures. Some of these creatures became the subjects of genetic experiments. Newly created worlds became home to the offspring of these engineered creatures. Other worlds were found to have evolved life-forms which were dangerous and displeasing, creatures which were subsequently destroyed or altered to make them more useful. By this means the Slann created many of the galaxy's habitable worlds and seeded the galaxy with the ancestors of men and other humanoid creatures. 
But as with the qhal, it all goes wrong:

The mechanism controlling the warp-gates failed, the polar gates collapsed and the world was cut off from the rest of the galaxy.
All of this (and there's lots more of it) reads very much like an expansion of Cherryh's concept of the qhal and their gates. Note that in second-edition Warhammer, the Slann were more qhal-like in that they were lords of time and space. By the third edition, however, their domain was spatial rather than temporal.

Now, there's nothing in the slightest bit wrong with this homage. Genius steals and all that. But I was surprised to find that I can't get a single Google result for "qhal" and "Slann". I can't be the first person to have noticed this, can I?

It's odd because the Warhammer creators have been very open about their influences: Moorcock, Tolkien, Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, Frazetta, Pape, etc. I'm speculating, but could the Cherryh influence have come via Richard Halliwell, who has apparently been in poor health and hasn't been interviewed about Warhammer's origins in the way that Bryan Ansell and Rick Priestly have? According to Zhu Bajiee (sic: not Zhu Baijie, or Pigsy, as many of us remember him from Monkey), Halliwell was the creator of the Slann. So maybe that's it.

Or could this be a case of parallel evolution? I don't think so, given the similarity of the concepts (lords of time and space, gates, interference with other species, catastrophe when the gates fail).

I reckon the Slann are one of the best of the Warhammer creations, but they've been sadly underserved by Games Workshop since their second-edition heyday. So I'm pleased to have discovered this indication of their origins. It gives me a little more impetus to accelerate my Slann-painting efforts into the end of the year!

Friday 21 December 2018

Lund orcs and Saga

Orcs for every occasion
Here are a few more Nick Lund orcs. Those in the photo above range from an early Chronicle orc through a Grenadier orc to a Chronicle/Citadel "giant black orc" and then to a Grenadier "giant orc".

The variety in size makes these miniatures perfect for Saga, the tremendous wargame that uses boardgame elements to depict larger-than-life versions of the battles of the early Middles Ages (later if you have the Crusades book).

Saga divides troops into four types: levies, warriors, hearthguard and heroes. The Lund orcs fit these divisions perfectly. My son and I have played a few games in the past week, with my Lund orcs using the rules for the Irish, the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse Gaels at various points.

As it's already a fantasy game with effects that are essentially magical, Saga works really well with ahistorical figures. The clear delineation between troop types that you can achieve with monsters gives a real visual identity to the troops on the table that has to be achieved more with more subtlety if you use the rules as intended. There's a fantasy supplement out soon, apparently. I'll definitely pick that up, but I shan't hold back from orc-rich games in the meantime.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Out of the toybox ...

A project that my children and I have been planning for a while is to repurpose some of their old toys for gaming. This ceratosaur is the first fruit of that endeavour.

My son has had it since he was two or three; I think my wife bought it in a batch of second-hand dinosaurs in a charity shop. It's by no means a high-end toy (like those made by Schleich or Papo), and it came with a flat, blotchy orange factory paint job. But it's quite a nicely posed beastie, and it's the perfect size for a Hordes of the Things behemoth element. It fills the 60mm frontage nicely, with enough height to clear a typical infantry or cavalry element to its front. And because it fills the base nicely, it'll work well for RPGs and skirmish games too.

The ceratosaur's first role, however, will be as behemoth element in a HotT slann army. I have quite a few of Citadel's slann miniatures, some acquired when I was a child and a few more - especially cold-one riders - accumulated since. 

My plan for the slann is to base the slotta-based ones individually and the solid-based ones, which are  a little smaller, on HotT element bases. The palace guards and armoured warriors will form blade or spear elements. The tribal warriors, who have blowpipes and throwing axes, could be shooters or warbands - and might also see service as lurkers, water lurkers or even sneakers. Cold-one riders could be beasts, riders or knights. And then I'll add dragon-man flyers, a magician on a palanquin and probably some more dinosaur behemoths.

Monday 10 December 2018

An ogre and some more orcs

This is an old Chronicle ogre from the early 80s. The most celebrated 1980s ogres were the Citadel ones designed by Jez Goodwin, but much as I like those, I prefer the Chronicle ones. That's because they're less concerned with being shamans or gladiators or priests, but much more about the simple business of being ogres.

I painted another Chronicle ogre almost three years ago. I was pleased with him at the time, and he's been a mainstay of our skirmish games, but I'm beginning to wonder whether I might repaint him to match the one above and my recent orcs. At the very least, I'll rebase him to match. He's more subtly painted, but the end result is inferior to the more recent one, despite taking at least twice the time.

Here's a shot of the earlier Chronicle ogre with a Jez Goodwin ogre from the Golgfag's Regiment of Renown. There's no doubt that the modelling of the Goodwin ogre is technically better (and I think he's a great miniature), but there's something about the unabashed brutality of the Chronicle chap with the spiky shoe that gives him the edge, I think:

Anyway, the fate of the spiky-shoed axe-ogre will be decided after I've painted up all the remaining Chronicle and Grenadier orcs, goblins and ogres. I'm making no distinction between the various types: they work nicely alongside each other, in that the ogres look like outsized versions of the goblins, who are the same size as most of the orcs, and the largest orcs are bigger than the ogres.

These two orcs are from the N11 range: giant black orcs ("warlord" and "hero").

I got the bare-headed hero when I was a relatively small child; his left leg was miscast and missing, so I replaced it miliput then and with green stuff much later. This is its second time of painting; the green stuff survived the Biostrip intact:

The fourth orc is a large Grenadier one, and definitely the least interesting of the bunch. But he fills out the swelling ranks.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Down in the dungeon with Song of Blades and Heroes

I got back into gaming through Ganesha Games' Song of Blades and Heroes, which I bought to play with my kids. Since I gave my son a batch of painted miniatures for his birthday a few years ago, we haven't looked back.

We hadn't played SBH for a few months, but last night, we got a dungeon-based skirmish going. My son laid out a quick dungeon using D&D tiles, and then we identified a couple of areas (a temple and a sorcerous circle) as objectives. We assumed a god's eye view, just to keep things simple, and marked out a few areas for wandering monsters. Then battle commenced.

Wandering monsters are a regular feature of our SBH games, reflecting creatures drawn by the noise of battle or the prospect of carrion. What we usually do is have each player roll a d6 at the end of their turn. If it's a six, a monster turns up. Before each game, we set up a row of six monsters, so when one appears, we roll a d6 and take the appropriate one (rerolling if that monster has already been used). A 'monster' could be a wandering owlbear or a band of goblins or anything else from the deepest recesses of the Cabinet of Shame. They typically attack the nearest player-controlled characters, with the other rolling for them. Each monster (or group: they act as one) rolls activations on three dice; two failures does not end the monsters' turn, as each individual or group is treated separately. The monsters are generally inimical to each other.

This works pretty well - especially with the more spectacular monsters. In the past, we've had some climaxes reminiscent of Harryhausen films in which two monsters fight to the death. In one memorable game, these monsters had killed or driven off all the player-controlled characters, so what began as orcs versus lizardmen ended as griffon versus tyrannosaur.

In last night's game, though, we decided that all the dungeon monsters would be on the same side. As the game progressed, we got through the whole batch: a mindflayer, a demon, a gorgon, an alzabo, a flesh golem and a meriod. As the mindflayer ("brain eater" in the Song of Gold and Darkness book) had the Leader trait, the other monsters benefited from his presence when they were nearby.

In the battle between orcs and snakemen, the orcs eventually prevailed, helped by greater numbers and the presence of two leaders. But it was a close-run thing - and a nice way to dust off a superb ruleset again.

Chronicle orcs

Here are some more Chronicle orcs to join my growing horde of speed-painted monsters. The middle one, shown in an earlier post, is a solid-based orc champion. He's flanked by two "giant black orcs" from the later and larger slottabased line. This range, along with the two accompanying Eeza Ugezod sets, were the very best of Nick Lund's orcs, I think.

One thing I particularly like about the Lund orcs is how well kitted-out they are. Their clothes may be tattered, but they wear shirts and trews as well as animal hide and hauberks. They always carry auxiliary weapons, and their belts have all sorts of accoutrements attached - from flasks and pouches to severed or shrunken heads.

Monday 3 December 2018

The knowledge economy

Back in August, I mused a bit about correlated stats - the idea that strength, size, constitution and hit points, for example, are often very closely related in real life in a way that they aren't in RPGs (where a character might have STR 18, SIZ 3 and CON 15, for example). I think Into the Odd's use of STR as hit points is an interesting bit of game economy that may also add realism. It's hard to think of anyone exceptionally strong who wouldn't be at least a little harder than average to beat to death!

Into the Odd has just STR, DEX and WP (willpower) - half the normal game stats and with just one mental attribute. Given that the player - rather than the character sheet - generally provides a PC's real intelligence, I think there's a very good case for boiling down mental attributes in particular, to encourage role-playing rather than rolls. 

Idle Doodler has been discussing his ideas for an RPG stat-line in a couple of recent posts, so I thought I'd get my main idea down here. I'm toying with the idea of replacing INT, WIS and (maybe) CHA with a single KNO stat representing knowledge

Why? Well, on most of the occasions that I have players test a mental attribute in Whitehack or The Black Hack, the roll hinges around knowledge to some degree. Does the wizard understand the runes on the tomb door? Can the lizardman make anything of the troglodyte language? Can the thief come up with a plausible explanation of why he's in this room? So I think knowledge covers those rolls better than intelligence (which might come with otherworldliness) or wisdom (which seems to cover common sense or an understanding of human nature rather than learning or general knowledge). 

And I think KNO might replace CHA fairly well too. Charisma often seems a slippery concept in games as it can cover persuasion, intimidation, distraction and seduction, among other things. A hulking brute who's tongue-tied but heavily armed and armoured might not need eloquence to persuade the goblins to let him past. And the silver-tongued sweet-talker might charm a tavern server but struggle with skeptical guards. Using a knowledge stat throws the sweet-talking or intimidation back onto the player, but would allow the GM to provide prompts for a successful KNO roll when inspiration falters.

It might go something like this:

Player: I shout at the guards."This is an impertinence! I demand to be let in!"

GM: They shrug ..

Player "I'm ...". Can I roll a knowledge check?

GM: "Sure"

Player: Success!

GM: Verlan Ottuk, the Duke of Yelt's right-hand man, is in town. He's known for his brusque manner and unassuming dress ...

Player: "I'm Verlan Ottuk. Your master shall hear of this!"

GM: The guards look uncertain and stand aside.

Of course, the GM could also have the guards make an KNO roll to see if they swallow it. And you could have opposed rolls Whitehack style - the higher wins, as long as it's equal or below the KNO stat. And you could apply advantage and disadvantage to reflect local conditions. Also, vivid roleplaying might entail advantage too.

There would be lots of fun to have with fumbles and criticals as well. A 20 on the player's part might mean that the real Verlan Ottuk is already taking tea with the guards' master. Or, more in a more subtle yet insidious twist, it might mean that he is expected, and so the PC is ushered straight into the master's presence (assuming that that isn't what the PC wants). A critical (the stat number itself in Whitehack) might mean that the PC is expected and shown to "their" rooms.

One thing KNO doesn't cover is spell resistance. But I don't really see how INT or WIS do that either. Into the Odd's WP obviously does. I'm tempted to see spell resistance as physical (i.e. it's harder to mind-control an ogre than an orc), but there's certainly something to ponder here.

Another positive for KNO is that it's natural for the stat to increase as players see more of the world. I almost wonder whether PCs start with 3d6 but non-adventuring types (local guards, villagers, monsters, etc.) might generally be assumed to have 2d6 - so an average of 7. Or perhaps everyone starts with 2d6 and PCs gain an extra point per level. Wizards might get a 3d6 roll, I suppose. Such assumptions might boost the ability of players to attempt more scams, ruses and mountebankery. And I'm all for that.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Orc general and champion

These early Chronicle miniatures are a little smaller than the later Chronicle and Grenadier orcs that followed, but they fit in well enough.

I plan to use the mounted general as a warlord in Saga, and he strikes me as a good recurring villain for RPGs; his fleet-footed mount should allow plenty of fist-shaking escapes.

I decided not to add the champion to the early Chronicle orcs that I use as 15mm ogres because he's stylistically closer to Nick Lund's later orcs as he's less "flat" and more dynamic. His face is also closer to the later orcs, and he has severed human heads on his belt, which make him less transferrable scale-wise.

Saturday 1 December 2018

A wolfrider

This is the first of a batch of Nick Lund wolfriders that I have on the painting table. This one's a Grenadier figure, but most of the others are the earlier Chronicle wolfriders. I prefer the Chronicle ones, which are a little smaller but quite a bit more menacing and have better wolves. But I'm happy enough with this chap - and with how his mount scrubbed up.

As with the Grenadier orcs I've been painting, I used a minimalist two-tone approach here: base colours and only a single highlight for most areas.