Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Ork buggy bandwagon, part one

The new Ork buggies, from the forthcoming game Speed Freeks, are making a lot of noise on the internet at the moment. At the time of writing there are images out there of three new buggies and a kind of trike. Making noise is very much part of the Ork DNA, but for my part, I prefer making Orks. Especially their cobbled together, beaten-up vehicles, in mismatched design styles. With all the hype out there, it seemed like a good time to share some more of them. 

The buggies and half-track in today's post were completed many years ago, so no points off my Addiction Challenge, but I've got three more in the pipeline that I'll try to continue work on, once my Undead project is complete.

These three models are all based on old Games Workshop kits. The one above has undergone the most work, having slowly evolved over the years, as I hacked away at it and added replacement guns and armour. Somewhere underneath all those extra plates and engine parts is the very first Ork Battle Buggy shown here, although I'm honestly not sure how much of it is really left.

This next one is a lot more obvious. It was the plastic Wartrak Skorcha, minus the fuel trailer (which I converted here), but with some relatively straightforward additions instead, including that Grot making some subtle calibrations with a hammer (possibly based on a Gnoblar from the old Ogre Kingdoms range).

And finally, for now, this last model is based on the Gorkamorka era buggy that you can see at the bottom of this link. A kit that I detested from the moment it was released, but faced with few alternatives was pretty much forced to buy and chop up.

I have three more Ork buggies that are still mere works in progress which I'll probably rush right in and share in the next post. After all, a true Ork never waits for the right moment, but just comes straight out, guns blazing. Probably without looking where he's going first. Or checking that his guns are loaded. Or even that he has any guns in the first place.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Immortal remains

Today I've got nine more completed models joining my little skirmish band of re-animated warriors. They are the remaining half of a small unit of converted skeletons and zombies that I started back here.

I wanted all these hollow-eyed fighters to appear to have had previous lives in a variety of disparate units and armies, so that their Undead ranks are made up of troops brought back to life from different battlegrounds and burial sites. The way I see it, this has three major benefits over the more common approach of making Undead armies look like they are the skeletal version of a once-living force, all wearing matching colours.

1) The army will be visually more interesting, as most of the colours and markings are different, and each model is unique. Effectively meaning there is more for someone to look at.

2) It also makes it more interesting to build and paint. It means there are fewer rules constraining what can and can't be done. Totally different helmet design? No problem. Bored of painting red? Paint a different colour. I can bring in any Undead model I fancy, and it should just slot right in – especially at the individual warrior level. It also means I can add varying degrees of decay and decomposition to the miniatures, and don't have to constantly reference what I've done before.

3) And finally, because the miniatures' livery isn't matched to their leader, they aren't all tied to a single narrative history. Their ad hoc appearance means their backstory can be changed to suit whatever impromptu background the game design requires. By simply adding a different central character, perhaps a necromancer, a vampire lord or a cabal of Chaos sorcerers, the story behind them can change dramatically. Maybe a crazy, grudge-wracked warlock has been travelling the land, raising the remains of the finest dead warriors to build his unstoppable force. Or an ousted bloodsucker is surreptitiously visiting mausoleums, slowly growing a warband with which to challenge his rivals. Or a barbarian raiding force, cut off from their homelands, has called upon the dead in a last-ditch effort to boost their depleted ranks. The options are many and varied, so trying to keep them open should pay dividends.

You can see the other completed half of this unit here, or take a look at my whole Undead project so far by clicking here.

And the good news for me is that as of this squad, I'm over halfway through my painting challenge. So another couple of these and I'll be free gain.


Friday, 10 August 2018

Werewolves, pyschos, zombies and robots. The many ways training missions can go wrong

So you and your team need to go out in the field to practise some of the skills you’ve all been learning. To make the exercise feel as realistic as possible, the location is somewhere remote and inhospitable. You get out there excited and ready to tackle the new challenge, but it soon becomes apparent that everything is not as it should be. Something somewhere has gone badly wrong and the feces is starting to hit the fan.

Are those live rounds? How badly is that person hurt? What do you mean they're dead?

The situation has escalated at lightning speed, the ante has been upped, the stakes have been raised, and you’re going to have to seriously step up your game if you want to survive.

Now if you can only manage to do that vital thing and get to that crucial place...

Here are five films of varying genres where the teams of unwary protagonists find themselves neck deep in doodoo creek, and sh*t out of paddles.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

This werewolf movie, written and directed by Neil Marshall (who also wrote and directed the terrifying, potholing, horror film, The Descent (2005)) does a great job of making the creatures look scary. They aren’t those werewolves that simply look like big dogs, going around on all fours, but the more fantastical, unknowable, Minotaur-like, half-man, half-wolf, upright monsters: lithe, yet muscular, big, strong, feral, but perhaps possessed of human level intelligence. Like something out of a nightmare. Proper scary-ass bad guys, that pose a serious, and co-ordinated threat to the people they hunt. And in this film those people are a unit of strung-out British Army soldiers, inventively swearing their way to oblivion, as they hole up in a remote cottage somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.

Severance (2006)
Before Danny Dyer was famous for pulling pints in The Queen Vic, or having his daughter win Love Island, he was a bona fide, Essex boy geezer, and something of a Mockney movie star. In this film he plays one of a group of office workers from an arms manufacturer on a team-building exercise in the mountains of Hungary. For my money Severance achieves the tricky feat of striking a delicate balance between co-worker comedy and genuine pyscho-killer horror. Very much a product of its time, it’s probably as much an anthropological dig into outdated lad culture as it is a gory and disturbing black comedy.

13 Eerie (2013)
One day I’m going to write about the Great Zombie Invasion of Movies. About how every conceivable movie idea has been adapted and remade to feature the living dead. You take a film like Jurassic Park (1993), replace the genetically engineered dinosaurs with the gruesomely enigmatic dead and remake it as The Rezort (2015). Or take a classic Jane Austen novel and set it against a rampant zombie plague to create the period costume action horror, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2015), or take a teen romance and swap out the chiselled male lead for a similarly high-cheekboned ghoul to create a zom rom com like Warm Bodies (2013). 13 Eerie is the ‘undead instead’ version of a training mission gone wrong. A bunch of forensic students go to an abandoned facility on a remote island to examine staged murder scenarios, recreated with real bodies. But in a twist that is in no way unexpected, the dead don’t stay dead for long.

Kill Command (2016)
So we’ve had werewolves, slashers, and zombies, but in this film it’s state-of-the-art military robots that are causing all the havoc. And by havoc I mean the ruthless murder of most of the team, simply to advance the learning curve for the robot’s AI. If you watch these films in the order I’ve presented them here, then, by this point the premise might be wearing a little thin, but the cool robot design and military hardware still make Kill Command a worthwhile watch.

Southern Comfort (1981)
This could be the primogenitor of our little micro-sect of movies: the superior film that helped spawn all the others. It was written and directed by Walter Hill, who also wrote and directed The Warriors (1979), and 48 Hrs. (1982) and was one of the creative driving forces behind the Alien franchise. Said to be an allegory for the Vietnam War, this action thriller stars Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe as members of a U.S. National Guard squad on manoeuvres in the Louisiana swamps, where they get accidentally caught up in armed conflict with Cajun trappers. Tense and inventive it not only determines many of the tropes from the later films on this list (last men standing, facing nasty death traps, out of their depth against a superior force), but also manages to explore some intriguing scenarios many of the other films avoid (like the sliding scale of decency among 'good' guys leaving us questioning who is actually at fault, and what could happen if one of the enemy is captured). If there's one film off the list to watch, this would be my recommendation.

That's it for now. As usual, if there are any films you feel should belong on this list, please leave a comment below and I might even try to dig up a photo.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Mammoth undertaking

I think I'm probably approaching the halfway point in my drive to create a small Undead skirmish force, using only parts and miniatures I've already got at home. (Most of which I've had lying around in boxes since I was a child in the 1980s.)

By today's standards, where people seem to paint up armies of several hundred miniatures in just a month or two of evenings, this project would appear quite modest (it's only somewhere between 30 and 50 miniatures in total), but for me it's already likely to be one of the largest, continuous efforts I've made in years.

And these next two additions are probably my favourite so far. I'm expecting them to form the centrepieces of the finished force.

They are based on the two Grenadier Masterpiece Editions shown below. Both of which are wonderful miniatures that my 13 year old self fooled himself into thinking he'd have any chance of doing justice.

When I dug these out of my past, they were badly glued together, covered in thick paint, and had multiple broken or missing parts. They were so horrendous, I couldn't even bring myself to document their condition with a photo. I think, all these years, somewhere at the back of my mind I had been aware that I owed them a duty of care. A nagging feeling that they deserved to be finished with a little more skill than mini-me offered them.*

So the first thing I did was drop them in a bath of acetone for about a week, then scrub them vigorously with an old toothbrush till most of the paint and glue had gone. Although this didn't make them pristine, I figured any lasting filth could be incorporated into the finished model to represent the accumulated dirt and disrepair of the Undead.

Then I glued them back together, added a few extra bits 'n' pieces (mainly off-cuts from the Plague Marines I chopped up at the end of last year), sculpted replacements (out of green stuff) for any vital parts that were missing, and scratched together a new plastic skeleton crew.

Hopefully, once I get a little paint on them, it'll all be worth it.

*Or perhaps by someone with the exact same skill levels, but much better tools. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether I'm better at painting miniatures, or whether it's just all the new brushes, paints and washes that create the illusion of this.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Ashes to ashes, Zandri Dust to dust

Today I'm sharing the completed first half of the skeleton and zombie unit I built last month.

In the last two or three weeks I've dedicated almost all of my spare time to these guys, but somehow I've still only managed to finish nine models. 

There are probably a few different reasons for this, but I reckon the main one is a direct result of the incredible summer we've been having in the UK. And that's not because I've been sitting around in the garden, barbecuing sausages. No, it was an actual problem that occurred at the primer/undercoat stage, right back at the beginning of the painting process, when I was trying to lay down a decent base colour.

I bought a can of Zandri Dust spray, fully expecting it to contain paint. Who'da thunk that in the intense summer heat this stuff takes on a far more literal characteristic? It turns out that if you use a Citadel aerosol in really hot weather, it doesn't spray out paint, but a thick cloud of dust. And the dust only half adheres to the miniatures, meaning I covered all 18 of my freshly converted Undead models in a coat of tacky, but loose powder.

I ended up having to rinse most of them in an attempt to remove the excess gunk. But of course, this didn't work very well, and a lot of the powder remained stuck to the models, especially in the recesses, exactly where you want it least. 

So these poor old miniatures, that had already been badly glued together and drowned in paint by my 12 or 13 year old self, and then soaked in Dettol, pulled apart and glued back together again by my adult version, were now once again covered in unwanted gak.

It's safe to say these guys really went through the wringer.

So I did the best I could do, spent more time painting them than I had intended, and generally accepted that they might not look so great.

So that's all my excuses out of the way, now here are some close-ups.

On the other hand, they were never meant to look pristine. They are, after all, meant to be rotting and decayed corpses, who have probably spent some of their recent past buried in mud and dirt. Plus, I never really set out to make these the best painted miniatures in my collection. Right now my mantra is a finished model today is better than a perfect model tomorrow

And a quick look at my score shows it's just beginning to pay off.


Monday, 25 June 2018

From hoard to horde

What's the difference between a zombie and a skeleton?

Let me expand upon this to say I'm talking about the kind of zombie and skeleton hordes found in fantasy, undead tropes. Not Haitian zombies and not real-life skeletons (buried in the ground, or hanging on frames in medical labs, or living unassuming lives hidden inside someone's body).

No, I'm talking about the flesh-eating zombies of the horror genre and the re-animated skeletons of films like Jason and the Argonauts.

Strangely, the answer to this question, although immediately obvious for any casual fan of this kind of thing, doesn't really stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

Zombies tend to be wild, mindless beasts, incapable of wielding any kind of tool or weapon, yet driven to horrific acts of violence by an insatiable hunger for human beings, whereas skeletons are usually clinical echoes of their former selves, re-animated to perform certain acts from their previous lives, often with great skill.

But does that really make sense? Surely the difference should merely be one of decomposition? The skin on a skeleton has mostly rotted away, whereas zombies still have some of theirs.

Of course this can probably be argued, ad infinitum, to be dependent upon the process and act of re-animation. Have zombies come back to life because of some strange virus? Are the skeletons held in thrall by the magical mind of a necromancer? That kind of thing.

For me, one of the best, most rational* descriptions of zombies and skeletons comes from a book I only finished reading a couple of months ago. It was Dan Abnett's The Magos (which I mentioned here too). In it the re-animated dead come in various forms, but those with no muscle or sinew are slower and more cumbersome, because magic has to do all the work, whereas, the more recently dead are still held together quite well, so the magic can concentrate on getting the other jobs done.

At least, that was my take on it.

I think for the purposes of my gaming collection I have fallen somewhere in the middle. Zombies and skeletons are very similar, at different stages of decomposition, but it is not necessarily this that determines their level of awareness. I like the idea that one skeleton might be little more that a shambling pile of bones, whereas the next could be a right dangerous creep, running at you with axes swinging. I guess the slower ones would naturally fall behind and form a unit of 'zombies', whereas the more warrior-like characters would likely form up to create a unit of, er, well, warriors.

And that leads me neatly on to why I'm going on about this in the first place.

It's because of my kitbasher's love of blurring the lines between unit types in Warhammer and Warhamer 40,000. The whole thing can be summed up, simply by saying I wanted some of the skeletons in my Undead force to have the odd remnant of flesh and occasional scrap of clothing clinging to their otherwise bare bones.

I tried to achieve this by starting with Citadel's original skeleton plastics and mixing in a hoard of parts from the Chaos Warriors, Zombie Regiment, and Beastmen sprues (plus any other one-off bits 'n' pieces, that looked vaguely right, that happened to be in my line of sight at the time).

One of the biggest problems with this approach turned out to be the scale. The plastic skeletons seemed visibly smaller than most of the other parts I was planning on using, and this prevented me from freely mixing and matching. Everything had to be carefully considered, with lots of parts needing to be shaved or cut down. I don't mind if one or two characters are bigger than the others – you see this in life too – but a tiny person with giant arms hanging below his knees can look a little silly.

Another unexpected issue was to do with their skulls. I had planned to use a few Zombie heads, but the scale thing really scuppered this, and I found myself a little short of the requisite numbers. I ended up having to repurpose one or two skulls from other places, where the level of detail probably wasn't quite high enough.

And finally, the eagle-eyed will notice there are three miniatures above that didn't start life (or undeath) as Citadel plastics. The first was a really old metal skeleton reaper. Its pose was very static, and its robes pristine, so I used Green Stuff in an attempt to add a little movement and deterioration to it. The second was the final Deadman of Dunharrow miniature with a head swap (see my previous entry), and the third was a plastic Mantic Ghoul, with an arm swap.

All that's left now is to paint them. With a little luck (and a lot of commitment) there'll be more on that next month.

*If you're thinking what I'm thinking, then I agree. Rational is not a word that has much place when you're playing make-believe. However, that said, any story should always have its underlying logic stand up to a little gentle probing. If it all comes crashing down at the slightest provocation, then it's no better than a liquid metal robot being able to use a time travel machine that's only supposed to work on organic matter. Or a landing party of cutting-edge research scientists taking off their helmets on a hostile planet, simply because they detect some oxygen. Or alien invaders who are fatally allergic to water, attacking a planet that is predominantly water, and deciding the best way to do it would be if they were naked**.
**I can feel a whole new article coming on.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Bones brigade

About a month ago I mentioned my plan to paint up a bunch of old skeleton miniatures that I still had from my childhood. I decided the first batch would include most of the metal infantry figures, plus a couple of plastic test models for the next batch. Some of the metal models were, ahem, 'bona fide' skeleton models, while the rest were from other Citadel ranges, that I had roughly converted about a decade ago (mainly by decapitating them and grafting on a plastic skull head instead).

This left me with quite a mixed selection of characters, with very little coherency from one model to the next (other than the fact they were all Undead, of course). But this was exactly what I was after.

I love the idea that each model in my collection is an individual. There are no indistinguishable troops, faceless and identical to each other – even when talking about skeletons whose faces have literally rotted away. Every single warrior in a battleline will have had an entire life stretching out behind them before they got to that moment. And with the Undead they'll have had a death or two thrown in for good measure.

This concept of individuality has been with me since my earliest days in this hobby, and was probably fuelled by the fact that in the 1980s most purchases of miniatures were in blister form – where you built a unit by buying three or four unique warriors at a go.

The official photography of the time reflected that, and nowhere was it more apparent than the wonderful, sprawling dioramas occasionally found in Games Workshop publications.

With the Undead there was a particular diorama that imprinted itself on my young mind. I think it was first seen in the Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd edition book (released in 1987), having been painstakingly created by the now infamous John Blanche, Games Workshop's director of art.

Stretching across a double page spread we got to see what looked like hundreds of Undead troops rambling towards a Dwarven stronghold in the mountains. The Undead warband was comprised of skeletons, ghouls, zombies, wraiths and other strange and fantastic creatures, all in various stages of decomposition and clearly meant to be possessed of different levels of free will.

As far as I can tell this incredible diorama is now on display at Warhammer World. But if you can't get there to see it in person, there are some decent pictures to be found online. You can see a good few of them at either Orlygg Jafnakol's Realm Of Chaos 80s blog here or Steve Casey's Eldritch Epistles blog here.

Anyway, as a young boy, when I first saw that shambolic horde of re-animated corpses, I really wanted to create a tabletop army equivalent. And now, as a middle aged manchild, my Addiction Challenge seems like a good excuse to, ahem, bring the idea back to life.

So in this post let me present the next twelve warriors in my Undead warband.

In the above photo the character on the left was a head swap on a miniature from the old Men At Arms range, the middle one was a regular skeleton warrior (perhaps released a little later than most of the others shown here), and the one on the right was part of the Skeleton Command Group selection.

The next three include another Skeleton Command Group miniature, a head-swapped Deadman of Dunharrow from the original Lord of the Rings range, and a plastic Skeleton Horde miniature given arms from the plastic Zombie Regiment.

Here we have another Skeleton Command Group member, a zombie of some kind, and a converted Paladin.

And finally, the above three miniatures include the Skeleton Horde conversion that I showed last month, the final Skeleton Command Group miniature and another Lord of the Rings Deadman of Dunharrow (whose head seems to have been replicated on the top of the banner next to him).

So that's twelve new miniatures to subtract from my Addiction Challenge. But before I show you the score, here's a group shot of my completed Undead warriors so far.