giovedì 28 dicembre 2017

AoS Skaven Deathrunners (2016)

Silver Tower is a set composed of two sides - heroes and minions of Tzeetch. And then, for some reason, there is the Skaven Deathrunner. It's just a random killing machine encounter, without any particular purpose within the story, but it's kind of cool.

I am no expert of Skaven and I can't find much about Deathrunners on the internet, so I made up some fluff for myself and my campaign. Maybe you can recycle it in some way for yours.

Assassins are the elite warriors of clan Eshin - over time, they have perfected the art of stealth and murder and none is more skilled in them save, perhaps, the Dark Elf Assassins of Naggaroth. Naturally, the path of the Assassin is not easy: not only becoming an Assassin requires talent and hard work and a trail of blood among rivals, but keeping the position also demands continued success in the tasks given by the Lords of the Clan.

The price for failure among Assassins is exceedingly high: it is said that once a Skaven Assassin is given a designated victim, one of the two must die. Going back home without completing a murder is not an option.

Still, sometimes it happens: this can be the result of genuine mistake by the Assassins, deeming the victim dead, or wilful lie: the Assassin might just think its target will never be found. But if the target is indeed found alive, the shame for the whole clan is great and the punishment for the Assassin exemplar.

This is usually the Deathrunner punishment: the Assassin is imprisoned and tortured extensively, until a new victim is designated, usually an archenemy of the Skaven. Few enemies are deemed worthy of a Deathrunner, so the period of imprisonment is generally long enough for the Skaven to go crazy and build a significant deathlust for anything that moves. When the victim is finally chosen, the prisoner is carved with tattoos and runes containing warpstone, giving him unholy powers: the horrible side effects of these rituals won't have time to develop, since a Deathrunner only has one mission in his life, and it's a suicide one. The prisoner is also fed with special potions giving him strength, quickness and resistance to pain normally impossible among regular Skaven: he grows larger during this time. His torture routine is coupled with images and stories about his target, causing him to identify him as the primary cause of his condition.

When the day comes, the Deathrunner is carried in proximity of his target in a closed cart, bound and blindfolded, and then equipped for war, drugged and released: thus starts his killing-spree. Most of the time his first victims are his jailers, but soon everything that moves follows. Still, the Deathrunner has only one thought: destroy his enemy. Anything standing in his path will be killed with a brutality only known by Rat-ogres, but coupled with an unnatural martial skill. Nothing survives the Deathrunner, not those who fight it, not those who run.

Once the target is dead, mauled and bitten to pieces, the Deathrunner is either killed by enemies or by the drugs he's been fed. Sometimes his heart will explode, other times he will die of exhaustion, and others he will just kill himself in his frenzy. So ends the life of the most fearsome warrior among the Ratkin.

sabato 23 dicembre 2017

WH40K Space Marines Primaris Reivers (2017)

Warhammer 40.000 never really appealed me. It was born as "Fantasy in Space", and I always considered it a product for those who are not into Fantasy, but would rather have adventures in a Sci-Fi setting. Not that I don't like Sci-Fi, it's just that Space Elves and Space Dwarfs are not really my cup of tea.

On top of this, I disliked Space Marines. Their bulky, disproportionate figures just looked silly to me.

Everything changed in the Summer of 2017. Games Workshop launched the Primaris Space Marines, and presented them in a great White Dwarf issue, which I happily delved into while at the beach or at the hotel, when the little ones slept.

That's how I got hooked. In September I went to the local GW and bought a small box of new Space Marines just to test them. They were, to me, everything Space Marines should have been and never were until now. I surfed online, read articles and watched youtube videos to learn about the setting. By the end of the year, I had painted all three Reivers and had conceptualized three Chapters.

The Kimeliarchs

The Kimeliarchs are a refounded Chapter dating from the aftermath of  the Age of Apostasy (36th Millennium). Their precursor Chapter, the Guardians of the White Light, was a Second Foundation descendant of the Imperial Fists, but they had been involved too much with the Ecclasiarchy and were sentenced to dissolution. The survivors joined the Crusade of Atonement of Sebastian Thor and were established as Kimeliarchs, guardians of holy shrines in the system of Aeglea in the Segmentum Ultima.

Their armours are brown and white, like the bricks and marble of the Great Temple of Phanor, like the pale, pure light of the White Dwarf Aeglea and the shadows cast by those who confront it. Their device are crossed keys, for they are the keepers of sacred relics and the guardians of the holy places of the Aeglea system. Unlike most Astartes, the Kimeliarchs are deeply devoted to the Imperial Cult and worship the Emperor Saviour and St. Barnabas the Preacher, who first converted the inhabitants of Aeglea. These Space Marines are specialized in operations in inhabited worlds: they possess good intelligence and diplomacy skills, and the discipline to limit damage when confronting enemies. They are often deployed against Chaos or Xeno cults trying to erode Shrine Worlds or Hive Worlds from within.

The Mountain Spirits

The Mountain Spirits are a new Chapter, exclusively composed of Primaris Space Marines, dating from the Ultima Founding. Deriving their geneseed from Jagathai Khan, they can be considered a successor Chapter of the White Scars.

The Chapter has been stationed on Altanar, a barren, volcanic planet located in the Ultima Segmentum. Tucked between the Maelstrom and the Ork world of Golgotha, and not far from the Rift and the ruins of Prospero, Altanar and its population have survived in time only because of their dearth of resources that made the planet an unattractive stop along the routes of pirates and invaders.

The Mountain Spirits are hardy and reclusive as the planet itself, not trusting strangers and relying on fortifications to weather the Warpstorms and Ork Invasions. Their Chapter culture is rich in secret rituals and many of them are gifted psykers. Their military focus is on disguised fortifications and ambush.

Their armour is green with a red left pauldron, but psykers among them wear a dark armour with a left green pauldron. Their device is a mountain surrounded by clouds.

The Ravana Hunters

Another new Chapter from the Ultima Founding, the Ravana Hunters derive from an unspecified geneseed and take their names from their homeworld, Ravana, located in the Segmentum Pacificus. A planet of recent discovery, situated at the edge of the Imperium, Ravana is a deathworld that has never been settled before the coming of the Adeptus Astartes. Its dense jungles and barren deserts are notably inhabited by an autochtonous megafauna of invertebrates divided in countless species competing for survival.

The Astartes have not only been able to carve their own place in the deadly environment of the planet, but they also have learned to make good use of the local creatures' teeth and carapaces for the production of equipment. For example their knives are obtained from the teeth of the Gawah, a local giant mollusc and, when cut properly, are far more resistant and sharp than plasteel.

Ravana Hunters are skillful scouts and excel in guerrilla warfare. They wear black armour with red pauldrons, and their device is a Gawah conch-shell.

That's all for a start... but there's already something else on the working table. Have you started painting Primaris? Did you invent your own Chapter? Let me know in the comments!

sabato 16 dicembre 2017

AoS Excelsior Warpriest (2016)

Age of Sigmar.

To those who were in love with the old Warhammer setting, it is anathema.
But to those who were in love with the original Warhammer setting, it's nothing new. Warhammer after 1993 sucked anyway. But let's not start on the path of the #grognard.

Age of Sigmar, we were saying. I gave it a try. And it's not bad.

It's logic, if anything. The original Warhammer setting was one of the most creative and funny fantasy settings ever, but it had a number of flaws that could not have let it survive into the 21st century, within the fold of a multinational. It was too derivative of classic fantasy, it was too British and there were way too many uncomfortable elements to make it acceptable for the big public. It was old, and it needed a retirement.

Don't flame up, my friends. You know it's true. It's gonna happen to Middle-earth, too: it's not ageless, it's a product of the 20th century and even today it is old. Ask young people.

Enter the Warhammer Fantasy reboot: Age of Sigmar. The Warhammer World was overcome by Chaos but something survived, escaped and found haven in eight worlds dominated each by a colour of magic.

Sigmar is alive, he is a God-King and rules the world of Azyr. He is now more powerful than ever and still pretty much a God of Law, but less gloomy and more cinematic. Forget Inquisition and Witch-hunters and get used to Gold-armoured Super-warriors riding lightning. Yes, it's basicly Valhalla on crack.

Among his servants, still, there is a priesthood. War-priests, to be precise.

"... and there slew they the goats, yea, and placed they the bits in little pots. Here endeth the lesson."
Get ready for oversized warhammers, holy books and parchments worn as if they were sashes. They look silly, granted, but still less silly than the old ones.

You would think with all that plate armour, he'd take a little care of his head, no? No. HE HAS TWO WARHAMMERS!
Plus, they have cynogryphs. Get it? Like hyppogryphs, but dogs instead of horses. Right. Gryph-hounds. Sigh.

There will be more of this. I purchased the Silver Tower set and will be taking pictures of the miniatures as I progress in painting them.

Stay tuned.

lunedì 4 dicembre 2017

The Gamekeeper - Citadel Ranger C07 (1985)


In late 1985 Citadel issued one of the nicest series ever, the C07 Rangers. What was special about this range was that all the figures had been sculpted - by none other than the Perry twins - on the base of Tony Ackland's Ranger careers illustrations from the upcoming Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, published the following year.

If you have played WFRP and, as a teenager, spent whole afternoons pondering your PC's future career path while looking at Tony Ackland's drawings, you may well understand why this post is tagged #iconic.

This is the description of the Gamekeeper career from the rulebook:
Most Old World landowners employ Game­keepers to look after their estates, woodlands or hunting parks. Gamekeepers look on trespassers with deep and sometimes fatal suspicion. The arch­enemy of the Gamekeeper is the Poacher, who seeks to make a living by trapping or shooting animals or birds. Every Game­keeper likes to boast of his victories over these elusive and devious opponents. Poachers and Gamekeepers can be thought of as opposite sides of the same coin, and players with Gamekeeper characters of a Neutral, Evil or Chaotic Alignment may choose to be Poachers instead. Gamekeepers or Poachers may take this career a second time, taking the 'op­posite' career, following the normal pro­cedures for changing careers.
This was the true spirit of the Old World setting that, unfortunately, has largely been lost over the years to grimdark tones. Nowadays the archenemy of Gamekeepers are probably Chaos Beastmen (or Gors, as the fluff goes) and these professional are seldom seen without a trusty gunblade and a number of skulls attached to their belt. But enough of grumbling, as this post is not tagged as #grognard.

No grim trophies or fancy firearms for our Gamekeeper, but rather a bow, a quiver slung over the shoulder, a pouch, a dagger and a sword hung at the belt. He wears shoes and gaiters, breeches, a cape with lobed edges over a long tunic, and a hat with folded edges. Looking at him we know he cares about practicality and comfort, but at the same time he or his master are able to afford good quality clothes. He's fully equipped for adventure and he seems to be moving a branch aside to spy on something or someone.

In case you didn't notice, I used a different approach at painting this time. Since I had used practically all my dull greens for the different layers of clothing, my only option was to highlight with the original colour of each layer mixed with white. The final effect is less realistic but more like a painting, I find. I am not totally displeased with this approach and I might use it again in the future, especially for monochromatic colour schemes. Of course in this case the figure is not only green, but has been balanced with a range of warm browns.
Looking back at it, if I had to paint it again I would break the dark greens with some lighter ones to create more contrast. But this time I'll just be happy with this!

domenica 26 novembre 2017

Two Mithril Orcs - M308 and M381

Lately, I'm becoming obsessed with skin tones. The last post on the colour of bones is but a declination of such obsession.

Having come in the possession of a couple of unboxed miniatures of Orcs through a private sale, I decided to experiment on them. For years I've wondered about the skin tone of Orcs, which is one of the Great Questions of Fantasy. There will be a post on this, one day, but not today.

So: Mithril Orcs. An archer and a swordsman (swordsorc?). Nice figures. Although they are originally from different ranges, I decide to go for the same colour, and here's my personal recipe.

- Coat grey (Tamiya in my case)
- Basepaint in Steel Legion Drab (Citadel)
- Heavy wash with Agrax Earthshade (Citadel)
- Layer once more with Steel Legion Drab
- Highlight with the same colour mixed with a small quantity of Leather Brown (Vallejo Game Color) or XV-88 (Citadel)

The result was good. I'm not 100% happy with it, but overall not at all unhappy.

Here are the details on each miniature:

M308, Hithaeglir Goblin, The Misty Mountains range  

This was part of a set of two Orcs from 1993, the last code of the Misty Mountains range (M301-308). This specific set included two Orcs armed with swords and shields: the one I bought was missing the shield. Unfortunately I did not check pictures of the original miniature before assembling it: this was supposed to draw his scimitar from the back. The pose I gave him is , in my opinion, more appealing, but it leaves an empty space on the back, where the scimitar ought to be.

All in all, the sculpt is good and dynamic, and it makes a very good game piece.

M381, Morgul Orcs Archer, Rangers of Ithilien range

The Rangers of Ithilien (1996) is by far one of my favourite ranges, and this Orc is indeed a great figure. The plasticity of movement seems to recall the paintings of Frazetta: the tension of the arms, the curved back, the crouched position seem to suggest this Orc was laying in ambush and he just sprang up to shoot at enemies, who appropriately stand below the Orc's position. In other words, this is a sculpt that tells a story, and that's quite an achievement.

lunedì 20 novembre 2017

The Colour of Bones

Bone is a very special material - a material with both organic and mineral composition and a unique texture designed for resistance and lightness. While being indisputably white, bone has a hue of its own, which we will discuss here: bone white.

As this colour is both specific and commonly requested for painters of miniatures, most manufacturers of paints have one in their range, for example Bone White from Game Color (Vallejo) or Citadel Ushabti Bone and Screaming Skull (GW). But judge you not colours by their name.

In fact, the most important thing to know when painting bones, is that bones have no clear colour, and this for three reasons. The first is that the original colour of bones is highly influenced by the mineral composition, which in turn may vary wildly because of diet and environment. As a result, not only different creatures have bones of different colours, but also different people do.

The second element to influence the colour of bones is the situation: freshly scarnificated bones are more yellowish-brown because of the presence of fat, while old bones are whiter. Bones that have been cleaned with a thorough boiling, a practice not only reserved for food but also for important people when - in pre-refrigeration times - they died far from their place of  burial, and the weather was hot and humid. Similarly, bones that have been exposed to extreme heat, like a funeral pyre or dragon breath, tend to be whiter than others.

The third element is the environment to which bones were exposed. Bones buried in the naked ground tend to collect earth and dust into their spongy cavities and cracks, assuming colours that vary from brown to red to yellow. Skeletons abandoned in damp places can be attacked by fungi, moss or algae. Bones exposed to the sun, on the other hand, tend to be bleached by it.

Old bones are just the colour of the earth they were buried in
Bogs preserve bones (and hair) very well even after thousands of years.
Yet mud tends to colour the bone very much
Moss can grow anywhere, including human remains
Skeletons stored in crypts collect dust and soot from candles
Ultimately, the variation of bone colour is so wide that it is impossible to offer a single recipe for painting them: it really depends on how you want them to be.

To exemplify, I tested three recipes on some GW Skeletons.

Here we go - Skeleton No. 1

This model, primed black, was painted with a base of Rakarth Flesh, washed with Agrax Earthshade and then layered first in Rakarth Flesh and then in Pallid Wych Flesh. The result is a very cold figure, an old skeleton illuminated by the light of the moon.

Skeleton No. 2

Warmer tones were obtained with a base of Zandri Dust, washed with Agrax Earthshade and then layered with Zandri Dust, Model Color Dark Sand (but you might as well use Ushabti Bone) and finaly highlighted with Screaming Skull (but you might also use Game Color Bonewhite, which is the same). This is a pretty neutral skeleton which is good for any situation.

Skeleton No. 3

For a yellowish effect, like a skeleton freshly raised from the ground, lighted by torch fire, you can use a base of Zandri Dust and layer it with Model Color Dark Sand. Then wash everything with Seraphim Sepia and layer again with Dark Sand.

And here's a back photo to fully appreciate the difference. These are just three possibilities out of hundreds. In the end, anyone can be free to choose a colour scheme of their own liking.

Which one do you like? Let me know your own recipe for skeletons in the comments.

martedì 7 novembre 2017

The Mugger - Citadel C05 Thief (1986)

In 1986 Citadel issued a C04 range dedicated to Thieves. The selection of shady characters, all sculpted by the Perry twins, was impressive and drew extensively from the stereotypes of heroic fantasy.

Each of the characters is named, and the one I finished painting this week is recorded as Elshender Nightman, a good fantasy name for a cut-throat. The slotta of the miniature simply records him as "Mugger".

The sculpt, as by the standards of the Perry twins, is nice and full of character and detail. The Mugger is in combat stance, dagger drawn and pointed at the enemy, ready to strike. From his shoulder hangs a large bag, and from the belt another smaller one and a short sword. Clearly an adventuring type, our rogue cares to wear a leather jacket over his shirt, and a coif which could well be made of leather. His pants are tucked into boots more suited for a traveller than a small town criminal.

This is great to represent both a PC and any NPC with a criminal background. This is old school at its best. Love it!

martedì 31 ottobre 2017

Fantasy Visuals: Rodney Matthews

After Roger Dean, the next big name in Fantasy Art in UK was without any doubt Rodney Matthews. Just one year younger than Dean, Matthews was born on 6th July 1945 in Paulton, North Somerset. Like many other authors, he attended an art school (West of England College of Art) and after it he proceeded to find a job in advertising.

It was in 1970 that he decided to leave his job to become a freelance and draw what he liked, but it took some time before he made a name of himself. Using acrylic on board, his primary inspiration at this time were Rackham and the other illustrators of his time, whose influence is clear in the sketchy characters, goblins and elves with slanted eyes and pointed hats, and in the gnarled and twisted shapes of trees. Matthews was, at this time, already a fan of fantasy fiction and Tolkien was his main literary inspiration, so that his first paintings are tributes to the Professor's works. The depth of Matthew's knowledge of Tolkien's books is noteworthy: while the Hobbit and the Lord of Rings were popular with artists, few even knew about the Silmarillion, published in 1977: that same year, our author was already drawing scenes from it.
1973 Gollum in the Dead Marshes

1977 The People of the Pines - a reference to the Elves of Dorthonion
1979 A view over Isengard

The Dwarves of Belegost
Soon, however, Matthews' style developed with two, even greater, influences. The first was the work of Roger Dean, which we already mentioned - one year older, Dean was already very famous and at some point Matthews started to draw heavily from his style, setting his scenes in surrealistic landscapes with atmospheric lights. This didn't suit well Dean, who considered Matthews a shameless plagiarist.
1981 Mirador
1987 Stronghold
1970s Inverted Landscapes
1970s Freyja's ca... no wait, this is "Tanelorn"
True or not (you decide), around this time Matthews started to get commissions for album covers, and soon made a name in the industry, at first working for prog bands (including Asia, Dean's best client) but later becoming iconic for heavy metal ones.
1978 No mean city - Nazareth
1981 Time tells no lies - Praying Mantis
1981 Time to turn - Eloy (UK issue)
1995 Arena - Asia

The other inspiration was a writer, Michael Moorcock, who was just at this time receiving his first recognitions. Matthews and Moorcock became friends and actively cooperated, with the first illustrating the second's stories, especially those about Elric of Melniboné.

Chequered Floor
Obsidian Castle
The Dragon Lord
1981 - Encore at the End of Time
From the 80s on, Rodney Matthews became a well established author doing a lot of works also based on other books, and his style became more stable. He did many book covers, calendars and more albums, plus in the 1990s he opened his own web store where he sells art prints, mugs and other merchandising.

1978 Estcarp Five - Matthews illustrated many covers from the Witch World cycle
The Duke to the Rescue - this is from F. Herbert's Dune
The sack of Zodanga - from E. Rice Burrough's Mars cycle
In 1998 Matthews worked with Gerry Anderson on the children animated series Lavender Castle.

In the same year he worked with Psygnosis supplying conceptual designs for the game Shadow Master and again in 2002 for Haven: Call of the King by Midway.

Still active at the time of this post, Rodney Matthews is a difficult artist to frame. On one side, he borrowed extensively (shamelessly, one would say) from other artists both visually and conceptually (but then, also Led Zeppelin did, didn't they?). On the other, he has created outstanding art whose influence on sci-fi, steampunk and fantasy can not be in any way downplayed.

Talking about influences, Matthews's style could be described as Proto-Hammer: all the early artists at Games Workshop were directly or indirectly referencing his works. You can glimpse it in John Blanche's reddish or yellowish landscapes and crooked tree-shapes, or in Tony Ackland's demons with long, flat, skullish heads and overlong claws; in Jes Goodwin's Elves with pointed hats, long, thin faces and slanted eyes, or again in Gary Chalk's exaggerated traits in Goblins and monsters. Perhaps Warhammer as we know it would not exist without Rodney Matthews.

Think of that! And while you do, take a look at a gallery of my favourites:

1978 - Drum Boogie
1979 - Dragon Colony (from Elric at the End of Time)
Ilian of Garathorm

1985 - The Heavy Metal Hero
1992 - Lament for the Weary

2008 - Immortal