Tuesday, 20 September 2016

My new workspace

For the last five years or so, ever since we moved house, I haven't had a permanent and dedicated space to call my own, for my hobby. My lead and plastic pile is in the garage (still is), my painted miniatures in boxes under the bed (still are) and my painting, basing, converting tools and bits were in a small cupboard in the kitchen. I'd have to bring out my daylight angle-poise, get all my stuff out and then sit at the dining table - all of which was a bit of a mission before I'd even started. And then of course there's the tidying away which is a real pain in the arse if something was half-finished. This was a reason some things have remained half-finished (so I tell myself).

So after a conversation with the house-boss, after I'd completed some diy/renovation in the front room to gain some brownie points, I bagged myself a spot. The brief from the missus, was: "don't spend much on furniture, make it tie in with what we already have and make sure it's kept clean and tidy" (with young kids in the house this was important to me too and of course is just good practise in my opinion). So the challenge was on!

After a bit of research into "hobby spaces", I decided that a roll top desk was essential - I could hide my wip/stuff neatly behind a screen that came down when I'd finished for the day. But these aren't cheap. However a bit of ebay scouring found me this one (and not too far away) for £12:

Open and desk top tucked in

Open and desk extended out


It's not very big, which actually suits me. I've always found that the larger the work surface the more chance there is of me filling it with stuff and clutter. I believe this is an old Ikea design and was originally used for computers, hence the pull out surface - but this also works in my favour as I can increase the workspace area when I'm working and store it away when I'm not. The existing furniture in the room is of a cream colour, so I had to get to work on this to fulfil the wife's remit. After some sanding, masking, priming, undercoating and furniture painting I ended up with this:

Ready to get my painting on. The black chair was a fiver from the dump and just needed some cleaning up and a new nut and bolt.

Previously I'd always had my paints in a tray which was a massive pain because I couldn't always see which paint was which from above and sometimes I'd spend way too much time trying to find a particular colour; so I decided to make a quick and easy paint rack from some leftover mdf and a few shelf supports. An hour or so later in the garage and I'd created one for all my paints!

I don't have space for my tools and basing materials in here, but I'll be adding a small set of drawers just to the left of the desk for easy access. It will be great to have so much hobby close at hand.

The anglepoise clipped on nicely to the top of the desk and I'm ready to go, or not, but it doesn't matter because I can just close up whenever I want and hide my stuff away:

Here's a close up of the painting rack - a little bit of forethought and planning and then a little bit more making and it's fit for purpose.
The next step will be to add a set of drawers to the left of the desk, to house my tools, bitz box and basing materials, and you can't quite see from pictures but there's a set of separate shelves above the desk which currently hold kids dvds etc. Well these will be "phased out" and replaced with some books that are key to my hobby, ie the RoC books and some other painting guides. The sides and back of the desk will display a few inspirational pictures too, that relate to current projects, so expect to see illustrations from Warlock of Firetop Mountain, some steampunked rogue trader nurgle sketches etc on there.

Will I now become a bit more productive..? Well I have one less excuse now, and of course I've kept the missus relatively happy (although she's not a fan of the chair) which can only be a good thing. I'd better get some painting done then!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

For me Fighting Fantasy is where this whole obsession with my hobby began, way before GW etc entered my life. And during my blogging life I've made a few scratchbuilt models to re-create the wonderfully evocative illustrations from the books. Recently I re-visited (with some trepidation) the first Fighting Fantasy book I ever read; The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

 I say trepidation because I was slightly worried that it would now not be quite as exciting and amazing as it was when I first read so many years ago in the local library. I was not disappointed. Ok the actual dungeon is not very difficult to explore and it's actually quite hard to die but the map I drew as I was exploring was relatively easy to construct (more on that later), the story is still great and the illustrations by Russ Nicholson are still as wonderful to pore over as they were back then. Now I can further appreciate his sense of a light space in a dungeon and the detailed textures and wonderful expressions on the often dim-witted monsters that are encountered (who can forget the sleeping Goblin sentry or the frightened orc slave taking a whipping?)

I read the book several times, both in story mode to help make my map (because you just have to make a map) and in numerical order just to get to read every passage and see every illustration. But also because I want to recreate this dungeon in my model making. Yes that's right, I'm going to start on a crazy project that will see me re-create the illustrations from the book, so that a dungeon explore game can actually be played within the setting of Firetop Mountain, with familiar foes, landmarks and puzzles.
So to kick this off, where better to start than with page 1:

At last your two-day hike is over. You unsheathe your sword, lay it on the ground and sigh with relief as you lower yourself down onto the mossy rocks to sit for a moment's rest. You stretch, rub your eyes and finally look up at Firetop Mountain.

The very mountain itself looks menacing. The steep face in front of you looks to have been svaged by the claws of some gargantuan beast. Sharp rocky crags jut out at unnatural angles. At the top of the mountain you can see the eerie red colouring - probably some strange vegetation - which has given the mountain it's name. Perhaps no one will ever know exactly what grows up there, as climbing the peak must surely be impossible.

Your quest lies ahead of you. Across the clearing is a dark cave entrance. You pick up your sword, get to your feet and consider what dangers may lie ahead of you. But with determination, you thrust the sword home into its scabbard and approach the cave.

You peer into the gloom to see dark, slimy walls with pools of water on the stone floor in front of you. The air is cold and dank. You light your lantern and step warily into the blackness. Cobwebs brush your face and you hear the scurrying of tiny feet: rats most likely. After a few yards you arrive at a junction. Will you turn west (turn to 71) or east (turn to 278)?

And here's my interpretation of the original illustration through using some of the descriptive prose from the above text:

But of course this is a photograph of my 3d model, so to align it even further with the original illustration I used an iPhone app called Prisma which puts a filter over the photograph, here I used the filter named Light Summer Reading:

 And here I used Heisenberg:

And here you can compare it to Russ Nicholson's original drawing:

Next I'll show you some WIP photos of the model-making process, using just a few tools and materials:

An MDF offcut created the base and backing (screwed together with some brackets for support). A citadel tree was chopped down so as to curve further to the right, as in the illustration and mounted on a bit of cork for some rocks. Expanding foam was then built up for the side of the mountain (I used too much, it really did expand more than I was expecting!)

I added a few brass leaves to the tree and carved away the cured expansion foam, trying to recreate the "steep face in front of you looks to have been svaged by the claws of some gargantuan beast. Sharp rocky crags jut out at unnatural angles."  Sand was added with some pva to the ground.

I added some skulls to cocktail sticks to recreate the entrance, added further sand to the craggy mountain side and then tested some grey primer onto the foam. It distorted it slightly and created a further textured dimension to the rockface (even occasional drips like stalagtites from the ceiling of the cave entrance. Pure chance!
I got carried away with the painting and forgot to take any wip photos, but after the grey primer the rocks were washed with a dark grey to get into the nooks. I then drybrushed with a loaded brush, successive lighter greys, ensuring the lightest was on the most raised areas. Lots and lots of washes were then applied, mainly ochres, greens and browns to introduce some moss like colours and a bit more interest. The ground was sprayed brown and then highlighted up with drybrushed lighter greys and browns. Finally some gloss varnish was poured down from the top which created little streams of water and pools of moisture. A couple of swamp tufts and liberal scattering of bitch seeds completed the vignette.
Here you can see the structure.

And the map which I drew up as I was exploring the dungeon. This took me right back to being a kid and will help me as I re-create each illustration throughout the book. To make it easier upon myself, I'll choose a route that actually gets me to the end, but a route that has the more interesting illustrations in (hence the page numbers to help me reference the illustrations):

Finally as I was doing some research on this I found two nuggets. First of all I discovered that the illustration I've work from was not the initial sketch submitted, apparently this one here was (I think it is much more interesting and even slightly Ian Milleresque...):

but it was decided that it did not fit the story as well - perhaps a bit too scary for the little ones? And then amazingly when I was completing my research, I found this Warlock of Firetop Mountain colouring book which has given me a chance to add colour to the original black and white version, kind of a reversal of what I achieved with the Prisma app on the photograph of my own model!

My colouring in! I wanted it to be quite mute but with some patches of colour, which is kinda how I painted the model. Here I've used pencil shading, pretty quickly applied for the rocks and tree and then blended in a few colourful hues (greens, yellows and browns) to represent the natural, outside feel to the drawing.

So until next time....

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Mysterious Castle. Family Gaming pt1

It was a bit of a rainy Saturday at the weekend, so I gathered my kids together, brought out some of my scenery and models and quickly forged a simple scenario for them to play with me GMing.

They controlled two characters each - a model of themselves plus either mum, dad, grandparents or the cat (I just about made the cut, my daughters chose mum and the cat, my son, slightly reluctantly, chose me over grandad!)

The scenario was very simple: this band of adventurers had heard that the nearby villagers of North Campian had been harried out of their homes due to some Orcs who had started raiding the village. It seems they were based in the old, abandoned castle which perched on a hill overlooking the village. A reward of gold coins was offered by the town mayor if these Orcs could be "persuaded" to leave the area.

In terms of rules, I kept it very simple. For movement a stick was used that was divided into 3 lengths. The entire length of the stick meant that a character could sprint that distance but not perform any other actions. The second measurement on the stick (about halfway) was a brisk walk and the character could perform one other action. The shortest measurement was a cautious slow walk but two other actions could be performed. Finally the character could not move but perform 3 actions.

Possible actions included, but were not restricted too:
  • searching
  • fighting
  • leaping
  • throwing
  • spellcasting
  • hiding
Obviously I wanted my kids to explore their imaginations so as GM I guided them if they wanted to try a different type of action and I modified the dice roll needed on 2d6 depending on the difficulty of the task.

My oldest daughter was a mage and so could cast spells, but for them to be successful she had to make them rhyme. I would then ask her to roll two die and modify the roll according to difficulty.
My middle daughter could have one spell, which she chose to be "steal mind" (her idea!) which she could cast on any other character (but again modified by me depending on the difficulty ie. a troll would be easier, say 4+, than a orc shaman, say 9+). She was also able to throw knives from a distance.

My youngest. the son, was a fighter and had improved chances to hit in combat and could use a slingshot from a distance.

Here's the lineup of possible adventurers, from left to right: Tom the Cat, Mum, Grandad, oldest daughter the spellcaster, son the fighter, dad, middle daughter the steal mind specialist and grandma.

The enemy come out of the castle goading the adventurers

And release a captive, Harvey, who runs about squealing and waving his hands in the air "help me, brave adventurers, help me"! My middle daughter asks him some questions about what has been going on and he gives them a bit of advice "their chief keeps them together, get him and they'll run away - oh and beware of the stupid troll". My son asks if Harvey will join and fight with them (I was so impressed with this question!), but alas he is not a fighter. He does give my son the promise of new equipment if they succeed in their quest...

Sizing up the enemy. The castle was his birthday present back in June, so it's good that we both got to play with it together.

My middle daughter runs close enough to the two orcs who are furthest forward and recognises one as weaker than the other. She successfully casts steal mind on the weaker one who promptly attacks the tough guy! The tougher orc parries the attack and puts the upstart back into the earth with a swing of his flail. One down!

The fighters quickly close in on the enemy (as does the cat). The cat has some special rules: can sneak up on a character, can hide, can pounce for an additional attack with claws and teeth, or can use a spray attack. The real Tom the Cat has just been snipped!

My oldest, the spellcaster successfully casts a flight spell first on herself and then on Tom the Cat ("I know I'm Flying in the sky, but give my cat wings to fly") so that he could attack some of the orcs.

Combat ensures between our intrepid adventurers and the nasty orcs. Obviously I stack the odds in my kids favour, but encourage the youngest two to add up the numbers on the dice using mental arithmetic.

As the fighting ensues, the sorceress casts a new spell whilst flying: "Give me the power to swim in that swamp, to fight the fat monster with a kick and a stomp". It was successfully cast on the second time of asking and the troll starts taking a bit of a magical beating, much to his bemusement.

Father and son and pet cat, make short work of the stinky orcs.

Tom the cat sprays in the Orc chieftan's face, making him blind for a turn and holding up all the other orcs on the drawbridge.

Mum joins her daughter in the fetid moat to try and finish off the hulking troll.

The sorceress decides to not attack the troll, leaving that to mum, so that she can cast a spell at the orcs on the drawbridge: "I want to kill those monsters all, so pull up the drawbridge so I can watch them fall". Inventive magic, but unfortunately she failed to cast it thrice on a 7+! So father and son decide to take matters into their own hands, pick up the large boulder and fling it at the squabbling orcs on the drawbridge. A skilful throw sees a load of them skittled over!

Tom the Cat tries to finish off the few remaining orcs, including the leader with another spray, at which point Harvey the villager re-appears to offer some help (trying to gain some glory as the fight is almost done!)

A combined effort from all the family finally see the orc chief and the troll defeated and all the other orcs scarper down the hill and away from the triumphant adventurers. They cannot resist the temptation to explore the now empty castle and discover a secret trapdoor in the floor - will they investigate further...? To be continued!

It was a really fun game that lasted for almost two hours, until tea was ready and the conclusion sets up another game, for another rainy day, in the near future. The kids also want to do some painting with me, so I'll fish out a couple of old plastics for them to start on with the idea of using them in a future game. I think my oldest especially is old enough to have a go at some proper rules, so I may trial a game of Dragon Rampart, Frostgrave of Songs of Blades and Heroes with her..

My wife was slightly intrigued by what we were up to and observed parts of the game - we both realised that gaming such as this can help the kids personal development:

  1. Quality time with dad!
  2. Using and exploring their imaginations
  3. Following rules and instructions (but also challenging them!)
  4. Verbal reasoning when interacting with other characters and each other
  5. Literacy for the eldest (she had to write down the spells in advance, ensuring they rhymed and made sense)
  6. Showing an understanding of measurement
  7. Numeracy for the youngest two, mental arithmetic and understanding a bit of probability.
  8. Fun!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

An unexpected discovery...

I had just dropped my bike off for a service and had begun the short journey home by foot. Walking past a local charity shop, my meanderings were slowly stopped as in the shop window I saw a load of old Citadel models on display! I actually carried on walking for a few strides until what I had just seen registered in my mind. On closer inspection there was a whole load of old models on display and more in a tatty basket amongst the usual tat on display in such a window; I gazed through that window like I used to as a young boy, peering through the reflections at the models as I did back at GW Reading in the late 80's. I still can't believe my good fortune. But there's a bittersweet element to this, yes I'm happy to have found this hoard, but there is obvious care, skill and humour in the models that once belonged to someone who probably had a similar passion as me for the characterful nature of these old Citadel sculpts. But it was actually the discovery of some milliputted bases and freehand banners that affected me the most - this collection is not just of a kid who had a fleeting involvement in the hobby, these belonged to someone who had obviously been quite immersed and clearly was inspired by White Dwarf and Golden Demon of the time, as some of the painting skills and attention to detail are really very good.

The price for the models was incredibly good and I selected only some of the models on display and the entire basket to buy, because at the time I felt greedy in taking it all, although I may go back today to have another look... The range of models spanned 40k and Fantasy, some of which are as early as 1985 and some of which I believe are quite collectible (Space Slann!) However none of them are useful for any of my many current projects, which led me to a bit of a dilemma. I shared these same photos on the Oldhammer Facebook Trading page to help with some identification, especially with the 40k models which I am not so au fait with and I was slightly overwhelmed with the repsonses in terms of successful identification, value but also collectors who were interested in particular models. My dilemma remains - shall I start up some new projects with some of these, shall I sell them to finance ongoing projects or keep them together to maintain the previous owners oeuvre? I'm still unsure and at any rate I'm in no rush to make up my mind.

I wanted to know a bit more about the provenence of these miniatures so I spoke to the store manager who was working there yesterday and she said that an older lady/mum had given her son's collection to the store only a few days ago. Other than that she knew nothing. She did know that these figures were collectable but had reduced the price as they had been painted so "thickly" - I paid very little for these, it has to be said. Now I just need to contemplate what to do next with them all, but if anyone knows anymore about these, as models or as a collection, I would be very interested.

Some wonderful Chaos Champions. I already own the bottom two and once used to have the bone armour chap.

I think this is a very old GW elf mage, that was accompanied by an apprentice.

Some Lords of Battle and a Citadel Fighter, I believe.

Some Ork Painboyz etc from '89.

A Rogue Trader ratling. He's tiny.

Some elves, including Marauder elves and a couple of wardnacers I think.

Two early Rogue Trader models - loving the milliputted base with cogs and tentacles.

Some Orcs - I'll definitely find a use for these.

A couple of Night Horrors, a gargoyle/demon and a ghoul.

A dwarf adventurer.

The MotherCrushers.

A Barbarian, with a slightly damaged helmet.

A couple of Eldar something or others..

Perry sculpted militia for Bretonians

A blue horror that's been painted pink?

Some Gothic Horror (I think) models that are quite old - '85.

Some very cool snotlings mounted onto a scratchbuilt, milliput base

A carrion (misding it's rider).

There's also 4 Space Slann, which have not uploaded here for some reason, but are probably the rarest out of the collection

And the banners. Someone on Facebook said they recognised the OrcBusters banner, but as you can see these are nicely designed and painted