Friday, 10 January 2020

Gandalf (and the Nazgul)

If I went back through my life, I have probably painted about 20 different Gandalf figures, both official and not. I don’t see this as a problem. He is arguably the greatest character in the history of fantasy, and he’s fun to paint. By why another one? Why this one?

Well, over the last year, I have felt myself moving away from the official The Lord of the Rings figure range. I still think they are beautiful miniatures, and I’m certainly proud of my little Minas Tirith army, but, there are several issues.  First, it has proved tiresome trying to keep up with all of the re-packagings, out-of-printings, casting material changes, Forge World vs. GW availability, price-hikings, etc. I just don’t have the time to pay attention. The bigger reason though, is that I’ve realized that the figures are just too small and their features too fine for me to fully enjoy painting them. I know this means they are more realistic – like I said, they are beautiful – but they don’t mesh well with where I find enjoyment in painting – especially as my eyes have gotten older.

I’m sure I’ll paint some more in the future, as I still would like to add a few bits to my army, but when it comes to characters, I’ve decided that I will look to other ranges. The best part about this is that I can choose figures that are closer to my personal vision of the characters, rather than the movie interpretations, as good as most of those are. When I first saw this figure, I knew I wanted him for my Gandalf. Okay, his staff isn’t quite right, but otherwise I think he is spot on! It should probably come as no surprise to readers of my blog that he’s another Bobby Jackson sculpt, from Reaper.

Painting proved pretty straightforward on this one. I mean, it’s mostly shades of grey, and all of the great folds in the cloak and robes made shading and blending really easy. Actually, this ease meant that I spent more time on it, because I was enjoying it so much. I didn’t get quite the shade of blue I was looking for on the hat, but its good enough.

Really, the only part of the process I didn’t absolutely love was hacking the figure off its integral base, but that only took 20 minutes or so.

So, scratch off one more on my Fellowship of the Ring project. I only have Boromir, Gimli, and Pippin to go, though I haven’t identified minis for any of them yet. (I haven’t shown either Frodo or Merry. I have painted figures for them, but I’m not completely happy with them. Still they will do until better ones come along.)

Oh, and as you can see, I finished a second Nazgul as well!

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

The First Temptation

Less than a day after posting my new plan for miniatures, I faced my first major temptation to break it…

I was in W. H. Smith, and as always, I gave the extensive magazine rack a quick perusal. And there it was, Mortal Realms Magazine #1, the latest ‘thing’ from Games Workshop. Of course, to call it a ‘magazine’ is disingenuous*. Really, it is a set of 13 miniatures, plus some dice, that just happens to come with a free magazine. But here is the kicker, it costs £3.


There is no way around it; this is one of the best money-to-miniature deals in the history of the hobby.

Now, when it comes to Age of Sigmar, I have no strong opinion. I think some of the miniatures are lovely, and this includes the ones offered in this set. I find the lore behind the game mostly impenetrable. The game itself is not for me, but plenty of people seem to have fun with it. But £3 for 13 really nice miniatures? And those ghosty things would make great spectres for playing Rangers of Shadow Deep: Ghost Stone

I picked it up. I examined it from all angles. I put it back on the shelf. Then I picked it up again. I considered buying two or three copies and getting an army of ghosts for £9! I pondered how I could get it in my bag (not planning to steal it; I’d just come on my bike).

But I had a plan for my miniatures, and this wasn’t in it! I mean, I could always modify the plan right? Just get these now, and they could be the next project after I finish one of my five.
I mean, I’d have to be pretty dumb not to buy 13 Games Workshop miniatures for £3 right?

Finally, taking a deep breath, I put it back on the shelf and walked out of the store. Honestly, it wasn't easy.

In the end, I managed to resist, not because I had a plan, but because of the truth that lies behind my plan. Buying these miniatures would not increase my enjoyment of the hobby, in fact, they would decrease it. They would distract from the projects that I had carefully identified as the ones I most want to pursue. 

So, by walking out of the store empty-handed, I not only felt £3 richer, but I once again felt freer to pursue the projects that are really important to me. It was like that great moment in The Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo finally lets go of the ring, steps outside, and breathes the fresh air of freedom.

I won. I beat the world that is constantly trying to pull me apart with distraction, and I am stronger for it.

None of this, of course, is an attack on the product itself. Like I said, it’s an amazing deal, and if starting Age of Sigmar was something I was really excited about, I’d be all over this. But I’m not, and thankfully, I was able to remember this before pulling out my wallet.

Of course, now I’ve shown this deal to you, dear reader, you are faced with the same question! Irony, I suppose. (Although only if you live in the UK or Spain as its not available anywhere else!).

*In the UK, magazines (and books) are exempt from the 20% Value Added Tax that is applied to most commercial items. There is a whole industry devoted to taking advantage of this loophole by packaging things as free-gifts with a magazine.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Miniature Projects 2020

In the last few months of 2019, I had something of an epiphany with regards to my miniature hobby, and how having a large number of unpainted miniatures was actually sucking the fun out of it. I spent the rest of last year working the lead pile down to next to nothing. With that achieved, I have taken the next step, which is to try and put a system into place so that it doesn’t build up again, and so that I stay focused on the projects that truly bring me fun and fulfilment.

To that end, I bought a new notebook (I have a notebook buying problem, but that’s a different issue). I wrote down all of the miniature projects I was interested in pursuing, from big armies to little warbands. I then took any project that involved more than 10 miniatures, and subdivided it into projects consisting of no more than 10 miniatures. I then picked the 5 that I most wanted to work on, and accomplish, right now.

And that’s my new system. At any time, I will have no more than five projects on the go, and none of the projects can consist of more than ten figures. I am only allowed to buy miniatures if they are needed for one of those five projects – or if they are a single figure that adds to something I’ve already done (so a new Frostgrave monsters, or what have you).

Since none of my projects involve more than 10 figures, I should, hopefully, be finishing projects on a semi-regular basis. Whenever I finish a project, I plan to do two things. First, do a complete review and cleaning of my painting set-up. So, see if I need any new brushes, or to order any more paint, etc. This should mean I’m always working with a quality set-up. Then, I will review my current interests and see if there is another project I would like to add to my list. This isn’t a given – if there is nothing that current has me excited, I will leave the slot open.

This is actually an important point - one of the problems I had before was overloading myself, so that when something new and interesting came along, I didn’t have any capacity to take it on.

So, after a lot of thought, here’s a brief summary of the 5 projects I am currently working on. I’ll talk more about each as I show off some figures.

1. The Fellowship of the Ring
I’m currently painting up a new Fellowship of the Ring featuring figures that match my mental vision of the characters. I have already showed off Legolas, Aragorn, and Sam, and I’m currently working on Gandalf.

2. The Nazgul
Reaper recently released a new set of ‘Wraiths’ in their Bones range that just perfectly fit my mental image of the Ringwraiths. You can see the first one that I have painted above. There are only six different poses, though one is definitely the Witch King, so I will either have to convert, or just put up with some duplicates. I haven’t decided yet.

3. Ghost Archipelago Warband
I had so much fun painting up my new Frostgrave warband, I wanted to do the same for Ghost Archipelago. I’ve acquired a couple of figures for it, but haven’t actually started on it yet.

4. Space Hulk Squad
This is an idea I’ve had for a long time, but always lost out to figures from the lead pile. Basically, I’d like to paint up a squad of the old, metal terminator marines for classic Space Hulk. I’ll have to get them off ebay, but I don’t think they are hard to come by. If I enjoy this, it’ll be just the first of my Space Hulk related projects.

5. Rangers of Shadow Deep
I showed off my new Ranger awhile back, but I want to give her a full team that I can either used to play solo, or break in half to play co-operatively. I haven’t yet decided exactly what is going into this.

So that’s it. Put all five projects together, and it is only a total of 41 figures, and some of those are already painted. I’m not painting figures nearly as fast as I used to (but I’m enjoying it so much more) so I have no idea how long this will take. I suspect, if I just focus on these, it will take most of the year, though other projects may come along as these are completed, and they’ll probably be some one-off figures here and there.

We will see. For now, I’m very happy to have a plan that will hopefully keep me focused on the things I really want to accomplish, and keep me from buying things I don’t need. That said, when I see some really cool figures, I make a note of them in my notebook, and I can return to them whenever I complete a project. Putting them in a notebook really helps keep them out of my head!

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The Death of John Stewart Walker

Over the last few years, I have been doing some low-level research into the history of my Civil War ancestors. One of my greatest discoveries was a first-hand account of the death of my great-great-great grandfather, Maj. John Stewart Walker, who led a company in the 15th Virginia regiment. The account is written by J. Staunton Moore, one of the men of his command. Although this account was written forty-five years later, and likely coloured by those intervening years, the few particulars do match up with all of the other facts I’ve learned.

The account is part of a larger piece about the battle of Malvern Hill, which was published in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XXXV. (Reprinted by Broadfoot Publishing Company, Morningside Bookshop, 1991). At the point where this excerpt picks up, the 15th Virginia, along with the rest of its Brigade, has been called out of reserve and sent forward to take a Union position on top of a hill. 

‘…About one hundred and fifty of our regiment reached the base of the hill, in command of Major John Stewart Walker, formerly captain of the Virginia Life Guard, of Richmond (Company B), who assumed command as soon as Colonel August was placed hors de combat. Here we rested, under severe and continuous fire that did not admit of our raising our heads from the ground. As twilight was deepening into the shades of night, the word was passed down the line to prepare to charge the crest of the hill. Major Walker stood up with drawn sword and flashing eye and gave the command, “Forward, charge!” It was the last word this gallant officer ever uttered. He fell, and was dragged into a little branch which flowed at the foot of the hill and expired in the arms of his brother, Captain Norman Walker. Thus perished as brave a soldier as ever flashed his sword in any cause!’

You can see all of the research in my Civil War ancestors on my other blog: What Colour is Butternut?.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Frostgrave Terrain

I saw a post somewhere recently that said that Frostgrave had ‘…a large buy-in.’ I must admit, I don’t understand that mentality. Apart from the rulebook, which is downright inexpensive compared to its competitors, the only major things you need to play Frostgrave are some miniatures and terrain. If you own any fantasy miniatures, you probably have all of the miniatures you need. If not, a single box of Frostgrave plastics can provide everything you need for two players to get started. I suppose, the major mental stumbling block for most people is the terrain, but it really shouldn’t be.

It is true, that compared to most miniature wargames, Frostgrave is best with a very crowded table. It really is ‘the more the merrier’, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Case-in-point. Here is my new terrain piece that I hope to take with me on the Frostgrave Tour. It is some discarded Christmas packaging that I spray-painted grey. Since I already owned the paint, it cost me literally nothing.

Just like that, I have a centre-piece model that covers more than a square foot-and-a-half of table space. I mean, it really looks like some super-crowded bit of city, and features all kinds of great positions to hide, or shoot from. All of the level areas are nice and flat and have plenty of room to stand a miniature.

But Wait! It gets even better. I can simply flip the whole thing over, and now I’ve got the interior of some strange building or temple complex. It’s like getting two great terrain pieces for the price (free) of one!

Okay, this piece isn’t quite a full Frostgrave table by itself, but it’s a real good start. I’m sure if I had tried, I could have easily filled a whole table with just items that were discarded on Christmas day… 

As an added bonus, the piece is generic enough that it can serve equally well for science-fiction games as for fantasy ones.

Don’t ever let terrain stop you from playing wargames. Sure, we may all dream of gorgeous tables with bespoke, highly-detailed, hand-painted terrain, but the truth is, you can have just as much fun with terrain made from trash.

Friday, 27 December 2019

My Favourite Blog Articles of 2019

The year is almost done, but I have a few more words to add here on The Renaissance Troll. It’s actually been a big year for the blog. In fact, this blog is the 122nd I’ve written this year. Now, most of these fall under the ‘Hey, look at this mini I painted’ category, but actually, there was some pretty good diversity overall. I have just taken some time to scan through all of the blogs this year and pick out my 13 Favourites.

This was just a great experience, and a good reminder to myself to try and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented by living so close to London.

Sometimes, it is better to just cut your losses and move on to other things.

I am part of an amazing community of game designers, and this little project was just loads of fun.

Trying to understand life in my early 40s.

A look back at some of my history with Osprey Publishing and my first attempt to write set of wargame rules.

I major geek milestone.

I had this idea that it might be possible to combine playing games with doing real world good. I created a science-fiction wargame and used it to raise over a $1,000 for charity.

A bit of gaming writing I did for no better reason than it was fun.

Remembering an important moment from my childhood.

A miniature photo shoot that just makes me smile.

A rare blog about the challenges and difficulties of fatherhood.

Almost certainly the most important hobby blog I wrote this year. The ideas behind it have changed my relationship with miniatures and greatly increased my enjoyment.

The first product of the ideas in the above blog.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

The Grey Shadow

About two months ago, I identified this figure as my new ranger for Rangers of Shadow Deep. I’m not exactly sure what I find so appealing about this miniature, but it really speaks to me. It’s a Reaper figure, sculpted by Bobby Jackson, and, unsurprisingly, it fits in really well with the official Rangers of Shadow Deep miniatures.

Despite having the figure for a while, I let a few other figures take painting precedence, as I knew I wanted to give this figure my A+ job, and I was waiting until I felt ready. Well, it took 3.5 painting sessions to get her finished, probably about 4 hours total, and I’m very pleased with how she turned out. I was initially worried if painting her armour as leather, instead of the metal that was probably intended, would work, but I think it has worked out great.

I'd also like to mention, I’ve been using an Element Games ‘Character Brush’ as my main painting brush these days, and I’m extremely pleased with it. Its point is as sharp as an 10/0, but can also paint more like a 0. Highly recommended. It’s really helped me to get great facial detail.

Anyway, the Grey Shadow is just the first of a new ranger warband that I’m working on. My plan is to actually have two rangers. That way I can either play solo with two rangers, or split the group in half if I’m every playing co-operatively. Well, that’s the plan anyway!