Tuesday 31 January 2012

Saxon (Psycho) Killers

Following last weekend’s OK (but no better than OK) experiment with the Army Painter strong tone dip, I tried again this weekend with another 20 early fifth century A.D. Saxons. This group included five “Big Men” and also a Saxon champion. The figures were all Gripping Beast, which are slowing growing on me.

Perhaps most fun of all were the “Saxon Killers and Characters” which I used for a couple of the Big Men. These are not particularly for the faint-hearted, although I imagine they’re a fairly accurate depiction of what happened on a Dark Age battlefield (and no doubt on many battlefields since). In the words of the (still-phenomenal) Talking Heads song, "Psycho Killer,... run, run, run away".

As for the painting, I took a lot more time and care painting with this bunch than the group last weekend. Quite a few people posting comments on this blog and at my local club mentioned that colour selection was key. I tried to make sure all the colours were toned together before dipping, selecting browns, reds and greys as the key colour themes.

I tried to shade the bolder colours before dipping to create a little more depth than was created on the previous batch of dipped figures. As before, I didn’t highlight any colours, reasoning that this could come later, post-dipping. I also spent a little time on painting in eye sockets and (on a couple of figures) some face detail.

I also tried a different approach with metallics, painting first with very dark Vallejo gunmetal (mixed with Vallejo black) and then highlighting with plain Vallejo gunmetal before the dip.

I dipped as before, brush-painting from the Army Painter strong tone dip tin as opposed to actually dipping the figures in. As before, the immediate post-dip stage looked hideous. But at least I was expecting that on this occasion.

I applied the matt varnish and was reasonably pleased with the results. They looked better as a group than last weekend’s figures and seemed to “gel” together more. I think the pre-shading of the bolder colours helped a bit with this.

So, on the plus side, 20 figures in a weekend to a tabletop standard, and 50 in a fortnight, was a reasonable result. I put nowhere near as much effort into these as into other figures which have appeared on this Blog.

On the minus side, they are still very much the ugly cousins of other Bloggers stunning and beautiful Dark Age work on the Blogosphere and internet generally. To try and elevate them from “ugly cousins” to anything memorable, I’ll need to do some highlighting, add some shield transfers and some banners. A project for the coming weekend, perhaps. As Benito so very wisely said in his comment on my post last week, it all comes down to effort in the end!

As to how the “ugly cousins” and the Saxon psycho-killers fight on the tabletop, I shall be seeing in about 7 hours time when we play our next Dark Ages game.

If you have a soft spot for psychotic Saxons, wish me luck!

Wednesday 25 January 2012

In the Year of Our Lord 452 A.D.

In the Year of Our Lord 452 A.D. there came a terrible host of Saxons from their lands to the south, sailing up the River Colne from the Great River. They were led by a leader, Sidic, the wolf of the southern strands and notorious seafarer of the Grey Waters.

In Sidic’s host was a champion, Wulfstan, who the men of Verulamium greatly feared for he was cruel and mighty. Sooner would his flesh become food for ravens than he would approach an altar and bow before our True Lord.

Before the gates of Verulamium the host of Sidic stopped. The walls remained after the Romans had left. This masonry was still wondrous; fates had not yet broken it. The works of giants had not yet decayed. Under the columns stood the leader of Verulamium, Maxim Boice. Armed he was in the noisy combat. Amber wreaths encircled his brow and a purple cloak comforted his shoulders. Large was his retinue, the men of Verulamium, laughing as they moved, although fearful of a gloomy disaster before the Saxon foes.

Great was the quantity of spears who watched Wulfstan ford the dark waters of the Colne, preparing food for the ravens, slaughtering as he stalked. Splintering the shield of his enemies, women wept as he passed. None in the Verulamium host could stop him until a soldier of Britain, Mullard ap Artur shattered his shield.

There was food for ravens, and for the raven there was profit as Wulfstan fell in the Colne, his head severed by Mullard ap Artur’s sword. Furious were the Saxons. To drinking of mead they fell in gloomy despair. Black fury became anger as the words of their fell priest came to their ears

Silent the men of Verulamium watched. Of their leader, Maxim Boice came little but words of high pitch, reedy and soft. His words of battle were lost as the sound of Saxon arrows filled the air on eagles feathers, keening for prey.

Battle-mad with the death of Wulfstan burning their eyes, Sidic’s host marched with speed, regaled with mead; great was their design. Retreat was their poison, battle their desire. No mother’s son nurses them.

A conflict on all sides befell the bitter field. Saxon and Briton fell together in violent slaughter. Punishment the Saxons sought on their enemies, but the wall of shields of Maxim Boice stood fast. Sword and spear shattered upon wood and iron.

A violent thane, Brytnoth the Saxon, led his men first, eager in battle with eyes of a serpent. Under the helmet of his terror, his men died impaled on bright spears.

Sidic came to his aid, blood draped his cloak from many winters of fighting. With a bold shout he pierced the wall of Maxim Boice, the lion of Verulamium.

Blessed conqueror, Maxim Boice, of temper mild, the bone of the people, with his battle streamer displayed was victorious. There was grief and sorrow upon the Saxons as they went back to their boats. Those boat pirates who meddled with the mane of a lion did not return until the next summer.


So, there you have it. One of the forgotten battles of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recreated in all its glory at the Fleetville Community Centre, St Albans, England last night. It was the first game my local wargames club has done set in the Dark Ages and it was really entertaining. Especially fun was the way in which each side's forces had to be inspired to take the field through a mixture of excessive alcohol, the revealing of good (or bad) omens and through encouraging (or, as proved to be the case from Maxim Boice, downright awful) speeches.

It’s much too early to say much about the rules we were using ... writing as we went along ... , but the Venerable Bede would have no doubt been rather bemused.

Lard-Thane, Richard Clarke, has also posted a far more erudite look at the challenges and rewards of wargaming Dark Age England at Lard Island News. For those interested in the period, I highly recommend you have a read at Richard's blogpost here.

We’ve scheduled a follow up game for next week in 453 A.D., so stay tuned!

Tuesday 24 January 2012

A Dip on the Saxon Shore

As I mentioned before, the latest project at my local club is the Dark Ages of fifth century A.D. Britain. This seems to be a very popular period at present. There are some fine miniatures available at very reasonable prices and the attraction of the period has been reinvigorated by a host of different media, principally Gripping Beast’s very interesting set of rules, SAGA, and several films and books over the last few years (Beowulf, Game of Thrones, Outlander, etc.).

So, I should be excited, eager and enthusiastic about painting my first war band of 50 Saxons from 450A.D. Well, I should be ... but things for me worked out slightly differently.

It’s not the first time I’ve tried this period. In the dim and distant past, better known as the 1980s, I tried building a WRG 6th edition Dark Age Irish army. It was a truly dark experience for me. The 25mm figures I used were pretty dreadful. When painted they looked like a diseased, filthy, under-nourished rabble – in other words, quite accurate, but not attractive. I have bitter memories of painstakingly replacing their spindly swords with flattened wire swords, which periodically fell off during their tabletop battles. Grim, dark memories ...

Worse still was the history. Glimpsed dimly through the shadows of fifteen centuries, all I got was a few dramatic images from the fragmentary chroniclers. Welsh cavalry pounding a rainy North British hillside at the battle of Catraeth ... ravens gnawing on the severed head of a Scots-Irish chieftain at the battle of Strathcarron ... lines of incomplete poetry about a rain of spear points visciously coursing into the flesh of an enemy. All vivid and colourful. But nothing at all about where they were fighting, how many were fighting, and how they got there. As far as a wargame went, you could sort of make it up. And we did.

It was fun for as long as it lasted (and as long as the flattened wire swords remained glued into the drilled holes in the figures' hands). But in the end, finding out about the period was just very hard work.

So I was more than slightly pessimistic when the idea of Dark Age warfare was suggested again. Would it be better the second time around?

“Quicker to a field of blood, Than to a wedding”

I’d bought the 28mm figures for the Saxons from Gripping Beat about two years ago. (And yes, that is the normal painting schedule at Roundwood Towers). They are fine, strong figures, made with good quality metal. They’re also a very reasonable price when you purchase in bulk. I’d like to say that preparing them was a simple easy process, but I’d be lying slightly. The problem I found was that the figures are cast open-handed, which gives you a lot of options but is a real fiddle when you’re gluing the weapons to the figures.

I replaced the cast white metal spears which come with the figures with wire ones for strength, and made the best effort I could in fixing the weapons into the open hands of the figures. I started supergluing the weapons to the hands, but I was unhappy with the result. I resorted to epoxy resin after first gently “closing” the open hands of the figures with a pair of pliers so that the weapons would fit snugly.

The whole process was a bit of a palaver and took a few hours. I resisted temptation to throw the whole lot in the rubbish bin several times.

Once the weapons were glued into the hands of the figures, things got better. I based the figures on 3mm depth MDF round discs (or hexagons for “Big Men”) with a quick coating of PVA, sand and gravel on their bases.

I scraped the excess glue and sand on while the glue was setting.

I primed the figures with Halfords car primer, which holds paint really well and is as cheap as chips. I then had a war band, ready for painting. Although it was about then that some of my problems really started ...

The (slightly dubious) Joys of Dipping

As I was reticent about the whole project from the start, I’d already decided to try and get the figures painted as quickly as possible and on the table. Seduced by the lure of “painting and army in a weekend”, some spectacular videos on YouTube and some fine painting on other blogs, I decided to use Army Painter Strong Tone dip for the figures.

It felt liberating, at least at first. I perked up as I raced through painting the first 30 figures. Without shading or highlighting, the whole process of painting the figures was speeded considerably. I felt like I was going back in time. The years fell away. This was how we painted in the early and mid 1980s – flat, solid colours on (pretty hideous) club wargames armies which numbered in the several hundreds.

Non-metallic metals? Counter-shading? Four or five different paints and shading for a figure’s face. Don’t make me laugh! For several hours, I was in heaven. This was Old School painting, and I loved it.

Of course, I was telling myself that the Army Painter dip would make everything perfectly shaded. By now, those of you still reading will have a face frozen in a rictus of horror or will be laughing uncontrollably. I think you know what comes next.

The dip is pretty easy to apply. I painted it on, as very ably shown by Pat Lowringer of SoCal Warhammer in this great video. It certainly does the job of staining the figures, covering them all in a deep gloss shade. The hands and faces are easily visible, and it does a great job on the metallic in toning them down.

But, as you can see, what I was left with was a dark, grungy force, coated in a thick gloss varnish. While the Army Painter Strong Tone dip did its job, it isn’t a miracle worker. I probably chose the wrong colours for the base coats on the figures, and will need to do a little highlighting to lighten up the figures.

Matt varnishing, which I did last night, did help slightly.

The overall look is of a standard, ordinary, distinctly-average set of figures – OK when seen from a distance, but not great close-up. But then, what did I expect after spending next to no time on them?


On the whole, I’m pretty happy – I had a lot of fun painted the figures in fast, simple block colours, although my hopes were unrealistically high for how the dip would look on the figures. On the plus side, I’ve now got a load of (slightly uninspiring) figures painted, we can start playing a few games at my local club. And there’s still chance to add a few highlights, some fancy banners and shield transfers on the figures I've done, and to try something a little different with the the next 30 figures for the war band.

I’ll see if I can smarten up the next lot of Saxons for next time. Wish me luck!

Thursday 19 January 2012

Being Inspired: Hops In Herefordshire and Thiepval Wood

I was stuck for a blog post this week, so this post is slightly improvised.

I’ve been working hard over the past couple of weeks on some early Saxons from the fifth century A.D. which I’m hoping to finish off over the coming weekend. I’ll be blogging these as soon as they’re done, but I’m not there yet.

Instead, I’ll go with a couple of new departures for me.

First is to re-Blog a wonderful post by JP over at Herefordshire 1938. It’s entitled “Hop Picking in Herefordshire” and it sums up to me why I love reading people’s Blogs. Jon’s deftly combined his own personal family history with a really interesting insight into a hidden part of British life, in addition to giving a great idea for a very different wargame. Rather than give the game away, I simply recommend you have a read.

Second is to simply post this fine poem by Edmund Blunden, “Thiepval Wood”, from September 1916. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did when I found it.

Thiepval Wood

The tired air groans as the heavies swing over, the river-hollows boom;
The shell-fountains leap from the swamps, and with wildfire and fume
The shoulder of the chalkdown convulses.
Then the jabbering echoes stampede in the slatting wood,
Ember-black the gibbet trees like bones or thorns protrude
From the poisonous smoke past all impulses.
To them these silvery dews can never again be dear,
Nor the blue javelin-flame of the thunderous noons strike fear.

Edmund Blunden, September 1916

Wednesday 4 January 2012

2012 Plans and Projects

A very happy new year to you all ! I thought I’d cover in this blogpost what’s on the painting table and in the wargames diary for 2012. I’ve had a great time over the past few days looking at other bloggers’ plans, so I thought it was time for mine.

At least this year I’ve found somewhere at Roundwood Towers where I can put a painting table which is not going to be converted into an ensuite bathroom (as the last cubby hole was). Here it is – fairly small and discreet, but it should be large enough to get me through the year and then some.

On one of my favourite blogs, Tears of Envy quoted Victorian philanthropist Henry Wellcome who proclaimed, "Never tell anyone what you propose to do until you have done it." Wise words indeed. I should have followed his advice.

Sharp eyed readers may remember my predictions from last year, including this gem – “The focus in the Spring of 2011 is going to be on a troop of Lord Strathcona’s Horse from Moreuil Wood in March, 1918”. Well, that went well didn’t it?

One year on and not a single cavalryman, mounted or dismounted, has been painted with anything more than a black undercoat. So, this is certainly a long-overdue project which is firmly on the workbench for the Great War in 2012.

I also want to add about three more trench terrain boards to the Great War terrain collection. I don’t want to jump the gun and describe these (not least in case I change my mind), but I’m hoping one of them will include a free standing strongpoint such as a fortified farm or two-storey blockhouse. I have long envied Phil Robinson’s fantastic “die ratte keller” with green, jealous eyes and I can see myself unable to resist copying it shamelessly for much longer.

I’d also like to get my force of German trench raiders finished to go along with the new terrain. I had in mind an improvised Zug of veteran, aggressive trench raiders and was looking for inspiration to make the unit a little bit different. I’m still thinking through the possibilities, but this is certainly something I want to press ahead with in the New Year for the Great War.

From a written word perspective, I still need to post the campaign diaries from the games played in December (I’ve not forgotten!). And, fingers crossed, I’ll get the Western Front "Platon Forward" campaign supplement to “Through the Mud and the Blood” finished in the next month or so.

What’s left for the Great War? Well, I’m nervous about making predictions but here’s some clues ...

Finally, I’m also working on something very different in 28mm. Again, it’s a large-skirmish project, but it should challenge my ship building skills. Here’s some clues ...

As for wargames shows, we’re heading for Salute again with a demo game (no idea what yet) and I’d like to make the trip north at some point to one of the northern shows – probably Partizan – with another “Beer and Lard Day” in Burton towards the end of the year.

So, there you have it. Let’s see how I do in the next 12 months!
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