Friday, 22 November 2013

Inspiration: Sprue Cutters Union #18

Greetings once more fellow Wargamers and Hobbyists, to the place I Today, I thought I'd show you my scrap book, if you are amenable. This is not a book in the traditional sense, more a room which is filled with all manner of images and trinkets which have spawned the seed of the hint of the whisper of an idea in the darkest most cobweb ridden recesses of my brain.

This week, the legend that is Jon of The Combat Workshop, and architect of the gathered magnificence that is the Sprue Cutters Union (#spruecutters), has asked a question about where it all comes from. What makes our pistons fire and atoms split...


- Where does the inspiration for your next build come from? -

Now I am sure that we will get a wonderful array of outward pointing and sometimes overlapping thoughts from the Union Members on this topic, because our experiences and interests are so varied, yet at the same time similar. So what does this question conjure up for me?

Well my friends, though I have said it many (many) times before, and will sure say it again before the timer ticks it's last tock and spills its last grain of sand, I am a Wargamer, which means that I play tabletop wargames with toy soldiers. It also means that I am a member of several online forums (May I recommend 'Astronomican', and also encourage you to join the 'Garagehammer' forum), and a local wargaming club: MAD Wargames Club - see my MAD Wargames tab for more info. In addition to being a part of the communities associated with the forums and the club, I also read White Dwarf magazine, Games Workshop's monthly advertising publication which is fluffed out with the odd gaming article.

So: Online forums (and blogs), 'The Club', and White Dwarf magazine...there is one more source that have taken inspiration from recently, and that is Wargaming Podcasts. I currently listen to sixteen different podcasts covering Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy and Blood Bowl, and this is yet another source of ideas, news about what is going on in the wider wargaming community, and typically good entertainment.

So what is it about these sources that inspires me to pick up a paint brush, or reach for my wallet, or pen for that matter? Writing background material for an army or campaign is a serious business too!

Well, typically, the projects I undertake are driven by whichever army happens to be my 'flavour of the month', and which army that turns out to be at any one moment is influenced by several factors. It could be that one of the armies I collect has just had a big new release, like a new rule book or wave of models, which has been showcased in White Dwarf, and along with the battle report that always accompanies such releases, this can often inspire me to break the mystical seals on the stasis chamber of that particular army. That army then becomes the focus of my modelling and painting time, as I update models or units and endeavour to field as many painted models as I can.

Alternatively, it might be that I have arranged to play games at the club against a particular army, and want to try playing against them with an army I haven't used for a while, or I could be asked to field an army that my opponent hasn't faced before, which then drags that army into the spotlight for a spell. Our current Blood Bowl league is a good example of 'Club driven hobby', because it required me to dig out my Blood Bowl models, strip my Undead team (Egdenberg Undertakers), and re-paint the whole team.

Online forums inspire me to pick a painting project and stick to it, thanks to the encouragement I get from seeing other people's WIP's (work in progress), and challenges like the Painting Survivor Series I look after on the Astronomican forum, which is a friendly 'Iron Man' style painting contest to see who can keep painting for the most days consistently before their nerves fray and their hands cramp up. A little competition is great for inspiration and motivation. Seeing other people's work and what they can achieve online is always good for inspiration, as well as for sharing tips and techniques with fellow hobbyists, all of which helps to get the creative juices flowing.

Finally, we come to podcasts. I find that podcasts are a great way of staying in touch with the hobby and all the news and rumours, without having to actually do anything, because I can listen while I paint, or while I'm driving.

A good example of recent inspiration I took from a podcast is my current mission to break out my Bretonnians and order myself some Foot and Mounted Sergeants from Fireforge Miniatures, which Wayne Kemp of the HeelanHammer podcast talked about as an alternative model for use as Men at Arms and Mounted Yeomen for his Bretonnians.

I have never owned any Yeomen (though have often thought about getting some), and two thirds of my Men at Arms were represented by plastic Empire State Troops, because at the time I was building the army, the proper Men at Arms were all in metal, and the plastic Empire models were a far cheaper alternative. After taking a look at the Fireforge models on Wayne's Twitter feed and on their website, I found that indeed they were a worthy alternative, so out go the State Troops to a gent who saw them for the bargain that they were, and at the beginning of the new year, I will be assembling my shiny new Fireforge Sergeants.

Here is a sample of the podcasts I listen to. I also enjoy Hitting On 3's, Kiwi Hammer, SkaredCast, A Tale of Four Geeks, The 11th Company, The Dwellers Below, The Independent Characters, The Watchtower and Three Die Block - all are well worth checking out. Those with reason to warn you about language content will let you know in the intro...

So, as you can see, as there are many facets to the wargaming hobby, each of which have their ways of providing inspiration for a project, whether that project is a new set of models, painting models I already own that are crying out for some attention, or completely revamping a collection. There is always something that needs to be done, and all I have to do is decide what the next thing will be...all it needs is a little inspiration.

So, what will you be inspired by today...?

If you would like to read more posts on this topic, I encourage you to check out the links below, which will take you to the blogs of other Union Members, all of whom are worthy hobbyists and bloggers themselves. If you fancy yourself as a Sprue Cutter, then look here for details of how to become a part of this worthwhile endeavour. All you need is a blog, and a passion for miniature modelling. Go on, inspire us.

Mini Painter
Mattblackgod's World
Scale Model Workbench
Yet Another Plastic Modeller

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Go Big or Go home: Sprue Cutters Union #17

Greetings Wargamers and Hobbyists, and welcome once again to my humble hearth. He we are for the Sprue Cutters Union (#spruecutters) topic number Seventeen...

This week, the Union has been asked to think about the amount of effort that we put into our modelling projects over the course of a year, bearing in mind the amount of hobby time each of us is actually able to spend while we shoe horn it in around all of our other 'real world' commitments, and consider...

- If you had the resources, would you attempt one HUGE project? -
My answer to this interesting question, speaking of course as a wargamer, is not immediately obvious. At the end of the day, I could spend a year working on just one army, pushing the painting, conversions, basing and centrepiece models until it was done. Heaven knows it would probably take that long to completely finish one of my many armies. Having said that though, if I were to dedicate a year's worth of hobby time and resource, I don't think this is what would immediately spring to mind. Painting gaming miniatures, rather than being one large project, is more like a succession of small projects - each army or detachment is a project, as is each squad, regiment or squadron, but then so is each and every individual model.
No. Painting gaming miniatures is part of a never ending cycle of birth and renewal, and adding new miniatures as new releases arrive, rules change and tastes alter. ask any dedicated wargamer, especially the veterans, and they will probably all agree that an army is never really finished. I think instead that if I were to dedicate a year to a single project with the intention of that project being thoroughly and officially complete at the end of that year, it would be another 'Holy Grail' project for all wargamers: A purpose built, themed and jaw-droppingly impressive battlefield!
Now, I do have a simple battlefield set up at home, which is comprised of a six foot by four foot grass gaming mat glued down onto three sections of plasterboard for rigidity and easy of storage, and I have also collected sufficient terrain to play all of the games I have models for, be they Warhammer Fantasy buildings, towers and woods, to bunkers, silos and barricades for Warhammer 40,000 and Necromunda, and even asteroid belts and planets for games of Battlefleet Gothic,which are played on the reverse side of the plasterboard which I have painted as a black star field for those games of futuristic space naval combat. These however, though they are perfectly sufficient to allow me to play games across, are not the kind of battlefield project I am talking about.
This week, at least partly due to time constraints brought about by juggling too many projects this week, I am going to cease my otherwise interminable rambling, and let the pictures do the talking. Below are a number of pictures I have taken from various places, though mainly the Games Workshop website, which depict some of the incredible battlefields that have been created either for displays, or as functional but awe inspiring gaming tables for use at Warhammer World in Nottingham. Now this is what I am talking about. This is the single large project I would dedicate a year to...enjoy.

If you would like to read other posts on this same topic from the views of other Union members, please check out the links below. In addition, if you fancy finding out more about joining the Union yourself, please look here for more details. All you need is a blog, and a passion for miniature modelling.
and of course, the lynch pin of the bunch: The Combat Workshop
As always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Forging The Narrative...#1

Greetings wargamers and hobbyists. To borrow a segment title from HeelanHammer, 'Zis is ze war room'...

Forging the narrative is a phrase we are hearing quite a bit these days, printed in magazines, frolicking online, and uttered by show hosts on various podcasts. Though this is a phrase which first saw the light of day in the Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition Rulebook, I think that the phrase has merit across any war game system. 

At the end of the day, wargames are not just a game with rules to be played and either won or lost, they are a story, and the playing of the game tells the story. By our decisions as commanders, be they sound or otherwise, we allow the story to unfold on the tabletop. Simple wins and losses become stupendous victories and crushing defeats. The game takes on a character and an aura that surpasses anything we might experience playing more light hearted games.

Recently I have been thinking more about campaigns, what they are, what they should be, what they could be, and how they can be successful. A fantastic campaign might be the holy grail of wargaming for many people, but it can also be a difficult thing to achieve. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you will. For myself, I think that the single most important consideration is how you can keep all the participants engaged and enthused, and if you can achieve this, it's probably because you've got enough of the other things on the money. The interest in the campaign is the measuring stick you use to determine how well you are running the campaign. That's not to say that what you're doing isn't good, just that it's not pushing the buttons of enough of the players. What one player might think is amazing, others might not.

The purpose of all this pondering and postulation is to analyse my own ability to run a successful campaign, and what ideas I can come up with to support it and make it interesting, because my favourite kind of campaign is one with a strong story to back it up (rather than one that just pushes pieces around a map and adds up area control points), a campaign that epitomises ‘Forging the Narrative’.  

Any of you who have been able to put up with me for a while may remember a couple of posts about the Eye of Morrslieb narrative campaign I started a few months ago at my local group. It's fair to say that this was not the great success I envisaged, though at the same time few events at our club remain flavour of the month for more than, well, about a month, without significant effort. I think the idea and the story were sound, I just couldn't make them work in practice, especially not with eight players.

'Bitten off more than you can chew' might be an apt phrase. I am wondering whether any future events should be based around a small but dedicated core of players, with in-built capacity to allow additional players to join and leave for one off games as they please...

This is the first of what will undoubtedly become a reoccurring topic on the Eternal Wargamer, and for now I just want to talk a little about what I have noted as potentially the most important aspects of creating and running a campaign. This is as much a journey of discovery for me as it is any kind of advice for others wishing to tread the path. Learn from my mistakes I guess. It won't just be a description of a practical system for running the campaign, because there are plenty of those out there that don't need explanation from me. I will however be referring to the foundation that I intend to use, which is one of the systems found in The General's Compendium. What I will try to talk about, the shadows I want to pin to the floor, are the additional elements that not only allow you to run a campaign, but to keep things flowing and keep people interested.

So, this post will just be my initial thoughts on what I think at this stage are the most important things to consider (to save it turning into a multi-page wall o' text):

The Focus:

To provide a setting and premise for a campaign that players actually want to be part of, because it is engaging, exciting and is challenging for all the participants.

Potential Pit Falls:

  • Players getting bored and losing interest.
  • A minority of players being too successful and making the campaign one sided and as a result, taking the fun out of taking part for other players and sapping their desire to continue.
  • The campaign becoming too rigid or too random, so that the players feel that the impact their battles have is too small.
  • The campaign becoming too complicated and difficult to track, making communicating what is happening to the participants.
  • Losing the main plot driver for the campaign amongst trying to placate all participants and trying to please everybody. A strong story should engage the players without the need to keep changing the plan to accommodate their suggestions if this dilutes the focus too much.

Like I said, these are the things I will be thinking about over the next week or so, before laying the basic structure of a campaign and checking that the foundation is sound by bouncing it off a couple of the players at the club (and you guys of course - any feedback is welcome).

Let me know what your thoughts are. Are there any other key things you think I (or anyone else) should look out for when planning a campaign?

Until next time, thanks for reading...

Friday, 8 November 2013

New Miniatures!

Good morning wargamers and hobbyists! It's rare that I get really excited about a new mini (though it's always nice to purchase something cool to add to one of my armies), but I have just ordered a miniature I have had my eye on for some time now: Skaarlys, by Raging Heroes.
Though I haven't taken the plunge and joined their current Kickstarter (Toughest Girls of the Galaxy), I am really impressed by the images of their miniatures. I hesitate to say anything about the quality of the miniatures, because I haven't seen a cast close up yet, but I expect them to match the standard of the rest of their operation. I'll let you know on that score.
In the meantime, here are the pics from the Raging Heroes site. I plan on adding Skaarlys to my Dark Eldar to represent Lady Malys (to lead the army. See, I'm different. I'm not jumping on the Baron's Bandwagon), and the fantasy version of the same model, Skaryaa, will either end up as another character model in my Dark Eldar army, or as an Exalted Hero in my pure Slaanesh Warriors of Chaos army, alongside Kaley and Taxis that I bought from Hasslefree Miniatures... they are.
Thanks for reading.

Preparing for War...

Greetings wargamers and hobbyists. Following up from my earlier post as part of the Sprue Cutters Union initiative for this week, all about the brushes we use, here are a couple of photos of the Dark Angels Tactical Squad I have been working on.
They're now battle ready, so I won't be doing any more work on these guys until the rest of the 4th Company has been painted up to the same stage. Guys, meet Tactical Squad Scivius, 3rd Squad, Dark Angels 4th Company...

Brush Up: Sprue Cutters Union #16

Welcome wargamers and hobbyists, to the art room. This room may look a little dishevelled, uncoordinated, littered with random objects and fresh out of the 1970's, but it's modelled precisely on the room where I used to take my art lessons when I was at school. And before anyone comments, the room was old when I was at school in the 90's. I was not at school in the 70's...
- What is your preferred airbrush/paint brush manufacturer? -
Ok everyone, this week the Sprue Cutters Union has been asked the very simple question above, which for me is especially simple to answer, as I don't own and have never utilised an airbrush...
The reason for this is simple: the wargaming miniatures I paint are generally too small to benefit from the use of an airbrush, apart from vehicles, but I don't have enough vehicles in my generally infantry heavy collection to warrant the purchasing of an airbrush either. One day I might consider one, if I think it would see use, but not at the moment.
This leaves the good old dependable paint brush.
In the begining, there was Citadel. This is the 'paints and brushes' arm of Games Workshop, who's models I collect and who's paints I generally use on my projects. Citadel paints, citadel brushes etc etc etc. I have always found the quality of Citadel products to be pretty good, but like anything, paint brushes wear over time. The tips become less sharp, they lose the odd bristle through copious use, they generally start to look a bit like they have seen battles from the sharp end rather than just the prep end.
When it came to replacing my citadel brushes recently, I decided to have a look around, in shops and online. I wasn't really looking for a particular manufacturer, just a good quality brush that wouldn't lose bristles like I lose Warhammer games, and was cheaper than the now significantly inflated cost of the Citadel brushes. As it turned out, the Citadel brushes were not all that costly for their quality, and many other brushes were at least as expensive. I wasn't in a crazy rush, but the brushes I was trying to eek a little more life out of were getting on my nerves, so I kept looking, every time we went into a shop that sold any kind of art supplies, at the brushes they had and the prices.
Eventually, my wife and I were actually in the local cake and crafts shop in our village, a great little place with some interesting bits and pieces, and talented owner who runs workshops and bakes cakes to order which have some incredible decoration iced onto them. I swear that woman could make any cake I wanted. In fact, I wonder whether I should make a special request for my birthday cake. A Tyranid spore mine maybe...
Anyway, back on topic, the craft shop sells cake decorating brushes, which I guess are intended for painting icing with patterns or colour or whatever, and they came from about size 1 to size 4. I got chatting to the owner and her scale model building husband about the brushes, and it turned out they could order whatever sizes I wanted. After having a good look at the brushes, and finding out that they had been selected by the owner's husband (who knows a thing or two about painting miniatures) ordered a couple of size 1's, a couple of 0's, a couple of 00's and two 000's right there and then.
After I picked up the brushes, I was cautiously pleased with them. They were pure sable, smart brushes, but had only cost me a measly £1 each! For that kind of money I expected to get something that looked nice in the beginning but would quickly wear and fall to pieces. Not so. A few months down the line, the brushes are still good and have kept their tips (most important when adding fine highlights and small details), and I can't see me needing to find another brush supplier anytime soon. Not at that price.
As for the manufacturer, the size 1's were marked as 'Windsor Cake Craft', but whether this is one of the brushes produced by the well known Windsor brand I don't know. The rest are marked as AES, who I have never heard of, so if anyone else has had experience of brushes by AES, I would be interested to find out how you fair with them.
If you would like to read more posts on this topic, especially those written by scale modellers who will extoll the virtues of various brands of air brush, I invite you to check out the links below to their most excellent blogs.
Also, for anyone who thinks they might like to join the Sprue Cutters Union (#spruecutters), look here for details on how to join. All you need is a blog, and a passion for miniature modelling. We would love to have you aboard.
As always, thanks for reading...

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Quickie Basing

Ok Wargamers and Hobbyists, here is a quick step by step showing you how I do the basing on my gaming minatures. I find that this method is quick, and works just as well for big gribbly monsters and smaller individual troopers. It also works fine for both my Fantasy models and my 40K models. This is gonna be real quick...

The base on this Dark Angels Marine (First Legion for the win!) has had a layer of sand glued to it using PVA glue - just plain old sand, though it looks better if you mix a hand full of gravel into your sand container to give some texture variety. After the glue has dried, the base has then been painted with a dark brown. I used to use Games Workshop's 'Scorched Brown' until I realised how much of it I was using for basing, now I use a cheapo dark brown emulsion from Wilkinsons called 'Java Bean'.

After the brown has had plenty of time to dry, the base of the model below has been given what I call a 'heavy drybrush' of GW's Vomit Brown, which is just a pale brown that has a touch of yellow or orange to it.

Next, the base has been given a more measured drybrush with a pale bone colour - in this case, GW's Bleached Bone. This adds a third colour to the base, and picks out all the little stones and bits and pieces, giving it some depth and texture.

Finally, when enough men have died...hang on, that's not right. Finally, I apply a scattering of static grass, This is the short stuff, which has a mixture of grass colours in it to stop it looking like a flat artificial colour.

Really, that's it. A couple of people have commented on my basing, and rather than let people think it was in any way difficult, I thought I'd just post up a quick guide to how it's done. Nothing spectacular, but it's quick and easy and looks alright, whether it's a model with a big base or a small base, and whether there is just a single mini or an army. With Warhammer Fantasy regiments, where the models are all lined up in ranks so you can't see the base edges so much, it works even better. I have often thought that just a little bit of extra work on the bases can make a world of difference, and make a model really look finished. That's it.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Everybody's a Critic: Sprue Cutters Union #15

Welcome wargamers and hobbyists, to the gallery. This is where I come to ogle the incredible artistic triumphs of miniature painting, and curse my inability to reach these same lofty heights of skill and technical brilliance. Pardon me while I pop in my gum shield. I have a tendency to grind my teeth when browsing the gallery...
This week, the Sprue Cutters Union has been tasked with discussing the things that we personally look for in a painted and presented miniature:
- What do you think makes an outstanding finished model? -
As a wargamer, the approach I take to painting miniatures, and therefore what I look for in a model as a comparison to my own skills (or lack thereof), will differ from my scale model building compatriots. I play Fantasy and Science Fiction based wargames, which tend to have fantastically themed and coloured armies. This typically also means that the miniatures that players of 40K and Fantasy paint are very different to scale military models and historical wargaming miniatures.
Where historically based miniatures might well be painted in camouflage and approved colours dependent on nation and particular unit, all of which tend to be functional and display practical merit, my own Fantasy and Sci-fi gaming miniatures lean toward brighter or at least more striking colour schemes, often showing utter disdain for the practicalities of 'environment appropriate' attire.
There are however exceptions to this. My Imperial Guard army for Warhammer 40,000 for example, are not an army of superhuman genetically enhanced warriors, or dead to begin with and therefore unconcerned with silly things like getting killed, and so they do utilise a camouflage scheme for their fatigues and equipment. There are however other armies like Space Marines, who wear their Chapter colours, which can range from black to bright yellow or blood red. The Chapter I collect, the Dark Angels (1st Legion for the win), have their amour in the majority painted dark green, though the famed warriors of the 1st Company, the Deathwing, wear bone white armour, and the tenacious hunters of the 2nd Company wear jet black armour.
There are many armies for players of 40K and Fantasy to choose from, and given that collectors are perfectly within their rights to invent their own military units to take into battle with their own colour schemes, almost limitless potential to develop an aesthetic dependent purely on personal preference limited only by the ability of the collector to first envisage and then apply their chosen scheme, from bright red armoured Ork Speed Freeks, to gaudily clothed Eldar Harlequins, and Tyranid warrior organisms all the colours of the rainbow.
So, having laid out the painting environment that I hail from, what are the things I look for in a painted and presented miniature? I guess what I am asking is 'what impresses me?', and the answer to that is pretty simple really.
When I paint gaming miniatures, there are certain processes I always go through, which may be different from other painters, but this is how I do it:
- Assembly
- Undercoat
- Base coats
- Layering
- Highlights
- Washes
- Final highlights
- Basing
Now I think most painters go through most of these stages, not necessarily in the same order, perhaps there are additional things they do that I don't, but this list establishes my basis for comparison, the only variable between painters being neatness and an ability to blend colours.
I believe that I can paint consistently to what is known as 'battlefield standard', which means a neatly painted miniature with a couple of levels of technical painting, which is just fine for gaming, but won't necessarily win me any painting competitions. I am endeavouring to continously improve my standard, and I develop my technical skill level, and doing this gives me a better appreciation of the level of skill required to achieve really impressive results.
What I am really looking for at the simplest level, is miniatures painted to a standard which better than I can achieve, and uses techniques I either struggle with or have never attempted because I wouldn't know where to start. An example of this would be NNM or 'non-metallic metal', which is a method of painting a section of a miniature to appear metallic, with shine and reflection indicative of metal (or mirrored surfaces for that matter) without the use of metallic paints. Another example is a buzz word in painting at the moment; 'object source lighting' or 'OSL', which is a way of painting the light from a source like a light or glowing weapons so that the light appears to fall on nearby objects by applying a tint to the area around the light source.
I have a general understanding of how these techniques are applied, but am yet to attempt them, so they still hold an air of mystery and wonder. So, I am impressed by miniatures that surpass my own level of painting, which means techniques like OSL and NNM, extreme levels of highlighting combined with colour blending so that you can't see the shift from tone to tone.
Here is a fantastic and well known example of Object Source Lighting by Victoria Lamb, painter and sculptor extraordinaire, who as you can see ran a seminar at Adepticon this year. The image is taken from the Victoria Miniatures Facebook page.

And this photo is of a model painted by Darren Latham, who as I recall pioneered the art of Non-Metallic Metal within the pages of Games Workshop's White Dwarf magazine. Darren is a veteran of the world famous 'Eavy Metal painting team, and now also a sculptor of Games Workshop miniatures. The picture is taken from the Games Workshop website Non-Metallic Metal Gallery.

I also look for extras, like well finished and interesting basing, which usually would tend to be seen on centrepiece or character models, and freehand work like text and images painted onto cloaks, armour plating and banners, which requires both flat painting skill and a very steady hand to achieve on a tiny scale.
The last thing I think I look for is conversion work and sculpting, both of which are an art in themselves. I am impressed by extreme conversions that stand out but don't look out of place, but also subtle work that you don't even realise is an alteration from the original miniature without having the original to hand, or having the changes pointed out to you.

All of the things I have mentioned are the kinds of things that competition winning entries possess, and the runners up for that matter, because these days the standard of painting can reach incredible but not wholly unachieveable with sufficient practice and patience. And talking to other painters is key to getting from the unfathomable to the surmountable in short order.
If you would like to read more posts on this topic from the points of view of other Union members, then please check out the links below. Each member brings something different to the Union, so all worth a read.
If you think you might like to join the Sprue Cutters Union (#spruecutters), look here. All you need is a blog, and a passion for miniature modelling.
Thanks for reading.