Featured

New blog: mogsymakes by James Morris

Many years ago, Big Red Bat guru Simon Miller asked me why I didn’t have a blog to support the various games that I took around wargames shows. “Why would I want a blog?” I asked him. “You’ll get followers,” came the reply. I laughed.

I don’t really do this to get followers, but I love swapping ideas and photos with other gamers around the world. I seem to post on social media every week or so, only then to find myself unable to find my own pictures, battle reports or words of advice just a few weeks later. Questions like this crop up all the time: “Have you got any size comparison pictures with different manufacturers?” “What was the paint recipe you used on your wolves?” “Has anyone had a go at converting Elf cavalry/ Cretan gendarmes/ Sikh sappers?” “How does Muskets & Tomahawks II play?” And often, I say, “Yes, but…just let me find it…” Hopefully mogsymakes will go some way towards helping out with these senior moments of social media.

My chum Scrivs claims that one of his main reasons for having a blog is to be able to find his paint recipes several years down the line; I can confirm this, having used several of his colour schemes after looking them up online! I’ve gone for something in between a blog and a website, in that I have different pages and sections where I will hopefully archive posts to make them easier to find. It is still very much in its infancy, so any helpful suggestions about improving access and layout will be quite welcome.

And so, I find myself following Simon’s sage advice: get a blog. I hope you enjoy it!

Sudden Flame in Middle-earth: Glaurung vs the Noldor

We don’t seem to be getting tired of Middle-earth at the moment, and indeed, I’m currently re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time since I was a teenager. However, last week Pete and I decided to plump for the First Age of Middle-earth again as I’d just finished Finrod Felagund and his Elf riders. As a newly-painted unit, I wasn’t expecting much out of the first game, so best to get it out of the way…

The scenario was very loosely inspired by events around Dagor Bragollach, the ‘Battle of Sudden Flame’ mentioned in the Silmarillion. In F.A. 455, Morgoth broke the siege of Angband with a counter attack led by the (wingless) dragon, Glaurung, and Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond was one of the Noldor lords who rode out to oppose the enemy. In Tolkien lore, Finrod was cut off and nearly killed at the Fen of Serech, but I wanted to try out a scenario with even forces and enemy baggage trains to loot. We decided that the Orcs had a number of captives that – along with Glaurung – would be the target of the Elven attack; in turn, the Elves had a small tented camp that could be raided if the Orcs broke through.

All set up and ready to go. Dice tray from Handiwork Games

Rules, as ever, were my own Midgard Heroic Battles (due to be published by Reisswitz Press – as soon as we have actual news on release dates, you will hear it here).

The Elven camp, robbed from various medieval/ dark ages boxes. If you’re wondering why the Elf infantry aren’t on the usual movement trays, that’ll be because the Orcs ‘borrowed’ them two weeks ago and didn’t give them back…

As it happened, we ended up with a slightly shorter table at the club than I would have liked (5′ wide rather than 6′), so flanking opportunities were somewhat reduced, but in all honesty, my Elves were so focused on taking down Glaurung that we forgot all about rescuing the prisoners! Funny how a large mini dominates your mind as well as the gaming table.

Pete deployed with Glaurung smack bang in the centre of the Orc host, ready to scorch the Noldor with his breath of fire. I went for a chequerboard formation of alternating archers and spearmen, with both heavy cavalry units held back in reserve, and horse archers on the wings. Though I knew that Finrod was unlikely to survive the battle, I didn’t want him running right into the fiery jaws of death on Turn One!

The Orcs went for an all-out advance, which didn’t go too well for them – their best captains were leading from the front, but the rear line failed command test after command test (next time, a Balrog in the back line should whip them into shape). The Orcs on the left flank, however, seemed rather keener and were closer to my Elves than I would have liked.

I let fly with as many arrows as I could, but failed to force Glauring back; then I overcooked it by sending Aegnor – the best archer in my force – into combat in search of some short-term glory. He survived, but ended up embroiled in melee for multiple turns rather than trying to stick an arrow down Glaurung’s throat, as I had planned.

Aegnor ends up swapping bow for sword as he is embroiled in melee with an Orc leader.

Both sides took some casualties from arrows, but eventually Glaurung got within range and let rip, burning up a unit of Noldor archers and forcing them back. Pete had made some ‘Walls of Flame’ for a spell effect and these came in handy for showing the dragon fire on the table.

There was scarce time for the Elves to draw breath before the warg riders charged and the whole front line became a general melee. On the right flank, an honourable mention is due to the Orc horde unit who beat my elite Noldor twice in a row and forced them back!

Leaving his brother to fend for himself, force commander Finrod unleashed the Noldor riders on the Orcs, crushing two units in short succession.

Glaurung had, by now, charged the Elven archers. Despite being wiped out, they heroically wounded the dragon.

This left the way clear for the counter-punch, delivered by Finrod’s brother Angrod. Surging into battle and calling upon every glamour known to Elf or Gnome, the Noldor rolled impeccably, broke the wingless wyrm and sent him into flight with just a few Elves crushed underfoot. Luck of the dice!

Centre: the Orc horde unit that WOULD NOT DIE! 🙂 But Glaurung is in flight and Finrdd has punched through the line.

With the destruction of another warg unit, the Orcs were left with no reputation in their goblet and forced to scurry back to Morgoth, who will doubtless wheel out some Balrogs and tell them to get back to work!

It was an interesting game though without any single combats, for once – I think Pete and I were so focused on taking down/ getting Glaurung that it felt like an unnecessary risk! I had gained reputation early in the game by getting the first charges in, and the Orcs were unlucky to lose Glaurung so soon, but overall it was a solid victory for the Noldor.

Heroes of the hour: Finrod’s brother Angrod and the surviving riders of Nargothrond

Three cheers for Finrod Felagund and the newly-painted unit, still alive at the end of the game! 🙂

I’m expecting to take similar forces to the Midgard games that I’ll be running at the BIG Winter Wonderlard event next month (Feb 18th at Bristol Independent Gaming), but Glaurung will be taking a break as I’m not sure he’d be a fair intro to the game for new players!

Elf Riders for Middle-earth: a tale of plastic, putty and 3D prints

Finrod and his Elves photographed in front of one of Jon Hodgson’s stunning miniature backgrounds

Since getting tempted into collecting a small Elf force for Middle-earth, it’s been overdue for some extra riders. I already had a number of units of Noldor horse archers and heavy cavalry – mostly created by kit bashing Oathmark Elves with Gripping Beast Arab Heavy Cavalry – but the release of the Victrix Norman Knights in 2022 sent me back down the rabbit hole.

Base models: Victrix Norman (left), Reconquer Designs (right)
Victrix Norman Knights converted into Elves with Oathmark heads and shields

The second source of riders was the astonishing 3D range of El Cid era models by Reconquer Designs (previously Caballero Miniatures, that I looked in this article back in 2021). I had several of their Spanish knights knocking around in the bits box, two of which became standard bearers for the Elves. Mine were printed for me by James P of Fenland Miniatures (Iron Gate Scenery and Grey Green Customs also do them in the UK; the latter also sells versions with Elf heads and plumes which require no conversion).

Two Reconquer Designs medieval knights converted into Elves
One of Victor Ambrus’s Elves from the Tolkien Bestiary

Visual inspiration came from Tolkien stalwart Graham Green (Grey Green Customs), who converted bucketloads of metal minis into First Age Elves and then wrote about them in Miniature Wargames magazine (and also posts to the Wargaming In Middle-earth Facebook group). I still hark back to the artwork of Victor Ambrus in the 1979 Tolkien Bestiary and the more recent illustrations of Jenny Dolfen.

I love the horse archers in this Jenny Dolfen illustration – definitely an influence on my colour choices http://goldseven.de

Since rereading the Silmarillion a few years back, I’ve been fascinated by Finrod Felagund, so I decided to add him as a commander. The rest of my Elven force has a blue/ grey colour scheme and uses the heraldry of Finarfin – which was also used by Finrod – but I fancied creating a a bodyguard unit of Elves using Finrod’s personal device. To match the white, yellow and green of this symbol, I went with a largely green colour scheme and green shields.

Alongside the ten models I was working on for Finrod’s unit, I used the last remaining four Victrix Normans to create a few more horse archers in my regular blue/ grey scheme.

I snapped up the Victrix Normans as soon as they became available; they are superb models, but the first moulding had some issues with fitting the horses together, which I understand has now been rectified. This meant that I had some trimming and filling to do. Some of the horses had plumes added from the Oathmark Elves kits.

First experiments – this figure has an Oathmark Elf torso, which is a bit narrow (I used GB ones for the rest)

All of the horses were sprayed with Halfords Matt White Primer as a base colour which was then given a coat of GW Contrast Apothecary White. When dry, I highlighted this with a white acrylic.

Some of the muzzles received a layer of GW Contrast Gulliman Flesh and I picked out socks and hooves in acrylic dark greys and black. Reins and saddles were added with GW Contrast Cygor Brown – this dark colour is ideal for this job.

Saddlecloths were done using a mix of Contrast and regular acrylics, after which I sprayed all the horses with a coat of matt varnish.

Horses nearly finished (the riders are not glued on at this point)

The riders were kit bashed using a variety of plastic parts, all using the Victrix Normans as a base. The Oathmark Elves kits (both heavy and light infantry) saw extensive use of arms, heads, plumes and shields. From working on previous horse archers, I had a number of spare parts from the Gripping Beast Arab Heavy Cavalry kit; the most useful of these were the scale-armoured torsos, which fit well with the Victrix legs and Oathmark arms. Some spare cloaks from Fireforge Knights also came in handy to add a dynamic look to the charging riders.

These have the Arab Heavy Cavalry torsos from the Gripping Beast kit, which are a great fit for the Oathmark arms and heads.

With all this done, I went round and filled various gaps with green stuff.

Gap filling (Milliput for the horse and green stuff for the rider’s cloak)

Due to the high level of armour, I decided to spray the riders separately with a black undercoat (Halfords Matt Black again). After this, they received a dry brush of Army Painter Shining Silver acrylic over the armour, and I tidied this up with black acrylic.

Skin, clothing and leatherwork were all filled in with various acrylics (I can’t remember them all), trying to keep a green/ yellow/ white theme to match the heraldry.

Like the rest of my Elves, I did the shield devices by snipping and printing the artwork onto regular printer sticker paper, cutting them out neatly and sticking them onto the basecoated shield (any corners that didn’t quite stick down had a dot of PVA to hold them in place). With some painting and shading around the device, it’s not perfect but does the job for me.

Basecoated shields
Finished shields

The two 3D prints from Reconquer Designs became Finrod himself, waving his flag, and an additional standard bearer for his unit.

Finrod completed

I spent a little longer on the paintwork on these two, although I can claim no credit for the banner, being a piece of lovely Tolkien art that I found online, snipping and resizing it before printing it out onto regular paper.

Printed paper banners being fitted

The unit was based up on Warbases 25x50mm pill bases, with Finrod and his champion on larger 50 and 40mm round bases. Tufts and flowers are from Gamers Grass supplied by Northstar, as ever.

Despite having taken me far longer than I was hoping, I’m really pleased with the unit and look forward to charging it to its doom on the gaming table! I’d like to add a couple more infantry units and will then be calling it done, although the temptation of acquring some more Reconquer Models may be too much to resist…

Death in the Riddermark: Orcs vs Rohirrim in Middle-earth

This game came about as a result of two Petes: Pete D had requested a game of Midgard Heroic Battles, and Pete J had been busy building a Rohan mounted force, so it seemed only right to put the two together for the first game at the pub of 2023.

I quickly threw together a straightforward Middle-earth scenario – Orcs invading the Riddermark in the Third Age – and we got things underway. (Apologies if the photos are a little dark – I’d like to say it’s the smoke of burning Rohan homesteads, but actually the pub lighting wasn’t too bright last night).

The Two Petes took command of the army of Rohan, featuring a force of light and medium cavalry commanded by some familiar faces and with a mysterious unnamed wizard. Although some of our El Cid outings have involved a lot of cavalry, I think this was the first time we’d fielded a fully-mounted force. Pete J has been steadily creating unit trays for all his GW LOTR miniatures which are looking marvellous.

Riders of Rohan with move unit trays (GW LOTR minis)

I brought my usual host of Orcs, with a couple of units of Warg riders, a Troll Captain and a Nazgul riding a Fell Beast.

The game opened with the traditional single combat, with Eomer inviting the Orcs to ‘get orf my laand’ (poor Rohan accent there, sorry). Azdak, Captain of Trolls, came at him with his (very) big club but did no more than wound the Hero before getting decked by his legendary weapon.

Only slightly deterred, the Orcs hurled themselves forward at the Rohirrim. After failing a stack of command tests, this was revised to a fractured advance in the centre. The Two Petes actually had a PLAN (unsporting or what!) and split their force to try to get round the Orcish flanks.

The Dark Lord contemplates a change of wallpaper

This actually worked exceptionally well, with the speed of the riders and disorganisation of the Orcs adding to the overall effect of battlefield chaos. The Orcs in the centre were missing Akdar to tell them what to do.

Rohan light cavalry rode up to the front lines and caused mayhem with some spectacular (beginner’s luck, obvs) shooting from Pete D. Then Pete J did the same on the other flank!

Orcs getting peppered with arrers

At this point, I abandoned my ‘sensible’ plan to have the Nazgul lurking on the ground just behind the line where he could help control the Orcs, and sent him out on a swooping attack against Eomer and his personal guard. This was definitely the Orcish high water mark of the game, as the hooded menace and his pet tore apart Eomer’s horsemen and flew off scot-free. Unfortunately, Eomer survived the carnage and rode off to join some of his other mates.

The Nazgul goes after Eomer and his guard (centre)

The pressure from the riders on the flanks continued as one of my Warg units got destroyed by a pair of Rohirrim light cavalry and the arrows just kept pouring in. By now, the Orcs had been forced to turn to face, creating a most interesting formation (resembling Cannae, as Pete D dryly noted).

Orcs inadvertently adopt the ‘Cannae’ formation as they try to hold the flanks and push forwards in the centre
Close quarters with Wargs and Rohirrim

Some Orc counter-charges followed, but they were disjointed and badly-led. This was an obvious opportunity for one of my Orc Captains to challenge a lower-ranked Rohan commander to single combat, only for me to realise that he bore a worrying resemblance to Viggo Mortensen! He rolled dice like him too, quickly rendering my Orc an ex-Orc.

The Nazgul went off on another swooping attack which went spectacularly badly – he chewed up a unit of Rohirrim, but the Fell Beast took a belly full of spears as he passed over and was driven back.

General sorcerous trouble as the unnamed wizard holds off the Orcs with fire and flame

This left him vulnerable to the attentions of the unnamed wizard, who blasted the struggling creature with smoke and flame. Although surviving the assault, the beast failed its command test and fled the battlefield, taking the servant of Sauron with him.

Despite the Orcish collapse, the game was an absolute hoot in great company. It was excellent to watch Pete D picking up the mechanics so quickly and very enjoyable to see Pete J’s Rohirrim out on the table.

Terrain Build: The Elf Tower

Every so often, I love to build a terrain piece for gaming. Sometimes this gets a little out of control (the 7 foot long Fort Vaux model or perhaps the mountainside of Keren leap to mind), but this time I went for something more restrained.

I originally built this is March/April 2020, during the first big UK lockdown, but have never posted the whole thing on the blog, so here goes!

The tower in use in our Christmas 2022 game of Dragon Rampant

There’s something wholly therapeutic about terrain building. I enjoy working less precisely than I have to when painting the faces of minis, but there’s also the pure joy of creation – making something out of bits and pieces to enhance the gaming table. Terrain sets the scene in the miniature battles that we play out, so getting a few hours to spend time on it is a real treat.

The tower in a recent Middle-earth game

As a teenager, I often built things that I couldn’t store…there was a complete castle -built to the floorplans of the McDeath Warhammer scenario pack out of expanded polystyrene ceiling tiles – with nothing to keep it in. Some big old cliff sections, again made from white (easily chipped) polystyrene, suffered every time they moved house or were brought out for a game. The last few years have seen me transferring my whole collection into the ubiquitous Really Useful Boxes, so I decided to make the elf tower to fit into one of these.

The whole model fits into a 9 litre Really Useful Box. I kept checking the fit of pieces while building to make sure that I wasn’t disappointed at the end!

Towers are, unsurprisingly, a common theme in fantasy and mythology. Initially, I wanted a Tolkien-style Elf watchtower but with a swappable top section for a different look for other settings, specifically The Red Book of the Elf King (a Moorcock-inspired fantasy setting). The art of Rodney Matthews was also an influence at this stage of the project.

Twilight Tower by Rodney Matthews

My basic construction material was to be foam cylinders, which I had cut for me by Gerard Boom of Shifting Lands at Crisis 2018; they’d been sat in my cupboard waiting to be used since then.

Above: foam meister Gerard Boom at work on his stand at Crisis 2018, cutting me pieces of tower to order.

Initial sketches for the Elf Tower

I realised that I could do with some extra parts to create the Elven look I was after; my chum Sam Dale recommended that I have a look at TT Combat’s MDF range and I quickly found pretty much exactly what I was after. The Elven Pavilion kit had a host of swirly bits that I could easily add to my foam cylinders for the look I was after.

Armed with these lovely pieces of MDF, I began creating a porch for the front door (a resin doorway from Thomarillion, also purchased at Crisis 2018).

This led on to creating the matching lookout gallery, which I created from extruded blue foam and the MDF/ grey board parts from the TT Combat kit. Designs were pressed into the foam using some cheap Celtic jewellery pieces from the bits box – a very effective and easy method of creating an ornate texture with minimal work.

With the basic tower structure under way, I added windows and a base cut from 6mm plywood with an electric jigsaw. Stone work was pressed in across the foam cylinders using a pencil, with more embossed detail on odd stones.

The base of the tower needed for weight for stability on the gaming table. I could have gone down the obvious route of gravel or stones, but I had a bag of deceased miniature warriors in the bits box – various unfortunates who had suffered parts being clipped off for conversions over the years. Around 20 of these fallen heroes were dumped into the bottom section of the tower and sealed in place with a layer of hot glue and a prayer to the gods.

After this, I put some extra work into finishing off the various tower parts. The pointy fairytale roof was one of Gerard’s foam cones with tiles made from thin card (lots of wood glue!) and a finial from yellow-green Milliput.

The next step was to get the construction tidied up and gaps filled with Milliput. A thin watered-down layer of filler was brushed on for additional texture on the main tower.

Now it was on to painting. I used craft shop acrylics, with a mixture of greys, browns and khaki as a base layer. When this was dry, I applied a black/ brown wash, and then began to pick out different stones in a variety of colours. Dry-brushing the embossed patterns really paid off at this point.

The roofs were painted brown and highlighted to suggest bronze.

With the whole thing finished, it was time for a photo session in its three different guises. Probably the aspect I was most pleased with is how its appearance changes when it morphs between settings – even though the tower base is the same, it appears different each time.

I’ll be using most the techniques I learned here in my next terrain build, a new Norse myth piece aimed at my demo games of Midgard for 2023. More soon!

Winding up 2022: Dragon Rampant at Christmas

Scratch built Elf tower on the frosty terrain mat

It’s been a busy year for Morris and Chums: stacks of gaming, running participation/ demo games at Hammerhead and both Partizans, and generally egging each other on to invest in toy soldiers that we hadn’t been planning to buy.

Hammerhead 2022: Battle of Dunnichen 685
Partizan 2022: Battle of Degsastan 603 (Best Demo Game winner)
The Other Partizan 2022: Battle of Mortimer’s Cross 1461

In the background, I’ve been busy developing Midgard Heroic Battles for publication as well, which, along with trying to stay on top of the blog, means that I’ve dropped off writing magazine articles at the moment.  Need to get back to that in 2023.

Anyway, I decided to conclude the year with a festive game of Dragon Rampant.  This was a chance to pull out the snowy terrain cloth which I’m planning to feature in next year’s Midgard games at shows.  I threw together a paper-thin excuse for a fantasy scenario (different retinues compete to find the Elf King’s 9 fabled crystals while avoiding the Elf King’s ghost and various wandering beasts). Dragon Rampant was the rules set of choice, being fast and easy for this kind of large skirmish.  

Everyone brought a 24 point retinue:

Tom – Gobstyk and his Night Goblins

Gobstyk’s Goblins (WFB 7th Edition minis) run into trouble in the woods as they are set upon by wild beasts (Dark Alliance 1/72 wargs)

James – Cufnir the Betrayer and his Trolls

Don’t mess with the Trolls (Lucid Eye Miniatures) and their War Pugs (Reaper Bones)!

Chris – Lord Vlad the Inhaler and his clanking Men at Arms

Vlad the Inhaler’s men (Perry Miniatures) head for the deserted, possibly haunted, tower

Matt – Tupin the Wide and his Dwarven Host

Tupin the Wide (Conqueror Models)

Fun as Dragon Rampant is, my experience of multiplayer games is that players can spend a while waiting for their turn, especially if failing multiple activation rolls.  To counter this, we made a couple of changes:

  1. Each player was allowed two rerolls of failed activation tests during the game – being Christmas, these took the form of chocolate coins that had to be eaten to get the reroll. 
Tom manfully accepts the hardship of rerolling for his Goblins

2. The activation sequence each turn was randomised using a draw bag, with one token per player plus an extra one for the Elf King’s beasts. Each player attempted to activate a unit in turn until they had failed to activate or activated all their units.  This meant that play switched very quickly between the players.

Makeshift activation counters (Warbases MDF) plus a draw bag from Glenbrook Games

Each player was given a colour-coded deployment point and was also able to send a unit out scouting, which would end up in a random location. Fortunately for all concerned, the scouts didn’t stray too far from the path, but these units were nearer the centre of the table and got the game moving all the faster.

Obligatory pre-battle snacks! Exploration tokens can be seen across the board for exploration
Start of the game: a green deployment marker can be seen centre left, and some white exploration tokens top left and centre.

Possible locations for exploration were marked with white MDF tokens, each numbered underneath to reveal what had been found by the unit concerned. Options included the good stuff (Elf King’s crystals and the blessings of the Norse Gods) and the bad stuff (the ghost of the Elf King and assorted wandering monsters). In true old school DM style, I had written these down on a scrap of paper which we used as a reference throughout the game.

Vlad’s Archers draw a bead on the approaching Goblins

The game proceeded with the various contenders racing towards the white tokens in search of the Elf King’s crystals and then clashing as they tried to take them off each other. Lord Vlad managed to get a unit up the deserted tower, only to be confronted with the Elf King’s spirit (moving randomly and causing automatic Courage tests) as they left.

Run, lads! The Elf King’s spirit is discovered in the woods outside his tower. Who’d have thought it?
General mayhem ensues – at this point, Lord Vlad’s men (right and bottom) have three of the Elf King’s crystals

Gobstyk’s Goblin Spider Riders (Light Riders plus Venomous) managed to cause havoc with some very accurate shooting on both Dwarves and Men.

Arachnids of the Match: Gobstyk’s Spider Riders – fast, venomous and bloody annoying

However, Tupin the Wide’s Dwarven scouts picked up blessings from both Freya and Thor (+3 to a Courage test and +4 dice in Combat respectively), meaning that no-one wanted to fight them. Reduced to a final Dwarf by Goblin archery, the unit only just survived the game.

Dwarven scouts pick up a crystal and the blessing of Thor. Don’t mess with them!
The final Dwarf archer survives under the protection of Freya and Thor!

Vlad’s men enjoy the view
Odin puts in an appearance
A vicious scrap ensues between Trolls and Knights in the snow
Big boy Trolls pursue Lord Vlad’s men out of the tower (1/72 Dark Alliance minis)

The Dwarves got the worst of the Elf King’s wandering monsters, facing both the Frost Giant and the Elf King’s ghost at the same time. They heroically defeated the Giant, but it didn’t leave much time for further exploration.

Height vs Might!
Troll, Troll, Troll
Troll warriors skulk around (Lucid Eye miniatures)
Dice tray from Handiwork Games

Eventually, with all tokens having been investigated and the death of the Frost Giant, the various factions gathered up their crystals and made their escape. The Trolls were fairly inactive during the final turn – having fluffed an activation roll and previously scoffed all their chocolate coins – but ended up with three of the nine Elf King’s crystals, thus winning the game.

Eventual victors – Cufnir’s Trolls – hold off Vlad’s Men at Arms

As ever, Dragon Rampant gave an entertaining game with very little looking up of rules and much hilarity – a great way to finish off the gaming year.

The Troll’s Elven scouts locate and carry off a crystal

Thank you for checking into the blog in 2022 and we hope to see you, either in person or online, at some of our gaming activities in the New Year.

Wishing you all the best, James Morris & Chums

Slaine Miniatures Game: Skull-Swords

Axe=armed Skull-Swords from Warlord Games, photograohed in front of a Jon Hodgson miniature background

Progress on projects has been slow recently, but today I was able to finish up basing on some of the lovely Skull-Swords from Warlord Games. To date, I’ve only played the Slaine Miniatures Game twice, and quickly realised that having more than the three Skull-Swords supplied in the starter set was a good idea! (One of the Drune feat cards allows you to bring on an extra unit of three models). One quick order from Caliver Books later and I had the Drune Warband set.

Like the other Slaine models, these are cast in flexible plastic resin (Siocast, I believe). The models in the box had virtually no flash and cleaned up very quickly with a sharp scalpel; only one model required assembly to stick on its crossbow with a dot of superglue – all the others are one-piece castings. As a nice touch, they were also supplied with four game cards and 25mm round plastic bases.

Art from Sky Chariots by Mike McMahon

The Drunes were the first baddies I encountered in the Slaine 2000 AD strip ‘Sky Chariots’; the Drune Lords are the evil priests who drain the power from Tir na Nog (The Land of the Young) and the Skull-Swords, their followers. Warlord Games have done a great job with the sculpts on these. Slaine afficionados will recognise the early design work of Mike McMahon (which also features on the front cover of the box), but with the more outlandish helmets, weapons and shields from the pencil of Massimo Belardinelli.

Shield designs from Belardinalli (left) and McMahon (centre and right)
Another Skullsword from Massimo Belardinelli, this time with a more ‘metal’ shield…

The set contains nine different miniatures, six with melee weapons and three with repeating crossbows (although the crossbow has been rotated 90 degrees to a traditional bow position, presumably for production purposes).

Like the last models, these had an undercoat of Halfords Plastic Primer followed by Halford White Primer. Painting was the same as for the Slaine starter set models with a mixture of earthy / yellow/ brown colours chosen for the Drunes. Games Workshop Contrast Paints work a treat on the deeply-incised detail of these models.

Starting off: white undecoat and skin base layer of GW Contrast Guilliman Flesh/ Gore-Grunta Fur
More base layers – GW Snakebite Leather and Gore-Grunta Fur

After the base coats, I added a few highlights using regular acrylic paints and sealed the Contrast paint in with a coat of matt varnish. Metallics were done after varnishing to preserve the shine with a base coat of Army Painter Gunmetal, a wash of thinned GW Contrast Black Templar and a final highlight of AP Shining Silver.

Finished and ready to do battle!

I really enjoyed painting these and will be back for more Slaine in the new year!

Battle with the Earth Tribes. The Celts are from Northstar Military Figures with cauldron by Iron Gate Miniatures
Slough Throt and his bodyguards

Bad Squiddo Shield Maidens

All the BSG shield maidens in front of an epic background by Jon Hodgson

Several companies are now making shield maidens in 28mm, but I wanted to go with these as Annie’s mission at Bad Squiddo is to produce ‘believable female miniatures’. As a sample, I bought both shield maiden hearthguard packs and Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia; Annie kindly popped in champion Jada the Subtle as a freebie.

These are certainly ‘believable female miniatures’ – I really like the way that hair has been tied back prior to going into battle.

As I mentioned in my previous Norse Myth post about Freya and Brunhilde, the quality control at BSG is absolutely top notch, so these required very little cleaning and prep work. The spear-armed minis do need the hand drilling out to take the wire spear (supplied with the figures), but I find this far preferable to having the spear ping out during gaming.

Painting involved a simple white undercoat followed by base layers of GW Contrast Paint and various acrylic highlights – nothing too fancy! Unlike the previous Norse myth minis, I based these without snow so they can do double duty in different terrain.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I enjoy painting my own shield designs. I hadn’t done any spirals for a number of years and am definitely out of practice! I went for a black/ red/ white theme for the shields to tie the group together.

Not strictly shield maidens, these are two are from the ‘Aethelflaed – Lady of Mercia’ pack from Bad Squiddo. The cross may not quite fit with the Norse ideal, but it just seemed right on the banner. Not sure how I’ll use these two in my games yet.

The eagle-eyed among you will know that the mini on the left with the white cloak isn’t a Bad Squiddo mini – this one is from Footsore Miniatures. I confess that she had been sat unpainted for many years, so working on the shield maidens was the ideal opportunity to get her painted up.

A Fistful of Nordic Myth

Left: Red Book of the Elf King figures (Captain and converted Chaelech Most Cruel with standard) from Lucid Eye Publications; centre: Valkyrie by Bad Squiddo Games; right: Freya riding Hildeswini by Bad Squiddo Games. The background is a printable download from Jon Hodgson Maps on Patreon.

Alongside my various projects on Greek myth, Middle-earth and other settings, I’ve been quietly collecting miniatures for Norse mythology/ fantasy as well. I’m hoping that these will see the table at shows next year as part of a big Midgard game as well as in various smaller club encounters.

First up is a Valkyrie from Bad Squiddo Games that I bought from Annie at Partizan in May. This is a two-piece resin casting based on Arthur Rackham’s classic illustration of Brunhilde (left), and by Thunor, it’s a fine piece of work! You can see how carefully sculptor Shane Hoyle has captured the pose of the original art.

My Norse myth collection has a blue-grey-white colour theme, so she didn’t get the Rackham colour treatment, and I went for a frosty base to tie her in to my setting. Nevertheless, I’m really happy with the model.

While most of the mini has been painted fairly quickly using GW Contrast paints and various acrylic highlights, I spent a few minutes giving her cloak a runic border for a further Norse vibe.

Next up are a pair of Elves from Lucid Eye’s Red Book of the Elf King range. As you know, I play a bit of Red Book every so often and am slowly building up a circle of warriors with a more frosty theme to fit the winter setting of the game’s background. These will also see service as Alfar in my Norse myth games.

The Elf Captain. Standing stones are a 3d print from Thingiverse.

The model leaning on his sword is a recent addition to the range, an Elf Companion Captain. No-one sculpts cloaks quite like Steve Saleh and I bought this on impulse in one of Lucid Eye’s sales. Like the Valkyrie, he’s been painted mostly with Contrast paints with additional highlights and has a runic border on his cloak. It took me several weeks to decide on the colour of his plume (GW Contrast Fyreslayer Red) as I wasn’t sure if it was too much! Despite being outside my blue-grey-white colour theme, it grew on me and I then opted for a red/ black banner to tie the two models together.

The standard bearer is a newish Red Book character, Chaelech of Hale, again ordered on impulse during the 30% off sale! When he arrived, I decided that I didn’t like his sword and thought that he might work better as a banner bearer. Having been painting Wars of the Roses banners in September for Never Mind The Billhooks, I opted for a late medieval-style flag with a side pole. The raven banner itself is based on an image I found online and over-painted with more Fyreslayer Red to match the Elf Captain’s plume. The standard bearer’s shield is a resin casting from Scibor Miniatures that I’ve used on my other Red Book warband.

Freya on Hildeswini by Bad Squiddo: superb sculpting, animation and casting. 10/10!

Last, but certainly not least, is another cracking resin model from Bad Squiddo Games. BSG aren’t the cheapest minis out there, but the quality control and packaging is absolutely top notch. When this model of Freya riding her giant boar Hildeswini arrived (£22), I was blown away by the quality of the casting. There was virtually nothing to clean up so preparation consisted of a quick wash and then undercoating. The packaging included a painting reference photo which was useful in identifying detailed parts of the armour.

This time out, I undercoated Hildeswini in black so that I could dry brush the bristly fur to a suitable grey-brown. Freya herself received a white undercoat and various base coats of GW Contrasts plus highlights. Being a goddess, she was also first in line for a fancy border on her dress.

Once assembled, I was delighted with the animation in this model. She’ll be a much appreciated leader in my games of Of Gods And Mortals and Midgard, for sure, and Bad Squiddo will certainly be seeing some more of £ winging their way.

Saruman at Senlac Hill: another Middle-earth / 1066 mash-up

Following on from our last couple of Middle-earth games (the Battle of Barnet reimagined as The Battle in the Mist and Stamford Bridge in Middle-earth), some wag suggested we do Hastings 1066 with Elves and Warg riders. Well, why not?

I always take inspiration from historic battles and Hastings was fairly fresh in my mind after the War & Conquest refight that I took part in earlier in the year to celebrate Rob B’s birthday. One of the scenarios that I have in the Midgard Heroic Battles manuscript is already based on Hastings, so it didn’t take much to knock up some army lists to fit. Following the destruction of much of the army of Rivendell in last week’s game, I opted to have the surviving Elves under Glorfindel holding a critical hill against the advance of Saruman’s army.

My Warg rider collection – a mongrel mix of plastic and metal from all different manufacturers.

Pete and I gathered as many Wargs and Warg riders as we could for the forces of Isengard, then bulked this out with Orcs and Uruks fighting on foot with bows and swords. The scenario requires that a quarter of the defending force arrive later in the game, so I was left with a thin blue-and-silver line of Elves holding the ridge. I picked Glorfindel as my commander hoping that he would do better than die in the first hail of arrows as happened last week! To get the Saxon vibe, all the Elves were on foot as a mixture of spearmen and archers; they probably had more shooting power than Harold Godwinsson’s forces in 1066, but there were certainly less of them as a result. After deployment, the line felt painfully thin.

The thin blue-and-silver line: converted Oathmark Elves.

Pete deployed Saruman’s forces with archers in front, warriors behind and the Warg riders (both light and heavy units) on the flanks. The battle was on!

Eek! That’s a lotta Orcs.

I confess that I’d taken some lessons from Paul W at my club, who has learned how to play the Elves under Midgard rules far better than I ever did myself! The superior leadership and discipline of the Elves gave them plenty of options to make the best of their raised position and I (aided by successful Command Tests) managed to restrain myself from my natural tactics of ‘charge them in the face,’ as Tom WD would have it. After Gildor’s diabolical performance last week (the most powerful Hero on the table being shot up by Orcs before even having a chance to get into combat), I was determined to get a bit more out of my commander this time.

Have it! Glorfindel’s Elves charge down the Orc archers who strayed too close to the line.

So, the Orcs advanced to combat, with their front line of massed archers getting the better of the Elves in the first round. I was taking casualties I could ill afford, so when the Orc archers advanced to point-blank range, Glorfindel led his spearmen down the hill to give them a kicking. Fortunately, the Elves won the combat comfortably and their leaders were able to pull them back from pursuing the defeated enemy. So far, so good.

A nice shot down the line showing the Elves curving round on the flanks.

One of the Elven spear units on the left had taken quite a beating from Orc arrows, so I sent Glorfindel down the line to rally them (a trait called Hold Fast allows him to restore a stamina point to a unit once a game). This turned out to be a smart move as this Elven unit saw a great deal of action throughout the rest of the battle.

Warg attack!

Now Saruman sent up the Orc warriors and riders on the flanks. One of the heavy Warg rider units fell to a devastating round of bowfire from Elf Lord Quildor’s archers on the right flank, but the others crashed home and drove an Elven spear unit all the way down the far side of the hill.

The Orc front line has crumbled but Wargs are massing on both flanks.

On the left flank, massed light units of Warg riders were causing problems with their bows, but the Elves were holding firm despite mounting casualties. I pulled the wings of the Elf force back to hang on as long as possible. again assisted by Elven training and discipline.

Lindir arrives with the Wood Elves: right place, right time!

Fortunately, the relief force arrived just in time. Lindir and his Wood Elves – two units each of bow and spear – rocked up in a random location in the Elven deployment zone. I think I would rather that they had turned up on the right flank to fight off the Warg attack, but as it happened they arrived in the centre. This meant that they could go straight into a supporting role, helping the battered Elven front line to hold the ridge.

The Elf line is reinforced.
Glorfindel and Lord Tannatar hold the left flank against all comers.
On the Elven right, the Orcs are breaking through.

With the Elves holding firm, the battle began to turn against Saruman.

The slope of the hill was a critical factor. One of things I tried hard to model in the rules was the advantage of terrain and supporting units, and by the time the second line arrived, the Elves had the advantage of both. Time and time again (assisted by some uncharacteristically good dice rolling, I must add), the Orcs were beaten back from the ridge. Despite being fought out with Elves and Orcs, it felt like a proper Dark Ages slog.

Despite mounting Elf casualties, the Orcs are beaten back again.
Uruks going down fighting as Glorfindel’s bodyguard gets stuck in.
The white wizard finds himself stranded amongst a sea of Elves.

It was now a question of time as the Elves beat down the Orcs all across the battlefield. Despite the loss of a couple of units, repeated counter charges by Elven heroes had raised the Reputation of the force. There was a hairy moment towards the end when Glorfindel threw the dreaded double raven for his Risk to Heroes test (see Gildor in last week’s game!), but by judicious use of Mighty Deeds, he survived with just a flesh wound. (No really, just wounded – this is not a Monty Python joke).

Now Saruman’s bodyguard of Uruks was cut down; naturally, the ghost of Christopher Lee was lucky and survived, but his army was broken and the battle was over with a decisive Elven victory. Clearly this scenario is demanding to be replayed with Saxons and Normans to see if Harold can pull off the same result!

Victory! Isengard’s cup is drained of Reputation, but Rivendell’s is looking healthy. Bye bye Orcs.

Hold the Ford: The 4 Rules of Rivers

The finished waterfall piece with 18mm Saxons from Wiglaf Miniatures.

The river pieces that I’ve used in a couple of recent games (Mortimer’s Cross at Partizan and Stamford Bridge in Middle-earth) have drawn quite a few questions, so I thought an article about them would be useful. I apologise in advance that this isn’t a tutorial per se, as when I made the original river many years ago, I didn’t take any WIP pics. However, I’ve recently refurbished the pieces, so have included some upgrade photos and general commentary that I hope will be helpful if you’re considering building something similar. Here goes!

Orcs on the bridge! This shot clearly shows the high shine from the yacht varnish (see Rule 4 below).

Like hills, roads and woods, rivers are thoroughly multi-purpose pieces of terrain which will serve on the gaming table across many historical (and fantasy) eras. A great number of battles have been fought over river crossings and they feature heavily in the early medieval conflicts that have always fired my imagination, so making my own was always going to be on the cards.

The ravine – equally at home in the Peak District or Middle-earth (converted Elves from my Noldor collection).

RULE 1: MAKE IT IRREGULAR

Rivers are rarely perfectly straight; they are far more likely to meander through the landscape, finding their way between the hills and gullies of the countryside on their way to the sea. They are hard to replicate exactly in miniature form, but you can make a great start by varying all the pieces slightly.

Mortimer’s Cross at The Other Partizan, October 2022. The irregular river banks help to blend it into the terrain cloth.

I cut all the base pieces of my river from 3mm hardboard (I’d probably use MDF nowadays to reduce warping) using an electric jigsaw. Each piece has the same width river and bank at the ends, but the rest can vary and increases the illusion of reality. Irregular banks can also ‘mask’ where the piece joins the table, as shown in the photo of our recent Mortimer’s Cross game at Partizan.

The groundwork for the banks was largely done with thin slices of cork bark (cut around 5-10mm thick using a saw). These were stuck down with wood glue to create the basic watercourse, then the banks were filled in with a mixture of filler, brown paint, wood glue and sand, with a few extra rocks placed in the river (cork bark or chippings again).

Sherpa fleece fabric (top and bottom left) and teddy bear fur (bottom right) being used alongside flock and grass tufts to cover the river banks.

Originally, each bank was dry brushed and flocked, but when I refurbished the river this year, I added fleece fabric to match my current terrain cloth (see my article Sherpa Fleece Terrain Mat for full details of this project) alongside some teddy bear fur and grass tufts by Gamers Grass. The cloth covering overlaps the wooden base by an inch or two and gives a less harsh edge when placed on the table.

WIP shot from the recent refurbishment: fleece fabric is being glued down with copious quantities of wood glue. You can see the river banks formed from thin slices of cork bark.

RULE 2: MAKE ENOUGH PIECES

If you’re going to make your own river, it’s a right faff to have to try to add extra pieces later on and match the exact colour and shine each time. Yes, it’s a bit of an investment in time and materials, but if you make slightly more than you think you’ll need, you’ll probably have enough.

Here’s the river in its original form with light green banks to fit on my old gaming boards during my Y Gododdin game for Wargames Illustrated #300 back in 2012. The table is 6′ wide across the bottom of the pic. Having made plenty of sections meant that I could easily cover the area shown.

Pieces can be adapted later on (I had to slightly modify one of the sections to fit Chris B’s watermill for our Mortimer’s Cross game), but making more pieces is going to be a colour-matching pain. I think I have about 12′ of river – there’s a full inventory below.

Chris’s watermill at Partizan – I had to adapt the bank slightly to fit the building but I didn’t have to make an all-new section.

A typical river ‘straight’ – this one is just over a foot long.
More ‘straights’
And a few more…
Bends, cut to a gentle 45 degrees, just right for the games table.
Fillers! Each of these is around 3-6″(7.5 – 15cm) long. I cannot emphasize how useful these are to just make sure the river fits the table.
Crossings: stone bridge (from Ian Weekley designs) and wooden bridge (from Village Green, I think). – these have their own built in river section to get the best join. Two fords, both done by adding extra rocks and plenty of white stippling.
Orcs scampering over the Ian Weekley bridge.
Confluence, just in case I ever play a game where two rivers join. I’m not sure I’ve ever used it, but when the game comes, I’ll be ready!

I also built a waterfall and ravine section which are detailed below. They’re not necessary for a basic rivers set (and in any case, they don’t get used much) but they are lovely for photos and set dressing in larger games.

RULE 3: PAINT IT BROWN

I know this is a favourite wargamer argument and that everyone has their own opinions, but…I find that a pure blue river often wrecks the illusion of many a wargames layout, especially in a northern European setting.

I wanted to create the streams and rivers of the British ‘Dark Ages’, so it was going to be brown and peaty, all the way. Rivers in northern Europe sometimes appear blue on a sunny day but this tends to be due to the reflection of the sky rather than white sands and crystal clear water.

RULE 4: MAKE IT SHINY

So much of the illusion of depth in a river terrain piece is created by the reflection on the water’s surface. There are some amazing water modelling products out there at the moment, but they all add a fair deal of expense, complexity and often weight to what is going to be a much-used portable gaming piece. The shiny surface on my river is created entirely with yacht varnish bought in cheap 250ml pots from my local DIY store.

After painting the river bed with multiple layers of brown acrylics and a few streaks of colour, it then received two coats of yacht varnish painted over the surface. When these were dry, I stippled on some areas of white to create the impression of a current, with patches gathering around rocks.

SPECIAL SECTION #1: THE RAVINE

The ravine was one of the extra sections that I’d built to go at the end of the table to suggest a rocky area such as my beloved Peak District. The whole thing was based on a piece of 3mm hardboard, though if I was doing it again I’d probably use 3mm MDF or something even sturdier. It was essentially built from slices of cork bark, increasing in height, with the slopes filled in with expanded foam. The edges of the slopes had warped over the years, but as I was going to overlap these with sherpa fleece fabric as part of the refurbishment, this didn’t need to be fixed.

Ravine in its raw state. I painted it dark brown and dry brushed the various rocky outcrops before adding grass.
Sherpa fleece going on in sections with wood glue.
…and pressed into place.
Some flock and tufts are also added.
Finished!

SPECIAL SECTION #2: THE WATERFALL

Questing knight from Crusader Miniatures rides past the waterfall.

This was born of walking in the Lake District and watching the John Boorman movie Excalibur! Like the ravine, it’s constructed from cork bark and foam, with some texturing on the waterfall itself with hot glue and filler. This is one area where I suspect that using modern water modelling products could improve it, but it does the job.

The original waterfall in its light green state.
Refurb under way – darker paint job and sherpa fleece and flock going on.
Finished – note the large flaps of fleece either side to cover the join with the main table.
Alternative Armies Fomorians run riot around the waterfall!