Big Trouble in Little Mercia: Some 7th Century Gaming

Robbed by Covid of two games that I had fixed up this week with friends, I got my Saxon and Welsh armies out of the loft and set-to with a solo game. Once again, I’m still play testing my own Midgard rules. The game revolves around Reputation, represented by a pair of goblets full of tokens (one for each side). As heroic deeds are performed, Reputation is gained, but it can be lost by cowardly deeds and running from the battlefield. This time out, I was experimenting with a few extra ways to gain Reputation, with a special bonus for a hero leading the first charge of the battle. This would prove decisive in the game!

Having organised my venerable but beloved Saxon and Welsh armies onto suitable unit bases, I drew up a couple of forces for my favourite period, the 7th Century. (Midgard works on a standard 120mm frontage, although as long as both armies have roughly the same unit frontages, it doesn’t matter. Base depth is not relevant to the game.) The scenario was a raid into Mercia by Cadwaladr of Gwynedd with an attempted repulse by one of Penda’s thegns, Aethelwine, and his sidekicks, Osfrith and Ceonwulf.

The forces looked as follows:

GWYNEDD

3 x Heroes (Cadwaldr, Brochmael and Belyn of Lleyn)

2 x Teulu (Comitatus)

7 x Spearmen (lightly armoured but swift)

3 x Skirmishers with javelins and bows

Welsh (top) and Saxons (bottom) prepare for battle

MERCIA

3 x Heroes (Aelfwine, Ceonwulf and Osfrith)

2 x Gedriht (Comitatus)

8 x Spearmen

2 x Skirmishers with slings and bows

Having lined up both sides in a plausible battle formation (two units deep where possible as supporting units are critical in Midgard), the scenario started with a challenge to single combat. (You can turn these down in Midgard, but you lose Reputation – something neither of our warlords were ready to do, I decided.) Osfrith of Mercia and Belyn of Lleyn took up their mightiest spears and went at it hammer and tongs, blades clashing and splinters flying (well, they threw everything at it but their dice rolling was appalling! That’ll teach me to play solo.) Both heroes gained Reputation for their struggle as the armies watched eagerly.

Belyn and Osfrith play ‘who’s got the biggest spear’

The single combat ended with both heroes wounding each other on the third round. By this point, the commanders had had enough and Aethelwine ordered the impatient Saxons forward. Osfrith and Belyn were swept up in to their units and the battle was on!

Charge! Aethelwine orders the Saxons forward, although not everyone gets there!

The Saxons’ impetuousity was a disadvantage though, as poor Command tests held back the far left and right flanks. When Brochmael decided to push forward his Welsh warriors to force the issue, the Saxon left flank under Ceonwulf found itself stranded and unable to support Aethelwine in this centre. Although Brochmael himself would fall under Ceonwulf’s blade, the lack of support for the Saxon commander would later prove decisive.

Cadwaladr keeps the Welsh centre together

The Saxon advance is unintentionally wedge-shaped, as just one unit makes it through to attack the Welsh centre! This would lead to everything going pear-shaped later on…

In true heroic fashion, warlords Aethelwine and Cadwaldr clashed in the centre. This single combat turned out to be a lot more decisive than the one that opened the battle: Aethelwine just got the better of it, striking down the Welsh warlord on the third round. However, in a gripping turn of events, Cadwaldr got in a dying blow that mortally wounded the Saxon thegn. Both warlords dead on Turn Two!

Aelfwine and Cadwaladr clash in single combat in the press of shields

5s to hit, guys, Oh, well done, Saxons
Aethelwine’s Gedriht go it alone against the Welsh. Despite their inferior armour, the supporting units made the difference for the Cymric warriors in this fight.
Skirmishers failing to get out of the way in time get caught up in the melee

Gaps start to appear in the ranks as the blades bite

On the left flank, Ceonwulf’s luck had just run out. Despite putting up a good fight with his warriors, the wounded Saxon thegn took a stray blow in the scrum of shields as he rolled a 1. Fortunately he had saved a Might Point to reroll it, although he lost Reputation to do so (it’s bad for the warriors’ morale to show weakness) and promptly rolled another 1…exit Ceonwulf stage left. By this point, there were only two heroes (out of the original six) remaining – quite the bloodbath.

Saxon slingers get cheeky on the Welsh flank.

Osfrith and Belyn now found themselves facing each other once again on the Saxon right. Belyn’s men rolled some incredible dice and held off the Saxons, killing Osfrith in the process. By now, Saxon Reputation was teetering, with the loss of all three leaders.

The final countdown: Belyn of Lleyn finally fells Osfrith of Mercia with that massive spear!

Although Saxon units had broken through on both flanks, the advance was piecemeal. Finally, Ceonwulf’s Gedriht were destroyed – despite their resilience, they ended up fighting virtually alone against the Welsh centre. Strength in numbers, lads.

This was the end for the Saxons – despite taking a heavy toll on the Welsh leaders, their goblet of Reputation was empty and they fled back to Mercia. Clearly Penda will need to get involved!

Although the Welsh battle line is driven back on both flanks, the cohesion of the Saxons has been broken – victory is imminent.
End of turn 3: the Welsh Reputation (left) looks healthy but the Saxons (right) are teetering.
Sole surviving hero Belyn of Lleyn drives the Saxons back to the river bank!

5s to hit guys…no wonder the Welsh won!
Belyn fights on with the remains of his warriors.
The end: the Saxons break and run. Victory to the Welsh!

Do I need any more Orcs?

Finished! 12 warriors and 8 archers using a variety of plastic kit parts. Backgrounds in the photos are, as ever, printed downloads from Jon Hodgson Maps Patreon.

Well, no, not until Wargames Atlantic released their recent Goblins boxed set. I’ve had a great time kitbashing my own vision of a Tolkien Orc force over the last few years, combining the GW LotR Orcs with plenty of Oathmark goblins, Warlord Games Orcs and as many different historical plastic sprues as I can get my hands on. 

However, the WA Goblins are a wonderful addition to the genre.  Slightly smaller than their Oathmark counterparts, they fit nicely into the ‘classic fantasy’ mould and offer some great options.  First up, the sheer range of different heads is an absolute gift for modellers like me.  

Bodies comparison shot – L-R: Warlord, Wargames Atlantic x 2, Oathmark

Bloody amazing selection of heads!

There’s some really sharp detail here – including (pun intended) some great sets of teeth.  Quite a few of the helmets are based on the artwork of the late, great Angus McBride for the Middle Earth Roleplaying game (MERP), giving them even more old school kudos.  

…and more heads!
Some of Angus McBride’s wonderful artwork for MERP – a clear influence on both the WA and Warlord orc kits.

There are a number of weapons provided but, for me, the stand out equipment items are the characterful bows and quivers.  All the arms are bare, meaning that you don’t have to worry about matching up pairs with different sleeves.  This makes them highly versatile and gives even more options than usual. 

Archers using the WA bow arms – lovely stuff! Bodies are Mantic Ghoul (left) and Gripping Beast Saxon (right).

The sprue, rammed with Orcy goodness. The shield bottom right (centre) doesn’t seem to have a boss supplied but that’s a minor criticism, this kit is wonderful.

The arms have a curious pseudo ball-and-socket type joint which, for me, doesn’t quite work and can create some slightly unusual poses.  Fortunately, it’s very easy to trim the ball joint on the arm to the position of your choice and I was far more happy with the poses once I had sorted this.  

Weird arm joints – I trimmed these flat to get a better fit.

90% pure WA goblins (the long sword has been pinched from the Warlord Orc sprue).

Although I’m not going to use them as cavalry, it’s worth mentioning that the WA kit has some of the legs posed so as to be able to sit astride a mount. A saddle is provided to fit WA’s own giant spiders. This was a rather neat touch.  If using the bandy legs as infantry, you just need to make them a base from a scrap of plasticard. As the riding poses are split at the waist, this also gives you more variety if combining them with the Oathmark goblin wolf riders. 

Archers. The chap on the left has Oathmark arms with all other components WA. The shooting archer has Gripping Beast Arab cavalry arms and uses the bandy-legged part that can be used to make spider riders.

Having put together a few Orcs using the basic WA components, I tried them out mixed with other kits. The Oathmark goblin bodies are marginally bigger but work really nicely with the head and arm variants. 

WA arms and heads on Oathmark bodies – these are amongst my favourites. You can see how good the bow and quiver detail is!

One of my earliest exposures to Tolkien’s work was the 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film. The massed Orcs at Helm’s Deep were depicted by live actors wearing robe-like costumes and filmed using Rotoscope. I liked the tribal image and decided to have a go at making something similar. Fortunately, a sprue of Gripping Beast Arab infantry was sat on my painting table, having been rejected for an El Cid update.

Orcs as seen in Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 Lord of the Rings
Gripping Beast Arabs about to get Orc’ed.

I followed my usual principle of choose a pair of weapon arms, trim them to get the right pose and then fill any gaps with some scraggly clothing created from green stuff. I’m always amazed how well all this stuff blends together with a consistent paint job, although of course it’s always a bit easier doing creatures who may be slightly disproportionate. You have to be a bit more picky with Elves and Men!

Ready for painting with a few green stuff cloaks added.
Perry Wars of the Roses provide appropriately nasty pole arms and spears.

I also pulled out a Gripping Beast Saxon thegn to add to the archer unit. I’ve found the GB models convert nicely to Orcs – perhaps because of their slightly stooped posing. Being garbed in standard Dark Age kit makes them ideal for this kind of thing.

Left: Mantic Ghoul with WA arms and head; Right: Gripping Beast Saxon with WA arms and head.

I had a few Mantic Ghoul bodies in my bits box which I discovered made a rather atmospheric hunched archer, reminding me very much of the old Asgard Miniatures range from days gone by.

L-R: Fireforge Sergeant, Mantic Ghoul, Gripping Beast Saxon, all plus WA arms and heads.
This standard bearer is a Frostgrave barbarian with his face replaced with a WA goblin (insert own joke here).

Having got them stuck together (12 warriors and 8 archers for starters), I gave the models a spray undercoat using Halfords Black Primer. I long ago gave up on trying to win painting competitions and now focus on getting an army done quickly with an effective mix of painting techniques and decent basing. For the Orcs in particular, I wanted the mass effect of a horde. The late, great Chris Achilleos’s cover painting for MERP, John Howe’s painting and Ralph Bakshi’s film were all strong influences here, giving me a very monochromatic theme with teeth bared and weapons glinting.

I really liked the dark, monochrome nature of these Orcs, in Ralph Bakshi’s animated LOTR movie, where teeth and tusks were a salient feature, and tried to emulate it in my painting.

A detail of Chris Achilleos’s superb MERP cover.
John Howe’s outstanding Orcs – not much colour but bags of character.

To get this limited palette (and to get the little chaps painted quickly), I gave the black models an all-over dry brush of AP Leather Brown with a large, flat brush.

Stage 1: dry brush brown all over!

This was followed up with a more targeted dry brush of AP Gunmetal on helmets, armour and weapons, which then received a painted highlight of a streak of AP Shining Silver on any raised edges. I was initially worried that this would look too bright, but a thin line really emphasizes the weaponry and helmets of the Orcs.

Gunmetal dry brush and silver highlight really make this Orc’s helmet stand out, but without being too clean.

With this done, I then started on the skin tones. My basic principle on these is to use a base layer and a highlight in a variety of dull tones. There’s several Foundry triads that I use, although I generally just use two of the three colours (often A and C to get maximum contrast). Dark African Flesh (better on Orcs than Africans, I feel), British Denison Brown and Dusky Flesh all feature here, but I’ve used all kinds of khaki and dull browns in the past.

Very naff WIP shot as the skin tones start to go on!
Orcs showing a variety of skin tones.

As previously mentioned, I wanted teeth and tusks to be a salient feature. Although I hadn’t gone into any great detail on the faces, I re-undercoated the teeth in black and gave them a single dab of white. This really makes them stand out (and hides the speed of the bulk of the paintwork!)

Teeth and tusks really stand out painted in black then white.
Studs on the shields add interest to the flat surfaces.

Weapons and shields were also repainted in black before receiving a single highlight of Foundry Charcoal Black. This was a stylistic choice that I’d made when starting on the army. Although I could have left them in their original black with a brown dry brush, painting them this way creates a clear distinction for the woodwork. Shields are further detailed with some black dots which then have a dot of silver in the centre to represent studs (this is an old trick I picked up many years ago from Colin and Duncan Patten on the earliest Gripping Beast Saxons – it’s a great way to add interest to flat shields).

Weapons and shields are black with Foundry Charcoal Black.

The clothing is patched together using additional layers of whatever muted colours I can get my hands on – any old browns or greys can get used here, often dry brushed on. The Orcs finish off with a light dry brush of my favourite paint – Vallejo Iraqi Sand – to lift and define surfaces and edges of clothing and shields.

I reckon each Orc takes around 10-15 minutes when painted in this way. It’s been an interesting experiment to drop my standards to create a much better mass effect than I used to do and it means that I can knock out units at appreciable speed.

The finished archer unit.

It’s great to be spoiled for choice for plastic kits and even more fun to be able to mix and match. And there’s more on the horizon…Oathmark Orcs are coming up soon!

Celtic Myth: Fir Bolg

Fir Bolg warriors mass for battle at the dolmen. Background is, as ever, a fab download from Jon Hodgson Maps

The Fir Bolg – ‘People of the Bag’ – appear in Irish mythology as the indigenous people of Eriu, who are displaced by the Tuatha de Danaan. For the classic Alternative Armies Celtic Myth range from the 1990s, sculptor Andy Cooper gave them a look that mixes elements of Neanderthal, Celt and Aztec (plus a bit of Lemmy from Motorhead).

Fir Bolg warriors. Check out Lemmy in the centre!

Clubs, stone weapons and spears are the weapons of choice along with wicker shields, portraying a culture with little metal-working, which fits nicely with the concept of a Stone or Bronze Age society being supplanted by invaders wielding iron weapons. (I think an alternative portrayal could make use of the Foundry Bronze Age Europeans, but that’s a project for another day).

Our Fir Bolg hero in the centre stands over his fallen Milesian foe (a Gripping Beast Gallic casualty)

I wasn’t quite sure about them when they first came out but ended up acquiring a small warband second-hand over the years. They have a certain charm and I enjoyed painting up a small force for Of Gods and Mortals and Celtic gaming in general. The initial selection of models wasn’t huge – Andy only sculpted a few packs for AA – so I did some conversions for heroes and the druid, Cesar. For Cesar’s body I used another Andy Cooper sculpt (this time from his own company, Westwind). It’s a Arthurian wizard type with a head swap from another Fir Bolg.

Tailtiu, Queen of the Fir Bolg and Cesar the Druid. Cesar has been based up with an old Fantasy Warlord standing stone.

I also added Tailtiu – an ancient fertility goddess – inspired by the entry in the Celtic supplement for OGAM by Graeme Davis. . This involved repainting a very old fantasy figure and surrounding her with corn stooks (resin from the bits box, possibly by Hovels) and new-fangled flower tufts – unavailable in the 1990s but perfect for a goddess of crops and nature! I’m not entirely sure where the figure came from. I have a vague memory she might be an old Metal Magic mini from Germany but I really can’t be sure.

Alternative Armies have just added a figure for the Fir Bolg champion Sreng to the range – an entirely new sculpt – so I look forward to adding him to the war band in the very near future.

Pic from the AA website of the new Sreng model. Strong shades of Jim Fitzpatrick going on here – I like him!

Norse Myth Round Up Part 2: The Battle of Thor’s Hill

The big push to get various frosty terrain and figures finished off was prompted by last week’s gaming fixture – a run-out of my Midgard rules at the club with old chum Kev M visiting from sunny Leeds. Tom WD had correctly pointed that, for a rules set entitled Midgard, we’d played hardly any games set in the world of Norse myth – so it was time to fix that.

Kev and Paul W take command of the Frost Giants’ army at the foot of Thor’s Hill. Fortunately for them, Thor has had one too many in the mead hall and isn’t on the battlefield yet.

We used the ‘Take the High Ground’ scenario that we’d played many times before, where a depleted force (Vikings and Dwarves in this case) tries to hold a vital hill – Thor’s Hill – against the attack of Frost Giants, wolves, Draugr and Alfar (a mixed bag drawn from our various Norse myth collections) It was a good opportunity to test out the monstrosities rules for the Frost Giants as well as some new undead rules for the Draugr and a seeress.

The three standing stones at the top of this shot are the objectives in this game – units can gain Reputation by holding them from Turn 3 onwards.

Kev and Paul decided to hold back Hrungnir (the giant commander) and his towering chums behind a front line of wolves, Alfar and smaller giants.

Game on: the wolves (centre and right) are straight up the hill!

The wolves did better than expected, causing problems for the front line of Dwarves throughout the game and forcing back the front line around the critical standing stones.

Hard fighting around the crest of the hill as the wolves tear into the dwarves
On the Viking right, norsemen and dwarves prepare to fend off the draugr
Dranghildr the Seeress (AKA Witch on a Moose, figure by Bad Squiddo) drives her draugr into combat. Kev’s gorgeous newly-painted Ragnarok figures lasted about two minutes!

We had some early excitement with our Dwarf commander, Grimnir, challenging Fenrir the Wolf to single combat. Grimnir should have been odds-on to chop up the oversized lupine, but instead fluffed his dice, took a wound and was then munched up! Not a good start for Thor’s forces.

Grimnir, Lord of the Dwarves challenges Fenrir to single combat. He went down in three gulps!
Svenn Bloody-Blade and his norsemen drive back the onslaught of the draugr

On the Norse right, the Svenn Bloody-Blade and his Vikings were doing a sterling job of holding off the Alfar and Draugr, although Svenn ended up being cursed by the witch. Soon after, Thor himself arrived, finally getting back from the mead hall. He didn’t turn up in the best position (on the right flank, which was already secure), but hurled himself into combat, taking down Agnarr, Champion of the Alfar, in a very one-sided single combat.

However, the Frost Giants were making progress and the big boys were now grinding up the hill. Reputation see-sawed back and forth as Thor’s force nearly hit breaking point, but clawed it back through the single combat and the boost of holding the standing stones.

Thor gets back from the mead hall! Dokkalfar leader Agnarr is crushed in single combat (Thor is a SHQ mini by Kev, Agnarr is a Red Book of the Elf King mini)

After six turns – the scenario limit – we reached a breathless halt. Neither side had broken (losing all their Reputation), so we checked the Goblets; incredibly, Thor’s forces had 4 Reputation tokens remaining, but the Frost Giants had 5, therefore winning by the closest possible margin!

Good fun all round and a tense ending to what had seemed like a nailed-on Frost Giant victory earlier in the evening.

If you want a more literate account of the game with better pictures and jokes, Tom’s blog entry is well worth a look.

Norse Myth Round Up Part 1: Figures & Terrain

One of my collections that I’ve been developing alongside the Midgard project has been forces suitable for Norse mythology. Some of these are quite specific, such as Norse gods and frost giants, others do double duty with other game settings – like my Tolkien Dwarves or Red Book of the Elf King figures.

Red Book of the Elf King miniatures by Lucid Eye – great for Norse settings
Frost Giants take on the Alfar. The female giant is a Reaper Bones mini, the one with the rock is a figure from the board game Blood Rage

There’s no particular reason that Norse myth games have to take place in an icy landscape, but I’ve always liked the idea (Narnia was probably an early influence as well).

Reaper Bones Frost Giants vs Vendel Dwarves

Here’s some terrain and cloths for snowy settings that I made during last year’s lockdown. The mats were made using simple polar fleece fabric with some paint effects and distressing.

To match the cloths, I’ve knocked up a few movement trays to organise the figures into units. My Midgard rules require units to have similar base frontages – the standard is 120mm, so that’s what I’ve gone for here. The trays are 2mm MDF from Warbases with a top layer of steel paper (self adhesive flexometal) from Coritani/ Magnetic Displays.

Snowy bases under construction

As my figures all have magnetic bases, they stick to the tray and can be transported on them as well inside a Really Useful Box. The whole thing gets a light spray of dark brown paint (Halfords Khaki for UK readers), followed by a stippling of Army Painter Leather Brown. Finally, I used a ripped-up piece of sponge to apply white acrylic craft paint, most heavily around the edges. The idea is that my figures with neutral (non frosty) bases will match well enough with the base but blend in better with the snowy cloth – that’s the plan, anyway.

The bases were also decorated around the edges with some tufts from Gamers Grass, and also some clean cat litter painted to look like rocks. A word of warning here – if you’re having a go at these, be careful to keep the area where you want the figures to stick absolutely flat and free of texture – a single piece of grit or patch of flock can badly affect the figure’s magnetic base sticking to the tray.

My friend Mike W had kindly 3d printed me a stone circle during lockdown, but I’d never got around to painting it. I already have a stone circle for my Celtic games so I thought it’d be fun to have one for the snowy setting as well.

Having painted the pieces an appropriate colour and based them in dark brown to match the earth areas of my cloth, I added a mix of white paint, pva glue and Woodland Scenics soft snow scatter. Following the advice in Pat Smith’s excellent ‘Setting the Scene’ book about modelling winter environments, I then dunked the base in more snow flock before it dried. Once dry, some extra white paint was dry brushed around the edges to even up some of the snow. I was quite pleased with how these looked when they hit the gaming table last week.

One of the elves tries out the stone circle for size. Background is a download from Jon Hodgson Maps
Totally recommended reading if you’re doing any snowy wargames scenery!

Glaurung: the first dragon of Middle-earth

I’ve been running games based on Tolkien’s Silmarillion for a few years, but have always had a dragon-sized gap in my collection. Glaurung – a malevolent, wingless wyrm – features heavily in the First Age of Middle-earth and there have been many great interpretations of him on the Wargaming In Middle Earth Facebook page (a fine source of inspiration.)

Glaurung battles Noldor horse archers. The background is a download from Jon Hodgson Maps patreon

I remembered that Schleich, the plastic toy company, had a wide range of dragons and dinosaurs and wondered if one of them might work. A quick Internet search was all I needed to find this rather fine lava dragon. He fitted the bill for me, having a rather arrogant look about him that suits Tolkien’s creation, and looking like he’d work without his wings.The bonus of having a pre-assembled model in plastic was not lost on me, remembering trying to assemble multi-part metal dragons in the 1980s! The price was good as well, setting me back £15 – a fraction of what it would cost in resin or metal.

Schleich Lava Dragon next to an Oathmark Goblin for scale
Look dad, no wings!

After arrival, his wings were even easier to remove than I had expected, being separate pieces attached with a ball and socket joint. All I had to do was pop the wings out, trim the edges of the socket and then fill in the holes with epoxy putty (Milliput in this case.) The surface of the putty was roughly sculpted to try to blend it in with the dragon’s scales. I can’t say that this was my best sculpting ever but it does the job of disguising the gaps.

Filling wing cavities with Milliput, badly

The Schleich model also had a moveable jaw with a gap underneath, so I used more Milliput to seal this open and fill the crack. I wasn’t quite sure about the tail at this stage – the lava dragon is modelled with a club-like tail reminiscent of an ankylosaur – but I left it as I couldn’t be bothered to change it at the time. I did, however, bend it downwards using a heat gun so that it would fit inside my usual big monster figure storage – a 9 litre Really Useful Box. After years of doing this stuff, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to plan how anything big is going to be stored before painting it!

Here you can see that I’ve bent the tail down using a heat gun. I really should have removed the dinosaur club at this point as well, but didn’t do that till later on
Tolkien’s illustration of Glaurung – essential reference material for colours

Consulting Tolkien’s only illustration of Glaurung, I couldn’t originally work out how I was going to incorporate a gold body with a green head. My friend Andy Hawes did an amazing job on his converted Mithril Miniatures Glaurung with a bold combo of yellows, greens and reds. I decided that I wanted to go with metallic gold blended into green, with a black underbelly. Exactly how I was going to achieve this I wasn’t quite sure.

Andy Hawes’s superb Glaurung model (using a converted Mithril Miniatures dragon) in combat with my Noldor a few years back

I kicked off with an undercoat of Halfords grey plastic primer (my go-to product for undercoating any flexible plastics) and then tried a base layer using a coat of GW Contrast Black Templar. When dry, I started experimenting with dry brushing Glaurung’s top scales with several light layers of Vallejo Brass. Glaurung’s head received some light layers of Army Painter Army Green. This was very much trial-and-error, with me adjusting and repainting sections as I went along.

Mid-painting. You can see the various dry brushed layers being built up although the gold lacks depth (a brown ink wash fixed this).

Glaurung then experienced a delay of a couple of months as I got distracted by preparing the El Cid Battle of Bairen game for the Partizan show. Upon returning him to the front of the painting table, I realised, finally, that the dino club tail had to go! He was rushed into surgery and quickly had it removed with a fresh craft knife blade, carving it to a point.

Tail surgery! Should have done this at the start

Next, I rolled up a piece of green stuff and rolled it into place around the tail. Following the advice of more skilled friends, I left it for 15 minutes until it was less sticky and then modelled some scales and texture to attempt to blend it in. I cut off the tips of the plastic spikes from the original tail (they are black in the pic below) and placed them in a line to continue the spines of the tail.

Tail surgery 2: replaced with a rough piece of green stuff

With this done, I undercoated the tail in black and set to finishing off the whole model. I continued adding dry brushed layers of Vallejo Brass, then gave the whole gold area a wash of Windsor and Newton Nut Brown ink. The scales were highlighted with Vallejo Gold and individual ones picked out. The eyes were worked up with a few layers of red, orange and yellow before adding a slitted pupil in black.

Nearing completion – Glaurung fits nicely onto the irregular pond base in the sabot

To finish off, Glaurung’s spines were repainted in black and dry-brushed with Foundry Charcoal Black to provide some definition from the rest of the body. Claws were painted with Miniature Paints MP84 Umber before highlighting up with Vallejo Iraqi Sand and Off-White.

The finished Glaurung takes on a brave, or foolhardy, denizen of Beleriand
The finished model!

While all this was going on, I was also working on getting the dragon’s base ready for gaming. I wanted him on an irregular base that fitted within a 120mm wide sabot base for my games of Midgard. Normally this might be a custom job, but Warbases had it covered already. In my last order, I had picked up a pack of Pond Bases. This excellent product is a variety of irregular bases, ideal for any kind of scatter terrain and vignettes. I found the right size base for Glaurung and then kept the surround as the frame for my sabot base.

Warbases Pond Bases
Preserving the cut-out of the pond base to create a large sabot

Having got the layers together, I then magnetised the components of the base before assembly. I used self-adhesive 0.5mm magnetic sheet and ferro steel supplied by Magnetic Displays to make sure that the smaller base would stay in position on the larger 120 x 160mm sabot.

All the layers: pond base backed with magnetic sheet, pond base sabot lined with steel paper, all fixed down on to a 120 x 160mm round-cornered base.

The base was glued together and some Milliput and pine bark texturing added, checking, of course, that the central base would still lift out!

Sabot base ready for painting with added pieces of pine bark and Milliput

Having sprayed the whole base with Halfords Khaki Camouflage, I then glued the finished Glaurung into position and added textured paste, dry brushed the whole thing and stuck on tufts and flock. Voila!

Within a few hours of the paint and glue drying, Glaurung was in action on the gaming table, leading my Orc host against Paul W’s Elves. As we all know, newly-painted models don’t last long, but the mighty wyrm survived until Turn 4 before being brought down by Elven archery! Ah well.

Glaurung stares down the Elf line

Glaurung looks rather cool towering about his Orc host. Makes him a good target though!

After Glaurung is felled by archery, the Orcs are left with a large hole in their rather piecemeal line.
Elf cavalry charge home on the flank
One of the Orc Captains issues a challenge to single combat! Game over.

Partizan Round-Up and El Cid Vignettes

It’s now a week after Partizan on the Ground and our big El Cid Battle of Bairen game. It’s been lovely seeing all the photos circulating on the internet – despite the fact that not everyone was able to make it to the show under the circumstances (several friends of mine included), being able to go to a show and run a big game was a very life-affirming experience.

This Andalusian command stand is a mash-up of models: the Emir is a conversion of various Gripping Beast parts clipped off metal figures. How much easier this would have been with plastics, eh? The Qadi is by Artizan and I think the standard bearer may be an old Black Tree Saracen – banner by hand.

If you enjoyed the game or the blog entry, here’s a round-up of some additional material and a number of photos of individual pieces from the weekend’s gaming.

One of the boats that acted as an archer platform for the Almoravids in the battle. This one is a generic boat by Barrage Miniatures with a mast added.

Chris Breese of Notts TV was busy on Sunday morning, filming and collecting interviews from a handful of games at the show. He put together a very positive short piece for Notts TV (Partizan features at the start and then 13-16 minutes is dedicated to the show) – see here. He also then created a longer version entirely about Partizan for his Youtube channel which you can watch here, with some great video of the Bairen game near the start. I had a good laugh at myself on camera (my daughter is now referring to me as ‘teacher by day, wargamer by night’) but was very pleased with the positive press. I’m old enough to remember some of the negative press reporting on wargames and role-playing games a few decades back (a particular episode of Central Weekend sticks in my mind) so it was a pleasure to watch this instead. It’s also good to see the recognition of the input of wargaming into the local economy and its mental health benefits.

This cracking figure is another 3d print designed by Caballero Miniatures and printed for me by Fenland. I left him off his base so that I could place him wherever I liked.

My compadres from Morris & Chums have posted blog entries as well. Tom WD took so many photos (with a proper camera, so expect something better than my iphone snaps) that he’s had to make three blog entries out of them. If you want medieval eye candy, go here and here for the El Cid game and here for some of the other games at the show.

More Almoravid commanders – a Gripping Beast Imam with leader and standard bearer from Artizan.

Martin’s blog (here) has some good shots from the Bairen game plus a number of others from the show itself. As usual, it’s impossible to see everything, especially if you are presenting yourself, so well worth a look.

Boat crew detail – these two are Caballero Miniatures. The green/ black colour scheme makes them fit with my Almoravids, probably Christian mercenaries.

Alex (Storm of Steel blog) did a video round-up of the show which is well worth a watch if you want to get an idea of the scope of the games.

Here’s the crew of the other boat (a repurposed 1/72 scale Smer Viking Longship). Gripping Beast crossbowmen and banner bearer with a pair of Artizan archers.
Two of the boats but out of the water!
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, Campeador! This cracking model was sculpted by Mark Copplestone for Amazon Miniatures when the El Cid WAB book was released (you can still pick up secondhand castings though). The standard bearer is from Artizan, banner by hand again.
More boat crew: Caballero Miniatures commander with Gripping Beast standard bearer.
‘The Rescue’ – this Caballero Minis vignette drew a lot of attention on the day. Absolutely outstanding sculpting by Marcos!
Another angle of the rescue….
…and another! Why not?
More Moors (dad joke courtesy of Tom WD!) This is the Ben Yusuf model with an added adarga shield, plus a champion, both from Gripping Beast.
Another Almoravid command stand – both riders are GB, although the Imam has been converted from a foot figure.
Ibrahim Ibn Tashfin, heroic vanquisher of Pedro of Aragon! An Old Glory command model with two Gripping Beast retainers.
This chap served many years as commander of my Zaragozan army in games of WAB, but on Sunday did double duty as Alvar Fanez, El Cid’s right-hand man. He didn’t last too long! The standard bearer is the original El Cid figure from Gripping Beast with some conversion and a hand-painted banner; the hero is an Artizan Designs figure.

El Cid: the Battle of Bairen, 1097 CE

Sunday 10th October 2021 saw the return of Partizan, the showcase East Midlands wargames show at Newark Showground. To say that I was excited about this was an understatement. I had plans to run a game set in 1800s Alaska, but the return of Scrivs from the US with his substantial El Cid collection of minis put me on to a different track. When we did the Battle of Graus a few months back, we struggled to fit all the figures into Tom’s shed, let alone onto an 8×4′ table. Fortunately Newark Showground is a little bigger, so the plan was hatched: El Cid for Partizan!

Paul and Tom survey the battle as it commences. Christian forces on the left, Almoravids on the right.

The next question was, which battle to do? El Cid was involved in around ten major battles in his time and pretty much won every one. The classic Battle of Cuarte in 1094 when he destroyed the Almoravid force surrounding Valencia was an obvious one, but we’ve played this several times at shows before. However, the Battle of Bairen came to mind. We played this once at New Year about ten years ago using Hail Caesar, but it occurred to me that it would be an ideal game for a show. The most unusual feature of this battle is that it was fought right on the east coast of Spain, so close to the sea that Almoravid archers and crossbowmen in boats were able to shoot arrows at El Cid’s forces on the beach (very similar to the final battle scene in the Charlton Heston movie El Cid, except that this actually happened.) This would give us a nice slice of Mediterranean coastline and an interesting twist on a stand-up battle, so Bairen it was.

Bairen was, like Agincourt, a fight that the eventual winners really wanted to avoid. In Spring 1097 CE, Rodrigo Diaz (by now ruler of Valencia) and his ally King Pedro I of Aragon had been conducting a joint raid in the vicinity of Denia. They had taken booty and had already avoided one conflict with the Almoravid army under Mohammad Ibn Tashfin, nephew of the famous Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (‘Ben Yusuf’) . Trying to return north to Valencia along the coastal strip between the sea and the mountains, they found themselves cut off by the Almoravids and were left with no choice but to fight. (In a more vernacular version of the tale, the manuscript of which has long since been lost, it is understood that Rodrigo and Pedro had been on a bender on the Costa del Sol and managed to dodge the Guardia before being cornered on the beach after too much sangria.)

For a more circumspect view, we can have a look at the Historia Roderici, a contemporary chronicle of the Campeador’s deeds: ‘On the hill…was the Saracen camp. Opposite it was the sea, and on it a great number of…ships, from which they harassed the Christians with bow and arrow. And from the mountain quarter they attacked them with other weapons. When the Christians realised what was happening they were not a little afraid. When Rodrigo saw how frightened they were, he at once mounted his horse and armed himself, and began to ride among his army, greatly cheering them with these words: ‘Listen to me, my dearest and closest companions. You must be strong and powerful in battle. You must be fearless.’ …

‘At the middle of the day the king and Rodrigo with all the Christian army fell upon them and engaged them in strength. At length by God’s clemency they defeated them and turned them in flight. Some were killed by the sword, some fell into the river and enormous numbers fled into the sea where they were drowned.’

[This passage is taken from the Historia Roderici (available in English translation as part of The World of El Cid – Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest translated by Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher, Manchester University Press, 2000 – well worth a look if you’re interested in primary sources for this period).]

Camel calamity: El Cid’s flanking jinetes are routed by the foul-smelling creatures, opening the path to the Christian camp.

Anyway, back to the plot. Translating this into a game wasn’t too hard, pitting Christian forces attacking uphill against Almoravid spearmen. El Cid’s leaders were all given a special trait called Today We Fight To Win, which allowed them extra combat dice once per game. In the end, it didn’t do them much good! We combined our collections and ended up with the following (give or take a couple of units):

El Cid, Campeador!

El Cid & Pedro of Aragon:

6 heroes (commanders)

10 units of knights

9 units of jinetes (light horse)

1 unit of Andalusian noble cavalry

2 units of spearmen

4 units of spearmen and archers

3 units of archers

4 units of skirmishers

Almoravids under Yusuf Ibn Tashfin:

5 heroes (commanders)

8 units of Berber spearmen

7 units of Berber spearmen and archers

4 units of Berber archers

1 unit of Berber heavy cavalry

4 units of Berber light cavalry

4 units of camel riders

4 units of Berber skirmishers

Plus 3 units of archers in boats offshore

Someone asked how many figures were on the table and I hadn’t the foggiest, but looking at those rosters again, I think we were playing with around 68 units, giving us over 1,000 miniatures on the table plus vignettes and heroes.

Rules were, once again, my own Midgard heroic battle rules. They coped pretty well, keeping the game moving throughout the day with several stops for chatting and explanations. We managed to get a decisive result by 3pm as well – quite a result for a demo game of this size.

Martin has been designing and 3d printing these nifty measuring sticks for our Midgard games. We needed slightly bigger ones for this huge battle so he got to work!

On to the scrappage. Having given ourselves a hernia lugging the boxes of metal cavalry out of storage and into the hall, we laid out the battle lines, going for a slight diagonal to represent the awkwardness of the Christian deployment (and to break up those linear 90 degree formations that seem to typify ancient and medieval wargames.) Having laid out a fairly classic battle line with light troops on the flanks and a double line of spearmen, archers and knights in the centre, Paul and Martin took charge of the Christians and pursued a cautious policy of probing both flanks while holding off the all-important charge of the caballeros.

The Christian advance. Paul runs through the game with Pete and Simon of Burton Wargaming fame.

The result of this was the Christians making headway on their left flank, but the virtual collapse of their right as the Berber camels and light troops pulled off a stunning victory, driving back the defenders before the camp assisted by the offshore missile fire.

The Almoravids throw down some overhead fire as they rain arrows on the advancing Christians.

This left the Christian centre in a potentially sticky situation, which I inherited as Martin had to leave early. It’s probably an exaggeration to say that my tactical aplomb and dice rolling then caused the downfall of the Christian forces, but it may not be too far off!

Almoravid archers and crossbowmen open fire on the Christian forces.

Having peeled off a unit of caballeros to try to deal with the Almoravid camels and the threat to the camp, I decided to charge with the knights all along the line. King Pedro of Aragon then went one better and took on Ibrahim ibn Tashfin in single combat (a great idea until I started rolling dice). Although wounded, the heroic ibn Tashfin took down the Aragonese king in the third round. Ouch! This caused some serious damage to Christian morale, I can tell you.

King Pedro gets taken down by Almoravid captain Ibrahim ibn Tashfin in single combat.

The other units in charge got stuck in but failed to break through, apart from El Cid himself who was unstoppable as he raced up the hill. His faithful lieutenant Alvar Fanez was also killed in the fighting. With the loss of the camp, El Cid’s reputation plunged and his army started to break off and leave the field. Rodrigo himself was last seen trying to fight his way out towards Valencia, but the field belonged to the Almoravids.

The charge goes in. El Cid’s red banner can be seen centre right.

On the Christian left flank, the jinetes make good progress towards the Almoravid camp on the hill.
For Aragon! King Pedro goes for it.

The pack camels begin to tremble as the Almoravid camp is threatened.

With the game over, we were very surprised and flattered to receive the Macfarlane Shield for Best Demonstration Game from the Partizan guest judges. They explained that they had appreciated the mix of old and new (1998 Gripping Beast metals alongside 2021 3d Caballero Miniatures prints), the presentation of the game, the sloping hill and the fact that we had somehow managed to talk to people and keep the game moving at the same time. I can only thank my companions Paul, Martin and Tom who made it all run so smoothly, as it’s well known that I spend 95% of my time at shows talking and no more than 5% throwing dice!

A prize! And a very emotional one considering the recent loss of Uncle Dunc. Thanks fellas!

It was an absolute pleasure to get back to a live show, albeit with several good friends missing due to the continuing pandemic situation, Hopefully things will improve and we will all be able to get back in the same hall soon.

As a final extra, I thought I’d share a couple of shots of the game set up. Since giving up terrain boards in favour of cloth playing surfaces, I have been experimenting with different ways to create contours and sloping battlefields. Here’s how we did the hillside:

Tables jacked up on 50mm wooden blocks to gain the effect of rising ground. It’s a lot simpler than bringing terrain boards.
The tabletop in preparation. After raising the tables for the hill, the slope is created with some foam sections and pieces of cardboard masking-taped into place.

Jinetes for the Age of El Cid

I’ve been spending a few hours organising units from my El Cid collection this week. We’re planning to put on a version of the Battle of Bairen (1097 CE) at the Partizan show in Newark on October 10th, giving my own Midgard rules their first public run-out.

Midgard uses a standard base frontage of 120mm for 28mm miniatures, although you can play with any size whatsoever as long as the frontages are roughly similar across both armies. Scrivs, Tom and I have painted rather a lot of stuff for this period over the years, so we decided to go for units on a 160mm frontage for the Partizan game.

Looking grand: the old campaigners feeling smart with their new 160mm bases.
Berber Cavalry from Gripping Beast, with a banner based on a period manuscript. This was one of the first ever units I painted for my El Cid collection.

My whole collection was orginally used for Warhammer Ancient Battles, with a variety of single and multibased figures. With all the bases being magnetised, it hasn’t been too much trouble to create suitable movement trays for them. The ever-wonderful Warbases provided me with some round-cornered 2mm MDF bases, which I have then tarted up with a layer of magnetic sheet before adding rocks (from tree bark chippings) and my usual basing mix and tufts.

Stage 1: MDF plus green ferro steel, then marking out the positions of the figures with a pencil.

The self-adhesive ferro steel (visible as a green layer in the photos) was acquired from Magnetic Displays (stalwarts at Partizan and Hammerhead shows and a super quick mail order service to boot, as I have discovered since March 2020). I’ve found that as long as you don’t put too much paint over it, and avoid getting flock or sand on it, magnetically-based figures stick pretty well and will stay in place for gaming and transport.

In progress shot with a layer of green ferro steel on top of the MDF and then bark chippings fixed on top with wood glue.
Here you can see the smooth areas of ferro steel, kept free of texture and flock to make sure that the figures stick well. The flat areas are just dry brushed and stippled to create texture.

I could have gone down the route of permanently basing all the minis on a single base, which I know looks amazing, but wanted to maintain the versatility to be able to use the figures singly as well. While the models’ bases can be clearly seen, I think that this method is a good compromise between the mini-diorama effect and playability.

Andalusian Jinetes – a mix of Gripping Beast and Perry Minis on GB horses with some minor conversions to shields and headgear.
The same unit from a different angle. This was a slightly later addition to my collection so didn’t get to make the photo sessions for the El Cid WAB supplement.

Horse archers, Gripping Beast figures.

Hand painted shields based on Spanish manuscript illustrations.

‘Wounded by Pedro, stood on by a horse’: El Cid rides again

Yesterday I was able to get in a game set in medieval Spain with old mucker Scrivs. Using my own Midgard rules (now into yet more testing), we were preparing for the game that we are planning to put on at the Partizan show in Newark on October 10th. 

Today’s game was to be a very straightforward battle to test some of the interactions between troop types, especially the balance between charging knights and Almoravid spearmen that is critical for games set in this era. On a less critical note, it was also our first game involving the feared Almoravid camel riders…

Scrivs provided both armies, having painted every single figure in his El Cid lead mountain over the last few years; my contribution extended to writing some army lists and putting in my El Cid mini and standard bearer. The gaming mat is the Geek Villain ‘El Alamein’ one with some trees by Last Valley, scatter terrain by Paul and a backdrop painted by the talented Mrs Scrivs. 

Paul took the role of the combined forces of Aragon and Rodrigo Diaz; I commanded the Almoravids. The two forces consisted of:

ARAGON/ RODRIGO DIAZ

4 heroes including Pedro I of Aragon and El Cid

1 unit of household knights

3 units of knights

4 spear and bow units

2 units of jinetes (light horse)

2 units of skirmishers with crossbow or javelin

ALMORAVIDS

4 heroes

1 unit of Black Guard

3 units of spearmen

3 units of spear/bowmen

2 units of skirmishers with javelins

2 units of jinetes

1 unit of noble cavalry

and…1 unit of camel riders. Spurious but entertaining!

We both deployed in double lines – supporting units are essential in Midgard, and archers are useful to shoot over troops in front.  Paul deployed his knights to the left and right, clearly looking for an opportunity to roll up either flank. 

The game started very cautiously- I resisted my usual urge to charge straight up the middle, hoping to hold on to the woods protecting the Almoravid left flank.  Instead, I sent forward my light cavalry and camel riders on the right to try to draw out their opposing numbers and disrupt the knights behind them.  There was some desultory bowfire between the two forces and an exchange of javelins but to little effect overall.

The scrap on the Almoravid right wing – knights go toe-to-toe with Andalusian nobles, jinetes and the dreaded camels

Everything kicked off in turn four though – my jinetes on the right flank got the breakthrough they were after.  The Christian knights facing off against them met their match in the Andalusian noble horsemen, then broke and fled from a hail of javelins and sustained pressure from my jinetes.  Even the camel riders trotted  through the gap, threatening the Spanish centre. Sadly they took on a unit of crossbows- on paper, an achievable task – and paid the price as they rolled appallingly and fled the field.  (In twenty years of playing Almoravid camels, this has been the result.  Clearly they were never meant to rule the battlefield.)

Nice rolling, camels…

Now it was all getting a bit interesting in the centre.  Paul’s Spanish archers and javelin men had been causing a fair bit of disruption, forcing my leaders to expend their Might Points to keep the troops in order; second-in-command Ibrahim ibn Tashfin had narrowly escaped injury after being struck by an arrow, causing consternation amongst his spearmen. 

On the Almoravid right, El Cid’s right hand man Alvar Fanez ended up in a gripping single combat with my cavalry commander, Salim ibn Ali. Alvar pulled it out of the bag and struck down his opponent, only to find himself fighting for his life as his battered knights were charged and routed by Almoravid cavalry and bowmen. However, the loss of their cavalry commander cost the Almoravids dear – they were unable to keep the momentum without his leadership.

Alvar Fanez takes down Salim ibn Ali, Almoravid cavalry commander

…but only just survives a horde of archers going for him

The main charge of the knights now came in on the Almoravid left.  King Pedro of Aragon stormed in and challenged Ibrahim ibn Tashfin, thinking himself the stronger.  Both leaders put up an impressive fight, bolstering their reputations while exchanging blows, but eventually Pedro landed a wound on the Almoravid commander, who dropped back into the protection of the ranks. The Aragonese knights crushed the front rank of African spearmen and the luckless Ibrahim was run down by a Spanish warhorse. Things were turning. 

King Pedro gets stuck in

El Cid goes in: Charlton Heston put his (mail) vest on

Now the Campeador himself joined the charge, taking his knights right into the Almoravid left.  With the expected verve, Rodrigo all but destroyed one unit and ploughed into another.  The last action of the battle was the misfortune of another Almoravid commander, al-Tariq, the captain of the guard, who found his unit taking substantial damage from El Cid’s knights.  Making the required ‘risk to heroes’ roll, he excelled himself with a double one – the worst possible throw – and expired forthwith. 

This was the end for the Almoravids – after a promising start, they had been decisively crushed by the Spanish.  From a game point of view, the charging knight rules worked very well, giving the Spanish a substantial but brittle advantage on the charge.  We had enjoyed two single combats which lent a real narrative feel to the game.  What we still haven’t quite resolved is how we’re going to fit everything on the table for Partizan, but there will be a way!

Reputation goblets: game over for the Almoravids

Thanks to Scrivs for hosting, providing both armies and playing.