Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fear and Loathing in Unknown Kadath

We were somewhere around Celepha├»s on the Cerenerian Sea when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should steer. …” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the ship, which was sailing about 10 knots with full sails to Kadath. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Nodens! What are these goddamn animals?”
Hunter P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is Decadent and Depraved

The current state of US politics is giving me the fear. The usual explanations explain nothing. And so we must look to literature and fantasy to understand our new reality. And when it comes to the deep weirdness that lies at the heart of America, there are only two authors that really knew the score: H.P. Lovecraft and Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson
Although these two authors are not often mentioned in the same breath, they are startlingly similar in tone. Both used violent and overblown language to communicate a sense of moral decay that transcended the ordinary boundaries of acceptable thought. Both sought to portray how a reasonable mind twists and melts when exposed to a horrific reality. Both saw barbarism beneath a hypocritical veneer of American modernity. 

And both H.P. Lovecraft and Hunter S. Thompson were past masters at portraying altered states of consciousness. For Lovecraft, this came in his Dream Cycle stories like The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926) or The Silver Key (1926). For Thompson, it was his drug-fueled romps like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) or the under-appreciated gem, Fear and Loathing in Elko (1992). In these works, Thompson and Lovecraft drag their benighted narrators through a phantasmagorical landscape populated by monsters and madmen. Indeed, sometimes it's hard to tell the two authors apart. But maybe that's the drugs talking.

Well, in any case, listening to the audiobook of Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 has given me some solace in understanding the last American election. It's also kept me busy while painting some miniatures for The Dreamlands, the latest expansion for Eldritch Horror, the Lovecraft themed board-game.

As usual, I try to find metal miniatures from Citadel's Gothic Horror line to match the heroes from the game. Here's what I've come up with...

Darrell Simmons, the Photographer

This is my ode to Hunter S. Thompson. With his shorts, cigarette, revolver and high socks, I tried to capture Thompson's odor of violent and disreputable journalism. The miniature is not really from the Gothic Horror range -- originally, he was "Nyudo" (1985) from Citadel's Judge Dredd line. Nyudo was an almost unbelievably racist miniature in his pristine form. Apparently an Asian tourist, he featured slanted eyes and buckteeth. Well, so much for that - I cut off Nyudo's head and hand, replacing it with bits from a Citadel gangster. I think Hunter would be proud.

Amanda Sharpe, the Student

Amanda's miniature is the "Office Girl" (1987) from Citadel's Gothic Horror range.

Carolyn Fern, the psychologist

I'm close to exhausting Citadel's fund of female heroes, so this miniature is a GN7 "Gun Moll" from Copplestone Casting's Gangster line.

Gloria Goldberg, the author

I'm glad that Fantasy Flight Games has continued the long tradition of Jewish investigators in Cthuloid activities. Gloria's miniature is another Copplestone Casting, from GN11 "Swell Dolls".

Kate Winthrop, the scientist

Some days you eat the bar and some days the bar eats you. When it came to creating a miniature for the scientist Kate Winthrop, I got eaten. Jesus, this is a bad conversion. She started out as another Copplestone GN11 "Swell Doll" but after I replaced a number of her limbs, she now looks more like a goiter with big hips. At least she's wearing a lab-coat so that you know that she's a scientist. She an expert in science.

Vincent Lee, the Doctor

Although this miniature isn't a particularly good likeness of Vincent Lee, it's such a beautiful sculpt that I can't resist using him in this role. The mini is "the Doctor" from Wargames Foundry's Old West City Slickers range.

William Yorrick, the gravedigger

God gave me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well. And I intend to use my shoveling abilities to fight the Great Old Ones.

Whatever. Poor Yorrick's miniature is the "Man" (1987) from Citadel's CC1 Gothic Horror Range.

Luke Robinson, the Dreamer

Luke Robinson is clearly a stand-in for Lovecraft's dream-questers like Randolph Carter, Kuranes or Raoul Duke [ed: fact check, pls].

His miniature is one of the rarities from Citadel's Gothic Horror range, the Illuminati (1987). Variants of this miniature also appeared as Wu Jen in Citadel's Oriental Heroes range. This is one of my favourite miniatures, and I'm pleased with the way his bright colour scheme worked out.

Turning Pro.

There is no way to explain the terror I felt when I finally lunged up to the sentry and began babbling. All my well-rehearsed lines fell apart under that woman's stoney glare. "Hi there," I said. "My name is ... ah, Randolph Carter ... yes, on the list, that's for sure. Free lunch, final wisdom, total coverage. ... why not? I have my attorney with me and I realize of course that his name is not on my list, but we must get into Kadath, yes, this man is actually my driver. We brought this red shark all the way from Leng and now it's time for the desert, right? Yes. Just check the list and you'll see. Don't worry. What's the score, here? What's next?" 
The woman never blinked. "Your chamber's not ready yet," she said. "But there's somebody looking for you." 
"No!" I shouted. "Why? We haven't done anything yet!" My legs felt rubbery. I gripped the desk and sagged toward her as she held out Silver Key, but I refused to accept it. The woman's face was changing: swelling, pulsing ... horrible green jowls and fangs jutting out, the face of a Moray Eel! Deadly poison! I lunged backwards into my attorney, who gripped my arm as he reached out to take the Key. "I'll handle this," he said to the Moray woman. "This man has a bad heart, but I have plenty of medicine. My name is Nyarlothotep. Prepare our chamber at once. We'll be in the bar."
Hunter P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is Decadent and Depraved

Friday, March 10, 2017

Imperial Assault - Diala Passil variant miniature

Diala Passil, an aspiring Jedi from the Twi'lek race, is one of the original heroes from Star Wars Imperial Assault. She's also one of my favourite characters from the game. Like Mohammad Ali, her fighting style is all about footwork. This emphasis on agility marks her out among the other Jedi and makes her a uniquely elegant warrior.

The only problem is that I always loathed her official model (pictured below on the right). Since it's made out of the soft plastic that's used in all of the Imperial Assault miniatures, her clothing is chunky, her lightsaber droops and her face wears a bland expression. Nor does the sculpt conjure up the sense of mystery that I associate with a a Force user. With its twirling cape, it seems to owe more than the dancing Twi'lek of Jabba's Palace than to the order of Jedi Knights.

So I decided to create a new, more ass-kicking Diala Passil. However, since Jedi Twi'lek miniatures are in short supply, I had to kit-bash my own. I love the sculpting style of Kev White at Hasslefree Miniatures, and his work is in precisely the same scale as in Imperial Assault, so I started with one of his models: the HFH110 Dynamic Lenore pictured below. She's a dramatic miniature and sports a Jedi-like cloak. Her thigh high boots seem a little salacious for a warrior-monk, but that's nothing that can't be toned down through painting.

My modifications to Lenore were not painful (at least for me). I amputated both her arms and replaced them with some extra limbs from my kit box. Her right hand belongs to an old plastic Scout Trooper from Wizards of the Coast, complete with a Hold-Out Blaster. For her left hand, I fashioned a lightsaber out of greenstuff and copper wire. 

I also used greenstuff to make her head-tentacles.  I'm sure you will not be surprised to learn that there's a name for these protuberances in the expansive Star Wars Universe... they are called Lekku. (If you ever feel like ruining your day, you can try Googling "lekku porn", but don't say I didn't warn you.)

I wanted my paint job to hearken back to the clothing in the pictures of Diala, so I tried to use the same colour palate and arm-wraps. My goal was to combine the femininity of Kev White's original sculpt with the air of mystery and mastery that accompanies every hooded Jedi. 

Thanks for looking!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Imperial Assault Conversions for Jabba's Realm

In order to spice up the miniatures for Jabba's Realm, I created some new conversions and home-brews, including Mutant Weequay Pirates and a miniature for Salacious Crumb, Jabba's court jester.

I wanted some Mutant Pirates so that Jabba's gang would have the strangeness and diversity that it deserves, Usually I do my conversions using "authentic" Star Wars races, but this time, I thought the odder the better. Thankfully I have recently discovered Ristul's Extraordinary Market (a great resource for any conversion work) and so ordered their excellent set of mutant heads. I replaced the original Weequay heads and substituted heavy blasters for the knives that the original models were carrying.

Above, we have Old One-Eye, and below is his boon companion, Many-Eyes. I guess, in my own way, they are my tribute to Fritz Leiber's timeless wizards, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face.

Jabba's Realm also introduces new rules for an "Indentured Jester", a clear reference to the Hutt's evil muppet, Salacious B. Crumb. But unfortunately, Fantasy Flight Games provides no miniature to represent this cackling sycophant -- and indeed finding any kind of a 28mm miniature for Salacious is nearly impossible. So I set out to do something I've never done before... create my own miniature using greenstuff.

As it turns out, I am a terrible miniature sculptor. I realized that the raw sculpt might look passable, but that all of its faults and implausibilities reveal themselves once the painting starts. 

Apparently, Salacious is a "Kowakian monkey-lizard". 

According to Star Wars lore, Salacious B. Crumb is a sort of Scheherazade character, with a situation not unlike The Thousand and One Arabian Nights. His deal with Jabba is that he must make the crime-lord laugh at least once every day... and if he does not, Jabba will eat him.  

But there's something that no one can explain. What does his middle initial stand for? My guess is "Bread". Well, in any case, as far as I know, Salacious is one of only two Star Wars characters with a middle name. Do you know who the other character is?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

My Kind of Scum - Jabba the Hutt, Dewback Riders and more...

The new figure packs for Star Wars Imperial Assault are a rich harvest. I've already shared some pictures of Luke Skywalker, and now I want to share the others: Jabba the Hutt, Captain Terro, the Dewback Rider and the Alliance Rangers.

When I first saw the new miniature for Jabba the Hutt, I was not impressed. His smile seemed moronic and his pose static. But once my washes had disclosed the true topography of his face, I realized that the sculptor (Thomas Sincich) had precisely captured the half-melted malevolence of the Hutt. It just goes to show that it's a mistake to judge a miniature before its painted. 

"If I told you half the things I've heard about this Jabba the Hutt, you'd probably short-circuit."

Jabba is also a game-changer for the skirmish version of Imperial Assault. Appropriately, he will rarely enter combat (in fact, he will rarely move) but by squatting in the rear he can hatch plans, terrorize his underlings and order hits on his opponents. Once again, the IA rule makers (Daniel Lovat Clark, Todd Michlitsch and Paul Winchester) have done a splendid job of capturing the essential flavour of the personalities that they bring into the game.

Dewbacks, of course, are the great reptilian mounts that we see briefly in A New Hope when the Empire is hunting for the droids (Here is an interesting documentary on the making of these creatures). Fantasy Flight Games released one Dewback pack with two different potential riders: Captain Terro (carrying a flamethrower) or a generic Dewback Rider (carrying a shock lance, like the mounted trooper in Episode IV). You can see both version in the photo above, with Captain Terro on the right.

True to the cinematic originals, I decided to make my riders dirty and battleworn (mainly with the help of oil paint and white spirit). I also spend a lot of time trying to get the colours right on their backpacks, which were sculpted by Dave Ferreira with a great attention to authentic detail.

Dewback Rider with Shock Lance and Binoculars

Captain Terro with Flamethrower

As with Jabba the Hutt (or the Rancor), I tried to create a sense of life in the Dewback by employing glazes of oil paint and white spirit to deepen the skin tones. Getting better and braver in my use of oils is one of my primary goals for 2017 (That and returning some library books that I borrowed in 2016).

And finally we have the Alliance Rangers -- special ops forces of the sort we met in Return of the Jedi on the moon of Endor. As far as I know, these are the first rank-and-file soldiers in Imperial Assault that are female. Well, you should have a healthy respect for their grrl power. I recently played a great skirmish game at For the Win Cafe in Toronto (some people are starting a friendly biweekly skirmish group there) and these Alliance Rangers shot me all to hell.

Thanks for stopping by. And you can find my galleries for all the Imperial Assault miniatures here: 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Making a Desert Skiff for Imperial Assault

I've gotten some questions about the desert skiff that I used in pictures from my last post on Jabba's Realm, the new expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault. So I thought I'd quickly post to explain how I kit-bashed this skimmer (also known as the Bantha-II Cargo Skiff) for use in 28mm or 30mm games like Imperial Assault

But first, some grousing... Fantasy Flight Games failed fans with their slapdash approach to scenery (like desert skiffs) in Jabba's Realm. The sequence above the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi is one of the most exciting action scenes in the Star Wars films. Appropriately, FFG attempted to create game scenarios that involved both the Pit, Jabba's barge and the smaller desert skiffs. But the map tiles meant to represent these locations are miserable. The barge is a bland, generic interior; the Sarlacc Pit is inexplicably cut in half; and there are no skiffs at all (instead, players use featureless interior hallway tiles to mimic the skiffs). None of this makes any sense to me. The joy of Imperial Assault is that you replicate almost anything you want on the tiles... it just takes a bit of cardboard.

Well, in any case, since FFG cheaped out on giving us desert skiffs, I decided to create my own. I started by finding a couple old Micro Machine Dune Sea Desert Skiffs on eBay. These are nicely detailed models, but much too small to be used as a skiff in Imperial Assault, since the skiffs must have a flat playing space of 5" by 2" (or 5x2 maps squares). My simple plan was to extend the deck on the Micro Machine while keeping the distinctive features of the skiff itself.

Above we see the original skiff.

Step 1: Disassemble the skiff by removing the screws.

Step 2: Chop up the bow and stern of the top part of the model. Leave the bottom part intact.

Step 3: Reassemble the bottom part of the vessel with the stern.

Step 4: Cut a piece of balsa wood with a 4" by 2" area, plus a projecting beak for the bow. (Not shown: I also cut out a 1" by 2" piece for use as a 'rear deck" to mount on top of the stern. Together, the main deck and the rear deck give the skiff the required 5" by 2" playing space.)

Step 5: Cut out 2 pieces of magnetic tape for the deck (Since I mount all my IA figures on metal washers, the magnetic tape gives them extra stability when the stand on the skimmer).

Step 6: Glue the bow to the balsa wood. Cover the magnetic tape with model train fence mesh. Glue a stiff length of wood in the middle of the deck (between the two pieces of magnetic tape) in order to give strength to the construction. I also glued a support strut to the bottom of the deck.

Step 7: Glue the deck to the bottom/stern of the model. Glue the small rear deck to the top of the stern. Fill in gaps with putty. Sand rough edges. (Not shown: I also glued some metal ball-bearings to the inside of the base to give the whole model more stability).

Painting was fast and dirty. The main body of the skiff was painted khaki and roughly dry-brushed. The mesh was painted black and dry-brushed with gunmetal. Then I applied a coat of Army Painter Quickshade Strong Tone. Rust and oil effects were then added with oil paint and white spirit. And then, of course, a varnish with Dullcote. Now we're ready for the Pit of Carkoon!

Thanks for stopping by and please let me know in the comments if you've made your own desert skiff...

Friday, February 17, 2017

Painted Miniatures for Jabba's Realm

It's took six weeks, but I finally finished painting all the miniatures for Jabba's Realm, the latest expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault. I've already posted pics of the alien heroes from the set, plus the gigantic Rancor. Now it's time to look at some of the rank-and-file miniatures, like the Weequay Pirates, the Gamorrean Guard and the Imperial Jet Troopers.

These are the first miniatures that I've painted using reading glasses. Or rather, painting glasses, since my optometrist kindly configured them so that things held very close to my face would be most in focus. I've never had to use reading glasses before, but age has made me dim and decrepit. It's now a race to see how many minis I can pump out before the Grim Reaper finally claims me.

Above we see the Weequay Pirates -- made famous for manning the desert skiff used for Luke's execution in Return of the Jedi. The association of the leathery Weequay race with piracy goes back (I believe) to the first season of The Clone Wars (2009), where Count Dooku is captured by just such an outlaw band and observes of them "They are devious and deceitful and most importantly, stupid."

In any case, I'm quite pleased with these sculpts. The armour is right out of Return of the Jedi, while their long rifles are a new touch -- they evoke an Afghan Jezail, thus enhancing the sense of primitive desert banditry. But the best innovation is their skull-like face with its H.R. Giger-esque contours -- it makes them even more menacing than they were in the movies.

These Gamorrean Guards are completely faithful to the originals from Return of the Jedi, right down to the armour, the skull-cap and the vibro-lance. With their porcine snouts and green skin, I've always appreciated the Gamorreans as a direct reference to the pig-faced orcs of early AD&D (and before that, to the "goons" from Sleeping Beauty). And apparently, they taste just like bacon.

The Jet Troopers were created especially for Imperial Assault, although jet packs (of course) go right back to Return of the Jedi and Boba Fett's unfortunate ignition. These miniatures are well sculpted if somewhat plain, and so I added an extra flare by utilizing foam to sculpt a stream of fiery smoke for each exhaust port. I like the airborne pose, although it makes the trooper seem almost carefree, like the bouncing blonde from Jackie Treehorn's trampoline party.

In a phalanx, however, the Jet Troopers seem more threatening...

Thanks for stopping by. In the next couple days, I post pictures of the new Imperial Assault Figure Packs, like Captain Terro and Jabba the Hutt. See you soon for more fun in the desert of Tatooine...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight

I just wanted to share a couple pictures I just took of the new miniature for Luke Skywalker for Star Wars Imperial Assault

This is the first variant miniature that Fantasy Flight Games has produced for a named Star Wars character -- that is to say, after releasing a young Skywalker with the original set ("Luke Skywalker, Hero of the Rebellion") in 2014, they have now produced his mature self ("Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight"). Let's hope more are on the way (ahem, Princess Leia, cough, cough).

The Original Luke miniature

I'm normally bad at painting faces to look like real people, but for some reason I'm happy with the way that Luke turned out. It is a testimony to the fine work of the miniature sculptor, Thomas Sincich. Although it's a simple sculpt, the figure has lots of dynamism and energy. My only complaint (as usual) is the bendy lightsaber, so I replaced the plastic original with a thin, straight length of copper wire.

Does he look ready to take on the Rancor?

Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned for more Star Wars miniatures soon...