Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Terror of the Lichemaster: Ranlac and Lord Krell

Welcome to my second post about the miniatures of The Terror of the Lichemaster, a Warhammer 2nd edition campaign released in 1986. My first post detailed the Lichemaster himself. Today I want to take a closer look at some of skeletal minions...specifically Ranlac the Black and Lord Krell.

The Lichemaster's plan of campaign is simple. It's all set out in the map of the Frugelhorn Valley drawn by the talented Dave Andrews....

Starting from the burial mound of Krell at the foot of the Frugelhorn Mountain, the Lichemaster divides his forces and creeps south so that he can simultaneously fall upon the two nearby settlements,Gimbrin's Mine (the 1st battle) and the Bogel's farmstead (the 2nd battle). By picking off these isolated victims, the Lichemaster will gain new undead soldiers and prevent any warning from arriving at the Village of Frugelhofen at the very bottom of the valley. Then he will reunite his army and crush the village with its paltry defenders (the 3rd and final battle).

Ranlac the Black Sketched by Tony Ackland

Ranlac the Black is the first of the Lichemaster's lieutenants that he dispatches down the valley. He is tasked with killing the dwarves at Gimbrin's mine. 

Detail of Shield
We are told that Ranlac is captain of Krell's guards, "more cruel in death than even in life." He's an Undead Champion and 20 Skeleton warriors are under his command.

Ranlac's miniature started life as an unnamed Citadel C17 Skeleton sculpted in 1984 by Michael and Alan Perry. This is a pre-slotta (aka solid base) miniatures of a very high caliber -- great detail and lots of character, thanks to the Perry Bros. I particularly like his flowing robes and samurai-like sword.

When I came to paint Ranlac, I wanted to keep the general palate dark and sombre. There's nothing I abhor more than a gaudy skeleton. But his shield demanded special attention, what with its tortured face. After trying several colour schemes and painting over them in disgust, I finally hit on a scheme I liked. I used a rusty metallic as background for a yellow crescent moon. It's just enough colour to grab the eye without being too flashy.  And to my eye, it seems to create an unsettling dual aspect to the shield, where you can see two different faces peering out of the same features.

The Lichemaster's most powerful ally is Lord Krell. He is described in Terror of the Lichemaster as "a bony horror" carrying "an evil weapon that had sent a thousand screaming souls to the chaos hells." In life he was a powerful Chaos Warrior and in death he binds Kemler to the Ruinous Powers in a dark pact. Within the game, he is a Major Undead Hero armed with a Magic Two-Handed Sword with Warp Attack and Degeneration Strike. Nasty.

Like Ranlac, Krell was originally a preslotta Citadel C17 Skeleton (1984) sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry. Because they were not specially produced for Terror of the Lichemaster, these two skeleton champions are slightly easier to find than the miniatures that were only created for the scenario and sold by mail-order (e.g. Heinrich Kemler or Gimbrin Finehelm).

Again, I kept my colours on the muted side for Krell. I tried to create visual interest mainly through the rust on his armour, and the dirt and decay on his robes. Krell is not looking to win a beauty contest. 

His skeleton minions are all from Citadel's boxed set of plastic sprues, the Skeleton Horde (1986). To my mind, these are the greatest plastic skeletons ever produced: they are well-proportioned, simple and easy to customize. My paint job on these undead is as simple as pouring piss out of a boot. I use a basecoat of bone-white, followed by a wash or two of brown ink diluted 50:50 with water. The tips of the bones get a rough highlight with more bone-white, and deep joints get an outline of charred brown. It's the speediest of speed painting.

In my next posts, I'll set out Ranlac's prey... the dwarf Gimbrin Finehelm and his small band of doughty followers.

Lord Krell sketched by Tony Ackland

Friday, October 14, 2016

Terror of the Lichemaster: Heinrich Kemler

Heinrich Kemler, the Lichemaster, is the most iconic villain from the golden age of Warhammer Fantasy Battle. He was invented by Rick Priestly for Terror of the Lichemaster (1986), a boxed scenario pack that included a campaign book, counters and 15 cardboard buildings. The three sequential scenarios in Terror of the Lichemaster were extended by a fourth scenario called The Vengeance of the Lichemaster which appeared in the Spring 1986 Citadel Journal. Finally, Priestly and Carl Sargent resurrected the Lichemaster in Return of the Lichemaster (1989) a mini-campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay that revised and reconfigured the events of Terror.

So welcome to the first of several posts unearthing a complete painted set of the miniatures from the Terror of the Lichemaster

Kemler has been an obsession of mine for years. But I'm not the only one who found him stalking me in my dreams. From the very beginning, the Lichemaster had a grip on the imagination of the Games Workshop studio. No other Warhammer character was portrayed so often or by so many different artists. John Blanche, Tony Ackland, Gary Chalk, Ian Miller and Dave Andrews all tried their hand at illustrating Kemler.

My favourite picture is Dave Andrews' frontispiece from Terror of the Lichemaster... a simple black and white affair resembling a woodcut. This portrait of Kemler is also the one that most closely resembles the Lichemaster miniature:

Dave Andrew's portrait of the Lichemaster 1986

Tony Ackland, whose prodigious output provides the backbone of so many Warhammer publications, created two sketches of the Lichemaster for Terror:

Tony Ackland's drawings of the Lichemaster 1986

John Blanche painted the cover for the Spring 1986 Citadel Journal, a dreamlike depiction of Skaven, monks and undead all battling before the gates of La Maisontaal. Here's a detail of Kemler's ghostly visage:

John Blanche painting of Revenge of the Lichemaster (detail) 1986

Ian Miller's cover art for the Spring 1987 Citadel Journal shows his talents in full flower: a Giger-esque horror mixed with flaring colours and composition. This painting was also used as the cover art for the 1987 re-issue of Terror:

Gary Chalk painted the original box cover artwork for Terror of the Lichemaster. And although Kemler doesn't appear by name in Warhammer 3rd edition (1987), the Orange Book does contain this portrait of the Kemler and his lieutenant, Mikael Jacsen (p. 164):

Gary Chalk's painting of Terror of the Lichemaster 1987

So who is the Lichemaster? According to Terror of the Lichemaster, he was a "necromancer and man of power" who studied magic in the great cities of the Empire. However, a life of dark magic ravaged his body until his enemies (witch-hunters? rival warlocks?) saw their chance and began hounding him from city to city. 

At the very end of his strength and with his pursuers closing in, Kemler washed up in the remote Frugelhorn Valley in the Black Mountains. There he discovered the burial mound of a long-dead Chaos Warrior named Lord Krell. Kemler reanimated Krell and his undead soldiers but the rite sapped what little life was left in the necromancer. At the edge of death, Krell offered Kemler a hellish pact: assist Krell in leading his skeletal horde, and in return receive the power to extend his life by killing others. The Terror of the Lichemaster then follows Kemler's attempt to slay the inhabitants of the Valley, culminating in an attack on the village of Frugelhofen.

Even Heinrich Kemler's name conjures up some fascinating associations. His first name evokes Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), the German occultist who traveled across Europe and frequently found himself accused of heresy. His name also closely resembles Heinrich Kramer, the author of the 15th century witch hunting manual, the Malleus Maleficarum. But the clearest influence on the Lichemaster is the legend of Dr. Faustus (circa 1480 - 1541), a scholar who allegedly bargained his soul to a demon for great magic powers. In other words, Kemler highlights the close connection between the Warhammer world and the German Renaissance, where secular learning opened up a new world of scholarly inquiry that would often challenge the accepted morality of the Church.

I think we also have to say something about his title, "Lichemaster". Dungeons and Dragons popularized the notion of a Lich as an evil wizard who uses powerful spells to animate his own body after death. But in doing so, Gary Gygax and co. greatly extended the meaning of the word lich, which originally meant merely a body or a corpse (hence Lichgate means the covered entryway to a churchyard and a Lich-house is a mortuary). For this reason, Lichemaster is a better term for Kemler -- his is a Master of Corpses. (It is delightfully unclear whether Kemler is himself a corpse now or merely suspended on the edge of death).

Heinrich Kemmler the Lichemaster painted miniature

Although the Lichemaster might be an iconic Warhammer villain, his is a hell of a rare miniature (it seems that he was only available by special mail order to Games Workshop during the mid-1980's). This is one of the reasons I became obsessed with him -- I just couldn't find him! When I finally stumbled upon him on eBay a few years ago, I paid too much but never regretted my lightening fast "Buy It Now". He is a beautiful miniature (the work of Aly Morrison if I'm not mistaken). But his rarity and cost made me scared to paint him -- it took me a few years to build up the courage. Terror of the Lichemaster indeed!

Side and rear views on the Lichemaster

Thanks for visiting! And now I've posted the next installment of this journey - the Lichemaster's Lieutenants, Ranlac the Black and Lord Krell...

(And many thanks to Zhu who helped me with the provenance to some of the pictures featured in this post.)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Painted Battletech Infantry and Ground Forces

I've been fascinated by infantry in Battletech ever since 1986 when I bought the CityTech boxed set, which expanded the original game by introducing ground forces, buildings and urban combat. The image of a platoon of soldiers trying to stand up to a towering armoured robot conjures up all sort of romantic images... the sailors of the Pequod taking on Moby Dick... the Japanese Self-Defense Forces against Godzilla... the Smurfs versus Gargamel. So when I went on my mech painting jag (see my Unseen Mechs here, here and here), I also set about painting some conventional forces.

My favourite source for the infantry in the appropriate scale (1:285) is GHQ Models. They're cheap, well-sculpted and diverse. They're not meant for sci-fi, of course, but at such a small scale, who can really tell. And after all, Battletech is still a game of machine guns, flamethrowers and missile launchers. 

Painted Mechanized Infantry for Battletech
Mechanized Rifle Infantry supported by a COM-2D "Commando"

Purists may be turned off by the fact that many of the vehicles I use for my mechanized and motorized platoons are from WWII, but anachronisms like that don't faze me. If I was going to take over the galaxy, I wouldn't be shy about doing it in a Sonderkraftfahrzeug.

Another useful source for more futuristic vehicles was Forgeworld's line of miniatures for Aeronautica Imperialis (the Warhammer 40K-based air combat game). Although most of the models were aircraft, Forgeworld created some lovely anti-air tanks and scenery that I gobbled up for Battletech.

Painted Heavy Tanks for Battletech
A FSH-9 "Firestarter" mech with two Anti Air Tanks (originally Hydra Flak Tanks from Forgeworld)

I had a lot of fun simply arranging the soldiers on each base... it felt like creating a mini-diorama, each with its own sense of movement or purpose. By using mere soldiers or a combination of soldiers and vehicles, I could conjure up the image of Foot, Motorized or Mechanized Infantry.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my pictures...

Painted Mechanized Infantry for Battletech

Above we see a Mechanized Machine Gun Infantry Platoon and a Foot Machine Gun Platoon, supported by a VND-1R "Vindicator", all painted in the colours of House Kurita.

Painted Motorized Infantry for Battletech

Here's another Kurita force: a platoon of Motorized SRM launchers and a platoon of Foot SRM launchers, accompanied by a PXH-1 "Phoenix Hawk".

Painted Foot Infantry for Battletech

And here we see two platoons of Foot SRM Infantry and one platoon of Mechanized (Wheeled) infantry with rifles. A CPLT-C1 "Catapult" is marching in support.

Painted Tracked Vehicles for Battletech

Above is my SCP-1N "Scorpion" leading a mixed squadron of conventional ground tanks (which are all sculpted by GHQ).

Painted H-7C "Warrior" VTOL Helicopter for Battletech

And finally, my personal favourite Battletech conventional vehicle... the H-7C "Warrior" helicopter, which I modelled using a AH 1W Super Cobra from GHQ Models.

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Normandy... a wargamer's paradise

Last Monday I had a recurring thought: "This is one of the best days of my life". I was in Normandy, France with three friends and we were getting a tour of the D-Day battlefields from Colonel Oliver Warman (retired) of the Welsh Guards.

My father likes to recite the old ditty about the highest reaches of the upper class: "The Lowells only talk to the Cabots, and the Cabots only talk to God." Listening to Oliver, I often thought of that saying. Here stood a man who was shown around Normandy after the War by Hans Spiedel, Rommel's chief of staff. Here was a man who dined with Field Marshal Montgomery and called Major General John Frost (of Arnhem fame) "an old family friend". He served under General John Hackett (also of Arnhem) when they were both at NATO, and -- because of his decades long interest in D-Day -- had interviewed most of the battlefield commanders, including all of the Canadian leaders at Juno Beach. 

Colonel Warman indicates where Rommel and Speidel stood when first inspecting the Normandy beaches

Oliver seemed almost ashamed of this access. If we asked him about his acquaintance with King Hussein of Jordan or the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, he'd say sadly, "It's the old boys' club, I'm afraid." Or he would simply scratch his head and say "Well, you know, I am hideously old." His sense of shame was misplaced because I've never met anyone who put privilege to better use. During the tour it was clear that he'd spend 60+ years mulling over the Normandy landings. He had not just quizzed the generals -- he had paced the cow-paths, stared at the topography and questioned local farmers. The fruit of this labour is that he's the author of several books, the teacher of military courses and the leader of one stupendous tour.

Oliver takes cover in a sunken lane*

We talked of why the Canadians took no prisoners during the Battle of Normandy, Rommel's defence strategy, and the bloody beaches of Omaha Beach ("Here the Americans caught a bad cold," he said in one of his more memorable phrases.) 

At one point he said to me, "Small battles are what make up big battles." This simple but important thesis animated the entire tour. Time and again, he would point out how individual companies or battalions negotiated the hills, outflanked the enemy or fell into enfilading fire. (As a gamer, this gave me a new appreciation for the small skirmishes we play on the table-top -- such small engagements are indeed the building blocks of war).  

We are not giving the Nazi salute. Instead, we are following Oliver's sight-line toward Caen and the beaches

Using my phone, I recorded Oliver narrating the story of Operation Biting (aka the Bruneval Raid of February 1942). It's a wonderful piece of oral history -- you can see the way he frames the story around American perceptions of Britain's chances alone against the Nazis. (To be prosaic, I will point out that the Bruneval Raid actually occurred after the USA joined Britain's fight against Hitler. But that's the nature of oral history... there's a kind of truth that transcends details and can only be passed along through good story telling.)

After meeting Oliver, my friends and I headed east to see the Bayeux Tapestry in the town of Bayeux. The museum built around the tapestry is a gem -- the tapestry is presented flawlessly and without distraction in its own dark gallery. Up close, it's hard to describe how beautiful a work it is. No computer screen can capture its texture, life and artistry. 

On the second floor of the Bayeux Museum, there are a series of exhibits, including some wonderful dioramas that would make any hobbyist gape. The picture at the top of this post is from a diorama of the stone quarries on the river Orne near the Norman city of Caen. This stone was shipped to England and was used to create many of William the Conqueror's castles.

Other dioramas included this lovely portrayal of Walkelin, the Norman Bishop of Winchester arriving at the village of East Meon shortly after the Conquest...

And then there was this magnificent recreation of the whole village of East Meon in Hampshire circa 1086. The scale is too small for Warhammer, but it did make my heart skip a beat... how I'd love to run Krapfang and his orcs through those prosperous streets!

To top things off, when I was in Caen, I found a model train store that concealed some hidden treasures. After poking around a bit, I found a near-mint 1/100 scale kit for a model Super Dimension Fortress Macross "Spartan" (also known to Battletech players as an Archer). It was a nice tie-in for my recent orgy of painted Battletech miniatures.

But it's not all fun and games. Both Oliver's tour and the Tapestry brought home to me the all-around shittiness of war. Seeing Oliver scratch out in the sand of Omaha Beach a diagram of the overlapping fields of German machine gun fire was as chilling and depressing experience as I can think of. And even in the Tapestry's glorious portrayal of the Battle of Hastings, there are reminders of how ugly and tawdry a battlefield can be. Here are some close-ups from the lower borders of the cloth showing the looters, hacked-limbs and half-men left over from the combat. Blech.

Well, if you are ever in the market for a WWII tour of Normandy (or for that matter, of Belgium or Tunisia), I can't recommend Oliver Warman more enthusiastically. In the truest sense of the phrase, I was honoured to meet him.

* Have you noticed the Welsh Guards tie affixed to the front of his shirt with what appears to be a diaper pin? The man is stone-cold.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jedi Inflation, Time Travel and Doublethink

There's a contradiction at the heart of the expanding Star Wars universe. Let's call it Jedi Inflation. On the one hand, we have the movies, which are governed by the idea that the Jedi are wiped out. Indeed, in A New Hope, both Tarkin and Obiwan call the Jedi "extinct" and "all but extinct". This sad fact intensifies the drama of Luke Skywalker's emergence. He is, as Yoda calls him in Return of the Jedi, "the last of the Jedi". This is central to the story. Everything depends on Luke because without him, the flame of the Jedi is forever extinguished.

Davith Elso from Imperial Assault

On the other hand, there are the licensed games like Imperial Assault or the excellent TV show, Star Wars Rebels (all of which are overseen by the same "story group" at Disney and follow basic rules of canonicity). They portray roughly the same time period as the original trilogy of movies. And yet in them, other Jedi have survived to battle the Empire. So we have Kanan Jarrus, Ezra Bridger and Ahsoka Tano (in Rebels) or Diala Passil and Davith Elso (in Imperial Assault). These Jedi are not hidden away: the Rebels Alliance is aware of them, and so are the Imperial authorities. They are part of the Rebellion. And they leave me with the impression that the galaxy is crawling with Jedi.

I don't see this tension being resolved any time soon. The Force Awakens continues the story of the Jedi as a vanished tradition. That movie suggests that Luke alone attempted to rebuild the Jedi Order, and when that ended in tragedy and Luke disappeared, all trace of the Jedi seemed to vanish with him. What happened to characters like Ezra (or less official ones, like Davith from Imperial Assault) is unclear.

The reasons for Jedi inflation are so obvious that they barely need to be stated. Jedi fascinate us. They virtually define the Star Wars universe. Fans want to identify with Jedi heroes, and since there isn't enough Skywalker to go around, new characters must be invented. 

But, at the same time, their expanding number dilutes precisely the thing that makes the Jedi into the Jedi. They are rare, special and exclusive. But it's not mere rarity that makes the Jedi so gripping. More importantly, the Jedi are living anachronisms. Obiwan, Luke and even Vader are relics from a vanished age. Their clothes, manners, and beliefs are out of place in the contemporary world and hearken back to a dim past: A past when swords were used instead of blasters, and when magic was more powerful than technology. To meet a Jedi is truly to meet a species that was supposed to have gone extinct a long time ago.

My favourite encapsulation of the idea that Jedi are time travelers from the past occurs during A New Hope. This is when Admiral Motti (foolishly) upbraids Vader for failing to recapture the stolen plans to the Death Star:
Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel's hidden fort...
This sense that they're lost, even in their own fantasy world, is what gives the Jedi a grip on our imagination. Portraying too many Jedi breaks that spell of anachronism. Indeed, I think that's one of the reasons why the Prequel Trilogy fell flat on its face -- it never found a way to construct a universe that both multiplied the number of the Jedi and maintained their aura of being out-of-place and out-of-time.

It seems that the current Star Wars canon tries to square this circle by an adroit act of doublethink. It pretends that there is simply no contradiction between the solitary Jedi of the movies versus the Jedi inflation in other media. It's not a terrible approach -- at least it helps to preserve the impression in the movies that the Jedi are a vanished and legendary tradition (certainly, The Force Awakens emphasized this point over and over again -- for instance, by communicating early that Rey and Finn barely believe in the Jedi). But at the same time, we still get lots of interesting if peripheral Jedi characters in shows, games and novels. Jedi inflation? There's no Jedi inflation. These are not the droids you're looking for.

But doublethink isn't a sustainable practice. Sooner or later, the cognitive dissonance will drive you crazy. In the case of Star Wars, a failure to resolve this tension threatens to divide the Star Wars universe in two -- a cinematic half, where Luke Skywalker was the last bearer of the Jedi's flame -- and a fan-friendly half, where plucky Jedi survivors fight the good fight, but never meet up with Luke.

My own view is that a little bit of Jedi inflation is a good thing. It helps to balance another central tension within the Star Wars universe -- the tension between Star Wars as a vast, open-ended story, filled with hundreds or thousands of vibrant characters -- and, on the other hand, Star Wars as a claustrophobic family drama, where the Skywalkers are messianic figures and their story is at the center of the entire galaxy. By throwing in a few other Jedi, the fans are reminded that the Star Wars universe is too big for anyone to fully comprehend. Even Yoda can err, like when he called Luke the last of the Jedi.

What do you think?

* * *

My other mini-essays on Star Wars include:

- The influence of Star Wars on Warhammer 40K Rogue Trader
- The stench of Zen Buddhism in The Force Awakens
- Why did Obi-wan hesitate before allowing Vader to strike him down?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Unseen Battletech Miniatures III

The strangest and most beautiful Unseen Mechs of Battletech are those inspired by the aliens of Macross and Robotech. I speak, of course, about the Marauder and the Ostscout, which are pictured above. In Macross, the Marauder was originally called the Glaug Officer's Battle Pod, while the Ostscout was the Regult Battle Pod

Packaging for kits #1 and #2 of 1/320 scale Macross Models
Studio Nue, the creative shop behind Macross/Robotech, outdid themselves with these designs -- they are works of art in and of themselves. Everything about them seems authentically alien: their lack of right angles, their backward knee joints, the stamen-shaped limbs, the insectoid carapace, and -- of course -- the single eye in the middle of their chests. They look like the bastard children of a lobster and an orchid.

I was picky when casting around for miniatures to represent these mechs. Ral Partha's metal Marauder is a bad rendition: clunky, unstable and ill-proportioned. And the Ostscout presents even greater problems. When the Regult Pod was translated from Macross to Battletech, it was modified to add arms and a head. These changes anthropomorphized the Ostscout and ruined the extraterrestrial aesthetic. Boo on that, I say. I wanted the original design. But where to get it at the correct scale for Battletech?

As I mentioned last week, I finally found some hard plastic Macross models produced in Japan during the 1980's in 1/320 scale -- just about perfect for Battletech (which is usually between 1/285 and 1/300 scale). The models came in long sprues with 4 mechs per sprue. (The packaging for each of these sprues is pictured to the left). Although the plastic doesn't capture a lot of detail, the figures did have the right Macross feel. After a few minor alterations (like adding antennae and accentuating the central eye), they seemed like the best Battle Pods that I could find.

So here's my Unseen MAD-3R "Marauder":

MAD-3R Marauder Painted Unseen Miniature

MAD-3R Marauder Painted Unseen Miniature Battletech

And here's the Unseen OTT-7J "Ostscout":

OTT-7J Ostscout Painted Unseen Miniature

Unfortunately, most of the other models from these old sprues didn't work out as well. Last week I showed off my converted LAM Phoenix Hawk, which is an OK miniature if a little chunky. But even chunkier is the regular Unseen PXH-1 "Phoenix Hawk":

PXH-1 Phoenix Hawk Painted Unseen Miniature

By way of contrast, below is a closely related miniature from Ral Partha: the metal miniature for the Unseen WSP-1A "Wasp" (The Wasp and the Phoenix Hawk are based off of various iterations of Macross' Valkyrie Variable Fighter). This is a beautiful model: detailed, well-posed and elegant. It perfectly captures the lithe power of the Valkyrie.

WSP-1A Wasp Painted Unseen Miniature

And here's its companion, the Unseen STG-3R "Stinger" by Ral Partha. The Stinger is another Valkyrie variant. Both these figures required very little modification on my part -- I simply added the antennae/gun ports that crown their heads (they are fashioned from thin copper wire). I love the folded wings behind their backs -- they really accentuate the hornet-like aspect of their designs.

STG-3R Stinger Painted Unseen Miniature

And to round out my collection of Unseen Battletech miniatures, here's the the LGB-7Q "Longbow". This long-range missile platform was also lifted from Macross -- it's the Destroid Phalanx that premiered in Super Dimension Fortress Macross Episode #27. I slightly converted this Ral Partha model, replacing the original head with a more anime-looking one from my Macross plastic sprues. This is another jolie-laide design: the barrel arms and the tiny pea-head should make it stupid looking, but instead it projects power and menace. I love it!

LGB-7Q Longbow Painted Unseen Miniature

My previous posts of Unseen Mechs are here and here. Well, thanks for stopping by and making these Unseen miniatures slightly less unseen!