Thursday, April 5, 2018

Lost Artifacts of D&D: a failed saving throw against nostalgia

To the consternation of some of my close friends, I lost interest in playing D&D. My enthusiasm for role-playing was cannibalized by miniature painting and board games. But the one thing I deeply miss about D&D is the artifacts. Not the "Artifacts" (like the Eye of Vecna) that lurked in the back of the 1st edition Dungeons Masters Guide (although I guess I miss those too), but the artifacts that we the players created: the maps, the notebooks, sketches and letters that we used to illustrate and embroider the game.

Last week, I was going through some of my papers and found one such document: a hand-bound book that my friend Beth made for me and that I used to record the adventures of my longest lived character, a Samurai named Jiun. I played him from about 2003 to 2007. A great deal of my enjoyment of this character flowed from this notebook: as the character's diary, it gave me a venue to explore his idiosyncratic world-view, inspired by Japanese warriors and poets like Ikkyu, Uesugi Kenshin and especially Tesshu, who developed a whole philosophy of violence around "the sword of no-sword". 

You can see Jiun's self-portrait from this notebook in the picture above. This sketch is clearly influenced by the model for the Samurai from the Talisman Adventure (sculpted by Aly Morrison, 1986):

Perhaps my favourite part of Jiun was that he had a Bertie-and-Jeeves type of relationship with his elderly manservant, Master Ryokan (a character influenced by the real-life Zen monk of the same name). I imagined Ryokan as more than an retainer who followed Jiun into exile into the western lands: he was a surrogate father who had trained Jiun in swordplay, poetry and meditation since earliest childhood. Below, is a sketch of Ryokan from Jiun's notebook. Coincidentally, he bears a close resemblance to my own Zen teacher, Yangil Sunim, with whom I have my own Bertie-and-Jeeves type relationship (although it's unclear to me who is who in our comic routine).

The notebook gave me a chance to record out group's adventures as Jiun would have seen them. This chiefly involved a lot of poetry, and sometimes little dialogues between Jiun and Master Ryokan...

Jiun's sketches and poetry loosely refer to some of the interests that I had at the time (and still have): calligraphy, Zen literature and Chinese painting. While rolling dice in our game, I would also be flipping through books like the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (1679).

The notebook also gave me an excuse to engage in one of my favourite activities: cartography. Of the many gifts that J.R.R. Tokien has given to us, the joy of fantasy map-making is not the least.

My group and I had an eclectic campaign: although we were playing D&D 3.5, many of the adventures incorporated elements from Michael Moorcock, Mervyn Peake, Star Wars and H.P. Lovecraft. It was a big jolly mess. For instance, here's a page from our rendition of A Rough Night at the Three Feathers, the greatest Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay scenario every written:

There is a real magic to artifacts like Jiun's notebook. I've spent so many good hours role-playing with my friends. And yet, with the passing of the years, almost all of that time has slipped away: the dramatic battles, the petty arguments, the unlikely escapes, the painful losses. You just sort of forget all of these unforgettable moments. Or at least, you forget them until you find one of these artifacts, and you feel the magic return to life.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Good, the Bad and the Stubbly

Last weekend I ran my first wargame for the public. I was attending Hot Lead (Canada's finest miniature wargame convention), and decided at the last minute to put on a game because I heard that they were a little thin on the first night of festivities. The game on Friday went so well that I was asked to put on the "staff game" for Saturday evening. This is an off-menu game that the guys who run Hot Lead play together once the heavy lifting of the conference is over. By custom, it's a pretty raucous affair, with plenty of drink, trash-talk and drink. For me, this was a big honour.

The game I ran was a heavily modified game of Dead Man's Hand using the small battle-board I created to represent the Old West town of Cremation. I called the scenario "The Good, the Bad and the Stubbly." I had to simplify  the rules of Dead Man's Hand so that it would be easier to learn and more suitable for 5 or 6 players. The way I designed the game, each player would control a gang of five miniatures, including one boss and one sharp-shooting lieutenant. 

Criminal mastermind Rector Riggles
The rules modification that I'm most proud of was the system I devised for activation. The original version of DMH uses playing cards to activate individual miniatures, with higher ranking cards activating miniatures first. I liked this system because the playing cards accentuate the Wild West flavour. But I wanted to take it even further. So, I created a new system where the players don't get dealt a random hand of cards with which to activate all of their miniatures. Rather, in my version, the players have to earn their activation cards. They do this by playing a quick game of Blackjack at the start of each turn. Each card they are dealt in the Blackjack game is then used to activate one figure. If a player goes bust in the Blackjack round (i.e. goes over 21), then they lose the card that busted them, plus their lowest other card. If a player hits Blackjack itself (i.e. hits exactly 21) then as a reward they gain an extra card in addition to all the ones that helped them win.

This Blackjack modification worked splendidly. It was quick, and added a spicy element of risk to the simple matter of initiative. A player was assured of activating two of his five miniatures if he played conservatively. But if a player was dealt (let's say) a King-of-Diamonds and a Two-of-Spades, he could gamble for a third activation at risk of busting out. Another advantage of this initiative system is that it contains internal balancing mechanisms. A player might get all five activations if he was dealt a large number of low cards. Although that's good in terms of mobilizing your men, it's bad because all these men are moving late in the round, and DMH is a game where a low initiative is a deadly disadvantage (aka, you're slow on the draw). On the other hand, characters with just two cards will usually be going earlier in the round.

The other element that I added to the game was to create a scenario that involved role-playing elements, with over 20 civilians that the players could interact with in order to obtain victory points or other benefits. I drew up an elabourate spread-sheet, so that every time a player's miniature encountered a civilian, he was given two choices, each with very different consequences. For instance, here's my entry for the town doctor, Dr. Friendly:

The basic scenario is that the sheriff of Cremation, Daniel "Dapper Dan" Alabama has captured the infamous crime-lord Rector Riggles, and is holding him in a cell in his office. One player manages Dapper Dan and his deputies. The other four players control the four outlaw bands who used to work for Rector. They converge on the town but have a lot of options for what to do when they get there: free Rector? kill him? Rob the bank? Terrorize the citizenry? Visit the cat-house? Shoot each other? 

Dr. Friendly meets the outlaw Eli Coffen

In order to get the players used to the idea of interacting with the townsfolk, I wrote up a bunch of random rumours about the town and passed them out at the beginning of the game. This one was my favourite:
I don't want to sound crazy, but I've heard tell that there's a mule in town who can talk. A real live talking mule, just like they have in Yerup! Otis' boy told me that the mule was real smart. 

The staff game on Saturday night was a riot. The outlaws largely ignored Dapper Dan and his captive, instead opting for senseless internecine feuding. Nuns were shot, mules were interrogated, banks robbed and buried treasure discovered. One deputy made a daring run across a corpse-strewn street in order to get Dapper Dan a can of that hair pomade that he likes so much. Even Dr. Friendly got a corpse for his medical experiments. When the dust settled, the winner was James, who is the proprietor of the wargaming blog Rabbits in my Basement and the Chairman of Hot Lead.

Well enough jawing. Here are some pictures taken by Matthew O., my friend and play-tester...

The Game Master hams it up for the players.

Cremation before the carnage starts.

Dapper Dan and his deputies outside the county jail

A table full of activation cards!

Bad Bart tries to kill some goats (?) because a talking mule (??) promised him 3 wishes (???).

The winning team: Diego's Desperados!

A big thanks to the Hot Lead team!

My appreciation goes to all the players, and especially to my play-testers (Stephen, Matthew O., David, Peter, and Travis) who greatly helped me to refine the game for public consumption, and Konrad for moral support.

And check out some of the other write-ups about Hot Lead from some friends of Oldenhammer-in-Toronto, including posts by James and Hot Dice Miniatures.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Painted miniatures for the Fallout board game

Hello fellow Vault Dwellers! I've finished painting the five characters for the Fallout board game. We have the Mutant, the Ghoul, the Vault Dweller, the Scavenger and the Brotherhood Exile. Each survivor is roughly 30mm in scale and modeled out of the semi-satisfactory plastic that thrives in board games published by Fantasy Flight Games.

Like anyone who was old enough to left-click on a mouse in 1997, I fell in love with the original Fallout computer game. There was the splendid isometric (or trimetric?) graphics, the wide sand-box of a world, the deep character development. This was all splendid but if that was all was offering, it would perhaps have been overshadowed just one year later by Black Isle Studio's other flagship game, Baldur's Gate (1998). But what made Fallout truly special was its sense of humor.

For a post-apocalyptic world, it wasn't merely Mad-Max or The Omega Man. It was (in the surprisingly accurate words of Wikipedia)  an "atompunk retrofuturistic setting and artwork are influenced by the post-war culture of 1950s America". Like the best work of David Lynch, Fallout makes you see two images at the same time: the picture perfect American dream of wholesome progress, and the self-destructive amorality seething beneath the Norman Rockwell facade. But unlike David Lynch (or Norman Rockwell), Fallout has gatling lasers.

If you haven't played fallout and don't know exactly what I mean, all of this is encapsulated into the excellent little introduction video to the original Fallout (or, for that matter, the introduction video to Fallout 2). It's all there: the sappy music (Ink Spots, Satchmo, Bing Crosby), the cheery visage of the "Vault Boy", the consumerism, and -- of course -- the desolation. I never got around to playing the more recent versions of the computer games, but when I heard that there was a board game coming, I jumped to buy it.

I'm happy to report that the game is a worthy scion of its mighty ancestors. It might not quite have as mordant a sense of humor, but it makes up for it by creating a story-driven game with cascading moral choices, criss-crossing plots and a real sense of setting. As an added bonus, it plays just as well solo as it does with three or four players. And it's the only game I know of where you're character gets addicted to drugs. So let's look at the five survivors...

Painted miniature of the Vault Dweller, Fallout Board Game

First up is the Vault Dweller... one of the lucky few who survived the nuclear holocaust unscathed by hiding in a self-sustaining bomb shelter. Thus he wears the distinctive blue and yellow Vault Suit. However, it appears he's been wandering above ground for a little while, because over his jumpsuit are fragments of more primitive armour: metal plates, leather straps and rivets. I also like his beaten up rifle (or is it a Red Ryder BB Gun?).

Painted miniature of the Ghoul, Fallout Board Game

Next we have the Ghoul. In the world of Fallout, Ghouls are not so much undead as they are undying. They're humans that were so ravaged by radiation that even though their skin and flesh was flayed away, their metabolism mutated in such a way as to not only keep them alive but to greatly extend their lifespan. This miniature nicely encapsulates the tragedy of Ghouldom. The natty suit indicates a concern for civilized niceties, but the nightmarish face is sure to be shunned by all.

Painted miniature of the Mutant, Fallout Board Game

And then there's the Mutant. I wanted to make him look truly freakish, so I painted his skin the colour of a blue Freezie.

Painted miniature of the Brotherhood Exile, Fallout Board Game

Above is the Brotherhood Exile. He wears the distinctive power armour of the Brotherhood of Steel, a sort of religio-technical community of templar wannabes. I tried to give his armour a slightly worn feeling without going rust crazy.

Painted miniature of the Scavenger, Fallout Board Game

And finally, we have the Scavenger. She is, by far, my favourite: I like her insouciant pose, the expression on her face, and the details in her model. I wanted to really bring out the motley in her outfit, so the first thing I did was give her a pink poodle skirt of the kind that was popular in the 1950's. To this I added woolen work socks, a denim vest and a camouflage head-scarf. I'm happy with how it turned out. It's a strange day when a man says to himself, "Yes! I finally nailed that poodle skirt!"

Painted miniatures for Fallout Board Game FFG

Thanks for dropping by!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Consider the Solid Base Miniature... aka Chaos Goblin Mutants part II

Here are the final five C27 Chaos Goblin Mutants produced by Citadel and sculpted by the Perry Twins in 1984 (I profiled the first five miniatures in my last post).

One of the reasons these are such engaging sculpts is because they are made in the old style, with solid bases that are part of the miniature and sit flat on the table. These are sometimes called integral bases or broccoli bases. But whatever you call them, they are the mark of a truly vintage Citadel miniature. It was in 1985 that Citadel permanently transitioned away from solid base miniatures in favour of slotta-base miniatures (which, of course, have a tab on the bottom that slots into a separate plastic base).

I suppose you wouldn't know on first glance that my Chaos Goblin Mutants are solid base, since I've mounted mine on 20mm bases so that they'll blend in with the rest of my collection. But to my eye, they have an unmistakably solid-base feel: a rounded, three-dimensional quality that stands in distinction to the flat style of sculpting that accompanies many slotta base miniatures. This flatness arises from the fact that the sculptor has to work within the constraints of the mold. Since the mold is chiefly occupied by the long, lateral span of the miniature's slot, the rest of the model has to follow that line.

Now before you reach for your pitchforks and torches in order to run the slotta base out of the village, remember all the good things it has done for us. In fact, the case for the slotta base was first made in the pages of The Citadel Journal Spring 85, where Citadel introduced the change. The Journal points out that there are several advantages to slotta bases. First, they save a lot of metal, which should make the miniatures cheaper. Well, perhaps, but the consumer never noticed these savings. For example, the costs of a single solid-base Citadel wizard in 1984 was 40p, whereas in 1985 a slotta-base wizard would run you 60p. But, money aside, there are technical advantages to slotta sculpting. As The Journal said:
...freeing the model from the base allows are sculptors to use a whole new range of positions and other features. Having an integral base on the miniature has always imposed certain restrictions about the way the arms could be positioned, for example, whilst cloaks had always to be modelled so that they reached the ground.
You can see some of the drawbacks of solid-base miniatures in my own Goblin Mutants. For example, the wings of the Winged Goblin are joined to the ground in a single mass. So I accept that slotta bases freed us from the compact, trunk-like designs of the solid base. But slottas also imposed a new tyranny: laterally designed miniatures where all the limbs spread along the axis of the underlying slot. The best miniature designs transcended the limitations of slotta-sculpting, but many mediocre designs did not (ahem, cough, cough, Marauder Miniatures).

So what do you think: Slotta or solid? CDs or vinyl? Scotch or bourbon? Well, as you're mulling that over, here are the Chaos Goblin Mutants...

Wings, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

Above is C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant "Wings" or "Wingback" (depending on the advert). I love the devilish details: the cloven hooves, the horns and the evil expression.

Hopper, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

Here is "Hopper". Not to be confused with the sheriff of Hawkins, Indiana.

Beast, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

Here is "Beast", not to be confused with the X-man, the lover of "Beauty", the trojan horse, the novel by Peter Benchley, the novel by John Crowley, the novel by Ally Kennen, the South Korean boy band, the British sit-com or the villain from He-Man, Master of the Universe.

Long Neck, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

Above we have the mutant "Long Neck". I'll give you three guesses what his mutation is.

Plague, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

And finally, my very favourite, the runt of the litter... here is "Plague". I always relish an opportunity to paint eczema

Thanks for looking!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Chaos Goblin Mutants part I

The C27 Chaos Goblin Mutants were sculpted for Citadel by Alan and Michael Perry in 1984.  They are ten solid-base models, each with a splendid sense of character. Sadly, it's an underappreciated range -- perhaps owing to the fact that they weren't originally designed for Warhammer at all, but rather for role-playing games. That's certainly what the advert for them in the Second Citadel Compendium (1984) suggests:
"Mutated monstrosities of vile appearance, should be enough to surprise even the most zoologically aware adventurers."
And scholars of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay know that there's a three-legged mutant goblin in a circus freak-show ("Doctor Malthusius' Zoocopeia")in Shadows over Bogenhafen (1987). In fact, this scrawny and unfortunate gobbo plays an important part in kicking off the action when he makes a break for freedom. After that, Mutant goblins did make a couple sneaky appearances in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. We see a two-headed fellow getting trepanned on the cover of the Orange Bible, i.e. Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd edition (1987):

Notwithstanding this star-billing, Mutant Goblins barely made it into the game itself. They snuck into Warhammer Armies (1988), but only as an afterthought in the Chaos Ally Contingent. And after that, they sunk from the rules. 

I guess they really are "scorned outcasts", as per the description in the box above. Well, I like my outcasts scorned, my creatures unwholesome and my whims heeded. Let's take a look at these blighters!

Spiky Shaman, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

First up is the C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant "Spiky Shaman". Undoubtedly, it was this evil-eyed albino that first brought the Chaos taint on his goblin tribe. Because he craved personal power (or perhaps because his clan was seen by the neighbouring orc tribes as a delicacy), he turned to worshiping the Ruinous Powers. They next thing you know, there are spikes growing out of your back and people start calling you "sir".

Twins, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

Above we see "Twins". I tried to give each of his faces a distinct personality. To me, they look a little like Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau from the Odd Couple (1968).

Mace-tail, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

Here is "Mace-tail". His friends call him that because he has a mace for a tail. Goblins are very literal minded folks. I like this model's tusk like teeth. It's details like that that make this range so much fun.

Horns, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

Above is "Horns". I'm no great shakes at free-hand painting, but I did enjoy giving him and his friends a simple chaos symbol ("The Arrows of Chaos"). This particular miniature was beginning to get some lead-rot when I painted him, giving the final product a pebbly-texture. I hope he doesn't decay further now that he's safely entombed in a few layers of acrylic and varnish.

Three Eyes, Citadel C27 Chaos Goblin Mutant, sculpted by the Perry Bros, 1984

And our final miniature today is one of my favourites, "Three-Eyes". Besides the third eye, I love the skull-like face that the Perrys gave him -- no to mention his skulking demeanour.

Well, I hope this was enough to surprise even the most zoologically aware adventurers. Next week we'll look at the last five miniatures in the range. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the work of other painters who have tackled these mutants, like JiNNai and Goblin Lee and Don Hans.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Emperor Palpatine, Ahsoka and Maul

Here are my painted versions of the latest three miniatures released for Star Wars Imperial Assault: Emperor Palpatine, Ahsoka Tano and Maul. 

I can feel my enthusiasm for Imperial Assault dying a little bit more each day. When it first came out in 2014, I couldn't have been more excited. Star Wars was finally getting the deluxe war-game treatment: good sculpting, innovative rules, and the support of a tried-and-true gaming company in Fantasy Flight Games. I invested a lot of time, energy and love into collecting, painting and converting the miniatures.

It quickly became evident that the situation wasn't perfect. The miniatures were made out of cheaper, bendier plastic. The game play focused on unknown Rebel characters rather than the beloved heroes from the movies or TV shows. And new figures arrived at a glacial pace, leaving lots of holes in the cast (In fact, because Imperial Assault coincides with a raft of new movies and TV shows, charismatic new characters appear in the Star Wars universe much faster than the sculptors sculpt. As a result, with every year that goes by, there's a bigger deficit of miniatures. It reminds me of Tristram Shandy, who wrote his autobiography at a slower rate than he lived his life, so that the longer he lived, the further behind he lagged in his writing).

Underlying all of these problems is Fantasy Flight Games' rigid approach to gaming. They keep each miniature closely bonded to the rules, with character specific cards and counters. Miniature development is slow because the miniatures are subordinate to games development. 

But, even with these downsides, Imperial Assault seemed worth the investment -- especially since it was the only game in town if you wanted to paint a lot of Star Wars miniatures. But Fantasy Flight Games has just continued to disappoint me, and now I feel pretty listless about the whole thing. The quality of miniature became inconsistent. And the slow pace of new releases stuttered to almost nothing in the past year. For instance, the only character from the original trilogy released in 2017 was Emperor Palpatine.

And then Fantasy Flight Games announced that they were producing a new Star Wars war-game with better quality miniatures. Star Wars Legion should have been excellent news. Thirty years ago, Games Workshop showed how much fun it can be when a company releases many different games set in the same general universe. The hobbyist's opportunities for creativity multiply as he or she re-purposes, converts and assembles miniatures in various combinations. Mutually complementary games means more miniatures, more variety, and more reward for the miniature painter (who can paint one miniature and then use it in two, three, or four games). And so, at first, I thought that Star Wars Legions was the answer to many of the problems be-deviling Imperial Assault.

Nope. Fantasy Flight Games decided that they would make Legions in a slightly different scale than Imperial Assault. They are just different enough that setting miniatures from the two games together looks awkward and silly. The message was clear: There is only one way to enjoy our products: in silos. 

That, of course, is their prerogative. But that's where I check out. I like this hobby because painting gives me a sense of freedom and plenitude. I feel like a rich man when I paint a Skaven and can then use him for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Advanced Heroquest  and Mordheim (not to mention D&D, Descent, Frostgrave or any number of generic fantasy games). That a gaming company would do its best to foil that sort of fun seems sad. More to be pitied than scorned.

So I just don't know what more I'll paint in the Imperial Assault range. I guess I'll just play it by ear. But, to quote Catullus, my love for the game has cacked it, uelut pratiultimi flos, praetereunte postquam tactus aratro est.

Emperor Palpatine, painted miniature sculpted by Niklas Norman, 2017

For all my whinging, I did enjoy painting Palpatine. I love his face, with its bluish pancake make-up, red-rimmed eyes and yellow teeth. Jeepers, the man rules an entire galactic empire but can't find a dentist. The sculptor, Niklas Norman, created an ambiguous expression that a painter can pull into a grimace or smile. I went for the smile. I always thought that Palpatine was a hundred times creepier when he looked happy.

Ahsoka Tano, painted miniature sculpted by Adam Martin, 2017

Above we have Ahsoka Tano, the erstwhile Jedi from The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. I'm pleased that the sculptor, Adam Martin, opted to give her more realistic features, rather than giving her a cartoon-like proportions that mirror her appearance on the animated shows (In contradistinction, see the miniature for Hera Syndulla -- her sculptor, Gabriel Comin, made her look much too much like an animated cartoon).

Ahsoka Tano, painted miniature sculpted by Adam Martin, 2017

In general, Ahsoka is a lovely miniature, with a dynamic pose and good detail. I did, however, have to replace her bendy-lightsabers with copper wire.

Maul, painted miniature sculpted by Cory DeVore, 2017

Above is the miniature for "Maul, Seeker of Vengeance". He's sculpted by Cory DeVore, which means that each of the three miniatures in this post had different sculptors. There are so many different sculptors in Imperial Assault that there's no consistency and you never know what you're going to get. And what we got here is an awkward and unimpressive pose: bum thrust out, arms extended, torso tilted. Get this man a chiropractor. I honestly don't know how you screw up Darth Maul, who's such a naturally terrifying figure... but somehow they managed to do it.

Oh Imperial Assault, you break my heart.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Undead Cavalry for Vengeance of the Lichemaster part 2

The skeletal horseman produced by Citadel in 1986 are badass miniatures. As my final installment of my tour through The Vengeance of the Lichemaster, here are the final five Undead Cavalry that I painted for the army of the Lichemaster himself, Heinrich Kemler (the first five death riders are here).

Dead dudes riding horses is a an old and scary image in European folklore. For example, Germany, Scandinavia and Britain have all given us variations on the legend of the "Wild Hunt", a collection of ghostly horseman that may be led by the Devil, a dead king or a god like Odin. A spectral hunt like this is mentioned as an ill-omen in medieval English manuscript, the Peterborough Chronicle (1122-1154):
...several persons [in 1127] saw and heard many huntsmen hunting. The hunters were swarthy, and huge, and ugly; and their hounds were all black, and wide-eyed, and ugly. And they rode on black horses, and black he-goats. This was seen in the very deer-park in the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods from the same town as far as Stamford. (Laud Misc. 636, Bodleian)
Other ghost riders include Celtic headless horsemen, the Dutch Bokkenrijder, and fairy riders like the Green Knight. But I think the well-spring for the image of a sinister skeleton riding a horse is the Bible. To be more specific, it's the Book of Revelation, where John of Patmos describes Death incarnate as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:  
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8, KJV)
This brief description gave way to a host of medieval and renaissance art imagining Death as a skeletal rider. Here are three choice examples:

From left to right we have details from Book of Hours, Yates Thompson 6 MS, Naples, 1477; Book of Hours, Comites Latentes 54 MS, Florence, 1470-1480; and The Apocalypse Tapestry, Paris, 1377–1382.

Deathly riders passed from folklore and art, and into the world of modern fantasy literature with such works as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (1954). There we get two different flavours of undead cavalry. On the one hand, you have the iconic Black Riders slouching and hooded on their evil steeds:
Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible. (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 3)
And on the other hand, you have the Dead Men of Dunharrow: this is the ghostly host of ancient oathbreakers that Aragorn summons to his aid for the War of the Last Alliance. Tolkien is too good a writer to give us too much of a description of these ghosts, instead leaving them to the reader's imagination. All we really get is Legolas's statement as he emerges from the tombs beneath the White Mountains:
'The Dead are following,’ said Legolas. ‘I see shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud, and spears like winter-thickets on a misty night. The Dead are following.’ (The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 2)
It seems to me that both the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the Black Riders owe a lot to the Wild Hunt. With respect to the Dead Men of Dunharrow, the resemblances include the fact that the Wild Hunt is sometimes said to be led by a great King, like King Arthur or Fredrick Barbarossa; and in other versions of the story, it is populated by wrongdoers or criminals who are cursed by their crime to ride without rest. 

The connection between the Wild Hunt and the Black Riders is also pretty clear: sinister horsemen who hunt across the wild places of the earth in search of some mysterious game. In fact, the description of the black hunstmen in the Peterborough Chronicle that I cited before seems like an inspiration for the Black Riders (except that the Nazgul don't ride goats). In any case, I think it's interesting that Tolkien seems to have been influenced by the myth of the Wild Hunt, but used it to create two totally different species of deathly horseman.

Well, on to the miniatures!

While I mainly used the Citadel C21 range of Undead Cavalry for the Lichemaster's forces, I also wanted an excuse to paint some of the gorgeous miniatures for Citadel's 1980's Lord of the Rings range. 

Above is the mounted "Dead Man of Dunharrow" (Citadel ME72, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1985). Although it hard to find precise information about who sculpted Citadel's 1980's Lord of the Rings range, I'm confident in attributing this one to Bob Naismith. First, it looks like a Naismith, and second, the Citadel Journal Spring 86 mentions that Naismith created the Middle Earth cavalry (and, I suspect, sculpted most of the other miniatures in the range too). In any case, this is a fantastic sculpt. I love the slouching rider and the way he seems to lean on his spear like an old man gripping a staff.

Here's the "Black Rider" (Citadel ME64, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1985). Once again, Naismith (Citadel's "most outrageously Scottish designer") has nailed it. Don't you love the way the dagger is held aloft in an invisible hand?

Next comes the alternate "Black Rider" (Citadel ME64, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1985). This model has a spectacular sense of speed. I tried to accentuate this galloping sensation by adding in a set of reigns (which I modelled from the thin metallic wire that you find on some bottles of Rioja - as if i needed another excuse to drink more Rioja.) 

The above model goes by two names depending on which advert you examine: "Elfcleaver" or "Serratus the Reaper" (Citadel C21 Undead Cavalry, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1986). He's another fascinating model - I love the way he leans on one side of the horse, as if his rotting corpus can barely keep itself in the saddle. For reasons that are still not clear to me, I gave his robe a saucy striped pattern.

And finally, we have "Leopold the Exhumed" 
(Citadel C21 Undead Cavalry, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1987). This model features another one of Naismith's fantastic skeletal horses - this one has ox-like characteristics like a heavy skull and stubby horns.

And here are all 10 models arraigned for battle...

Thanks for stopping by!