Monday, November 16, 2020

Rogue Trader Mercenaries from 1987

The moment of my death, a snow-globe will roll out of my nerveless hands and a few whispered words will fall unheeded from my lips... Irn Bonce... the Squat...

It all goes back to late 1987, when my older brother brought home White Dwarf #95. This was the apex issue of the magazine. Among so many other things, it introduced us to The Fury of Dracula, Ruglud's Armourd Orcs, the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the Deodorant Hover Tank, Prince Ulther's Imperial Dwarfs, and a flexi-disk recording of Sabbat's love-ballad Blood for the Blood God. But among all these wonders, my eye was glued to one thing only: the Mercenaries sculpted by Bob Naismith and the Perry Twins for Warhammer 40K Rogue Trader.

For the 12-year-old me, these 16 minis lay at the summit of desire. My brother and I managed to collect most of them and we played hundreds of games with them. But, of course, as we aged, we grew neglectful of our treasures and I gave or traded them away by the time I left for university.

A few years ago, driven by the demon of nostalgia, I managed to reconstruct a complete set of the RT7 Mercenaries. But it took me another few years to build up the courage to paint them. These minis occupy such a large part of my imagination, I couldn't quite bring myself to touch them.

Anyway, in the past few weeks, I finally screwed myself (??) to the sticking place. In tribute to my memories, I didn't depart from the colour schemes set out in the White Dwarf. 

Here are the first four I painted, starting with "Kylla Condotti" (who originally appeared in early 1987 as "The Imperial Garrison Trooper"). I love the apprehensive look on his face. It seems to say, "Why is everyone else wearing armour?"

"Inquisitor Augustus" is the only mercenary I didn't paint this autumn. I finished his bad buck-toothed self around 2015. As far as I can tell, my painting technique hasn't changed much in that time, and he fits right in with his brothers:

"Plunderino Pete" is the victim of a typo. It's clear from later ads that his true name is "Plundering Pete." But Plunderino always seemed more romantic to me, as if Pete came from an unfortunately named Italian village:

"Irn Bonce the Squat" is my favourite in the RT7 range of Mercenaries. I love his power-armour, his unusual grenade launcher, and his visored helm. But I've never quite understood his name (is it a reference to Irn-Bru?) or why he has an "M" emblazoned on his forehead:

Thanks for stopping by - and stay tuned for more mercs!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Star Wars Bounty Hunter Miniatures

Can you break up with someone who has just died? I think of this Seinfeldian question when I contemplate Star Wars Imperial Assault.

In the beginning, I went deep for the Imperial Assault miniatures. We went for long walks and took cooking classes together. But gradually I began to feel trapped. As the game lost vitality, languished and fell into a coma, I knew my love was dying too. When Fantasy Flight Games announced there would be no new minis for the game, I hit my limit. As the hearse carted the game away, I stood in the driveway shouting, "And don't come back!"

I had just one regret. I always wanted to possess the iconic roster of six bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back. Imperial Assault gave us splendid renditions of Boba Fett, Dengar, IG-88 and Bossk. But it croaked before it could bequeath the final two: Zuckuss and 4-LOM.

Thankfully there are other ways to get 28mm Star Wars miniatures. For instance, there is that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the 3D printing service Shapeways. I turned to the excellent designer Mel Miniatureswhose catalog fills the gaps left by the more orthodox gaming companies. Here's the Zuckuss that I bought from them:

And here's the assassin droid 4-LOM.

Once I entered the world of off-brand Star Wars miniatures, I didn't want to stop. If it was wrong to cheat on Fantasy Flight Games, I didn't want to be right.

But 3D printing through Shapeways is expensive. Twenty-five dollars a figure turns miniature painting from a hobby to a vice. So I turned to the pre-painted Star Wars miniatures produced by Wizards of the Coast between 2004-2010. They often sell for a dollar or two, and there are hundreds of choices. Of course, this line of miniatures has some problems: the plastic is soft and doesn't capture fine detail. But the shoddy factory colouring makes the sculps seem worse than they really are. A decent paint job at home will hide a many sins.

To illustrate my point, here's my slightly converted rendition of Boushh, the bounty hunter who Leia impersonated in The Return of the Jedi:

And here's the Wookie bounty hunter Black Krrsantan, whose well known to anyone whose dabbled in the recent wealth of Star Wars comics:

Stay tuned for more off-brand Star Wars minis in future posts...

Stay safe my friends!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Oldenhammer: the missing years

Especially attentive readers of Oldenhammer-in-Toronto may have noticed a two year hiatus where I failed to publish any new posts. I also stopped commenting on other Oldhammer blogs and my painting output dropped to fraction of what it normally is. (You can see one of the miniatures I did manage to finish in the picture above: the druid Ferndale Snart from 1985). My absence from the hobby wasn't a result of losing interest, losing a job, finding a job, finding God, moving house, or having a baby.

I had to suspend blogging because I was writing a book. I started it a long time ago but spent years just tinkering and dithering. Only since 2017 did I finally buckle down, and  - as I did - I found that writing began to dominate more and more of my time. Finally, there was room for almost nothing else. The only way I was going to finish this bastard was by putting everything else aside.

Xuedou, the man who compiled
The Blue Cliff Record
The book treats an unusual topic: it's a commentary on one of the classic works of Zen Buddhism, The Blue Cliff Record. This wonderful medieval text is a collection of 100 stories about the teachers who founded the Zen school in China during the Tang dynasty.

I've studied with a Zen Master since 2004 and was ordained myself as a Zen Master (or meditation teacher) five years ago. One of the things that drew me to Zen in the first place was The Blue Cliff Record, which is, by turns, baffling, enlightening and hilarious. I wanted to write a book to help other readers enjoy The Record as much as I do.

I'm also proud to say there is an important connection between my book and our hobby: while I was still writing it, Zhu Bajiee drew six amazing illustrations for me. These pictures really inspired me during a particularly difficult period in the creative process. (You can see an excellent example of Zhu's recent work in this art for Crooked Dice Miniatures). I'm still unsure whether my publisher will include Zhu's illustrations in the printed edition of my book, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. 

I'll have more to say about my book when it gets closer to the publication date, which is tentatively set for July 2021.

In the meantime, for those of you intrigued by Zen, I'll leave you with three videos that I recently posted on Youtube for my meditation students. The videos deal with how to use mindfulness to help cope with Covid-19. If you are feeling stress, self-doubt or anxiety, I hope you will check them out.

Sharp-eyed viewers may notice the stack of Osprey military histories on the bookshelfThere's a little miniature gaming everywhere in my house, even the meditation room!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Nightmare Legion II

The backstory of Mordini's Doomed Legion has a mythic quality.

The Duke of Lumbrusco hired the mercenary captain Ennio Mordini to help him in the many wars that disquieted Tilea. But even as Mordini's victories enlarged the Duke's territory, they seemed to weaken his authority by making him dependent on the loyalty of a low-born condottiere. Finally, the Duke struck a secret bargain with the rival city-state of Organza: The Duke would lure Mordini into a fatal ambush, and, in exchange, the soldiers of Organza would ensure the land was finally rid of this dangerous freebooter. The plan worked and Mordini was slaughtered with his men in a narrow pass of the Apucini Mountains. Mordini died cursing his erstwhile employer and swearing vengeance. Five years later, a legion of skeletal warriors issued from the mountains and burned Lumbrusco to the ground. Mordini had his revenge.

This story fits nicely into Folklore Motif E232.1 as catalogued by the American scholar Stith Thompson in The Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: "Return from dead to slay own murderer." The idea that the departed can seek vengeance on the living appears everywhere in mythology, from Japanese onryƍ to the ghost of Hamlet's father. It's a gripping concept: justice is possible even in an unjust world, but this justice can only take the form of a ghastly and brutal retribution.

Last week, I showed off the command section of the Nightmare Legion. Let's take a closer look at the four sculpts that form the rank-and-file.

These four skeleton troopers are classic examples of Citadel's work in the mid-1980's. During this period they pumped out hundreds and hundreds of new models with a tiny studio staff. I imagine there was a lot of coffee, loud music and cigarette smoke involved. Another key to this break-neck productivity was Citadel's habit of re-using its own designs with small variations in detail: switching heads, changing weapons and repositioning limbs. And so these figures are essentially the same miniature but with different headgear and pole-arms.

Because I'm a nostalgia junky, I decided to paint these guys to look like the models on the boxed set, complete with nasty old plastic shields.

Part of my fondness for the Nightmare Legion arises from the fact that, although they're skeletons, they're not just mindless automatons. Mordini and his men have agency: without any help from a meddling necromancer they raised themselves from the dead and established an undead city state on the ruins of Lambrusco.

The grinning expressions on these skeletons clearly evoke medieval art, especially "the dance of death" or "death triumphant." For example, below is the fresco portraying the triumph of death in the Clusone Oratorio in Northern Italy (1485). Like Mordini, death has vanquished the worldly powers and set himself up as a dark monarch with his own court and Crown. This fresco would have been painted in the long wake of the second pandemic of the Black Death -- a time when death had a lot to smile about.

Talking about plagues is too topical for my brand, so I will leave you with a couple pictures of the regiment fully assembled.

Thanks for coming by! I hope you are all safe and well, my friends!

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Nightmare Legion I

Long known to be dead, the famed mercenary Ennio Mordini returned unexpectedly from the grave. He came marching at the head of a silent army of undead warriors: the Nightmare Legion.

The Nightmare Legion RRD2 was released in 1987 and was one of the best of Citadel's Regiments of Renown. No sculptor is listed as their maker but I'm confident in attributing them to Aly Morrison because they bear a strong family resemblance to his other skeletons. The boxed set contained 24 miniatures: Captain Ennio Mordini, his champion Renzo Avanti, a standard bearer, a musician, and 20 troopers.

The Nightmare Legion (also called Mordini's Doomed Legion) has haunted my dreams ever since my older brother bought them when I was a lad. Painting my own set as the centrepiece for a small undead army has been a long term ambition that I've finally realized. It only took me 33 years.

The boxed Regiments of Renown from the mid-1980's remind me of old jazz albums. When you bought a record, you weren't just getting the vinyl, but also a long essay in small font printed on the back of the album. Filled with colourful details, these essays gave listeners a richer sense of the musicians as real people. So it was with these sets... Citadel didn't just give you the lead, but also printed on the back of the all sorts of great material: a long history of the regiment, its stats for Warhammer, its battlecries and other flavourful information. For instance, these aren't just skeletons. They're Italian skeletons.

And not just Italian skeletons, but Italian skeleton mercenaries that returned from the dead after being betrayed in a Machiavellian plot by their onetime employer. 

Here's a better view of Captain Ennio Mordini. Like all the minis in the box, he exhibits splendid details: tattered chainmail, rusted parade armour, and an expressive skull.

Below is the Nightmare Legion's champion, Renzo Avanti...

And here is the standard bearer...

The back of the box tells us that "lacking important things like lungs and vocal cords, the Legion has no battlecry." That's why their musician simply uses a drum...

Of course, I'm not the only one who's been enchanted by Nightmare Legion. Orlygg at Realm of Chaos 80's wrote about how the Legion has "a special place in my wargaming heart" because "it was the first box set that my father ever bought me, from Wonderworld in Bournemouth to be precise, back in 1988." You can also find a lovely set painted by Jeepster at the Stuff of Legends. And I particularly like Gaj's colourful rendition at Warhammer for Adults.

Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for my next post featuring the soldiers of Mordini's Doomed Legion.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Vincent Price reads Chu-Bu and Sheemish by Lord Dunsany

I've just posted a recording of one of my favourite stories, Chu-Bu and Sheemish, read by one of my favourite actors, Vincent Price. The story is originally from Lord Dunsany's 1912 collection of short stories, The Book of Wonder. Thankfully for lovers of witty imaginative fiction, this collection widely available both online and in print. But the audio-recording by Vincent Price is a different matter. It exists only in a rare LP record released in 1982 which (to my knowledge) has never been reprinted or posted on the web. 

A few months ago I managed to lay my hands on a copy, and I didn't want to keep all the fun to myself. So here it is on YouTube:

And if you want to download it, here is a link to an MP3. (Many thanks to my friend Nathan for helping me digitize the recording from the LP).

If you're wondering who Lord Dunsany was, I can do no better than quote the liner notes of the LP. They were written by the fantasy author and biographer Sprague de Camp:
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Eighteenth Baron Dunsany (1878-1958; rhymes with "rainy") was the kind of lord that many people would like to be if they had a chance. He was six feet four inches tall and sometimes called the worst-dressed man in Ireland... When not roaming the world, hunting foxes in the British Isles or wild goats in the Sahara, serving as a British Officer in the Boer and First World wars, being wounded in the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, and making an abortive entry into politics, Dunsany found time to write sixty-odd books of stories, plays, essays, verse and autobiography. How he accomplished all this with a quill pen we shall never know; he never revised or rewrote.
Dunsany (pictured below) was a great influence on H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Moorcock. In his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), Lovecraft wrote, "no amount of mere description can convey more than a fraction of Lord Dunsany’s pervasive charm. His prismatic cities and unheard-of rites are touched with a sureness which only mastery can engender, and we thrill with a sense of actual participation in his secret mysteries." The power of Dunsany to make the reader feel that he's participating in ancient rites is one of the things I love about Chu-Bu and Sheemish. And indeed, the performance of Vincent Price -- more an incantation than a narration -- only adds to this sense of ritual magic.

And yet at the same time, Dunsany has a light touch. For all his monumental fantasy and epic myth-making, you only have to read a few of his stories before you know that this is a man incapable of taking himself too seriously. The very first words of Chu-Bu and Sheemish encapsulate this sense of self-mockery: "It was the custom on Tuesdays in the temple of Chu-bu for the priests to enter at evening and chant, 'There is none but Chu-bu.'" (I also have a custom on Tuesdays: I eat a bowl of spaghetti.)

he other thing that I love about Dunsany's short fiction is that he is a master of endings. Nearly all his stories conclude not with a twist or surprise, but with a judo-flip -- a complete inversion of all expectations and conventions. His works are like brightly coloured snakes that bite their own tails and then keep eating until everything disappears in a puff of paradox. Without spoiling anything about the story,  Chu-Bu and Sheemish nicely illustrates his talents in this regard.

Well, I hope you enjoy the story and perhaps listen to it while painting some miniatures. And if you do like it, I suspect you will want to look into some of Dunsany's other words. I particularly favour The Gods of Pegana. In any case, may Chu-Bu and his secret priesthood bless you and keep you...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Painted Miniatures for Mice and Mystics II

Winston Churchill once said, "Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat."* I felt that I was doing a lot of re-ratting as I repeatedly painted all the vermin for Mice and Mystics. Last week we looked at the six mouse heroes from the game. This week, I bring you their enemies...

One of the things that I like about Mice and Mystics is that it's got a strong sense of theme. The theme is that mice are so tiny that even household pests are deadly opponents. Cockroaches are scary, but a centipede or a spider is downright terrifying. Likewise, special ingenuity is required merely to climb up on a table or avoid drowning in a gutter. The small scale makes the stakes seem all the bigger.

Above we see the basic monster of the game: the roach. They're like kobolds or goblins in D&D but all the more disgusting because they're real.

Then comes the servants of the evil Queen Vanestra: the rats. They're not quite Jes Goodwin's Skaven, but they are pretty satisfying sculpts in a cartoony sort of way. Chad Hoverter, the sculptor, was wise to place great emphasis on the creepiest part of the rat: their long, fleshy tails.

Here we see the Spider. It's not one of my better paintjobs... a little dim in my opinion, notwithstanding my attempt to spice it up with some orange accents.

And then my favourite miniature of the lot: the centipede. It's mindless, aggressive and hard to kill, reminding me of some of my ex-girlfriends.

Above is the whole lot of vermin together. 

I hope I've piqued your interest in Mice and Mystics. It's an excellent game that offers a lot for both children and adults, as well as for solo players and larger groups. It also returns you to a sense of wonder, where a spider is a major adversary and a button found discarded under a bed may be the only thing standing between life and death.

* The occasion was when Churchill re-joined the Conservative Party after he had abandoned it to join the Liberals almost 20 years before. It's not 100% certain that Churchill actually uttered these exact words, but if it's good enough for the International Churchill Society, it's good enough for me.