Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vengeance of the Lichemaster: Gnawdoom and his Skaven





Gnawdoom the Grey Seer and Throt the Unclean are the two heroes who lead the Skaven forces in the scenario Vengeance of the Lichemaster (1986). They're assisted by two champions, Flench Packlord and Iron Wielder, plus a Skaven Flamerthrower Crew. Today I've got painted versions of all these miniatures.

The brief for the Skaven player in Vengeance of the Lichemaster tells the story from the ratmen's perspective. This background is worth quoting at length because it reveals some very special about the religious practices of the Skaven:
Last month, during the annual Great Feast of the Horned Rat, an enemy entered the city of Skavenblight, wormed his way into the ceremony itself and, during the sacred dedication to the Horned Rat, stole the Awesome Black Ark. Bounding onto the dais before the shimmering apparition of the Chaos God, a magically disguised figure was seen to leap towards the casket containing the Ark, at which moment the intruder and the Ark both vanished into thin air. The Skaven were momentarily frozen with astonishment as well as suffering the indignity of being caught looking the other way whilst bent double and baring their hairy buttocks (the traditional salutation to the Horned Rat at this time)...  
[Rick Priestly, Citadel Spring Journal 86, page 61]
The Skaven's anal salute carries an echo of the osculum infame or "shameful kiss" that witches were supposed to bestow on the Devil's fundament during their Black Masses. As one accused witch, Isobel Gowdie of Auldearne said in 1662, "Sometym he [the devil] vold be lyk...a dowg, and he vold hold wp his taill wntill we wold kiss his arce." For the Skaven, however, the situation is reversed, and they bare their buttocks to the apparition of their Lord. Unclear whether, in return, the Horned Rat gives them each a smootch.


 Woodcut from Guazzo's Compendium Maleficarum (1608)

In any case, the thief who caught the Skaven with their pants down is, of course, the wizard Bagrian. The brief goes on to describe how the Skaven player controls one of the many search parties sent out to recover the Black Ark. Gnawdoom has used his magical orb, the Seerstone, to track Bagrian to the monastery of La Maisontaal. The table is set for a grand battle...


Gnawdoom, Skaven C47 (Citadel, Jes Goodwin, 1986)


Above is Gnawdoom the Grey Seer from Citadel's C47 Skaven range, sculpted by Jes Goodwin in 1986. I painted him to resemble the illustration by John Blanche on the cover of The Citadel Journal Spring 86.




 I particularly enjoyed painting his grotty robe...



I love Goodwin's notion that white Skaven have a special place of prominence. As he wrote in his article introducing the Skaven: "The Grey Seers are extremely important and influential Skaven and would only rarely involve themselves in anything other than the most important conflict." Gnawdoom is distinguished by the fact that he carries the glowing Seerstone, which glows brighter as it approaches the Black Ark of the Covenant. He also carries a small triangular "key" of warpstone, which is the only way to open the Ark and activate it's awesome powers.


Throt the Unclean, Skaven C47 (Citadel, Jes Goodwin, 1986)

Above is the second in command of the Skaven war-party: Throt the Unclean (C47 sculpted by Jes Goodwin, 1986). Throt is a mutant with three arms and "a warpstone charm replacing one of his beady red eyes... this glows bright scarlet in the dark and whilst Throt is amongst the bloodlust of combat." I love his man catcher -- I can just imagine Throt snaring an opponent with this pole-arm and than using the knife in his third hand to finish the unfortunate victim.


Flench Packlord, Skaven C47 (Citadel, Jes Goodwin, 1986)

Here is Flench Packlord (C47 sculpted by Jes Goodwin, 1986). Flench is the first of the two Skaven champions.


Malis Manwrack, Skaven C47 (Citadel, Jes Goodwin, 1986)

And above is the Skaven champion called Iron Wielder in Vengeance, or Malis Manwrack in the Citadel catalogues (C47 sculpted by Jes Goodwin, 1986). He's one of the classic Skaven leaders and is a staple in nearly every Skaven army from the 1980's.


Skaven Warpfire Thrower, Skaven C22 C47 (Citadel, Jes Goodwin, 1986)

Finally, we have the Skaven Warpfire Thrower Team that accompanies Gnawdoom on his mission. The Citadel Journal gives the name of these two incendiaries as Scathe the Tainted and Flem (C22 and C27 sculpted by Jes Goodwin, 1986). There's a lot of detail packed into these two miniatures.

Skaven Warpfire Team, Skaven C22 C47 (Citadel, Jes Goodwin, 1986)




Thanks for dropping by! Next week we'll look at the rank-and-file in Gnawdoom's Skaven warband. 




Thursday, November 16, 2017

Skaven: the Origin of the Species


The first time the Skaven appeared in print was in 1986 in the Citadel Spring Journal 86. The Chaos Ratmen debuted as one of the three antagonists in the scenario "Vengeance of the Lichemaster" by Rick Priestly, and then got their own article by their creator, designer and sculptor, Jes Goodwin




Reading Goodwin's article now, it is amazing how completely realized the Skaven mythology was at the moment of its inception. It's like Athena bursting full grown from the head of Zeus, if Athena was an anthropomorphic rat and Zeus was a 26 year-old from Essex. All the iconic elements of the Ratmen were there from the beginning: the clans (Eshin, Skyre, Pestilens and Moulder), the addiction to Warpstone, the plague monks, the screamingbells, the skavenslaves and the 13 Lords of Decay. Goodwin has said that he collaborated with Rick Priestly on this background, but his achievement is still astounding in its audacity and longevity. His article formed the blueprint (with little variation) for what the Skaven would be for the next 30 years.

What gave Goodwin's initial vision for the Skaven so much power? I think the answer has to be the complexity of the Skaven. Physically, one Ratman pretty much looks like another Ratman. But socially, the Skaven were imbued with diversity and depth unlike anything that the Warhammer world has seen before. 


From the Citadel Spring Journal 86

For instance, the Skaven present a twisted mirror image of monkhood. They have their "Plague monks" worshiping  "the Horned Rat" and swinging "plague censors" and hauling their unholy "screaming bells". But the Skaven are not limited to this Christian religious imagery. They also have a Middle-Eastern streak, with jezzail rifles from Afghanistan, Assassins like the Syrian Hashishin, not to mention a tribal structure and a slave caste.

On top of this is Skaven technology. But even this is complex. On the one hand, you have the genetic manipulation and breeding programs of Clan Moulder, creating post-apocalyptic monsters like Rat Ogres and Wolf Rats. And on the other hand, you have the cadre of Warplock Engineers, who anticipated Steampunk with their devices of tubing and brass. The imagery behind the Engineers is specially rich: their flame throwers and gas masks evoke the worst horrors of World War One.


From the Citadel Spring Journal 86

I could go on with other strange elements of Skaven society: the Grey Seers, the White Rats, the worship of chaos. All these disparate elements prevent the Skaven from being reduced to one simple idea (like ratmen being a straightforward symbol of urban decay). At the same time, Jes Goodwin's powers as a designer (and sculptor) were so strong that he could unify this crazy quiltwork into one coherent vision. The Skaven of his illustrations and models all share an indelible stamp.


"Splinter" by Kevin Eastman (1984)
It's hard to capture the essence of this style in a few words. Goodwin's Skaven are neither lanky (like the original Were-Rats), nor muscular (like Citadel's Beastmen). Instead, they are short and almost pudgy. This might not seem menacing except for their clothes. Man/animal hybrids in fantasy games tend toward nakedness, but Goodwin chose to cover his brood in clothing: cowls, hoods, and robes, the more tattered and dirty, the better. In this sense, the his Skaven conjure up one of the most fearful specters of all: the specter of poverty. 

The miniatures are carved with lots of texture and deep recesses, creating plenty of room for shadow and contrast when they're ultimately painted. This chiaroscuro aesthetic (not to mention the tattered robes) betrays a deep debt to Splinter, the mutant rat from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1984). But when the Skaven's alien armour and strange face-masks are added to the mix, the result is unique and unforgettable.

The success of Goodwin's early Skaven sculptures is born out by the fact that (like his mythology) they changed so little over the years. In the mid-to-late 1980's, Citadel churned out hundred and hundred of fantasy miniatures, constantly pushing old models into obsolescence. But not the Skaven. From 1986 to 1992, they range stayed almost exactly as it appeared in the Citadel Journal 1986. It was only in 1993 that radically new designs appeared, and even then the original sculpts persisted here and there into the new millennium. 

Next week, we'll take a closer look at some of these Skaven miniatures - namely, the ones that feature in Vengeance of the Lichemaster...




If you enjoyed this analysis, you might also want to read about the evolution of the orc.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Vengeance of the Lichemaster: Mo' Monks of Maisontaal





Here's my completed unit of Oldhammer monks. The impetus for them, of course, is my ongoing project: assembling all the miniatures for Vengeance of the Lichemaster from 1986. However, my ambitions for this unit stretch beyond this one scenario. As I painted all these twelve brothers, I was scheming about all the other ways I could use them. For me, this is one of the great pleasures of wargaming: doubling (or tripling) up on your ways to play with the miniatures that you paint. It makes me feel rich.



For instance, these monks could munch a little ergot fungus and turn into flagellants for my 3rd edition Empire army. This is an army chiefly composed of odds and sods like the militia that I painted for Terror of the Lichemaster or some men-at-arms from Advanced Heroquest. A unit of "Fleglers" will fill out this force nicely. 

I'd also like to put these monks to use in Saga. In fact, I've already used some of these monks in my Saga scenario, The Battle of Wretched Heathen Peoples. But, in that scenario, the monks were only food to be eaten by a horde of zombies. They were quite good at that modest task. But now that I've painted an large force, I could use them as a unit in and of themselves... perhaps a unit of 12 Norman levies or some equivalent force of shoddy fighters.

And then, of course, there's Mordheim or Frostgrave, where a tonsured warband would fit right in, perhaps with some help from my wizard monks. So many possibilities! 

Anyway, last week I profiled the first half of my monks - let's look at the other six now...



Above we have Citadel's accurately named "Cleric" from the C03 Cleric range. With his stately gait and imposing belly, I see him as the leader of the monks of La Maisontaal.




Behold "Brother Coth" from the C03 Cleric range (1986). I love this miniature. Never has anyone brandished a toilet plunger with more grit and determination. He'll pump the devil's filth back into the cesspits of Hell.


Or perhaps that's a bell. In which case, Brother Coth becomes the musician of my monk unit.



Above is the standard bearer of the monks of La Maisontaal. He (or she?) was sculpted in 1985 by Bob Naismith and listed in the Citadel catalogues as the C03 "Ancient Word Female". I don't get an overwhelming vibe of femininity from this miniature, do you? But it's hard to tell under that unisex chainmail sarong.

In any case, I converted the miniature's staff into a flagpole, and then used the waterslide Breton Banner from Little Big Men Studios. Normally, I like to paint my own banners, but I got into the habit of using LBMS for my Saga warbands, and since I want to insert these monks in that game, it seemed smart to once again use one of LBMS's fabulous flags. I picked the Breton banner carefully: I figured that the central cross can stand for Christ or the "t" in Taal. Cunning!




Here we have the C03 "Wizened Priest" from 1985. I love this miniature because his bare shoulder and wizened chest create such a distinct impression of naked-old-man-flesh: the texture like folds of raw chicken skin, the colour brown and molted, the ever-so-slight pear shape in the hips. This sculpture (which must be by Bob Naismith) reminds me of one of Lucian Freud's self portraits:



Lucian Freud, “Painter Working, Reflection," 1993

Boy, I can't wait to age.



For something a little more youthful, here is the C03 Cleric "St. Ogg" from 1986.




And finally, above is "the Monk" sculpted in 1985 by Aly Morrison. He migrates into this unit from my collection of Talisman miniatures. Aly is a master. Just look at that benign expression and that big, bloody mace that he's dragging behind him.


Well, thanks for stopping by! Next week, we'll turn to the bane of these intrepid monastics: the Skaven army from Vengeance of the Lichemaster...





Friday, October 27, 2017

Vengeance of the Lichemaster: Warrior Monks of La Maisontaal





What's that? You want more obscure Citadel miniatures to populate the Vengeance of the Lichemaster? Have you done your chores? Have you watered the gimp? Walked the polyp? Recited the Litany Against Fear? Well OK then. You deserve this.

Last week we looked at the Wizard Monks of La Maisontaal, the monastery dedicated to Taal that lies at the heart of the Vengeance of the Lichemaster scenario from 1986. In addition to his five magic users, Bagrian the Abbot also has a complement of twelve Warrior Monks. The scenario (by Rick Priestly) tells us that "The warrior monks of Taal are young monks not yet judged able to progress to magical tuition. However, they are by no means ordinary men. Years of mental preparation and study on the martial arts has given them considerable fighting abilities as well as unusual mental fortitude."


As with the Wizard Monks, the Warrior Monks provides a great excuse to delve into Citadel's extensive back-catalog of Clerics that flourished from 1983-1986.





First up is the C03 Cleric "Ivory Temple" sculpted by Bob Naismith in 1985. He's distinctive for his detailed facial expression and the gorgeous temple carved into his shield. This is also the only miniature specifically portrayed as a Warrior Monk in the advert for The Vengeance of the Lichemaster, which means that he can be hotly demanded on eBay.


In painting his shield (which seems to represent La Maisontaal itself), I kept thinking of the religious art at my local gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario. Specifically, I was drawn to the brilliant gold skies in works like "The Vision of St. Benedict: by Giovanni del Biondo (1330-1398):



I also wanted to try to conjure up a mystical sense of an otherworldly place. Luckily the technique is pretty simple: a nice smooth coat of gold paint without any highlights or shading as the sky, contrasted to an earthy foreground.




Above we have the "monk" from the C46 Townsfolk range sculpted by Trish Morrison in 1985. Do you love or hate Trish's work? This sculpt certainly bears her stamp: the malformed face (in this case, no chin, wide eyes and huge ears) plus disproportionate man-hands. And yet, for all its seeming ineptness, her work captures the same charming ugliness that we see in the peasant faces of Bruegel or Bosch. For instance, here's a detail from Bruegel the Elder's "Peasant Wedding" (1567):



Say what you will about Trish's sculpting style, but it's distinctive. And that counts for a lot in my book.




Here is the "Friar" from the C03 Cleric released by Citadel in 1983, sculptor unknown (although I suspect it's Bob Naismith). I love the simplicity of these early solid-base sculpts. There aren't so many buckles, scabbards, pouches, straps, skulls jewels or scrolls, leaving greater focus on the face.




This is the C03 Cleric "Warrior Monk" from 1983. He shows off the classic Citadel sense of humour: a round, friendly face leaning forward in front, belied by a club clutched in the rear. Of course, there is good historical evidence for this sort of pose:



The above illumination is from MS Bodley 265 (14th century) in the Bodleian Library (Browse the entire manuscript here and hat tip to the Minnesotastan for the image).



Above is the C03 Cleric "Black Brotherhood" sculpted by Bob Naismith in 1985. Compare this with the last couple monks and you can see the way that Citadel miniatures grew more detailed from '83 to '85. But their poses also grew more dynamic (Although it's unclear why he's raising his shield like that. Perhaps he senses that somebody is about to throw a vase at him from somewhere behind him?)





As our last miniature today, here's the C03 Cleric "Red Robe"sculpted by Bob Naismith in 1985. This Cleric adventurer has a great sense of forward momentum, complemented by a determined face.





Stay tuned for next week, when we'll look at the rest of the Warrior Monks, including their leader, standard bearer and musician.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Vengeance of the Lichemaster: Wizard Monks and the Mechanical Warrior




The next chapter in our tour through The Vengeance of the Lichemaster (1986) is a visit to the wizard monks of La Maisontaal. The Warhammer campaign written by Rick Priestly tells us that in addition to the Abbot Bagrian (featured last week), the monastery has five power magic users. 

Anyone looking to conjure up some Citadel wizards for an old-school scenario is spoiled for choice. One of the first, best and most under-used ranges in Citadel's early "C-Series" were the ranges of miniatures dedicated to various AD&D character classes: C03 clerics, C04 thieves, C07 rangers and (of course) C02 wizards. Most of the miniatures in these ranges were the work of the incomparable Bob Naismith, who has perhaps the most versatility of any of Citadel's classic sculptors. Unfortunately, as Warhammer 3rd edition (1987) shifted away from role-playing to focus exclusively on battles regulated by Warhammer Armies (1988), this deep fund of individualized characters was shunted to the side.

Well, Venegeance of the Lichemaster gave me an excuse to trawl through my old collection of wizards and pick some of my favourites for La Maisontaal.



First up is the C02 Wizard "Hansat" (aka "Mergrey Calchoner" from The Tragedy of McDeath) sculpted in 1985 by Aly Morrison. He's the only miniature specifically indicated as a wizard-monk for The Vengeance of the Lichemaster by the advert in the Spring Journal 86. I love this figure -- his bald head, unassuming dress and air of authority always reminded me of "Ogion the Silent", the wise mage from Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea (1968).



This is the C02 Wizard "Casslin Spellweaver" sculpted by Aly Morrison (1987). With this miniature, you can see the colour scheme I applied for these wizard monks. Vengeance of the Lichemaster tells us that mages of the god Taal generally wear red, so I made this the primary colour. But I also wanted to connect these wizard-monks to the monk side of the equation, so I painted their cowls/hoods in the homespun brown that I used for the habits of the regular brothers (which I'll show off in my next post).



Here is the C02 Wizard "Skrole" released in 1987 and sculpted (I presume) by Aly Morrison (Although I can't find any direct attribution to Morrison, the face and robes are distinctively in his style). This miniature is the perfect encapsulation of the harried apprentice. Originally, I wanted to paint him as somewhat fresh-faced, but sometimes the brush has a will of its own, and he came out as something more sinister. The circles under his eyes suggest that he has been spending some late nights reading books that ought not to be read.



This is the C02 Wizard "Spell Master" released in 1985. I'm not sure who the sculptor is, but I would guess either Aly Morrison or Bob Naismith. In any case, this seemingly simple figure has some charming touches. I love the way he arches backward from his hips, giving even more power to his pointing hand.



Now this miniature is a bit of a mystery. I call him "Le Grand Sorcier" for lack of any official designation. He appeared under that name in Dave Andrew's iconic Bretonnian Army on page 62 of Warhammer Armies (1988). And his tab indicates that he's a Citadel sculpt. But I have been completely unable to trace the miniature to any catalog or listing on The Stuff of Legends. If you have any insights about this miniature's provenance or sculptor, please leave a comment!

By the way, on this miniature, you can clearly make out the crescent moon medallion that I tried to incorporate into all these wizard monks (including Bagrian) in order to tie them all together and associate them with the nature god Taal.

The final elements for the wizard monks of La Maisontaal are their magical treasures: the Mechanical Warrior that the abbot has constructed and the Black Ark of the Covenant that he stole in order to give life to his metal man. Unfortunately, the Citadel design team did not designate special miniatures for this either, which was a sadly missed opportunity to do something fun. However, if you look carefully at the sheet of paper counters supplied for Vengeance of the Lichemaster, however, you can see what the illustrator Tony Ackland had in mind:


Yes, the Mechanical Warrior is quite Dalek-like, although the gunstick (aka Dalek machine gun) seems to be missing.



In any case, I decided to go my own way for the Mechanical Warrior and used a converted version of "Jackbot B", which was one of the Bots released by Citadel in 1986 for the Paranoia role-playing game. This design seemed to be both brawny and goofy, which is more or less what the situation calls for.



And to portray the Black Ark of the Convenant, the casket of warpstone that can activate the Mechanical Warrior, I chose one of Citadel's C39 Treasure Chests (1984). I love this range because they are the only miniatures that I'm aware of that were sculpted by game designer and scribe Rick Priestly. With its hawk heads (or are they hieracosphinxes?), this particular chest reminded me of the cherubim on biblical ark. 

Rick Priestly as a scribe from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1986)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Vengeance of the Lichemaster: Bagrian the Master of La Maisontaal



The Vengeance of the Lichemaster from 1986 is a battle with everything: undead cavalry,  kung-fu monks, an Ark of the Covenant, the first appearance of the Skaven in print and a Dalek. It requires lots of rare Citadel miniatures, and I've just finished painting all of them. I'm happy to share the results with you over the next few weeks.


The Vengeance of the Lichemaster is the sequel to the three-battle campaign The Terror of the Lichemaster (1986) which was released by Games Workshop in a boxed set for Warhammer Fantasy Battle 2nd edition. Both were written by Rick Priestly. However, Vengeance wasn't a stand alone product but was published in that fabulous magazine, The Citadel Journal Spring 86. Vengeance provides one final battle for the Lichemaster Heinrich Kemler. But unlike Terror, which was a straightforward contest between the evil necromancer and the innocent denizens of the Frugelhorn Valley, Vengeance is a crazy three-way melee. The forces of the undead face off against a power hungry abbot and his magical monks, and both have to contend with a rampaging warband of chaos ratmen. Like any other ménage à trois, it will take up a whole afternoon and involve a lot of mess.

The scenario begins with the premise that the Heinrich Kemler successfully overcame the forces of goodness from Terror. He emerges from the Frugelhorn Valley with his undead army swollen with the freshly killed villagers and his magic powers surging to new heights. The next obstacle in his way is La Maisontaal, a monastery dedicated to the nature god Taal. Attacking this temple is especially important to the Kemler because its abbot, Bagrian, was once his collaborator back in the days when Kemler was a world-renowned master of the magical arts. However, when Kemler was branded as a heretic, weakened by his enemies and hunted across the Old World, Bagrian turned his back on him. Now that Kemler has recouped his strength, he is eager for vengeance.


Bagrian steals the Black Ark illustrated by Tony Ackland
However, when Kemler arrives at La Maisontaal, a surprise awaits him. The monastery is already aflame. A small army of Skaven have been attacking the compound all day long and are now gathering their forces for one last push. They are there because Bagrian stole something from them. He had sneaked into their hidden city, Skavenblight, and made off with one of their most holy artifacts, the Black Ark of the Covenant. After this outrage, armies of chaos ratmen had been fanning out across the land searching for the culprit. Now, finally, a Skaven wizard named Gnawdoom has pinpointed the location of the Ark with his magic seerstone. He will reclaim the Ark or die trying!

At the centre of this drama is the enigmatic figure of the abbot Bagrian. At first glance, we expect the monkish Bagrian to be a "good guy". However, on closer examination, he turns into a more ambiguous figure... a sort of mad scientist in the mold of Victor Frankenstein, C.A. Rotwang or Dr. No. And like the latter two gentlemen, he's suffered horrible injuries from his experiments leaving him with mechanical limbs (in Bagrian's case, he has a silver hand and metal plates over half of his body). And like any mad scientist worth his salt, Bagrian is obsessed with creating new life. 


In Bagrian's case, this is "the Mechanical Warrior", a metal golem with inhuman strength. Unfortunately, until now Bagrian has been unable to bring this metal shell to life. But that's why he stole the Black Ark of Skavenblight. This is "a huge chunk of solid warp-stone, pure chaos stuff that burns fiercely with its own black light" that's kept for safekeeping in a magic chest. Bagrian has been unable to open this magic chest. And he does not know that his assailant, the Skaven wizard Gnawdoom, is carrying the only key.


A detail from "Bagrian's Doom" by John Blanche, the cover art for The Citadel Journal 86

If Gnawdoom succeeds in retrieving the chest and revealing the Ark, all hell will break loose. Black lightening will flash from the artefact, incinerating his enemies. But a bolt of this energy may also strike the Mechanical Warrior... At that point, I think we can all hear Bagrian exclaim, "It's alive! IT'S ALIVE!"

Here's my rendition of Bagrian:






His miniature was originally named "Seerstone" and was part of Citadel's C02 Wizards range sculpted in 1985 by Aly Morrison. I love his outstretched hand with its mechanical hand, and the imperious expression on his face. This is Aly Morrison at his best! You can also check out some other gorgeous renditions of Bagrian by Nico and Dral.

Stay tuned and in a few days we'll meet Bagrian's wizard companions and his Mechanical Warrior, plus we'll examine one of the few miniatures ever sculpted by Rick Priestly.





 And you can see all of the miniatures from Terror of the Lichemaster here!