Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bob Olley's Black Orcs: the best of Iron Claw Miniatures

It has taken me 3 years and much treasure to collect all 12 of the original IC601 Black Orcs sculpted by Bob Olley and released by Iron Claw in 1988. Immediately upon receiving the last orc in the mail, I set to work painting them. From priming to final varnish, it took me one month. I was anxious to add some muscle to the anemic ranks of my small orc army, Krapfang's Backwood Bandits. But more than that, I was looking forward to creating a colour scheme that would do these very odd miniatures justice.

Black Orcs by Iron Claw Miniatures, IC601 (sculpted by Bob Olley, 1988)

As I discussed last week, the virtue and vice of all Olley miniatures from the mid-1980's is that his sculptures rarely blend with other Warhammer miniatures. His figures are squat, swollen and big-headed. But they are also textured, bizarre and arresting. For my purposes, I relished the clash of styles. Black Orcs are supposed to be a separate race from their green-skinned cousins, so the strange, hairy physiognomy of Olley's figures would underline this biological fact. Indeed, I wanted my Black Orcs to stand out like super-beings from the rest of my army.

I tried to make my painting as strange as the miniatures themselves. The organizing idea of my paint job was a juxtaposition between the dark skin and dirty furs on one hand -- and on the other hand, a tight pattern of ultraviolet colours for armour, shields and accents. The skin tone is Vallejo's "USA Olive Drab" with small additions of orange for lips, pink for pimples and pale green for other highlights. I tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) to keep the skin tones mellow. Meanwhile, the blues and purples were meant to give these villains the illusion of phosphorescence, like a glowing fungus in a cave.

Painting a Bob Olley miniature is a constant process of discovery, as you notice new flourishes and artistry, especially around the face. I had a blast with their flabby lips, exposed gums, overbites, underbites and boils. At times, I felt like these models were painting themselves, since the highly textured surface would take highlights with very little effort -- I just had to let the brush find its own way across the surface of the skin and fur. From soup to nuts, they were a pleasure to paint. Thanks, Mr. Olley!

UPDATE March 2015: For another take on painting Bob Olley's Black orcs, check out Goblin Lee's superb, Tolkien-inspired set.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bob Olley and Iron Claw: the Weird Turn Pro

Bob Olley was the most artistic miniature sculptor during Citadel's golden age of the mid-1980's. I wouldn't say he was the best sculptor; that is a matter of taste. Nor was he the most popular (I've seen his sculptures described as "chubby" and "fungoid"). And he certainly wasn't the most prolific - he only created a handful of ranges, including Norse Dwarves, Skeletons, Space Pirates, and (my favourite) Black Orcs.

Black Orc by Iron Claw Miniatures, IC601 (sculpted by Bob Olley, 1988)

So why is Olley the most artistic? Oscar Wilde said "art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known". If you take this as a rough definition of art, then Olley was a true artist. Most Citadel minis reflect the world of Warhammer. Bob Olley's miniatures reveal something about Bob Olley. Something weird. He combined an idiosyncratic sculpting style with a fevered vision of the fantastic. The resulting body of work is totally different from that of his peers.Whether you like them or not, you know a Bob Olley sculpture the moment you see it.

Olley didn't work in the studio with the other Citadel sculptors, which may have insulated him from their influence. In any case, I think Olley's individual style is the reason why, starting in 1987, Olley's miniatures were produced by Citadel but released under Olley's own label, Iron Claw. His strangely proportioned and hyper-textured models didn't fit in with any other range. And indeed, I think this limited his popularity: Olley's miniatures stuck out from other Citadel miniatures like visitors from another dimension.

But popularity isn't everything. What I prize in a miniature is a sense of personality, combined with true imagination. Olley has both qualities by the spoonful. Heads and hands are the most expressive element to any miniature, and one of Olley's hallmarks is over-sizing these features. His huge faces attract the viewer's eye, and give him a broad canvass to turn each miniature into a character (often, a very funny character). 

The other hallmark of Iron Claw miniatures is a deeply carved texture. This gives the minis a layered effect, with shaggy furs, warty skin and thick beards piled on top of each other. In this sense, Olley was a master at translating the defining artwork of John Blanche and Gary Chalk into lead.

In my view, Olley's artistic flare is emphasized by the fact that he didn't actually need to sculpt that way. He's perfectly capable of making miniatures that look like everyone else's miniatures when he wants to. There are dozens examples of "normal" looking miniatures in his body of work, although I own only one of them: the Demonic Lasher from Reaper Miniatures (2003). 

This miniature is another example of Olley capturing the essence of a great fantasy illustrator -- in this case, the sketch of the demon prince Demogorgon from first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual (1977). It's a pretty odd concept for a miniature, but Olley's sculpt is no weirder than the original picture by David Sutherland III (aka DCS). All of which is to say, I love this mini, but it doesn't have the eccentric carving style of a true Olley.

Demogorgon, Prince of Demons

Next week, I'll feature a full set of Bob Olley's true originals: the Black Orcs he produced for Iron Claw in 1988.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oldhammer Battle Report: Orcs vs. Skaven

Despite collecting miniatures, painting miniatures, and writing about miniatures all the time, I haven't actually gotten a chance to play 3rd edition Warhammer for over 15 years. So I was delighted when my fellow Oldhammer fanatic, 24_Cigarettes, asked out of the blue if I wanted to meet up in Toronto and throw a game together. His beautifully painted and based Skaven Army, Clan Scourge, showed up at my house yesterday with half-a-case of beer and a bottle of whisky, and we set to work.

The home team was represented by my 1000 point Orc army, Krapfang's Backwood Bandits. For those of you out there who are curious about how to throw together a deadly orc force, I encourage you to skip over the following army list, which betrays my utter lack of experience at actually trying to beat anyone in a game. My orcs eschew everything that would actually help them win: magic ("no sissy stuff"), goblin fanatics ("dey harsh da mellow") and war machines ("wot, are yoo lot stunties?"). I just wanted a big army that got the maximum amount of my lead on the table.

Gritstool's Nasty Gits get ready for the coming battle with the rat-men

Krapfang's Backwood Bandits

Krapfang's Tin Kan Kommandoes
14 Orc Bigguns (+1 elites) with light armour, shields, spears + standard bearer and musician
(168 pts)

Lead by Krapfang Toothshyte, Lvl. 15 Orc hero with light armour and shield
(91 pts)

Gritstool's Nasty Gits
9 Orc Boyz with light armour, shields, spears + standard bearer and musician
(104.5 pts)

Lead by Captain Gritstool the Uncongenial, Lvl. 5 Orc hero with light armour and shield
(36 pts)

Harboth's Black Mountain Boyz
10 Orc Arrer Boyz with bows, shields + standard bearer and musician
(102 pts)

Vape Softbladder's Gobbo Greatmob
19 Gobbos with javelins, shields + standard bearer and musician
(73.5 pts)

Lead by Prince Vape Softbladder, Lvl. 15 Goblin with shield
(41 pts)

Smarmy's Swift Backtrakkers
10 Goblin Stikkas with short bows
(35 pts.)

Warspoor's Wulfboyz
8 Gobbo Wulfboyz with spears + standard bearer and musician
(100 pts)

Rotwang Bawbag the Giant
(250 pts)

Total = 1001 points

The orcs deploy in a long line while the Skaven player positions his Clanrats in a tight formation. The Giant anchors the orc middle. This was a mistake.

On the other hand, Clan Scourge was a model of elegant design. It was certainly not the work of rules-lawyer or a win-at-all-costs competitor, Rather, 24_Cigarettes' Skaven army was simple, balanced and very ratty. The centerpiece of his force was two huge units of Clanrats, each bolstered with a Clan Skyre Warpfire Thrower (to punish the orcs for keeping their distance) and a Clan Pestilens Plague Censor Bearer (to punish the orcs for getting too close).  

"Arl need 'nuther cider fore I bash dem ratters."

The battle started off with my Giant Rotwang failing his drunkenness roll and showing up for the battle snozzled. Instead of charging into the ratters like a good boy, he sort of staggered toward stage left, giving the Skaven Warpsquealer time to cast Cause Panic upon him. Under the influence of this spell, Rotwang caught a terrifying glimpse of sobriety and booked it off the battlefield. The rest of my army marched doggedly up the centre and into a hurricane of Skaven flame, fumes and Jezzail shot. Only a feeble green rump emerged from this onslaught, and it was no match for the massive phalanxes of unhurt Clanrats. A daring flank attack by Warspoor's Gobbo Wulfboyz offered a glimmer of redemption, but it was only a glimmer: the tide of rats swamped the orcs and drove them from the field. 

The orcs attempt to flank the skaven, but are decimated on the right by the fiery weapons of Clan Skyre and menaced on the left by the rat ogres of Clan Moulder.

"Oi boss! Why are doz big 'airy finks coming dis way?"

From the safety of the far left flank, the small unit of goblin archers watches the rest of the army getting eaten. In their extreme terror, they have a vision of a cider.

Besides being beaten like a gong, I had a great afternoon. Seeing two carefully painted armies on a table is among the most satisfying feelings I know (leaving unnamed a few other satisfying feelings). To make matters even better, 24_Cigarettes is a mensch, and I can now look forward to many future afternoons of drinking and fighting. I just need to work on army design, and keeping my Giant (if not myself) on the wagon.

UPDATE: Check out my opponent's write-up of the same battle (including his Skaven army list) here: Full Ashtray Gaming

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gothic Horror meets Eldtritch Horror

After I finished my first game of Fantasy Flight Games latest Cthulhu boardgame, Eldritch Horror, I was certain of two things. First, it was the best Lovecraftian boardgame that I've ever seen, leaving earlier attempts (like Arkham Horror) in the dust.

Second, I was now in the grips of a compulsion to paint a proper set of miniatures to match the characters in this excellent game. That's when I started obsessively collecting miniatures from Citadel's Gothic Horror range. I love trawling through eBay and the Stuff of Legends, looking for the perfect miniature to capture in vintage lead the characters portrayed in a modern game.

Below you can see the results: twelve miniatures representing characters for Eldritch Horror, juxtaposed to the illustrations from the game that inspired the minis' selection and colour scheme.

Heroine (variant) (1986), Lady Jane (1987), and Female Detective (1987) from Citadel Miniature's Gothic Horror range

FFG's illustrations for Trish Scarborough (the spy), Lola Hayes (the actress), and Jacqueline Fine (the psychic) (illustrations by Magali Villeneuve)

Eldritch Horror is so successful because it doesn't merely throw a random collection of monsters at the heroes, but gives them a sense that they are dealing with a worldwide conspiracy. In fact, Eldritch Horror is the first boardgame that I've played that condenses many of the best elements of a Call of Cthulhu role-playing campaign into a single session lasting just a couple hours. Just like grand CoC adventures like The Masks of Nyarlothotep (1984) or Shadows of Yog-Sothoth (1982), the characters can travel across the globe searching for clues in remote jungles or exotic cities -- or they can stay put in New England, rambling through Arkham and researching forbidden spells. Playing the game, you have a delightfully Lovecraftian sense of having many choices, but few good options.

Fighting Man (modified with eyepatch) (1986) and Down & Out (1987) from Citadel Miniature's Gothic Horror range. Cagney (circa 1987) from Citadel Miniature's LE3 Gumshoe range

FFG's illustrations for Silas March (the sailor), Norman Withers (the astronomer) and Mark Harrigan (the soldier) 

In the 1980's, miniature manufacturers didn't have the same zest for multiculturalism that pervades the modern gaming industry. So I had to wander a little further afield to find suitable miniatures for some of the characters, especially the women. The shaman and cultist are preslotta minis from Citadel's underated C30 Amazon range. And the martial artist is a modern sculp by Kev White of Hasslefree Miniatures. (I adore Hasslefree's clean, simple sculpting style. It also offers a great range of female characters. Highly recommended).

 Sisterhood Novice (1984) and Mother Samantha (1984) from Citadel Miniature's C30 Amazon range. Meiying (date unknown) from Hasselfree Miniatures Modern Martial Artist range

FFG's illustrations for Diane Stanley (the redeemed cultist), Akachi Onyele (the shaman) and Lily Chen (the martial artist) 

Another great source of Lovecraftian miniatures is Wargames Foundry. They don't have a dedicated Cthulhu range, but their huge and eclectic collection of miniatures offers many intriguing possibilities, including Tim Prow's Victorians, the Old West, British in Africa, and Egyptian Adventure (also by Tim Prow). Not only are they lovely, characterful sculptures in their own right, but they also harmonize nicely in scale and style with the Gothic Horror range. No surprise there, since Wargames Foundry is the true heir to the Citadel of the mid-1980's.

Fiddler (date unknown) from Wargames Foundry's Old West City Slickers range. Explorer (1986) and Professor Casting Spell (1987) from Citadel Miniature's Gothic Horror range

FFG's illustrations for Jim Culver (the musician), Leo Anderson (the expedition leader) and Charlie Kane (the politician) 

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Citadel Gothic Horror Miniatures

Call of Cthulhu, in my view, is the greatest role-playing game devised by hand or pseudopod. First published in 1981, Call of Cthulhu was an early entrant on the field of role-playing games, and in the intervening 33 years (and 7 editions) it really hasn't changed that much. It's like the shark: a primitive animal that didn't need to evolve, because it was born deadly.

The games follow an arc that never gets boring: bookish heroes unwillingly learn that below the facade of polite society lurks conspiracy and madness. As they take up the battle against the conspiracy, they find themselves going a little mad too. The rational tools of research, deduction and inquiry descend into a climax of paranoia, overreaction and hysteria. In the face of unnameable horrors, the characters abandon themselves to suicide and sawed-off shotguns. It's like grad school all over again.

Games Workshop had an early role in popularizing Call of Cthulhu: Starting in 1983, White Dwarf began publishing a series of excellent articles and adventures, quickly becoming the first main organ for CoC. Even better, in 1986, Citadel Miniatures released the Gothic Horror range of miniatures, which added an alternative to the primitive sculpts offered by Ral Partha. Another gorgeous contribution to the game was GW's Halls of Horror (1986): a set of floor plans drawn to the same scale as the miniatures (prefiguring floor plan games like Betrayal at the House on the Hill or Mansions of Madness). Sadly, the only thing Citadel failed to do was release a range of Cthuloid monsters, like Elder Things or Shoggoths.

I love the Halls of Horror floor plans (two of which are featured here) precisely because they have an illustrated feel, bringing the game board into a story-book realm that matches the larger-than-life style of the Citadel Gothic Horror miniatures. The details in these rooms also exemplify the goofy black humour of GW's heyday: spooky portraits, heads in jars, and lots of taxidermy. 

My happiest role-playing experiences have all arisen from Call of Cthulhu: grand campaigns that spanned generations of characters and villains. But for reasons which have never been clear to me, I've never used miniatures in any of my games. This is something I've decided to remedy, by finding and painting as much of Citadel's Gothic Horror range that I can find. More pictures to come!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pig Faced Orcs: Off the Endangered Species List

As a coda to my series on the evolution of orcs, I'd like to return to the pig faced orc. As other scholars of orcish lore have already noted, the pig faced orc's origins can be traced back to the wonderful Tolkien illustrations of the Brothers Hildebrandt (1976) or, even to the Goons in Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959). However, it was Gary Gygax and Dave Sutherland who established pig faced orcs as part of the fantasy role-playing canon, by making them the official sponsor villain of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (circa 1977). Perhaps the apex of this orc's fame was the Return of the Jedi (1983), when they made a cameo appearance as Jabba the Hutt's guards. Sure, they were called "Gamorreans" and not orcs, but if it walks like a pig, and squeals like a pig, then it's probably a pig.*

Unfortunately, the pig faced orc was not long to enjoy such fame. The other illustrators of AD&D rarely followed Sutherland's cue. Similarly, few miniature sculptors carved orcs in this style (with the central exception of Minifigs), especially as Citadel's bald and underbitten orc climbed to the top of the foodchain. As later editions of D&D came and went, the pig faced orc seemd to go extinct.

Seemed to go extinct... but not quite. In the last few years, the pig-faced orc has made a triumphant comeback. I think most of the credit has to be given to Otherworld Miniatures, who had the vision to commission some of the most talented sculptors in the field to produce new miniatures inspired "by the iconic imagery of the early role-playing games". Among their first line of minis was the fantastic range of pig-faced orcs, sculpted by Kev Adams and featured (with my paint job) here.

Otherworld Miniature are the other white meat.

But that's not all. Wargames Foundry is selling a new line of pig faced orcs sculpted by John Pickford for their new fantasy wargame, God of Battles. (I find JP's orcs more snouty than piggy, but pork is in the eye of the beholder.) Best of all, however, it appears that Dungeons and Dragons is readopting the pig faced orc as their monster of choice. In 5th edition D&D, orcs are now described as
having "stooped postures, low foreheads, and pig-like faces with prominent lower canines that resemble a boar’s tusks." Piggies returning to D&D? That's what I call the circle of life.

Ultimately, I attribute the survival of the pig faced orc to the same love of early gaming that has brought us Oldhammer. Yet it is not merely nostalgia. There is a powerful villany in the pig faced orc. Your run-of-the-mill green orc may be scary, but pig faced orcs are deeply weird. They represent our world rebelling against us. What we eat is now going to eat us. Oink oink.


*Or it's Ned Beatty.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Orctober: Harboth's Orc Archers

If you can't already tell by the nostalgia rages that often engulf this blog, I'm a fan of classic, 1980's style Warhammer. But there's one issue on which I part company with the canon. I've never been able to swallow the bright green of traditionally painted orcs. After GW introduced Citadel Inks in 1988, things only got worse -- Eavy Metal began recommending that orcs be glazed in yellow ink, which only added to their glow (see White Dwarf #100 for example). These orcs seemed too goddamn healthy to me, as if they were about to suspend rampaging and try their hand at photosynthesis. 

Nope, for me, Orcs should be green, but it should be an unwholesome green -- the colour of a damp rug or a forsaken tub of yogurt. To showcase my pigment of choice, in this Ortober post I'm presenting my rendition of Harboth's Orc Archers, sculpted by Kev "Goblin Master" Adams and released in 1987.

Above is the command section. I painted the skin tones in five shades, starting with (the old) GW Catachan Green as the base layer. For the next shade, I added a little GW Rotting Flesh to the mix, and a little more for the next layer, finally working all they way up to 80% Rotting Flesh as the highest of highlights.

Another issue I struggle with in orcs is ornamentation. Traditional Games Workshop orcs (especially when painted by the Eavy Metal crew or Kevin Adams himself) often featured bright shields with leering faces of extraordinary artistry. First, I don't have that talent for these embellishments. But second, I think your average goblinoid marauder would spend less time accessorizing and more time eating prisoners. So my orcs tend to be less flashy. The leaders sometimes sport looted gear (like Harboth's striped pants) but in general, their equipment is simple and in bad repair. I try to add interest to the miniature through rust effects and other signs of wear.

The rank and file are a mixture of original Harboth boyz, plus some other vintage orc archers who took my fancy. I don't like my orcs looking too uniform...

Their traditional battle cry is "Pulp the stunties!"