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.