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.