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...