Monday, 24 March 2014

Of Black Shuck, and other terrors

"They do speak of a dog that walks regular. His eyes are big as saucers and blaze wi' fire. He is fair as big as a pony, and his coat is all skeffy-like, a shaggy coat across. He has a lane, and a place out of which he come, and he vanish when he hev gone far enough." - account of a demonic dog near Garveston in Norfolk, from Enid Porter's Folklore of East Anglia.

"Black Shuck, that dog don't give a fu.." - The Darkness, minstrels of Lowestoft

Yesterday saw another nice little gathering of OGRE, the East Anglian regional oldhammer group, with an exciting 3 way battle between Dwarves, Wood Elves, and Fimir around a polluted river. Pictures and a battle report of that encounter to come, but in the meantime I thought I'd keep ya'll updated with the latest additions to my fimir force.

In trying to create an East Anglian theme for my Fen-dwelling fimir, I'm always on the lookout for inspiration from regional folklore. One of the most widespread stories that spread around East Anglia (and to a certain extent persists to this day) is that of a giant ferocious black dog, with glowing demonic eyes - known locally as "Black Shuck".

On the morning of Sunday, 4 August 1577, the people of Bungay were at prayer in their local parish church. The sky was darkened, and a storm had broken, pounding the windows and doors with heavy rain. It was as though hell had broken loose - and then, from out the gates of hell, a beast as black as the storm smashed through the door and launched itself fast as lightning down the nave. Passing between two of the townsfolk kneeling in prayer, it tore into their neck and killed them in an instant. He then launched into a third man, striking him on the back and causing him to shrivel up like leather scorched in the fire, before bounding out as quickly as he had entered. To this day, the scorchmarks from the hellish hound's claws can be seen on the church door.

Another tale of Black Shuck concerns a small blind boy standing with his sister on Thetford Bridge. the blind boy said to his sister: "Please send the big dog away", to which his sister replied, "What dog? There's no dog here." Suddenly the girl felt her brother being pulled away from her and into the water, and only managed to whisk him away home and to safety in the knick of time. Black Shuck's association with the water comes through in many other stories, including the tale of an old lady in Blickling, who told the village parson, "Don't you know that when Arthur was fishing in the lake, he caught an enormous fish and that, when it was landed, a great black dog came out of its mouth? They could never get rid of that dog, who kept going round and round in circles inside the house, till they send for a wise man from London, who opposed the straight lines of the partitions to the lines of the cricles and so quieted the dog. But if these young people pull down the partitions, they will let the dog loose again".

If my fimir force are a manifestation of East Anglian nightmares - the creatures that emerge from the mist and drag you screaming into the fens - it seems clear that I should do something to represent the nightmare of hellish dogs as black as the night and with red glowing eyes. Luckily for me, I'd just picked up for very little a couple of plastic GW sets that someone leaving the 'Games Workshop hobby' was getting rid of, and one of the boxes he was getting rid of were Fenrisian Wolves for a 40K Space Wolf army - perfect to use as Chaos Hounds on the cheap, and fitting the description of Black Shuck quite well.

Can't quite get the glowing eyes in the picture. Need a better camera! But you get the idea. I can imagine the people of albion huddled behind the barred door of an inn, waiting for the sound of the scratching of claws...

I also made a couple of other additions to the force while I was at it - my first attempt at painting a Nick Bibby fimir - this one can act as my warlord. Also, I decided for the scenario we needed a crude war altar. For that purpose I painted up the top of the heroquest rack model, and put it on the backs of two shearl (thralls from Oakbound miniatures' "The Woods" range of Myeri Marsh Demons)

Again, not a great picture, here's another one, this time from yesterday's battle - unfortunately in this picture you can also see my Warlord legging it! Why has he turned and fled? Well, you'll have to wait for my next post to find out!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Highlanders for the Oldhammer Challenge; or, Albion as a campaign setting

(Arthur Rackham's illustration of the Scots Ballad Twa Corbies)

So I've loads of different projects on the go right now, trying to get things ready for games in the near future. But as I said in my last post, I've been inspired by Whiskey Priest's Oldhammer Challenge. In his words:
"Let's do something to show that it's all about the game and camaraderie rather than the rules and the figures. We each make a warband - a tiny army - a posse, based in the Warhammer world. A maximum of 21 figures. Two units of 10 and a hero or any similar configuration. You are entirely free to do what you want! The figures must be either a) insultingly cheap from ebay or b) easily bought from current manufacturer."

Preach on, Whiskey Priest! And I've been so inspired by this that I've decided it's time to paint these guys:

I can imagine people clucking their tongues and rolling their eyes. "Are you completely thick? Did you not read what Whiskey Priest wrote? Are you just trying to contradict him and prove that oldhammer IS elitist and exclusionary and about wasting money on ebay? Are you just trying to spit in his face and kick him in the bollocks, &c. &c.?"

Well, ok, hear me out. So yes, these are the clansmen from McDeath. They're oop, and although I didn't pay stupid money for them on ebay, they don't fall into the "insultingly cheap" category. So what relevance does this possibly have to Whiskey Priest's challenge? The thing is, for Christmas I was given a bunch of the Warlord Games Highland Clansmen from their Pike and Shotte range. There are some very characterful minis in this range - especially in their "Highlander Arrant Scum" selection. The obvious thing to do? To use these to supplement the expensive and hard to find Citadel McDeath highlanders and show how you can put together an East of Albion force using minis that out there at the moment, alongside just a small handful of oop masterpieces to satisfy the inner archaeogamer.

So this is the start of my warband: 4 Citadel McDeath highlanders; 7 Warlord Games highlanders; and 1 Black Tree Design "Jamie McCrimmon" from the Doctor Who range, who I've given a sickle from S&D models (a company that makes railway scenery accessories).

And to summarise, my reasons for choosing these for the challenge:
1) I already own them, so this is a chance to paint stuff from the leadpile rather than buy new minis.
2) It demonstrates how one can combine old and new minis to do even something as "old school" as McDeath.
3) It feeds into my current fascination, which is using Albion as a campaign setting. And the rest of this post will be about that.

Albion as a campaign setting

In GW's official material, Albion has shapeshifted a lot. Here's the depiction that oldhammerheads know and love from the 1986 campaign pack "The Tragedy of McDeath":

McDeath deals with just one chunk of Albion - East Albion, which, inspired by Macbeth mixed with a heavy dose of the cultural stereotyping that gives shape to the Warhammer world, is a land inhabited by clan-based kilt-wearing porridge-eating caber-tossing highlanders, living alongside militant trade unionist dwarf miners, mercenary orcs, treemen, and others. This is the Albion that inspires my warband.

Then fastforward to 1991 and the Warhammer novel Storm Warriors by Brian Craig:

Here, the map is a clear approximation of the British Isles, but Albion is divided into 4 separate islands, Great Albion, Albany, Morien, and Aeryn, meaning that England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland each get their own individual island (thus allowing for further stereotyping - just non-comedic in form - by the GW stereotype factory.) From the extracts I've read, the culture described is a predominantly celt-inspired one, and the source of tension in the novel is the arrival of an "alien culture" of sinister immigrant sea elves.

The "Albion as multiple islands" model from Storm Warrior is also used in the following map, which Zhu Bajie has traced back to the (now defunct) Warhammer FRP site "Critical Hit"; bit of Anglo-Saxon thrown in here for good measure:

It's the pre-Roman celtic flavour predominates in the release of the "Giants of Albion", along with druid, as part of the Dogs of War army in the 5th edition era; Albion is the land of ancient Ogham stones and ancient magical forces; mysterious land of myth - at least, until the arrival of the Tilean "Curious Gesar". Then came the 2001 "Dark Shadows" campaign, in which Albion was a single misty, rainy, blighted isle to which Truthsayers (good druids) and Dark Emissaries (naughty druids) summoned great forces; Albion became a battlefield between order and chaos, ripping the land apart.

Here's the map from the start of that campaign:

Now the fact that there's so much variety in the background is a really good thing for the oldhammer gamer, in my opinion, because it leaves Albion open for our own creative imaginations. Let's strip it down to basics.

Deep History
The idea that Albion is home to an older civilisation - as evidenced by the Ogham stones - I think gives a deep rooted mystery to the landscape. I've always found interesting the idea that when the Romans left Britain, they left behind structures that nobody knew how to repair; similarly, I feel that Albion should be full of unsettling reminders that there was something here before, and it's something that we don't understand. Druidic and bardic religious knowledge tries to piece together these mysteries and interpret the landscape.

The key dynamic of any campaigning land is its landscape and in Albion, we have a land of highlands and lowlands; mountains and marshes, hills and mires. The highland clans of the East of Albion (as per McDeath), then, might be distinct from the more town-minded lowlanders, who trade with the Empire and are therefore far more cosmopolitan in their outlook. Yet the lowlanders are surrounded by the sinister bogs and fens where the Fimir dwell; and attempts to drain the marshes to create fertile farmland and increase the wealth of the kingdoms have led to increasing numbers of Fimir raids.

The sea, the sea
As a land surrounded by sea, Albion would have a history of settlement, trading, and raiding. Norse from the west and Sea Elves from the east would send ships to the shore; their motives sometimes peaceful, oftentimes not.

I'll probably type up more of my thoughts at a a later date, but I'm deliberately keeping this to bare bones, because I think the storytelling should come through gaming. Anyway, I hope it gives you the sense that when I'm painting up this bunch of guys in kilts, it's not just about the figures, the nostalgia, or the ruleset - it's about the story, and thinking about the world they inhabit and the way they link up with the other forces I have is all part of that process of storybuilding.

What do other people think about Albion as a campaign setting? Have I missed any key essentials out? Anyone else want to play a game there?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Reinforcements for Clan Slea

From across the mire, the sound of doom. The moaning that haunted nightmares, nightmares of the mist that came out of the marsh and left devastation. Nightmares of slaughter, of wives and daughters stolen away. The godless wailing.

"They're playing those bloody bagpipes again..."

Finally finished painting up the wonderful Oakbound Games Marsh Demon Clubtails, sculpted by Fimm McCool - as these sculpts come unarmed, weapons are from Hasslefree miniatures (axes) and thebattleforge (clubs). Still working out what to do for basing (the gravel on the bases of the rest of my army was just an interim solution to get them to battle quickly), but other than that, ready to go. The skintone is the same as those I painted up for blog-con - a shade that my missus has described as "the colour of elastoplasts". These one eyed beauties(??) will allow me to bulk out Clan Slea with another unit of Fimm Warriors, and I especially love the command group with bagpiper, who I've given a nice tartan kilt. Alas, can't get the focus on it to give you a picture, so you'll have to take my word for it for now. In the meantime, here's a picture of the whole clan so far:

So what next? Well, I've got a big backlog of painting projects. Chaos warband needs to get done... I've finally got my delivery of daleks from Black Tree miniatures and there's loads of work to be getting on with there... But in addition to all of that I've been inspired by Whiskey Priest's Oldhammer Challenge and I at least want to make a start assembling the warband for that (using unpainted lead that I already own, as I'm on a purchasing moratorium for a little while!). So that'll be the subject of my next post, hopefully not too far in the future...