Wednesday, 17 March 2021

The Bold Thady Quill vs Bungus Ness - a St Patrick's Day retrospective

To celebrate St Patrick's day, I thought I'd go straight for the stereotypes, and dug out the Talisman Leprechaun from the shoebox where he's been stored recently.

In fact, he forms part of what is almost certainly my favourite little warband, painted for a game at the Foundry back in 2017.

W.B. Yeats described Leprechauns and their kind as "sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms" (probably meaning sluttish in the earlier sense of slovenly, unless there's a side to them that I hadn't realised). Rather than the usual sword-swinging hero, I thought it would be fun to summon a warband of fairies and creatures of the woods, fighting mostly with their wits and frustrating their opponents with mischief.

Painting him in the sterotypical green (rather than going for a red jacket as per Yeats' account), I dubbed my leprechaun hero "the Bold Thady Quill" after one of my favourite Cork folk songs, and played him as an Illusionist. He's backed up with some slightly more thuggish (if still diminutive) myconids from Hasslefree. Hasslefree also sent me a "tooth fairy" miniature as a free gift and I thought that would work very nicely as a companion. Finally, rounding the group out, a sprite from the Wood Elf Glade Guard plastic sprues.

One spring morning, The Bold Thady Quill and his companions set out to teach the one-eyed warlord Bungus Ness a lesson. Why? Because Bungus Ness (in fact, a Fimir painted by Orlygg) couldn't take a joke. And there's nothing worse than someone who can't take a joke. Bungus Ness terrorised the nearby villagers with his annual demand that they provide him with a bride. One year, tricked into receiving a pig slathered in make up in place of one of the daughters of the valley, Bungus Ness could not see the funny side and set out on a path of destruction.

While battle raged, The Bold Thady Quill sneaked. (This, and the other two photos of the game, are by Tom Reynolds.)

Rather than fight Bungus Ness' henchmen, he misdirected them with illusory buildings and terrified them with visions of terrifying undead creatures. (The model here is a Kelpie from Oakbound.)

Bungus Ness himself was tormented by the buzzing of the sprite, distracting him so that he was unprepared for the final attack.

With Bungus Ness gone, the villagefolk could throw off the shackles of their oppressor once and for all.

To all in Little Albion who can't take a joke: beware!

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Converting Tyranids for use in Age of Sigmar is closer to the spirit of Oldhammer than fetishising old lead

These days one of the main reasons I have facebook is to keep in touch with Oldhammer people. Personally I prefer the forum and, of course, seeing other people's blogs - but especially in these days of lockdown there's a comfort in seeing all the cool things people have painted pop up on my screen. My ambivalence about facebook partly stems from the frustrating time I had as a moderator for the Oldhammer community, and the rather poor job I did there (mea culpa), but also from the fact that in a group of 12,500 members, with varying levels of engagement and interest, it's pretty much impossible to keep a sense of oldhammer as a creative project rather than just being "old minis".

One consequence of this is the frequent ritual of someone posting "What is Oldhammer?", a debate which rolls back and forth along predictable lines before getting locked or deleted. However, this weekend there was a rather interesting twist on the theme - a post that triggered a "What is Oldhammer?" proxy war without even posing the question.

The backstory seems straightforward enough - someone on a different facebook group bought a lot of early 90s Tyranids and is pondering how they might convert them for use in AoS. News of this was posted on the Oldhammer Community group, possibly with the mischievous idea that it would get some interesting reactions! And so it proved.

The vast majority of reactions (generally in the form of memes or "heresy detected" jokes) seemed aghast that anybody would do such a thing. Where reasons were stated these included:
a) AoS is smelly;
b) miniatures should be kept in their virgin state;
c) miniatures belong to certain games and should be used for those games rather than in games for which the minis are unsuitable.

One respondent went so far as to say that metal conversions are "junk" - an opinion that would consign many Golden Demon winners and numerous pages of 'Eavy Metal to the bin.

Now, hobby gatekeeping is generally a twattish thing to do (and my ill-fated stint as moderator proved that I was an inept gatekeeper), but I can't help but feel these kinds of "that belongs in a museum!" type responses miss the point altogether.

So I thought I'd just spell out my opinion: converting tyranids for use in AoS is Oldhammer as fuck.

Oldhammer is about creativity, it's not about slavishly adhering to someone else's intellectual property. I don't know much about the world of Age of Sigmar, but if someone wants to make it their own by adding in giant bugs, then good on them!

Oldhammer is not about the purity of one particular edition of a game, nor is it about restricting yourself to miniatures from a particular era (even if it is shaped by a particular aesthetic sensibility). It's about bringing new life to old forms, whether that be playing old editions with new miniatures, playing new games with old miniatures, or anything in between.

Oldhammer is not about venerating old miniatures as some kind of 80s/early 90s relics. It's about bringing them to life, playing games and finding new stories to tell. If that means converting old lead to create something new, then I salute you.

What was that I said about gatekeeping being twattish? Ah well. Oldhammer is creativity and storytelling or it is nothing. Something like that anyway...

But wait, there's more!

Funnily enough the concept itself sent me down a corridor of nostalgia. When I was a teenager, I was pretty fanatical about coming up with new rules and concepts. And one of the ideas I was developing around the time I first dropped out of the hobby was - you guessed it - a Tyranid army list for Warhammer Fantasy Battle. A genestealer cult in the court of an Elector Count, perhaps? Spores of death falling from the skies? Ripper swarms in the sewers?

My friends shot the idea down immediately: it didn't fit with canon, I was told. And anyway, there was no way that the Warhammer World would survive such an infestation. Hormogaunts could overwhelm the planet within weeks, rapidly reproducing until there was nothing else left. Maybe they were right, but even then I kind of resented the idea that the only stories worth telling were the ones that Games Workshop had already told. Partly it was just that the absence of an insectoid race in Warhammer Fantasy seemed like a gap worth filling, but also it was the sheer apocalyptic horror of the whole thing... And such apocalyptic visions and prophecies saturate the consciousness of the medieval and renaissance societies that Warhammer plays around with.

And as Thantsants pointed out, how else would you explain what's going on in Hieronymous Bosch (take, for example, The Temptation of St Anthony)?

Look up there - death from the skies...

Monday, 1 March 2021

Scenes from Courtly Life

"The court ministers will be as powerful as the king is weak" - Simon Nicholson, Scenes from Courtly Life, White Dwarf 98

As I've mentioned before, one of the ways I've been encouraging myself to paint over lockdown has been The Monthly White Dwarf Painting Challenge. For February the challenge was to paint something found within - or inspired by - White Dwarf 98 from February 1988.

I've gone a bit left field this month. I'm trying to use these challenges as a reason to paint up miniatures that have been languishing in the leadpile, not an excuse to buy more - but it turns out I only own one miniature featured in this issue, and that's a dwarf. I've painted dwarfs the past 2 months so I wanted to try something different.

Reading through the issue, I really enjoyed Simon Nicholson's article "Scenes from Courtly Life - Courtly Characters for FRP", looking at struggles for power and influence around the throne. That inspired me to paint up two spare miniatures that might never have seen paint otherwise - they're part of the Lancastrian Command set from Perry miniatures (so at least they have the Perrys as a link to true Oldhammer greatness) and are meant to be Henry VI and the Lord High Treasurer Longstrother, though I plan to use them as a prince and his minister in a petty domain amidst the Border Princes... I figured I'd start with these miniatures and then see how the story unfolds!

Simon Nicholson's article gets us thinking about the intrigue that surrounds the throne - the messiness of human frailty and ambition. What happens when a king is old and weak? Or if a king is too strong? What role does his physician play? How do the ministers work for him or scheme against him? What goes on in his servant's chambers? Although all this is written with fantasy roleplay campaigns in mind, given that battle is so often an extension of drama at court, all of this gives narrative shape for our wargames.

Recently I've inspired by Phil Dutré's Chronicles of Lowenheim over at the Tiny Tin Men blog - he's been playing a whole solo campaign based on events generated by rolls on random charts, and it's been great reading. He's taken inspiration from Tony Bath's magisterial book Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, rolling on tables to generate the personalities that inhabit the town and shape its destiny. I wanted to take a leaf from the same book, but focussing on the Intrigue and Court and then seeing how that might give shape to a narrative. I decided to use the system Tony Bath devised using playing cards to develop the personalities for wargames campaigns:
Tony Bath's Personality Generator, from Setting Up a Wargames Campaign

The first card determines the individual's overarching characteristic:
Heart, Good Nature; Diamond, Love of Wealth; Spade, Ambition; Club, Love of War/Patriotism. The higher the card, the more intense this characteristic.

Then, deal 7 additional cards detailing the personality:
Ace: Spade or Club, a disloyal intriguer. Diamond, loyal intriguer. Heart, exceptional good nature. (A reversed ace signifies a hunchback or cripple)
King: Spade or Club, Energy. Heart or Diamond, Courage
Queen: Great lover
Knave: Spade/Club, Unreliability, oath-breaker, liar. Heart/Diamond, Merciless, revenge-prone
Ten: Loyality (Absolute loyalty in Diamonds, grading down through Hearts, Clubs, Spades.)
Nine: Physical beauty, except for Spade, which is Ugliness
Eight Spade/Club, Cruelty. Heart/Diamond, Generosity.
Seven: Spade/Club, Personality. Heart/Diamond, Jealous of Family Honour.
Six: Spade/Club, Lazyness. Heart/Diamond, Charm
Five: Spade/Club, Wisdom. Heart/Diamond, Cunning.
Four: Spade/Club, Stupidity. Heart/Diamond, Cowardice.
Three: Spade/Club, Bad Temper. Heart/Diamond, Good temper.
Two: Spade/Club, Arrogance, pride. Heart/Diamond, Merciful.

Resolve any inconsistencies using common sense!

I love a good random generation table, so before I started painting up my two guys, I grabbed a pack of cards:

So, first I deal the cards for the Prince. The card that determines the overarching characteristic is a heart - ok, so we have a good-natured ruler. Then, the other seven personality cards. Straight away, an ace of hearts - EXCEPTIONAL good nature! How lovely for his subjects! The rest of the cards: stupid, energetic, beautiful, cowardly, good temper.

Alright, not sure what I can do about beautiful (as you can see, I'm not a miracle worker with a paintbrush!), but the picture is clear enough: we've got a kindly but dim man, full of ambitious plans for his people but too cowardly to venture out much beyond the castle walls.

Now for his trusted minister. First card out is a diamond - so his overarching motivation is a love of wealth. Now let's see what the rest of the cards tell us: disloyal intriguer (!), wisdom, bad temper, cruel, unreliable/oath-breaker/liar.

Wow - that's almost a pantomime bad guy! Sneaky, cruel, smart but deceitful, and with a tendency to fly into a rage!

Quite a contrast between the two fellows! From here the story almost writes itself: the minister is a ruthless operator, taking advantage of a kind (but thick) prince. For his own enrichment, he has been embezzling charitable funds that had been meant for the realm's sick and poor. What terrible wickedness will the minister employ to stop his corruption from becoming public knowledge?

To be continued...