Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Creating your own characters

If you enjoy the narrative element of wargaming, having a story behind a character or unit can genuinely enhance the games in which you use them. I’ve touched on this before when I talked about why I thought it was a good idea to create your own backstories, but with this post I’ll talk specifically about how I create characters in an attempt to be more helpful than polemical. Writing a character can be very in-depth if you’re so inclined (I often am) but for now, I’ll endeavour to keep things simple. Not I Am Sam simple; probably Forrest Gump simple. I don’t wanna go full retard here.

Don't be too hard on me, Kirk. Please. 

People are understandably cynical about anything that can be identified as ‘formulaic,’ but all the same, a lot of those formulas exist for a good reason. If you want to create a nuanced, lifelike characterisation for your army’s general/chapter master/head boss person thing, then the following advice will only be the start, but a good start nevertheless. On the most basic level, every character needs the following:

·         Concept
·         Defining quality
·         Defining flaw
·         Name

In any other medium, that list would also include a want/desire, but in a wargame, that character's want/desire will probably change depending on the scenario/campaign/situation.

Now, why is ‘name’ last? Because names often communicate a lot of what you want to say about a character without any actual descriptions, so it can be helpful to know what you want to say. It’s absolutely fine to have a name first if you’re slapped in the happies by inspiration, of course. The Important thing is that you end up with all four of these things, not just three.

Unfortunately, characters are often written without flaws. I used to make this mistake. If you’re trying to do justice to a character you love, there’s often a temptation to make him Amazingnor of the Uberpeople, but weirdly, the net result is that no-one will like him. Or her. Sorry, Amazingnor just didn’t sound like a lady. Maybe a butch lady. Amazingnora? Amazing Nora just sounds like Wonder Woman’s semi-glamorous assistant. HONK! Oops, there’s the tangent klaxon.

Getting back on track, here are some examples from my Empire army:

CONCEPT: Grizzled, no-frills Templar Grand Master
QUALITY: Relentless in pursuing his duty
FLAW: Will use any tactic, no matter how dirty, immoral or psychotic
NAME: Erhard von RĂ¼diger

CONCEPT: Dashing young captain
QUALITY: Cares about the men under his command
FLAW: Vanity
NAME: Oskar Brandt

CONCEPT: Grumpy old Warrior Priest
QUALITY: Experienced
FLAW: Cynical to the point of offensiveness
NAME: Brother Fabian

CONCEPT: Intimidating Battle Wizard
QUALITY: Self-reliance
FLAW: A barely-restrained temper coupled with the ability to kill someone with a twitch of her fingers.

These are all extremely basic character concepts, but it’s interesting what a difference it makes to emphasise their biggest flaw as much as their biggest strength; to my mind, it makes a more interesting characterisation than, for example, Marneus Calgar. Calgar does have a flaw, according to the Codex: pride. But his description goes, “he’s amazing, he’s amazing, he’s badass, he’s amazing, also he’s a bit proud, he’s amazing.” Now obviously he should be amazing, he’s an Astartes Chapter Master, but if you take something too far, it becomes bland in its excessiveness, and that flaw gets lost amongst the noise.

The Governator hears you think him nuance-free.
He is most displeased. 

So, once you have your concept, quality, flaw and name, what might you do next? Well, you might pen their actual story, for one thing. Note that none of the flaws/qualities mentioned above have any narrative element – they are simply characteristics. To put those things into a narrative context is, generally, to explain those traits. Why does Amelia have such a vicious temper? How does Brother Fabian’s cynicism affect the faith of the people around him?

Equally, a more detailed characterisation would include multiple qualities and multiple flaws. It would include their greatest achievements and their greatest failures. It would ask not just about their adult lives, but their childhoods as well. If you fancy a more fleshed-out characterisation, answering the following questions may help as well:

What do they want?
To what extent are they educated?
Where do their talents lie?
What are they really bad at?
What frightens them?
What secrets do they keep?

It goes without saying that there are loads more questions that could be asked, but if you can answer the ones already mentioned, you’ve definitely got a character. How unique or interesting they are doesn’t really matter for gaming purposes; they’re your character, and if you let them make some of the decisions in your games, the whole thing comes to life.


Monday, 21 January 2013

Five to Beam Down

Hello All, it seems like the bunker has been on a bit of a fantasy binge lately with everyone focusing on getting their campaign armies up to strength. Since I am a cheeky whatshisname and got the undead up on their feet months ago I've been beavering away quietly on my 40k project. As you might remember at the beginning of the year I decided to resurrect my Dark Angels armies and began painting the odd unit every so often.

Now that the big Gee Dubyah have unleashed a new codex and Dark Vengeance on the world, my Dangles have been getting some love.

Dangles you say? Shush! It's their official, top secret code name for the imminent Nerd Thunder 4: The Guns of Nuvverork. For those who don't know, Nerd Thunder is the Beard Bunker's annual road trip to Warhammer World to play an enormous game of 40k. Go read Charlie's lovely write up of last year's game. Go on, go read while I bribe Charlie with empty promises of toffee to do the magic photo box thing.


Awesome :D

Charlie: Oh yeah, yeah, "magic photo box thing," sure, NO PROBLEM. It's not
like the models worked on a black background, so it had to be white, and do you
know what's really easy to cut out of a white background? Yeah, that's right,
white armour. Or better yet, a model painted almost ENTIRELY white. Or EVEN
BETTER, a WHOLE ***ING SQUAD OF **** ********** **** *******
****** DANGLES ********* ****** MANGOES ** **** ***.
Don't test me, blud.

So, where was I? Oh yeah! Dangles! I've dutifully painted my way through a couple of tactical squads and their transports as well as a few other bits and pieces so I figured I should reward myself. The Deathwing models from Dark Vengeance are a thing of tiny plastic beauty and they deserved some attention. I'm a big fan of the Greenwing of the Dark Angels and didn't intend to have more than one squad of Deathwing in my army so I was determind to make this squad a bit special. Although, this is subject to change depending on where the butterfly takes me later.

I started with a solid undercoat of Dheneb Stone, followed by a watered down wash of Devlan Mud. Once dry I started to layer up using my new favouritest favourite paint of all time, Pallid Wych Flesh. I wanted to avoid the studio style warmer bleached bone/sepia pallet since that really doesn't do it for me. Partly because it looks a little plasticy and cheap and also because it doesn't quite fit with how I see their backstory. They intended themselves to be ghosts, dead men walking and the warmer tones really don't suit them. I wanted mine to look like cold ivory.

Charlie: And here the full 'quality' of my work is revealed. It's
hard to believe that's the same base in both photos.

These guys put me in striking distance of my 2000 point target for this list. I've got one of the new shiny Dark Talon/Nephilim Jetfighter kits sat on my paint station. That, however is going to be my reward for finishing the third and final tactical squad and the last few Ravenwing Bikers. Once they are all done and based I'll do a full run down of the army, with a million lovely pictures (if I can find enough toffees to bribe Charlie with).


Monday, 14 January 2013

If I had a cannon...

...I'd cannon in the morning, I'd cannon in the evening... No wait, I do have a cannon!

I really ought to have seen this coming, I post something Dwarfy and a couple of days later have something else! Shoulda been patient and combined the two. Hey ho, here's a short post! Once more I have used a classic artillery piece. I think I'd be getting boring if I layed into all the reasons why I am less than enamoured with the modern ones. Read this if you are curious. Anyway, the woodwork was treated in the usual fashion: Steel Legion Drab, Rakarth Flesh highlight, Agrax Earthshade wash. The cannon itself uses Runelord Brass which is fast becoming a favourite from the new range.

The crew are cribbed from a couple of different war machines with their engineer attached. I found a new leather tone which replicates that pale tan suedey leather you see on workshop aprons. It's Zandri Dust highlighted by adding increasing amounts of Pallid Wych Flesh to the Dust. The Pallid Wych Flesh has a slightly warmer and beige-r tone than bone does and gives that hide feel. The crew also include another of my contenders for favourite Dwarf:

He is one surly mo-fo. The sheer size of him alone makes him look like he's a bouncer in Dwarf taverns when not carrying kegs of gunpowder. Combine that with the badass topknot and the beard which - believe it or not - is an overgrown goatee and he just looks like a dude with whom you do not mess. Something that has worked really nicely on this figure - and it is something I am increasingly using - is the shadowing where the shaved hair should be. This is simplicity itself to paint and really finishes off a bald or shaven headed figure. First mix up a wash made of Dryad Bark, Cadian Fleshtone, Abaddon Black and Mechanicus Standard Grey (gods I miss just calling that "Codex" Grey. 19 characters vs 5. Just saying) in a 1:1:1:1 ratio (I.E. the same amount of each). Add about the same volume of water as paint and then glaze the areas you want stubbly. Avoid tide marks and try to feather the edges a bit. Once dry mix up a wash of pure Cadian fleshtone and then re-glaze the area with it. This knocks the hair "under" the skin and improves the look of the piece. See, simple right? In fact harder to describe than to do.

And with that I shall leave you all again. With these guys complete that just leaves 21 figures to paint. I can't decide if I want to launch straight into the thane with the BSB or finish the miners first and then reward myself with flag dude. Until next time


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Sneaky little Dwarfses

Eyup fellow bunker dwellers, much like Charlie's post this finds me firmly on the home straight of the Dwarfs ready for the (as yet still unnamed) big beard bunker bash - surely there's something in "B4 the Storm" there... Anyway, today its the turn of the Rangers, front and centre lads:

There's a jolly chap in the centre of the unit that some of you will recognise from the Pirate Viking Painting 200th post (link here). While the unit has a champion model I thought any unit of Ranger's should have its own Bugman. I'd even use his rules if I thought the requirements made any sense (who would want Rangers who weren't quarrellers?). Speaking of the unit makeup, it is a bit different to how they're normally assembled:

See? A mix of Great Weapon armed dudes and Crossbow armed dudes. This is for three reasons: First, the unit comes with both great weapons and crossbows (which makes this a brutal unit, 14 S4 stand and fire shots and then two ranks of thumping with S5 weapons anyone?). Second, I think that the usual gambit of just gluing the spare great weapons to the backs of the models looks ridiculous. Really, you need straps to hold things on there guys and that was more conversion work than I wanted to do! Finally, it makes them look a bit more like a band than a unit. This is kinda visually semantic point but I wanted them to look irregular rather than soldierly.

As usual I got excited with the banner. I wanted something to feel kind of like a bridge between the nautical imagery and a more terrestrial feel. I ended up designing a celtic compass rose hopefully calling maps to mind as these lads are scouts and trailblazers. The runes across the bottom are the champion's name as these are Stromni's Wanderers.

To further emphasise the "ranger" feel I painted the cloaks with a weathering technique that I refer to as Ruin of Arnor Ranger. I first encountered it in the Lord of the Rings Ruin of Arnor sourcebook and it works brilliantly. Essentially you paint the cloaks normally (I went for a camouflagey olive green) and then sequentially drybrush a train of paint colours onto the hem. Each colour goes on a little lighter and leaving a line of the earlier one visible. The order (converted to new paints) is: Rhinox Hide; Steel Legion Drab; Mournfang Brown; Tau Light Ochre and a final light but enthusiastic drybrush of Ushabti Brown. Looks great, just don't do it in perfectly straight stripes!

Whoa, that's the three thousand point workometer. It's almost done, dayum. Just one block unit left (and as they're miners I am performing experiments in some fairly extreme weathering), the crew of the cannon and an army standard bearer. That's it. And there are still more zombies in Maiseys army than there are Dwarfs in my entire list. Gulp. Until next time folks...


Friday, 11 January 2013

More Hochlanders (because yes)

Holy bum grapes, the Beard Bunker is now one year old. And it’s 2013. That sounds suspiciously like the future. An awesome-yet-nightmarish future in which there are only six weeks to go before the Beard Bunker’s long-awaited campaign. Now that the fog of the winter party season is lifting, I should probably survey the damage...

[Charlie]: What ho, Bunker Machine Spirit! Give me a status report.


[Charlie]: The campaign readiness rating is fair enough, but... ego status is at minus one? Why?

[BMS]: You played John again. Apparently you have blanked it out.

[Charlie]: What? Why would I blank out a game with an entertaining opponent like John?

[BMS]: May I remind you of what happened last time?

[Charlie]: Something about un-killable midgets on a train?

[BMS]: Something like that.

[Charlie]: So, um... what happened this time?

[BMS]: You played a 4300-point game with all of your Empire against his High Elves.

[Charlie]: Oh! Awesome. How’d I do?

[BMS]: There was a dragon.

[Charlie]: I blanked the whole thing because of one dragon in a four thousand point game?

[BMS]: No, you blanked it because of the White Lions. The Dragon was the thing you paid too much attention to whilst his important units broke your flank and centre.

[Charlie]: Ah. That sounds pretty dumb of me. Did I at least kill the dragon?

[BMS]: No.

[Charlie]: Awesome.

[Charlie]: ...

[Charlie]: But the game must’ve looked pretty sweet, right?

[BMS]: See attached file:


[Charlie]: I think I did well just to fit four thousand three hundred points’ worth of Empire dudes in the deployment zone.

[BMS]: Absolutely, sir. Well done, sir. Logging you out.

* * *

...and what of my amazing campaign readiness rating of -46? Yeah, that would be the number of models I have to finish in the next six weeks: 18 flagellants, 25 state troops, and 3 knights. Note that I said ‘finish’ rather than ‘start’. Please, I’m not totally boned. My painting speed is only slightly slower than continental drift.

On the plus side, I’ve just finished the Powderkegs:

This is one of my favourite units in the army; they’re scruffy and full of character. Once the whole army’s finished, I’ll go through all the regiments’ backstories properly, but the short version of the Powderkegs’ story is that they were once a fine regiment of crossbowmen called the Heedenhof Hunters before they were changed into handgunners. It all went a bit wrong. Their propensity for fatal misfires earned them the nickname ‘Powderkegs,’ and it stuck. Oskar Brandt was assigned to them as their sergeant for a while, and he taught them how to maintain their guns; they subsequently went from being the laughing stock of Hochland to being only mildly sub-par.

Once again I delved into Uniforms & Heraldry of the Empire for inspiration on the banner.  Crosses are a big thing in Hochland because of the number of garrisons that sit in watchtowers built on crossroads. Hence the crossed hunting horn strap on one side and crossed quarrels on the other. Karl Franz’ shield motif is a fairly significant part of the regiment’s tale as well, but like I say, we’ll give a fuller account of the campaign armies’ backstories in February.

The Powderkegs aren’t exactly the cream of the crop. As such, very few of them are clad entirely in state colours – most of them are wearing their own jackets or trousers rather than proper uniforms, although I kept the colour of said clothing to neutral tones (black, grey and brown) so as not to clash with the green and red livery. Also, everything but their weaponry is rather dusty.

In case you’re wondering why I’ve given a unit of missile troops the privilege of a standard bearer, musician and a Warrior Priest, since one rarely wants one’s missile troops to be anywhere near melee combat, I’ll just go right ahead and admit that when Jen kindly gave me the Blessing of Sigmar kit, I absolutely had to build it into a characterful regiment. That said, a happy bonus is that the Powderkegs are almost certainly going to get charged at some point – it’s pretty unavoidable with a unit this big – and having a warrior priest (and quite probably a captain) sitting in the unit will hopefully make up for their lack of ranks. And their feeble melee ability. Maybe. A bit. Slightly. Maybe? Yay Sigmar?

At this point I’d like to direct your attention to Blind Alfred, the standard bearer. Gawd bless ’im. I’ve paid 14 points for him; he’s literally a model with a hand weapon and a standard. No gun. No armour. But he’ll stab you up, oh yes he will. As you can no doubt guess, there’s a story behind him, too.

The trumpeter reminds me of Jason Statham, in a sixteenth century kind of way. He doesn’t have a backstory. Jason Statham never needs a backstory.

Brother Fabian, grumbling old fart.

The Blessing of Sigmar’s really meant to be a diorama rather than a gaming piece, but I loved the image of a tired old warrior priest being pestered by some nut job for a blessing in the middle of a fight. The posing of these two idiots pretty much inspired their backstories.

Gottlieb Tobeck, pious old fart.

Now technically, those twenty guys aren’t the whole regiment – there are actually thirty handgunners and ten crossbowmen in the whole thing. That way, I can have two detachments, or equally Sergeant Kahler can lead some of the men off to one flank and form another independent unit. So, here’s the Powderkegs in all their glory:

You knows it. Now to finish off those Knights...