Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Banner of +1 Standardness

Ahhhh yeahhhh, my Hochland army finally has a battle standard bearer.

It’s amazing how many different meanings some words have in the English language, considering that we also have more actual words than most European languages. For instance, the standard standard of my standards is one of fairly elaborate designs (see here, here and here) but this time, I wanted to keep things simple. This is the flag of Hochland, not the quirky iconography of a specific regiment.

Also, it was only after I’d started painting that it occurred to me that Hochland literally has the Swiss flag, but whatever. Cheese, chocolate and mountains are all excellent things.

Now unlike most battle standard bearers, I wanted Captain Thiele here to be usable with or without the banner so that she could be used as either the army's general or its ensign. To that end, the banner simply slots into a very snug hole in the base, and can be replaced with a rock on a stick. Yes really:

Rock on a stick.

Rock on a base.

Of course, losing something that small would be very easy, so it gets stored on the underside of Captain Thiele’s base:

Rock on a lump of blu-tac.

The mini itself is Hasslefree’s Dynamic Tiriel. It was awesome to find a female model in full plate, although I confess I wish she was a little heavier in the waist department, and that her fringe wasn’t quite so long, but these are pretty much my only serious complaints (that said, I do have a minor quibble about the posing - whilst it looks cool, I’m fairly sure her twisted stance will rob her strike of structural core strength).

The hilt was quite chunky, so I tried to break it up visually with a random engraved squiggle:

Getting at the face under all that fringe was a bit of a mission, but on the upside, said fringe’s length means I only had to paint one eye. Man, do I have a hard time painting eyes. It’s more fiddly than creative, although very satisfying if it goes well. If it goes well.

And now for the mandatory non-GW-model-scale-comparison. May I remind you that Amelia is freakishly tall, but Oskar’s about the height of your average Empire Greatsword.

At this stage I’m not saying much about the character herself. Her name is Captain Cara Thiele (pronounced Teeler). She’s a skilled commander, but tends to be overly strict.


Et maintenant, some Campaign news.

The campaign map

Imperial scouts watching the de Crécys’ lair at Hovelhof sent word that Phillippe was leading an army south in the direction of the war graves outside Krudenwald. As panic spread through the Bergsburg refugee camps, Grand Master Von Rüdiger led an army out of the city and met de Crécy on the road. Whilst the rest of the army engaged the undead host, Amelia sought out Phillippe, keen to finish what she started in Wahnsinningen.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Phillippe had been harbouring a spectacular grudge against Amelia after his near-death. This time, he was prepared. The two of them ignored the punch-up unfolding around them and locked into a magical duel that lasted most of the battle. In the end, Amelia was unable to hold Phillippe’s aggression in check, and succumbed to a particularly vicious hex that left her in a coma.

De Crécy’s army was defeated, and he himself was sent off by a particularly accurate blast from a volley gun, but he didn’t care; he might’ve been denied the thousands of corpses outside Krudenwald, but he got his revenge, and his injuries from the volley gun were merely physical.

Amelia’s inert form was brought back to Bergsburg, but neither physicians nor Priests of Morr could rouse her from her catatonic state. One of Hochland’s greatest defences against the undead army was now out of the picture.


Right, that’s all folks. I’d better go and paint me some more state troops.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Breaking my own rule

There is a rule I try to stick to for each game that I play: no more than one scenery project, regiment project and character project can be started at any one time. This way, things get finished.

For people with willpower, this rule is not very important. For idiots like me, it’s damn-near essential. This is what lies at the bottom of the slippery, slippery slope when I fail:

The sheer size of the Warhammer Fortress makes the rest look irrelevant, but when you paint as slowly as I do, five concurrent character projects isn’t very clever, never mind two concurrent regiments (well ok three, technically), two monsters, some cavalry, a piece of artillery, and a fortified manor. Oh, and a genestealer. Don’t ask about the genestealer.

If you’re wondering what the point of this post is, it’s this: I don’t have any pretty pictures of new shiny things to show you, because my brain has been replaced with a butterfly. But I am doing things. Fifteen things. At once. This is what some call going full retard.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Book review: Thunder and Steel

Since Thunder & Steel is an omnibus, this will technically be five or so mini-reviews. I could go meta, and review the omnibussyness of the omnibus, but all you need to know about it is that it’s a collection of Dan Abnett’s forays into Warhammer Fantasy.

The trouble with book reviews (along with film and theatre reviews) is that they’re inevitably tinted, if not full-on coloured, by the reviewer’s personal preferences. For instance, narrative and character is more important to me than stabby-death-kill, which is why I haven’t bothered reading all that much from the Black Library. They’re good at publishing what they do, which is a head-on collision between pulp fiction and the baroque kitschosity of Games Workshop’s storyworlds, but for the most part this leaves me bored by page fifty. There are some glorious exceptions to the rule, and most of those exceptions come from the mind of Dan Abnett, which was precisely why I picked up this book – I’d read the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies, and had a lot of fun. With any luck, I’d find similar greatness in Thunder & Steel.

Book One: Gilead’s Blood

This is the first novel in the collection, and whilst it was well-written, I just couldn’t get excited about the concept of an Elf wandering around laying waste to things whilst channelling Morpheus, the King of Mope from Gaiman’s Sandman series. I understood why the character was mopey, I just couldn’t get excited about the direction the narrative was taking, and gave up after about fifty pages. Given that Abnett went on to write a bunch of books about this willowy bag of drip, I can only assume there was some juicy narrative goodness to be had... I just couldn’t be bothered to get there. At this point, I started to think Thunder & Steel just wasn’t going to be my cup of tea, no matter how much I’d enjoyed Abnett’s other work.

Book Two: Hammers of Ulric

The second novel in the collection benefitted from much more relatable characters, and had some great set-pieces; Abnett and his two co-authors bring the city of Middenheim to life in all its frozen eccentricities, and kept me entertained enough to actually get through the book. Abnett’s Knights of the White Wolf are entertainingly boisterous, although there’s a lot of characters in the company, which makes the passages with the knights hard to follow at first. Vincent’s street urchin/thief character is engaging, as is Wallis’ Priest of Morr, who shuffles around being a detective when he’s only supposed to be on mortician duties.

Clearly, an improvement on Gilead’s Blood. But it’s not without its problems.

The book was originally a collection of short stories by Abnett, Nik Vincent and James Wallis, and it shows. The book simply doesn’t feel as tight as some of Abnett’s other work, and whilst overall it’s fun, I was at times pulled on by my inner Empire fanboy more than my interest in the novel itself. It was with lower expectations, then, that I trundled on to the third novel in the omnibus more out of habit than hunger.

Book Three: Riders of the Dead

Gilead and Hammers are both older books than Riders of the Dead, and you can really tell. Riders was a) designed as a novel, and b) has more satisfying character arcs.

It’s set during the Storm of Chaos – the cataclysmic event that preceded the story of the Beard Bunker’s campaign – and keeps its focus on two Empire demilancers. There’s more stabby-death-kill than you can shake a stick at, but that wasn’t why I enjoyed it. We all know Abnett can do stabby-death-kill; what I wanted was to escape into the Warhammer World, and in this Abnett has excelled; he brings Chaos Warriors to life in a way that makes me simultaneously hate and respect them, and what’s more, he sets much (if not most) of the book in Kislev – Warhammer’s equivalent of Russia – which is a relatively unexplored area of the background material.

It’s very evident that he did a good deal of research before writing Riders. All the little details of life on the steppe have been thought through, from culture, to technology, to mythology. Having such a believable, grounded world makes the portrayal of the supernatural elements that much more intimidating, and whilst I read the book several months ago, I still have vivid images in my head – from the landscapes, to the cavalry charges, to... well, you get the idea.

One thing you should know, though: it’s bleak. So bleak. The two protagonists were engaging enough that I had to know what happened next, but at every turn, I suspected it was going to be upsetting. Karl’s story in particular; he’s taken prisoner by the northmen at the beginning of the book, and I kept on thinking “it can’t possibly get any wor—ohmygod really? Brutal, Abnett. Brutal.”

Interestingly, though, the novel wasn't depressing. Despite horrific circumstances, neither of the characters get too mopey (unhappy, certainly, but not mopey) and that’s what keeps the book moving towards a climax which I came to anticipate with a certain terrified inevitability.

Other readers have accused the novel of ending abruptly, and it’s easy to see why. It is abrupt. But as I sat there cogitating on it, the abruptness felt more and more right. If you read it, I hope you’ll see what I mean.

And finally... two short stories and The Warhammer

There are two short stories included in the omnibus, and the work well as a companion to Riders of the Dead. One, Swords of the Empire, is enjoyable but not memorably so, whilst Shyi-zar provides a welcome chance to see more of the culture of the northmen, and to spot a few characters from Riders. Abnett once again does that thing he does by breathing life into the otherwise monotone Games Workshop background material of CHAOS WARRIORS ARE ANGRY ANGRY MEN WHO STAB THINGS FOR GLORY AND SKULLS AND GLORY. SKULLS.

Finally, The Warhammer is a pretty straightforward graphic novel about how sometimes in the Warhammer World, picking up a magic weapon isn’t necessarily the best idea you’ve ever had. The art’s impressive, but it’s printed on paper that won’t support decent image quality, meaning that you can see what’s going on, but really aren’t getting the full visceral deliciousness of the original artwork.

To buy or not to buy?

The test of a Black Library book is this: would you recommend it to a friend who isn’t into Games Workshop stuff? I’ve leant Eisenhorn to non-GW friends and they’ve loved it. I’d do the same with Riders of the Dead; it’s compact, punchy and evocative.

If you’re a big Warhammer nerd, then Thunder & Steel is worth it. If you’re a more discerning reader, you’re better off just getting Riders of the Dead as an e-book on its own.