Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year gnomes

Check out these vintage 1930s-40s gnome New Years cards I saw on eBay. Hilarious!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Marx Megatherium

I've been interested in prehistoric models for a while now. I was glad tp see the new production of 28mm scale metal prehistorics from Dazed Miniatures Unfortunately, it looks like they are no longer being produced. RLBPS is only selling off the old stock, so get them while you can.

My only prehistoric models are a few sets from Pulp Figures and some very old school mammals. Marx Toys produced some plastic prehistoric playset in the 1960s. You may have seen my painted Mammoth in an older post. That model was recast plastic from the old molds. This giant sloth is an original. I got them both from the Toy Soldier HQ. I was a little hesitant to paint a30 year old toy, but the plastic was kind of sticky, and I figure there's no sense in having it if I'm not going to actually use it for anything.
As with the mammoth, this megatherium model is glued to a plastic 60mm base. A 28mm Pulp Figures neanderthal is included for scale. The neanderthals, short faced bear, and saber tooth cats are hoping I'll paint them soon.

(The giant sloth looks a little out of focus in these shots, but I think that is partly because the model itself is not very crisp. The details in this soft plastic are rather smooth.)

WWII books

Note: I've been reviewing World War II books on my other blog. Ancient up to 18th Century book reviews will stay here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Garden Gnomes: A History, by Twigs Way

I've mentioned Shire in the past. This is a British publisher of brilliant little books on antiques, archaeology, architecture, and even military history. The style of the books—accessibility to the general reader, with detail for the specialist—is quite similar to Osprey Publishing's books. In fact, Osprey purchased this press in 2007. A very good fit, I think. (See the article about Shire on The Times website.)

A Lovely Gnome Tome
Published in June, 2009, Garden Gnomes: A History by Twigs Way is another of Shire's nicely designed books. A historian of gardening, the author tells the story of these European garden accents. She explores their origins (beliefs of dwarfs, nisser, and tomtar), studies the craft of their production, and charts their rise and fall in popularity. The text is illustrated with pages from period catalogs and photographs of gnomes in gardens throughout history. The book ends with a view of garden gnomes' affect on modern pop culture, with a mention of the trend in gnome liberation (stealing and relocating the ornaments as a prank).

My family's past is dotted with appearances by garden gnomes. There are currently three or four in my mother's garden. These were made by a family friend in the 1950s by pouring concrete into molds. In the 1980s I remember joining my grandparents as they visited their friend, Mr. Heiner. His father was from Germany, and he had created an extensive backyard scene with little gnomes digging, fishing, moving earth, etc. There were even diminutive doorways set into the roots of the trees. It was very magical to a kid. When vacationing on Lake George, NY we would motor up the lake to see "Gnome Island." This was actually someone's rock-covered backyard, projecting into the lake as a shallow peninsula. There were always a cluster of garden gnomes there. Sometimes they were r-arranged from the last time we saw them. My dad told us kids that they were the real thing, standing still to trick us. I bought this book for my mom's Christmas present this year. I'm thinking I should get myself a copy—and maybe a gnome for the front yard too.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Salt dough Nisse

I just figured out that I am Google's Blog of Note today. I was thinking, "Why the cuss are all these people coming to my site today?" I thought it was some spam thing. Anyway, after my realization I felt guilty that I didn't have anything more recent than my scratch-built tavern post from over a 2 weeks ago. I've been way busy with work and with Thanksgiving / Christmas goings-on, so I haven't been painting any models. However, I'd say this little project is appropriate.

A couple days ago my daughters and I painted up 12 salt dough nisse ornaments. A "nisse" is basically a Danish Christmas gnome, although the tradition goes back to pre-Christian times. He is known as a "tomten" in Sweden. The author of Pippi Longstocking wrote a couple books about them. I painted a 20mm metal nisse last year.

Our ornament is hand-made baked dough. My wife developed a gluten free salt dough recipe. I made a cardboard template which we used to carve out the nisse shapes. We baked them, and my daughters and I painted them. It's not my usual model-making post, but the skill set is the same.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

28mm Scratch-built Tavern

Last week I started building a tavern for my 28mm villager models. She's not interested in gaming, but I think my 7-yr-old daughter and I will like playing with this "doll house." The top and front will remain open to allow access to the rooms (although I am leaving space for a possible front wall in the future). I'll scratch-build a bar, but I think we'll be buying metal 28mm furniture, barrels, etc. from Mega Miniatures. I already own a 28mm Medieval/Fantasy barkeep, inn keeper, cook waitresses, drinking patrons, etc.

Apart from the hardboard base, the materials have all been free! I picked up a discarded blue insulation sheet from a home renovation a few years ago (I drew in flagstones with a pen to create indentations for when I paint). Knowing that my family is craftsy, my neighbor gave us a few unwanted sheets of foam board. The half-timbers are stir sticks from a coffee shop. I have been collecting these stir sticks whenever we go out for coffee. I pocket the sticks after use instead of throwing it in the trash! Obviously, this takes a good while to build up enough materials. Re-using this garbage is good for the environment too!

I have been measuring and cutting all the complicated pieces ahead of time, and my daughter will helped glue and assemble. We'll be painting the finished construction together.

Check this out: When I cut out the whole for the door it was randomly the right width for 5 stir sticks! So, the door fits perfectly. I'm thinking about how to handle the windows. Either I'll do something complicated with cut holes and plastic "glass," or I'll just glue on a bunch of closed shutters.

The inspiration for the floor plan comes from an old PC game, Ultima VII. "The Modest Damsel" on the island of New Magincia had a simple square layout I like. You can see from this screenshot where I will be placing the bar. The bedroom in this image can also be a store room in my model.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween (in 28mm)

Happy Haloween folks. Both of these models come from Mega Miniatures. The witch was part of their 20 model Fantasy Town Folk set. I never thought I'd paint her, but then I had the idea for the Song of Blades and Heros game: Pilgrims vs. a witch and her monsters. I went for a bright red dress, rather than the typical black ensemble. The fire is molded plastic from an old 1/32 Marx playset.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Headless Monsters

"Another evil being best suited to terror and destruction, the Headless is indeed a creature of nightmares. Many a traveler has fled in abject horror at the sight of a headless torso bearing down upon them." —Ultima IV guide book

"This ensorcelled creature appears to be a living ambulatory, beheaded human being. It is unknown exactly how it compensates for its apparent lack of sensory organs, but it manages to do so quite well." —Ultima VII guidebook

These three headless monsters are the latest addition to my collection of Ultima-inspired models. For those unfamiliar, Ultima was a series of medieval fantasy RPGs for the PC, popular in the late 80s through the 90s. I was very fond of Ultima VII: The Black Gate (1992) and Serpent Isle (1993). I have slowly been collecting and painting models suitable for the world of Britannia.

I first considered the headless in an August 2008 post. About a year later I ordered Pulp Figures' naked Neanderthal Warriors set*. The animated poses more than make up for their simple appearance (no fancy clothing, armor, etc.) It almost seemed a shame to chop off their heads, but I did! I used some very small clippers, filed, and then filled in a few cut marks with green stuff. These models need alot of flesh paint. I used a mix of Citadel Elf Flesh, Bestial Brown, and some Graveyard Earth to bring the brightness down. I didn't glue any grass on the bases, because I expect these monsters to spend much of their time prowling the dungeon.

* I beheaded only 3 of the Pulp Miniatures Neanderthals. I'm keeping the other two along with a clothed set of Neaderthals as part of my small prehistoric miniatures collection. I plan on clothing them in hides and furs using green stuff.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trees and Woodsmen

I finished a couple tree stands this week. I used Woodland Scenics tree armatures mounted on hardboard. I scattered used dried loose leaf tea (Irish Breakfast) to represent leaf litter. The leaf bits tend to flake off, so I sprayed the boards with matte varnish.

A close up of my Black Tree Design woodsmen and leaf litter. These two are from their "Good People of the Land" sets I and II.

The trees have a peg that fits into the root base. The plastic base is glued to the board, but the trees just rest in the hole. This allows them to be removed if need be (although it does leave a stump in the way).

For more tree-building articles see Iron Mitten and Cursed Treasures.

Vendel Miniatures Mastiff

To accompany my recently finished pilgrims I have painted a Vendel Miniatures mastiff. I came across an interesting passage about the colonists' mastiffs while reading The Skulking Way of War:
"The English had great difficulty killing these predators [wolves] because of their cunning and their ability to outfight even greyhounds and mastiffs. William Wood said that wolves were the 'greatest inconveniency this country hath' and that 'many good dogs have been spoiled by them.'" (page 61)

Although I have read that North American wolves are thought to be more aggressive than European wolves, this passage doesn't speak very well for the mastiff!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

King Philip's War, by Eric Schultz

I presume the majority of people choosing to read about King Philip's War (1675–76) do so out of an interest in local history. As evidence of this, the authors on this conflict appear to all be New Englanders. My schooling in Pennsylvania completely skipped the subject. We were taught about the landing of the Pilgrims (one generation before King Philip's War), then we jumped ahead 150 years to the American Revolution. I wonder if school kids in New England learn anything about it—I suspect not. It rather spoils our fond Thanksgiving story. I, of course, knew relations between the Colonists and Indians eventually deteriorated, but I was surprised at how sudden the two groups went from guarded tolerance to mass bloodshed. As soon as the first generation of English became established in the New World, their land-hungry children set about killing off the native inhabitants.

Eric Schultz's King Philip's War is a fine book to start your research. Back to the whole regional interest thing: To get a copy of this book I had to make a request through interlibrary loan. The nearest available copy came from a library in New York. That's right next to New England, but 400 miles away from me!

The text is divided into three parts. Part I sets the scene with events leading up to the conflict, then gives a chronological general history of the war.

The middle bit, Part II, offers greater detail on each of the ambushes, battles, and incidences. This section moves from location to location using modern landmarks to aid the reader. I am completely unfamiliar with the area, so this organizational format wasn't so helpful. To use this section I picked an event first and then used the book's index to find the right page.

Part III offers first person narratives of the war. Benjamin Church lead a company of rangers. He wrote of the surprise attack on an Indian town known as the Great Swamp Fight. Mary Rowlandson gave an account of her capture by Indians. The author picks out only a few of her passages. There are several editions of her journal, which I intend to read next. Finally, Captain Thomas Wheeler provides a harrowing account an Indian ambush, the escape of the few survivors, and the Indian siege of the town to which they had retreated.

What I would like to find is a book that clearly sets out the combatants. Numerous English and Indian personalities are mentioned in this text, but there is no list describing the people each man represented: Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, Connecticut, Narragansett, Pokanoket, etc. I'd also like a break-down of the various leaders: colony governors, generals, chiefs. Maybe that's a chart I should draw-up myself!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brigade Games Pilgrims 2

I just finished painting my first set of Brigade Games King Philip's War Pilgrims (this is my first post, but the models are from set #2). I wasn't sure how uniform the men's costume should be. I went for brown and black colors for woodland camouflage. Perhaps the New England milita wore proper uniforms, but these Pilgrim models appear to represent rangers in irregular attire. Indian stockings and moccasins are mixed in with the European clothes, so I presume the variety of colors is appropriate.

The blue of the the sword-wielding officer is based on a plate in Osprey's Colonial American troops, 1610-1774, Volume 2. I don't have the book yet, but there is a preview on Google Books. He wears a buff coat made of leather. This was an effective defense against Indian arrows, but not a well aimed musket shot. I had thought the model wore a cloth vest, so I'm glad I figured that out before it was too late.

Next I'll be painting the first set of Indians. They're primed and ready to go. After that I'll do Pilgrims set #1.

Colonial American Troops, 1610-1774, Volume 2, by René Chartrand.

See the Snowshoemen reenactment group for Benjamin Church's "uniforms."

Friday, October 2, 2009

October Project: Witch Hunt

Puritan women from Colonial Living, by Edwin Tunnis.

An idea for a 28mm skirmish using Song of Blades and Heroes occurred to me this evening. I was reading about 17th century New England and noticed how the appearance of the classic Halloween witch is based on the costume of Puritan women. The origin is obvious to me now (Salem witch trials), but I just never thought about it before! Halloween is in just 29 days. Wouldn't it be nice to post a battle report on this theme? So! Here's the plan: A year after the end of King Phillip's War, word comes of strange goings on in one of the abandon towns destroyed by the Indians. A witch is up to some kind of unnatural mischief, and a team of rangers is sent to investigate.

I already have a set of King Philip's War Pilgrim militia from Brigade Games. I was going to paint the Indians this month, but I'll just start on these Puritans first. I glued them to their bases tonight. Accompanying these five Englishmen will be a loyal mastiff, courtesy of Vendel Miniatures.

SBH stats for Salem Witch Hunters:
Human Leader (the chap with the sword), 60pts
Human Witch Hunter (the guy in the bandana), 50 pts.
Human Undead Hunter, 50pts
Wood Elf Archer (to represent rangers with the forestry skill), 50 pts x2
Sabertooth Cat (to represent the mastiff), 36pts
Total pts: 296

The Baddies:
I have a witch produced my Mega Miniatures (now out of business). I wasn't too interested in this model when I bought it. It simply came along with their townsfolk set. I'm glad I have it now. It just goes to show how you might develop a future interest in your unwanted models. I'm using the Lich from the SBH Undead roster to represent the witch, 86pts.

I think I'll keep the rest of the bad side a secret for now. All will be revealed when the models are painted. I know—the suspense is killing you. Will I be able to paint everything before the 31st? Will I photograph everything in time? Will I be distracted by another project, dropping this one all together? Stay tuned!

Incidentally, the book I am reading is Colonial Living, by Edwin Tunnis. The book is a brilliant introduction to Colonial America. My copy is a hardcover from 1957, but Johns Hopkins U. Press reprinted Tunnis' books in 1999. Ink drawings appear on every page. I'll have to do a proper book review soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Skulking Way of War, by Patrick Malone

Every summer I visited my family's cabin in the Adirondack mountains. I would spend several weeks there, walking through dense forest trails, and canoeing/boating on mountain lakes. The woods also bordered my house in Pennsylvania. My friends and I would often wander along paths and streams, surrounded by birds, rabbits, and often deer. Perhaps this partly explain why I have a fascination for the people who lived there before the arrival of Europeans. My dad is a big FIW / AWI history buff, so that is certainly the other root of my interest in the woodland Indians.

Skulking Way of War review

The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics among the New England Indians came to my attention shortly after the paperback was published in 2000. I paged through it quickly and set it down again. I was reading on the French and Indian War, but 17th century New England held no interest for me. I should have kept reading! I got the book on Friday, and just finished reading in jut a few days. Although focused on King Phillip's War, this scholarly and approachable text can also aid in the study of woodland Indian military actions of the 18th century: French and Indian War, Pontiac's Rebellion, and the American War of Independence. As the author puts it: "In studying the tribes of southern New England, a scholar must sometimes draw inferences from known practices of other tribes."

For a general history of King Phillips War, one must look elsewhere. Much like the content of one of Osprey Publishing's Men at Arms* titles, Malone's book is concerned with details of the Indians' and Puritan's respective military systems, logistics, tactics and weapons technology. Attention is paid to the fusion of these two traditions: the Indians were very quick to employ European's latest weapons and the European's will to completely destroy the enemy. The English, on the other hand, were very reluctant to apply Indian fighting methods and long suffered for it. In the end, the American colonists acquired a great appreciation for the Indians' "skulking way" of forest warfare. Their use of high mobility, stealth, surprise, and individual marksmanship would serve them well in their future wars against other Indian tribes, the French, and the British.

I. The Aboriginal Military system
II. The Arrival of the White Man
III. The Arming of the Indians
IV. Proficiency with Firearms: A Cultural Comparison
V. Technology, Tactics, and Total Warfare

*I should note that the text does not include full color illustrations like an Osprey Book. My comparison applies only to the detailed subject and the concise, well-organized writing. The book does feature many charming contemporary engravings.

For a book on the 17th century colonist's side of the conflict, see my review for A Rabble in Arms, by Kyle Zelner.

Check out other book reviews and painted miniatures for King Philip's War.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New project: King Philip's War

With a fresh interest in the French and Indian War I have been browsing various mini manufacturers, planing my purchase of some 28mm Roger's Rangers, French, and woodland Indians. A few days ago on TMP someone asked for 28mm AWI Indian model suggestions. To my surprise I saw a reply describing native minis for 17th century America. The King Philip's War miniatures were released by Brigade Games in '08. I had no idea that they existed!

These brilliant sculpts have inspired me to delve into this unfamiliar conflict and time period. To better aquaint myself I have already started reading Kyle Zelner's book, A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip’s War on Google Books. My library should be able to get me a copy through interlibrary loan. I have long been interested in The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians, by Patrick Malone. So, I went ahead and ordered a copy off amazon. I'm sure I'll read more, but these two books seem like a good introduction to both sides of this conflict.

This evening I just bought their first four packs plus King Philip using my birthday funds. With only 11 Indians and 10 English Militia, I should have no problem painting them all in a reasonable amount of time (once I'm through being swamped with work). With fall approaching and thoughts stretching to Thanksgiving (you know... Puritans and Indians) it seems an appropriate time to get into this new genre.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

David Zeisberger's History of the Northern American Indians

As I mentioned earlier, in August I visited my parents in upstate NY. My dad is a big history buff. His main interest is 18th century America. I enjoyed looking through the many history books on his shelves. He picks them up from the gift shops at historic sites in New York and Pennsylvania. Among them is a the History of the Northern American Indians, by David Zeisberger. His copy is a paperback reprint published by Wennawoods Publishers. When I got home I requested the book through interlibrary loan, and received an old 1910 edition.

A Moravian missionary, Zeisberger lived in the Western Pennsylvania and Ohio wilderness with the Delaware Indians between 1766 and 1781. His journal describes their day to day life. He discusses their landscape, the many plants and animals, hunting, societal roles, customs, language, economy, clothing, sex, methods of war, religion, politics, and their relations with other Indian nations and with the Europeans (colonists). The English translation (he wrote in German) is engaging and easy to follow.

Zeisberger was highly regarded by the Delaware themselves. I'm sure this was in part to the Moravian method of evangelism—leading by good example, rather than confronting and condemning others. I should note that the term, "Delaware" is a European name applied to the tribes that originally lived along the Delaware river, but were pushed west by encroaching settlers.

The whole account was fascinating, but I found several points to be especially enlightening.

1. Trading buckskins was the primary method of dealing for European (and local American) goods. Zeisberger explained that the coat of a deer changes with the seasons."The best time for the chase is in the fall when the game is fat and the hides are good. Hense, they commonly in September and October go hunting with their families, remaining afield until the New Year or longer, though after that the skins can not be used."

2. I enjoyed his three-page description for preparing maple syrup and maple sugar.

3. In the Delaware language there were no swear words: "If women or men would berate each other... they direct words and speeches at one another which would not not be considered terrible by other people but are very seriously taken by the Indians."

4. The conduct of their war. Zeisberger explains their use of small war parties, the preparation for the raid, the vast distances traveled, the importance of prisoner-taking (to replace tribe members lost in previous battles), and the forced march home.

David Zeisberger's journal is considered by many to be the best description of 18th century life of the Northeastern Native Americans. Naturally his perspective was skewed to that of a Christian white man. However, his first person account of the Indians is as accurate and objective as you will ever find for this period.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Major Robert Rogers

This is a 28mm Major Robert Rogers, sculpted by Dixon Miniatures and painted by me. After my visit to Fort Ticonderoga, I have been inspired to paint up some units of French regulars. I have my eye on Old Glory Miniatures' French and Indian War line. There aren't too many painted photos of these models visible on the web, so I hope to fill the void. I don't have a ruleset in mind. I think I'm simply going to paint little 10-man units for display. I am restraining myself on making any purchases before my birthday at the end of September! In any case, I can't paint anything until October, because my work schedule has squished my free time.

The 1/32 plastic manufacturer, Armies in Plastic, is releasing a new Roger's Ranger's right now. I haven't painted 1/32 in quite a long time, but these French and Indian War toy soldiers are really calling to me. I once had a set of Barzso 1/32 rangers and woodland Indians. I wasn't a fan of the resin, and I didn't like the innaccurate movie-inspired costume for the Rangers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Visit to Fort Ticonderoga

I just got back from visiting my parents in the Adirondacks in upstate NY. Saturday was a cloudy day (too misty for hanging out at the beach on Lake George), so we drove up to see Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain. This stone fort was built by the French in 1755-1759. The current museum was constructed on the original footprint to well-researched specifications, duplicating the 18th century structure. My family has a cabin on nearby Lake George, and my dad is a big colonial history buff, so I have many fond memories of visiting the fort as a kid. I think I last visited about about 15+ years ago.

There is an impressive collection of French and English cannons pulled from the lake. The verdigris on the bronze cannons is really quite eye-catching. These guns are all mounted on naval carriages, but many of these were actually field pieces. The concrete naval carriage just makes for a more permanent and sturdy mount. The red paint compliments the green cannons quite well, don't you think?

The Fort Ti fife and drum corp on break.

The courtyard.

Here is my daughter and my dad posed by the newly-built blockhouse. Open in 2008, this new construction has filled-in a long-empty space in the courtyard. The interior contains a more contemporary-style museum exhibit, while the older block houses look like 18th century rooms with old shelves of objects.

There is no estimated date on the label, but I assume these early tabletop gaming miniatures are from the 1700s.

A diorama of the Black Watch storming the French defenses. These models look to be 1/32 scale, but they also have some that are more 28mm. I remember being more impressed by these dioramas when I was a kid. I was looking forward to seeing them, but ended up being more impressed by the Fort's collection of engraved powder horns. I should have taken a photo!

After the visit I'm all geared up to paint some French and Indian War figs. Unfortunately, it will have to wait if I stick with 1/72 scale. I hear a rumor that Hat is supposed to have some Seven Years War models in the future. Hopefully, they'll include French and British infantry. Imex has Rogers Rangers in the works, but that is probably years off. I'll have to content myself with the Woodland Indians sold by Italeri and the few 28mm Dixon FIW figs I bought years ago.

Chartrand, René. Ticonderoga 1758. Osprey Publishing, 2002.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hat 8186 Peninsular War British

I just read the review of Hat's new Peninsular War British Infantry on The Plastic Soldier Review. The sculpting is brilliant, don't you think? It's some of Hat's best, and I love the addition of the alternate heads. It almost makes me want to start painting Napoleonics, BUT I am making a concerted effort to avoid it. My hobby time is already split among too many different themes. I actually gave my dad my 5 Osprey Publishing books about the Napoleonic era—in an attempt to force myself to stay focused. I still have a couple boxes of 1/72 ESCI Brits and French. If Andrea Sfiligoi's Song of Drums and Shakos ever made it into my hands I think my resolve would break.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lord Derfel and his Wolftails in 1/72

(click for larger picture)

Cornwell's Arthur Series has inspired me to raise a Romano-British army for De Bellis Antiquitatis. I am using II/81c Sub-Roman British. To start off I painted the above spear element using all Hat figures. I'm not sure how soon I'll finish the whole army, but I really wanted to get this element done while I'm still reading.

On the left is Nimue, the druid. She is from set 8140 Gallic Chariot with Warrior Queen. Next is Lord Derfel. He and his spearmen are from 8100 Hat's Late Roman Medium Infantry. The models are un-armored, but I found that by poking the soft plastic with a pin it created a nice chain mail effect. I used putty to add the beards and the wolf tail helmet crests. The shields are painted with stars, which is described in the novels.

It looks like this could be the general element, but the DBA Sub-Roman army list only assigns the general to cavalry or knights. I can't wait for Hat to release it's 8183 Late Roman Medium Cavalry! The sculpts look great and will be perfect for Arthur and his cavalry.

Nimue was painted separately. She was glued to the rear of the base only after all the guys were all painted (this gave me better access to painting Derfel's back and Nimue's front)

Now that I have read the novels I realize that Gripping Beast has a 28mm set inspired by Cornwell's books. I have long admired these sculpts, but hadn't realized the inspiration. The Winter King came out in '96, but I only just read it! See ABR11 Wolftail Warriors and ABR12 Arthurian Personalities, and ABR01 Arthurian Command.

Check out Peter's 28mm Cornwell-inspired armies on his blog.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Arthur Series by Bernard Cornwell

I read Mort d'Arthur in high school English class, and excerpts from a few other Arthur tales. Yet, for some reason I was never very fond of the King Arthur legends. The stories always take place in a vague timeless Medieval setting, the magical element is simple, and I just never saw the attraction for Guinevere! The King Arthur subject has been just too overdone for me to take a series interest. I was a fan of Cornwell's writing since high school (Sharpe series), and I was aware of the Arthur books, but I had no desire to check them out.

After reading the rules for Song of Arthur and Merlin I was intrigued by the mention of the Dark Age Welsh writings of Arthur. I was further interested to learn that Cornwell's books are rooted in this "historic" Arthur. While waiting for the next book in the Saxon series I thought I'd give his Arthur series a try... and it's brilliant!

The Winter King takes place at the close of 5th century Britain. The inheritors of Roman Britain have been pushed west by the invading Saxons. The British kingdoms fight among themselves, and naturally it's Arthur that enters the scene to unite them. But, here's the good part: Arthur is not the main character. He doesn't even show up until around page 90. The main character is Derfel, a character of Cornwell's own creation (not of Arthurian legend). He fits the author's basic template for a main character. Starting at the bottom of society, Derfel rises in standing through chance and battle prowess, and befriends the great leader ( a la Sharpe and Uhtred). Still, the used plot devise does not detract from the story. Indeed, one might even say Cornwell's template is his thing—kinda like Woody Allen's films all being about a neurotic guy in NY.

I'm enjoying Cornwell's depiction of Britain society after the departure of the Romans. While some of his Britons continue living more or less as Roman life, many resent the old Empire. I'm sure that was a common viewpoint. It does seem that Rome only barely kept the British tribes from fighting each other, even after 400 years of rule. (read online: S. Laycock. Britannia: The Threat Within in British Archaeology, Issue 87, March/April 2006.) The friction between the Christian Church and the traditional pagans is interesting (a part of the resentment with Rome), as is the druids' search for lost details of their persecuted religion. Magic is treated in an interesting way. Spells cast by Merlin or the other druids are very real to the other characters, but they could also be explained as coincidence or natural phenomena. The ambiguity is compelling.

In his tale Cornwell grounds Arthurian legend in history. The second novel takes the well-known quest for the grail and rewrites it as a search for a powerful Iron Age cauldron. The Celts attached great importance to the feasting cauldron, so this was probably the historic inspiration for the grail story. The author is meticulous in his historic research, apart from a few details. He frequently mentions sliding an arm through a shield's straps. However, Roman, Celtic, and Saxon shields were all held by a central hand grip—no arm straps. (Same with the 9th century Saxons/Vikings. This inaccuracy also shows up in his Saxon books as well.) If I may be pedantic on another point of military equipment, one British warrior in the Winter King mentions the short swords of the Romans. Yet, the Romans' use of the short gladius ended over 200 years before this character spoke. I doubt the 5th/6th century Brits would be aware of anything but their own long swords and the Saxon's short stabbing saex. I should mention that Vegetius mentions "semispatha" in his writings, but it is unclear how large these swords might have been. Clearly, the long spatha was the common sword of later Rome. Speaking of swords, these are Cornwell books, so the battle scenes are excellent.

Cornwell's approach to the Arthur legend is refreshing. He has softened my disdain for the subject—I may give the traditional Arthur stories a second chance!

Book 1

Book 2
Enemy of God

Book 3

Monday, June 29, 2009

SBH Romano-British Warband

(click pictures for a larger version)

I finally finished my Song of Blades and Heroes / Song of Arthur and Merlin Romano-British warband. It's made up of all 1/72 models by Hat. They're mounted on plastic slotta bases. The above warriors are from Hat's Late Roman Medium Infantry, plus one armored model from the Heavy Infantry box.

Three guys from the Late Roman Missile Troops box.

The above British noble is a slightly modified Hat Gothic Cavalryman. I added putty to the cloak edges for fur trim, and covered his knees to turn his odd shorts into full trousers. Hat has some armored Late Roman cavalrymen in the works, but it will be a while before they are available.

My Romano-British warband:
Noble, 72 pts
Armored warrior, 36 pts
Warrior, 17 pts x 7 = 119
Skirmisher, 24 pts x 3 = 72
Total = 299

That's only 12 models! Now, that's an army I can actually finish painting! I may make the mounted figure a Romano-British king to get the Leader status, in which case I'll just drop one of the warriors.

Next up, the Saxons. That warband will be only 8 models!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strider and Gollum 28mm Miniatures

Have you seen the online short film, The Hunt of Gollum? It's brilliant. It was a fan-made piece, but obviously they have alot of funding and skill. I had trouble with the volume, but I solved that by listening with headphones.

After watching I was inspired to paint a couple models I have had for a while. On the left is one of the adventurers from Vendel Miniatures (now sold by SGMM). On the right is a Gollum model from Black Tree Design's Legends of the Realm range. The model originally carried a hare, but I remodeled it to be a fish (click on the left image for a larger version). What do you think? You can see a bit of my fingerprint in the putty rock, but apart from that I like how it all turned out.