Thursday, February 26, 2009

28mm Bears

The large grizzly bear model comes from The Foundry. It's one of the few Foundry minis I own. It comes from pack, GPR19, Belicose Bears. They are really great sculpts—most of the Foundry's stuff are. They're just ridiculously expensive! Mega Miniatures also sells a bear set: a male, female and cub. I bought them last winter and was disappointed at how small they were. I'd say those Mega Mini bears would fit better with true 25mm models, rather than my 28mm guys. The cub, however, is perfectly suitable for use with this Foundry griz.

Related reading:
Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero. I learned of this book after reading Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods.

Lord British and Lord Blackthorn models

I found another model for my Ultima as tabletop miniature game project. I bought two kings which can represent Lord British. The one on the let is from Mega Miniatures. He looks very generic Medieval, which is good for the Medieval fantasy world of Britannia. The model on the right comes from the Saxon range produced by Black Tree Miniatures. Initially I preferred this model, but now that I've become interested in the historic 9th century Saxon/Viking wars, I think I may instead paint him up as King Alfred. The dais and throne come from an old Mithril Miniatures pack of the Lord Denethor (from LOTR). By modifying the high back into an ankh shape this will make a very fine throne for Lord British.

Who's Lord British? Within the world of the old Ultima PC RPG series he is the king of all the lands of Britannia. He is the alter-ego of the real-life creator of the Ultima series, Richard Garriott. The in-game portraits of Lord British were all drawn after Garriott's own face. A classic example of an eccentric millionaire, Garriott recently employed his video game wealth to become one of the world's first space-tourists.

Anyway, getting back to 28mm models, I also found a great one for Lord Blackthorn. He's the baddie that caused all sorts of trouble in 1988's Ultima V. Incidentally, if you're at all interested in playing this classic game, the brilliant team at Lazarus have re-released Ultima V with 3D graphics, playable on your 21st century computer.

If you want to see painted minis from this project click on the "Ultima XXVIII" label link bellow. So far I've painted the Avatar, Iolo, Dupré, the town guard, and some gremlins. If you're an old Ultima fan, leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Vikings and Saxons

As I said in my last post, I've been reading Cornwell's Saxon Tales series. Naturally, these novels inspired me to get some Viking and Saxon miniatures. I don't have anyhting painted yet, but here are some photos to compare scales. The glow-in-the-dark green Saxon and the sword-wielding Viking in the middle are both produced by Emhar. These are sets, 7206 Saxon Warriors and 7205 Viking Warriors. (The green plastic really doesn't glow, but it looks like it, doesn't it?) The ax-wielding Viking on the right is a Zvezda model. It's from set 8046 Vikings. Zvezda models are usually on the large end of the 1/72 spectrum, but this set is actually a little smaller than the Emhar models. Still, they match quite well.

No one makes a box of Vikings or Saxons on horseback. However, there are a couple germanic sets that stand in nicely. The grey horseman in the above photo comes from Hat's 8085 Gothic Cavalry. These are intended to be 4th century warriors, but the costume and equipment are pretty close to what you'd see in the 9th century. The red horseman is from MiniArt's 72013 Germanic Warriors. This is my first purchase from this company. The horses are kind of chunky, but the sculpting is very, very nice. I'm using the horsemen from this box as 9th century Saxons or Vikings. Whereas the foot models will be used as 4th century Saxon invaders to fight my Hat Late Romans. (I'm using these Hat's models as Arthurian Romano-British.)

Related radio program:
Check out The Viking Way series on BBC Radio 4. You can listen online to this program about the Vikings in Britain. They mention quite a few of the real-life characters featured in Cornwell's novels!

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Saxon Series by Bernard Cornwell

It had been over three years since I last read a novel, but for some reason over Christmas I felt compelled to find some good fiction. I looked around and was pleasantly surprised to see that Bernard Cornwell had published a series on Dark Age Britain. The last novel I had read was one of his Sharpe books, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

I finished the 4th book in the Saxon Tales series last month. My assessment—excellent! Cornwell's 9th century Britain is immersive and very well researched. In the course of the story we learn of Britain's varying landscapes, the Saxon's laws, the importance of oaths, the raiding of old Roman buildings for building stone, the politics of the British isles, and the Danish custom of wearing silver and gold arm rings.

Of course, a historic novel should also have a good story. In this respect the tale does not disappoint. The characters are compelling and the battles are exciting. The Saxon Tales series follows Uhtred's development as a warrior starting at childhood. Reading of his youthful arrogance is annoying at times, but it's a realistic depiction of adolescence.

Religion plays a large part in the tale. The institution of Saxon Christianity is constantly contrasted with the pagan beliefs of the Danes. This theme is very appropriate to the setting, yet it may come as somewhat of a surprise to see religion featured so prominently in a novel intended for a mainstream audience. The Simpsons and Philosophy, edited by William Irwin et al. includes an interesting essay on this very subject. The author was impressed by the fact that The Simpsons TV series includes religion at all. The vast majority of TV shows, movies, etc. won't the touch the subject for fear of offending somebody. The pagan Uhtred is critical of the Christians—priests mostly—but this does not come off as religion-bashing.

The author could have made a better effort to distance his main character from his better known, Richard Sharpe. Both characters are orphaned uncouth warriors. They are without influence until the head honcho (Wellington or Alfred) grants them favor after the hero saves the Duke/King from harm in battle. Cornwell uses a first person narrative. The book's events are told by an old Uhtred speaking about his past exploits. This format can be problematic at times only because the uneducated main character speaks with the author's eloquence. For instance, I doubt the real-life warrior would use such a word as "obsequiousness." I've never even seen that word before! I personally am not really bothered by the above criticisms, but I thought they should be noted.

OK, in short this is a great series. If you to your library right now you'll be able to read these four books before the 5th comes out later this year!

The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell:
The Last Kingdom Book 1

The Pale Horseman Book 2

Lords of the North Book 3

Sword Song Book 4

Monday, February 2, 2009

Highland Cattle

The oldest registered breed of cattle is the Highland. It was first documented in 1884, but one would think they were around much earlier than that. Perhaps the breed doesn't stretch as far back as the Iron Age, so let's just say my herder pictured above is a Dark Age Scot. I do have some models appropriate to the Iron Age Celtic Shorthorn breed. For a future post I think I might sculpt a little ard (like a plough) pulled by a pair of cattle.

All of the models are from Gripping Beast Miniatures. The herder is one of their Celtic warriors, minus the shield. Prehistoric rock carvings from Denmark show herders carrying spears. That seems prudent when considering the prevalence of wolves, bears, and cattle thieves.

I first saw Highland Cattle on trip to Scotland in '99. There was a stuffed bull head hanging on the wall of the place where we staying. Some of my fellow American travelers had no idea what it was, thinking it looked like a prehistoric beast. I said it was a cow, but do one believed me until we later saw some grazing in a field. Back in October of  '08 we went to pumpkin patch here in Colorado. The farm has a little Highland heard. That's my wife petting the cow from the safety of our hay wagon.