Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Another Two Units of Splintered Light mice

Two more units for my Mice army to be used in my fantasy miniatures battle project
With the Lead Painter League done, I was free to work on any project that I wanted. I have a huge batch of Acheson Creations buildings coming in, but they have not arrived, yet. So, I foresee a lot of French & Indian War terrain, like forts, blockhouses, log cabins, and such in my near future. For the time being, though, I needed something else to paint up. I decided to do another two bases' worth of Splintered Light Miniatures mice for my fantasy miniatures battle project. I'd completed the first two stands for Round 1 of the League, so decided to add a couple more units.
On the left, the Muenster regiment (motto on flag: "Here be Muensters!"....thanks, Nicole!)
Under these rules, each stand will be a self-contained unit. Awhile back, I'd purchased a huge bag of hexagons bases (about 1 3/4" across) from Litko for an -- as yet -- unrealized gladiator project. When I decided to slip this particular project in front of the gladiator one, I'd decided to use some of the hexagons as bases for my troops. The reason for that is the movement system will utilize a "gridless" hexagon board. If you have ever played the clicky aerial game "Crimson Skies" then you know what I am talking about. A unit lays down a number of hexagons in front of their position to indicate their path of movement. The unit base is then placed atop the final hex and that is its location.
On the right, the Camembert regiment (motto on flag: "Oh Camembert, we stand on guard for thee!")
The result of all that is "units" are composed of 3-5 figures based on a single hexagon base. I sorted through my mice and decided to paint up a unit of spear and one of axes. I tossed one spear in with the axes to be its standard bearer, and added a hero mouse to the spear, as well. If you remember, the theme for the units in my mouse army is cheese. Each unit, or regiment, will take its name from a type of cheese. My first two units were Gouda and Brie. Each also has a battle slogan that uses the cheese brand as a pun. For these two units, I decided to go with Camembert ("Oh Camembert, we stand on guard for thee!") and Muenster ("Here be Muensters!"). I have my friend Nicole to thank for the Muenster slogan, by the way.
Back view of the two regiments. I really like how the purple came out with its color wash!
The 18mm Splintered Light Miniatures I am using have very medieval-looking uniforms. So, I'd earlier decided to use the "rules of Heraldry" for my color patterns, as well. That meant no "color" (Black, Red, Green, Blue, Purple) on color, and no "Metal" (White, Yellow) on metal. The Muenster regiment has hooded cloaks, so I decided to go with a split Purple and Yellow color scheme. I decided to be lazy and not quarter the Camembert regiment, and also go with a split, half and half scheme. They would be blue and white.

I also decided to continue using the skills I'd picked up in this last round of the Lead Painters League. I did color washes on the four colors used for the mice's uniforms. I particularly liked how the purple came out. I painted it a base coat of lavender followed by a watered down wash of Iron Wind Metals "Tongue Purple." The same format was used for the other colors -- a pale base coat followed by a richer color wash. This is finished off by a dry brush of a very light shade in that tone. The three colors and the shaded tones of the wash gives it a more vibrant color, I feel.

The banners I once again produced in photoshop. The Muenster one had to be very narrow to fit in the small space between the mouse's head and the tip of the spear. So, I made it a long, flowing pennon type. For the Camembert regiment, I used a 28mm metal spear trimmed to size. I then used a pin vice to drill a hole in the base to secure it into. It was then pressed up against the outstretched paw of the hero mouse to make it look like he is grasping the standard.

Although I am painting very small miniatures when doing the mice, they still seem to go easier than the 28mm skirmish figures I paint with their riot of equipment -- especially the Conquest Miniatures Indians who will often have several bags, powder horns, etc., festooned all over them. Measuring about 14mm in height from feet to tips of their ears, these are small figures. The detail is well-cast, though, and I never really feel that anything is a stretch to do. I do their belts, for example, in two tones, just as I do for larger figures. I have always loved Splintered Light's line of miniatures. Every time I finish up a batch of them, I love them that much more...!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lead Painters League 8 -- Final Standings and Recap

 Check this out! Not only did I end up with a winning record for the first time in my three years of participation, but I also ended up in the top 10! How did that happen...? Well, if you examine the above standings closely, you will see the answer comes in the form of two words: bonus points. Simply put, I was able to field a "new team" (previously unpublished online) for all 10 rounds, as well as participate in all three theme rounds. I did pass up the "big item" bonus in round 10, as I owned no WW I tanks, trains, aircraft, boats, etc., that I wanted to paint up for the competition. I am not letting this go to my head, though. I can do subtraction and see what would happen if all bonus points were removed and we simply were scored on vote points. Doubtless, a half dozen painters would move ahead of me, and rightly so! I would also say there are quite a few beneath me in the standings who are better-skilled than I am.

I also think I benefit from my photography and composition skills. I tend to put together interesting scenes to show off my miniatures. I also own software which allows me to crop the photos on the computer to show off the miniatures to their best advantage. Sometimes that spectacle is what tips the scales and causes a voter to click for me instead of my opponent. I realize that, and I know I do the same thing myself when voting. If two sets of miniatures look relatively equal, I'm going to vote for the one who bothered to tell a story with their composition. So, yeah. Take out composition, and place all minis against a grayscale background, and then take out bonus points, and I sink probably right where I fit in this incredibly-talented group of painters: the middle of the pack.

To reverse the Mike-bashing, I did think it was interesting that three of my four losses were to those who finished the competition ranked #1, #3, and #5. So, my losses were to no slouches -- and also were often closer vote totals than I would have expected. Even more strangely, it seemed that my opponents weren't always giving me their best shot. What do I mean? Well, when I faced the champion in round 2, his Star Wars chess entry was probably not his strongest of the year. I ended up with about 40% of that vote. Had he submitted one of his usual masterpieces I would have been stomped and received almost no vote points. When I went against #3, I was edged out in my closest loss of the year. It is also the only one where I felt maybe I shouldn't have lost. Either way, his entry was definitely not his strongest of his competition, so once again I accumulated a lot of vote points. And in round 10, my opponent (a very talented painter) submitted a photo that was so dark many voters chose mine simply because they could see my detail. So, yeah, I think I got lucky this time around, too. But it was the fact that I never got stomped in any round, and that I was always getting a healthy percentage, that kept me adding up the vote points over 10 rounds of competition. Early on, I noticed I was always had the most point among those with a similar record (top 3-3, top 3-4, etc.). And that remained true to the end.

So, what skill did I learn this time around? Color washes. I was tempted to try my hand at inks this competition, but settled on using watered down acrylics instead. My first foray was on the Rogers Rangers entry (Round 6). I started with a pale, faded version of the color I wanted as a base coat. Then once it was dry, I mixed about a 50/50 batch of a darker, richer version of that tone. I then followed it up sparingly with a light drybrush highlight. I did this for both the flesh and the green on the Rogers Rangers, and was very happy with the result. It provides a more colorful and richer hued look than simply base coating and dry brushing.

I also took the advice of Joe (Neldoreth), who recommended that I don't simply use a black wash on everything. Some colors look better with a brown wash (fleshes, yellows). So, I created a new final wash coat, or more properly, two of them. I bought some Vallejo clear gloss acrylic resin paint and mixed two batches, a brown and black. On some parts of a figure, I may use the brown wash and on other parts I may use the black to highlight and deepen the shadows.

What was my favorite entry of the round? Interestingly, I would have to say it came early with my Round 2: On the Warpath -- Indians posed on my cliff pieces. The entry actually lost to eventual champion Frank, but I loved the rich colors on that batch of Indians. The biggest surprise? I would have to say winning Round 10 -- I'd had that one penciled in as a loss from the beginning. And maybe how well I did with the 15mm Splintered Light Miniatures mice in round 1.

I painted 57 miniatures over about 16 weeks (the league was announced about six weeks before the start), which is a nice output for most miniatures painters. Most importantly, I learned new techniques, and had a lot of fun. The camaraderie among the participants and voters on the Lead Adventure Forum is amazing. Flame wars simply don't happen. Comments that could be perceived as mildly negative are almost non-existent. There is a huge range of talent in the pool, so anybody can enter. I highly encourage anyone who enjoys miniature painting and has the ability to photograph and resize pics of his or her minis to enter. You will look forward to Sunday mornings for 10 weeks. It is so enjoyable to sit back, click through the matchups, and be amazed at the magic of what some people can do with a paint brush. The artistry, cool figures, and imaginative narratives told by the photographs allow you to shut out the real world for awhile, and enter one of beauty and color.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lead Painters League 8, Round 10

My round 10 entry, "East Africa Rifles Advance," surprised me with a solid victory. I won 297-170, which gave me a 6-4 and my first winning record ever in the Lead Painters League!
I was more stressed about what to do for this round than any of the others. It was a theme round, and the subject was one I really didn't have any miniatures for. World War I has never been a period I've been drawn to -- the battles are pretty much meat grinders and the tactics completely uninspired, for the most part. Historians often accuse generals of fighting a war with the previous wars' tactics -- ignoring the implications of advances in weaponry. WW I vies for being the grand pubba of this dubious distinction, what with charges of lines of troops against entrenched troops armed with machine guns. Pure slaughter...for a good Hollywood depiction of that, check out the early Mel Gibson film, Gallipoli.
Anyway, I suspected that when I purchased about 100 figures for my Pulp project a few years back that some of them might be able to masquerade as WW I troops from one of the outlying theaters. I dug through my unpainted lead and came up with three possibilities. I showed these to my Sunday night gaming group and they identified one as good candidates for volunteer allied troops in the East Africa campaign of WW I. Keith dug out his Osprey Men-at-Arms source book on the campaign. Leafing through it, we found a painting that was a dead ringer for the troops: East Africa Mounted Rifle civilian volunteers.

I had five of the miniatures in the pack, but figured the voters in the Lead Painters League would slam me for fielding five 28mm miniatures of all the same pose. At Cincycon this March, I'd picked up Blue Moon's "A Mummy Scenario" box for half price. This set is essentially the movie, "The Mummy Returns" in miniature. In addition to Rick, the box contained some of the American fortune hunters. I sorted through them and drafted both Rick and one of the Americans into my dismounted, mounted rifle troops.

I wanted to depict them as having a basic uniform with variations in color to reflect weathering of clothes or civilians providing their own "close enough" match to the regulation equipment. The painting in the Osprey book showed a faded, gray-blue shirt, floppy brimmed hat, and khaki pants. For the pants and hat, I used a range of shades from bleached linen to dark brown. The shirt took a bit more artistry. I began with a very light gray base coat. Once dry, I took a denim blue and watered it down more than 50/50. I did this as a wash for a couple figures. I added some more water, and washed a couple more. Then even more water, and washed the last two. This gave a range of faded blues that seemed natural to me, but also provided some nice variety. This is probably the one skill I picked up during this year's league that I feel best about: color washes.

I also use a color wash on my European flesh tone, now. I start with a basic, normal flesh base coat. Then I take Ceramcoat "Georgia Clay" and water it down more than 50/50. I apply this as a wash over the skin areas. I usually do this first to keep from having to worry about it seeping onto other areas of the figure. Then I finish the flesh off with a very light flesh tone dry brush.

The scene that I set up was a town assault, or advance more properly, as there were no enemy present. I used my resin buildings from my modern Africa games, along with some Acheson Creations sandbag emplacements and crates. I honestly thought I was going to slaughtered in the voting on this round. The same poses for 4 of the 6 figures, and not having a "big item" (tank, aircraft, trains, etc.) would cut down on the "Wow!" factor. I lucked out and was matched against what is normally one of the top painters in the league. His photograph was so dark that voters had a hard time seeing his details. In addition, he did not label it as a smaller scale -- I think his figures are at least 15mm in size, but could even be 10mm. So, I ended up winning fairly handily, which secured my first-ever, above .500 record.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dakota Smith and the Valley that Time Forgot

Clara tries to steady her hands enough to take advantage of the photo opportunity with the prehistoric beast in the Valley that Time Forgot
   Sweat rolled off their bodies, and soaked their clothes. Used to temperate climates, the archeologists wondered how in the world could mountain valleys be so blasted hot? They’d followed the trail from the Lost City for three weeks, up mountain passes and down through deep, jungle-clad valleys. They kept their compass point always headed towards the looming mountain whose silhouette looked like a tea bell-shaped, Buddhist stupa. The inscriptions on the temple walls, and the frieze of carvings had been explicit. For a “Lost Valley,” it was amazingly easy to find your way towards. But this last, deep valley was bigger than all the others combined. Volcanic booms echoed off the steep mountain walls. They could smell the sulphuric gasses. Strange, brightly-colored animals shrieked away from the explorers hacking a path through the pitiless jungle. They could have filled their notebooks with sketches of new species — especially reptiles — twice over. They were not naturalists, though. They were archeologists, seeking the Forbidden Temple — legendary resting place of the Tears of the Buddha. If they could get their hands on that storied crystal vial, their name would echo forever among famous archeologists.
   Another, louder boom shook the earth around the archeologists. “Is that volcano gonna blow?” one asked.
   “I don’t think that was a volcano…” was the reply, and a hush fell over the archeologists…

The long, steamy mountain valley that the archeologists had to cross. Ready for a pleasant walk in the woods? Heh, heh...
For our fifth chapter of our Pulp games following the adventures of Dakota Smith and other Western archeologists in the Orient, I went with a different format. Instead of positioning temples or other objectives around the table for them to explore, I started all four archeological teams at table edge. Their goal was to exit off the opposite end. The team that got the most of its characters off received the major plot point, others a minor one. Simple enough? Well, as always, the secret martial arts society, The Order of the Fire Coral, was there to frustrate that goal, hidden in the jungle ahead. What's more, I created two teams of 3 velociraptors each who would also be there to slow them down. And coming in behind them, midway through the game, would be two "terrors" -- a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Ceratosaurus -- to chase them along towards the opposite side. I even cautioned the players ahead of time, saying that the games so far had been fairly competitive in nature. This one "might not" be that type...
The players...would they cooperate against the hidden dangers that lay ahead? Mike wears the fedora to signify he controls the Initiative under the Pulp Alley rules
All four teams moved cautiously forward on the first turn. I had the raptors stay hidden, marking their positions with bushes. The players commented, "Are the bushes moving?" I said, why yes, they do seem to be moving as something passes through them. Scenes from Jurassic Park II: The Lost World -- the raptor ambush -- immediately came to their mind. Although they did not see the raptors, they all could see one giant herbivore, a Triceratops-type, calmly munching the foliage, watching them with its intent yellow eyes. The French leader, Pierre Fournereau, watched the foliage in a thicker patch of jungle ahead parting in a sinister fashion. Suddenly, he heard a great ape hooting wildly and there was a thrashing in the jungle. The great ape howled in pain and was silent.
Pierre and Dr. Lambert wounded by the raking claws of a pair of velociraptors
Before Pierre could decide whether to back off, there was a horrifying reptilian screech and a man-sized lizard ran sped towards him on two hind legs. "Sacre bleu!" he shouted, "Velociraptor!" Pierre blazed away at it as the beast closed then felt a sharp pain as its claws raked his shoulder. He heard footsteps behind him and watched in amazement as Dr. Lambert charged to his aid, swinging his weighty briefcase as a bludgeon. There was another screech and a second raptor charged the aged doctor, who twisted and dodged to avoids its deadly claws. On the cliff above, Jacques Nero aimed at the beasts, but could not get a clear shot as they grappled and sliced at his countrymen.

The other archeologists heard the screams of the Frenchmen, and looked nervously at the jungle around them. Should they go help? And what was that movement off there in the dim jungle-shrouded light? Soon, all four parties of archeologists heard the nightmare screech and saw the reptilian menaces speeding towards them. Any thoughts of rivalry were forgotten as the westerners and their native guides fought for their life against the onslaught of raptors. I used the Pulp Alley "Savage Predator" for the raptors. One particularly nasty ability is "Savage" -- which allows a second melee immediately following the first, if the attacker chooses. The players were given a momentary breather when one used a "Parley" fortune card. I interpreted this as an earthquake rocking the valley, causing all to stumble about (no running, no fighting).
"Smile for the camera...och! How can yee tell if the beastie's smiling?" Harris McLeod's niece and Dolly take time out to photograph a giant herbivore
Both Clara and Dolly took this opportunity to speed ahead and go for the bonus plot point -- photographing a dinosaur. The giant herbivore watched them blandly, then shuffled back deeper into the jungle. I ruled a character needed two Finesse successes to snap sufficient photographic evidence, and both ladies took two turns to complete the plot point. As they were finishing up, Harris McLeod barked, "Hurry up, lassies, we've to go noo...!" Looking back, they saw raptors running towards them, along with Dakota Smith and Harold. Both men were casting wide-eyed glances behind them.
"Run, Harold, damn you!" Dakota Smith shouts as he blazes away at the raptor trying to cut him off. Behind the American, a Tyrannosaurs Rex pounds towards the archeologists. Soon, all Westerners were fleeing for their lives towards the edge of the board.
Packing up their cameras, the ladies noticed the pounding they heard was not the aftershocks of the earthquake, like they'd first thought. It was as if it were the heavy tread of something huge coming closer and closer. They screamed at the nightmare come to life and followed in the path of Harris and Major Speke-Eastman through the jungle. In front of the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dakota Smith blazed away at the raptors trying to cut him off. "Run, damn you!" he shouted to the others. Soon, all the British and Americans were fleeing for the edge of the jungle. On the other side of a patch of thicker patch of jungle, the Irish dispatched the last raptor attacking them and also took to their heels. Pierre and Dr. Lambert, with the help of Jacques Nero, had finally disengaged from the raptors attacking them and were also fleeing for their lives.
The other big terror, a Ceratosaurus, helps chase the teams towards the board edge as raptors continue to bedevil the players
"This way, if you want to live!" Dakota Smith shouts, as Harris follows. The Scotsman urges the ladies to stop gawking at dinosaurs, while Harold guards the rear against any raptors on their trail.
As the screams of the westerners echoed through the jungle, four sinister-garbed agents stepped from the shadows. "At last," Opay hissed. "We have the foreign devils at our mercy..." Joel had done a great job of letting the archeologists be worn down by the raptors, while avoiding the beasts themselves by staying hidden. Now, as they were strung out fleeing down jungle paths, the Order of the Fire Coral launched its ambush. Opay and Tatko leapt out and attacked Harris McLeod and Major Speke-Eastman, while Jazh Minh and Neen Wha blocked the path of the Irish fortune hunters.
"We've got you, now, foreign devils...!" Opay and Tatko leap out and attack the major and Harris.

"Now, aren't you a persistent wee hussy," Lady Shannon growls as she battles Jaz Minh

Even with the game being extended by one turn (Reward Card for photographing a dinosaur), Joel had chosen his position and time too well. His attacks ensured none of the westerners would get off the board before the end of the seventh turn. His victory conditions were one minor plot point for each teams that got none off the board, so he was the big winner of the scenario with four. Allen's (Americans) reward card had an extra experience point so he scored two, and Keith (British) one. After being the big winners in the last two games big winner, Mike (Irish) and Tom (French) ended up with none.
After chasing off the human interlopers, the prehistoric beasts resume their dominance games for control of the Valley that Time Forgot...!
The game was a blast, though Joel will probably claim that was due to the supply of Scotch Ale I laid in for the night's game. The players did a good job of cooperating, no shots were fired at each other. Even so, they ended up "losing" to the combined force of raptors and Order of Fire Coral. If I were going to replay the scenario, I would probably put a couple fewer raptors on the board and bring in the terrors in earlier. No one actually was attacked by the T-Rex or Ceratosaurus -- not that it would have been a pretty sight if they had been...! I had planned bring them in earlier, but the raptors were doing such a good job against the westerners that I delayed their entry. All in all, I think the players enjoyed it, and certainly felt their blood race as they tried to escape. Next, it is on to the Forbidden Temple...!