Saturday, April 23, 2011

April Hobby Matrix

Well, it's that time of the month again when I get to track and ponder the ebb and flow of my gaming hobbies.  It's quite entertaining and educating to watch the rise and fall of each item and to try to comprehend the reason or reasons for the change.  Sometimes the change is due to understandable and reasonable factors such as the "oooh, shiny!" syndrome or simple inspiration from a movie or book (such as the case this month).  Other times games just fall by the wayside until fate smiles upon them and they rise from the carnage to take a place amongst the upper class again.  I think this is the case for most gamers and hobbyists but I seem to be particularly vulnerable to the phenomenon.  

 This month sees several of those old favorites fall further from favor (but never out of mind).  Although I have a unit of High Elves and Bretonians in the queue for major projects, Warhammer Fantasy Battles continues a general decline.  I have sold most of my Empire army on Ebay and only have bits and pieces of others armies hiding in storage.  I cannot even claim that the two units mentioned above will help the fall since each unit is destined for other game systems.  Though I've long thought Peter Jackson did a wonderful job with The Lord of the Rings, his vision of Tolkien's elves never matched mine.  Perhaps it's the underlying Far Eastern theme that seems to drive his view of the culture or something else entirely, but I've always pictured the elves, especially those of the first and second ages, differently.  The mail coats, high helms, and stout spears of WFB High Elves speak to me and fit the image in my head more closely than Mr. Jackson's.  So, a few units of High Elves are destined to become players in a first/second age version of LotR SBG that I'm working on.  As for the Bretonians, they will be used in an upcoming Westeros project as mentioned here.

Most of the roleplaying games remained unchanged except for the Old School catagory, which for me simply means 1st Edition.  Though I have not actually played a game in a long time, my interest in the system is up - most likely due to the time I have spent pouring over some of my old issues of Dragon Magazine and looking at old miniatures.  Just flipping through those old musty pages or opening a box of long stored minis brings back so many fond memories.  

The big winners this month are basically the same as in March.  Legends of the High Seas remains strong as does anything remotely related to pirate gaming.  LotR SBG also saw an increase mainly due to the video update Peter Jackson posted on Facebook about The Hobbit (true inspiration) and the fact that I am using my Rohirrim as stand-ins for Saxons and Vikings for the Age of Blood game system.  Speaking of Age of Blood, I'm still very much obsessed with the idea of creating a warband and running a campaign with those rules.  I'm working on proper miniatures for the project but for now, Theoden and his men are doing just fine.

I finally received my preorder of Ambush Alley Force on Force.  I knew this was going to be a big hit with me and so far I am very much impressed with the game system.  I've located many of the miniatures I would like to use/collect (check out these from Black Scorpion) and will be making a fairly large order soon.  I'm also using some of the basic patterns I've used for buildings in the construction of Port Antigua to make Middle Eastern villages so I should be ready to playtest the rules as soon as I get some minis ready.

And finally, anything related to G.R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is marked for a rapid rise.  I've long loved the gritty and "realistic" books and have been greatly inspired by the new series by HBO.  I've been hard at work painting Westeros related miniatures and preparing for a hybrid campaign that features the RPG game by Green Ronin combined with minor wargaming.  This should be quite fun to play out.

Enough of my chatter.  Here is this month's hobby matrix.  And yes, I've been lazy and I still do not have a proper format.

Current Obsession - Age of Blood
Past Obsession - Legends of the High Seas
Looming Obsession - Ambush Alley (Force on Force)

Lord of the Rings SBG = 8+
Warhammer Fantasy = 3-
Warhammer 40K = 5*
Pathfinder RPG = 4*
A Song of Ice and Fire RPG = 9+
Flames of War = 2-
Wings of War = 5-
D&D 4ed = 2*
D&D 3.5 = 3-
D&D old school = 8+
Axis and Allies War at Sea = 5*
Legends of the High Seas =9*
Terrain and Scenery Design = 8*
Miniature Painting (general) = 9+
Lord of the Rings Online = 3*
Pirates of the Burning Sea = 2-
Pirates of the Spanish Main = 6+
Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG = 7+
Ambush Alley = 7+
Age of Blood = 8+

(The scale is 1-10 with one being the lowest on the current interest scale and ten being the highest.  "-" indicates a negative trend and "+" indicates a positive while "*" signifies no change from the previous month.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More Pirates Flock to Port Largo

Rumor has spread throughout the West Indies that Port Largo has become a bit of a pirate haven, second only to Nassau in the Bahamas.  While not openly welcomed, seadogs, buccaneers, privateers, and pirates know that for a price, anything can be bought or sold there as long as the Governor gets his share.  Those "on the account" walk the streets and frequent the taverns and brothels on the island with no fear of capture while their cargo and coin continues to enrich the residents. 

I've managed to finish up five more pirates and soon they too will join their brethren in Port Largo for my Legends of the High Seas project.  Over the next few days I plan to profile each of these unsavory characters and send dispatches to other Governors and captains so that they may be on the lookout for these wretches of the sea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

There and Back Again - Let it Begin

I just watched the first video blog from Peter Jackson on the filming of The Hobbit.  Watching him walk around familiar sets and talking about the new movie has set my imagination soaring.  That wonderful feeling I had over ten years ago when I started following and waiting for The Fellowship of the Ring is back again and I couldn't be happier.  In an age of social media and sharing, Mr. Jackson is spot on with his decision to keep the fans updated directly from the source and to whet our appetites with tantalizing tidbits of scenery, costumes, and props.

For gamers and hobbyists like myself, the updates can serve an additional purpose.... inspiration.  Those fond memories of the halcyon days of LotR have returned with just one teaser video.  Additional updates are sure to have a profound effect on the direction of my gaming/hobby interests.

How about you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On the Horizon for April

The fact that I am late with this monthly feature is indicative of the month thus far.  Business is still brisk and I have had precious few moments for hobbies and blogging.  But as the saying goes, better late than never.  However, by the time I get this posted, half the month will have come and gone and my plans, ambitious even for a full month, will be neigh on impossible to reach.  Oh well...Ad Astra Per Aspera.

Looming work ahead.

First up for this month's projects is my miniature queue.  Though I did get quite a bit of painting completed last month, little if any change was to be noticed in the paint rack.  Many miniatures received my attention but few were completed and thus remained in the rack.  This month is different however.  Although there are several familiar faces in the photo below, I was able to complete several others and move new projects into the queue.

The full painting queue.

Finally some changes in the queue...

The painting rack.

From left to right top to bottom:  Saruman 1 and 2, which are in the exact same state as last month, followed by Strider from The Three Hunters blister.  Since I primed him for the Gesso post I might as well paint him up to join the plethora of other Striders in my collection.  The barkeep next to him is from Reaper's Townsfolk collection.  John Snow from Dark Sword Miniatures is next.  My collection of GRRM minis have been sitting around for quite some time but with the excitement of the looming series on HBO, I definitely foresee more action on this front. Christina the Devout from Reaper rounds out the first row.  I have had her for almost four years now and cannot seem to get started.  She's a great sculpt but inspiration for painting Christina is lacking.  If I do not get to the miniature this month I may take her out of the queue and come back to her later.

On the next row is the poor Cadian test model that has only manged to get a basecoat of flesh and boots. Once again the month of the Cadians has come and gone with little to no progress.  Instead of March of the Cadians, I may find myself looking at November of the Cadians...not quite as catchy is it?   Cyndria Stormcaller from Reaper got a little love last month with some basecoating.  She's certainly not my favorite sculpt but I only have a few female pirates in my collection thus far and would like to get her painted up.  Speaking of favorite sculpts, the next in line from Dark Sword certainly ranks highly with me.  The Young Hedge Knight looks quite striking and clever in his light armor and cloak.  I'm not sure how GRRM would feel about the bow on the back of a knight but the addition is fine with me.  He will make a great miniature to represent a RP character.  Next is a Wilding, also from the Game of Thrones line.  He was added this month to the queue not only due to the general ASoIaF frenzy but also to represent a dark age warrior in a project inspired by these posts over at The Man Cave.  The Governor of Port Antigua (from Black Scorpion) has received a bascoat for his soon to be gold greatcoat and tricorn.  I plan on doing something special with his waistcoat...perhaps a brocade pattern or something similar.  Melisande Wavecutter from Reaper is last on the row.  And yes, for those of you that follow this monthly update, she has not been touched at all.  I'm torn about what to do with the hat so she sits and waits for me to decide

The five minis not mounted yet are Waiting for Shadamehr from the DSM Larry Elmore collection, a male ranger also from DSM, and three unprimed pirate captains from Old Glory.  They will move to painting mounts as soon as I get some dull coat on a few completed miniatures and free up their mounts.

A motley collection of miniatures stand in front of the painting rack and await my attention.  From left to right, top to bottom:  Another pirate captain from Old Glory starts out the top row.  I have yet to paint a single pirate from the Old Glory collection and I am anxious to see the results.  Some painters/gamers love their sculpts while others find them lacking.  I wonder what side of the debate I will land on?  Alidee the Bandit from Reaper is next in line.  She is the first of yet another new project where I plan to select and paint  miniatures to represent the individual members of my LotRO Kinship.  This particular mini will be the miniature version of Myriade Hawkes, our favorite burglar.  The next three minis are all from Reaper's Townsfolk line and will represent some of the less than respectable ladies in Port Antigua in my Legends of the High Seas project.  Another female rounds out the row - Terezinya from Reaper.   I really like her pose but dislike the numerous skulls on her outfit.  I really do not want to worry with a conversion right now (minor as it would be) so I will paint her as is.  Down the road I may purchase another copy and spend the time to remove the features in question.

On the next row is Kurff the Swift from Reaper followed by a pirate with a musket from Black Scorpion.  I have only made little progress on the next mini from Black Cat bases.  Once completed she will join the other strumpets of Port Antigua but beware, she is not so simple as she seems.  Hidden behind the back of that lowered bodice is a sharp dagger.  Next is another female from the Townsfolk range though she is not quite as sketchy as the other lasses.  Autumn Bronzeleaf from Reaper is the last figure on the row and has only received a flesh basecoat at this point.

The last mounted row begins with Klaus Copperthumb and Anirion, both from Reaper.  Since Raistlin miniatures are difficult to find and expensive to obtain, I think Anirion will serve as a proxy Dragonlance mage.  Another pirate from Black Scorpion is next.  Yes, I realize the upper half looks like a statue.  He was/is a test subject for an upcoming experiment and tutorial on graybrushing.  Mason Thornwarden and Ilsa Darkstep are both from Reaper and sport only basecoats, except for the ranger's cloak which is approaching the final highlighting stage.  Finally, below the mounted minis are four Brits awaiting primer for the LotHS project.  They will join these fellows and help man the garrison in Port Antigua.

Unless you're living under a rock, I'm sure any reader is aware of HBO's upcoming adaptation of G.R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I have watched all the trailers and the first fifteen minutes of episode one and am quite pleased with the results.  It seems HBO is willing to remain true to the books (and why not - the books are great as is) and in doing so, renewed my love for Westeros.  To celebrate the upcoming series I am in the process of turning a box of Bretonnians into knights of Westeros.

I am planning on painting the Bretonnians to match some of the great houses of Westeros for an upcoming project that combines roleplaying and small skirmish wargaming.  The idea struck me when I noticed the antlers adorning the helm of one of the mounted knights.  While Robert Baratheon in the books is both fat and a drunkard, at the time he won the throne he was a mighty warrior and in my mind would have looked much like the miniature below.  I have ideas for most of the others but first things first....I have to find where I hid all the shields.  Yikes!

As mentioned above, I have been thinking of starting a dark age miniature campaign and project.  To help in the scenery department I have been building a few more structures for LotR and Age of Blood.  Since Rohan architecture and culture can fit quite nicely with a dark age theme I feel I'm getting a good deal here with my scenery. 

Is this simple home in Engla-lond or Rohan?

Finally, while speaking of LotR, I've pulled my nearly complete Rangers of Gondor out of the darkness and onto a shelf.  I started them several years ago but for some reason never finished.  See the pattern here?  With just a bit of highlighting here and there these guys will be ready to go in short order however.  And with their completion I may actually catch up to where I meant to be this year with my completed miniature count.

Rangers of Gondor await painting orders.

Well, there it is.  My plans for what is left of April.  Is the goal attainable?  I don't know...probably not.  But would goals be as interesting if they were set so low that they were always met?  Plus, just posting what I would like to accomplish at the start of every month is a huge motivating factor.

Do any of you do something similar to help organize your hobby plans?  If so, do you find that the plans help or hinder your projects?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Great Map for a Great Cause

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings.  I owe most of my love for fantasy, and gaming by extension, to Professor Tolkien and his works.  Though my hobbies cover a rather large gamut of interests, LotR seems to be the binding agent between those areas or at least the old lovable stand-by that is always there waiting for me when other pursuits turn boring and dull.  I am always on the lookout for great sites on the subject as well as collectibles.  Not long ago, I found both.

Recently the fellows over at and Middle-earth Network have introduced the all new Dunedain Radio.  Featuring LotR inspired music, news, and chats, the internet radio station launched on Friday March 25th and has been open in my browser almost constantly since then.  Though there seems to be a few hiccups here and there (what new endeavor does not have them?), I am very pleased with the content and format and wish Dunedain Radio continued success.

If you are a fan of Tolkien and Middle-earth, you may want to consider making a small donation.  Charity and giving always feels good, but when you receive a gift in return for something you planned to do anyhow, well it's almost like a hobbit going to a birthday party and coming home with a present.  And that's exactly what is happening now at Dunedain Radio.  If you donate $20 - $26 (depending on where you live), those fine folks will send you a mathom worth keeping --- The Map of the Dwarves.

My map.  The wrinkles are due to the mailman's ineptness.

I received my copy a few days ago and as you can see above, it is truly a wonderful work of art.  The colors and lines are quite crisp and clear even though the parchment paper used gives the feeling of age and weight when held.  According to the website, the map was created as a special commission by the artist Daniel Govar and is only available to supporters of Dunedain Radio.  The map itself is obviously inspired by Thror's Map in The Hobbit.  And though the wording is the same, dare I say that the artwork is much better than the original? (Please forgive me Professor Tolkien).  I also want to point out that the map is quite large - 17 by 22 inches in fact.  I failed to include an object for scale in the photo above but the size would definitely be suitable for framing or gracing a position of honor in a gaming room.

By donating to Dunedain Radio, you are not only supporting a great LotR news and entertainment site, but helping the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan as well.  I was pleased to discover that a portion of all donations will go to a relief charity called Hands on Tokyo.  It may not be much but remember that every little bit counts.

As the title says, this is a great map for a great cause (two great causes actually!).  Check out the site and the radio station and give a little if you can.  I did and I am very happy with the return.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Priming with Gesso - The Answer to Humidity

For those readers who live in the latitudes where winter has not yet relinquished its icy grip, I must warn that you may not like the preamble to this post.  I am preparing to complain about the fact that I live on a beautiful island surrounded by clear tropical waters teeming with wondrous marine life and colorful coral reefs.  I am also going to take issue with the fact that while most of the northern hemisphere was battling one snow storm after another, I had to deal with temperatures that rarely dropped below seventy-five degrees and probably less than eight days of rain since "winter" officially started.  Yep...I am going to complain.

Home sweet home.

Now that  I have so many readers angry with me it might be a good time to explain.  I really do live in paradise but paradise comes with a price (figuratively and literally - but I will deal with the figurative side this post).  You see, when you are surrounded by all this warm Gulf Stream water, it may moderate your winters but it also brings almost constant humidity.  The winter and spring months (our dry season) are a bit better but even then we experience higher than average humidity levels.  And during the wet season (May through November) it can be almost unbearable.  Just walking outside will soak your shirt and create a sheen of water on your skin.

What does this little meteorological and geographical lesson have to do with hobbies?  Well, if you live in such a place and count miniature painting as one of your hobbies then the short answer to the above question is - everything.  We all know that the actual painting of the miniature is only one step to producing a finished product and one of the most important of these steps is priming.  And spray priming in humidity is one sure way to ruin a miniature in the very first stage.

Bring up the subject of priming at a convention or in a hobby forum and a debate will automatically ensue about which method is the best or which product provides the best results.  I certainly do not know enough about the properties of chemicals and I have not tried enough different brands to get involved in such a debate, but what I can offer is a suggestion for those of  you who may need to prime miniatures indoors due to conditions such as mine, or for some other reason.

I started priming with Gesso about a year ago after ruining several miniatures trying to spray primer in humid conditions.  Batch after batch would dry with that dusty gritty look so often caused by priming in high humidity.  The obvious solution was to avoid spray primers on all but the driest of days (a rarity indeed) and work inside instead.  Not having the space for a proper spray booth, the only option was to prime by brush painting.  I tried several brush-on products but all seemed too thin and runny and required several coats to get the job done.  Even then, I felt that the coverage was poor and prone to flaking with minimal handling.  I was at wits end until a fellow gamer (who happened to be an artist) suggested using Gesso.

A few varieties of Gesso.

Gesso is used by artists to prepare their canvases for paints.  It acts both as a sealer and smoother and will keep paints from soaking into the weave of the canvas.  Gesso is traditionally white but grays and blacks are also readily available.  It's composed of a filler and a pigment and depending on the ratio between the two, comes in student and professional grades.  I really can't tell the difference and I am not even sure which type I use.  One fact that users may want to note is that some brands are considered a carcinogen while others are not.  Unfortunately, the brand I prefer is under the former category so I am extra careful to keep it off my skin when using it.  Gesso is available in most art stores and in some larger department stores.

Since switching to Gesso, I have had zero problems with humidity or coverage.  The stuff dries quickly and shrinks down to show even the most minute detail.  Though the painting surface becomes incredibly smooth and silky (I love applying paint to a newly Gesso-primed model) the primer provides more than enough "teeth" for acrylic paints to take.

When I first tried Gesso I was a bit concerned due to the thickness of the particular brand I chose.  However, my fears were soon put to rest.  Though it goes on quite thick, you can almost see the material shrink as it begins to dry.  Any details obscured during the priming process quickly regain shape with no loss.  Chainmaile, hair, and heraldic designs dry perfectly visible.

The one problem I did have in the beginning was lack of coverage but that was due to my concerns about obscuring details.  Gesso looked so thick in the container that I felt the need to thin it down.  Then when painting I was still afraid of loosing detail so I painted on only very thin coats.  When this stuff dries, it really shrinks and I found many spots on the model bare after drying.  I finally decided to give an unthinned coat a try and immediately gained better results.  Eventually I began to paint straight out of the pot and really gob it on knowing that the Gesso would shrink down to give me the proper coverage.

A thick gob on the face will dry skin tight.

Since some of you may be unwilling to believe that it's OK to simply slap it on, I took a few models for test subjects.  You can see below how thick the Gesso was applied and the end results.  The only place I'm a bit more careful is in very deep crevices such as where hoods overshadow a face or hollow spaces such as holes in between arms or on weapons.  Otherwise, I think the process is almost foolproof.... even for an amateur like myself.

My three test subjects.  From left to right:  Strider (from the Three Hunters blister) from Games Workshop, a pirate from Black Scorpion, and Anirion, Wood Elf Wizard from Reaper.

Strider will be the first test model.

 I applied the Gesso quite heavily on Strider's packs without fear of loosing details.

Only a few small areas need touching up.

Next up is the pirate.

Notice how thick the Gesso is on the pistol, cutlass, and chest areas.

Now notice how detailed those same areas are on the miniature.  No loss of detail and only a few areas to re-prime.

Now it's the wizard's turn.

Anirion gets a fairly thick coat...including his face.  It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes more is better.

Anirion is now dry with only a few areas to touch up.  Either I missed these small areas or I did not apply the Gesso thick enough and when it dried/shrank, parts of the metal was exposed.

I am very happy with the results of priming with Gesso and if you have been considering using it, I do not think you will be disappointed.  It goes on smoothly, provides great adhesion and coverage, is cheaper (overall) than name brand hobby primers (GW, etc...) and allows priming to be completed inside.  The only downside is that priming an entire army would certainly be more time consuming than spraying but then again, I tend not to paint large armies and even if I did, I would only end up repairing all the models after spraying anyhow.  Your mileage may vary but I cannot recommend Gesso enough.

Are there other techniques out there that would solve the problem of priming in high humidity?  I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.