Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Royal Navy Marines or Trouble In Port Largo

Though I have not completed any miniatures the last two weeks, I have been working on quite a few.  I tend to batch paint which sometimes leads to long delays between completions.  However, there are several that are ready to come off the assembly line and join the ranks.

The first to exit the painting queue is a batch of Royal Navy Marines from Black Scorpion.  I had a terrible time painting these guys due to several reasons.  For one, I used a white primer thinking that I would save time with the whites and get a more vibrant red.  I quickly learned that I should have used black or gray instead.  Besides the red coats, white is the predominant color on the minis and I found myself either outlining in black to create separation between the garments or repainting all the white areas in gray then highlighting back up. I felt like I was taking two steps back to go one step forward.  The other difficulty is that I simply hate painting reds.  That color, more than any other, seems to be my bane and nemesis.  I think the coats came out OK but not nearly as well as I had hoped.

Technically the miniatures are not quite finished.  I still need to add a layer of gloss coat followed by Testor's dullcote to knock off the shine.  The humidity has been very high here in the Florida Keys over the last week so they have to sit and wait for a change in the weather.  When the protective coats are completed, I can finally finish off the models with a bit of flock on the bases.

I have eight more of these fellows to paint for a proper crew.  I think I will try a different approach this time though.  I recently read of a technique called gray-brushing?? that works well with models that have large areas of lighter color.  I plan to primer black as usual then drybrush a nice medium gray over the miniature followed by another drybrushed coat of white.  If I understood the technique correctly, this should give me a good base for working with the whites and reds while still giving me the separation and depth that a black undercoat would.  I'll post the results when they are finished.

As far as the miniature's role in my Legends of the High Seas project, let's just say the Governor of Port Largo will not be happy to see the HMS Fury sail into the harbor and these guys disembark for their new post.  Since the HMS Defiance departed the Windward Islands for home over two years ago, the waters around the port have been quite lawless.  Piracy increased significantly but the Governor and many of the merchants in town have done very well for themselves despite the occasional loss of goods and ships.  The pirates and ruffians frequently return from sea heavily laden with goods to sell and coin to spend and they find officials in Port Largo willing to turn a blind eye to the origin of said goods - for a price.  Though the port sees more than its fair share of trouble when the "lads" are in town drinking and wenching, all in all, the arrangement is beneficial to both parties.

However word as reached the Governor that the HMS Fury is due to arrive shortly and that the 20-gun frigate is to be stationed in Port Largo for the foreseeable future.  Furthermore, her captain, William Anson, is rumored to be carrying orders to hunt down several of the most notorious pirates in the area....many of which are some of the Governor's most profitable partners.

There is talk on the streets and whispers in the tavern... A storm is gathering in Port Largo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Simply Messing About in Boats - Really Big Killer Boats

I really love that quote from The Wind and the Willows and it often applies to me.  In my line of work and play, I am often found "simply messing about in boats."  Not long ago, a fit of boredom hit me and I decided to break out some of the ships in my Axis and Allies War at Sea collection and mess about.  Not content with just "looking" at them, I decided I'd play a quick knock down, drag out battle between Japan and the United States.

The fleets eye the control of the straits.

I must confess that the battle had no real goals other than sinking as many ships as possible and watching the carnage.  As such, there were no objectives to hold or point totals to reach.  More than anything, I simply wanted to run a few builds through the paces.  Think of it as fleet exercises.  To help with the decisions I would need to make as a solo player, I did add the vague goal of controlling the straits and passages through the islands.  By focusing on this achievement, I would be forced to think a bit strategically for both sides rather than gleefully placing models in the sights of opponents.

Round one began with both navies moving assets towards the islands and pilots probing the defenses of each task force.  Despite heavy protection around the flat tops, air power proved to be a deadly force upon the high seas.  USN Avengers destroyed both IJN carriers during the initial attack while the Princeton was crippled by several flights of Bettys.  Unlucky die rolls by air defenses and lots of 6's by dive bombers would be the norm for much of the game.

The Japanese carriers are hit hard.

The first round would belong to the US Navy with two carriers destroyed along with a Yukikaze-class destroyer for a total of 59 points.  In return, the Japanese were only able to sink a Hoel-class destroyers with submarine action.

USN: 59
IJN: 18

The second round would see little damage from the Japanese navy due to their inability to rearm and refuel on the carriers.  The fliers of the USN would continue their rampage however.  With no fighter cover over the Japanese ships, many of the bombs and torpedoes found their mark and the mighty Kongo was crippled.

Despite the early losses, the IJN assault was just beginning.  Her heavy cruisers sent the Richmond and the San Francisco to the bottom with massive salvos.  And though the Kongo was crippled, she was not out of the fight.  More critical to the American operation was the flanking maneuver being conducted by the Yamato and her escorts.  The wily task force had managed to elude PBY patrols and was passing the southern tip of the islands to close in on the unsuspecting USN.  Still, round two was a solid American victory with 67 points destroyed compared to 41 by the opponent.

The situation after the second round.

Round three would change the course of the battle and place the IJN firmly in control.  Judging from the air phase however, one would not have suspected such change in the fortunes of war.  The entire Japanese air squadron was either destroyed or aborted before they could attack.  Cheers were heard from the deck of the crippled Princeton as the San Diego fended off one Kate after another.  Perhaps the damaged light carrier might survive after all.

Though many of the USN pilots were forced to abort their attack runs as well, others managed to elude air cover and anti-aircraft fire to score hits.  A squadron of Avengers aided by a Catalina managed to send a torpedo into the monstrous hull of the Musashi while Helldivers damaged the Nagato.  High command was elated to hear that a flight of Mitchells were able to spot the flaming wreckage of the Kongo as she withdrew from the fray and finally finish her off.

Furious ship to ship fighting then took place.  The Americans hit first with her destroyers charging the enemy ships.  A Kidd-class destroyer along with the Samuel B. Robers and the John C. Butler landed hits and sent two Shiratsuya-class vessels to the depths followed quickly by the Akitsuki.  The mighty battleship Iowa finally let loose her mains and the 16 inch guns erupted in a fury of steel and cordite.  The Musashi, still fighting the fires from the air attack, received the brunt of the Iowa's gunnery and was crippled in the process.

Further to the south, the Japanese flanking maneuver was finally discovered but only a small group of heavy cruisers could respond.  The Salt Lake City altered course to intercept the new threat and engaged one of Yamato's escorting ships to hopefully lessen the odds and stall the attack.  Through bravery and excellent gunnery she was able to cripple the Tone (but not before taking heavy damage from her target) and slow her down to allow the Montpelier to finish off the Japanese ship.  Bringing her secondaries to bear, the Montpelier also wounded the approaching Yahagi.  Seeing the smoke rising from the cruiser, the Cleveland fired another salvo at the Yahagi and watched as it slipped beneath the waves. 

The American success was soon to be overshadowed by tragedy.  In the fight to the south, the Aoba, another Yamato escort ship, took revenge on the Salt Lake City and destroyed the vessel with her mains.  Whatever cheers taking place on the Aoba was soon drowned out by the massive thunder of the Yamato's 18 inch guns.  The gigantic Japanese battleship had arrived and her fury was immediately felt by the stunned Americans.  Her salvos were able to hit and damage the unsuspecting North Carolina even at long range while her secondary guns blazed away and utterly destroyed the valiant Montpelier and a Phelps-class destroyer.

Despite the incredible damage caused by the southern task force, the most shocking defeat occurred in the northern battle.  Despite taking minor hits from enemy vessels, the USS Iowa was giving more than she took.  However, a badly damaged but defiant Musashi delivered a devastating salvo to the American flagship and all stood aghast as the pride of the fleet disappeared below the sea.  Having just watched the Iowa blown to bits, her last remaining escort, the USS Baltimore, steamed into a nearby squall to regroup.  Shells from the charging Myoko and Nagato fell all around the heavy cruiser but fate spared the vessel.

The USS Iowa is destroyed.

Round three belonged to the Japanese with 169 points of enemy vessels destroyed for a total of 228.  The American fleet only managed 106 points for a total of 232.

The situation after round three.

Stunned by the loss of their flagship, the Americans began a general withdrawal.  Her pilots continued to harry the enemy during the process but with little success.  The Japanese, elated with their recent victories, were content to allow the fleet to retire from the fray.  Though the mighty Yamato was more than a match for any remaining USN vessel, the IJN had lost air superiority and dared not risk further loss.  Her planes would have one final act of redemption however.  During the enemy withdrawal, Japanese pilots were able to relocate the crippled carrier Princeton and finally sink the stubborn ship and severely damage the fleeing Intrepid.

While the battle started out as a way to mess about with my boats, it turned into quite the engagement.  I was more than surprised by the outcome even though I had padded the Japanese fleet by almost 100 extra points.  US air power, the bane of many Axis players, was an important aspect of the Allied strategy but was unable to stem the tide of the Japanese capital ships.  The Americans still had several assets on the board but I decided to end the game and withdraw for two reasons.  One, even though this was not even close to a historical engagement (which I usually play), I think the Navy would have been reluctant to risk the North Carolina and the Intrepid since they had already severally reduced enemy air power in the region.  Also, I think the outcome would have been moot had I continued.  The Americans had only lost a few planes during the course of the battle and could have kept attacking and possibly eventually sink several more ships.  However, between air phases, the Japanese would have completely destroyed the remaining Allied surface fleet.

Surprised by the engagement and completely not satisfied with the outcome, I am looking forward to replaying this scenario soon.  I will post the results when the smoke from the battle clears.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March Hobby Matrix - Hobby ADD

It's that time of the month again when I get to plot my hobby flights of fancy.  Fortunately, this month was fairly easy due to the lack of change on most items.  March is historically a very busy month for me and this one has certainly lived up to expectations.  It seems like every spring-breaker in the world has come to the Keys to escape the winter blues and I feel like I have somehow taken every single one of them offshore to dive or snorkel.  With little free time available for hobbies, not much could possibly change... or could it?

Looking at the matrix, most everything dropped or remained the same.  I am not sure if the lack of upward movement was due to the changing winds of fortune or simply the fact that I was so busy and tired during the last thirty days.  Almost half of the original nineteen categories saw decreases with LotRO dropping the most.  I have not been online the entire month and do not foresee doing so for another week or two at least.  While I would like to blame my absence in Middle-earth completely on work, I would be dishonest with myself if I did so.  The truth of the matter is that I have been burned out for quite some time on the game.  While I've never logged more than a few hours a week behind the keyboard, even that has been a burden.  I hope my hiatus from the rapidly deteriorating RP on Landroval refuels my love of the game and my kinship.

Only two items saw gains this month and both were big winners.  With the long awaited start to HBO's adaptation of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series less than a month away, anything and everything related to Westeros is finding favor with me.  Not only have my Wildings and Jon Snow miniatures finally moved forward in the painting queue, I have also dusted off both versions of RPG's based in Martin's world - the out of print A Game of Thrones from Guardians of Order and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying from Green Ronin.  If the series is anything like the trailers, I can only see this category continuing to rise in the rankings.  

Starts April 17th on HBO.

 The other gain is actually a new item and could quite possibly become a new obsession.  I have been reading about one gamer's creation of a viking raiding party for several days now and have been green with envy over the miniatures.  Those that know me well are aware of my love for all things viking and anglo-saxon. They also know my tendency to favor skirmish style wargaming over larger set piece affairs.  Well, when said gamer posted the rule set he was using with his viking warband, I was suddenly caught in a perfect storm of dark age bliss.  Age of Blood will no doubt become a favorite of mine in short order.  I have already ordered small warbands of Anglo-Saxons and Vikings and have started the planning process for a model longship. Damn that fateful post!  

Without further ado, here is this month's hobby matrix:

Current Obsession - Scenery and Terrain
Past Obsession - Legends of the High Seas
Looming Obsession - Age of Blood

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

(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.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

+4 iPhone Case of Protection

Though this blog is mainly about my hobbies, after today's events, I simply could not resist this post.  While it is a bit of a tangent, the topic is not completely off base.  My hobbies are definitely on the geeky side and what geek does not have a love affair with their smartphones?

I saw my life flash before my eyes this morning.  I filled the dog's bowl full of water and knelt down to place it back on the floor.  As I was doing so, apparently my thigh pushed my iPhone holder off my belt.  It was like I was watching a slow motion action scene.  *queue the music*  The phone and holder tumbled from my belt and landed on the floor by the bowl.  Then somehow the entire unit bounced six inches back into the air, turned a somersault, then landed squarely in the center of the doggie bowl.  The sequence was so cinematic that I think I saw drops of water rain down upon the floor and explode into thousands of smaller droplets.

OK, so maybe I am being rather dramatic.  But the truth is there, interlaced as it is with my embellishments.  No matter which version you choose to believe, the fact of the matter was that my phone was now floating in the dog's water bowl.  Once I recovered from my shock and disbelief, I quickly fetched it from the pool of death.  Though the case has protected my phone from many accidental drops over the past year and a half, I thought this was finally the end.

I pried the case apart and dried off all the components.  After a moment of silence and a quick prayer to the patron saint of cell towers, I depressed the home button and to my amazement and relief, the home screen greeted me.  Through the sheer quality of my iPhone case and my not-so-quick thinking, I avoided disaster and managed to keep more money in my pocket for games and miniatures instead of buying another phone.

So the point of this post and story is to sing the praises of the Otterbox Defender case.  Since I work on the water and out in the elements, I purchased this case the day I bought my phone.  Though it is a bit clunky and certainly takes away from the sleek and sexy form of a naked iPhone, it has more than saved my investment on numerous occasions.  I am VERY tough on phones.  I drop them constantly and over the years have lost more than my fair share overboard and into the ocean.  But this case is different.  It protects the phone like a paladin in full plate.  And though I knew it would keep salt spray from damaging the unit, apparently it can survive short excursions into the water.  I cannot recommend this product enough.

 You may be asking why I am proclaiming the virtues of a case that fell off my belt just by bending down.  Good question.  Just the other day, I damaged the belt clip through a freak accident.  I will not bore readers with the story but I will say that it was not the most graceful move I've ever attempted.  Let's just say I definitely rolled a one.  This morning's mishap was not the fault of the clip itself.  It was clearly operator error.


So...if you have a smartphone and are 1) active outside  2) work or play around the water  or 3) frequently fail fairly simple skill checks then the Otterbox Defender case is for you.  Just keep in mind that your Charisma may drop several points due to the clunky nature of the case.

Note:  I am writing this review without any compensation from Otterbox or any other entity associated with the company.  I have had a good experience with the product and simply want to share my thoughts with those that visit this blog.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pirates of the Spanish Main CSG with a twist

The Florida Keys are not known as a gaming mecca.  For gaming action, I have to drive over sixty miles (round trip) up to Miami to either a friends house or my FSLGS (friendly semi-local gaming store).  But occasionally I can bribe friends and neighbors with beer and food to humor me and try one of my "strange little games".  Fortunately some of my piratey titles have been a bit of a hit, especially the easy to learn/hard to master Pirates of the Spanish Main CSG.

We've played countless games over the last two years.  With my full collection of the first three sets, we've been able to field as many as eight players at once.  With so many ships, each game was different from the last but I could tell the sessions were getting a bit stale for my non-gamer friends.  So on this particular occasion, I decided to mix things up a bit and try a new scenario. 

I have always been fascinated and obsessed with the story of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Spanish treasure fleets.  I've read, and re-read numerous accounts of the doomed flotilla over the years and really wanted to create a  scenario with the same feel and theme.  So I created a board based loosely on the geography of the route used by the fleets as they left Cuba and skirted the islands and reefs of Florida.  I decided to force the fleet to pass through a few choke points in the same way the Spanish fleets of old were forced to ride the Florida Current between the dangerous reefs of the Bahamas and the Florida Keys (this would also provide interesting game play).  I toyed with the addition of currents and storms but thought better of it for the first attempt.  Of course the game would not be interesting without pirates and privateers hoping to catch a lucrative treasure galleon so they were added the scenario.

Myself and another experienced player took on the role of the Spanish flotilla.  We were each given three two-masted vessels to serve as guard ships but did not allow any of their special abilities.  To give us a fighting chance however, we designated each of the two cannons on board the vessels as strength 2 with long range (red measurement).  We would need that fire power to protect our 9 galleons from no less than four enemy squadrons placed around the edges of the table.  Our objective was simple.  To win the game we would need to escort the treasure ships through the islands and around the reefs and exit the table between the Spanish forts on the far side.  At least four of the galleons had to survive the voyage for victory.

Each of the four enemy players were given two large five-masted vessels and were able to use any special abilities available to those ships, though no crew was allowed.  Their orders were to pick off as many Spanish galleons as possible to enrich themselves and their respective countries.  Between the four factions, all they had to do was sink five treasure ships for the Spanish players to loose.  However an individual winner would be declared at the ending of the game depending on which faction sank the most ships and gained the most treasure.  This fact introduced an interesting twist.  Should they work together to slow the flotilla or go rogue and fend for themselves?

Though the enemy players had played the normal version of the game several times before, they cannot be said to be experienced wargamers.  Most are significant others or friends that simply enjoy the social aspect of this particular game.  I had stacked the odds heavily in their favor to account for what I thought would be a lack of strategy and planning.  To my dismay (and personal satisfaction), I was quickly to learn that I had severely underestimated my opponents.

The game started just as I had envisioned.  Chad and I moved our guard ships out ahead of the flotilla to screen the galleons on the left and right flanks.  Knowing that two choke points existed on either side of the shallow bank, we decided to sacrifice a few ships and send them through the "straits" to the west.  Not thinking our opponents would realize their obvious advantage, we thought they would greedily pounce on the sacrificial lambs and forget about the other galleons.  I would escort the doomed vessels as if protecting them then at the last moment leave them to their fate and cut across the dangerous shoals to join the main fleet to the east (only our two-masted guard ships could navigate the shallow waters in the center of the board).

Our plan seemed to be solid and was progressing quite well until we realized we were the ones being duped.  Eric and Christi made quick work of the defenseless galleons but chose not to sink them.  With all three decoy ships dead in the water, the straits to the west was effectively blocked.  Our opponents realized that they could now bring their entire force to bear on the fleeing flotilla to the east and that is exactly what they did.  I raced across the dangerous bank to join Chad's guard ships which were getting pounded by the large treasure-crazed French, British, and pirate ships.  Though I arrived in time, I could not bring my guard ships within range due to the traffic jam created when Amy and Suzani used their five-masters as blockade ships.  The ensuing battle was both chaotic and bloody.

Though we Spaniards manage to get a galleon or two through, we would have to face a very unhappy King in Spain.  With only one guard ship remaining each, we fled the slaughter and left the helpless galleons to the sea wolves.  Upon arriving at the safety of the forts we surveyed the damage.  Only two of the treasure galleons remained while the other seven fell prey to our opponents.  Looking over the horizon at the pillage and plunder taking place aboard the King's galleons, we realized that we had made a classic tactical blunder by underestimating our enemy's cunning and skill in battle.

With the game over, Chad and I endured a bit of taunting while the other factions tallied up their treasure.  Eric, in command of a pirate fleet, came out ahead followed closely by Amy and her mighty British contingent.  Fun was had by all however and that makes everyone a winner.

I enjoyed the break from the normal rules and plan to run a similar scenario again in the future.  There will be a few changes however, mainly to create balance between the fleets.  I also want to add wind rules which we sometimes use during our normal games.  Being stalled in a calm or driven towards a reef line by storms will certainly add a realistic element and cause captains to rethink their approaches to the straits.  With the added uncertainty of weather, perhaps the game will resemble the story and one of Spain's grandest galleons will find itself enduring the same fate as the Nuestra Senora de Atocha.

Friday, March 04, 2011

On The Horizon for March

February certainly began on a productive note.  The Pirate project was coming along nicely, miniatures were being painted at a fairly good pace (for me), and several items of scenery were moved from the design phase and actually built.  However I had company for the last two weeks of the month and I found myself doing everything except hobby stuff.   Now I am behind where I wanted to be at this time and I'm forced to move nearly every project back a month.

My work plan for March now resembles what I had intended to accomplish in February but with a few changes and additions.  Perhaps the most obvious change are the miniatures in my queue.  The pirate project is still going strong but I have noticed more fantasy miniatures creep into the lineup.  Is this one of my infamous interest shifts in the beginning stages?

The miniatures in the rack look similar to last month.  In fact, there are several that have progressed little, if at all.  Among these are the two Sarumans and three Reaper pirates.  Also nearly untouched is my Candian that was to be used as a color test model.  A nearly completed pirate, a burly innkeep, and a pasty-faced governor are the only new additions.

The rows of miniatures in front of the rack are all new in the queue however.  In the first row closest to the rack is a pirate from Artizen, two privateers from Black Scorpion and two fantasy figures from Reaper.  The second row consists of two able bodied seamen from Black Scorpion, a female fantasy miniature from Reaper, and two harlots - one from Black Cat Bases and the other from the Reaper's Townspeople sets.  The last row is mostly comprised of Royal Marines from Black Scorpion and a few fantasy Reaper miniatures.

In addition to the miniature painting, work continues on Port Antigua.  I am nearing the point where I can start texturing and painting the buildings. Of the structures created thus far, I have to say that the Governor's house is my favorite.  I've also been working on a few other items of scenery - mostly for LotR.  Building a Rohan watch tower has been on my list for several years and I finally got around to starting construction.  I've been using a combination of templates and tips from various sources, along with a bit of trial and error, to build my tower.  Now that I have the legs and main platform squared and even, the rest of the structure should be fairly simple to finish.  Just as Port Antigua will be the centerpiece for my Pirate campaigns, I plan on having a full Rohirric village or perhaps even Edoras itself as the focus of a future LotR campaign.

 With my lack of free time during late February, I never got around to painting up a Cadian test model.  Of all the goals I missed last month, this was the most disappointing.  A huge Cadian force has been sitting on my shelves for several years awaiting my attention.  It was a resolution this year to finally get them painted and the first step to attaining that goal is to test the color scheme I have in mind.  Even if I have to put my pirate project on hold, I will get that mini painted this month!  Of course that means that March will no longer be titled "March of the Cadians".  I'll have to push back that effort until next month.  "April of the Cadians"....  Hmmm, not nearly as clever and witty as the previous title but as long as they finally get painted, I'll be happy.

I also plan on posting part 2 of the History of the Waywatchers of Cardolan.  The first post proved to be quite popular amongst visitors.  Indeed, it is the single most visited page on the blog.   It's not very professional to leave your readers hanging on the edge of their seats for the conclusion for too long (although George R. R. Martin seems quite content to do so with his series...not that I am comparing myself to such a talented writer by any means.)  The next installment will cover the middle years from the RP Split until the Rise of the Grand Story Arcs.  The final chapter will then cover the last year and a half and appear sometime in April.

Finally, even though my time will be sparse with so many projects, I feel I need to add one more.  Looking at my blog stats, I can't help but notice that the search term that brings the most visitors is "How to Paint a Balrog."  I started this little experiment/tutorial back in May of 2010.  I intended to finish it but the curse of too many hobbies struck once again and the Balrog was placed on a back shelf.  Well, for those who have come here for tips on painting Tolkien's spirit of fire, you will be pleased to know that he has been dusted off and moved to the work area of my painting table.  I should have text and photos of the next steps posted soon.

It looks like March will be a very busy month for me.  What are your hobby goals and intentions for this month?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Recalling the Past - 1983 TSR Miniatures

I have hundreds of miniatures in my collection and see no sign of my acquisitions ending. Painting and collecting them (and occasionally actually using them in a game) constitutes a large portion of my hobby activity. Although I laughed when I first heard the terms plastic crack, metal crack, and lead crack, the smile quickly faded from my face when I realized how accurate those words were. I am very addicted to all the various forms, genre, and activities associated with those little miniature figurines.

Though I had been playing Dungeons and Dragons religiously since 1982, I did not purchase my first miniatures until several years later. I was in eighth grade when a TSR boxed set completely changed the gaming hobby for me. My first miniature, or miniatures rather, was a Magic Users and Illusionists set I picked up from a local bookstore. To this day, I have no idea why I chose this particular set. I rarely, if ever, choose to take on the role of a magic using character in any game whether it be roleplaying or not. Surely one of the other sets out at the time would have held more allure. I can only speculate that perhaps this was my first exposure to the miniature line and that this set may have been the only one available (since it was purchased in a bookstore instead of a hobby shop). Whatever the reason, the twelve little figures included in the box hold a special place in my memory of the hobby.

I'm certain that I tore into the packaging as soon as I got home with my precious treasure. Fortunately I had paints on hand from my years of building plastic models. Of course, the paints were thick enamels by Testor and were completely unsuited for the small metal miniatures, but I did not know that back then. Even if I had better paints on hand, I do not think it would have mattered. At that age and experience level, I had not even the slightest notion of the concept of shading or highlighting and to say that my initial attempts were frightening would be an understatement. But you could not have convinced me then that my work was anything other than a masterpiece. I would spend hours on a single miniature making sure that everything was just right...including the black dot of paint for an eye that I would apply with the end of a tooth pick.

Two miniatures in the box stand out in my memory. The little gnome illusionist (bottom right) my have been the first miniature I ever painted. Though I can recall little of the details, I do remember that his trousers where an incredibly bright blue. Why I would remember such a seemingly insignificant detail I do not know. But I can see those shiny blue pants in my mind and even to this day I must say...those pants were BRIGHT. The other miniature that stands out in my memory is the elf with the wand (second from the right on the second row). He is significant only because I remembered thinking he did not look like an elf to me. I painted him of course, but I told myself over and over while painting him that he was a young human and most definitely not an elf. Isn't it odd what images and memories remain with us as we age?

Looking back at the miniatures today it is easy to see how far the industry has come as far as sculpting and casting are concerned. The minis in the box seem "flat" compared to the robust and intricately detailed figures of today. Facial features are neutral or lacking completely and the poses seemed forced and unnatural. Yet, despite their simplicity, the figures in that box represent the heart of the Dungeons and Dragons game more so than any of the wonderfully designed miniatures of today. Perhaps I am simply falling prey to the "good 'ole days" syndrome, but to me those simple lead miniatures recall the awe, adventure, and allure of roleplaying games in the golden age of the 1980's.

I still have those original miniatures hidden somewhere amongst other childhood keepsakes. I found them and reminisced several years ago when I began to get back into the hobby after a long hiatus. Unfortunately I seem to have misplaced the old miniatures again.  Looking at the box of my newly acquired Ebay version and handling the cold stark unpainted magic users and illusionist certainly brings back memories. But nothing compared to the rush of nostalgia and longing for the past that I felt when I found those old painted miniatures that evening. I could almost see myself as a young boy, intense concentration written upon his face and a far away look in his eyes, applying that bright blue paint to the trousers of that little gnome.

What was the first miniature you ever painted?