domenica 11 dicembre 2016

Mithril MC3 Thorin Oakenshield


This is one of the Classic series by Mithril, issued in the early 1990s. They represent key characters in the original stories of Tolkien, and namely the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

In this specific sculpt, Chris Tubb represented Thorin in fine clothes and holding on his shoulder the sword Orcrist. We may suppose this was meant to either represent Thorin during his stop at Rivendell, shortly after he recovered the sword from Hill Trolls in Rhudaur, or in Esgaroth, while he was a guest of the Master. The sculpt dates from 1991, as indicated on the base.

Thorin looks particularly relaxed and lordly, in line with the description of the Hobbit, where he is described as "an enormously important dwarf" and "very haughty". He drinks wine, plays a silver harp, does not help clean the table and holds a very long and institutional speech. I must say I really love how Tubb used he pose of the figure to bring out its character.

Now, allow me this short rant: Thorin's main characteristic is to be haughty. He is, after all, a very noble Dwarf, perhaps the noblest living in Middle-earth and Arda. He is heir of the kings of the Longbeards, the direct descendant of Durin the Deathless. He is pompous, sometimes arrogant, in a way obsessed with his inheritance and his family duty. But he is also a good leader, generous with his men, beloved by his people; he's smart, very good in talking his way out of situations, and yet keep his honour by not telling any lie; he can be aggressive, but he can be fun, too, laughing and singing with the other dwarves. He is just not simply a self-centered, brooding dick, as portrayed in the movies. I really hated how he came out there. Really, Thorin is such a great and complex character, PJ didn't do him justice. But then again, he didn't do justice to any character in the story, especially the grey-shaded ones.
Right, end of the rant.

It took me some time to decide how to paint it. The reasoning was that at Rivendell and Lake-town Thorin probably wore clothes that were fine but still not excessively rich: he was travelling after all. They should display deep colours, but not too garish. The only set thing was the hood: in the Hobbit, Thorin wears a "detachable hood" which was "sky-blue [...] with a long silver tassel". Now, this miniatures displays a cloak, not a detachable hood, but still here is the long silver tassel attached to the hood. I decided to go with it and keep the colours of sky-blue and silver.

The first layer of painting left me unhappy with the gold-rimmed cloak. That seemed too much for travelling clothes, so I changed that to silver as well.

Yes! I'm very happy with how the cloak turned out. Still room for improvement, but definitely better than the last one. The sword also looks nice - I painted it silver with a dark blue scabbard, to retain some "elvish flavour". I decided to leave the base pretty much disadorned, except for a dark green base and some lighter drybrush. This miniature will probably be used in games, so I don't want to add staff that will come off with heavy handling.

Look at the famous Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, heir of the Folk of Durin, gloating at the prospects of his homecoming to Erebor:
The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!

His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.

The woods shall wave on mountains
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.

The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
And sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king's return!

sabato 10 dicembre 2016

Review: Essex Byzantines

You might have seen them in the earlier battle reports, but here is the review of the 9th-11th century Byzantine force I built for my games.

The force is small and based on a few units, but I plan to expand it with more. Overall, I'm very happy with Essex Byzantines.

A few words on the company: it is a well-known manufacturer of 15mm and 25mm historical figures located in, well, Essex - southeast UK. They have exceptinal variety of armies and the price is very honest. Service is good and my items got shipped in a timely and efficient way.

Now, to the figures:

BZA01 - Byzantine: Command: Mounted General

Three figures, horseman and steed separated. Two different steeds, very well made. One, same figure for the horsemen. Seriously? They don't even look like Byzantines of that era, without armour and with a very simple helm. Armed with mace, no shield, a scabbard hanging from the side, under the cloak. Frankly speaking, I've seen better, but anyway.

BZA14 -  Byzantine: Kataphraktoi Extra Heavy Cavalry

These are not actually BZA14, since the shield is different - my figures have a kite shield, apparently not available anymore. BZA14 have a round shield. Everything else is the same.
Now I must say these miniatures are very nice - not like BZA01. They seem to respect history very well, and they have fine details and all. Again, they are four and all exactly the same. The horses have two poses, but again wonderful sculpt. Alas, the Essex website does not credit scultpors!

BZA17, BZA18 Byzantine: Skutatoi

Now the backbone of this force: the Skutatoi. These are my favourites. In every pack there are 8 pieces that are exactly the same BUT there are three different poses under different codes: BZA17, BZA18 and BZA25, so one can have some variety among the ranks. Additionally, the details on the figures allow for differentiation by colour:

BZA27 Byzantine: Varangian Guard 

These are also good: 8 figures with two poses, and fine detail. Historically realistic. Full of character, too.

They even have relief decorations on the cloak, Chinese brocade style.

All in all, Essex Byzantines are a good range and I'll be purchasing more of them. I'll probably need a command group and some archers, light cavalry and a couple more Caraphracts with different poses. Well done, Essex!

giovedì 1 dicembre 2016

GW Beastman Shaman (1993)

Vintage miniatures, again with this Citadel Beastman Shaman (73002/2) from 1993. Another nice lead miniature found on ebay.

And no wonder it's so fine - we are speaking of Mr. Michael Perry's art. The detail is lovely, especially the staff covered with a collection of Beastman and Human skulls.

Choosing the colour pattern wasn't easy. To be frank I'm used to painting good guys, and for this one I had to change my habits in order to set a creepier and darker mood. A search on Google Images helped, and the trick was rather simple but very smart - go for a low light source, such as the light of a bonfire. In other words, instead of painting the upper parts in lighter colours, I painted the lower parts of the figure, as if it was standing near a light on the ground.

'Cause Bestmen come at night, you fools!

In a way, it worked. I still have to practice more, with a darker undercoat and lighter highlights.

The base was completed with coarse construction sand and Swamp Tufts from Army Painter, just because the greyish colour goes well with a nightly setting.

I'm gonna use this one as the villain in some adventure with WFRP, or Zweihänder maybe. Beastmen are always good for a fight!

domenica 13 novembre 2016

Battle Report: Byzantine raid in southern Spoleto (Lion Rampant in High Middle Ages) 3/3

Continues from second part of the Battle Report

The Challenge
Theodoros Leontakephalos faces the gastald Arnald and his retainer Wigmund.

[After the third, terrible charge] At last the fight ceased, and as the dust cleared, only three horsemen still stood. Theodoros was covered in blood, a fierce lion, surrounded by the bodies of his men, of which only him remained. A few paces from him, Arnald was panting, his shield covered by marks of blows it had withstood and his eyes as wary as those of a wounded wolf. Beside him stood his retainer Wigmund, whose lance had been broken and was now wielding his sword.
It is said that all those who saw those men stopped their fighting, and a grim silence fell on the field.

"There is only one way we can end this, you and me!" shouted the Greek, in a clear Latin which he hoped his foe would understand. But even if Arnald didn't, the Pentakontarchos' gestures were clear to all. He pointed his mace of war towards the gastald, and prepared for the last charge.
"Do not accept his challenge, Sire" pleaded Wigmund "Greeks are a treacherous lot, and he knows his end is coming. We can take him down easily, together"
But Arnald would not listen to his friend. Raising his sword high, he shouted his battle cry and spurred his horse forward.

At that moment, on the other side of the hump, the fighters were oblivious of the confrontation of the two captains. The Frankish knights had finally reached the enemy and would charge the Skutatoi, who bravely stood their ground.

Before anything can happen between the two leaders, the Frankish knights on the other side of the hump have tested for Wild Charge and succeeded. They charged into the Skytatoi leaving two of their number on the groun; the Greek also lose two fighters, and as a draw the attacker must retreat. The charge of the knights have been repelled!

One again the Skutatoi prove their armour and discipline are stronger than the Frankish knights.
But nothing could stop Theodoros and Arnald as they rode towards each other. Theodoros laughed trimphantly as his mace struck the shield of the Gastald, but the laugh died in his throat when he himself had to defend against an attack more furious than he had expected. Theodoros retreated under the assault of Arnald, but his horse stumbled and, unbalanced, the Pentakontarchos was struck on the shoulder and lost his shield. Arnald's sword hit his black-crested helm on the side and slid towards the shoulder, finding its way to the neck. Leontakephalos, the Lion-headed, fell from his steed without a cry, and rested on the blood-soaked ground.

Arnald and Theodoros battle each other, as Wigmund watches in anguish.

Light is for Arnald, dark is for Theodoros.
 Challenges are pretty straightforward in Lion Rampant. Each throws three dies, scoring on 5-6. Whoever scores more, wins and kill the other. In case of a draw the parts are separated. Arnald scored three hits, against only one of Theodoros.
And now all Byzantine units must take a Courage test or run away.

"Victory to Spoleto!" cried Arnald, raising his sword and towering over the body of the Leontakephalos.
"Glory to Arnald!" echoed Wigmund "the Greek captain is dead!"

And this is how you win a battle like a Sire.
 The news of Theodoros's death swept through the battlefield like wild fire. Half of the Greek forces abandoned their weapons, together with all hope, and ran away, hoping to save their own lives at least by leaving the lands of the Spoletans.

The retreat of the Byzantines begins
The End of It
"For Spoleto!" cried the Frankish knights as they again charged into the remaining Skutatoi. This proved too much for the brave soldiers, and they also abandoned the field following their companions.

The Frankish knights on the other side of the hump tested again for Wild Charge and succeeded. This time they only lost one and fell three opponents. The Skutatoi were now forced to retreat and, losing a Courage test, also started routing.

More retreating happening

Only Audo and a half of those men who originally followed him now stood on the hump. Stubborn and proud, they understood the end was near, but refused to flee from the Franks. Instead, they decided to hold their position until the end, and die a honourable death. Their arrows, shot with the determination of the desperate, managed to repel the Militia.

One unit of Rustici still stood. A ranged attack on the approaching Militia killed one of them and sent the rest into retreat.

The Militia assails the hump

And is quickly repelled

Arnald, seeing his enemies driven before him, still did not rejoice. He had fulfilled his first oath, to have the head of the Greek captain, but now he would bring the second one to completion. Not one of the rebelling Lombards of the mountains would see his home. And so he and his knights hunted down the running footmen, so that only a handful of Skutatoi managed to escape the battle with his life.

Arnald and Wigmund charge into the retreating Skutatoi, who no longer benefit from the Shieldwall and, being battered, hardly fight back, and kill another one.

The Galstald gives no quarter
The other knights, having driven away the Skutatoi, charge into the retreating Rustici making easy sport of them. All of the Rustici are killed without any loss for the Franks.

Next time you won't challenge the Gastald again.
Audo's death
Audo and his kinmen now turned to face the knights. They prepared their swords and axes, and waited for the charge to come. Uphill rode the knights, their lances lowered. As the sun set, the last of the mountain men wet the hump with their blood.
Now Arnald's victory was complete.

No matter the higher terrain, if Rustici are charged by knights, the outcome is pretty simple.

Up the hill go the knights
Down the hill go the Rustici

Three days later the few survivors of Theodoros's force reached the army of the Strategos, reporting the events. By that time, the Leontakephalos's head was gracing the main square of the nearest town, on a pole, witness to all that the Gastald would bear no offense. Next to him, the heads of the rebels of the mountains. Their kinmen fled their mountain homes, rightly fearing the Gastald's retribution, and settled again in the lands of the Princes of Benevento.
The Marquis of Spoleto was pleased to hear the reports of the battle, and sent the Gastald a horse as a gift, and the grant of various lands to be held in beneficium.

The game was fun. All in all, it took a couple of hours. It was fast paced and dramatic. Next time, I'll try it with a scenario and, possibly, an opponent.

I hope you enjoyed reading this report and please leave a comment - feel free to send opinions and notes: being my first game, I may have overlooked some rules. If you want to know more about my house rules to play in the 10-11th century, let me know and I'll post you.

Battle Report: Byzantine raid in southern Spoleto (Lion Rampant in High Middle Ages) 2/3

Continues from first part of the Battle Report

The Onset of Battle
Theodoros ordered Audo and his men to take the hump, protected by half of his Skutatoi, while the Pentakontarchos, his Cataphracts and the rest of the Skutatoi advanced towards the enemy. Arnald did not wait for him, but he also ordered the advance of his forces: the main part of his knights, assisted by the archers of the militia, advanced towards Theodoros, while a smaller force attempted to circumvent the hump.
But it so happened that Theodoros and his Cataphracts were delayed - afraid of an ambush and concerned that, entering battle, the people defending the hump would be overwhelmed, they tarried, so that the Skutatoi advanced alone towards the Franks.

The Byzantine started taking actions, but when it came to move the Cataphracts, they failed the roll and so they remained behind. The Franks then moved all their units forward.

Early movement on the battlefield
These Skutatoi face overwhelming forces
The Lombard mountain men and the other Skutatoi hold firmly the hump.
Tragic was Theodoros's delay, because the first line of Frankish knights, seeing the Skutatoi isolated, launched their charge, screaming their war cries. The impact of steel against steel was frightful, but the brave Skutatoi held their ground against all odds, joining their large shields together as a single wall. The attackers were soon repelled by the iron-clad footmen and their long, cruel spears.
The Greeks were screaming taunts at the Franks, and it seemed that Theodoros's prevision would come true, as the knights were already on the run.

In the second turn, the Byzantine failed the first roll for activation and so it was again the time of the Franks. Their knights tested against Wild Charge and failed, thus charging directly the Skutatoi. The latter defended in tight formation, taking advantage of their Shield Wall ability (same as Schiltron), which pushed their armour value to 4. So even if the knights scored 11 hits in 12, only 2 Skutatoi were killed. On the other hand, the Skutatoi scored very well in defence, downing 2 knights. Since the clash was a draw, the attackers had to retreat. Both units tested for Courage and the knights failed, retreating further away and becoming Battered.

Frankish knights charging into the Skutatoi
Frankish knights retreating, battered by the Greeks.
The Skutatoi still remained defiant as the archers of the militia, fired on them. Their armour value of 4 was just too much, and also was strengthened by the partial cover offered by the hump.
For the rest of the turn, the Franks countinued to move forward.

The battle turns
Audo and his mountain people, taking position among the trees of the hump, started to fire arrows against the approaching militiamen, which were lightly armoured. The Franks were slowed down but bravely moved forward, even though one of them was killed.

The Rustici (Bidowers) suck at firing arrows. Seriously, they only score on a 6. The Militia has an armour of 2 so they only lost one of their number to the attack.

The hatred of the mountain folk against the people of the lowlands threatening them is well represented in this image.

Theodoros at this point hesitated: he should have advanced, but he did not, standing watch instead to see if the Franks would fall back, and this proved his undoing. Arnald rallied the knights and personally led the second charge, and although again the valiant Skutatoi repelled the knights, it was too much for them. Feeling abandoned by their commander, they turned and retrated towards the bulk of their forces.

Again the Byzantines managed to fail the activation phase - a terrible thing. The first line of Frankish knights rolled a successful Courage test and removed the Battered status, while the second line, including the leader, tested against Wild Charge and failed. Their charge again was a draw - 2 knights dead and 2 skutatoi felled. But as the knights were pushed back, this time they kept their cool, and it was the Skutatoi that failed the Courage test, and started retreating becoming Battered.

The outcome of the second Frankish charge.
The final charge
At the sight of his men routing, at last Theodoros snapped out of his doubts and ordered his Cataphracts forward. The sight of the armoured knights marching in a line restored the courage of the Skoutati, who also returned to their battle formation and faced the Franks. Meanwhile, Arnald was rallying what remained of his knights, and ordered them in a straight line, preparing for a third charge.

The two forces facing each other now are two units of Frankish Knights, each of 4 riders, and a unit of Militia Archers with all 12 members; and a full unit of 6 Cataphracts plus 7 Skutatoi.

The moments before the final charge

Loud and clear was the cry of gastald Arnald to his men, when he ordered them to charge the Greeks. Booming and raging the answer of Theodoros, as his Cataphracts rode forward to meet the enemies. Frightful and terrible their clash. Many a valiant warrior met with his death on that moment, his armour pierced by a lance or his helm cleft by a sword.
At last the fight ceased, and as the dust cleared, only three horsemen still stood. Theodoros was covered in blood, a fierce lion, surrounded by the bodies of his men, of which only him remained. A few paces from him, Arnald was panting, his shield covered by marks of blows it had withstood and his eyes as wary as those of a wounded wolf. Beside him stood his retainer Wigmund, whose lance had been broken and was now wielding his sword.
It is said that all those who saw those men stopped their fighting, and a grim silence fell on the field.

The Frankish Knights charged with a first unit, while the Cataphracts rolled succesfully for a countercharge. 3 Greek knights were felled, but none survived among the Franks, whose armour was only 3.

Seven dead bodies, and half of the Franks haven't yet charged.
Then the second unit of Frankish knights, comprising the leader, charged, promptly getting countercharges by the Cataphracts. The outcome was 2 dead for the Byzantines, who were now fighting as a half unit (6 attack dice only) and 2 for the Franks. Miracoulously, both leaders rolled for Lucky Blows, and none was hit, even the Frankish leader who was Vulnerable.

Another four dead, and only three survivors.
While this was happening, the Skutatoi were advancing under volleys of arrows from the Militia, which proved uneffective. On the other side of the hump, the Rustici also fired on the Militia killing another two of their number, which sent the Freemen into panic so that they retreated on their way. But the Knights advanced, coming almost into contact with the Skutatoi.

Two casualties of the arrows of the Lombards

An armour of 4 and partial cover defend the Skutatoi from the arrows of the Franks

The Frankish knights are coming