Monday, December 29, 2014

Star Wars Classic Rebel Heroes Part 2: Luke Skywalker

Just added a few Luke Skywalkers to my Star Wars collection.  All are from West End Games' classic Grenadier minis range by Julie Guthrie, of course.

There's also a landspeeder kit, but I'm saving that for another post.
I think I did a little better with the eyes this time than I did on the Rebel infantry, but they still don't look very good.  Eyes in 25mm non-heroic scale is tough!
Great figures, though!  And an important addition to my Rebel forces...

May da Swartz be with you!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ye Aulde Tyme Sword and Sorcery Toys Part 2: More Old School Plastics & Playsets

The other day I was hunting around online for a dusty artifact from the lost world of my childhood and realized that my last December's post on Old School Sword and Sorcery Toys was actually woefully incomplete.  In my diggings I rediscovered a number of old toys from yesteryear, some of which I'd forgotten about, some of which I'd never known existed at all.  So here are some more Wizard and Warrior sets from ancient epochs for you to wax sentimental over during this holiday season.  Enjoy.  

As was the case in Part 1, none of the photos in this post were taken by me.  All were gleaned from one of the following blogs.  If you enjoy this sort of thing, you'll enjoy these blogs too, and you'll note that some of these have just appeared over in the "Other Stuff I Like" column...

An alternate box illustration for the Demons of Castlelon set by DFC.  I found this on 2 Warps to Neptune, where I saw that I wasn't the only one to notice the similarity between the Nagas in this set and the old Monster Manual Illustration for that creature.
The subject of Part 1 of this series was (Primarily) the company Dimensions For Children.  This small toy company invested heavily in manufacture of Sword and Sorcery playsets, all of which were of a high caliber, being very imaginatively conceived and well executed.  They must have had some success, because shortly after they released their Dragonriders of the Styx and other playsets, a host of other manufacturers also attempted to cash in on Dungeons and Dragons-themed playsets.  None of these imitators ever achieved the quality of DFC, but there were certainly some entertaining attempts. We'll start with my personal favorite:

Dragon Crest/Mysterious Castle

In grade school my friend John got this set, and was I ever jealous.  John is my best friend and an enthusiastic collector of fantasy miniatures and toys to this day.  Anyway, a company called Miner industries had evidently been impressed by DFC's exploitation of the rising enthusiasm for all things sword and sorcery and set out to make their own playset.  Like some other examples we'll examine in this post, it was more of a hasty exercise in kit-bashing rather than the organic and original sets put out by DFC, but for a kid in the third grade or so in the early eighties it was pretty epic, and set our tortured, over-active imaginations a-smoldering. 

Released first as Dragon Crest in 1981, (I think), the set sandwiched a cheap pasteboard hilltop and plastic castle between 2 armies, one of noble knights, one of 'fearsome fiends'.  As kids we were blown away by the beauty of the knights, who were in fact, re-casts of some very old MPC models, although I think some of them may have been Marx.  I don't know for sure.  I don't claim to be an authority on classic toys.

Some of the knights from Dragon Crest/Mysterious Castle.  Lovely figures.  The horse shown here is a mis-match, I think.  It belongs to an old west set, I believe made by Marx  The horses that came with this set had no saddles, instead they had separate plastic caparisons.

Though the knights looked legit, we could tell right away that there was something odd about the 'fiends'.  For starters, they looked more like old time movie monsters than dungeon dwellers.  For another thing, they were hopelessly, stupidly out of scale with the castle they were supposed to inhabit and the knights they were supposed to fight.  

That said, we adored them.  They were cast in lurid green glow-in-the-dark plastic and oozed old school movie monster charm, (or lack thereof.) and they consistently wreaked terrific havoc on the gallant knights attempting to storm their hoary domicile.  Of course, old school movie monster toys were exactly what they were.  Somebody at Miner had decided to kit bash them together with the knights to make a sort of quick, easy and cheap DFC pastiche set.  These figures actually have a great history that could make a blog post of its own, I'll just hit a couple of high points here.

They had actually been made decades earlier by MPC as 'pop tops' meaning that they had separate, pegged heads which you could swap around between the figures.  They were quite popular, not surprisingly (they're delightful figures) and were used and re-used over the years in a number of other toy sets such as...
A haunted house shooting gallery....

The Haunted Hulk!  Oh, my God, this is the greatest thing!  A pirate ship full of Movie Monsters!  I don't know why I love this so much, but I chortle with joy to think that such a toy could have been.

With the Sword and Sorcery boom, they were recycled once more, this time as 'Dungeon Demons' (see bottom left)

Nice shot of all the fiends together.  Dragon Crest/Mysterious Castle came with two full sets for a total of sixteen fiends, all cast in glow in the dark green.  The black figure in the back row was a hooded man with a dagger and a skull.  We called him 'The Murderer'.

In 1983 Miner Toys re-released Dragon Crest as 'Mysterious Castle"  This was the set John had.  All the knights in this version were molded in white and black instead of red and black, and a pasteboard dragon stick puppet was added to the cave at the base of the castle plateau.  The defending player could occasionally have him emerge to shovel a knight or two in his gaping maw.  There was also a nice selection of siege equipment.  Kit-bashed pastiche though it might have been, it was a great toy.  Well used to the idea of outnumbered heroes being besieged by hordes of darkness, John and I found the idea of outnumbered but powerful monsters at bay before a numerically superior force of crusading heroes to be rather refreshing. The figures, out of proportion to one another though they were, were very beautiful, it was great fun, and I'd love to have a copy of this set today.

Diener Greek Mythology Figures

I believe John and I were in the third grade when he showed up to school with a pocket full of these swell 54mm Greek Mythology figures.  They were molded in a rubbery, bouncy sort of resin by a company named Diener.  John claimed that they were erasers.  That may have been the case.  What was certainly true was that he had convinced his mother to buy them for him on the understanding that they were 'school supplies'.  School supplies or not, they were promptly drafted into our plastic armies and had to battle it out on the heights of Dragon Crest and along the banks of the River Styx along with everybody else.

Sword and Sorcery Playset by HG Toys

Around the same time that Miner was putting out Dragon Crest, HG toys came out with their own
sword and sorcery play set, titled, rather'Sword and Sorcery Playset'.  While

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Warriors and Champions of the Sidhe

Years and years ago now, I found a number of packs of Alternative Armies' Erin miniatures in a bargain bin at Gamescape in San Francisco.  Great old store, it was then.  I had little use for the minis at the time, but I loved them and painted a bunch of them just for fun.

A year or so ago, I finally picked up a copy of the rules and started trying to assemble war bands for them.  Then the deployment happened and my wild and woolly war bands of Celtic Myth had to go into boxes to await my return.

The only minis I didn't have many of were the Sidhe, but recently I found this pack on Ebay for a pittance and couldn't resist.  Here are a few snaps of the core of my future Sidhe war party.

The Erin game seems to be a fairly standard skirmish minis game, plot driven, character-centered, with 'armies' of between ten and twenty miniatures, set in the era of of the Invasions.  Best part is the nice old Alternative Armies Minis and the buckets of ancient Irish flavor.  Keen to get back and go a-questing!
"You'll not be putting us into our mounds so easily, Milesian trash!"

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Rat Ogres of Flea Fell

In the furthest southern corner of the Black River country, within the wide bend that the river makes as it sweeps east round the southernmost spur of Thunder Mountain, lies the dreaded Tulgey wood, which no man nor dwarf has entered and lived.  Across the wide river from the dripping eves and turgid bowels of that unclean forest, the ground slopes upward again until it forms a high lonely hill, crowned with a tumble of great, pale rocks covered in red lichen.  To the men and Dwarves of the black River country, this high point is known as the Flea Fell, the solitary outlier of the Thunder Mountain range to be found east of the Black river.

From black holes that stare out of the sides of this great, pink pimple on the earth's face drift foul fumes and odious smokes, and weird noises drift down from the heights by day and night.  When the wind is right, farmers and fisherfolk on the riverbanks of the Sudmark can hear the rasp and thump of weird machinery, crazed cacklings and shrill screams of terror or unholy delight.  On some nights, strange lights can be seen dancing on  the hilltop, and the black eye-holes on the face of the hill are lit with a lurid glow.

In the belly of the hill, in crowded hallways carved from it's pale stone and deep burrows whose floors seethe with the movements of fleas and lice live the Vermintide of Flea Fell, the lone outpost of the Skaven Under-Empire to be found in this remote region.  It has been two centuries or more since a renegade tribe of Skaven, burrowing from out of the east came upon this hill, and discovered a seam of warp-stone that ran deep beneath its roots.  Eagerly they delved for it, and established themselves, growing more numerous and powerful as the years passed and their hoard of the black stone of chaos grew larger.  Yet they have never managed to set themselves up as a truly great power in the Black River country.  In the last two centuries, the Dwarves of Thunder Mount, led by Lord Uther Untergaard, the famed Engineer and Lord of the Lower Hall, have stormed and sacked the stronghold of the Skaven several times.  Each time, however, enough Skaven have survived, scattered here and there, to eventually return to Fleafell, to rebuild and re-fortify it, and to plot their revenge once more.  

Their latest Warlord, the dread Ratched Ticknibble, has recently come to power in the Skaven city.  Armed with his fearsome magic halberd Fleafang, he is seeking to make alliances with other of the dark denizens of the Black River country, even as he raids upon and skirmishes with them.  If he can finally make The Flea Fell impregnable to attack from above and below, and ally his people to the Chaos Horde of Buzzgobb Phesterlick or to Big Blackie's Orc and Goblin Horde, he believes he may finally be able to achieve his great ambition:  To make the mighty fortress Thunder Mount the abode of his Vermintide, and to rule over all the Black River Country as Verminlord supreme.  

I told myself I wasn't going to let this happen.  I swore to myself that the little cluster of Skaven models I couldn't deny myself would just be an ally contingent to spice up my other three evil armies from time to time.  But there were problems with  that.  A lot of the most enjoyable models, the ones I really wanted, like the Clan Moulder Beastmasters and the Jezzail teams aren't available in the allied army list.  You can't even take Skaven Slaves.  Finally, I cracked.  The Skaven have arrived in my Warhammer Fantasy campaign setting.  All hail the Vermintide.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

N is for Nightmare

Few of the folk of the Western Lands will venture far beyond their doors at night.  For it is at night that the world of the living lies closest to that of the dead.  It is at night that the Gods of law are at their weakest, and that the power of Chaos waxes in might.  Strange sounds are carried on the wind, and weird things travel the roads in the darkness.  

The lore of the people of the Western Kingdoms is alive with tales of Devils who haunt forest path and King's Road alike, seeking to snare the unwary.  Of great interest to some loremasters are the tales of spectral hounds and horses, the most dread of which are known simply as the Nightmares, for they are of another world, entirely, and can pass easily between the waking world and that of dreams, appearing to men and slaying them on the roads or in their beds.  

Often it is, on chill Autumn evenings, that families will hear the hammering of unseen hooves on the stones outside their lonely houses, and the unearthly scream of the Nightmare as it passes on some dread errand.  Then deep in their beds, behind doors well barred will they huddle, and pray for dawn.  When at last the day returns they'll emerge into bright sunlight to view the earth branded with the marks of burning hooves, and wonder who it was who died in his sleep, slain by a horror that stalked within the corridors of his unwaking brain.

It is said by many learned men that the Crypt Thing which dwells in the Caverns of Chaos has a pact with a Nightmare-horse, and sometimes rides this Devil Steed across the land on errands of evil. Others say this Demon in horse's shape is not a steed, but a servant and a messenger, for the Crypt Thing rarely, if ever, leaves the the deep and breathless warrens of the caves...

As a very young kid in The States, I fell in love with British folklore.  I don't know why our little school library had so many books on the subject of English and Celtic lake monsters, ghosts, cannibals, haunted castles, stone circles, Lambton Wyrms, phantom dogs, spectral horses, and little talking furry creatures on the Isle of Man named Gef, but I'm glad that they did.  I've lost not one squib of my love for this folk literature as I've advanced toward decrepitude, so I've been sort of playing with the idea of incorporating some of the spirit of it into my campaign world.

The idea of a spectral demon horsie with flaming mane and hooves thundering about the countryside by night conjures up a lot of that old folkloric flavor for me.  Mr. Nightmare, in this case a lovely old 1980s Citadel Sculpt, will make a powerful and characterful ally for my Super Arch Agent of evil, the Crypt Thing....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Star Wars Rebel Fleet Infantry Platoon Part 1: Command Team and 1st Squad

Although the Rebellion has a Special Forces Command which supplies specially trained ground forces for planet-side operations, Fleet itself provided the bulk of the Rebels' infantry right up through the Battle of Endor.  Here we see part of a Rebel Fleet Infantry Platoon as they would be seen soon after disembarking from a troop transport.

The Rebel infantry platoon I'm building follows the guidelines given for Rebel units in The Star Wars Miniature Battles Companion, though I've tweaked it here and there to suit myself/.  The finished platoon will consist of 4 8-man line squads, a 4-man command team, and a weapon section with two repeating heavy blaster teams, forty men in all.

The Companion says that 8-man squads were standard during the War of the Rebellion, though I don't know why 8. Whatever, I decided to go with that squad structure.  The book says a command team should be composed of a Lieutenant and a Sergeant Major.(?!)

I think they mean Platoon Sergeant. Well, I found suitable figures to represent the officer and platoon Sergeant, then I added a medic and a comm link guy, since an infantry platoon just doesn't look right to me without them.  Don't recall seeing any rules about medics and RTOs in the rulebook...maybe they will just be regular troopers, or perhaps I'll invent some rules for them.

Here they are.  The RTO isthe unarmed Rebel Trooper figure.  I didn't think he was good for much, having no weapon in hand, so I guess it's good that I found him some useful employment.  I wanted him to have a big bulky, annoying comm set, but didn't want to sculpt it, since I have no sculpting skills.  Instead I just made him a backpack out of green stuff and tried to make it look like there's an antenna sticking out of the top flap.

The platoon medic is not officially a member of the platoon.  She would be attached to the platoon for a specific mission, after which she would return to her own unit aboard a medical frigate.  As such she has a lot more latitude when I comes to customizing her uniform and equipment, and can get away with things the Platoon Sergeant would never let any of the others do.  As can be seen here, she has doffed her black vest, and replaced her Fleet Issue heavy blaster pistol for a high quality custom-made side arm, undoubtedly a private purchase weapon.  She has also replaced her Fleet-issue headgear with the army-issue crash-type helmet, which she claims is much less cumbersome when she is trying to work on casualties.  I wanted her to have an aid bag, so I made one out of green stuff, which looked ok, until I painted it.  I'll have to go back and touch it up sometime,  Right now, I just want to be done with the unit.

The squad troopers consist of 6 men with heavy blaster pistols and two 'specialists', one with a blaster rifle and one with what I assume is a blaster carbine,

Painting the unit has been frustrating, I'm not too keen on the way it turned out.  Painting 25mm with realistic proportions is tougher than larger, Citadel-type 'heroically proportioned' figures.

Faces don't show up as well, painting eyes becomes a lot harder, especially when figures are giving the Clint Eastwood squint, as most of these guys seem to be doing.

I'd have liked to have glossed the blast shields on their helmets, but didn't have any gloss to hand, so tried to add a highlight by blobbing some white on them.  It doesn't look too good.  Suppose I'll have to revisit them all at some point.

Oh, well, they're done.  Better luck next time?