Saturday 21 December 2013

Greetings on the Solstice

At the departure of the Holly King,
And on the arrival of the Oak King,
May good fortune and happiness be yours.

Merry meet,
Merry part,
Merry meet again.

Blessed be.

Monday 16 December 2013

Sub-Roman Shock Cavalry

The Dux Brit rules allow for the British player to acquire a unit of heavily armoured shock cavalry as an additonal elite group. These would also (I guess) serve as hearthguard for a Saga Strathcylde force. In military terms these are the ultimate in Dark Ages conspicuous consumption. Only the richest, more powerful, best connected warlord is going to have access to a unit of these. And I don't even want to THINK about the effect of a unit of these hitting the flank of some poor bloody infantry, under the influence of Carpe Diem, A Strong Arm, Aggressive Charge or Artorius and Lancelot leading them with Hero of The Age... Best pray to Woden, boys, because nothing on earth is going to save you!

The presence of Sarmatian heavy cavalry in Britain at the end of the Roman period seems well-supported by evidence both physical and documentary. The idea that it lasted into the Sub-Roman period and was the model for Arthur's knights appears to owe more to plausibility than archaeology. Still, it's only a game...

These are Gripping Beast Late Roman armoured cavalry, that I bought on Ebay for a song. The figures appear to be some of the Beast's older offerings, with shields cast in place. I don't get on well with cast-on shields, as I struggle to paint the details on the rear of the shield and the adjacent bits of figure, but I think I did OK. The figures have a nice variation of poses - four quite different stances, all nice and natural. The faces are characterful and reasonably varied, including a beardy one, and all four show sufficient subtle differences in equipment to make them look like individuals. They required some minor cleanup of joint seams, but carried no flash at all, as is pretty much the norm for GB. Although they came with lances, I replaced the lead ones (which bend when you look at them) with some I made from steel rod. Overall I was as pleased as punch with this buy.

Shields, only slightly derived from the notitia dignitatum...

The minor downside was that they came without horses, but for the price it was still so worth it. A scratch around revealed some possible sources for mounts, but I struck lucky again, and managed to cop some Conquest Games Norman horses from a helpful chap on LAF.

Now, these might not be perfect horses for the job. They represent animals that are frankly a bit too good a quality for Sub-Roman purposes. The standard of post-Roman horse flesh might not have been anything like as well-bred as this, although there are suggestions (again, I'm not sure how much evidence backs them up!) of imports of cavalry mounts from the continent. However, these were readily available and thanks to the seller's fairness, very reasonably priced, so they'll do for me.

Line abreast, the last thing some poor infantry would ever see...

The horse models come as three-piece kits, need very minimal pre-assembly cleanup and go together without difficulty, although mine did need a bit of filler. The two different halves and separate head construction method gives plenty of variation. To anyone used to plastic scale models, these are a doddle.

The bridles, I thought deserve a special mention - moulded accurately (for Normans, of course, but near enough for me) carefully and about as delicately as is possible. One really good thing is that the horses are kitted without saddles, but with blankets. This makes them very suitable for the sort of generic use I've made of them, and probably isn't an accident on the part of the sculptor. Anatomy and posing really is first class, and even if they are a bit good quality for Sub-Roman Britain, these really are nice figures - recommended!

Other side. I LIKE these horses!

Now, unsurprisingly as they weren't sculpted to go together, the horses and riders need a bit of work to make them fit convincingly. The Gripping Beast riders have their four-horn saddles moulded in situ, and by reaming out the bottom of the saddle and the sides of the horse, you can get a nice matchup between the two. A bit of greenstuff here and there makes the fit perfect. I added one strap to the back of horse, under the tail. I'm not sure if Roman saddles of this type had the double girths as cast onto the horses, but I left them in place anyway.

As super-elite fighters (hearthguard AND mounted? They're not going to have much of an attitude are they?) I went with  bright colours (nearly garish, if you like) for clothes, and bright painted shields, with some home-made "monster" decals for good measure.

Here they are, lending tone to a vulgar brawl...

Upon due reflection, I think the Picts leaving the woods to fight these guys might have been misguided. My money's definitely on the cavalry here on the flat!

Merry Meet Again!

Friday 13 December 2013

Sub-Roman Leader - Lancelot

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves 

Of bold Sir Lancelot. 

"The Lady of Shalott", Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This guy is my take on Lancelot.

And as he rode his armour rung, Beside remote Shalott.

He's a Gripping Beast mini, sold as a Strathcylde noble for Saga. The style of the helmet, his scale armour, short trousers and lack of stirrups make him totally suitable for Sub-Roman use too. The Dux Brit reinforcements for the British grant an additional Class II noble to go with the shock cavalry, so this chap will be using his activations there, as well as (eventually) leading my Strathclyde Saga force.

  His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d; On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode; 

He is provided as a two-piece casting: horse and rider as one piece, and a separate sword. This would allow some option for variation should you want it, replacing sword with spear, for example. I built him up "as is". Some bits of the horse needed some fairly brutal (Dremel) cleanup, but the rider had minimal joint lines, and there was no flash anywhere.

From underneath his helmet flow’d His coal-black curls as on he rode,

Note he doesn't come with a shield. I did quite a bit of head-scratching about this. I went through the time-honoured ritual of thinking thrice and measuring twice before getting to the point of cutting once, but even thinking and measuring a lot more times I couldn't come up with a totally convincing solution. There simply isn't room for any "normal" sort of Sub-Roman shield, whether round or oval, never mind the table-top sized ones the rest of the shock cavalry are carrying. The only way to give him a shield is to go to the data in Heinrich Harte and Tania Dickinson's work, and make him a bucker, in the Saxon style. Harte and Dickinson give the smallest archaeologically attested bucker diameter as 34cm (6mm in scale). The space available allows you to go slightly away from the bleeding edge, to something like 8mm (45cm in full size).

I made up some plastic card bucklers that size, and dry fitted them. They just didn't look right. So, I went with the figure as it is. Lancelot is quick and agile enough, fighting on his own, to avoid getting hit.

Take that!

These two Pictish skirmishers might just about live to regret trying to ambush Lancelot as he rode through the trees.

Merry meet again!

Sunday 1 December 2013

Here be dragons...

Underneath a wind torn sky,
Silent as the hunter’s moon I chase.
I am the guardian.
I am the god of this place.

I am the silent death,
Golden eyes and burning breath I take.
While the forest shakes and sighs
In my wake.

Taken down by armored men,
I tore their shields, I bloodied some!
I am war!
But the cowards came in numbers,
All the more...

Sing to me a song of open skies,
Bury me upon a mountain high.

Adapted from "Death of the Tiger", by Danny Vaughn

Danny Vaughn, who is a briliant singer and songwriter, and an all-round top bloke, wrote the above about the plight of tigers in captivity. Check out his work, and also the sentiment behind this. Wild animals, especially those that are so magnificent, have no place being kept for our amusement. As for people who hunt them for so-called "fun" or "medicine", well, I have my own opinions of how they should be dealt with, shall we say.

Despite being written about tigers, this spoke to me about how a dragon might think. Not just some mindless animal, driven by instinct alone, but a powerful entity, clever and wise, with a sublime knowledge of its place in the world. Men might catch a dragon, or even kill a dragon, but no man could ever truly tame a dragon.

If I have mysterious inhuman women, wizards and half-giants (soon!) in my wargame world, then dragons fit perfectly.

"My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords..." Left side.

This was a Grenadier Miniatures Blue Dragon, bought probably twenty years ago and waiting for an excuse to rise again ever since. 

"My claws spears, the shock of my tail is a thunderbolt..." Right side.

I gave it a coat of black primer (to kill the original blue) then a coat of red oxide as an undercoat. Over this went a wash of black ink, then vast numbers of drybrushed coats of different shades of red-brown, red and orange.

 "My wings a hurricane, and my breath death!" You do not want to get on this side!

Individual scales were picked out with bright reds and oranges, and teeth, claws and eyes painted. Do you wonder everyone except Wiglaf decided to not help Beowulf fight the dragon?

Three heroes plus Merlin? My money's on the dragon!

The stones around the base are polymer clay, painted, ink washed and drybrushed, with a scorch mark drybrushed into the grass. Just to remind people there aren't just teeth in that end!

Three heroes, Merlin AND a dragon? This could be bad for someone. Very bad...

Merry Meet Again!