Wednesday 23 April 2014

Tristan - A Present For Me

A little while back I reviewed Musketeer Miniatures' fantastic Bors figure, that I painted as a present for a colleague.

This figure, Tristan, comes as the partner to Bors. In the Arthurian canon, Tristan (Anglicised from Drustan) was apparently a Cornish nobleman, a nephew of King Mark, who largely became famous for falling in love with Mark's mail order bride, Iseult.

There's a pretty strong thread running through the stories that Tristan could have had some Pictish heritage (Drustan derived from Drust, an attested name of several Pictish kings). Of course it's quite possible he was a Cornish noble with Pictish blood - then as now the nobility of different states/countries probably intermarried.

Modelled in a fantastically aggressive running pose, Tristan is a pretty commanding figure. This is ncely in keeping with the Arthurian view of him is a handy fellow in any sort of fight. The sculpting and casting is first-rate, with no flash and minimal joint lines. Interestingly he comes without a weapon in his right hand. I added a sword (swiped from the spares in the GB Dark Age warriors pack), but drilling through to add a spear would be facile. Here he is, bearing down on a group of Pictish raiders. Maybe there's an old family feud between him and the Pictish noble?

Stand and fight!

As Tristan is a well-equipped elite fighter, he has a mail shirt and a Saxon-style helmet, complete with boar crest. I'm perfectly happy with this - there's no evidence that the Saxons had a monopoly on viewing the tough, aggressive boar as a symbolic of a fighting man. In my view Tristan has looked at the state of the art in weapons, armour and tactics and decided that the Saxon style, complete with the small, viciously-pointed buckler, suits him best.

No backing down!

And as for where he's going, well, he might get an outing in a Dux Brit game, but mainly, this one's for my desk!

Decision time!

Merry Meet Again!

Monday 21 April 2014


I first read Beowulf when I was about nine or ten years old. I don't recall who's translation it was - if I had to hazard a guess, I would say it was Rosemary Sutcliff's. It wouldn't be fair to say it was the one book that set me onto the path that has led me here: that honour belongs to The Hobbit, which I read around the same time. But that version of Beowulf was certainly one of the things that led me to other versions of the same work, and then to read The Sagas, the Fight at Finnsburg, Y Gododdin, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the works of Mallory and so many others.

I own what might perhaps be called a Beowulf bore's collection of different versions. I should say at this stage that I am far from being a scholar of Old English. I can pick out words and phrases, and understand how the language was structured, but I cannot claim to be highly qualified to comment on the accuracy of any translation!

William Morris's version has a feel I like, but there are parts where he seems to translate things differently to all the other versions I've read, so it sits uneasily. It has the advantage of being available for free.

Michael Alexander's version is my personal favourite. My copy is dog-eared, heavily overwritten with my own notes and much repaired. I love the feel and tone of it. The alliterative structure Alexander has produced, to me, really drives home the idea that Beowulf was written to be read aloud, recited in front of enthusiastic listeners, rather than pondered over in a quiet corner.

Marc Hudson makes no attempt to create alliteration, but his version is light, accessible and accompanied by a thorough, thought-provoking commentary.

John McNamara's verse translation is unfortunate in that it came out in 2005. By then I was firmly wedded to Alexander's version, but I would recommend McNamara's version without hesitation to any new buyer/reader. The poem text is excellent and benefits from a fantastic set of supporting notes and commentary.

So here's my Beowulf. This is Musketeer Miniatures version of Aelle. Their figures are fantastic sculpts and casts, and the character figures have so much life that I almost regret having built parts of my Anglo-Saxon and Sub-Roman armies with the figures I have, even though at the time I bought them I loved them. I already have an Aelle, so there was an opening for this figure to do something else.

Never have I seen
a greater earl on the earth than one of you,
a man in his war-gear. He is no hall-retainer,
ennobled with weapons, unless his looks belie him,
given his peerless form.

That description was the one given by Hrothgar's coastguard when he first sees Beowulf and his companions arrive. This mini is almost "straight out of the packet". The only difference is that I replaced the shield, with a version made from 10 thou plastic card, engraved and embossed to represent rivetted construction in three bits. When he hears about the dragon, Beowulf orders his armourers to make him a shield of solid iron, as he believes (quite rightly) that a wooden shield will fail against the dragon's fire.

The champion of warriors, the chief of the nobles,
ordered a wondrous war-shield to be made for him,
entirely of iron, since he knew for certain
that a wooden shield could provide no protection,
when fire attacked wood.

The other figure here was sold with the Aelle/Beowulf as a banner-bearer. He gets elevated to the status of a real character: Wiglaf.

This was Wiglaf, Weoxstan's son,
well-loved shieldman, a Scylfing prince
of the stock of Alfhere; 

Wiglaf is the only man among the Geats with the courage to stand with Beowulf when he fights the dragon. All the other members of Beowulf's hearthguard, the toughest of the tough, turn tail and run, and only Wiglaf remains, striking the blow that gives Beowulf the chance to make a killing stroke against the worm.

Here are the two, together, ready to take on anything that threatens the land of the Geats. I put these two on 1p coins as bases, rather than the 2p's I normally use for characters, with the plan that they could be sabot'ed onto a single base as a unit in a game (sort of "kill one, you still have a king" idea).

They killed the enemy, extinguished its life; 
by their courage, the kinsmen, acting as one, 
worked its doom. So should men do when there is need.

Of course, it wouldn't be complete without a couple of shots of the heroes confronting the dragon, so here goes:

Merry Meet Again!

Sunday 20 April 2014

Morgan Le Fay

The perfect spell, you could not resist,
I cast it well, beguiled and bewitched,
The evening fell and knocked like before,
But this time Hell had come to your door!
"Shapeshifter" - Gary Hughes

Here's the latest in the line of occasional non-historic Sub-Roman characters, Morgan Le Fay.

Morgan was Arthur's half-sister, a daughter of Igraine (Arthur's mother) and Gorlois of Cornwall. She was unhappily married to Urien of Rheged and was a student of Merlin. A powerful sorceress, but also a skilled healer, she plotted against Arthur, undermining him, his knights and even his wife, remaining a powerful adversary for many years. At the end, she was reconciled with her half-brother, and was one for the four enchantresses who went with Arthur to Avalon after his wounding at the Battle of Camlann.

The figure is a Julie Guthrie sculpt, sold via Grenadier Miniatures as a female assassin. The date on the bottom of the figure (1987) is slightly earlier than when I got it. I'd bought it and painted it, and had had good service from it in the rolegame days but had mislaid it. I'd been looking for it among the few figures I'd kept from back then, as I thought it was perfect for this purpose. It took me an age to find, and eventually it turned up behind a workbench in my garage during a massive clearout!

A quick clean-up and prime got her ready to paint, and to my mind there's only one example to follow:
Frederick Sandys' painting of Morgan. The original is in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but this gives you the idea.

It's interesting to note the Pictish symbols on her overskirt. I don't this interpretation can be beaten, and here's my version derived from Sandys' masterpiece. Not a patch on his obviously, but I'm happy enough. The details on the mini are quite soft and subtle compared with today's castings, but at the time, these were pretty "state of the art".

Does the goblet contain some subtle poison, refreshing wine, a healing draught or some hidden spell the long-term effect of which can only be guessed at?

A powerful ally...

But if the contents of the wine-cup fail, then the dagger in her other hand will serve. I think Aelle is right to be wary of this strange lady.

...But a bad enemy

Marry Meet Again!

Sunday 6 April 2014

"We come from the land of the ice and snow" - Viking Hearthguard for Saga

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.
Led Zeppelin, "Immigrant Song"

Whilst I could scratch up a Viking force from existing figures I have, it wouldn't be terribly authentic, and anyway, where's the fun in that? Based on very favourable experience with them, I decided to build my Viking army as far as possible using Gripping Beast plastics. As all Saga-ites know, a warband consists of three types of troops, hearthguard, warriors and levy plus the warlord.

Two and a half points of Hearthguard

The Hearthguard are successful professional warriors, who would be expected to be well equipped, so these are all fully armoured and heavily armed, with sword, axe and spear, and dressed in (for the time) colourful clothing. Two units of hearthguard requires eight Viking figures, but in the first instance, I did a sprue-full.

First point...

A single sprue from the Viking Hirdmen box contains ten armoured bodies, all without heads. Some have the shield arm moulded in place, some are separate. This allows double-armed men to be built very easily. Each sprue gives you shields, fourteen heads, numerous spare arms and a slew of extra weapons to use where you like.

Second point...

The sculpting is as usual for GB - crisp and clean, with deep cut detail. Anatomy is good, and these are solid, strongly built men, reflecting their status (and hence access to the best grub!).

Moulding is good, in the usual hardish Renedra plastic. Mould seams are minimal and easily removed. In one or two places, there is evidence of some flash appearing - hope the moulds aren't wearing out!

Last few.

Assembly is easy, and all parts fit well, and allow for plenty of variation. I have to say that one or two of the poses you can come up with are not entirely convincing, so playing about and doing lots of dry runs (old modellers' term there!) before reaching for the glue is definitely worthwhile. Blu-tak is your friend in this.

These chaps get relatively brightly coloured clothing - reds, greens, yellows, even a bit of blue. The shades are slightly muted, since these were vegetable dyes, but certainly a bit more eyecatching than the usual variety of greyish browns and brownish greys! The clothing is further jazzed up with details on collars, cuffs and hems. Bright, contrasting colours work well here, and would appear to be historically correct.

Fighting to the last

The final step of course is shields. These are not the sort who are going to enter a fight with a plain white, black or grey battle-board. These need a variety of colourful backgrounds with bright, vibrant designs on top. Home-made decals were my solution, as freehanding the whole lot is a bit too much like hard work!

So, I now have two and a half points worth of troops. I'll do a couple more at some point and round out the hearthguard to three points. But next, some rank and file!
Closeup view - might be the last sight you ever have!

 Merry Meet Again!