Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part One

Here's part one of the short story I wrote for the Baen Fantasy Adventure Award in 2014.  I'll post it in parts, but I thought it turned out fairly well.  No small part due to my alpha readers.  I completed it in a short period of time, and while deployed at sea, but I still got it done.

Some context, this story takes place in the same world as Queen's Legacy, and is something of a prequel for some of the characters in or mentioned in the novel.


Erros leapt over a handcart being pushed across the cobbled street.  He hit the ground hard, sending spikes of pain through his ankles.  He skidded around a corner.  Almost there he thought to himself.  His first day in the Queen’s Swordsmen and he was late.  He sped under the gate and skidded to a halt behind the troop of guards and taking a spot at the end.  His heart hammered in his chest and he tried to look normal while panting for air.  Erros decided that whoever chose to put tunics over top of hardened leather armour, itself over top of a padded undershirt should have to suffer a terrible fate.  One involving heat.
“Swordsman Mardaak, come here!” the troop captain yelled.  Wretched Ancestors!  Erros walked to the Captain.  His face was hot, for sure he was blushing.
“Yes Captain Mann.” He said.
“Would you care to explain why your tunic is such a disaster?” the Captain asked him.  Erros looked down at his tunic.  He had offset the buttons on the front in his haste to get into armour and uniform.  He fumbled with the buttons as the Captain leaned into him, voice barely audible.
“You’re late.  It will not happen again, will it?” the Captain said.
“No sir.  Sorry sir.” Erros said, contrite.  Just as he finished undoing his tunic the Queen and her entourage entered.  The other soldiers came smartly to attention.  Erros attempted to, but had to keep one hand on his tunic front to hold it together.  The Queen was coming right at them.
“Your Highness.” The Captain greeted the Queen with a bow.  The Queen smiled briefly.  Her dark brown hair showed only a few streaks of gray and was tied back, though several strands had already escaped to play about her face.  She turned her eyes on Erros.
“Who is this, Captain?”
“Queen Gensieve, I give you Swordsman Erros Mardaak, the newest member of your guard unit.”
“Your Highness.” Erros bowed just as the Captain had done.  His tunic forgotten, it flapped open.
“You seem to be having some trouble there, young man.” The Queen said.  When he looked up again, he met her gaze.  He could see the hint of a smile.
“Yes, your Highness.  It will not happen again.” He said.  He wanted to fall through the cracks in the cobbles under his feet.
“Are you robbing the cradle now, Captain?” the Queen asked.  The smile had returned.
“Nay, Highness.  Our mister Mardaak is a capable swordsman.  In fact, he’s one of the better bladesmen I’ve ever seen.  Studied with one of the old Masters, I hear.  I hope he’ll bring some of that skill to the others.”
“Indeed.  High praise, Captain.  Welcome to my guards Swordsman Mardaak, I’ll try not to bore you too much.” The Queen laughed.
“I am sure that will not happen, Highness.” Erros said.  He didn’t know what to say at that point but couldn’t just back away from the Queen.  He could feel the blush all the way to his hairline.
“Mama!  Are we ready to go yet?” a young voice yelled.  Ten year old Princess Anaya, her dark hair flying about her face in the light breeze, came running up to the Queen.
“Almost, my dear.  I was having a word with Captain Mann and the newest member of our guard.  This is Swordsman Mardaak.”
“Your Grace.” Erros bowed again.  He still hadn’t managed to fully do up his jacket.
“Once the good swordsman finishes with his uniform we’ll be on our way.” The Queen said.  Erros felt a fresh rush of blood to his face, but the Queen winked at him as she climbed into her saddle.
He managed to do up his tunic, mount his horse and take position all at once.  At least the day couldn’t get any worse.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hadrian Atheliar, Wizard

Here's some more painting goodness for you.  This is the model I painted to represent my Pathfinder Society character, a half-elf wizard named Hadrian Atheliar, and his familiar Silver.  All paint colours are Privateer Press' P3 paint line unless noted otherwise.

Here's the two of them:

Here's some detail on the cat, Silver, painted and named after my first cat.

I even included the white patch where her fur grew back after an injury.  This is, in some way, a tribute to my best friend for seventeen years.  Her colour is Ironhull Grey, shaded with a black ink wash and highlighted by adding Morrow White.  The eyes are Ochre Yellow with some Cygnus Yellow to match some older photos.

Here's some more detail on the wizard.  The coat was painted to have silver thread in the white panels, and the blue is Cygnar base and highlight.  The trousers are Beast Hide and the shirt Menoth White (all with appropriate highlights/shades).

The staff was basecoated with Bloodtracker Brown, then given a wash of GW Skaven Brown ink (from the original paint sets in the 1990s) for a beautiful, gnarled appearance.

Now they're off to further adventures!

The miniatures are from Reaper Miniatures and the wizard is Piers, Young Mage and the cat is the Kitty Cat from the Witch, Cauldron & Cat set.

Still trying to get a really good photo setup, but not there yet.  These are pretty good though.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Reconditioning Terrain - Supplemental

Having just done a bunch of hills, I applied the same techniques to one of the older terrain boards I have.  This board is 2'x4', and was made a few years ago for me as a gift by my brother.  As cool as it is, it has taken a bit of a beating due to two moves and various forms of storage.  Thus, I figured I'd give it a makeover, and make it a bit more durable at the same time.

Here you can see the board, which is fully grassed and has a nice hill feature built in to the corner.  The grass was just glued down to the painted surface of the board.  This looks good, but the board has a few chips and dings, as well as it's lost a fair bit of the grass.

Next up is to give it the sand and glue treatment.  A big difference here is that the static grass acted like a sponge, soaking up the glue as soon as I put it on.  I had to cut the glue with significantly more water than normal in order to get it to cover.

In fact, because of the extra water it took two days to fully cure.

But it eventually did.  I found a fan was helpful to move the air over the board and constantly provide fresh air to it.  Now it was time for the black paint.

Once a nice coat was on, it was time for the brown.  In this case, since the Folk Art brand had discontinued my previous colour, I took a colour swatch to Rona and got a quart of matte finish latex.

Two highlights later, and the dirt is done.

Now we'll add the static grass.  To keep the original character, I went with three colours, as well as the leftover mid-green from the last boards, and concentrated the colours in various areas for some gradation, to keep it visually interesting.

Allow that to dry overnight and then shake the excess off.

And voila.  For less than an hour a day, some setup and some drying time, half a Warmachine/Hordes game board.  I'll add photos the next time I have them set up for a game.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Reconditioning Terrain - part two

Welcome back!  For this second and final instalment I'll show you how to make the newly reconditioned hills (or terrain of your choice) look they belong on your battlefield.  (Well, on my battlefield, but you get the idea)

Since it's the day after the sand and glue treatment, the glue should be completely polymerized, and fully hard.  Don't be surprised if the underlying colour is showing through.  PVA (or white) glue dries clear, so being able to see through to the underlying colour is normal.  When mine were dry, here's what they looked like:

Again, gather your materials and clear some space.  While not as messy as the glue and sand part, expect some drips and general painting mess.  

For materials, you'll need:
  • Paintbrush - same as before.
  • Black paint - this will be the basecoat, so something that will cover well is ideal.  I long ago bought a quart of matte black interior latex at Rona (or Home Depot for those south of 49).  Cheap and covers well, and the quart will last a long time.
  • Two brown paints - one will be the brown base, the other will serve to mix as the highlight.  In this case, I used 'Folk Art' brand Nutmeg Brown as the base, and Toffee as the highlight colour.  Your preference may be different, such as a light sandy colour, a reddish, Mars-like colour, or whatever you painted your models' bases.
  • Mixing tray - to cut the paint with water just a bit, and for the highlight mix.
Once you have everything assembled, give your terrain a good coat of black.  Just as the glue and sand mix sealed and protected the styrofoam underneath, this coat of paint seals the glue against moisture that can soften the PVA glue.

This coat is the most important for sealing, so you want to make sure it's thorough.  Depending on the cragginess of your terrain, this may take a while.  Make sure you get paint in every nook and cranny.  Not only does it protect and seal up the glue mix, it ensures that aesthetically, you've got colour everywhere on the piece.

Again, I've used the spacers to keep the piece elevated to prevent any paint at the edges from sticking to the newspaper.  For some other pieces I made a while ago I painted the bottom as well, just to seal it all, but here I've only gone under at the edges, to make sure there's no visible styrofoam when the terrain is in play.

Once you have them all painted, they need to sit and dry fully.  When I say fully, I mean it.  If you start the next layer too soon, then the black will start to run into the brown.  Patience, young Padawan, patience.  Since I had other things to do the rest of the day, I put them all back on the shelf and left them overnight.  This is one advantage of bulk terrain, you can often work at it for just a short time each day, and when you're done you have lots of stuff ready to go.

Here the black base is dry:

And the black is thoroughly covering the edges right to the bottom:

Now things start to look good.  Take your base brown (or colour of choice) and apply it over the black.  The goal here is thorough coverage.  If a spot is missed, particularly at the sides, the black will show which will look like a small shadow.  Not a big deal but better to get it covered nice and evenly.   

Also, try to vary your brush strokes to avoid a consistent direction.  That will prevent any kind of 'grain' from appearing in your paint.  As well, if you thin it too much, like I did the first coat here, it won't cover and will look more like a wash.

Not so hot looking, but I let them dry and added a second coat.  You may find you need to do this anyway depending on what you choose as a colour.  Lighter colours in particular.  You can also experiment with other base colours.  My stepson made boards for his Protectorate of Menoth army, and used a middle brown latex instead of the black.  Again, don't be afraid to experiment.  For mine, the second coat was the charm and the hills are set out to dry.

The next coat is a mix of the base and the highlight colour.  Again, it's not an exact ratio, rather eyeballing it to get the look you want.  In this case, here's my ratio:

Exact science indeed.  For this coat, you only want to brush the high points and maybe catch part of the flat areas.  Again, you can experiment to get the look you want.  As before, try to avoid a consistent brush direction.

Note the angle of the brush.  I find skimming over the surface can be a good way to avoid putting down too much paint.  I also clean most of the paint off the brush, similar to drybrushing, but not quite as 'dry.'  A third highlight can be done, depending on the look you're after.  Once you're satisfied with them, set them aside to dry.

Don't worry too much if your highlights are a bit heavy.  You can either go back with a bit of base coat, or add some more to make it look more even.  Irregularities in the colour are fine, as the ground outside isn't perfectly one colour either.  That and static grass hides many sins.

Once you're happy with them, and the paint is fully dry, you will need another set of materials:
  • The white glue again, as well as a mixing vessel.
  • A paintbrush.
  • Static grass - this comes in several colours.  For the larger boards, I used different densities of dark green, medium green and hay colours.  For this set of hills, I have a mix of the three (really just the leftovers from terrain boards) that I used for some other hills as well as when basing models.  The choice is yours, based on your colours and the final look.
  • As always, newspaper to catch any glue or drips.

Mix the glue and water in a similar ratio to what you used for the glue and sand process.  It can be a little thinner because you only need to put down enough glue to hold the static grass.  The heavier the coat of glue, the more grass it will catch and hold, so you can vary the density of the grass on your terrain.

I try to do an uneven pattern, covering different amounts of each hill.  Some will be completely covered, others with very little.  Keeping it random-ish helps when you're making modular terrain as it will fit almost anywhere on a matching table.

Next step is to add the static grass.  I put on heaps of it, even though I know most of it won't stick, just to make sure I get full coverage of the areas I've applied glue to.  Particularly on the edges, make sure you cover all the glue else you'll have shiny spots where the grass didn't cover the glue.

Now allow them to dry again.  I let them sit overnight (notice a trend here?).

Once the glue is dry, the simplest step begins.

Put a sheet of newspaper down with the fold up.  You'll see why at the end.

Now take your hill and dump off the excess, giving it a few gentle taps to release the unglued grass.

And there's the finished product.  I've placed it beside a completely different hill that I redid about a year or so ago with the same method.  Beside each other on the terrain board they look like they are from the same batch.

When you're done, just collect the grass in the fold of the newspaper and pour back into your container.

And there you have it.  A set of hills reconditioned to match my terrain set.  Elapsed time to build, about five hours over four days.  This would have been the same time even if they weren't reconditioned pieces.  The only difference is the jagged cliff area on the one hill, which was left over from before.

As I said, the variations are endless, depending on the colour of grass and paint chosen, as well as the geometry of the hills.  Another set of boards I made for my brother had the same surface treatment, but I used flock instead of grass to get a more northern moors style look.  Experiment, and let me know if you have any cool effects in the comments.  Also, put any questions in comments and I'll answer them as best I can.  Now go forth and make some land for your armies to conquer!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reconditioning Terrain - Part One

As a side project while on leave, I decided to recondition some old wargaming terrain I had lying about. These hills are decent, made about twenty years ago, but show their age.  They're a bit faded, and the grass covering and the way they are sculpted is very 1990s.  Nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to update them and bring them into line with my more modern terrain collection.  This way everything will match and look cohesive.

As you can see, they're kind of squarish, and not that interesting.  Again, nothing wrong with them, but let's give them a nice, hard composite coating and update the paint to match the latest terrain boards, shall we?

First, get your materials together.  For this you'll need:

  • White glue - I recommend Rona or Home Depot and get the big jug.  Not only will it last you the project you're working on, I've had my jug since 2007-ish
  • Paintbrush (maybe more than one) - again, the building store.  You need a big one, and since it will handle glue, sand and paint it doesn't have to be high end.
  • Builder's sand - I bought the 30lb bag years ago and I've still not made a dent in it, despite basing legions of models, making 40 square feet of terrain boards, as well as some miscellaneous hills and other features.
  • Newspaper - lots and lots and lots of newspaper.  This WILL get messy.
Additionally, have a nice, open space to work on.  For me, the gaming table works well, but you could do it on the floor, outside, garage, large table, etc.

Don't forget the caffeine either.  

Make sure everything is laid out and you have plenty of room.  The newspaper should be double layer at minimum, quadruple layer is better.  This will get messy, and there's glue involved.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Next is to take as much white glue as you think you need (it's okay to be conservative, you can always mix up more) and mix it with about one fifth of water.  You can play around with it to check the consistency, but it should flow readily from the brush while staying exactly where you want on the workpiece.

It's hard to tell from a still photo but the glue is slightly more runny than you'd get straight out of the bottle.  I use an old sour cream or yogurt container to mix in.  The advantage is that you can put the lid back on if you have to stop or are doing multiple larger pieces over several days if you don't have the space to lay them out. In this case, it's only a few hills so no problem with keeping extra glue mix.

Now you apply to the surface of the item.  This initial layer makes the terrain piece 'sticky' so that when you put the sand on it it doesn't go scattering all over the place.  As an aside, I chose not to change the shape of the hills due to a mix of nostalgia, laziness and the fact that stepped hills make for easier model placement during a game.  

Here you can see the initial layer of glue:

Now, it's time to add the sand.  Just normal, everyday builders' sand.  As you can see, the 30lb bag lasts for a long time.  I've kept it in an old cat litter bucket for ease of handling.

I normally sprinkle a good amount of sand over the upper surface of whatever I'm working on, like so:

The next step is where the magic happens.  Actually, not so much magic, but materials engineering (yeah, I had to throw that in there).  Once you've got a good bit of sand on, you get some extra glue mix on the brush and you pat it down so that you have a glue and sand slurry over the object you're making.  As needed, add extra sand and pat that down too.  You want to have a thorough mixture and a good coating over the entire workpiece.

You can see how the glue and sand forms a mix on the surface.  Don't be afraid to adjust the mix.  More sand makes for a more rugged surface.  Less sand makes the 'dirt' a bit smoother.  Make sure, as in the case here, to run your mix down the sides.  That way the edges of the hills are thoroughly covered as well.  Watch out for brushstrokes in the surface, as that will make it look a bit odd.  If you have to move sand around with your brush use a circular motion or move the brush from several directions.

A big benefit of this method is that the terrain pieces will end up with a nice, hard coating of sand and glue mixture.  It makes them quite durable, and if you're reconditioning old pieces like I am here, it will pretty much cover any previous decoration.  In this case it was a type of modelling grass that was very stiff and scratchy, not as nice as static grass.  Once the composite is on, you would never know it had a previous covering.

Once you're done all the pieces you want to do, lay them up somewhere you can let them dry for a while. Sometimes that will be the table or workspace, such as a full terrain board. Normally, I let them dry overnight, that way the glue has lots of time to fully polymerize before you do anything else with it.  In this case, I had a shelf that is destined to be moved upstairs, but for now it's empty.  I laid out some newspaper, as well as some old blister pack blisters:

The reason to raise the hills above the paper is to keep them from getting glued down.  As the next photo shows, gravity always wins so you will tend to have a little bit of pooling at the lowest edge.  

To avoid this, I put some blisters from old miniature packaging underneath the centre of each piece.

These have been set to dry overnight.  In the case of large items, such as a full terrain board, I've found a small, desktop fan can help.  That said, even on 2'x4' boards 24 hours has generally been sufficient.  Once that's done, the hills will be ready for painting.  However, that's part two...