Wednesday 20 February 2019

The Death of High Fantasy?

Hi folks,

Is high fantasy dying a slow death? I have noticed a growing body of discussion that would suggest role-playing groups are turning away from classical fantasy tropes, in favour of more eclectic and subversive themes. One explanation for this has been the shift in young adult literature. 

The type of books I used to read when I was a kid were very much of the high fantasy genre. Epics such as The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, The Shannara Chronicles, The Rose of the Prophet, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and The Riftwar Saga all had a certain quality to them that I find lacking in modern fantasy literature (with some spectacular exceptions). They were not easily accessible; you had to work hard to read them, particularly at an early age. The themes in them ran deep and were far reaching, taking a long time to unravel. The worlds that they presented were vibrant, perilous and often mind-bending in their complexity. When we played a fantasy RPG or other tabletop game, we tried to incorporate this as much as we could. 

Increasingly, people are looking upon further additions to this genre with disdain. I searched through some discussion forums on the topic, in which high fantasy is described as being “trite, hackneyed and overdone.” That authors “fall to the traps of Medieval world-building. Leaning heavily to the familiar Medieval/DnD tropes and setting so they don't have to do the heavy lifting of world-building”. That “High Fantasy seems to be teetering on the brink. I can't remember the last time magic was just about just dudes throwing fireballs instead of being based on some convoluted system. One cannot even fathom seeing a knight rescuing a princess.” The genre I grew up loving seems to have shot itself in the foot, becoming a parody of itself. I find it hard these days to buy a fantasy book with classic themes, because reading the description of the back reveals the same old story almost every time. It’s embarrassing. It is hard to stop this sentiment from bleeding into gaming.

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn have a convoluted system of magic, as does the Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss.

Modern literature is very different to what I grew up with, subverting the well established art of world building to allow more familiar themes to spice things up (what we would usually call “low fantasy”), or turning people’s expectations of fantasy on its head. The likes of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fit squarely, and quite popularly, in this category. Modern gaming, film and television have also unleashed a new brand of fantasy upon us. This shift has been reflected in the depiction of fantasy themes on the table top; for many people, stumbling upon a goblin camp with your dwarf warrior isn’t quite cutting it anymore.

This has made me look at my own experiences in gaming to see if I was part of this trend. My earliest experiences of roleplaying were in a high fantasy setting, reflecting the stories we were all enjoying at the time. As time has progressed, however, I can see that the underlying nature of our campaigns have changed. Sure enough, we too have injected all kinds of guff into it to try and break the mould. It was enjoyable, scratching some kind of itch that we had, but I can’t help but feel that we have neglected something that deserved to be treated better.

For the past couple of months I have been playing in a campaign run by our long suffering DM of 25 years, Arny. It is a stock campaign called Storm King’s Thunder, which we are playing online using the Fantasy Grounds online platform and Discord for verbal communication. Let’s just say getting everyone around a table in the library at lunch isn’t an option anymore.

Preparing for the campaign, knowing that it was going to be more of a classical setting, I felt the sacrilegious urge to do something a little different. I have a long history of choosing what you would call a classic character to roleplay; it feels old school and I pride myself on that! This time, I thought, “stuff it!”, I’m taking something completely different. I rolled up a Dragonborn Warlock with a whole heap of conflicting motivations, feeling decidedly rebellious about the whole process. I was proverbially tossing the classical fantasy tropes out the window.

Mercy, my Dragonborn Warlock, based on an artwork I found on Pinterest.

Dropping into the first session I was gobsmacked to find that many of the other players (love you folks!) had outdone me. After several sessions, I still don’t have a clear understanding of many of the races/themes represented in our party. What they are not, is the kind of characters I celebrated in my youth. I’m loving the campaign, but very much feeling like the pendulum has swung a long way from the days of Solamnic Knights and Kenders.

I don’t think high fantasy, and all of the trappings that come with it, will truly die out. There is still a lot to enjoy in the meandering grandeur of Lord of the Rings. It is also very rewarding, I feel, to play a classic fantasy character or army and relive the glory days. It may take a bit more work, but there is a legacy you can tap into that adds so much to the gaming experience. The trick is to encourage our young ones to read the old stories and help them to discover the rich legacy within. Hell, we need to keep it fresh in our own minds, and one of the easiest ways is to do that is to share it with someone else. As folks who understand, we have an obligation to keep high fantasy alive, because we know the world will be a less fantastic place without it.

See you across the table,


Saturday 16 February 2019

Squaduary: Iron Snakes Centurions WIP

Hi folks,

Squaduary is not just here, it is half finished already! This is the third year in a row I have attempted to finish this Iron Snakes Centurion project, having failed the last two dismally; the real world definitely has it in for me during the month of February. This year I am throwing everything at the project to try and get the monkey off my back.

I have been tinkering with the test model for a while and finally settled on the scheme and shoulder symbol size. Now I am just transferring what I have learned into the other five. I am finding that as I go I keep developing faster ways to do things, so hopefully I can get them all done.

In hindsight, I should have left both shoulder pads off for painting the red trim and inside surface of the shield, though I do love creating a rod for my own back when it comes to such things.

The rest of the squad includes some fun plasma cannon and assault cannon conversions, which took up two weeks of February last year (if you include drilling the 54 barrels!). So far, I am half-way through painting the shields, which are one of the slowest steps. I am hoping to have the shields and free-hand symbols done by the end of the week. Wish me luck!

See you across the table,


Monday 4 February 2019

Learning How to Paint with an Airbrush Part 2

Hi folks,

To finish my 2000 pt Dark Angels army I need to paint 3 models, a Techmarine, a Callidus Assassin and a Predator. The Predator was given to me by Craig R. a while ago, and it had a pretty rough finish to it. It was painted in the Black Templars paint scheme, which I figured would work well as a black undercoat for a Dark Angels scheme. Given that it was a "fixer-upper", I thought it would be a good test subject for another session of airbrushing. To start with, though, I gave it an extra coat of Army Painters Angels Green, from a high angle to introduce some early zenithal lighting.

Just to re-iterate, I am not an expert at using an airbrush. I am learning as I go and hitting up online tutorials left-right-and-center. As I learn lessons though I am going to post about them as a record of what I have done; hopefully someone can learn the basics a little faster thanks to my efforts. So, here are a few tips based on my second session of painting with an airbrush.

1) Positioning your compressor

Due to the vibrations as the compressor operates, it tends to walk around the table like an old washing machine. They often have suction caps on the bottom to help prevent any falls, but it is still good practice to place it away from the edge of the table. I moved my table over to close the gap between the table and the door; it had nowhere to fall. Just don't get too engrossed in the painting part that you let it fall off the end of the table!

I keep a bucket of clean water nearby for cleaning the airbrush. But not too nearby that the compressor can fall in the bucket. That would be an interesting Darwin Award entry... I also keep a container of clean water on the table, as a source of clean water for cleaning the airbrush as well.

2) Set the pressure

Last session I was pushing air at 56 psi, which is great if you want to undercoat a bunch of models from half a meter away. For closer, more accurate work, you don't want to blast so hard!

The dial for setting the pressure is locked in place, so you have to lift it up to unlock it. The direction you need to turn it is printed on the top, but you also need to be pushing the trigger for air on the airbrush to actually adjust it. For today, I started on 30 psi but ended up dropping it down further to 20 psi. For really fine detail, you would want to go even lower. This allowed me to paint closer to the model and get some more subtle blends.

3) Mixing and loading paint

I measure my paints into a deep plastic pallet using a plastic syringe, and make a note of how many drops I use in each mix. This is so that I can make the same colour again if I need to, and maintain the right consistency. This is a lot easier to do if your paints are in dropper bottles, so I can see why more and more people are transferring their Citadel paints. I am using both Vallejo airbrush thinner and flow improver, both of which suggest 2 drops per 8 drops of paint. That gave me a great consistency that did not clog the airbrush or take too long to dry.

After adding the drops together I mixed it all together very thoroughly with a brush. I used a clean syringe to add it to the airbrush reservoir. I always use the reservoir cap as well, I'm always worried I am going to tip it and get paint all over something. I keep the syringes clean after every use by pumping them rapidly into the bucket of clean water next to me.

To start with, I mixed a colour slightly lighter than Angel Green and applied it as evenly as I could to the top surfaces of the tank (about half the total height. To begin with I found my hand movements were too fast and it was not going on that evenly. After slowing down, though, my application control improved. I found myself using finer changes in trigger pressure to increase the paint load more. Here is what it looked like after the first round.

4) Cleaning the airbrush between colours

Now this may earn the ire of people who know better than me. For starters, my airbrush isn't that expensive, so I am not that precious with it. Sgt Waz has done a lot of airbrush work for commissions, and keeps some cheaper ones for bulk work like this and cleans them the same way. It is quick, effective, a little nasty, but hasn't wrecked any of Waz's brushes yet in the years he has been doing it.

a) I invert the front end into a clean bucket of water so that the reservoir and nozzle is immersed and swirl it backwards and forwards to remove any bulk amount of paint left over.

b) By pressing the trigger for air and drawing it back, water is pulled through the reservoir and out the nozzle, for an extra, continuous, flush.

c) I then deliver a load of clean water from the container on the table, then pump the syringe gently a few times and discard the washings in the bucket. I do this a few times.

d) I then add an additional load of clean water by syringe and spray it through for a final flushing step.

e) After a quick inspection and wipe down with paper towel, it is usually ready to go. If you leave droplets of water around the nozzle of the airbrush, I find that they invariably end up getting in the air flow and spattering on your work, which is a quick way to ruin careful painting.

f) After the final colour of the session I repeat the process, but clean some parts out with the brushes provided, particularly the tip. I do not strip the whole thing and clean it like Private Lawrence, unless something is going terribly wrong (see Part 1).

5) Blending

I used the residue from the last mix to make my next one, which helped each new layer to blend into the last (at least colour-wise). Pulling back less on the trigger to deliver less paint also helped to blur the interface between colours. I added progressively lighter browns to the green mix and applied to the lower half of the model to represent some mud spatter and weathering, which I will accentuate with a brush and some more finer detail later.

For a second go, I was happy with the results, much happier than the previous session. I would have to say that changing the pressure to match the job at hand probably made the biggest different in this regard. For now, I am swapping the airbrush for a normal brush and starting to work in some fine details. Next time I work on a tank, I'm going to try and prime it and add some per-highlighting to the undercoat, all with the airbrush. Here are some final shots to show you were I got up to.

See you across the table,