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Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: Zahariel and a dash of Barakiel

One of the things that works for me about maintaining my miniature-painting streak (as I write this post on October 17, I’m on day 238) is that “dormant” periods — the days I don’t really feel like working on minis — still involve forward progress, even if it’s minimal. And then when I do feel like painting, it doesn’t feel like I’m grinding the whole machine back into motion — because it never came to a dead stop.

This past weekend, rested up from a relatively light week on the minis front, I tucked into Squad Zahariel in earnest. I spent five hours or so doing their touch-ups and shading on Saturday, which was a blast.

The long road
Oops

Of course as soon as I started working on their Abaddon Black base coat, I realized that I’d paired two Jump Pack tops and bottoms incorrectly, resulting in one with braided cords appearing from nowhere, and another (less of a problem) with them disappearing without an actual termination.

I was long past the point of re-gluing, so I slapped a couple of spare purity seals on the most egregious of the two figures and called it good. Fully painted, I don’t think my goof will be too noticeable.

Painting black over white primer is so fiddly
Roping in Squad Barakiel

I hate wasting paint, so as always I had another unit on deck to absorb any leftover colors on my palette: Squad Barakiel — my final squad.

Zahariel’s base coat finally done, little spots of color appearing on Barakiel
I like the studio color scheme for the Blood Angels Terminator Assault Squad, which is heavy on black and silver and light on gold, because it’s the opposite of my instincts
Zahariel now fully touched-up

I tried out a new Velvetouch size for touch-ups that I absolutely love: 20/0 Monogram Liner. It’s perfect for precise dots of color nestled between other colors, as well as for lines which cross an area of a different color — both of which the Death Company models have in abundance.

…And fully shaded!
My battle station as of this past Saturday night, with all 16 highlights/layers for Zahariel, and their matching brushes, teed up and ready to go

I’ve only painted one black-armored figure for this army so far, Chaplain Arrius, so he’s out as my reference for doing the highlights on Zahariel. The Death Company minis have so many cords, seals, skulls, and other elements which cross over their expanses of black that a fair amount of shading comes into play — which I dig, because not shading the actual black knocks out one of the techniques on which I rely to produce minis I’m happy with.

I feel like Squad Zahariel has had enough WIP shots devoted to them, so I’m going to call it here. Next time they show up, it’ll be in the lightbox.

Categories
Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k

Post-army goals

When I started painting my Blood Angels army, my goal was to have 2,000 points done by the end of summer so that I could start playing at my local shop. Over the summer it became clear that the pandemic was going to make that impossible, and by August I was pretty sure that “sometime in 2021, maybe” was a reasonable target for actually playing 9th Edition 40k for the first time.

Losing that goal was a bit of a motivation-killer. But I still had my main goal: paint my first 2,000-point army, sometime I’ve wanted to do for 30 years. That one remains a powerful motivator.

But given that I’ve spent most of the past three decades not being a miniature painter (except sporadically, and generally only as a means to an end), I want to make sure “paint just for the fun of it” is a viable goal. And on its own, I think it needs a little something to make it work. Because while it does feel liberating, as I look at the 11 partially painted models that remain to paint for my first army, to think about painting whatever the heck I want after that, I know me; I need a concrete goal.

Squads Zahariel (left) and Barakiel (right), so close!

So what could that goal be? One idea that occurred to me this morning was finishing out the 2nd Company. I’ve always notionally considered myself to be painting a 2nd Company army, despite really painting a strike force composed of elements of the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Companies (not to mention the Reclusiam, etc.).

I have seven squads unassigned in the 2nd, and doing them as a mix of old-school and Primaris Marines, plus their dedicated transports and my planned kitbash of Captain Aphael, should provide a pleasing mix of units to paint for the next several months.

In terms of other possible goals, “Paint units that give me new options” makes some sense — but it’s a bit fuzzy since I haven’t played yet and don’t know what new options will actually appeal to me, rules-wise. And it’s pretty close to just painting by Rule of Cool, which is fine but not a terribly concrete goal.

“Paint Blood Angels-y units” might be a good refinement on that one: deep strike squads, close combat figures, and the HQ units to support them. But I know if I go that route I’ll be wistfully eyeing the Stormhawk, Razorback, Devastators, and other kits under my desk which don’t quite fit that brief but are going to be a blast to paint.

At the moment, “finish the 2nd Company” is the best goal I’ve come up with. I’ll see if any others shake loose.

Categories
Finished miniatures Miniatures Warhammer 40k

Six and a half months of painting: my Blood Angels army now at 42 models

I haven’t taken a full-army photo since August — sounds like it’s time for another one!

My 40k Blood Angels army as of October 3rd

I really need to get a terrain “slab” or something to serve as a platform for these shots — something a little sexier than the top of one of my Kaiser Multicases. But hey, it works.

Based on the latest 9th Ed. points update, I got a refund of 5 points (on Commander Dante, I think) that I can’t spend because I’ve already built all of my Angels with WYSIWYG wargear. My finished army will be 1,991 points, and I currently have 1,671 points painted.

Here are my previous three army shots:

May 2020 (the first time I had all the models assembled)
June 2020
August 2020

I’m 5 Terminators, 5 Death Company Marines, and 1 Teleport Homer shy of my first 40k army being complete — which, as I type it, feels a bit unreal. This project is something I’ve wanted to undertake for about 30 years; actually doing it feels pretty awesome.

Categories
Finished miniatures Lightbox photos Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k

All hazard stripes, all the time: Squad Adamo in the lightbox

Reflecting on the time I spent painting Squad Adamo — which I think stretched all the way from August to the beginning of October! — I quite enjoyed doing their hazard stripes. I love hazard stripes on Chain Swords, so how could I not go wild with these dudes?

I also had a blast working on their bases. The elevated scenery elements in the kit are great, and they were fun to work into my basing routine.

My soundtrack for these guys was Ghostmaker, the second volume in Dan Abnett’s series about Ghaunt’s Ghosts, narrated by Toby Longworth. Good stuff!

Squad Adamo, 2nd Company, 9th Squad

I’m experimenting with shining a high-CRI flashlight into my lightbox from the front so the top-down lighting providing by the box itself doesn’t throw the minis into shadow. It seems to work pretty well.

Sergeant Adamo wielding the Eviscerator, flanked by two battle-brothers
Rear view of the trio
For the Emperor!
Rear view of the duo

Squad Adamo isn’t my finest work, but despite dragging my feet I did enjoy painting them. And after shooting these photos, I remembered that I could just touch up Mr. Tiger Stripes right on top of his varnish, and then varnish those bits again, so I did that.

Mr. Somewhat Less Tiger-Striped

A mere 11 figures now stand between me and my first finished 40k army: Squad Barakiel and Squad Zahariel, both of which are fully based and spot-painted.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs

There is no curtain

This morning, out of the blue, it hit me that I can summarize my approach to GMing tabletop RPGs in a single, concise principle: There is no curtain.

Frame from The Wizard of Oz

The curtain is, of course, a reference to The Wizard of Oz — in which a curtain conceals what the titular Wizard is actually up to in his chamber. When his deception is laid bare, Dorothy and her companions see the Wizard, his power, and his machinations in an entirely different light.

That accurs’d drape

So what does “There is no curtain” actually mean?

It means that when I GM, I don’t hide what I’m doing from the other players. That means no fudging die rolls, of course, and no literal curtain-analog in the form of a GM screen, but it’s bigger than that. I’m upfront about not doing any session prep beyond thinking about the game and perhaps looking over my notes from the last session. Likewise, if something is decided on the spur of the moment — my favorite way to make decisions as a GM, because I want there to be a roughly equal distribution of surprise around the table — I don’t try to conceal that.

“There is no curtain” is shorthand, encompassing a lot of what’s in my lengthy, comprehensive 2016 Yore post “Alchemy, agency, and surprises.” Play is what happens at the table, not what I’ve plotted out in advance behind my curtain; that in turn means that what makes the game fun is player agency, and the attendant consequences thereof. It also emphasizes that we’re all players, I’m just a player who (probably, depending on the game) has a few different responsibilities — and not, say, an all-powerful wizard who knows all and sees all…or at least deceives the other players into thinking that.

“Deceive” is kind of a strong word in this context, isn’t it? There’s nothing inherently wrong with “playing behind a curtain” — it’s just not a GMing style that interests me in any way. (Though if a group isn’t on the same page about how the game is being played, that can lead to serious problems.) But it’s the correct word for me, because of the Czege Principle: “when one person is the author of both the character’s adversity and its resolution, play isn’t fun.” The curtain is a metaphor for the deception required to pretend that it’s interesting when the GM is in charge of challenges and their resolution.

This has nothing to do with, say, hiding the dungeon map from the other players, or keeping monster stat blocks to yourself during play, or even running a prepared module — provided you don’t force the other players to stick to it, or bend the game to ensure that the module works as written. There’s no deception there; everyone at the table wants that dungeon to be full of surprises. But if, say, I’m planning to use a randomly generated dungeon during a session, I’d share that — because I don’t want it to be a secret. The randomness is a feature, not a bug.

What’s interesting is what comes next, and that’s up to the other players. And, as a massive added benefit, when everyone at the table has the same set of expectations about how the game is going to work, all of the players — GM included — can much more easily support each other in making it fun for everyone. If there’s a curtain then that responsibility falls largely to the GM, and I can’t abide that model of play.

I learned this from you, tremulus

Lots of stuff in my gaming past has contributed to my current perspective, but one of the biggest influences on this principle was tremulus.

tremulus is PbtA Call of Cthulhu, more or less, and right up front that premise begs a question: How can you play a satisfying mystery when the GM doesn’t plot out the mystery in advance for the other players to solve? The answer is twofold.

Firstly, instead of plotting out the mystery, the GM comes up with some story threads and how they might resolve themselves if the PCs never showed up. And secondly, everyone at the table knows the mystery isn’t prewritten. There are mechanics enabling players to contribute elements to the mystery; there are moves that ensure that core bits of the unfolding game don’t exist until the moment they unfold. There’s no curtain in tremulus, and seeing that in action was a powerful experience for me.

So there it is: There is no curtain. I enjoy thinking about, and coming up with, GMing principles[1] — and I hope this one has some utility for other gamers, too.

[1] Set the time machine to 2008: this post from the salad days of Gnome Stew collects seven of my maxims for GMs. The aphorism in this vein that I’m most proud of, though, comes from even earlier — 2006, when I was writing Treasure Tables: Being a GM is like using a 150-watt bulb.

Categories
Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: finally finishing Squad Adamo

I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t finish Squad Adamo in September — the first month I didn’t finish any figures for my 40k army since I started working on it in March. But given the state of the world and the stuff I have going on, it makes a certain amount of sense.

Metallics done, other layers to follow
My four main brushes for this stage (L to R): dipping paint, metallics, details, eyes
Three down to just the red and orange highlights
Everyone down to just the red and orange!

This was my first time painting yellow helmets, and Averland Sunset followed by Agrax Earthshade left them quite brown. Even with nearly full coverage on a Yriel Yellow layer, followed by Flash Gitz Yellow highlights, they still looked stained and odd.

So I backtracked and did another coat of Yriel, and then redid some of the highlights, and got a less-poopy look out of them. They wound up sort of flat, though; not sure how to correct that next time I do one of these squads.

At least the yellow is bright!
Man, I pretty much tiger-striped that front left guy…

Like most of my minis, Squad Adamo looks better from a distance than it does up close like this. Lots of flaws!

Sergeant Adamo and one of the battle-brothers completed
Squad Adamo, 2nd Company, 9th Squad

I’d originally had them as down as 7th squad, and was excited to see that the little lightning bolts I needed for their knees were standard transfers — until I looked more closely and saw that the “lightning bolts” were actually wings. A bit of Googling suggested that making them 9th squad (for the yellow wings) wasn’t out of line with the chapter’s force org, so 9th squad they became.

Not my best work, but they’re not awful or anything — and they’re done. I’ll get them into the lightbox in a future post. Onwards!

Categories
Miniatures Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: Feo, Redemptor Dreadnought

Thus far I’ve held strong on my plan to not work on any minis outside/beyond my initial 2,000-point army, but lately I just haven’t been in the mood to paint — and when I don’t want to paint, I assemble. So I’ve started on my first post-army mini: Feo, my first Primaris Redemptor Dreadnought.

Small box, huge figure
Sarcophagus and upper body halfway done

This kit has a ton of movable parts on it: the sarcophagus armor opens and closes, shoulder joints rotate and move laterally, elbows and wrists move, and the front guns rotate. But as with most GW kits I’ve built, I ran into two issues: either the joint was loose, which doesn’t appeal to me for a mini I’m going to transport and use in play, or I couldn’t figure out how to paint the part fully while retaining its ability to move.

Unlike the smaller OG dreadnoughts, even the shoulder rotation comes with built-in complexity: a keyed joint rather than a simple press-fit peg, and huge armor plates that all but prevent arm removal once installed. Seeing that made my course pretty clear. As I’ve done before, I treated all those glorious movable parts as posable parts.

After finding a pose I liked — a lengthy process given the size and posability of the figure — I glued everything in place. The only exceptions are the waist (until he’s mostly painted) and the mount for the primary weapon, which is a nice snug joint and gives me the flexibility of switching Feo to plasma.

Upper body complete, parts arranged for the legs
Ankle nubbins

I screwed up and glued the legs into place too soon, resulting in a marked forward cant to the body — and making the fitment of the ankles a bit sloppy. Fortunately this kit is designed to be modified, with molded-in parts you can shave off in order to achieve running poses, etc. (or leave on for a figure that looks a lot like what’s on the box). So I shaved off those nubbins and got a better fit.

Close enough for government work
Upper and lower body in one of the many stages of glue-curing

A lot of Feo’s components need to be able to hold a fair amount of weight (by miniature standards, anyway!), so the gluing process took me several days in order to allow for 12-plus hours of curing time for each stage. I’ve learned that with GW minis a fussy build process results in a deeply personalized and cool finished product, and that was true here as well.

Brother Feo

I have two Redemptor kits, and initially I figured I’d make one the plasma guy and one the cannon guy. But those parts swap nicely, so I decided to make one Dread — Feo — with his sarcophagus exposed, in a pose that looks like he’s venting heat or taking a breather mid-battle, cannon low and at rest, and the other in a buttoned-up, aggressive posture with his sarcophagus covered and all weapons at the ready. I love the look of this kit with the “jaws” of front plating open; so many cool details are exposed that way.

Who opens their outer layer of armor mid-battle, leaving “only” the Ceramite of the sarcophagus itself to protect them? A fearless Space Marine — perhaps even a reckless one…like a Marine who pushed his limits too far and took a mortal wound, landing him inside a Dreadnought. (Feo was initially named Impavido, Italian for “fearless,” but it was too long to possibly fit on the tiny scrolls on his sarcophagus.)

I’ve picked out the scenery for his base (a half-buried dead Ultramarine and an overrun Guard post) and clipped his Macro Plasma Incinerator, so the next steps are all lined up. But before I really tuck into Feo, though, I need to finish painting my last three squads.

Categories
Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: Squads Adamo and Zahariel

Even though most of the pics in this WIP post are of Squad Adamo, my Death Company gang, Squad Zahariel, gets most of the words.

Closing in a fully base-coated Squad Adamo
Ready to finish their black elements
Chainswords all taped up for hazard striping
Hazard stripes complete (but still needing touch-ups)
Adamo is down to just their red touch-ups before I can wash them, and Zahariel is fully based

Death Company color guide

For the figures, I liked the tweaks the GW studio guide puts on the usual red and gold used on most of my Marines. I’ve stuck with that scheme for the most part, and the end result is that many colors are handled differently than usual:

  • Black: Abaddon Black > Dark Reaper > Dawnstone
  • Red: Khorne Red > Carroburg Crimson > Wazdakka Red > Wild Rider Red
  • Armor gaskets: Mechanicus Standard Grey > Nuln Oil > Dawnstone
  • Metal and piping: Leadbelcher > Nuln Oil > Stormhost Silver
  • Gold: Warplock Bronze > Agrax Earthshade > Brass Scorpion > Runelord Brass
  • Purity seal wax, braided cords, sword handle leather: Screamer Pink > Carroburg Crimson > Pink Horror > Emperor’s Children
  • Parchment: Rakarth Flesh > Agrax Earthshade > Pallid Wych Flesh > White Scar
  • Blood drops: Mephiston Red > Carroburg Crimson > Evil Sunz Scarlet > Fire Dragon Bright
  • Eyes: Mephiston Red > Carroburg Crimson > Evil Sunz Scarlet
  • Wings: Celestra Grey > Drakenhof Nightshade > Ulthuan Grey > White Scar
  • Jump pack jets: Caledor Sky > Drakenhof Nightshade > Temple Guard Blue > Baharroth Blue

With the Death Company color scheme reversing the usual Blood Angels colors — black dominant, red accents — I wanted to make sure their bases added some pops of color beyond my usual skulls and rocks. Other base elements are as per usual, but the stuff I added to these particular bases is covered below:

  • Tau scrap: Caledor Sky > Drakenhof Nightshade > Temple Guard Blue
  • Ork scrap: Castellan Green or Averland Sunset > Agrax Earthshade > 50/50 Castellan Green/Moot Green or Yriel Yellow > Ryza Rust drybrush

As expected, the Death Company color scheme makes a nice palate cleanser after the red, red, red of the rest of my army. Onwards!

Categories
Playing music

Outside my comfort zone: learning to play the ‘ukulele

I’ve never been a musical person, but the other night while I was listening to Iz three notions collided in my brain: 1) between Iz and Eddie Vedder, I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying ʻukulele music, 2) I’d like to learn to play the ʻukulele, and 3) it’d be good to challenge my well-established notion that I’m not a musical person.

I have two speeds, “off” and “turbo,” so I did some research — starting by confirming that the uke is a good choice for a clueless, musically illiterate doofus like me — and bought an ʻukulele.

My Kala concert ʻukulele (KA-15C)

Spelling and pronunciation

Growing up, I learned the word ʻukulele as “ukulele” (without the ʻokina), and pronounced “you-ka-lay-lee.” I had no idea I was spelling or pronouncing it wrong. But when I started watching uke videos, I kept hearing another pronunciation: “oo-koo-le-le.”

This impassioned argument for using the correct Hawaiian pronunciation and spelling taught me a lot. If you’d like to hear it spoken, this 40-second video covers pronunciation — and explains the meaning of the word, “jumping flea.”

Hawaiʻi was annexed by the US under protest. Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian language, was banned and nearly lost for good. The culture of the kānaka maoli — the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi — was trampled, and the islands and their people were exploited by colonizers. Modern-day tourism, while a boon to the economy, causes many problems of its own.

Using the correct spelling and pronunciation of ʻukulele acknowledges and respects the history and struggles of the culture that gave the world this instrument. It’s the right thing to do.

My first ‘ukulele

I went with a Kala KA-15C (paid link), a concert ʻukulele, because my reading suggested Kala was a solid brand; this was a solid beginner uke; and while folks seem split on whether a soprano uke (the smallest size) is best for beginners, there was a consensus that concert and tenor ukes are easier for folks with larger hands to play (at least at first).

Kala also offers vegan materials — notably the strings, which are synthetic gut (quite common), and the nut and saddle. They use NuBone for the saddle and nut, which I gather is better than plastic but perhaps not as good as actual bone.

I’m cognizant of my tendency to “gear up” hard when I try a new hobby, so I pushed back against it this time. I picked up just four other essentials (all paid links): a portable stand, a padded gig bag, a clip-on tuner, and spare strings.

And then, the internet

While I waited for my uke to arrive I spent hours prowling around, gathering resources that looked beginner-friendly and useful to me. My ʻukulele came two days ago, and I’ve put in practice time on both of those days (and will again today, of course!). Here are the resources I’ve found most helpful so far, in no particular order:

  • Cynthia Lin recorded a video lesson intended to be used as literally your first time handling a uke, and it’s excellent. She teaches with a lovely calm energy that’s absolutely fantastic for learning, and she offers dozens of free lessons.
  • Alongside Cynthia Lin’s lessons, my biggest resource has been Ukulele Underground. They offer so much stuff, including video lessons, slowdowns, play-along videos, uke tabs, and more. Here are their free video lessons to Hawaiian music for beginners, all of which, I believe, are taught by Aldrine Guerrero — who is a killer teacher, all energy and enthusiasm. I like UU’s format and his teaching so much that I picked my first song to learn based on what they offered in that list.
  • Steven Espaniola wrote a cool guide to three essential Hawaiian uke strums. I heard his rendition of “I Kona” before I knew he’d written this list — and damn, is it beautiful!
  • I gleaned some good info from Ukulele Magazine’s guide for beginners, notably hand position on the neck, the need to focus on building good habits (like trimming the nails on your chord-playing hand and what to do the very first time you sit down to play).
  • Uke Like The Pros offers a single page of common chords with a really smart layout that makes a great reference. (I like to jump over to Coustii’s intro to common chords to expand on each of them.) They also have a solid list of Hawaiian uke songs for beginners, with videos. Based on my vast two-day experience, these songs are not all suitable for total noobs like me — but I still like the list.
  • And finally, I enjoyed the heck out of this charming video by mew ichigo, part review of the KA-15C and part one-month progress report from a new uke player. Mew ichigo learned to play and sing “Someone to Lava” in one month of daily practice — that’s rad, and it made me think, “Maybe I could do that!”

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”

I set learning to play Iz’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” medley as my first goal, but held the idea loosely; I had a hunch it would be too difficult for a complete beginner.

If you’ve never heard that medley, it’s staggeringly beautiful. The story behind it is part of what makes it special: in the middle of the night, in a studio where he’d never played, with an engineer he’d never worked with, Iz rolled up and, in a single take, tossed off one of the most moving, most wonderful, songs ever played.

The seed of wanting to play the ʻukulele was planted a couple of years ago, when I first heard that song. I’ve since devoured Iz’s work, listening to his music on repeat for hours at a time, but I always come back to that medley.

“Kokeʻe”

After a couple days of practicing, I’ve seen why I can’t keep “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” as my first goal: It’s well above my skill level (for now!). But I want to learn to play Hawaiian music, so I picked another a Hawaiian song for my first: “Kokeʻe,” by Dennis Kamakahi.

Ukulele Underground has an awesome video lesson for “Kokeʻe,” taught by Aldrine Guerrero, including chords, a strumming tutorial, and a play-along. Armed with that lesson and a tip from UU — learn chords first, to the point where you can read the name of the chord and instantly know how to play it — I’m going to focus on one song for a while and see how it goes.

I’m partially tone-deaf, don’t know how to read music, never enjoyed music class, and forgot what a chord was sometime around grade school. This is a baffling but exciting journey for me, and so far I’m having a blast!

Categories
Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: the once-far horizon is now visible

As of September 1, I now have paint on every unfinished model in my Blood Angels army. Squad Adamo is mostly base-coated; Squad Zahariel, my Death Company unit, is primed and fully based; and Squad Barakiel, my Terminator Assault Squad, is primed and partially based.

Starting in on Zahariel’s bases
The tail end of my Land Raider’s varnish-curing period overlapped with both Adamo and Zahariel, making this feel like a proper little painting area
Zahariel fully based, I think (not sure if they were waiting for terrain wash or drybrushing when I snapped this)
Adamo nearly base-coated, Barakiel freshly primed

I’ve painted 15 Space Marines in a month before, so it’s doable for me to completely finish my first-ever 2,000-point army in September. But I think it’s more likely that I’ll finish Squad Adamo and either fully or mostly complete Squad Zahariel in September, leaving Squad Barakiel (and the balance of Zahariel, if any) for October.

Actually playing, which once felt like a possibility at the end of this summer, and then seemed more realistic to imagine in spring of 2021, now — depressingly — feels like it might not happen until 2022. On the flipside, it’s not unreasonable for me to imagine that I could paint another 2,000-4,000 points of Blood Angels in 2021. I’ll take my silver linings where I can find them!