Our Dark Heresy campaign has made it to the planet of Syracuse -a dank and miserable affair perfect for acolytes tramping around in the mud and rot. For the campaign I wanted some epic set pieces, and even put together a game board to help build the mood.
It was time to return for another brawl, this time to defend an Imperial Cathedral (or what was left of it) from rampaging Undertow during a full-blown civil war.
The setup used parts from previous encounters, as well as some lovely houses from 4Ground to make it appear a little better lived-in than previous encounters. The cathedral came from the Kill Team boxed set I picked up when it was still circulating, and now goes by Sector Imperialis. It’s a nice kit that I went a bit overboard with, and I’m sure will get a write-up at some point.
I wish I’d taken more photos, but c’est la vie. The players were entering on the opposite end of the board to the Cathedral, with angry Undertow in the middle laying siege to the beleaguered Adeptus Arbites defenders (who did have a write-up for them done here.). If the players got to them in time, they would make valuable allies in the war to come.
The rain was bucketing down. Weather was a big part of this campaign, and nasty environmental effects include reduced vision and penalties to shooting. Not ideal for a predominantly ranged band of Acolytes!
The Undertow were out in force, showing that fancy equipment isn’t necessary to be a threat in such environments. Armed with reliable weaponry that won’t jam when dropped in the mud, firebombs filled with water-retardant chemicals and good ol’ fashioned shivs, they were more than a match for the players on the day.
They even set up a heavy weapon in the house across the street, ready to spit out a harrowing amount of lead if the Acolytes didn’t neutralise it.
The gang were joined by a temporary character, an ex-Zini armsman mercenary guardsman handy with a mono-club and with a penchant for explosives. The player would come to be a regular part of our gang in future campaigns, but for now we enjoyed having the extra muscle.
The house with the heavy weapon was unceremoniously lit up by the new guardsman, who had acquired a single-shot missile launcher earlier on and had been holding onto it for a special occasion.
On the players’ right flank, the Arbitrator had made a dynamic entry on a stolen dirt bike, ramping off a pile of debris and landing in the fountain for cover. It kept the Undertow at bay, but not for long. A criminal with a massive two-handed meathook charged up a set of stairs and bit deep into the Adept’s leg, dropping her into -5 Critical damage. It was at this point that we all realised how little armour the Adept was wearing – she still had on her starter set of armour that her career is given at character generation – a flak vest and some loose-fitting robes. In almost 6 years of playing with these characters, it had never come up that she might be under-dressed for the occasion of saving the world!
The mercenary handily finished off the offending criminal before he could finish the job of hacking off the Adept’s leg and swept round clubbing anyone she could find.
Many, many firebombs are thrown back and forth over cover. Some Undertow accidentally blow themselves up, but one particularly mean firebomb scatters over the heads of the tough frontline characters and directly onto the squishy techpriest who was patching up the near-dead adept at the back of the battle. Both immediately catch fire, the Adept passing out from excessive crispiness and the Techpriest doing everything in her power to avoid the same fate.
Meanwhile our damage-dealing characters had broken out into no-man’s land, identifying themselves to the Arbites to avoid getting shot and moving in to support. Everything, of course, is now either on fire or has been set on fire.
With the bulk of the criminals put down by a combination of Arbitrator and Scum, the injured support characters at the back of the pack gingerly move forwards through the fire and smoke.
They get ambushed by one last Undertow who had hid behind a ledge, who gets speared to the floor by an enthusiastic Cleric and choked to unconsciousness for interrogation later. You know what they say – it’s better to dive for the Emperor than live for yourself…
The team rendezvous with the besieged Arbitrators at the Cathedral and plot their final moves against the campaign’s villain(s). A very enjoyable battle to run and great scenery to play it on!
For all my sins and Dark Heresy games set around investigations, I didn’t own any Adeptus Arbites models. They had cropped up in our sessions before, but only as set dressing or background NPCs. Now, with the finale of our Syracuse campaign looming, I needed some black-clad crime-punchers to either help (or hinder) the player’s assault on an Adeptus Arbites precinct house. They would need to be equipped at the appropriate level to my players, but could reasonably be used in future games in higher or lower power settings.
A uniform approach
I’d seen lots of different conversions of Arbites/Necromunda enforcers, many of them these days involve either Human Blood Bowl team or Imperial Guard Scion bodies with Skitarii heads. They give you a particular look that I’m not too keen on, and despite my own *ahem* use of those heads, I’m loathe to gravitate towards them as I think they’re a bit overdone.
Luckily, Puppets War had me covered. I can always recommend those guys for heads of any type, they’ve got a great selection and I often find myself buying heads for projects I’ll never get round to, just so I can own some heads! Plastic space marine scout bodies formed the rest of the mini – I’ve always liked those models (even if the heads are a bit goofy) and it was super cheap to pick up a group of 6 pre-made scouts off ebay.
The only thing that was missing was a big silly shoulder pad with an Aquila on it. I’d purchased some brass aquilas a while back, but I didn’t feel I could easily get those to fit on a round surface, so I hit the bits sites. Luckily, one particular shoulder pad from a Blood Angels kit was the perfect size and eagleness. You only got one per sprue, so luckily I found a bits site that would sell me 7 at once, and I just prayed they would fit…
They fitted perfectly over the regular scout shoulder pads, and even though they’re comically over-sized, I think they absolutely work with the Arbites OTT aesthetic. Some green stuff was used to give some key areas some Arbites-typical padded armour, like gloves, boots and kneepads, and that set the look off nicely.
Deciding what weapons to give them was tricky, as I wanted them to have as much utility as possible for the future, but bearing in mind that whatever they’re equipped with, the players will want to ruthlessly loot in the likely event of an NPC death, accidental or otherwise.
I settled on a ‘combat guy leader’, a handful of combat shotguns, a bizarre combi-weapon from an Anvil industry pack that looks like a melta gun but could easily be a stun-gun or web launcher, and a weird looking heavy weapon made from a cut-down Action Man toy pistol. It could easily be a heavy webber, heavy stubber or some kind of laser weapon – whatever I would need at the time!
The bases were ‘Old Factory bases’ from Micro Art Studios, giving the perfect impression of some tired battle-weary enforcers slogging through a broken city in the middle of a riot. With that done, it was on to the base coat!
Trooping the colours
After putting them all together, the levels of Dredd were almost overwhelming. I know the Arbites are based off 2000AD’s bastard-cop, but these guys were close to carbon-copy with those Puppets War heads. Although the flirted with the idea of painting them in typical Judge colours, I bowed out at the last minute for a more typical Arbites colour scheme. It would be quicker to paint, and it would be very clearly Arbites with some Judge Dredd influences, rather than actual Dredd on the tabletop. I like references in my work, but I like them subtle.
I continued to channel my 2018 mantra of ‘finished not perfect’, and went with a striking colour scheme that wouldn’t involve too much work. Black armour, white highlights and a red spot colour.
The fatigues of the armour were painted in dark grey, the armour left black from the undercoat and the whole model was washed with Nuln Oil (praise be unto it) to pull the hues together and remove some of the shininess from the base coat. Armour edges were picked out in a lighter grey and left at that.
White parts were painted in very light grey, washed back and highlighted back up to white. Red and bronze got the same treatment – basecoat, nuln oil wash and fine edge highlight. Simple!
I played with three skin tones as well to try and break up the monotony. The 41st millennium is a brutal, oppressive, theocratic dystopia, but that doesn’t stop it being diverse.
Weapon casings, the visor and stripes on the armour were all picked out in red to make the weapons stand out on the tabletop. I toyed with traditional necromunda chevrons for the chainsword but I decided against them in the end.
The bases were painted in similar colours to the rest of my Syracuse terrain – brown with hues of green and highlighted with a fine drybrush of Pale Flesh. I wanted the necrotic feeling of a rotting city coming through wherever possible.
Light brown was drybrushed around the base of the models, legs and dangly bits mostly, to give them the impression of having been out on the march for a long time.
I saved chevrons for the special weapons, namely the weird combi-weapon and Action Man heavy web blaster thing. Hopefully it would help make them stand out as something of note, especially against the drab scenery they’d be playing on.
All in all I’m very pleased with how they came out. The conversions were simple to do and surprisingly effective. The colour scheme was similarly simple and very striking on the tabletop, especially when deployed together.
I have a few extra scouts in the box that might make themselves into more named characters in the future now I’ve seen the effectiveness of the conversion, but I’m happy with them for now. I’m looking forward to terrorising some Dark Heresy acolytes!
Recently I picked up some ‘Necrohounds’ from Maxmini to piggyback of someone else’s postage fees, and it tied quite nicely into a project for our long-running Dark Heresy campaign. Our heroes were about to assault an Arbites Precinct run by a Marshall who had been corrupted by a daemon as the climactic chapter finale.
With our various games of Necromunda and Rogue Trader going on in the background as well, a set of generic cyber-mastiffs would be great to fill out gang rosters or goon squads. It was then a rude thought struck me – I didn’t have any servo-skull models! They are such a staple of 40k and a great way of increasing the threat of a group of enemies without just bumping up their numbers.
None of the servo-skulls on the market particularly took my fancy, so I challenged myself to build some from my bits box to go along with my new cyber-mastiffs.
How to get ahead in life
Naturally, the first step was acquiring skulls. Luckily for me, my partner had just bought one of the massive box o’ skulls from GW and there were plenty rattling around in my bits box.
I’ve got plenty of experience working with guitar wire, so a few different thicknesses drilled into the bottom of the skulls and carefully bent with some needle nose pliers gave them the mechadendrites trailing behind them. I personally prefer building a ‘flying’ stance into the pose of a model rather than have them suspended on a clear stand.
The trick to bending guitar cable is to do it a bit at a time – give it a slight bend, move the pliers a few mm, give it another slight bend. This helps give more organic curves and avoids any unsightly right angles or separations in the coil that runs round the centre cable of the guitar string.
I’d decided to do quite a few to give me some options – I was unlikely to build servo-skulls again in the future so I may as well get them all done now! I wanted 2 med skulls, 2 combat skulls and 2 gun skulls, but circumstances prevented me from making the melee skulls so I replaced them with more gun skulls. The med skulls could double up if needs be – I simply couldn’t find any suitable combat bits that small!
The gun skulls would be split into two types – las and solid projectile. These are largely arbitrary distinctions, but it gave me a challenge to work towards!
The optics for the skulls were taken from Skitarii backpacks and shaved down to fit. The backpacks also provided a host of other useful bits, including censers, cables and antennae that doubled up for manipulators for my med skulls.
The las weapons were made from cut-down Cadian lasguns – snip the end off and glue the las pack to the back of it to make a self-contained unit! It needed a bit of shaving down to fit, but from arm’s reach you wouldn’t know.
A pair of revolvers from Anvil Industry glued upside-down made up the “autopistol” skulls, and a selection of medical equipment from various sources made up the med-skulls. I also tried to vary the silhouette of each type too – las skulls had their weapons on the right side, autopistol skulls had their weapons on the left side, and med skulls had an extra tentacle and optics on their left side of the head.
Necks-level paint job
Painting the skullies was pleasingly simple – drybrush them silver, pick out details in a brown metallic and give them a liberal wash!
Other details were picked out to draw attention to them too – the las-skulls had their barrels painted in chevrons to help pick them out from other skulls, and every skull got a little red optic eye to give them that lovely gothic feel.
Each skull also had a roman numeral painted onto the back of their heads so I could track their stats. In the unlikely occasion someone shot it and didn’t kill it, I could ask players to tell me what number it was. It seemed like a more organic way of doing it than putting a number on the base.
Release the hounds
The Necrohounds were a pain in the ass to put together, however. They are cast in white metal and clearly painstakingly designed to fit together flawlessly so long as there aren’t any deviations in the casting. In my case, that meant a lot of weird-fitting joints and copious green stuff.
The other exciting part was not being 100% sure if the models were designed to go on flat bases or not. The website images show them on scenic bases, which I originally thought was an aesthetic choice, but now realise it was probably a necessity to get the little buggers to have all four feet on the ground.
I had to shuffle each mini around on half a dozen different pre-moulded bases to find which arrangement of lumps and bumps sat well with their feet at different altitudes without it looking forced, and for one of them I had to throw in the towel and glue an extra piece to the base to make it look like he was stepping forwards, rather than gazing idly into the sky.
The actual minis themselves are lovely and were an absolute joy to paint. I don’t like doing ‘normal’ paint jobs on things (ie things based off real-world colours) because it’s very easy to get wrong, but I appreciate the usefulness in having a visual shorthand. If you paint dogs like Rottweilers, you know they’re probably guard dogs.
The design isn’t typically 40k, their sci-fi aesthetic is more sleek and smooth than gothic and spiky, but I think it works well here as a generic cyber-doggo who could realistically be aligned to anyone. These guys wouldn’t look out of place next to the Emperor’s Finest or a Chaos cult.
All in all I’m very happy with how they all came out. It took me about two evenings to paint all these guys up, which considering their versatility I’m very happy with!
As for their first outing, you know how these things go. It all started off so promisingly, the Acolytes infiltrating through the basement with some loyal Arbites and some hired mooks in tow, trying to avoid detection from the automated defenses…
They made it a whole half a turn before the alarm was raised. Doors were kicked down, servo-skulls were exploded on sight and one of the robo-doggos chewed someone into Critical Damage before they even took their turn.
Then everything was on fire.
A good session I’d say!
(Eagle-eyed viewers may notice some suspicious Dredd-looking Arbites in some of these picture. Fear not, they’ll be in a MOTB soon 😉 )
Our Necromunda Callowdecks campaign has been great fun, and it’s presented me with a bunch of cool new modelling challenges too.
One of those challenges was to produce a ‘robot automata’ model as represented in the ‘Archeo-hunt’ scenario. Basically you use a big stompy robot that stands in the middle of the map and gangs have to fight for control over it, guiding it to a vault to break it open and steal the goodies inside.
It hilariously recommends using the Ambot model, recommending it as ideal to represent the automata. A bit dry, considering (at time of writing) they’ve not even announced the Ambot model (despite us knowing it exists from a grainy image in one of the Gang War books) let alone have it available for sale.
Additionally, one of the generic Brutes you can purchase is an Ogryn Servitor, complete with plasma hand for when you don’t just want to knead and punch something until the consistency of skittles is achieved, but you also want to set it on fire too.
Time to crack out the bits box.
This guy was going to stand in as both ‘generic automata’ and ‘Ogryn servitor’, so the weapons needed to be generic enough to represent whatever was on those stat lines. In this case, it was big hitty hand and melta gun/plasma cutter, so something suitably shooty in the other hand.
The base was the last plastic Ogre Kingdoms mini I had in my possession from the Bag o’ Doom and it was heavily soiled in thick paint. I’m lazy, so I just scratched most of it off with a knife. Finished, not perfect!
The face piece was from a plastic Lord of the Rings armoured troll helmet turned upside down, the belly plate from some Ork vehicle.
The arms came from a bunch of toys that were recycled from a friend’s old office space – they were going to be thrown out, so he harvested all their tech arms and donated them to my bits box. I couldn’t tell you where they were from – perhaps transformers? Regardless, they’ve been too big to use on most projects I’ve done so far, but they were the perfect size for this one.
Cables were made with trusty guitar wire, the thickest I could find. I’ve not tried bass guitar wire yet, but I’ve got a few more beep-boop projects ahead, so there’s still time!
The Ogre Kingdoms range come with adorable little Sinbad slippers, which wasn’t quite the aesthetic I was going for. I shaved the toes down and stick on some heavy shoulder pads from Anvil Industries to give them a reinforced look. A searchlight from an Imperial vehicle sprue finished off the Angry JCB look I was going for.
All told I’m very pleased with how he came out! Considering he was nothing but a bunch of weird bits and cables for a long time, I’m excited to slap some paint onto him. I’m not super excited about the prospect of painting so much yellow, though…
Last week I built some friendly beep-boops out of odds and ends from my bits box, this week I got round to painting them.
These guys were a cheap and cheerful colour scheme – undercoated black, base colours layered on and washes applied. The metal was simply Leadbelcher with a black wash followed by a brown wash – no extra highlights applied. It was particularly harrowing to not go back and highlight it, but it probably saved me an entire evening’s work.
Heavy bolter beep-boop
The heavy servitors were painted to look more ‘official’ – they would be Navy-issue battle servitors, so needed a uniform on the lower half, along with some heraldry to make them look a bit fancy. The paper was just a bone coloured paint with a sepia wash (really loving the sepia wash at the moment, might even start preferring it to Agrax…)
The final touch was the Mechanicus heraldry on the shield. The cogboys keep the servitors going, even if they’re loaning them out to others. I wanted something to visually tie it back to my tech gang 16th Law as well, so the red and white helped.
Heavy stubber beep-boop
For the more ‘civilian’ models I originally had them in dark grey, but quickly got bored of that as everything I paint is dark grey these days. One of my gaming circle had just finished painting up some Poxwalkers in Convict Orange, and I really liked the contasting colours, so tried to do something similar.
These were just an orange base, washed black and highlighted again with the same orange. I drew the line at highlighting more – finished, not perfect!
Heavy flamer beep-boop
Who doesn’t like fire? These servitors were my first experiment with multi toned flesh. Ironrach Skin was used as the base, washed with Athonian Camoshade to get a sickly hue and highlighted with Ironrach again.
Some crimson washes were dabbed liberally around painful areas where metal meets flesh, then another highlight of Ironrach on extreme edges. Quite pleased with how all that came out!
Very happy with how all my beep-boops came out. I don’t have any more Goliath bodies to make more big servitors, but I’ve got quite a few odds and ends to make little ones. Perhaps some combat servitors are on the distant horizon…
I use gun servitors a lot in our games of Rogue Trader and Dark Heresy and have always eyed up the old gun servitor models on offer on ebay, but could never justify forking out a tenner for a single model, given I would need quite a few.
As our Callowdecks campaign has got into full swing, my own personal Orlock gang has been saving up its pennies to pick up one of the ‘Lugger’ Servitor Brutes that is available to them. 3+ armour save from the front, 3 Wounds, Toughness 5 and can move and shoot with a Heavy Bolter? Sign me up!
The brief had become clear – build me an army of robo-friends worthy of Mordor. They needed to be suitable for use across multiple systems, so different weapon configurations were a must, and one of them needed to have a heavy bolter. Easy peasy!
Assembling the smaller servitors was fun – the heads were from Pig Iron miniatures from an old Dark Heresy project I had lying around, suitably grotesque but with their faces largely covered. The bodies were from the Genestealer Neophytes kit, and the legs donated from some old plastic Space Marine scouts with the pouches shaved down.
This first lad was given a heavy stubber from the Orlock kit, which with a bit of random circular plastic I had lying in my bits box, made the perfect cowling to glue the weapon straight onto the arm socket.
Robots, so hot right now
The next one build used a piece I’ve had in my bits box since I first started the hobby waaaaay back in the 7th Century. I have a lot of weird sponson weapons from old plastic vehicle kits that never fit on anything other than vehicles, or in this case, boopy robo-friends.
Flamers are great fun and dangerous to PCs regardless of what system you’re using.
I also wanted to build some slightly larger servitors, partially for variety, partially because I’d run out of scout legs, partially because I’d seen someone make them out of Goliath parts and I happened to have to spare in my bits box. They would make good military-grade war-bots rather than your run-of-the-mill civilian grade, plus sticking a heavy bolter to the side of those Neophyte bodies would be hilarious but woefully lopsided.
I had some bits from a vehicle project I’m working on, the heavy fusion repeating hellgun hot-shot volley-gun thing from the side of a Taurox. It is helpfully completely absent from the 40kRPG lines regarding rules, and it’s still a (relatively) new addition to the traditional Imperial armoury, so its silhouette is not as recognisable as, say, a lascannon. This would give me free reign to upscale it or downscale it depending on the encounter without someone going “why is that shooting like a lascannon when it’s clearly a lasgun”
In awe of the size of this lad. The final servitor would be the one (hopefully) attached to my Orlock gang. They got some extra heraldry odds and ends to cover up the worst of the Goliath furnace plating and give them a bit of extra bulk.
This head was from the classic Space Marine tactical squad, the bionics made from a combination of Anvil Industry bionic parts and odds and ends from my bits box. The heavy bolter, again, from a weapon mount for a vehicle – this time the pintle heavy bolter from the sidecar of a Space Marine attack bike with the stand snipped off. Some little bits of guitar wire as cabling rounded them off quite nicely.
I’m very happy with how they’ve all turned out, to the point where I wished I’d made another 8 for a full gamut of robo-lads. I’ve been staring intently at some ebay lots going soon, but those kinds of projects will have to wait til after Christmas I think.
And in a sneaky sneaky preview, here’s a quick snap of the lads all painted up. I’ll get some better pictures up once I’ve had an opportunity to snap them in daylight!
It is 1pm in the afternoon on the Celestine Wharf. It is raining, and the river carries the strong sense of mould. This man-made dead end of foul-filmed water is shadowed by the close press of warehouses from which loading spars spill their rusting chains to water at high tide.
The docks here are long unused and its bays are crammed with rusted cargo barges, while its warehouses are reputedly the haunts of dregs and gangs.
You had spotted some scum unloading cargo from an armoured motor-skiff on the corner of one of the docks. Questions turned to threats, and when the team’s face draws a hold-out dueling pistol worth more Thrones than the entire cargo of the ship, avarice overcomes the thugs.
At the boiling point of the exchange, you hear a deep guttural roar from around the corner of a warehouse.
“WHO’S ASKING QUESTIONS ON MY WHARF?”
an investigation on the wharf
Alongside the adventures of the Orthesian Dynasty, I also have a long-running game of Dark Heresy that meets up once every 6 weeks or so to continue a five-year-long campaign that has spanned multiple planets, systems and characters in an investigation into the cursed Samarra bloodline.
They are currently in the province of Syracuse Magna, a rotten, sodden place where the criminals act like nobles and the nobles act like criminals. You might have seen a previous session on the Canals of Syracuse Magna.
I have used scenery in Dark Heresy before, but this was the first time I’ve used a full-blown game board to represent our scraps. They probably taken an extra hour so to resolve (2-3 hours per fight), but as we get together for an 8-hour session every month or so, we think this is an acceptable use of the time. It’s a great scene-setter and we get to have wild fun swinging off the scenery and lobbing firebombs around.
The previous session ended on a “Roll for initiative!”, so we were launching straight into a combat. It gave me time to set up the board before people arrived, so I could get everything just so. It meant, however, I needed some more watery terrain tiles to better represent a wharf rather than the canals from the previous game.
Building the wharf
Luckily a lot of my work was already done for the canals fight, so this would just be set dressing. I still had a lot of tiles from TTcombat left over, so I upon them with a coping saw to make some different levels of tile. I had lots of ‘plain’ boards, now I wanted some fancy piers, loading spars, rickety wooden structures, that sort of thing.
I cut a large U-shape out of the centre of this one so it would still tessellate with the other tiles, but would still be obviously a loading dock.
I picked up a bumper pack of balsa wood from ebay for a tenner a while back, and pressed a lot of it into service to make the docks. I really, really like working with balsa wood, and will likely find some more excuses in future to use them…
Less practical was my cobblestones. In a moment of panic before the first session I bought some foam and hand-carved the cobblestones with a bunch of broken biros. This had some pretty awful effects on my hands as I whinge about here, but I didn’t really have any alternative to continue the style for these new tiles.
Luckily there was way less coverage required as most of the tile were covered with loading bays or wooden decking, so I only had to do one A4 sheet rather than the five I did for the first project. I had also picked up some pricey textured plastic A4 sheets with cobblestones on, that I had originally planned on covering the entire boards with.
This, unsurprisingly, turned out woefully impractical and hella expensive, so it was used whenever I couldn’t be bothered to cover another small section of hand-drawn cobblestones and to add a bit of variety.
I also had a fewer smaller tiles that I had planned on using as risers, placing them on top of existing tiles to create height variance and all sorts. They weren’t appropriate for the dock, but I figured I might as well sort them out alongside everything else, as future Rob will inevitably have other bullshit to sort out at the last minute.
Then it was on to building docky bits!
I really enjoyed this part. There is/was a potential for combat to occur in the Sinks, a section of District 13 that is several metres underwater from flooding and mudslips, so the Sinks residents have rebuilt their shanties on top of the old town. I had a million and one large-scale projects I wanted to do for those, but I couldn’t justify it just yet as I wasn’t sure if the investigation would even go there at all.
As with everything I make, versatility is a must. I have too many large scale project ideas to allow myself to run away with something that will only get used once.
These dock parts were assembled entirely from PVA, balsa wood and wooden cocktail sticks for pinning. They needed to be both docks (for the Wharf fight I knew I had planned) and usable as other things in a pinch – rotten scaffolding around a large church or walkways on the submerged parts of town were just a few ideas I came up with.
These were painted in the same way as my other wooden sections to keep some semblance of uniformity. They were undercoated Black first, then given a dusting with a reddy-brown rattlecan. Everything was then given a drybrush with a light brown – I often forget what I used previously so this time it was Zandri Dust. The final highlight was a light edge drybrush with Rotting Flesh (which I’m not sure of the modern equivalent) – a very light brown with a greenish tinge.
Both the stone sections and wood sections were given a final light drybrush with Rotting Flesh instead of a light brown or white. The themes for Syracuse Magna are entropy and decay, so it was only fitting that everything was painted to look like it was dying.
All together I’ve got quite a haul! My favourite part is how compact it all becomes once its disassembled – way easier to store and with so many more permutations than a regular solid board.
Showdown on the wharf
It would be mean to not have some kind of battle report on this lovely set of scenery, wouldn’t it?
Although highly inaccurate, and based off more what I can remember from the pictures taken, here’s more or less how it went down.
Pictures vary in quality and subject matter because I asked my players to take photos too, as I always forget to do so about halfway through the game.
The scene is set, including some Blood Bowl goblins one of the players was dropping round for me.
The players will enter from the right. The Undertow thugs are already present on the Wharf, unloading their cargo from a motor-skiff. The players don’t know (or care) what’s in the cargo currently. Probably criminal stuff. Didn’t matter – it wasn’t pertinent to the investigation. It was time for beef.
Had some pretty harsh light streaming in through the one window. There were five thugs present on the Wharf already, and the roar came from the Wharf Boss who was coming in from the left top corner of the board (from around the warehouse) with another two thugs.
The party is investigating some brutal inhuman murders caused by some strange undead killers in bird masks, and a few leads pointed to there being some answers around Celestine Wharf.
The party had just stepped off a boat from further up river, where they had had to make a hasty retreat from a bar fight that went sour. The Cleric drowned someone under a table, the Adept got off her face drunk on mudder’s milk and the Arbitrator killed their only witness with a throwing axe.
The previous session ended with the scum spotting some criminal activity down the wharf – just some crims doing crim stuff. The Cleric was draped in the passed-out Adept and was till picking chunks of her vomit out of his beard when the Scum strolled straight up to the criminals and demanded to speak to the person in charge.
“Hello fellow criminals, what a good day for crime”
Being criminals, they were more than happy to roll on their boss in exchange for cash. The Scum was upset at that concept so drew his duelling pistol and repeated his question. The sound of players rolling eyes was audible.
Initiative was rolled. The Scum went first and, as a man of his own flexible word, plugged the first criminal clean in the head.
As the Wharf Boss took his turn, the gravity of the situation sunk in. He’s a Named Character with a big-ass axe. Better not let him… axe me a question.
The thugs here weren’t prepared for a brawl, so only had what they were carrying on them. A handful of autopistols and shotguns, one of them carrying firebombs as backup. Their plan was to pin and disrupt everyone until their Boss could get round to axing them to kindly leave.
The rest of the team were following up the rear. In the picture below, we have the Guardsman, the Arbitrator, the Techpriest (who was the Cell’s Primus – their elected leader), the Cleric (represented by fabulous cardboard cutout) and the Adept.
Take cover! Shots ripple across the Wharf as everyone takes their bearings. There was a lot of cover further up the board, but brings you closer to the Wharf Boss. The thugs closer to the water’s edge were squishier, but there was less cover.
The team fan out, taking shots with their lovingly-cared-for weapons and pinning/wounding in equal measure.
After the Scum plugged the first thug he was having a chinwag with, the other thug returned the favour. The Scum took a grazing hit and dived behind the nearby crates for cover.
The Arbitrator battles with his low Willpower and being constantly pinned, while trying to lay down covering fire of his own.
The battle lines are drawn, and nobody seems willing to break cover to close the gap. The Wharf Boss realises going across open ground would invite every single player who knows how Bosses work to concentrate fire and bring him down before he can get the opportunity to burn a few players’ Fate Points.
He doubles back behind the warehouse and heads up the ramp to go across the roof. His minions lay down covering fire.
Dice are used to represent people who are wounded. I don’t bother tracking anyone unless they’re hit, at which point they’re assigned a numbered dice and a number on my sheet.
I found this was a good compromise of personal book-keeping, ensuring some information was guarded from players to avoid metagaming, but also so players could see at a glance who had been hit. They might not know the severity of the hit unless they ask specifically (with suitable Awareness/Medicae checks), but they definitely know which baddies are bleeding.
The Boss’s minions take the high ground.
These guys aren’t stupid. Cover is their friend, and laying down suppressing fire helps out their mates on the front line.
The Guardsman had spotted something like a trench, so dived into it and pretty much stayed there for the remainder of the game, slotting fools with his Sollex-Pattern Deathlight Lasgun (tips for pros: this shit does 1d10+5 damage. It’s every las-weapon-lover’s wet dream).
The squishy Techpriest stayed back to administer military-grade combat drugs to get the Adept up and running again, and the Scum took up a position on the stairs to keep the pressure on any Undertow who got any funny ideas about melee combat.
The Arbitrator was spending much of his time pinned or behind cover (Willpower as a dump stat will keep you alive, but not contributing). She was still technically blackout drunk, but the cocktail of Adeptus Mechanicus combat drugs was keeping her coherent for about 20 rounds.
She then launched her coherent plan:
“I draw and throw as many firebombs as I’m allowed to”
We then discovered the exciting combination of having lots of grenades and having a Strength Bonus of only 2. We have an enthusiastic pyromaniac who can’t throw very far.
Cue one long-range missed firebomb later, and the first of the Undertow’s shipments has gone up in flames. Let’s hope there isn’t anything flammable in there…
Using the commotion as cover, the Wharf Boss uses the patented Gears of War roadie-run to cross the platform and make his way over the warehouse, hopefully getting a jump on someone.
The Adept, high on life, sprints across the board (now bottom right behind the cotton wool) to join the Guardsman in his new cover. Naturally, this meant it was time to lob more firebombs.
The poor Undertow thug who had been shot in the face in the first exchange was now on fire. He screams and rolls around for a bit, but ultimately decides to take a dip in the scum-lined waters.
The no-man’s land was now empty, and barring the efforts of the mad Adept, it had become a long-range shooting match which the Undertow were not convinced they would win. Time to cheat.
The Wharf Boss, “Massive” Masslow, injects his combat drugs and becomes subject to Frenzy. With a mighty bellow, he screams down the warehouse firing his massive revolver.
The revolver pings off some nearby cover, but the Arbitrator still decides that discretion is the better part of valour, and hopes that hiding behind the container will make the big bad guy go away.
The Wharf Boss charges down the ramp and takes a couple of huge swings with his Great Weapon. Everyone knew this could hurt, but when the dice came up as near maximum damage, the Arbitrator started sweating when 26 damage knocked him down to -3 health. Medic!
Now it was the Undertow’s time to respond. As all their assets were up in flames now anyway, collateral damage was not something that bothered them any more. They have firebombs of their own, and started blindly hurling them wherever they heard gunshots.
It was at this point that the crates were revealed to be packed with high-grade Obscura, and as the highly-illegal narcotic was wafting across the dock, several members of the party were succumbing to feelings of light headedness and pink elephants.
In a shockingly accurate toss, the firebomb lands between the Guardsman and the Adept, catching them both ablaze. The Guardsman prefers his chances in the toxic soup than with the flames, so goes for a paddle.
Not pictured, but entirely relevant, was the Adept also leaping into the water and clambering back out on a nearby dock, face to face with poor headshot-burning-guy from the first turn, who had taken a dip to cool off as well.
Both dripping with stagnant water, they face down. He grins. His pair of punch-daggers glinting in the half-light. The Adept grins. She draws her fishing wire (?!?) and shouts “I see you’ve played knifey-fish wire before!”.
I’m sure it would have been epic if it had been pulled off, but the Adept’s attempts to parry the pair of punch daggers with a length of wire Jackie Chan-style ended with her in negative hitpoints, just as the comedown of the combat drugs was hitting her and the effects of the Obscura were taking hold.
It was in everyone’s best interests, including hers, that she passes out for a bit.
At this point the Arbitrator is panicking as Masslow looks to take another swipe and finish the job. Luckily for our brave law-maker, our friendly neighbourhood criminal was on hand to make a placed shot into combat and literally explode the Wharf Boss’s head like a grape, pushing him into -12 damage.
As most of the remaining Undertow see their boss explode, they recognised it was time to make a move. The rest of them fleed, apart from one on the stairs who was looking for an opportunity to get some wholesome stabbing in before he had to run. Unfortunately the Guardsman snuck up behind him and critically bayonetted him in the butt, killing him instantly.
All in all a fantastic game which will no doubt be reminisced about in drinking halls for years to come. Here’s to the next one!
Lightning bleaches the purple sky a milky white. The squat iron domes of Complex Priscilla weather the storm outside. The Administration of Kreato sit around a conference table, overlooking the Complex from on high. None of them look at the spectacle of nature ravaging their facility – their eyes are on the outsider who stands at the head of the table.
His face is a patchwork of scars and burns, his hair is long and plaited, looped and fastened around an epaulette on his shoulder. His uniform is dust-choked and his boots still bear the filth from his last expedition. On a simple chain around his neck hangs his master’s rosette – a symbol marking him out as an Interrogator of the Inquisition.
Flanking him are his two most trusted allies. One is terrifically tall, his features obscured by a heavy cloak, his hands and feet masked with wrappings. The other wears a ten gallon hat and snakeskin jacket, thumbing ammunition into a large-calibre rifle. They sit by the entrance to the room, uninterested in the proceedings.
The scarred man checks the last item off a list on his dataslate. The rulers of Kreato squirm in their seats.
“And finally the last item on our agenda.” He speaks slowly and purposefully, a world-weary voice that doesn’t like to repeat itself. “The discovery made by one of my teams at a location of religious significance here on Kreato.”
Although he spoke in vagaries, all those present knew exactly what he said. General Tullius mops his brow. Director Sangreer tries to summon words to her defense. Overseer Thralle is silent. Commander Karabardak stares around in disbelief. The Interrogator continues.
“Let me be abundantly clear. This is not the two thousand year old Titan your survey teams have told you, nor is it the second coming of your saint. Any rumours to the contrary are spoken only by traitors and will be made an example of. It is not a sign of the end times, nor is it a sign to celebrate. The status quo will be maintained at all cost, such is the ruling of my master. To facilitate this, I will be replacing some of the Director’s staff with my own to-”
Director Sangreer is on her feet. “My Lord, I must protest! I think-” She is met with the sound of a shotgun racking a shell into place. She sheepishly returns to her place. The Interrogator continues again.
“-to prevent any administrative oversight that might have occurred in the past. In exchange for your loyalty, your cooperation and your resources, my master will ensure that none this affair will reach the ears of the High Lords of Terra.”
The table mutters with forced platitudes.
“As for the abysmal planetary defenses that allowed an unmarked guncutter to arrive and leave unchallenged while the entire defense force was chasing a decoy, carrying with it survivors of the cabal that escaped my team’s purge, there will need to be some considerable restructuring.”
General Tullius stammers into action, wiping the sweat from his moustache and putting on a veneer of outrage. “And what of the resources you promised us, Interrogator? You promised a relief force and I have yet to see a single troop ship or support vessel! How are we to accept your proposal when you cannot hold up your end of the bargain?”
The two figures in the back are now stood by their master’s side clutching their weapons. The man in the snakeskin jacket spits a toothpick onto the floor. The Interrogator fixes his gaze on Tullius, who shrinks back into his seat.
“As you near the water’s edge, the corpse-coloured province of Syracuse Magna looms in the distance. A thick, dark cloud hangs above it, and the iron-black sea reeks of stagnation and raw sewage. The omnipresent drizzle turns into thick gobbets of oily water falling from the sky. The sound of the heavy rain patters loudly off your driver’s metal hat.
You hug the coastline tightly, giving enough berth to the multi-storey hab blocks that loom uncomfortably outwards over the waters. She picks an entrance to the maze of waterways and crumbling tenements that make up the district and the motor-skiff ambles lazily into a sluggish canal. A thick film of oil and offal covers the surface of the canal, and everything here reeks of rot
Despite the dilapidation and flooded tenement blocks, there is a semblance of life here. Citizens and labourers shuffle around in the shadows and under the cover of overhanging buildings. You catch the glint of every pair of eyes following you as your motor-skiff chugs down the canal.”
With a brand new chapter of our Dark Heresy campaign about to begin, set in the decaying province of Syracuse Magna, it was the perfect opportunity to pursue a dream I’d had since I had been flicking through old issues of White Dwarf as a kid – having an awesome game board.
The idea of building a modular board grew organically from the premise. Syracuse Magna needed introducing in a bang – a three-way brawl between the players, some noble House Guard and some local scum.
The campaign book I’m basing the plot off has an interesting map in the beginning – something that looked like it would be really fun to set aside most of a session for a proper honest-to-Emperor dice-fest. It had at least a dozen guys on each side, with the implication of more ‘further away’, multiple levels, heavy weapons, firebombs and boats.
What started out as something that could be sketched on my wipe-clean hex map evolved as I started to plan the multiple levels. There needed to be guys shooting down from above, so I’d need to build walkways (obviously). Walkways would need something to connect to, so there would have to be buildings (obviously). Heck, the canal needs to be at a lower level from the rest.
At this point, it was becoming increasingly apparent that I was deluding myself into thinking I wasn’t going to build a game board. I had recently had a clear out of my old Elysian drop troopers, and that had freed up a dangerous amount of capital in the hobby fund.
The original plan was stuck to as closely as I could with the time I had given myself. Some parts fell by the wayside due to time constraints, such as the inlet board.
Originally I had wanted to go all-out and create full resin canals, but I couldn’t figure out how best to make those modular – I have no use for single-purpose terrain.
The game board from TTcombat would fit the bill – cheap and lightweight, it would be easy to store and I could get a lot of different configurations out of it. They should be stackable too, so I picked up some of the TTcombat venice plaza sections of different sizes to add a bit of height variance where appropriate.
I would pick up a bunch of different bits of scenery too, that way I’d have a tool kit of stuff that I could draw upon wherever and whenever my players decide to get into a fight. It could be an open dockside, a drowned slum or abandoned city block.
Assembly began in earnest. I love the TTCombat range for its detail and ease of assembly, and everything in this pack was no different. The broken factory and shipyard went together like a dream, and the containers would be to swell my container collection to a more healthy 9 in total.
I had also assembled some silos from pringles cans which would serve to boost the height significantly and provide more things to drape walkways off.
The crates were a bit fiddly to assemble but they came together in the end, and I made the conscious decision to glue them together in lumps rather than have dozens of loose crates scattered about my board. Where I would lose a tiny amount of customisation, I would gain massively in convenience. I’ve had loose bits of terrain floating around on boards before and the novelty wears off immediately after the first accidental nudge of the table.
As I was doing more research into scenery options, I naturally gravitated towards various Malifaux resources, including the sewers walkway and downtown walkway sets by Plascraft. I can knock rickety wooden walkways together with some PVA and balsa wood easy peasy, but I can’t knock together something that looks like it wasn’t, uh, knocked together. I picked them up off ebay for cheap, favouring the un-coloured plastic sets over the pre-painted ones.
They were an absolute pain in the ass to assemble – they were made of the kind of plastic that mocks every kind of adhesive except superglue. I went through four tubes of superglue and seventeen fingertips before everything was finally assembled, and it was only when it came to basecoating I realised I should have bathed the whole set in acid and set it on fire before starting, as it took three coats of base coat before the paint would stop pooling on the oils left on the plastic. Not cool.
When they were done they looked great – they fit in to the theme beautifully, they’re lightweight, sturdy and flexible enough so they can be knocked around a bit without any paint chipping or structural damage.
I was, however, putting off the longest, hardest (and as it turned out, most damaging to me personally) part of the project – the boards themselves.
foaming at the mouth
I had looked at dozens of different game boards, trying to decide how to design the ones I now had taking up space on my bed. There were plenty of Mordheim and Malifaux game boards on Pinterest and Google Images that tickled my fancy, but none that I could realistically achieve by myself in the time frame I had allotted.
My first attempts with glue and sand were pretty abysmal and not what I wanted at all. I wanted a cobbled/tiled/flagstone look, but the only textured plasticard I could find was expensive and sold by the A4 sheet, I needed something that could cover large areas for not very much money.
I came across some enterprising individual on a Mordheim forum who had used a biro on some thin polystyrene (the kind your supermarket pizza comes on) to draw on flagstones and cobbles. Perfect! All I need to do is find some in my local area and draw some on, right?
Turns out, nowhere sells such a thing, and I wasn’t about to buy and unwrap a dozen pizzas. I finally found some sheets of kids’ craft foam in my local book store and picked up two packs just to be sure. It was the perfect material – much tougher than polystyrene but that just meant I had to push a bit harder. Should take the strain of gaming more, right?
You have to press really really hard with a biro to get the indentation. I broke the ball out of four pens making these, and the ones that didn’t lose their ball will never write again due to weird internal rupturing of the ink cartridge.
By the end of the ordeal I couldn’t hold a pen for a few days afterwards. I had lost feeling in the end of my thumb from gripping the pen so tightly and I had a huge blister on my middle finger from where the pen rested. Over a month later I still don’t have very much feeling in my thumb any more, and the blister has turned into a huge callous. Yay hobbying!
Aside from that though, the sheets came out great. For what was essentially 25p a sheet, they were great value for money if you don’t value physical hand health that much. Time to stick them to things!
The sheets were carved up in accordance to the random scribbles I had made on the wooden boards. Harking back to my brief, I wanted them to be usable in pretty much any arrangement, so they needed to be (relatively) even all the way round.
I also wanted to have a conscious divide between cobbled areas and muddy paths where the roads have worn away decades ago. Making these tiled areas variable shapes and sizes meant depending on the arrangement of boards, you could get wide streets, tiny claustrophobic alleyways or snaking dog-legs between buildings.
A few of the boards went against the brief and I edged them with lollipop sticks as a boardwalk or dockside. I needed a dock in the first fight, and I didn’t have the time to figure out how to carve up one of these tiles and make an inlet. Perhaps a project for another time.
The mud was made with a nice big pot of polyfilla I had lying around in powder form at home. When mixed up in some old Chinese tupperware, you can apply it liberally with finger and spoon to create some weird shapes. Some tiles and sand pushed into it for texture helped finish it off.
With all the boards in strange primary colours, things were beginning to look a bit Legoland. I was happy that I had got this far and I was apprehensive about applying colour to them. If the paint didn’t take, I was out of options.
Duncan be praised
Well bugger me, they came out better than I’d ever dreamed they would. I killed off quite a few brain cells applying the black undercoat – I lost count of how many rattle cans I went through over the course of this project.
A light dusting of grey over the black helped break up the big chunks and would make painting easier down the line.
The wood sections would get a light dusting of brown spray and painted up the same way as the other wood sections of the map. The cobblestones were highlighted with a slightly lighter grey, and splodged liberally with brown and green washes applied with a spongy bit snipped out of a miniatures case.
A final highlight was drybrushed with Rotting Flesh. In all the descriptions of Magna it would be described as a decaying, unhealthy place, and everything from the wood to the stone to the metal would have a slightly unhealthy tinge to it.
The path sections would get a thick’n’heavy coat of brown. It was time to get muddy.
I picked up some water effect stuff to make bases for the Undertow and this was a great opportunity to use some more of it up. It is very thick, and used for creating water effects like splashing water, so it would be perfect for giving me an unpleasant moistness to my mud. It would also double as a sealant for the polyfilla, as I discovered very quickly that despite it looking great and being super easy to work with, it chips like a bitch.
I applied it liberally and smooshed it into the surface of my board. trying to let it pool in the crevices and get wiped off the raised areas so it would look more like standing water.
I had my concerns at this point that it would look more like a river or literal standing water rather than mud, then realised it didn’t matter. It could be used for either depending on what I might need!
The stuff was touch-dry in less than an hour, but I let it dry overnight just to be safe.
The test fit
When everything was dry, next day I pushed the boards together, sprinkled some terrain on it and set up my antagonists for a photo shoot. I think the pictures speak for themselves.
Yeah, I was pretty fuckin’ chuffed with how these came out. Everything just worked. I was utterly impressed by my ability to paint all the wood in the same dead fleshy colours, despite many of these projects being painted months apart and in some cases, very drunk. The multiple layers worked really well too, something I was going to revisit later on and finish off more of. Everything looked swell, and with only one night to go before the big day, it couldn’t have worked out better.
It was time to assemble the board ready for the final fight.
Death in magna
I stuck as close as I could to the original map, and made concessions for the areas that didn’t work. I didn’t have the time (or inclination) to make ANOTHER boat, so we used the nose section from a previous TTcombat purchase which actually turned out great.
The core structures were shuffled around too – the warehouse in the far corner didn’t fit on the tile I had put there and was better suited to being more central so it could be interacted with more. I commandeered some of my old 40k scatter terrain that was most fitting to the scene too – a few bits of ruined building that would stand in for, well, anything really. The one in the bottom left of the map would house a cheeky chappy with a hunting rifle that would just be a massive dick for the whole fight.
The rest of this post is just images, vaguely structured in the order they were taken. I lament not taking more pictures or documenting it better, but luckily many of my players took plenty of snaps on their phones.
So, for your pleasure, I present one of my life-long dreams achieved;
Our brave naval Acolytes eventually all managed to get off their sinking ship (hopefully not too heavy-handed a metaphor for future endeavours…) and brutally murder some starving poor people trying to feed their families see off the criminals and protect the shipment.
The day was won by the Acolytes, and they even won grudging thanks from the House Guard protecting the shipment. It sounded like everyone had as much fun playing as I had building, and we all learned some valuable lessons about the importance of having Willpower as your dump stat, why shotguns with the Scatter trait are so deadly, and just how long you can stay on a sinking ship before your team-mates start to try and bounce grenades off your head.
Great Uncle Thalus has been shot. Julia Griswold gingerly touches the entry wound in his forehead. She needn’t be worried she told herself, he’s pulled through worse. She recalled tales from her childhood about the fierce Great Uncle Thalus who was shot on twelve separate occasions. Perhaps it was because this is the first time he’d been shot after he’d already died. Thalus grinned back at her, his taxidermied arms wide in a welcoming embrace. She brushed some plaster dust off his uniform and straightened his medals.
The estate was a battleground. Hatred and greed had marked every surface and there was barely anywhere without a burn mark, bullet hole or grenade blast. Priceless art had been destroyed and family heirlooms had been lost forever. Dozens of her house guard had been sent to the Emperor in the attack and even Father had been shot. He’s old and poorly but by the Saints he is still as stubborn as ever – the house Chirurgeon expects him to make a full recovery. Some small mercy, perhaps.
She was being crushed by the realisation that one day soon, he won’t be expected to make a full recovery from an affliction or illness. With mother gone and her brother in the Navy battling some xenos in some warp-damned corner of the galaxy, she was the only one left to look after House Griswold. Her head was swimming. She hadn’t slept in two days.
All her life she had watched with apathetic eyes as crime tore apart the other hives, corrupting the rulers and exploiting the people. Why change anything? She could debase and debauch all her days without ever concerning herself with the plight of others. She had always dismissed it as a problem for the Magistratum or those below the Wall, but what does one do when it arrives in your house, kills your kin and shoots your Father?
She slumped down in an orkhide chair, a blanket draped about her shoulders and a glass of something foul from one of Father’s decanters. His combi-bolter lay on the table next to her. An exquisite thing of beauty, passed down through the generations.
She found herself tracing the names etched into the case with her finger – Laurent, Thalus, all the way back to Juliana, the first of House Griswold and Julia’s own namesake. Life was simpler back then – if you wanted something, you took it at the tip of a sword or the barrel of a bolter.
The gun was still warm, still limber – like a caged beast before racing day. Plasma swirled behind the cooling vents, throwing a patina of shapes onto the table like light off the surface of water.
There was a single space remaining on the weapon – room for one more name after her Father’s. A preposterous thought crossed her mind and she laughed nervously to an empty room. She felt its weight, how the grip was moulded for Griswold hands, how its spirit responded to her gene-print like a purring animal. What more sign could she need?
She was interrupted by a house steward at the door to the study. He bowed low. Julia drew herself upright to be addressed.
“Apologies for the interruption my lady, it is Lady Collepan for you. She says she has grave news.”