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!
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!
“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.
We had just finished our first proper session of the Orthesian Dynasty Rogue Trader game, and one thing I’m keen to encourage is the bringing of food and snacks to the table in exchange for bonus XP.
After said session, during the tallying of corpses and clearup operation, I discovered we had managed to get through two and a half tubes of Pringles. As I was idly finishing the remaining point five of a tube of Pringles, the thought struck me – I owned NO terrain that used Pringles tubes as a base.
Scandalous! I had used them in the past for various projects as a nipper, but never brought any of them with me or kept around after house moves or purges. I knew what had to be done. I had a spare weekend, some lollipop sticks and a whole box of paint.
Once you pop
Construction began with the core concept – Some tall structures that (probably) once had a purpose, perhaps grain silos or fuel depots, that have now fallen into disuse and now their only function is as watchtowers or vantage points. Verticality was the name of the game.
The original concept was to build some kind of ladder arrangement with lollipop sticks. That concept went up in a puff of smoke when I got to grips with each tube and realised there was a perfect spiral seam where the packaging was glued on that runs from top to bottom of each tube.
This acted as a pre-drawn guideline for my new spiral staircase idea: snip the ends off a bunch of lollipop sticks, stab a hole into the tube with a craft knife and shove the stick through. Apply PVA glue liberally to both sides – I needed to dribble it from on high like a master chocolatier to reach the lower sticks inside the tube. I wanted to make sure it was well-stuck to avoid any accidental wobbly stairs later on.
I didn’t want them fancy, but I also recognise the importance for a few key details to tell the story of a piece. It would also serve to break up the large flat surfaces of the Pringles tubes when it came to painting.
Platforms were constructed at the top of each staircase to give it a landing instead of a sheer drop off the tower. A big circle of balsa wood was cut out and glued into the ‘bottom’ of the tubes. I wanted to keep the ‘tops’ of the tubes (now the bottom of the towers) open in case I needed to perform emergency repairs or add weights to it at a later date.
Some long strips of balsa wood helped give it more of a ‘container’ vibe and I added some steel mesh around half of each rim, supported by three wooden pillars. Holy hell, that steel mesh cut my hands up something awful.
Some final details were added in the form of plastic pipework and a bit of plastic support strut for the larger of the three silos, all from the ubiquitous chemical plant terrain set.
By this point I was damn happy with how they were looking. It had been a very, very long time since I’d created scenery from junk, and following my 2018 hobby mantra of “finished, not perfect” I figured they were good enough to hit the rattlecans and get a lovely undercoat on them to start painting.
A quick blast of own-brand black car primer spray later and they look a much more coherent whole. Unfortunately, the busyness of the Pringles packaging distracted me from what it really was – a big, flat smooth surface on every side.
I wasn’t mad, just a little annoyed at the oversight. Given more time I might have added some panels or more pipes and tubes to help break up those big featureless expanses.
No matter, the deed was done, and they just needed to be finished. Onwards to dusting!
I can’t remember when or why I started using this technique but it has a been a flipping life-saver. I’m sure I’ll use it more once I have consistent access to an airbrush, but for now cheapo rattlecans serve my purposes just fine.
It’s pretty simple – over a hard black undercoat, give it a light dusting from one angle with a colour of choice. It’ll retain much of the black underneath, but provide a time-friendly alternative to blocking out all the colours by hand and following up with a million drybrushes.
The metal was painted on with a thick, stiff brush – I found an old metallic acrylic paint that had a super weird consistency, but once I mixed it with the dregs of a Dwarf Bronze I had lying about in my paint box, it produced this neat off-silver colour that was great for slapping onto flat surfaces.
I was going to weather it a LOT later on to help break up the shapes too, so it didn’t need to be perfect. A second drybrush of a lighter metallic colour (horizontally rather than vertically this time) helped produce a pleasing brushed metal look.
I wanted some signage on them too – large identifying marks that would help players differentiate them on the table top and give the models a spot colour to again, help break up those big flat shapes.
I liked the idea of something really simple, A B and C stencilled onto opposite sides of the silos. I set about making a stencil for them, hand cut from heavyweight cartridge paper.
It was at this point after an hour of stencil-making I realised I didn’t have a white rattlecan to spray through the stencil, so I opted to just apply paint over the stencil with a brush. What could go wrong?
Lots, apparently. The paint was great at getting under the stencil edges and made a big horrendous mess, like someone had tried to paint it on with their bumcheeks with surprisingly little success.
I ended up using the stencil to trace a stencil shape onto the silos with a pencil, then painting each stencil design on by hand. Ah well, it’s the time-saving thoughts that count, right?
Breaking them in
I really enjoy weathering techniques – they’re always really easy to do and add so much character to a model, especially scenery. They give it a really lived-in feel, and as I’m super lazy time-efficient I have a number of weathering tricks that make this part fly by.
The technique couldn’t be easier – stipple some brown paint onto your metal in random patches with a big flat brush. The cheaper your brush, the better the effect.
After that, bust out a nice vibrant orange colour. With a slightly smaller brush, stipple on some equally random patches of orange, but try to concentrate them in the middle of large brown areas. You’ll get this great two-tone effect that looks like the outer layer of metal has flaked away to reveal different layers of rust underneath. Neato.
I use only high-quality paints for my projects, such as this budget brown acrylic paint picked up from my local bric-a-brac store for about a quid. Only the finest for Dreadquill.
For a very final detail I did a fine highlight on the edges of the wood sections with a pale skin tone to really make them stand out.
from snacks to stacks
And with that, they were all finished! It took two evenings to finish these off, and I have to be honest and say I admired them for a very long time after i finished them. They came out way better than I had anticipated, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had such a feeling of accomplishment after completing such a relatively simple project.
I pulled out some of the antagonists from our upcoming Syracuse Magna campaign and set them up for a mini photoshoot. The colours worked just wonderfully.
I’ll be putting together some walkways out of long bits of balsa wood so I can string these guys together over long distances, but for now I’m just super stoked to play with them!
Over the last few months I’ve been assembling some rusty senpais in the form of the Ash Garrison Enforcers of Syracuse Magna. Brutal, corrupt and underfunded, the Ash Garrison attracts only the worst of the populace to help tread the rest into the rain-slick cobblestones of Magna’s streets.
Painting the masses
Assembling these guys was equal parts fun and complicated, with little regard for how they would look when coloured. I only had one colour requirement from their description in-game, they needed dark green vulcanised cloaks to protect them from the relentless drizzle and acid rain showers of Syracuse Magna. The rest I would have to make up on the spot. Great.
They were all undercoated black, which had the immediate benefit of pulling all the incoherent pieces together into one uniform whole. They were starting to look like a unit!
The immediate downside to this was the daunting prospect of adding colours to the test models to see what would work. Green cloaks were a given, but what about the rest?
I am quite taken with the Death Korps of Krieg aesthetic, as they spend a lot of their time around mud and rain, so I was going to use lots of neutral earthy tones for the clothes. I decided to try something a bit different for the armour and weapons and see if I could pull off a kind of rusty metal look.
Base coats were added to the test models – a dark brassy metallic colour would form the base for the equipment – normally I’d go for a steel silver, but I wanted to go Full Grubby this time.
A nice grimy grey was applied to the overcoat, the cloaks blocked in with dark green, and the details were picked out with variant browns and lighter greys.
As the majority of the big areas dried, I splashed on a healthy amount of black wash to dull the colours even more (and do like 90% of the shading work for me because I’m a lazy painter).
It was during this blocking and washing stage (read: literally watching paint dry) that I started to experiment with a rust technique.
I’ve used this technique for verdigris/patina on bronze before and the process was fun and straightforward, if a long-winded process. I know you can get fancy pigment paints and stuff these days, but I have a perfectly serviceable orange paint and plenty of water so let’s do this.
The process involved getting some really, really watered down orange paint (little more than paint-flavoured water) and blobbing it on willy-nilly across the exposed parts of dark metal.
It would seep into crevices and leave weird watermarks, but the more layers I did the more this began to turn into a cool rust effect. After the 5th-ish layer of orange, I did another few layers of a lighter orange, then one final layer of pale flesh colour in the centre of the worst-affected areas.
Fantastically, it was beginning to look like something I hadn’t quite anticipated – rust from water damage rather than just age. My damp senpai were turning into rusty senpai!
The final touch was to roughly pick out edges with a silver paint to give it some wear and tear. Holy smokes, what a difference that made. The rougher and quicker I applied the edge highlights, the more realistic it seemed and the better it looked on the tabletop.
With the majority of the models’ feature colours finished, it was on to the tidy up. The greys were highlighted with their original base colours again to keep the neutral tones, the gloves were given a little extra highlight to help pick out the fingers. Masks were highlighted up to white with a red visor to give them a terrifying appearance under their big metal hats.
I had left the shock mauls til last, as I wasn’t entirely sure how I wanted them to look. Perhaps it was time to try my hand at some origin source lighting?
OSL – Positively shocking
I avoid dabbling with origin source lighting (OSL) because a) it’s always an afterthought and b) painting new colours over pain(t)staking highlights gives me terror chills like no other.
I wanted the shock mauls to look zappy, but I wasn’t enthused about doing the usual lightning blue that’s associated with shock mauls, but not did I like repeating the red from the visor.
Sticking with the grimy colour scheme I opted for a poisonous shade of green, which when highlighted up had this wonderful effect of making it look pale and sickly. You can almost imagine them flickering and sparking like a faulty bug zapper in a meat shop.
I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I started by applying some very thin layers of green to anything the light might get cast on, and slowly highlighting up to lighter shades of green on more prominent surfaces, such as the rim of the hat and edges of the armour.
I was genuinely surprised by how well it came out! As an effect, I’m definitely going to be trying it again in the future. I’m comfortable with the technical side of it now, I just need to get better at understanding how light falls on strange shapes and applying more paint to those areas. I’d say the biggest problem with the OSL on these guys is that I didn’t do enough of it!
The finished product
The final stages were detailing the bases. I’d learned a lot about water effects from my time with the Enforcers’ nemeses, the Undertow – I needed lots of thin layers of water effect, otherwise you end up with weird air bubbles and pockets of cloudy water.
A billion layers of water effect later (and I’m not 100% happy with it but sod it), the rusty senpai were finished.
As mentioned in the conversion article, these guys were split into two groups – Remedials and Disciplinaries, depending on how severe a response is required from whatever uppity nonsense the local populace are kicking off with that day.
The Disciplinaries are the first responders, armed with sizzling shock mauls and flashbangs, their job is to brutally repress any kind of sedition with shock and awe and to round up anyone who might be persuaded to part with some important intel on enemy movements.
They’re lead by a member of the rightly-feared Mandato – the terrifying secret police and interrogators for the Shogun that excel in rooting out sedition and extracting information from those slow enough to be caught by the Disciplinary snatch squads.
The rest of the troopers make up the second wave of Ash Garrison – the Remedials. If/when the Disciplinaries can’t scare the populace into submission, the Remedials are rolled out to reduce the population to a more manageable size.
These guys will only be seen if when things escalate into a full-blown insurrection, and Enforcers become less fussed about taking anyone alive.
They also come with exciting grenade launcher options for frag, gas or photon flash flavours.
A few more of the damp baes;
All in all I’m preeeetty chuffed with how they’ve all come out. I’m not sure I could done them better if I’d tried, and the fact I’m aching to make another dozen of these guys is a great indicator that I really shouldn’t. They will serve their purposes well in the sodden, rotting alleyways of Syracuse Magna in our upcoming campaign.
Speaking of sodden, rotting alleyways, watch this space…
From the viewport you can see Syracuse in the distance – a concentration of pinpricks of light in the infinite darkness. It draws vessels from far and wide like moths to a flame. The skies around the planet are polluted with starships of all sizes and classes, from the mighty warships of the Imperial Navy on patrol outside their home dock of Port Sempect, to the bloated Universe-class mega-haulers carrying a world’s wealth of resources and people, to the smaller system ships scuttling about carrying precious cargo between the planets.
Syracuse is a sight to behold. Visible long before you can make out its details, half the planet is shrouded in utter darkness, the other half in burning sunlight. Tidally locked, the planet orbits the Tangenian sun perfectly in time with its own axis spin. Only a thin strip of habitable space runs the equator of the planet from pole to pole, and every inch is covered with a sprawling hive cities
Haloing the planet is a broken ring of drydocks, ports, loading yards, warehouses, space stations and detritus. Syracuse once boasted a proud, unbroken run of orbital docks, but these days it is mostly abandoned, fractured and isolated, left to the devices of scavengers, pirates and reclaimators.
The Grey Halo
Our new Dark Heresy campaign begins in earnest, set on the twilight ringworld of Syracuse. As an oft-mentioned place and the capital planet of the Onus Region, Syracuse needed a map worthy of its stature – not just for this Dark Heresy game but also for any future games I choose to set on the planet. I needed a map that was not only informative, but robust enough to be used in the future with little or no editing.
The entire process was recorded and sped up, in the first illustration timelapse Dreadquill has produced to date. A lot was learned on the technical side of things, but the biggest one being: do a test recording before starting a four-hour drawing process. As a result, we get this weird artifact in the middle of the screen, so apologies for that.
From little acorns
The process started with a hastily scribbled map on some lined paper made on a late-night Megabus journey. I’m a big fan of the Total War series, and I drew a lot on my 300+ hours of Shogun 2, a strategy game set in the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States period of Japanese history. I had a lovely framework to balance powerful households, civil strife and interesting factions without needing too much legwork up front.
The planet is covered in a strip of hive cities, joined together by fields of slums, so the whole map was only ever going to be a straight line rather than a series of continents, so that made the planning a little easier. I didn’t have too many requirements for what needed to be present either; I needed a ‘Province 13’ for setting the spooky campaign in and I needed a ‘Province Prime’ to introduce the planet at its most opulent, to meet the Inquisitor in, and to build the Kismet Palace – the seat of Inquisitorial power in the region.
I thought it would be interesting if the different major households had suzerain status over different provinces, swearing fealty to an independent province (Prime) where their Imperial overlords were set. This had the potential to set up lovely clandestine operations against different houses and cold wars bubbling over into direct border violence in the slum areas.
As a side note; the campaign is based loosely on one of the written campaigns and astute readers may pick it up, so please try not to spoil it for my players in the comments!
I also needed to emphasize the isolation of Province 13. It is one of the last independent provinces left on Syracuse, and slap bang in the middle of the destroyed, desolate and abandoned provinces ravaged by thousands of years of civil war and neglect.
Province 13, or Syracuse Magna, are fiercely independent despite having no exports or being capable of raising tithes or contributing to the planetary defense force. It is run by utterly corrupt, self-serving nobles who have ruled for generations, and there is no limit to how low they will stoop to claw on to whatever fleeting power and wealth they have left.
The concentration of the sprawl of slums between the provinces begins to thin out the closer you get to Syracuse Magna, roughly on the opposite side of the planet. I enjoy little details like this in maps, as it serves not only as wordless world-building, but also as a valid in-game reason as to why the players can’t just ‘pop out’ to get some help from nearby neighbours. Isolation is the theme of the campaign, after all!
I am very pleased with how the map turned out, and although I learned a lot from the timelapse process I think with all the technical difficulties I had assembling it, very few of them are noticeable in the final cut. Huge thanks to my old chum Frazer Merrick for the sound too, go check his stuff out and throw money at him.
Syracuse Magna has been my most ambitious project to date, with three factions planned for models (The Undertow, the Ash Garrison Enforcers and the at-time-of-writing-unseen Arbites) AND a gaming board, it’s going to be a busy few months for me!
The planet of Syracuse is the biggest, most sprawling planet our plucky Dark Heresy acolytes will have been to so far in their illustrious crime-fighting careers. It is here they will finally meet their Inquisitor (after 4+ years of real life campaigning) and mingle with other acolytes of the Onus Region Conclave. They will receive their orders, be given a direction and then sent off to the arse end of the planet, Syracuse Magna, to pursue a lead on the potentially apocalyptic Samarra Dynasty.
We’ve already seen one of the factions of Syracuse magna, an organised crime syndicate called The Undertow, and now we’re having a look at their lawful (if not moral) counterparts, the Ash Garrison Enforcers.
Ash Garrison Enforcers
On the rest of Syracuse, the Ashigaru PDF, or Ash Garrison, comprise of mercenaries and family members of the Great Houses, refining their martial skills with polearm and lasgun to serve in the largest standing army in the Onus Region. The Ash Garrison are called upon as loyal foot soldiers to tackle uprisings, gang warfare or noble squabbles, and some are shipped off to deal with far away threats where their combined arms tactics of rifle and spear makes for a formidable threat against any foe.
They are intended to support the local laws of Syracuse Magna, maintain order and deal with such common crimes as murder, smuggling and extortion, while the Adeptus Arbites (in theory) deal with crimes directed against the Adepta, such as petty heresy, slaving and corruption that contravene high Imperial Law.
In Syracuse Magna, the Provincial Enforcers are divided, corrupt and unsubtle agents of punishment and social control, and most are little more than state-sponsored extortionists. Their power is granted by the Daimyo and the Quorum, and by extension, they are sanctioned by Magna’s dissolute and corrupt nobility. At their core are the Mandato, a feared secret police force of torturers and killers that exist purely to maintain the Daimyo’s power.
Clad in vulcanized storm coats and conical helmets to deter the worst of the weather, the Ash Garrison are well-equipped and brutal in approach. They operate in 4-man teams, either ‘Disciplinaries’ with stun sticks and laspistols or ‘Remedials’ with lasguns. Remedial teams can be accompanied by either a grenade launcher or hunting rifle.
Creating the Ash Garrison
The concept art folder and mood boards I had assembled for Syracuse are extensive, and in my travels I stumbled across this rather excellent piece by Keith Thompson and knew I wanted to recreate that flavour in my own foot soldiers.
Doing some digging around, I found these rather excellent heads and shoulder pads from Puppets War that I tacked onto another order, with little thought as to how I was going to assemble them later. Like a big dumb idiot I didn’t order enough shoulder pads either, so although the intention was for big samurai-style shoulder pads on each style, I didn’t read that “x10 shoulder pads” meant literally that, and not “enough shoulder pads for x10 models”. So, lopsided shoulder pads were going to have to happen.
One of my real life comrades was putting an order into Victoria Miniatures and I figured that was a great opportunity to bang the last nail into the coffin of this project, and had a quick browse through their wares. After taking a few quick screenshots, I bashed together this image to give me an idea of what my Enforcers were going to look like.
I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get the shoulder pads to work with the moulded capes, but that was a problem that Future Me would deal with. I’m a big fan of the Shogun: Total War games, and have always had a soft spot for the Matchlock Ashigaru units for their aesthetics, so I was going to try and capture that as best I could.
I was 99% convinced I was going with back banners as well, then remembered my utter contempt for painting freehand back banners, and justified it by saying that the Magna Enforcers weren’t as fancy as their upmarket noble brethren in the posher provinces, so wouldn’t have back banners.
And then the parts arrived! I had to be strong-willed to not dig in to these as soon as they arrived, as I had a bunch of work I needed to do for Mother of Mercy. With that out the way and some suitable recovery time later, we’re back in the action and assembling cool models.
For their bases, I wanted something a little less dingy than the Undertow, but still equally run down. I opted for a pack of the rather splendid Sector Imperialis bases from Games Workshop, justifying it that I could use the 40mm bases for Inquisitor as well. With the addition of some broken lollipop sticks for wood, and some water effects after they’d been painted, I was hoping to go for a run down manufactorum or derelict fish factory look.
Assembling the masses
Putting the majority of the Ash Garrison together was surprisingly simple. The Victoria parts, as disparate as they were considering I ordered the most awkward combination, went together rather pleasingly. I made a note to pin them through their toes to their bases, as as bouncy as resin is, I didn’t have much faith in my superglue keeping them attached.
The arms and guns slotted together quite nicely, although in once instance I wasn’t entirely sure how the pose of a pair of arms was intended, as it never seemed to match up to the weapon or body whatever I tried. Cue hacking, filing and putty-work and it didn’t matter – it bends to my will.
Initially none of the models had shoulder pads or thigh guards. I knew this was on the cards, but I didn’t want to start carving parts of my minis away until I had put together the whole team and figured out how I was going to approach this. As I was building them, I knew I wanted to have a range of weapons (similar to the Undertow) for different circumstances and challenge levels, and that was how the idea of different fighting teams came about.
The Disciplinaries were a pain in the butt. As rad cool as the stun sticks from Victoria were, they were extremely bendy and many needed a date with the hair dryer to get them looking less like boomerangs. On top of that, the handles are very thin – not thin enough to be able to remove and replace with a length of brass pole or paperclip, but not thick enough to be able to pin in place. Most had to deal with having a fraction of a millimetre drilled into the hand and base of the shaft and hope I don’t drop them in the future.
And weirdly at this point I began to notice that many of the left arms didn’t have the little extra shoulder pad, it seemed the ‘melee’ arms were missing them, but the rifle arms all had them. I resigned myself to knowing I was going to need to get the putty out again before this project was over.
After assembling all the bodies, I realised I was going to have to figure out a way of attaching the shoulder pads and doing a little extra on the bodies to being the whole aesthetic together. The masochist in me wanted to sculpt an entire armoured skirt over the trench coat legs, but if I had already trimmed the back banner plans from my list, then this “good idea” could also go and sit in the garbage where it belonged. Nope, I needed a more cunning, time-sensitive solution to this plan.
Cue montage. I snipped a bunch of thick plasticard down into strips and stuck them together with plastic glue, taking care to be liberal with the application but leave one side as mar-free as possible. It all needed to be bonded together for when the inevitable hacking and shaping was to take place, but it still needed to be pretty at the front.
Once it had dried it was a fairly simple, if time-consuming, process of slicing off the desired amount of thigh guard and filing the back down into shape so it would fit against the model snugly.
Although it took a bit of time to prepare each thigh guard, I was happy that the time was well spent, as it allowed me to maintain a consistent look across all the models without hours spent prodding and poking. It was also nice to not have to be concerned about the time-sensitive drying process of modelling putty, which is always a turn-off for me as I know if I have to put the project down (for such weaknesses as human food or waste expulsion) I might come back to a hardened putty and have to restart the process from scratch.
I was happy with the thigh guards – they helped draw the aesthetics together of weird future trench soldier and feudal Japanese plate armour. I wasn’t overly sold on the theme until I started to see several of them together, and along with the cute pointy hats from Puppets War I was really starting to enjoy how they were coming along.
Another issue present was the shoulder pad conundrum. It turned out it wasn’t much of a conundrum, I just didn’t want to address the obvious solution – cutting and filing down parts of the cloak to allow the shoulder pads to fit on the arm more snugly.
Some went on better than others and some needed more encouragement. They all went on eventually, and I think it works as a blend of 40k and ancient east asian aesthetics. I was beginning to feel thankful for my shoulder pad ordering blunder at this point, as I was enjoying the single pad far more than when I draft-built some with both shoulder pads. It gave the models more freedom for poses, and gave it this wonderful lopsided asymmetric look that 40k is infamous for.
After assembling two thirds of the squad as stun stickers and lasgunners, I knew I needed a bit of variety and specialisation in there. Something to change up the game when they entered the field – some support weapons and an officer class.
The first (an easiest) was a trusty grenade launcher from the plastic Cadians kit. I’m not sure a project goes by where a grenade launcher isn’t added to a group of gangers, house guard or police force, they’re just so pleasingly versatile in the game. From a game balance perspective, these guys would only start turning up later in the escalation of violence. Initially all the Ash Garrison would be armed with flashbangs and smoke grenades, but as the riots step up, they’ll start issuing choke and frag grenades along with the launchers to help break up crowds.
The next specialist was a tricky one to decide on. I liked the idea of a suppressive weapon (like the heavy stubber of the Undertow) but decided against it as it would cheapen them when they did arrive. Flamers were out as well, as that was covered by the Undertow, so I had a dig about in my bits box and found a cool sniper rifle, again from Victoria but something from a previous order. I liked the image of the run-down rain-slick streets of Syracuse Magna being watched over by eagle-eyed snipers from different factions, daring the other to make the first move.
Part of me wanted to do something different with this guy, perhaps add some more camouflage, strip back their armour, make them appear more like light infantry. I decided against it in the end, partly because a) I was feeling hecka lazy and b) I wanted the models to be representatives of character the players would fight on the tabletop.
These were supposed to be specialists attached to riot squads rather than the pissing-in-bottles snipers that would haunt the doglegs and alleyways of Magna. They wouldn’t need models because, in my head, you would never get close enough to fight them on a battlemap. Those kinds of combats would be handled narratively, with just an indication of where the snipers were. I needed models to represent close-up brawls and add an element of visual wonder to our games.
The final model that needed to be assembled was some kind of leader. I had already established the Mandato, a secret police of torturers and assassins, but had no intentions to have models for them. After all, they wouldn’t be very secret if they had a battlefield presence would they?
I was struck with the overwhelming to try and convert a proper Oni/Samurai helmet. The Ashigaru conical helmets were fine for the footsloggers, but I wanted something impressive for the leader. I initially started looking for a daemonic/chaos head that could become a mask, but found the horns from a beastman and the head from a Tempestus Scion far quicker.
With a little bit of tubular plastic snipped from the end of a paint brush protector, the Mandato field officer had his helmet. While he stood, he would confer bonuses to his minions to help them avoid pinning, so he’s one to try and take out early into a brawl.
Wrap up and painting
I was dead chuffed with how they all came out in the end. From a piece of concept art and a very shaky photoshop mashup that I wasn’t convinced would work, to a bunch of converted minis that I like so much I’m looking for excuses to make more of them in the new year.
I’ve covered a bunch of different elements, giving them a variety of tools to help even the odds in battle, and injected some character into the different kinds of squads.
As for painting, I’m going to be leaning heavily on some Shogun Total War Ashigaru colour schemes, picking out a few that look good in green and beige. I have some Silver Tower minis to polish off first, but with the whole squad currently undercoated and drying as we speak, it won’t be long before we see some painted minis on the Dreadquill news feeds.
Blackmail, extortion, smuggling and unadulterated violence are all part of everyday life for the unfortunates living in District XIII in Syracuse Magna. When corruption in planetary authorities runs all the way to the top, the only way to get what you need is at the barrel of a shotgun.
Next stop for our merry band of Acolytes is Syracuse, ‘the Grey Halo’, a tidally locked planet where only a thin band of habitability exists around its circumference, sandwiched between two extremes of temperature. A hive city exists in this habitable zone, a complete ring of urban sprawl that stretches from pole to pole. Unfortunately for our Acolytes, they’re not going to the nice part of town.
We’re off to Syracuse Magna, a semi-independent section at the bottom pole that for centuries has been in inexorable decline and decay. Corruption and dilapidation are the order of the day, the petty nobles bickering and squabbling over scraps while the rest of the citizenry band together to make the most of what little they have. One such band of economically-minded citizens are the Undertow, the city’s largest organised gang, and one of three factions taking part in the Syracuse Magna campaign.
Since catching the modelling bug for our campaigns (I honestly don’t know how it has taken me so long), Syracuse was always high on my list for having models for each of its factions. One of the exciting things (for me) is that these guys will provide an interesting change of pace for the players, as for the last two years we have fought servitors, assassins, heretek automata, xenos creatures, giant local fauna and genetic abominations.
The Undertow don’t have any fancy special powers, and their gear will barely be worth the rusty metal they’re forged from, but a combination of guerrilla tactics, ambushing, flanking, hidden snipers, punji pits, makeshift booby traps and lots and lots of firebombs will make for an interesting tactical challenge for our players.
I needed about a dozen, and the Kolony Feral models from Pig Iron miniatures fit the bill perfectly. They were ragged and grotty but not overwhelmingly chaotic or mutated, so you could still believe they were human underneath their protective rags.
I wanted them to look likely they were hanging out down at abandoned docks and near filth-strewn canals, so it was time to break out the balsa wood!
I enjoy a good urban sprawl base, but urban environments come in many shapes and sizes! The first challenge I noticed was that all the white metal minis had pre-cast bases, which presented a big issue if I wanted to mount them on balsa wood dockyards. I debated changing tack for something a little less woody, but decided in the end to commit to removing over a dozen pairs of boots from their pre-cast bases and filing them down to fit. Who needs fingertips anyway?
The second issue that I hadn’t foreseen was more of an aesthetic choice. As much as I love these minis for exactly what I wanted them to be, I was a little disappointed at the weapon sculpts. I had a very strong aesthetic in my head, and the (again, pre-cast) guns were very lacklustre, and nowhere remotely to the scrappy gutter-forged shotguns and rusty revolvers I had in mind.
With my fingertips barely recovered from de-basing all of them, I set about with pliers and files to forcibly remove the default weapons for all these poor minis, trying to leave as much of the original hands behind as possible.
I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to fit any weapons in there but I was very much committed at this point, I had to make it work somehow! Luckily a couple of the ‘Specialists’ models didn’t need any work doing to them, I quite liked the bandaged sniper rifle and the makeshift flamer (although the missile launcher thing and heavy machine gun absolutely had to go), and the ‘Feral Blades minis’ were pretty much good to go out of the box.
The launcher and heavy machine gun were snipped apart and the bits box was raided for something suitably shoddy. I wanted them to be simultaneously deadly but unappealing to players. Poor quality heavy weapons that when used correctly and/or in appropriate numbers can really wreak havoc, but are so unwieldy, unreliable or dangerous to operate that they would never bother looting them from the Undertow corpses.
The flintlock pistol of Quovandius from the 54mm Inquisitor range had this weird archaic strapped-together look that suited me just fine, so the launcher was hacked down to its supports, sanded down and the gun glued on.
The heavy machine gun was a lot of fun to build. I had nothing in my bits box that looked even remotely like what I envisioned in my head – something akin to the Crank Cannon from DH1ed’s Inquisitor’s Handbook. Something loud, rattly, shooty and, with any luck, killy. After hacking apart the poor gunner’s body to free him from his weird heavy weapon, the cannon was assembled from a heavily cut down Ork Shoota and the barrel of an Empire repeater handgun.
The rest were coming together rather nicely. The combination of raggedy bodies and scrappy wood bases were giving the rain-slicked, grimdark feel I was hoping to achieve already.
Once the models had been hacked apart, attaching the shotguns was surprisingly simple. I was immediately reminded why I prefer working in resin than white metal, as the shotguns were so pliable to my commands and made the minute adjustments required to make them fit into the empty hands oh-so much simpler.
The shotguns had a mix of straps and bayonets, so it took a bit of jiggling to work out which combinations of weapons fit best into which hands. Many of the minis were carrying machine pistol-type things, so their hands were very close together. I *think* I just about got away with it on examples like the one above, but in some cases I had to admit defeat and change up the formula.
I wanted a mix of weapons rather than just shotguns. Dark Heresy has a very versatile combat system, and not only did I want a range of weapon options to throw at the players, but incrementally bigger and badder weapons to upscale the difficulty as the campaign goes on.
The humble firebomb – cheap, lightweight, zero skill requirements to use and utterly devastating with the correct application. One firebomb can scatter a formation of battle hardened Acolytes, force them into cover or break their aim. Half a dozen firebombs tossed at Acolytes in quick succession can VERY quickly see people passing out, limbs cooking to a crisp and Fate Points being burned. It ignores armour, prevents you from doing anything while you’re on fire and regardless of any other effects, makes you slowly pass out from heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, so you’re more likely to pass out first and then burn to death.Totally, utterly hilarious.
When it’s time to up the ante again, that’s when this launcher fellow will come into play. Very much like his firebomb-hurling brethren, he’s got a lovely big bag o’ bombs that he can lob up and over things from a very safe distance away, hopefully causing consternation among our Acolytes who might be getting a little cocky towards the end of the campaign.
With a trim of their bases and some choice head decisions, the gang was ready! I wasn’t a fan of their overly-hunched poses, so many of their heads were pinned back a little big, so their necks needed some filling with green stuff.
With them finished and basecoated, it was time to apply a lick o’ paint. I had challenged myself to use the JGIDD method of painting (Just Get It Done, Dickhead) for these guys, as although I love pouring dozens of hours into my models, I had 13 mooks to paint and finish before either of the other two factions turned up, another two dozen models potentially! I needed something lean, mean and green.
I already had the colour scheme in my head, they wore heavy green overcoats and muted tanned undergarments, so the hardest part (deciding on colours!) was over. I wanted them to look unified, as I’m a sucker for gang colours on fleek, but also subtly different from one another. Kinda like they all shop at the same dumpster, but add their own fashionable flair to their mook attire.
All the base colours were painted on – a dark green for the overcloaks, a tan leather for sleeves and face protectors, a pink flesh tone for any exposed hands, dark grey for the trousers/leg garments, a dark brown for the boots and a lighter grey for straps, bags and miscellaneous pouches. The guns were painted a dark rusted metal then stippled with a lighter metallic colour. The entire mini was then given a heavy brown wash and left to dry.
The overcoat was then drybrushed a mossy green with a final dainty drybrush around the hems and edges with a pale green. Every other colour was then simply highlighted again with the same colour used for the base.
Everything was done as quickly as possible to have them in a ‘ready’ state that I could come back to if I felt like it in the distant future. After the last debacle with getting models ready for game day, there’s nothing worse than spending the time to prep them, only to have it half finished for their big moment.
The bases were drybrushed a series of lighter browns and the shoes tidied up afterwards where I had got a bit overzealous with my brush. The bases were looking a little plain, so I got some of Games Workshop’s rather excellent blood effect paint and splashed it liberally about hither and thither with a combination of paintbrush and cocktail stick. Anyone with bayonets or blades got a little dab as well to help make the weapons pop a bit more.
The final part was to do something with the bases to make them look more like they were standing on the side of a dock rather than just on some scaffolding. Water is going to be a big theme for this campaign, so I needed my baddies to be suitably moist.
I picked up some Woodlands Scenics Water Effects to have an experiment. I am loathe to use resin, and I had tinkered a bit with PVA effects in the past, but I had read good things about this particular product. I wanted a semi-submerged look, and this one would apparently fit the bill.
Gosh, I was not prepared for how thick it would be. It was like spooning hair gel onto the bases, not the smooth flow that you get from PVA glue. Applying this substance to my models was a nightmare, as it went everywhere I didn’t want it to go, and it didn’t settle anywhere like water should, but rather stuck to all the raised areas I couldn’t get a pokey stick into.
After much swearing and sticky fingers (phrasing?) and leaving the first thin coat to dry, I was pleasantly surprised with how it came out. Surely fine to spoon another one on, right?
I don’t know if it was an inappropriate use of the product (I found a more pourable version after I had already bought and committed to this one…) or I wasn’t applying the layers thinly enough, but I’m a little annoyed that it didn’t dry as clear as I had expected. It’s not the end of the world, just a learning experience for next time.
All in all I’m very pleased with how they turned out! It’s very rare I get an entire project done in two sittings, and the painting (which normally takes me the longest) was done and dusted in about two evenings. Lessons learned, fun had, and models ready to kick some Acolyte ass!