Meanwhile, on the Bench: Canals of Syracuse Magna

“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.”

”Welcome to Syracuse Magna. May the light of the golden throne shine on you! Now get off my boat!”
making plans

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.

The map from the book, courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games. The names have been obscured in a vain attempt to not tip off my players too much

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 best laid plans…

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.

That sweet, sweet smell of freshly-lasered MDF

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.

Just the right height – not impassably tall, but still an obstacle
world building

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.

Dry fitting the pieces. It’s looking like a board!

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?

My finger hurts just looking at this

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?

Each one of these sheets took about two hours

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!

This was a pleasingly messy project

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.

Two thicknesses of plasticard were used for the edging (black and white)

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.

Dry faster, damn you!

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.

I’ve been painting for 20 years and the power of an undercoat still amazes me

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.

Hahahaha holy shit I really hope this dries clear ahahahaha

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.

The board was set up before the players arrived, I just needed to bring it in when the fight started
Some close-ups of the interior. The players will enter at the far end.
It was difficult to contain my excitement at this point. It had turned from random bits of wood and garbage plastic into a living, breathing dockside
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;

The acolytes approach, wary that they have entered an area with a fully 3D map and models
The noise of the manufactorum to their right drowned out the sound of gunfire until they were practically in the middle of the firefight
An armoured barge had been forced down a dead-end canal by raider boats, and the criminal crews spot a new ship entering, assume it’s enemy reinforcements and open fire
Keenly aware they are under fire, the Acolyte Primus jumps to shore and commands the others to do the same
A raider approaches, manned by an Undertow heavy gunner with a crank cannon. One of the Acolytes pops smoke to try and save them from becoming Swiss cheese
The Techpriest ices the first sniper on the silo, despite the rain imposing a -20 to hit
A lot of things happen except people leaving the boat. A mixture of poor Climb tests, failed Pinning tests and decisive inaction leads to them being rammed by the raider
The tiny Techpriest scampers up a silo to blast an Undertow sniper with her hellgun. Also pictured: the elusive Dreadquill GM
The mad Adept dives for cover and returns fire with any grenades she has to hand
Pop pop pop watching heretics drop
Things started to get a little capsizey

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.

I’ll get you next time, Acolytes!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Pringle Silos

Finished articles first!

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.

It begins
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.

No mini-milks were harmed in the production of this terrain

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.

Detailing

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.

Starting to look like towers now

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.

Banana-coloured man for scale

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.

They look kinda like giant metal daisies from directly above/below

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.

Ready salted

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.

That’s a whole lot of flat surface to cover

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!

They’ve got a great silo-huette AHAHA

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.

Flat colours are not pretty to look at

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.

90% done, just needs another final edge highlight on the wood to make it pop

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.

Pop!

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!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: The Ash Garrison

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.

The full troupe
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.

This is the painter’s equivalent of a writer’s blank sheet of paper

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.

Based black and blocked bronze

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).

Shout out to Agrax Earthshade and Nuln Oil for making all my work not look like garbage
Getting rusty

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.

Couple of rusty bois

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.

When I die, bury me with my washes so I don’t have to Git Gud in the afterlife

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.

Hardcore weathering action

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.

An attempt was made

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.

Some other details on the body picked out too – belt straps and greatcoat buttons

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.

Senpais in full force
Lads lads lads
Disciplinaries

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.

Disciplinary squad on tour

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.

So tempting to make a whole squad of these guys
But holy crap, this guy was a lot of work to assemble
It’d be SO worth it though
Some closeups of the Disciplinaries
Remedials

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.

Remedials with a sniper specialist

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.

Remedials with a grenade launcher

A few more of the damp baes;

Kinda wished I had another ten of these guys to make a full squad
Your lips say ‘No’ but your eyes say ‘Pick up that can, citizen’

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…

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Syracuse surface map

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.

Highly technical cartography

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!

Check out the timelapse for the map on the YouTubes, and give us a follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well – all your support is greatly appreciated!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Ash Garrison Enforcers WIP

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.

A ‘Remedial’ team armed with lasguns with a long rifle or grenade launcher specialist attachment

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.

A four-man “Disciplinary” team armed with stun sticks and lead by a fearsome Mandato officer

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.

Just need a few servo skulls and some Imperial Eagles and you’re away

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.

Is there a better sight?

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.

The first model assembled

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.

Very cunning

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.

The first attempt

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.

Big vulcanised coats to protect them from the shitty rain

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.

Launcher? I hardly knew ‘er

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.

“Boom. Headshot.”

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.

“Snoipa’s an honest job mate”

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.