Stocking Chillers

Whilst the Christmas period is more commonly associated with festive cheer, overindulgence on comestibles both solid and liquid and the time-honoured tradition of acknowledging distant friends and relatives who you haven’t talked to or thought about for the previous twelve months, for me, Christmas is also about…the Ghost Story.

Of course, I am not alone in this, as the earliest and most well-known Christmas story (after that one about the homeless couple giving birth in a shed, that is) is the tale penned in 1843 by a certain Mr Charles Dickens, namely “A Christmas Carol”.

Or to give it its full title “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas”.

And the ‘tradition’ has continued down through the years. Montague Rhodes James was best known for his ghost stories, many of which were written as Christmas Eve entertainments read aloud to friends whilst he was at King’s College, Cambridge.

A similar tradition was upheld by the Canadian author Robertson Davies, whose collection High Spirits (1982), was made up of eighteen ghost stories he himself wrote and told at the annual Christmas party at Massey College, Toronto. If you like your ghost stories to have a little bit of tongue in their cheek, this collection is for you.

However, whilst there have been many unsettling supernatural tales written over the years, not many of them were actually about Christmas. Yes, they may have been set amongst snowy climes, such as August Derleth’s wonderful 1939 tale “The Drifting Snow”, but that was merely the set dressing.

As a connoisseur of things both Christmassy and macabre, I set out to find tales that fell solidly into both camps. A tale that you can read online, which I believe has never been published, is “Anti-Claus” by Graham Masterton, who is better known for his Dream Warriors trilogy. This explains the real story of Santa Claus – and he’s definitely more naughty than nice. Additionally, in Neil Gaiman’s 1999 short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, you will find “Nicholas Was…”, a short tale and unsettling explanation of Father Christmas and in Terry Pratchett’s 2012 A Blink of the Screen you will find “Twenty Pence, With Envelope and Seasonal Greeting”, which explains why you should justly fear Christmas cards…

Which actually brings me on to the ‘meat’ of this post. When I was younger, one of the banes of my existence was the annual writing of Christmas cards, as my mother insisted that each of us children should write and send a card to our various relatives. The usual fracas would happen as we each tried to secure the ‘best’ cards out of the bargain box of fifty and, although I was the oldest and biggest, I always seemed to end up with the crap ones. You know the ones – the ghastly festive candle, the Victorian carol singers or the pastel-shaded Nativity scenes.

Being of a mischievous and inventive nature, I decided to…improve…these cards, by adding captions and speech bubbles, to make them less crap. Whilst this didn’t last with my relatives (apparently some of the more strongly religious felt I was putting my immortal soul in jeopardy by “mocking the celebration of the birth of Our Lord”), I continued this with friends until I left school.

As I was preparing to send out cards this year to some of my blogging colleagues, I had a bit of brainwave. As I dabble in short stories, would it be possible to write a short story in the limited space available on the inside cover of a Christmas card, inspired by the terrible cards of my youth, that was both Christmassy and slightly unsettling? I set myself this challenge, with the images of Christmas Cards Past to guide me, and succeeded. The problem, I discovered, was that whilst the stories I had written fit nicely within the assigned space, they don’t make those sort of cards anymore…

So, the cards (and tales) were dispatched, but without the correct images. So, to rectify this flaw in my otherwise extremely cunning plan (and to share them with a wider audience) I present my three (very) short tales, but now with the relevant images.

I hope that you enjoy them, as I spread a little festive cheer fear.

Image result for Father Christmas cards

Once he’d been Grim – Now he was ‘Jolly’. Once he’d been showered with gifts – now he gave gifts to others. Once he’d had a steed with eight legs – now he had ‘eight tiny reindeer‘. Once he’d been worshipped, yet feared, by an entire nation – now he was believed in and loved by every child in the World…

Upon reflection, it wasn’t all bad.

And at least they’d let him keep the beard… 

Image result for candle Christmas cards

“As long as you eat by the light of this candle, you will never grow fat.” She held it out. “But only when you eat, understand?” He grunted and took the ugly thing, willing to try anything. However, it worked – he could consume as much as he desired by the light of the candle, never gaining any additional weight. In fact, he discovered, if the candle was left to burn for a few moments after he had finished eating, he actually lost weight! Which gave him an idea…

When the Police broke in, they found the smoking remnants of a candle and a corpse which appeared to have too much skin, yet not an ounce of fat…

Image result for coach Christmas cards

The coachman was the first. Concerned for the horses, he had stepped into the night and rather than the moonlight bleaching colour from him, it seemed to intensify it, making him look almost…artificial. As he approached the coach, his movements slowed, as though wading through treacle, until they faltered completely, next to the now un-moving horses.

One by one, each passenger rose silently and left the inn, flaring brightly under that terrible moonlight, then locking into place.

I am the only one left…but I feel it calling me. How long before I too join that frozen tableaux, like an insect trapped in amber for all Eternity?

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Fright Night!

You Look Like You Need a Doctor…

This week, I’ve been mostly drawing snowmen…

Due to agreeing to help with the ‘best decorated Christmas area’ competition at work this week, I found my ‘spare’ time being consumed by drawing cartoon snowmen to populate a frieze (or should that be ‘freeze’) for the wall. This, of course, meant that whilst I was being arty and creative, it wasn’t hobby-focused, so no further progress has been made on the figures I showed you last week.

But that doesn’t mean I have nothing to show you, as I’ve been venturing once more into the wilds of the Internet and have discovered a few choice items, all related to my current focus – Doctor Who.

Now, we all know that Warlord Games have managed to secure the official licence to make Doctor Who figures and that certain manufacturers have received ‘Cease & Desist’ letters regarding miniatures they produce that were inspired by or resemble characters or creatures from the series. We also know that the Warlord Games Who figures are not 28mm, which means that they won’t fit in with majority of the figures I own.

However, all is not lost for the 28mm Who gamer, as I will now show you.

Okay, first up is obviously Black Tree Design, who produce the original Harlequin range of Doctor Who figures, which run from William Hartnell’s incarnation right up to Paul McGann’s – so 1st through 8th Doctor. Their licence to produce these figures appears to still be in place and they have a wide selection of characters and monsters, including the Peter Cushing movie Doctor and companions. The sculpting varies in accuracy and quality, with some being less convincing than others. However, they do provide at least one additional version of each Doctor from the 1st to the 7th, with the exception of Colin Baker’s incarnation, which only gets the one. The other bonus with Black Tree is that they run weekly sales, in which at least one or two of each Doctor’s sub-ranges has a discount, so if you’re after characters from a specific era of Classic Who, it might be worth waiting until that particular range is on offer.

In the previous post, Back to the Future, I featured the Retro Sci-Fi range from Miniature Figurines, which has a rather nice version of Peter Cushing’s movie Doctor and the spin-off character Abslom Daak, so follow the link for fuller details on that.

And waaaay back in December of last year, during the Ghostbusters Project, I flagged up this miniature from Ironclad Miniatures:

This is Dr How, from their 28m Victorian Sci-fi range, retailing at £3.00.  Whilst to me he looks more like Parker from ‘Thunderbirds’ than the 1st Doctor, it does give you another option.

Of course, everything I’ve shown you so far is from the ‘Classic’ era of who, so if you want characters and creatures from Nu-Who, where do you go?

The 2005 9th Doctor two-parter Aliens of London/World War Three introduced the Slitheen to the Whoniverse – large, bug-eyed, clawed hunting aliens, who could disguise themselves as humans by compressing themselves into ‘skin-suits’. A creation of then-showrunner Russell T Davies, they were used and re-used in both the first series of Nu-Who and also in Sarah Jane Adventures, although these were yellow ones called Blathereen. Not one of my favourite Nu-Who inventions, but the 28mm Who gamer might want some, so should pay a visit to C P Models, who have five variations of their big-eyed alien at £1.65 each, or £6.00 for four.

They even do a ‘youngling’ at £1.00.

In series three, a Paul Cornell 7th Doctor novel called Human Nature, was adapted for the 10th Doctor, in which the Doctor was hiding out at an Edwardian boys boarding school, having placed the majority of his memories and Timelord-ness into a pocket watch via a device called a ‘chameleon arch’, making him, for all intents and purposes, human. The reason for this was that he was being tracked by The Family of Blood, a group of aliens who wanted to steal his Timelord essence for themselves. These aliens possessed various local humans in an effort to locate the Doctor and animated scarecrows to act as minions.

If you want to replicate this 2007 two-parter, which featured a battle between armed Edwardian schoolboys and the aforementioned scarecrows AND have the entire supporting cast, pop along to Gripping Beast, who under the Woodbine Design Company Specials range, have four sets of figures, each containing 4 figures, at £6.00 each.

TWDCSP07 Squire and family (4)

TWDCSP08 Schoolmaster set (4)

They even do the scarecrows…

TWDCSP10 Scary Scarecrows (4)

Plus if you need some armed or unarmed Morris Men for the 1971 Jon Pertwee serial The Daemons (or for any other reason, for that matter), they do them too.

Finally, we move on the 11th incarnation of the Doctor and some of his foes. During the 2011 two-parter The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, we were introduced to the “Gangers” – doppelgänger made from ‘programmable matter’ controlled by their progenitor and used for hazardous work. Of course, something went wrong and they became independent and attempted to kill and replace their ‘originals’.  As they became more fanatical, their matter deformed, turning them into monsters.

To populate your tabletop with some Gangers, we need to turn to Attica Games, who within their ‘Shiver’ range, have the Plastic Population;

Attica Games: - The Plastic Population - jpeg image

£3.50 each or £6.00 for a pack of two, although some of the bigger figures are a little more expensive.

Matt Smith’s Doctor also had to contend with the Silence during 2011, who first appeared in the Series 6 opener The Impossible Astronaut. Whilst Warlord Games do a pack of three Silence for £11.99, they are not the most dynamic of poses, not really conveying the creepiness of this race. However, Attica Games also have the ESPchers:

Attica Games: - The ESPchers - jpeg image

£4.00 each, £10.00 for a pack of three or £17.00 for all six. So a similar price to the Warlord Games ones, but certainly more creepy.

As far as I am aware, all of these figures have so far managed to stay off the BBC’s radar, but that may not last, so if you want them I’d order sooner rather than later.

Hopefully my next post will show some progress on the figures I featured last week, but as Christmas is creeping ever closer, I’m not entirely sure when that will be.

So Merry Christmas to All, and to All A Good Night!

It’s About Time…

Knowing that I had a second evening to myself this week, I contemplated the many possibilities that such a ‘gift’ could be utilised for. Do I finish watching Jessica Jones on Netflix, as I’m woefully behind on my Marvel tv? Watch the last episode of the rather good Doctor Who spin-off – Class? Or possibly add some more pigment to some of my miniatures?

As the rest of the weekend was going to be a washout, hobby-wise, I thought the best use of my time would be to update my loyal readers on what I’m currently doing and what I have planned over the coming weeks.

So, having made a few purchases at Warfare at the end of November, I got around to basing them and giving them an undercoat and a touch of colour. Here are the first three in the painting queue;

So, starting from the left, we have a Heroclix Jackal from the Web of Spider-Man subset. As this is a particularly bestial version of the character and reminds me of the vampires from Penny Dreadful, he will become some form of undead predator – perhaps a ghoul or feral vampire.

Next up we have Mad Jim Jones from the Black Scorpion Pirates range, who is currently on his way to becoming Bastian Stone, a rogue, scoundrel and implacable foe on the undead, who will, once finished, be winging his way across to Ireland to feature in a Ravenloft campaign run by the estimable owners of The Game Cupboard blog.

On the far right, we have a Butler from Moonraker Miniatures’ Investigators range, who will become the first character for my Carry on Screaming! project, namely Sockett the butler, played by Bernard Bresslaw.

Now, I’ve always wanted a ‘headless horseman’ figure, and whilst several companies do them, Rapier Miniatures one is only £3.00, so I snaffled him up. Here he is:

Maybe not the most dynamic figure, but it’s a good solid and nicely detailed figure. And unlike some of the other offerings, he’s actually carrying his own head, as can be seen below:

Looks pretty pissed off, doesn’t he? And yes, the horse is currently blue…but won’t stay that way. Did I mention it’s only £3.00?

As regular readers will know, I like double use titles, and the second use of this title relates to the next batch of figures in my painting queue, namely some Timelords…

So, at either end we have the 3rd and 12th incarnation of the Doctor, from the sadly retired Crooked Dice range, with Heresy Miniatures Steve Buddle sculpt of the 11th Doctor in the centre, also out of production.

As far as I’m concerned, these are the definitive versions of these characters in 28mm, as they look like the actors concerned. And whilst they may not be ‘officially licenced’, at least they match the scale of the rest of my figures, unlike Warlord Games’ offerings.

And if you have Timelords, you need baddies, so here are those that have made it into the painting queue so far:

Could those be a couple of the original plastic Games Workshop Cybermen, released waaaaay back in 1987? I do believe they are! I have a handful more of these, which I’m planning on slightly converting, as the figures only came in the one pose and are all carrying the same…weapon? truncheon? something bought at Ann Summers? I will have to do a little bit of research on this, as I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be.

The figure in the centre is a Heroclix Cardinal Raker from the Galactic Guardians subset. I removed his silly two-pronged sword and replaced it with a ‘chronostaff’ made from a length of paperclip and a small bead. He will end up as a renegade Timelord, in the vein of Omega, as his outfit does resemble the ornate ceremonial robes of the Timelords, but without the peripheral vision blocking big collars.

So, expect to see these progress over the coming weeks, accompanied by some more retro-sci-fi goodness, including both blobby and non-blobby aliens and hopefully some suitable terrain, which definitely won’t be a quarry…

Back to the Future – Part II

Should you own a copy of 7TV (or indeed 7TV2e) or just have a hankering to recreate the adventures of your favourite spy-fi or science fiction shows of the 1970’s, your first port of call in respect of suitable miniatures would be Crooked Dice. With their range of figures, you can adventure in the fictional worlds of Blake’s 7, Space: 1999, Planet of the Apes, Captain Scarlet, Life on Mars, James Bond, Austin Powers or Danger 5.

Sadly, you can no longer populate your tabletop with figures resembling characters from Doctor Who. For that, you’ll have to go to Warlord Games and their ‘officially licenced’ range…

If the spy-fi aspect of this genre appeals to more than the science fiction part, you also have the option of the ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ ranges, produced by both Artisan Designs and Copplestone Castings respectively.

However, if the Science Fiction aspect appeals more, whilst Crooked Dice’s range is quite comprehensive, there are a few characters missing. It’s all very well giving us Cylons, but we can’t recreate Battlestar Galactica without some Colonials as well.

Luckily for you, my unending search for the ‘right’ figure on the Internet has turned up some more hidden gems. So, buckle your seat-belt and accelerate to 88mph, as we travel Back to the Future once more. However, be warned, this post may have you reaching for your wallet…

As regular followers will know, I’m a big fan of the original Ghostbusters movie and it’s sequel, and found that the recent 2016 ‘reboot’ failed to crap all over my childhood, so the fact that Crooked Dice produces a variety of Ghostbusters of both sexes makes me happy. However, 9 years before the release of Ghostbusters, in 1975, the children of America were exposed to the exploits of ‘The Ghost Busters’, a trio of bumbling paranormal investigators who used their ‘ghost dematerializers’ to defeat supernatural threats to their city. The trio was made up of Kong, Spencer and Tracy, who was a gorilla. Yes, you read that right.

The series was quite popular and ran for 15 episodes, but wasn’t quite popular enough to be renewed for a second season. Whilst I was aware of the series, due to the fact the Columbia had to pay its producers for the right to use the name Ghostbusters for their movie, I’ve never actually seen the show. However, I do know what the main characters look like.

Whilst hunting for Teen Angels, I paid a visit to Nexus Miniatures website, who you may be familiar with due to their Super Dinosaur Zombie Apocalypse range of figures, which includes Battlestar Galactica Colonials, the visitors from V and Mulder and Scully from The X-Files. It would appear that since my last visit, they’ve been rather busy and I was delighted to find these on their site:

The Real Ghost-Facers

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, it is our intrepid and original Ghost Busters. Currently, they are priced at £11.45 for the three, as part of a pre-order deal, with the price going up to £13.50 once they are on general release, which appears to be in the second quarter of next year.

Impressed with the sculpting, I perused the remainder of the catalogue and found some more familiar faces…

The New Defenders (Major John Colt, Mike Chicane, and Patti Pretty)

Whilst these are listed as the ‘New Defenders’, I think we can all recognise that these might actually be Avengers rather than Defenders. £12.50 at the moment, rising to £13.50 when on general release.

And whilst Crooked Dice may have one Tomorrow Person, Nexus Miniatures have a full set…

The Morrow Men

Currently £16.50 for the four, rising to £18.00 when on general release.

Finally, the set that almost made me reach for my own wallet, which is very unlike me.

Future Force

Could it be the bird-costumed defenders of the Earth known as G-Force? I think it could! Currently £20.00 for the five, rising to £22.50 once on general release. And you can’t have G-Force without their enemy, Zoltar.

Sub-Finem & Imperatorem - Machine Empire Commanders

Or the ubiquitous masked goons.

Equitum Troopers of the Machine Empire

Now, all these miniatures were sculpted by the very talented Carl Stoelzel, of Stoelzel’s Structures fame. Looks like card models are not his only forte. From what I can gather, the pre-order prices apply to the figures they currently have in stock, prior to the general release of these next year, so if you want them at these prices, I suggest you get ’em quick. Think of it an early Christmas present to yourself.

The Nexus Miniatures site is well worth a look, as they also have Varian from The Fantastic Journey (him with the ‘tuning fork’ weapon), all the ‘interdimensional operatives’ from Sapphire & Steel and, oddly, the cast of Gilligan’s Island.

So, now that the retro sci-fi bug has bitten me, expect some Doctors, aliens and scenery over the coming weeks here at the Buffet, along with a few leftovers from The Long Halloween…

Edit: Apparently, according to WordPress, this is my 100th post. Go me!

Back to the Future

Unlike the majority of my blogging peers, I do not enjoy either the acceptance or support of my partner in respect of my devotion to our wonderful hobby. My wife considers any time spent on ‘that role-play crap’, as she terms it,  as a waste of time – time which could be better spent elsewhere. Bless her…

So, in order to continue doing what I enjoy, I have to make certain…concessions. I don’t make extravagant hobby purchases (so no Kickstarters for me), keep my hobby spending to an ‘acceptable’ minimum and try to limit my time spent on my hobby to short periods or when she’s not around. Not an ideal situation, but it has made me a master of cost-effective gaming and given me the ability to use my time constructively.

Anyway, there are times when due to work, planned events or the reasons stated above, I find the weekend has crept up on me without anything to show for my efforts. Some would sulk in the corner and rail against the unfairness of an uncaring and cruel Universe.

I, however, am not one of those people.

So whilst I may not have any of my own work to display, that doesn’t mean I have nothing to show you…

A comment made on Roger’s most recent post from his ‘Ranting from Under the Wargames Table’ blog, sent me scurrying to the Internet, searching for suitable 28mm figures to represent Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels…

Image result for captain caveman and the teen angels

The reason for this was that as I felt this would make a fun ‘cast’ for 7TV, as Captain Caveman regularly produces various prehistoric solutions from the interdimensional space concealed by his body hair. Now there’s a sentence you didn’t think you’d read today. I thought this ability was a pretty good match for the Gadget cards used in the  7TV rules. And it’s also a bit silly, which is a good thing for a hobby that can sometimes take itself a bit too seriously.

However, whilst I did find potential figures for Cavey and Brenda, Taffy and Dee Dee proved somewhat elusive. This combined with the cost of the figures I did find shelved this vanity project for the time being.

But my research did not prove a total loss, as I came across a nice range of miniatures I was previously unaware of, the contents of which will explain the title of this post.

The company concerned is Miniature Figurines & Matchlock Miniatures, which is part of Caliver Books. I was aware of the company before, as they do a small but interesting 28mm range called “Winter of 79  – Living on the Frontlines” which has armed British policemen, grenadiers and, more importantly, Wolfie Smith from Citizen Smith.

You have no actual need for this figure, but you want him anyway… and he’s only £2.25.

The range that I was not aware of, however, can be found under the title Wayne’s World of Wonder, with the innocuous title of Retro Sci-Fi 28mm. Now, there are only nine figures in this range, but when I came across them, five of the nine immediately went onto my wishlist. Not because they’re £2.75 each, which is very reasonable for a 28mm miniature, but because I recognised them…

So first up is RSF 01 – Retro Space Pilot – Spacesuit:

And RSF 02 – Retro Space Pilot – Uniform:

As Crooked Dice have recently released a not-Mekon and our very own Mr Webb’s Retrovians from his Dick Garrison range make very passable Treens, you’re certainly going to need a Dan Dare, and now you have the option of having him in both sets of his ‘work clothes’.

Next up we have RSF 04 – Pepperpot Hunter, and this is where I think I may cost Simon (aka Blaxkleric) some money…

I think it’s fairly obvious that this is the infamous Abslom Daak – Dalek Killer. As the BBC have (allegedly) sent a badly written ‘cease and desist’ letter out to those companies that they have been made aware of who were producing what Paul from Warlord Games has referred to as “rip-off ‘not’ Doctor Who figures”,  you may be concerned that this too may disappear. However, I believe that the rights to this character are currently owned by Marvel, so he should be safe for the time being.

Next we move on to RSF 07 – Mercenary:

Now, this one may not be as familiar to the majority of my readers – this is a character called Grimjack, who first appeared in Starslayer #10 in November 1983, published by First Comics. If you are curious about this character, this Wikipedia link will fill in the blanks. To be honest, whilst I was able to identify the character, that was about all I did know about him – other than he looks cool. Because of this, two other figures in this range, namely RSF 05 – Young City P.I. and RSF 06 – Demon Hunter, may be other versions of this character, but someone more knowledgeable than me would be able to tell you.

For the final figure added to my wishlist, we return to the Whoniverse, but the alternate reality version as presented in Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., in which the Doctor was portrayed by Peter Cushing:

This is RSF 08 – Chrononaut Grandfather and is a far better sculpt, in my opinion, than the one produced by Black Tree Design. I’m not sure if the movie version of the Doctor falls within Warlord Games’ licence to solely produce Doctor Who figures, so if you want this figure, it might be wise to get it sooner rather than later.

Whilst I’ve touched on two of the other nine figures in the section on Grimjack, the other two figures in this range – RSF 03 Freelance Assassin and RSF 09 Psycho Cyborg (which is £3.99) – I wasn’t able to identify, so if anyone does know who these are supposed to be, I’d be grateful if they could shed some light.

The moon has now set on the Long Halloween and the pumpkin pies, candy and cinder toffee have been cleared from the Buffet…

You’ll have to wait until next time, to see what’s next on the menu!

Welcome to Easy Street

Having spent so long concentrating on getting my pumpkin patch ‘just right’, as can be seen in my last post, this left me a little bit spent in regards to what to post next, as the majority of the other projects for the ongoing ‘Long Halloween’ required a bit more time than I had available.

Yes, I could have posted pictures of the half-painted Black Pharaoh and his Scarab Warriors or the Pumpkin King or the ‘sorcerer supreme’ of the Liberty Force universe, but they weren’t really in a fit state to be shown. So, in order to have something to post, I needed something quick and simple.

Now, in my first post regarding my pumpkin patch build, I mentioned that I wanted some 12″ modular gaming tiles and that I had plans for the remaining three self-adhesive vinyl floor tiles from the pack I bought from Poundland. I think you can see where I’m going with this…

So, this week I will be showing you how to create a good-looking 12″ modular gaming tile of a city street for less than £1.00. Yes, you read that correctly – the material components for this cost me less than a quid!

Let us begin…

So, in the picture above, you will see the materials I used for this ‘build’. We have a pack of self adhesive vinyl floor tiles from Poundland, 4 for £1.00 and as we will only be using one of these, the running total is 25p so far. To the right of the picture we have a pack of Poundland wet & dry assorted sandpaper, 16 sheets for £1.00. We only need one sheet of this, so we add another 6.25p, call it 7p, to our running total, which makes 32p. Our final component is a foam sheet in light grey from Hobbycraft at 55p each. We only need one of these as well, so the grand total for our components is 87p – see, less than a quid, like I said.

Now, the first thing I discovered during this project is that both packaging and labels lie.  The packaging for the sandpaper implies that the sheets are the same length as the tiles, i.e. 12″. Similarly, the label on the shelf at Hobbycraft states that the foam sheets are 30cm on their longest side. Both of these are incorrect, which meant I had to rethink my assembly.

The second thing I discovered was that cheap sandpaper does shed everywhere, so if you’re planning on using it for anything, make sure that your work area is covered and that you have a cloth on hand, as the sand gets on everything.

Having done some planning and sketches beforehand, I had established that for my first ‘test’ piece, I was going to make a straight road 6″ wide, with two 3″ pavements either side. So, I needed enough sandpaper to cover a 6″ by 12″ area for the road and enough foam to cover two 3″ by 12″ areas for the pavements. A bit of measuring and marking with pencil and we ended up with these bits:

The white square beneath the ‘bits’ is the reverse of the floor tile, with the backing paper still on.

Next, after removing the backing paper, revealing the glue, I carefully attached the two ‘road’ parts, ensuring they were centrally located. I then took each pair of ‘pavement’ parts and stuck these either side of the ‘road’. As the glue is already on the tile and is of uniform thickness, it was quick, simple and mess free. And this is what it looked like at that stage:

Actually, I was a little further on in the picture above and forgot to take an interim photo. The next stage, as you’ve probably gathered, was to use a standard HB pencil, not too sharp, to score lines into the foam to create the paving slabs. As my steel rule is exactly an inch wide, I decided to go for inch squares. As you can see in the picture above, once you’ve drawn your lines, you can’t actually see the join between the two separate pieces of foam which make up the top pavement.

However, the line between the two pieces of sandpaper is pretty obvious, due to the fact that the edges of the paper show. The other problem is that the sandpaper is still shedding crap everywhere. And the pavements are a bit too clean.  The next stage solves all of these problems in one fell swoop.

As the sandpaper was a little too black for blacktop and the pavements were a little too light, I mixed equal amounts of Docrafts Light Grey and Black and watered it down until I had a dark grey wash, which I liberally painted over the whole tile. This tones down the black sandpaper, covers any cut edges that can be seen and dirties up the foam.

However, a couple of issues with this. Until it dries, the wash will easily come off the foam, so try not to touch it until it dries. Secondly, cheap wet and dry sandpaper, when sodden, will start to lift in places and if pushed back down, will leave your fingertips covered in what looks like soot. The best thing to do is retain the backing paper and place this shiny side down on the sandpaper part only, then load it with heavy books of similar. This won’t leave an entirely ‘smooth’ surface, but what road is without some kind of imperfections? Once dry, the end result looks something like this:

As you can see, the wash has dried patchily, with some areas darker than other on both the road surface and pavement. The break between the two individual pieces of sand paper can still be seen, but is not so obvious and just looks like they’ve cut this part of the road and relaid the tarmac. And other than the drying time, the whole thing took less than an hour including painting. For 87p…

Now, the advantage of these materials is that they’re inexpensive, easily available and with a little bit of time and effort, give pretty good results. I’ve not put any road marking on yet, but a simple card stencil and a cheap sponge is all it would take to add whatever markings suit your roads. As the foam and the sandpaper are different thicknesses, you also get a definite ‘curb’ without it being too much, like the MDF pavements I’ve seen for sale. This can be seen in the picture below:

Yes, that is a scratch-built fire hydrant and yes, I will be showing you how I made it in a future post.

Finally, I thought I’d show you what it looks like with a bit of scenery and a couple of figures on it. As I’ve not only failed to finish the shop-fitting of my Cupid Burgers restaurant (see here for details), but also been repeatedly using the phrase ‘Long Halloween’ without permission, it was inevitable that Batman would turn up. However, as the Batmobile was having its MOT, he had to get a cab. With violence in his eyes, he paid the cabbie and stalked towards me shouting “Someone’s about to be Bat-tered!”

Sometimes, Batman is a bit of a Dick.

Luckily for me, Spider-man showed up, so whilst they were trading quips and scowls, I bid a hasty retreat.

That’s all for this week. Next week, we’ll be back on track with more spooky shenanigans, as the Long Halloween continues.

The Most Sincere Pumpkin Patch…

The title of this post comes from the 1966 Peanuts TV special, entitled “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, in which the character Linus spends Halloween night in what he believes is “the most sincere pumpkin patch”, in the hope that the Great Pumpkin will manifest to bestow gifts upon deserving children.

So, is my pumpkin patch sincere enough to draw the attention of the Great Pumpkin?

Well, in the first part of this build, it was just a patch. The second part of the build made it a pumpkin patch. So, in this, the third and final part of my pumpkin patch build, I apparently need to add ‘sincerity’. As my local grocers do not appear to stock this (I’m assuming it comes is a small container, like glitter or spices, so it can be sprinkled), I’m just going to have to do what I always do – wing it – and hope that the Great Pumpkin approves…

So, when we last saw the patch, it looked like this.

We have the patch, we have the vines and we have the pumpkins. However, whilst it’s looking pretty good, it’s missing the vegetation that will make these pumpkin plants actually look like plants – so we need some leaves. And where does the cost-effective wargamer look for suitable vegetation? Anywhere that stocks plastic aquarium plants, of course.

Now, small caveat here – shop around. Whilst the component parts of aquarium plants – plastic vegetation, tiny stones and resin – are cheap in themselves, for some reason when they are combined into a  single product, this increases the price. So, eBay is your friend here, as ordering directly from China means cheap prices and free shipping. You may have to wait a little longer for them to arrive, so balance your temporal need against your budget.

Anyway, having found an aquarium plant with suitably shaped leaves, I removed several stems from the main plant:

Now, these ‘stems’ are approximately 4 inches long, so they are more like trees, so we obviously need to do a little bit of trimming. Taking 4 of the 7 stems, I cut just above each set of leaves, which resulted in several separate ‘leafy stems’:

Plenty of vegetation for my pumpkin patch – it was now just a case of attaching the leaves to my vines. This particular part took twice as long as it should have, and put my patience, ingenuity and vocabulary of expletives to the test. Luckily, I was able to rise to the occasion on all counts, although I possibly shouldn’t be proud of the last one.

Plastic aquarium plants are made of a flexible plastic which doesn’t like glue very much – PVA, polystyrene cement and superglue were all tried and failed to stick the leaves to the vines, or anything else for that matter. My next cunning plan was to use a soldering iron to melt the ends of the ‘stems’, then quickly attach them whilst still ‘melty’ to the vines. This also failed to work.

I then remembered that the majority of builds I’ve seen utilising plastic aquarium plants used ‘hot glue’ to attach them to the basing material…

Do I have a hot glue gun? Of course I bloody don’t.

However, to give insight into how my pinball mind works, I’ll show you how this led to a solution:- “Hot glue? No. Hot glue is transparent – looks like silicone sealant, which we do have. Don’t like the look of it and it’s annoying to paint, but would work. Have white sealant too, which would be better, Ah, also have own brand ‘no more nails’, if it can stick dado rails to walls, it should stick this…”

So, using a small scrap of cardboard, a generous amount of own brand ‘no more nails’ adhesive was squirted out, and each stem was dipped into this and then positioned where I felt it looked best. And it stuck everything in place, with no problems.

When this had dried overnight, the parts of the stems which still had adhesive residue on were painted with GW Goblin Green, then all the leaves were gives a wash of GW Salamander Green. I then painted over the dark patches of the base board with more Docrafts Chocolate Brown, mixed up a wash of more Chocolate Brown with Docrafts Black, and used this to blend in the two existing browns, to give a more ‘realistic’ looking transition between differing coloured parts of the ground. And this is what I ended up with.

And to show how effective the leaves look with the vines, here’s a close-up showing a bit more detail.

And whilst it may not be sincere enough to attract the attention of the (possibly mythical) Great Pumpkin, it does seem to have attracted the attention of Samhain, Demon of the Gourd and his pumpkin-headed minions…

That’s all for this instalment of Carrion Crow’s Long Halloween – as the patch is now complete, next week will bring something different…

On a final note, next weekend sees Warfare 2016 taking part in my home town of Reading, which I will be attending on Saturday 18th, so should any of my regular readers be attending, keep your eyes peeled for some one who (apparently) looks like this:

Image result for combat elite small soldiers

It’s disturbing how much I actually look like this action figure of Chip Hazard from Small Soldiers, even down to the expression. I am taller, though…

Pumpkin Patch Panic!

As most regular readers will know, I always try to use appropriate and, where possible, dual-purpose titles for my posts. This one is no exception.

“Pumpkin Patch Panic” was the title of an adventure published by West End Games for the Ghostbusters International RPG, way back in 1990.

Whilst this scenario was one of the better published adventures, it did still suffer from attempts to shoehorn in unnecessary pop-culture references. Yes, it does feature a pumpkin patch, but does that mean we really have to have thinly veiled Peanuts characters as part of the supporting cast?

I do plan on reviewing both the original Ghostbusters RPG and the 2nd edition, which went by the name of Ghostbusters International, along with all their supplements at some point, but that will have to wait for now…

The second meaning of this post’s title is the Panic I experienced when I realised that I wasn’t actually going to get my Pumpkin Patch finished by the weekend. However, rather than rushing it (and potentially ruining it), I thought I’d take the time necessary to do it justice. Which means that this slightly delayed post is another ‘work in progress’.

So, when we last saw the patch, it was just a muddy field. All well and good, but in order to have a pumpkin patch, we need pumpkins. Now, I was initially going to use ‘Putka Pods’, which are seed pods that look like miniature pumpkins. However, as these appear to be from a plant native to India, they aren’t that readily available in the UK. I did find one UK seller, but it was going to cost 4 times the cost of the pods in postage, so that was the end of that!

My next plan was to buy some of these:

Opaque acrylic pumpkin shaped beads, £1.64 for 50, with about the same cost in postage, from a company called PandaHall. However, PandaHall are based in China (hence the low cost), which meant that, at best, they would be with me in four weeks. Combine this with the fact that they were all the same uniform size and shape and it would end up looking like a ‘cartoon’ pumpkin patch, I decided they were also unsuitable for this project.

Luckily, I’m not one to give up so easily, and eventually purchased a small pot of ‘pick-n-mix’ beads from Hobbycraft for £3.50. Seems rather expensive, but I believe I got about 100 beads for this (I lost count) and they are of varying shapes and sizes, ideal for my nefarious purposes, as can be seen from the picture below:

Whilst they look like they’re made of metal, they are in fact plastic. Obviously, the next thing to do was to paint them the correct colour, so I threaded half a dozen or so onto pipe cleaner ‘stands’. These were then given an undercoat of Docrafts Flesh, followed by a coat of ‘Pumpkin Orange’ (no manufacturer, as this is a colour I mixed myself). A final wash of Docrafts Cherry Red, as only hollowed-out and illuminated pumpkins have that yellowy tinge to them, and we had this;

Now, you might be thinking this is quite a clever idea at this point. And whilst it did kind of work, there were a few issues – the paint obviously went onto the pipe cleaners, which went all stiff and hard, which proved to be a bit of a problem getting the bloody things off them! The larger ‘pumpkins’ came off with their paint jobs largely intact, whereas the smaller ones (to the right of the picture) left their paint either on the pipe cleaners or all over my fingers. Suffice to say, I didn’t use this technique again.

So, we now had some pumpkins, but as this was supposed to be a patch, we needed some plants to attach the gourds to.  On a rummage through one of my cupboards, I’d come across what I call ‘gardening wire’, by which I mean the coated green wire which you usually find in garden centres. Not sure why we had it, as it’s never been used to my knowledge. Anyway, rather than the dark green plasticised stuff, this had a light green papery coating, so it was spirited away to my games cupboard, as I knew I’d have a use for it.

And use it I did, creating several ‘armatures’ of vines, to which my pumpkins would be attached, as shown below:

The next thing to do was to attach the ‘vines’ to the ‘patch’. For this, the Milliput came out and each armature was attached by its ‘stem’, then left to dry overnight. The mound where the stem came out of the ground was then painted with the base Chocolate Brown colour I’d used for the ground and the vines bent into a more natural looking shape, like so;

It does kind of look likes it’s growing out of a mound of poo, doesn’t it?

Moving on…

It was now time to add the pumpkins, with each gourd being added to the end of each stem, with the wire being bent as and where necessary. Having checked various online sources, I ensured that the round pumpkins were on their sides, as this is how they actually grow.

Each stem had its gourds attached and then a dab of superglue was put beneath each pumpkin, to ensure they stayed in place. In some cases, for particular stubborn fruit, a bit more than a dab was necessary, which is why you can see a few white patches beneath some of them in the picture below:

The darker patches you can also see are where some wandering gourds decided to roll across the field, spilling their orange hue all over my lovely patch, which resulted in a bit of a repaint, but the colour didn’t quite match the the original hue, so a further repaint will be required, or at least a bit more blending in. However, I have to say I’m pretty pleased with it so far.

The next stage is to add some leaves to my bare stems and make the patch a bit more bushy. And as I’ve only used quarter of the beads I purchased for this project, to get this far has cost me about £1.13.  Not bad, eh? And not to worry, I have plans for the smaller beads, as they’re approximately the same size as the head of a 28mm figure…

And to finish, an atmospheric close-up shot, showing everything in a bit more detail.

Join me next time, as Carrion Crow’s Long Halloween continues with more pumpkin-y goodness!

Unhallowed Ground

In a break from my normal tradition of posting at the weekend, this week’s post is a little early – due the fact that I shall be celebrating my birthday. Not quite a Halloween baby, but close enough…

Now, I have a feeling that this post will be rather lengthy, as not only will you be getting the start of my Halloween-themed terrain, but also an explanation as to what led to its conception, along with an insight into my thought process. So, put the kettle on and pull up a pew…

As my thoughts always turn to the macabre at this time of year, I’d already decided that I was going to finish off my supernatural protectors of the Liberty Force universe this month, as shown in my last couple of posts (Monsters Unleashed!,  All Hallow’s Evil and No Evil Shall Escape My Sight…).

However, as I thought that this would not take up the whole of October (and we all know how that panned out), I was trying to decide what else I could post, whilst continuing the theme. I then remembered I’d seen a downloadable ‘pumpkin patch’ gaming mat during one of my regular browses on the internet and decided to see whether it would be suitable.

Now, one of my main problems is that I do spend an inordinate amount of time browsing hobby stuff online, and whilst I subconsciously retain a lot of this information, I don’t always recall exactly where I saw certain things. So, it took me a good couple of hours to finally locate the product I was looking for, from my vague recollections.

AllPic Template

This is ‘The Pumpkin Field’, published by a company called Heroic Maps. This company initially started producing printable maps, marked out in inch squares, for use with the HeroQuest boardgame. The idea was that you could download and print out the maps they produced and then use this to expand your HeroQuest game, allowing your heroes to adventure in new and exciting locales.

Whilst this is still true of the products they sell, the package you get also now includes a full size JPEG image of the map concerned, both gridded and ungridded, that should you have access to a larger scale printer, you can print out full-size. There is a wide variety of terrain maps available, from Egyptian catacombs to pirate islands, and the quality of the artwork has improved significantly since their first dungeon geomorphs.

However, until the end of October they are having a Halloween sale, with several suitably themed maps being half-price, including an abandoned village, a vampire’s castle, two ghostly pirate ships (ideal for Rum ‘N’ Bones, perhaps?) and the aforementioned pumpkin field. As it was only $1.95 (or £1.62) in the sale, into my basket it went.

Now, this particular product comes both as a PDF file, allowing you to print a gridded version of the map on normal A4 or letterhead sized paper, which you then assemble, and  a file containing a full-size JPEG image of the whole map, both gridded and ungridded. As this is 20 x 20 ‘squares’, this is a 20″ square, so just under 2 feet square. What I liked about this particular map is that it comes in ‘Night’ and ‘Day’ versions, so you can have the choice of when your fearless group of adventurers venture into the pumpkin field.

So, having downloaded the file, this was transferred to a memory stick, as my intention was to take this to my friendly local professional printers and get it printed out. Having done a little bit of research, I knew that you could have your image printed not just onto a variety of papers, but also onto vinyl banner material, which seemed an ideal material for a gaming mat. So I phoned up the printers…

Having established with them that the size of the image (20″ square) would have to be printed on A1 sized material, that their printers could handle an image at 300 dpi resolution, and that it could be printed on vinyl banner material, I was told the price of this would be just over £20. Which, to be fair, given the material and finish, I didn’t think was too bad. However, being a frugal gamer, I went away to think about it…

I then decided I’d try my hand at printing the 8 pages that make up the map on my home printer, as this wouldn’t cost me anything. This led to the discovery that there’s a reason we have professional printing firms, as your standard home printer is sadly not up to printing the detailed image provided by Heroic Maps.

So, back to another printers I went, figuring that whilst a full-size image was £20 on vinyl banner material, it should surely be less than that on glossy poster paper…which just goes to show you how wrong you can be. The other printers would quite happily print my image, on A1 glossy paper, for…£20?!

Not knowing anything about large-scale printing, I’m assuming that you’re paying for the size of the image and the amount of ink it will use, rather than the material it’s printed on.

As both Mantic Games and Battle Systems both do 24″ square pre-printed gaming mats on mousepad material for between £15-£20 quid each, you can see that whilst neither of them may yet have a ‘Pumpkin Field’, I couldn’t really justify the expense.

So, having now got it into my head that I not only wanted a pumpkin patch, but I also needed one, my precious, what was I to do?

What I normally do, of course – make my own.

Carrion Crow’s Pumpkin Patch – Part One

So, as my available gaming areas are a 3′ x 2′ rectangular coffee table and a just under 4′ circular dining table, I needed something that would ideally suit both areas. As all gaming stuff MUST return to the cupboard after use, whatever I created must also be modular and easily stored. So, given the spaces concerned, 1′ square tiles would be ideal.

Now, Secret Weapon Miniatures do 12″ square injection molded plastic tiles, in several different types of terrain, but don’t sell them individually – you have to buy packs, the smallest being a 4 pack which will cost you $79.99. So, roughly $20 per tile. Still too expensive.

So, what are the cheaper alternatives? Well, Andy of Da Gobbo’s Grotto uses 2′ square artist’s canvasses for his Bushido terrain, which works very well, is relatively inexpensive and produces beautiful results. Follow the link and marvel at his dockside market board…

However, 2′ is a little large for me – I still wanted 12″ (1 foot) square modular gaming tiles. Depending on how thick you want your tiles, an inexpensive alternative is cake boards or ‘drums’, as they are known for some reason. A 12″ square cake ‘drum’ will set you back about £2.50 in Hobbycraft and £3.00 in Wilkinsons – one of those rare occasions when Hobbycraft is actually cheaper! They’re about half an inch thick, so an ideal ‘base’ for a gaming tile. However, I went even cheaper…

This is a 4 pack of self-adhesive 12″ square vinyl floor tiles from Poundland. I won’t insult your intelligence by stating how much they cost…

They come in a variety of patterns, including some nasty looking parquet flooring, but this doesn’t matter, but we’re not going to use the tops – we’re going to use the bottoms!

So, I’d decided that my ‘Pumpkin Patch’ was only going to be 12″ square – a focal point, rather than a whole playing area, so I only needed one tile. Placing this face down on my spotty wipe-clean vinyl tablecloth, I removed the backing paper. This left me with a pre-glued 12″ vinyl square, which I then proceeded to scatter a good couple of fistfuls of Builders Sand all over. Builders Sand has the advantage of not just being sand, but also little stones and pebbles, as it’s used for mixing cement, so we get a nice variegated  texture, like so…

This is very messy, so I would suggest you do it outside. As you can see from the picture above, it hasn’t given an equal covering to the whole tile and in some spots you can see the underlying grey tile through the sand. However, it has given the tile a nice texture, reminiscent of earthy ground, which was the intention. Besides, we’re going to paint it anyway.

I next took some Docrafts Chocolate Brown acrylic paint (available from The Range for £1.25 for 2oz, which is about 26ml – so twice as much paint for half the price of the GW equivalent) and squirted some into a plastic cup, I then added water until I got a thinned down paint and taking an old decorating paintbrush, painted the whole tile, so it ended up looking like this:

It now looks like a dry and dusty field. However, it was a little to light and a bit too even in colouring for me, so once this coat had dried, out came the Chocolate Brown again, which was mixed with some Docrafts Noir (yeah, I know…) and watered down even further, then liberally washed all over the tile.

This was a better colour, but still too even, so I rinsed out the brush and used it to take some of the excess paint off in random areas, until I had an area of randomly muddy ground, like so:

Now, you will probably note that there are a few lighter grey spots on the tile. This is where the small stones were knocked off during the painting stage, showing the grey of the tile beneath. I might paint over them, I might leave them – I haven’t decided yet. We shall see.

And to finish off this post, I thought I’d provide a close-up of the texture of the tile, with a suitably sized figure. This particular figure is 28mm scale, but is home-made (or should that be ‘home-baked’?).

Pretty convincing looking mud, in my opinion. There is a noticeable pattern, which I didn’t spot until I looked at the picture, but I think that’s due to the closeness of the view. From the distance at which it will be normally viewed, you probably won’t notice it, especially as they’ll be other stuff on it.

So, a 12″ square textured muddy tile (or vacant lot) which, if you take into account that I already had the sand and paint and I’ve only used one of the four tiles from the pack, has cost me 25p. Bargain!

That’s all for this week’s instalment of Carrion Crow’s Long Halloween. Join me next week, where we will hopefully see the ‘patch’ become more ‘pumpkin-y’…

Happy Halloween!

No Evil Shall Escape My Sight…

A little bit of an announcement before we launch into this week’s Noctober post – I was originally intending to complete all my Halloween-themed painting by the end of October and then join Michael Awdry of 28mm Victorian Warfare fame in Dinovember this year.

However, I’m having a bit too much fun with Noctober this year, so I’m declaring it a “Long Halloween”, which will last as long as I have figures to paint and scenery to build (Sorry, Michael…). So, to paraphrase the tagline from the Jurassic Park novel, “In the future, there will be dinosaurs…just not next month”.

So, what can you expect during my Long Halloween? More supernatural superheroes and villains, more creepy critters suitable for “Scooby-Doo” style games, more Ghostbusters, and some inexpensive scratch-built scenery suitable for all types of horror games. It’s going to be a lot of fun for me and hopefully for all of you too.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

This week the intention was to complete the final two members of the Night Brigade and their arch-nemesis, the techno-witch known as Spectra. And I did manage to do this. However, upon reviewing the figures prior to their photo-call, I was not entirely happy with the paint jobs for Nocturne and Spectra. As there was not enough time to repaint them prior to posting, their debut has been postponed until such time as I’m satisfied with them.

Luckily, the final figure of the trio I was intending to post about more than makes up for the lack of female company, so without further ado, let me introduce you to the most recent recruit to the Night Brigade, the costumed vigilante known as…Jack O’Lantern.

The base figure for this character is a Marvel Heroclix Jack O’Lantern, from the Sinister subset. The Marvel Jack O’Lantern first appeared in 1981 as a foe of Machine Man in issue #19 of his own title and was (and still is) a bit of a second-string villain. However, he does have one of the coolest costumes ever, so when I saw that Baron Von J of The Baron’s Blog had used this particular figure as a Golden Age superhero, I decided to pinch this idea myself.

Whilst I do try to give my own superhero characters ‘original’ names (or at least the same name as obscure superheroes and villains), as DC Comics also has a character named Jack O’Lantern (first appearance Super Friends #8 in 1977), my self-imposed “rules” meant that I could use the same name without any issues.

I decided to repaint the original figure, as whilst the pre-paint was quite good, with a little bit of effort, it could be better. I’d also deliberately saved some translucent orange plastic beads from when my daughter was clearing out her ‘kiddie stuff’,  to give my version of Jack O’Lantern a bit more armament. Each bead had a small length of gardening/florist’s wire (thin wire wrapped in green paper) glued in as stalks, and then each completed ‘pumpkin bomb’ was glued into his already open hands.

As he was originally on a standard Heroclix flight stand, I had to trim the peg off, then make a new hole in the base of the “pogo platform” (Marvel’s name for it – not mine), so I could mount it on a proper flight stand.

Whilst it was a relatively simple re-paint, with the addition of a bit more kit, I’m really pleased with how he came out.

And here’s one final picture, giving a criminal eye’s view of Jack O’Lantern, just before he unleashes his explosive brand of justice.

That’s all for this week, but join me for the next episode of Carrion Crow’s Long Halloween, where we will be building some Halloween-themed scenery that Linus would be proud to call his own. Beagles are optional.