Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Classic Mini Boxed Sets: RAFM's Shadows & Steel Box #3: The Iron Brotherhood (1985)

This will be the first in a series of posts highlighting some of the old school mini boxed sets which cast such a spell over me in my youth and which I still enjoy as a wizened old toad today.  Boxed sets produced by manufacturers in those heady early days of the hobby had a charm we don't see as much nowadays when we buy most of our stuff online and much of the sort of attractively illustrated packaging which used to be so necessary for retail success has vanished.  Many of these colorful little themed boxes, each seeming to offer a self contained fantasy world are stacked on my shelves now, and I thought I may as well share them.
The Iron Brotherhood was the third in the Shadows and Steel line of boxed sets, which appeared around 1985, sculpted for RAFM by a talented young artist named Bob Murch.  Bob is better known now for his work on RAFM's Call of Cthulhu line and his astonishing Pulp Figures series, but his early work on sword and sorcery subjects is no less enjoyable.  Each of the four Shadows and Steel sets contained a little warband of six or seven figures, with D&D compatible statistics for each character, a small tactical map and a roughly sketched campaign world in which you could unleash your little gangs of psychopaths upon each other.
Box contents as shown on the back label.  The campaign setting was a haunted vale reminiscent of Bram Stoker's Transylvania and inhabited by the Vampire Lord Tandaloor and his cronies.  You could play as the vampires or as one of the three bands of apparently equally evil and derangedT adventurers seeking to storm Tandaloor's castle and make off with his valuables.

The more of sets you bought, the more details of the background story and the gaming environment you got.

The evil Champion Zakasar, leader of the Brotherhood and his lion Tamurlane.  
Anybody named Tamurlane is just bound to be evil.

Bob obviously had fun cooking up the details of the characters and the campaign setting.
Two foot knights.  I based the warband on GW 25mm bases as I figure they were just barely big enough to be passed off as Warhammer chaos guys.
Trerok Toungefire, Zakasar's right hand man.  The shield on Trerok's hip seemed out of place at first...no way a guy could swing that sword and carry a shield. Later I decided Bob must have put the shield there as a counterweight to the giant sword which would otherwise have Trerok tipping over onto his face all the time.
Drakar Dubledeath the Warband's resident berserker, one of my favorite models in the set.

 The set came with a little cardboard double-sided tactical map showing the courtyard of Vlad Tandaloor's castle on one side and his tomb on the other.
The maps were about 7"x11" , not too big, but just big enough to fight two warbands on if you didn't have appropriate terrain.
Two important components of any warband...the standard bearer and the sorcerer.

The evil wizard U-Huri Simak...sounds like some kind of unpleasant tree....
and standard bearer Galgulum.  Really seems like he should be sitting on a horse behind Thulsa Doom in a snow-clad Spanish forest, but I guess I'll take him as he is.
 Probably the piece de resistance of the set, this extraordinary little devil is named Armadillicus...
I need a real Armadillicus of my own to walk past the neighbor's window of an evening, to sit on the stool next to me at the bar, to watch my stuff while I'm playing a game at Enfilade, etc.  Hey I can dream, can't I?

 "Kill, Armadillicus, KILL!!!  YAHHH HAAA HAAA HAAA!!" 
 Armadillicus' handler, named Beatrice by some sadistic parent.
The Iron Brotherhood assembled and ready to take on the Vampires of Tandaloor...or whomever!  Yarrr!!!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rogue Trader: Dead Men Space Marines Terminator Squad

From a manuscript discovered in the depths of the scriptorium, The Emperor's Palace, Terra

To: His Excellency, The high Inquisitor Josephes T'Resque
From: Yacobe Scrivenius

In certain appendices to the Liber Haeresium, one finds what appears to be a partial catalog of those units and fragments of units which were disbanded and reformed as Battle Group Omega. Personnel and equipment strengths (where known) are also listed. The designations of long lost regiments and the descriptions of their pitiful condition at the time of their annexation to the Battle Group provide a vivid impression of  desperate nature of the fighting in those darkest days of The Horus Heresy...names and faces lost in the dust of ten thousand years. 

A fragment of this roster appears below:

240 Cavalrymen of the 60th Montanya Rough Riders, dismounted, their mounts having all perished in the 'siege of Callyx VII' fighting as infantry
77 miscellaneous personnel, all that remained of the 224th Cassiopeia
2,000 guardsmen without officers or NCOs, raw recruits hurried through the Imperial Guard Infantry school on Cillia VI and shipped to the Battle Group just before the school was overrun
640 gunners of 97th Jennovan Artillery, their guns lost on Storr Valln IV, fighting as infantry
1,900+ men of 'Van Dern's Legion' (?)
Some 76,800 men of Planetary Defense Forces and several Imperial Guard Regiments all hailing from the Valia system, led by their Supreme Leader Luppolde Voldredd, a name we shall see again in this dossier
12,462 men of the Jennovan Planetary Defense Forces, evacuated in the final hours before their planet was destroyed. 
706 men of the 21226th Penal Battalion. To this unit the scribe attached the Imperial designator "X", meaning that it's personnel should be considered expendable.
1,600 or so convicted thieves, heretics and perverts of the 'Mundt Penal Legion', led by one Major J. Wankeldirkler, late of the Mundt Planetary Defense Forces.  This unit and its commander were branded with Imperial Designator 'XX' meaning that they were not only expendable, but that their rapid expenditure was actually considered highly desirable by the Administratum. 
89 staff officers and support personnel, all that remained of the 160th Harkanni
1,881 training cadre and cadets of the Imperial Guard Armor Officer's Candidate School on Hrassk, evacuated before the school was overrun. These troops are listed as having 62 serviceable tanks, mostly obsolescent training vehicles salvaged from the loss of the school.
28 officers and men of the 616th Suprema, all that remained of their regiment.
415 naval Personnel, survivors from the loss of the ships Angelique and Pallita, fighting as infantry.
19 men of the 14th Soledad, all that remained of their regiment.
56 men of the 77th Permskaya, all that remained of their regiment...

The list goes on.

At the top of the list are the three Marine Chapters who, their planets overrun, their fortress monasteries destroyed, their geneseed stocks lost, formed the core of the Battle Group:  144 Marines of The Harvesters, 180 Marines of The Raven Watch, 204 Marines of The Death Eaters, all essentially written off as losses by the Administratum, even before they were killed.

According to the Liber Haeresium,  when Grand Master Coresh of The Harvesters assumed command of Battle Group Omega, he was given a month to organize, train and prepare it for battle.  This training period must have been cut short, for, as the appendices tell us, scarcely two weeks later elements of the Battle Group were already in action against traitor forces in the Ulmm and Klaster systems.  The Ulmm and Klaster fighting was savage and losses were heavy.  Incidentally, Grand Master Koresh seems to have wasted no time 'expending' the personnel of the 'Mundt Penal Legion'.  The Legion is reported as having been wiped out in the fighting on Saxe-Ulmm. 

In the weeks and months that followed, Battle Group Omega was hurled from one sector to another in a series of desperate and costly holding actions linked by dangerous and disorienting warp jumps. What is sometimes referred to as 'battle fatigue' must have begun to set in, even amoung the Marines, for after a time, a curious and perhaps heretical cult began to take shape which suggests an attempt by some of the Marines' spiritual leaders to come to grips with an epidemic of extreme combat stress.  The cult is generally held to have begun with the radical theories of the Librarian Henc Morgunn and the pre-battle sermons of Chaplain Willym Pil Grimm.  Both seemed to hint at the idea that it was possible for men to project themselves forward through time, from the pre-mission present, through the horrors of combat, to a peaceful place beyond.   Put another way, Pil Grimm and Morgunn seem to have been suggesting that the events or moments of a man's life occur simultaneously rather than sequentially, that a man's future is already his present, and his present already his past.
Although I believe this summary of the ideas of the great Librarian and Chaplain to be simplistic at best, crude and stupid at worst, we can begin to understand their motive in formulating such beleifs.  I consider the bland history of my own peaceful life.  Here in the dark I have pored over hundreds of pages blanketed with accounts of the struggles of the Omega men.  Battles often fought with the courage of despair against impossible odds.  The storming of the battlements of Rah.  The long retreat over the sands beneath the blazing triple suns of Storic IV, the doomed stand at the Haolean Gate. I try to imagine myself as a soldier in that time and place, amoung that company of the condemned. Could unbounded faith in the Emperor have always been enough to overwhelm such fear and disorientation?
Under the stress of preparation for battles in which the Omega men knew they would be at severe disadvantage and must sustain cruel losses, the thought that the mission was already over, and that a man was already safely back in his bunk aboard ship, or consigned to the peace of the grave, may have been a great comfort. The extreme conditions under which the Omega men were forced to fight, whipped back and forth through the terrors of the warp from one traumatic fight to the next, must have had a disorienting effect which could have made Morgunn and Pilgrimms' radical theories on the nature of time seem all the more plausible.
I make no claim to being an authority on the Spiritual beliefs of The Dead Men.  In attempting to gain some insight into the foundations and the workings of their cult, I have had to infer much and guess more, for only merest fragments of the writings of Morgunn and Pilgrimm are to be found anywhere on Terra. However, His Excellency will undoubtedly be interested to learn that there are references to at least one carefully preserved and annotated volume of their collected works kept under lock and key at the Marines' monastery on Ran.  Until such a time as this work can be accessed, much about these Dead Men must remain a mystery.
Some things are clear, however.  Amoung the personnel of Battle Group Omega, it was the men of the Terminator Companies who most readily embraced the cult of Morgunn and Pilgrimm.  Datafaxes from this period of the heresy show Terminator suits and vehicles emblazoned with slogans such as 'Time Enough', 'Tick Tock' and 'Dead Already'.  Its hardly surprising that the Terminators were the first and most enthusiastic supporters of Morgunn and Pil Grimm, for it was the Terminators who bore the added strain of having to teleport again and again into the most hardest and most desperate fighting on any given battlefield.  As the elite of their chapters, they were the best able to endure it, but there is no denying that it was amoung the Terminator companies that the ideas of Morgunn and Pil Grimm first took root and began to grow.  I have included a few datafaxes here showing Terminators of the Dead Men at a much later date, during the sixteenth scouring of the Death World Proteous, t the height of the Second, or Great, Genestealer war.
I am compiling some notes on the early history of the Chapter, post heresy, for you next, and in addition a more general history of The Wailing Reach.  I do hope that they may eventually find you, and that my efforts here bear some fruit. 

All my food and water is gone now.  It is only the work that sustains me.  I am mildly surprised that I have not perished already. Perhaps I have gained some lean strength from the study of these 'Dead Men'.  When I first took up this task, I was inclined to frown on them and their strange, seemingly heretical ideas.  Now, knowing so much more of their story, I find I admire them.  Even for men such as ourselves, who have given up all our years in service to The Emperor,  it is too easy to forget that our own sorrows are of small account compared to the burdens that were born up by heroes of old.  I still have much to do before I die, but I must lie down now, for just a bit.  As I do so, I shall imagine that this dossier has somehow already found its way into your hands, and that my flesh is already but dust upon this floor.
"Traitors!  Heretics! You are already dead!"

Friday, February 2, 2018

Skaven Jezzail Teams

Skaven Jezzailachis hunt Jabberwocks amoungst the Slithy Toves.  Brave souls.  Best of luck to them.
I think I've gotten quite a bit closer to the look I'd like my Skaven army to have.  Slathering on lots of dark brown wash and experimenting with inks (thanks, Dave) has resulted in a substantially more filthy, flea-chewed look.
                                                      There's one!  Hold still, dang it!
Overall, much happier with how these little rat friends look.  Now I just have to go back and give some of the other regiments I've painted a makeover to match them.
These original Skaven scupts are still the best ever produced in my opinion.  Nothing else comes close.
...and this is was of my favorite sculpts in the line.  He didn't come out very well overall, but his broach looks ok.  This is the first time I've painted one of those big fat warhammery gemstones and have had it come out looking sort of  alright.  That's a bit encouraging.
Ka-Blam!  Plenty more to do.  Next comes some more Clan Moulder stuff, then a mighty block o' clanrats.  Then again I have to get back to my Flames of War stuff soon.  Grr!  So many projects, so little time!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pit Master Frikkit's Skavenslave Levy

In the inky blackness beneath the Flea Fell teeming hordes of Skaven slaves toil on interminably, mining, delving, gnawing at the roots of the world.  When war comes, companies of the toughest and most hateful, vicious slaves are dragged up out of the darkness and herded into battle where the luckiest amoung them will die a quick death under the blades of the Skavens' enemies.
The pit bosses who manage the slaves in their miserable labors are also the commanders who drive them into battle.  Bosses like Pit Master Frikkit here enjoy some considerable status in Skaven society, for among the indolent and neglectful Skaven race little is accomplished without slave labor. 
I started a Skaven army a good long time ago, but after I'd painted a few units I became discouraged because I couldn't get that marvelous, disgusting, makes-you-itch-to-look-at-'em look that Andy Chambers' Skaven had.  Despite my efforts my own Skaven looked sort of natty and...cute!  Horrible. Very disappointing. 

Recently I was inspired by Matt Sullivan's engrossingly repulsive Vengeance of the Lichemaster Skaven  to get out my own rat boys and start building on the army again.  Matt's ratmen were so delightfully, inspirationally disgusting!  Surely, I thought, I'll get it right this time.
Well, as you can see, my technique turns out to have changed not at all and still yields 'cute', Disneyish looking Skaven instead of creepy, dirty looking Skaven.  I'm resigned to it.  This is just what the army is going to look like I guess.  Next up are some Jezzail teams and more Clan Moulder stuff.  Hopefully I'll find a way to make them look more nasty and repugnant but I'm not counting on it.
                         The army's two Skaven slave regiments advancing into action together.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Rogue Trader Adventurers: Arnault 'Dutch' Blackridge and his Mercenary Platoon

General Arnault Blackridge began his career as an enlisted soldier in the 227th Tank Regiment of the Planetary Defense Forces of Geminion Secundus.  Hailing from the cold and rugged Blackridge region of the Thoric Alps, from which he took his name, Arnault soon impressed both his peers and superiors with his imposing physical presence, his natural leadership ability, and a rapidly acquired tactical and technical proficiency which was second to none.
Advancing through jungle mists and the blurry work of a bad photographer, Dutch and his platoon continue their advance toward a suspected Genestealer nest site. 
Having quickly exhausted the opportunities for advancement available in the Geminions PDF, where higher leadership positions were by this time open only to members of the aristocracy, Arnault applied for transfer to the 13th Geminons Imperial Guard regiment and was accepted.

1st Squad of Dutch's command, spotted during the purging of Geminion Secundus in the Great 'Stealer War.  Note that some of the troopers wear uniforms of the local planetary defense forces.  These men are probably drafts from local forces, used to flesh out gaps in the ranks.

In the world of the Imperial Guard, Arnault Blackridge found a place in which he could thrive.  His awesome physique, tactical acumen and easy confidence soon won him the respect of his officers and comrades, while his affability, concern for his men, and thick Thoric accent earned him the affectionate nickname of 'Dutch'. In battles against Ork, Eldar and human enemies alike, Dutch proved himself an unbeatable opponent.
These battle hardened 'Black Ridge Boys' still wear some of the trappings of their Imperial Guard uniforms. The trooper on the left appears in many sources, most of which refer to him simply as 'The Dude'.  He seems to have been an eccentric, semi mystical character who joined the Blackridge boys in a quest for an artifact described as 'a magical carpet which really tied things together', and who peppered his conversation with such cryptic phrases as: 'Naw, Man, I'm The Dude!!', 'The Dude abides', and 'Hey, watch it, man, I've got a beverage here!'

Still in his twenties, Dutch, who routinely volunteered for the sort of exceedingly dangerous and difficult long range reconnaissance and deep strike missions which other Guard officers preferred to avoid, was promoted to Major and assumed command of the Geminions Imperial Guard Corps' Long Range Reconnaissance Group.  Under Dutch's command the Corps LRRG came to be known as 'The Blackridge Boys' a name which inspired fear and respect throughout the Wailing Reach and even beyond.
'Deadeye' Dick Halloran was an old henchman of Arnault's from the Imperial Guard days and was one of the first men to be called by Arnault back to 'The Blackridge Boys.'  He typically provided sniper support for the platoon as it moved and amassed hundreds of kills during the Great Stealer War.  Sadly, he was eaten by a pack of Purestrain Genestealers during the war's closing months.
Within a short time, however, Arnault's carreer took a down turn.  Three years after assuming his new command, Dutch was invited to attend the training school of the Dead Men Space Marines chapter, and did the unthinkable.  He declined the offer.  Though he loved military life, Dutch also loved women, and the monastic life of a Marine simply held no appeal for him.
'I ain't got time to bleed!'  A hulking gunner of the 1st squad wielding an enormous heavy stubber.
The rebuff was a grave insult to the Dead Men Space Marines and an embarrassment to Blackridge's own leaders.  Within a few months, The Blackridge Boys had been dissolved and Dutch, despite all his past successes, despite all his innumerable accolades, found himself relegated to an obscure administrative position far from the action and any opportunities for advancement.  Thoroughly disheartened, he resigned his commission, turning his back on his career and his pension.
2nd Squad
For the next couple of years Arnault tried to make ends meet as a bodyguard to minor members of the Voldradi, the Geminion aristocracy, but the work turned his stomach.  Things might have remained in this miserable pass indefinitely, but fate had other plans for Dutch Blackridge.
Merc Champion with missile Launcher
In the year of Our Emperor 39717, a tsunami of Genestealer cult activity heralded the arrival of Hive Fleet Terrasque, and the conflict which came to be known in the Wailing Reach as the Second, or Great 'Stealer War began.  Total war was the order of the day, and all the resources of The Reach and the surrounding sectors were massed to quell the Genestealer uprising and beat back the threat of the approaching hive fleet.  Dutch approached the Geminions Guard Corps in an attempt to get his old job back but was rebuffed, and in fact only narrowly escaped being arrested and cast into a penal unit.  And so our hero despaired afresh.  But things were changing in the Wailing Reach.
In YOOE 39720, Grand Inquisitor Yadislasz Terrasque, discoverer of the hive fleet which came to bear his name, was appointed supreme commander of all Imperial, colonial and allied forces within The Reach.  Terrasque was above the sort of petty rivalries and jalousies that had shunted Blackridge into obscurity, and when Dutch gingerly approached the Grand Inquisitor with an offer to form a crack commando unit, Terrasque readily accepted.  Dutch wasted no time in tracking down a number of his old cronies and the 'Blackridge Boys' were in the fight once again.
The two trooper assault team known within the platoon as 'Beauty and the Beast' killed Genestealers in their deepest holes with a combination of naptha and heavy auto-shotgun fire.

Over the long years of darkness and horror that followed the names of Dutch Blackridge and the Blackridge Boys ascended from obscurity to the legendary to the mythic.  They took on the toughest and most dangerous missions Grand Inquisitor Terrasque could throw at them and accomplished them with a regularity that was almost disconcerting at times.  Though the Dead Men scowled and Imperial Guard officers ground their teeth, the Grand Inquisitor and the Government on Geminion Prime came to embrace the little mercenary band and their charismatic leader.  They came to be held up as examples of martial virtue and as symbols of resilience and hope.  Innumerable jokes, tall tales and songs came to be written about the little warrior band that could penetrate any jungle fastness and come out alive with genestealer skulls swinging from their belts.  And when, at last, the war was won, Dutch Blackridge came to be seen, rightly or wrongly, as one of the key architects of victory.
'Scuse me.  Gotta go kill me a whole bunch a people now.'

Improbably, almost impossibly, Dutch survived the Great 'Stealer War, though none of his original companions did.  Before returning to Terra, a grateful Grand Inquisitor Terrasque bestowed upon him the honorary rank of General and the position of Inspector General of Auxiliary forces in the Wailing Reach.  Jealous rivals unseated Dutch soon after the Grand Inquisitor's departure, but he got to keep his pension.

1st Squad Advances
In truth, Arnault wasn't sorry to lose his position. Weary from a life of hard labor, his mighty frame now criss-crossed with scars, limping from his impressive collection of torn muscles and fractured bones, often weighed down by melancholy at the thought of long lost friends, Dutch embraced retirement.  He recruited a small troop of beautiful wives and concubines and spent his final decades as a gentleman farmer and popular media personality on his home planet of Geminion Secundus, spending much of his time strolling among his orchards of fruit and nut trees and producing a wildly successful vidbox show in which he would run over random objects with a tank, to the screams and cheers of his wildly devoted legions of fans.
'If dey bleed...we can kill dem!'