The sound of thousands of wallets, credit cards, and bank accounts crying out in terror.
The sound of thousands of wallets, credit cards, and bank accounts crying out in terror.
For my 100th post I thought I’d wax nostalgic for a bit about one of my all-time favorite miniatures: Sir Conlan, from Reaper’s tabletop miniatures game, Warlord. The game itself has been dead for some time now, but they still sell the miniatures. Most of the sculpts are fairly high quality, and there are some standouts, but to be honest, most of it is the standard stuff that you’d expect to find in a range of fantasy minis. All of that aside, Sir Conlan holds a special place in my gaming history.
In the fall of 2004, I found myself at a Hobbytown USA in Pittsburgh, PA. At that point, I had been away from any serious tabletop gaming for several years. I was staring at a display wall of metal minis, many of which were part of something called “Warlord.” The blister packs contained not only the minis, but colorful cards with an image of a painted version of each miniature as well, and on the back was a a list of the figure’s stats and abilities. While I had painted plenty, I had only dabbled in miniatures games before, but I was genuinely intrigued by the Warlord minis, and I chose Sir Conlan as my first purchase.
I painted Sir Conlan over the course of the next week or two, at the same time trying to find out more about Warlord. I was already familiar with Reaper, but I didn’t know that they were making a fantasy miniatures game. I soon acquired the core rulebook for Warlord and, over the next several months, got a few games in with my wife and some of our friends. Sir Conlan was from the Crusaders faction, so that’s what I started collecting and painting. I didn’t have many official Warlord minis yet, so we proxied about 90% of our armies.
I also got back into playing D&D with a short-lived campaign that one of my friends ran during this time, and I liked the Sir Conlan miniature so much that I used him to represent my character, a half-elf fighter/mage. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was close enough to work.
Today, while I still have a good portion of my collection of Warlord minis, it’s considerably smaller than it once was, and I haven’t actually played Warlord in several years. It’s a fine game, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it if I played it again; but the reality is that gaming is a social hobby, and it’s much easier to play games that already have an existing player base and not one that you have to build yourself.
Although it’s in my past now, I owe a debt of gratitude to Warlord. Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment of my serious return to gaming; it took me several years to get as deep into tabletop gaming as I am now, but getting into Warlord, beginning with Sir Conlan, is where it started.
I’ve been painting miniatures almost from the start of my life as a gamer, so about 25 years at this point. I’ve painted hundreds of miniatures of all different types over the years, but until recently, I could literally count on one hand how many dragons I had completed. Sure, I have a bunch still sitting unassembled, some more that are assembled and even primed, and a few more that I’ve started but never finished; but actual painted dragons that have gotten their coat of sealer are rare in my collection. Note that I’m not even counting finished bases. If we add in that parameter, the number shrinks down… to one or two.¹ So, it is with much excitement that I share this WIP of my newest completed dragon miniature, Narthrax.
Assembly & Prepping
Narthrax comes in six pieces and is simple to assemble. The pieces fit together so extremely well that I didn’t need to do any gap-filling!
After gluing him together, I added a base from Secret Weapon Miniatures, which I’m using it for its size and shape; the surface details are all going to be covered up shortly. To make Narthax more impressive, I added a customized 3D printed rocky base, making Narthrax the first miniature I’ve completed that incorporates printed elements. It’s not a tall piece, but even the slight increase in height and overall bulk makes a fairly dramatic difference.
Placing the printed section directly on top of the sculpted details of the Secret Weapon base left a large gap around the perimeter since it doesn’t fit flush. I filled in most of it using caulk, but I left a significant part of it open on the rear side, which will come into play when I finish the base work.
After adding the caulk, I applied sand over much of the base to give it more texture. This not only makes it more visually interesting and appealing, but it also helps disguise the fact that the lower part of the rocky base is a separate addition.
Priming & Basecoating
The normal rules for priming don’t apply to Bones miniatures. Unlike other minis (even other plastic ones), spray primer doesn’t typically work because the plastic that’s used for Bones minis usually reacts with spray primers and takes an extremely long time to dry (up to several weeks, as I learned early on). The best way to prime them is using the Liners from Reaper’s Master Series.² For whatever reason, their chemical properties cause them to adhere amazingly well to the plastic used for Bones.
Planning ahead, I used Blue Liner as this would work best with the color I’ll be using for the base coat. The airbrush worked like a dream for this in terms of cutting down time and eliminating visible brush strokes. Priming also results in all of the various basing elements having a more cohesive look.
This version of Narthrax is going to be a black dragon. Without getting into a scientific explanation, in nature, colors that we perceive as “black” are rarely, if ever, truly black; in reality, they’re actually very dark shades of brown or blue. Using a pure black on Narthrax would appear too harsh and unnatural, so I went with Nightmare Black (Reaper Master Series). At full strength, it has a virtually imperceptible blush cast, although the blue becomes readily apparent when it’s thinned down. Using the airbrush, I applied this as the basecoat over the entire model. Another first: using the airbrush for significant portions of work on a model, and not just for priming.
Ok, so I’ve technically started painting in the last step, but I’m calling this section “painting” since I’m getting into it proper now, not just priming and basecoating. I decided to finish painting the base before turning my attention to Narthrax himself.
At this point, the Pareto Principle is in full effect. The bulk of the work still remains, but the effects, despite having a noticeable impact on the finished mini, will be fairly subtle for the most part (with the exception of what I’m going to do to finish the base, once painting is entirely finished). It’s difficult to see in the photos, but I added a wash of purple (RMS Royal Purple, I think) to the top and underside of the wings at this point to give them more depth. The purple is also in a similar part of the color spectrum as Nightmare Black, so it adds more color while still having Narthrax read as a black dragon.
Next, I built up highlights over the entire mini using the Dark Elf Skin (RMS) paint triad, a series of grays with a slight hint of purple — perfect for highlighting the other colors I’ve used so far. I drybrushed all three colors at full strength over the scales, claws, spikes, and horns, with increasing amounts of pure white paint added to Dark Elf Highlight for the brightest highlights. I pushed the highlights even farther on the claws, spikes, and horns, drybrushing more layers until I was eventually using white with just a tiny amount of Dark Elf Highlight. The drybrushing was by far the most time-consuming part of painting this mini.
The last phase of painting was finishing the eyes and mouth, and touching up mistakes. I still hate painting eyes.
I used a few layers of various RMS ivory colors on the teeth, touched off with a final highlight of RMS Linen White, to give them a more yellow tone in order to differentiate them from the other light-colored spiky bits on the other parts of the mini.
Painting now complete, I gave the entire model a couple of light coats of matte spray sealer, followed by a light dusting of a semi-gloss sealer on Narthrax himself to make his scales a little shiny.
I really tried to go to town finishing the base. I used a variety of basing materials, starting with a layer of flock, followed by clumps of Super Turf, and finishing with various colors of grass tufts. Finally, in yet another first for me, I applied several layers of Woodlands Scenics Realistic Water to the gap on the rear side of the base to simulate a small stream flowing from under the rock (told you I had something planned for this part!). I’ve only just started using it in the past few months, but so far Realistic Water has proven to be some really cool stuff! I’ve been pleased with the results I’ve gotten on terrain pieces I’ve tried it on, and I really like how it looks here.
This was a really fun mini to paint. I rarely paint multiple display-quality versions of the same mini, but I could see myself painting another Narthrax in a different color at some point. There’s an enormous number of dragon miniatures available. Many of them are really good, but Narthrax is one that stands out to me for a number of reasons. He’s big enough to be impressive, but not so big that he’s unwieldy — in terms of both for painting and for gaming. There are many dragon miniatures that are impressive if for no other reason than their size, but they’re too large to be used as realistic foes for anyone but the most powerful adventuring parties. Narthrax could represent a fair challenge to adventurers of various levels. And I love his dynamic pose and the sense of motion that’s captured in his sculpt. It makes it tricky to find a good angle for a picture that captures everything, but it makes it a really interesting sculpt in real life.
I haven’t painted many miniatures in the past few years, and it’s been even longer since I painted one that I’ve been this pleased with.
1. In case you’re wondering:
2. As originally discovered and reported by one Buglips *the* Goblin, if memory serves correct.
I had an idea for another photo the other night after getting a little more work done on Narthrax’s base (which is conveniently obscured by nearby terrain features — WIP coming soon!). I managed to throw this together pretty quickly; it took me less than 10 minutes from concept to when I finished editing the pic. (At this point, I’ve actually spent more time writing the text for this little post than I did working on the photo. I don’t write that slowly, but I probably spend too much time editing what I write.)
Below we have Stern Kestrelmann confronting the dragon near his mountaintop lair (both from Reaper).
I have a WIP of this mini that I’m currently working on. Everything on him is finished except for the base, which I’m planning on covering with a good amount of foliage. In the meantime, he fits in well with snowy terrain.
After the typical Kickstarter delays, my rewards from the Bones 3 Kickstarter came in last week. This isn’t a knock on Reaper or any other Kickstarter creator, by the way — timelines for bringing new products to market are notoriously difficult to manage since any bump in the supply chain can have significant ramifications further down the line, regardless of who’s responsible for causing said bumps. And this doesn’t even take into account the added difficulty of not even knowing how much product is actually going to be needed at the time a delivery estimate is set. All in all, if a creator manages to fulfill shipment on a Kickstarter project of this magnitude within six months of their delivery estimate, I’d say they made a pretty good guess, and even being off by a year isn’t too unreasonable, frankly.
Now that I’ve had the chance to spend some time inspecting the goods and enjoying these new additions to my collection, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts on some of the minis that stood out to me. Note that none of the minis in my photos have been glued together, just dry-fitted. Some of them stay together well enough without glue to take photos, whereas other ones can’t be fully assembled without glue (looking at you, dragons). If you want more photos and preview pics, just check the Kickstarter page.
The usual mixed bag of exciting and mediocre, new sculpts and metal conversions. Of course, “exciting” to some people is often “mediocre” or “bland” to others, and vice-versa. I imagine it must be incredibly challenging trying to decide which minis to include in the Core Set for each Kickstarter. On the one hand, you want to have minis that have a broad appeal to bring in more backers, but you want to avoid making everything too generic for the exact same reason, and Reaper does a good job in this regard.
It could be due to me getting more into Games Workshop lately, or because of my changing interests since backing this Kickstarter nearly two years ago; or it could simply be that I’m pretty much glutted on minis in general. Whatever the reason, I’m less interested overall in the contents of this Core Set than I was in the previous two. There are a good number of minis in here that I like, just fewer of them on the whole. This is probably more an indicator of where I am currently because like I said, I think Reaper did a good job with the mix. Or, it could be that they were too spot-on with their choices because out of all of the ones that are conversions from metal sculpts, it turns out that I already own most of them.
For those times when your ordinary, garden-variety purple worm just won’t do, or for when even an already impressively huge one still isn’t enough; for those times when the DM wants to add a TPK to their list of accomplishments or wants to let their players know exactly how much they’ve pissed them off, there’s Goremaw. There isn’t much more that needs to be said about this beast. This is the purple worm cranked up to 11, the Shai-Hulud cross-bred with Satan. Keep him on your shelf where he’ll provide a menacing presence as he looks down on your players, but don’t actually plop him down on your table unless you’re willing to let them know just what a malicious SOB you are.
A great example of how much Reaper responds to their customers and fans. The Froghemoth is a classic D&D monster, dating back to nearly the earliest days of the game. While many of Reaper’s fans may have at least a passing familiarity with this beast’s pedigree, I’m sure that for a lot of them, it will simply be a bizarre, misshapen, vaguely reptilian, tentacled monster. Reaper could have chosen to fill this stretch goal with a mini that would have had broader appeal, but instead they chose to listen to their fans who were clamoring for them to make this classic monster instead. There’s also a great backstory about how this mini came to be (although I was, unfortunately, unable to find it to link to it).
We now have a complete set of the four classic golem types! Original sculpts of a flesh, clay, and stone golem debuted in the very first Bones Kickstarter. There was an iron golem included in that group, but it was a metal conversion, not an original sculpt, and, while acceptable, I always thought that it was a little too small for an iron golem, especially when compared to the other three. This new iron golem surpasses the old one in every way. It’s size, stance, and clenched fists in lieu of a weapon all make it much more imposing than its predecessor.
A Bones conversion from a sculpt originally done in metal, the Temple Dragon stands out to me as one of the cooler minis in this Kickstarter. The texture on his scales and other details hold a lot of visual appeal, but I particularly like its non-static pose and how it looks like it’s ready to pounce on unsuspecting adventurers/prey. It’s unfortunate that in a Kickstarter with so many dragons and other large minis, this one would have been even better had it been a little bigger.
In addition to golems, elementals have always been some of my favorite D&D monsters, and I’ve always collected complete sets of the four basic types when I could, dating back to my very first Ral Parthas. The first Bones Kickstarter gave us earth and fire elementals; Bones 2 gave us water; and now, we have Bones versions of all four basic types. Reaper’s take on the air elemental is an interesting hybrid between a vaguely humanoid form and the funnel-cloud design that’s often seen with air elemental minis, and I think they pulled it off well.
Before the rumors for Bones 3 even started, I had said that if Reaper did another Kickstarter for a single insanely-large, 5-headed dragon with only one $100 pledge level with no stretch goals, I’d back it for $300. Ma’al Drakar is the apotheosis of Bones miniatures, the epitome of what can be done with this type of plastic miniature. Other companies have released their own versions of enormous dragons, but I can’t think of any that combine sheer size with sculpt quality the way Ma’al Drakar does — and certainly not at this price point! For example, Wizard’s Colossal Red Dragon is at least as big, if not bigger, but it was crammed into somewhat of an awkward pose to get it to fit onto an 8″ x 8″ base for D&D. And while Magnificent Ego’s Viszeralyn may be twice as tall as Ma’al, much of that height is due to its abnormally long tail and torso and unnaturally proportioned wings. By comparison, Ma’al is posed in a way that’s much more visually appealing and is proportioned much better throughout. At an estimated $150 MSRP (or $60 if you got him during the Kickstarter!), I don’t think there’s anything else out there that’s comparable.
Bones 3 created about two hundred new miniatures, but to me, the true sole purpose of this Kickstarter was Ma’al Drakar. Despite all of the other great models to come out of this Kickstarter, if I had to pick just one as my absolute favorite, it would be him.
The hidden gem of Bones 3. There’s no denying the awesomeness that is Ma’al Drakar. However, the competition for the #1 spot in my book was closer than I had anticipated.
It was an open secret that Ma’al Drakar was coming before Bones 3 got underway, and there were plenty of preview pics going around before and after his official reveal (and rightfully so!). T’raukzul made her appearance unannounced as another stretch goal, a Bones version of an older dragon from Reaper’s catalog. However, unlike most of the other older dragons from Reaper’s catalog that were converted into Bones over the course of three Kickstarters, this one was a new sculpt — inspired by the original, but still a fresh, new design. Unboxing this dragon, I was blown away by her size and by what a great sculpt she is; I did not anticipate either of these things when I pledged for her.
I’m not sure, because I didn’t get all of the dragons from this Kickstarter, but I’m fairly certain that after big Ma’al himself, she’s the largest miniature from this Kickstarter. You can see that her body isn’t actually that much smaller than Ma’al’s, and her wings are nearly as big as his.
It took nearly two years, but it was worth the wait. Reaper once against delivered a great product at an incredible price. The minis themselves haven’t changed much (aside from some experimentation with more rigid plastic for certain ones), so if you’re already in one camp or the other regarding Bones minis, these new ones probably won’t do anything to change your mind. The soft details on smaller sculpts will still be an issue if you’re looking for a piece for competition or for display and want the highest quality possible.
Like many people, I still think the best use for Bones minis is creating large minis that would be too cost-prohibitive to do in metal. Reaper appears to have been thinking along these lines as well, as this Kickstarter seemed to place more of a focus on large and downright huge minis than the previous ones. If I had to find something to criticize, it would be that things went a bit too far in that direction. While the froghemoth, Goremaw, and the iron golem are among my favorite minis from this Kickstarter, they’re also examples of minis that are just a little too big.
Whatever your opinions about Bones or Reaper in general, it’s undeniable that Reaper’s projects are the perfect fit for Kickstarter: a product that has steep up-front manufacturing costs (the molds) with a very low material/manufacturing costs for the actual product. This is the key factor that allows them to offer such amazing rewards relative to the pledge amount required.
A Bones Kickstarter is more than just a transaction between a company and its customers. They’re funded in minutes, if not seconds, and early stretch goals are demolished in the early minutes and hours of the campaign. The excitement is palpable as new stretch goals are revealed and met in the early days, followed by the long lull in the middle, only to inevitably pick up intensity again in the last day or two. A Bones Kickstarter is a cultural experience for the gaming community, and a clear sign of how spoiled we are as gamers in this day and age.
I don’t need or even really want more miniatures at this point. But I’m eagerly looking forward to Bones 4.
This is my build of the Hirst Arts chess set. I started casting the blocks for it in October 2009 and worked on it fairly steadily over the next four months, finishing it in early 2010. It’s hard to believe that I finished this beast of a project nearly seven years ago.
The miniatures are from Reaper’s Warlord line and were added a couple of years later. For those of you keeping score, it’s primarily the Crusaders (white) led by Duke Gerard vs. the Overlords (black) led by General Matisse, but there are a few characters from other factions thrown into the mix.
One thing that I was having a hard time with was figuring out how to mount the minis onto the Hirst Arts blocks that are used for decorative bases because Warlord minis use slotted bases. I could have cut off the tabs and used pins to attach them, but painting them was tedious enough; I really didn’t relish the thought of having to pin a pile of 32 miniatures (that is, 64 feet). I experimented with using some of Reaper’s round bases, but they weren’t the right size.
It dawned on me one night while trying to go to sleep that GW bases might be just the right size to fit on the blocks. I jumped out of bed to check, and it turned out that they were! Once the entire base assembly is painted, it all looks like it belongs together. The size is a little off on the knights and bishops, but they work pretty well over all.