Thursday 15 February 2018

CLXI. Legen: Sir Pelial and the Two Ravens

Two men went to hunt in Tall Dun Wood. 

One alone came back.

*   *   *

Sir Pelial was riding through a forest again, on his quest to slay giants in the North. The Aelf followed, with her bow on her back. As they passed a hawthorn tree, Sir Pelial noticed a pair of black ravens perched on its branches. And he heard them talk. 

The first one said, "Where shall we go and dine today?" 
"In a hollow behind the old stone wall, I know there lies a new-slain knight," replies the other. "No one knows that he lies there, but his hawk, and his hound, and his lady fair. His hound is to the hunting gone, his hawk to fetch the wild-fowl home, his lady loves another knight; so we may make our dinner sweet." And the ravens flew away. 

Sir Pelial said to the Aelf, "Those carrion birds shall have to find some other dinner today. Quick, let us follow them." Soon they reached that place where the murdered knight lay. The ravens were already at it, pecking out the dead man's eyes. Sir Pelial scared them away, picked up the lifeless body and tied it to the back of his horse. The Aelf watched this in disbelief. "What do you want with that thing," she asked Sir Pelial. "You shall find out soon," he replied. "We are going to call on Iulia Docta-Sophosse."

They took their dead man to Iulia Docta-Sophosse, who was a master reanimator from the land of Turm. Sir Pelial gave her a bag full of gold, and then Iulia shook his hand and had the corpse carried to her cellar. There she had her servants peel off its skin, and scrape all the meat off the bone. The bones they then boiled and bleached in a vile brew, whose preparation is a well kept secret of the necromancers. The clean white skeleton was then laid out on the ground, and Sir Pelial and the Aelf were sent away. What was to happen next, they were not allowed to observe. So Sir Pelial went to a smith with the fallen knight's suit of armour. He handed him too a bag of gold, and the craftsman set to work. When the suit of mail was remade to Sir Pelial's satisfaction, they went back to the house of Iulia Docta-Sophosse.

Their new companion was waiting for them there. A man of bone stood silent and still in Iulia Docta Sophosse's yard, with his empty eye sockets, bare ribs and long gaunt fingers. Iulia instructed Sir Pelial on what rite to do every day to keep the skeleton animated, and to the Aelf she explained how it should be cleaned and repaired. Then they put his black armour on, said farewell to the reanimator, and went back on their way.

As she marched next to the eerie figure, the Aelf wondered for a moment what his name was, and what had ended him. But that moment passed, and she thought no more of it. 

The Aelf hoped the next person they met would have more spirit than humourless Sir Pelial and the hollow Murdered Knight...

*   *   *

The Murdered Knight, the second member of the retinue, is here. Conversion is based on one of the old citadel skeletons. It got an arm and head swap from Empire Knights, and a shield from plastic Giant bits. The helmet was heavily modified with green stuff.

The story is this time partly based on the Scottish ballad Twa Corbies. It's a grim song and I absolutely love it. This is my favourite performance of it I've found so far:

Friday 9 February 2018

CLX. Legen: Nerod

Work on my knight's retinue is well underway, but now it's time to show some love to the opposing side: the attacking gargants. Meet Nerod, the inciter and leader of the giants' crusade:

Legen was a stone castle of sublime proportions, built by gargants long, long ago. In ancient times, from there they ruled Erebos. There is a huge ruin on a mountain in the north of the island, crumbling and abandoned for centuries. They say this is what was once Legen, but due to inaccessibility and roosting griffins nobody bothers to venture there.
The ancient giants were gradually pushed further and further north-west by the little-folk, and ultimately defeated, broken and scattered. The greatest of gargants, and their ruler at the time, was Legen-King. In a spectacular and bloody battle, the king was slain by heroes of old, and his body cut up into pieces.
The body parts were then buried separately all over the islands. This was done to forever prevent the king’s return, because it was rumoured he had magical regenerative powers. Although people enjoy telling it, that story is generally not taken seriously, and is believed mostly by children and fools.

There are gargants on the islands to this day. They are roaming monstrosities of slow mind and great appetite, but they normally roam alone. A single gargant is able to do plenty of damage to peasants, but can be taken down by a well armed and trained party of soldiers. A herd of giants in the kingdom (fortunately a rare occurrence) is a threat that cannot be ignored by any sensible ruler.
As it turns out, the story of Legen was all more or less true. And only a while back, a gargant named Nerod happened to find the still rotting head of Legen-King. The head spoke to him. It gave him a quest. First, Nerod carried this enormous head to the cold ruins of ancient Legen, where now gryphons roost and winds howl. The head said that the time for restoration of Legen had come. He must be made whole again and gargants must rule the island once more. The little-folk are weak now. They are not united. If the giants gather together they can crush their feeble kingdoms one by one. So, Nerod set off southward, to seek the king’s hands and feet, heart and intestines, muscle, blood and bone. And he preaches to every giant and giantess he meets of his sacred quest and restoration of Legen’s might. Some of them listen, and follow. The gargants are marching south…

I wanted to base this model on the Forgeworld Curs'd Ettin, but since it got discontinued it's become impossible to come by. So I was left with the option of using the plastic giant kit to build something similar. The custim legs and arm extensions make him a taller and much more imposing monster. 

This size comparison will give you the sense of his relative size:

Next up, we have the severed head of Legen-King. Nerod found it and took it to the cold ruins of Legen. From there he set off to gather followers and lead them south, to crush the kingdoms of little folk and put the king back together.

As you can judge from this head, the ancient king of gargants was truly colossal in size. The tales of his regenerative abilities must have been true, as centuries have passed and the head looks like it is only beginning to decompose.

The head is a resin base from Scibor Miniatures. The bushy eyebrows were added after painting, and they were meade from small chunks of cotton swab dipped in mix of water, paint and PVA. I'll need this piece as a prop for when I write and illustrate the gargants' half of this saga.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

CLIX. Monstrous Births: Final Commentary

I have a few final things to show and tell in regard to this project before I put it down for good. Here they are.


Story, campaign structure and themes

Monstrous Births is a crime investigation, where the mysterious culprit is a supernatural creature. This story is here to frame three miniature battles. And the battles need to matter.

During the first one, we have our inciting incident. Monstrous births appear twice: in the deer that wanders onto the scene, and in the wolf young that are discovered if the wolves are defeated by the Countess. This establishes something is wrong in Glassfog County, and makes our protagonist begin investigating.

The start of the investigation does not involve any opportunity for miniature fights, and had to be conveyed through text alone. However, in the RPG version Witold and I have written, this actually makes up a huge chunk of the adventure. Just as it would if this were written as a short story. Anyway, the second battle can happen when the Countess learns through interviews that there is a being causing the trouble, and ventures into the woods to look for physical evidence of it. Here she is ambushed by the brethren of that deer she encountered in the first battle. Depending on her success in finding clues, she learns more or less about the culprit. I'm really curious what kind of image the clues painted in your heads before you found out what the monster was, so if you feel like it, please share it in the comments.

The information she has makes the Countess more or less prepared for the final battle, which is a showdown with the main boss. Here Tomislav, my player, had a choice: he could have gone for capturing the unicorn so the Countess can make a show of it later, or he could have played it safe and just gone for killing it there and then. The story can resolve in multiple ways, the most satisfactory one being that the unicorn is captured and the Countess alive and well. The fact the ending of the story depends on the game's outcome is what makes it worth playing... In the RPG version, which has a lot more characters and actual subplots, there is at least one other party involved in the final encounter, too.

For me personally, this monster is more horrifying than the more commonly found kind, one that only kills its victims. Rather than take it, the unicorn's deplorable acts of violence create life. There's an interesting thought... But  I won't go any further in analysing and interpreting this, that's meant be the reader's job.


 Monstrous births

It is a real-life phenomenon, as you surely know. Monstrous births, human and animal, were explained in various ways throughout history: as omens, warnings from God, errors in conception process. 

The Papal Ass and the Monk Calf, 16th century monstrous births.

There was this, rather charming, theory that a monstrous birth is the result of the mother seeing or imagining someone/something other than her husband in the moment of conception, which then results in the baby not looking like its father. At some point maternal imagination was believed to be responsible for the form of the child, and this was the explanation for the usual likeness of the progeny to its parents. This idea changed and evolved over time, and it is fascinating to follow that process. If anyone happens to want to dive into that, check out Monstrous Imagination (1993) by Marie-Hélène Huet. Another book I can recommend, that deals with the phenomenon from a different perspective, is Jennifer Spinks: Monstrous Births and Visual Culture in Sixteenth Century Germany (2009). 

There was nothing ever about unicorns; that was entirely my own take on inventing the cause of these unfortunate happenings.


The Unicorn

[This section might contain a few spoilers for a Discworld novel and some NSFW images.]

In the world of Gardens, unicorn is a species of abominable animal from the underworld where faeries dwell. Long, sharp horn on the male's forehead is a deadly weapon. Females have no horns. Like all fae, unicorns radiate fairy taint and have particular aversion to iron. They are omnivores.

Male unicorns are completely wild creatures that force themselves on females of all species and kill any males that stand in their way. The victim, if they survive, has no memory of the attack. Any offspring a unicorn produces with non-unicorn mates are monstrous births. The pregnancy lasts only a few weeks. The children are deformed versions of their mother's species, often not surviving past infancy. Those that survive reach adulthood rapidly. Members of some species manage to survive better than others. It also depends on the particular nature of the deformity. The children, like their fathers, radiate fairy taint (but not as strongly as pure fae). Fae nobles will keep unicorns as pets. The males are very difficult to train and are not suitable for riding (it's not unheard of, though). Females are more managable in that respect.

The base for the model is Sisters of the Thorn mount, only I broadened the body by adding material between its left and right half. The head comes from some horse model from Reaper. His horns, extra hair and tail were sculpted by me.  

As I've mentioned before on the blog, my fae are definitely influenced by the elves in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. They feature heavily in Lords and Ladies, where the plot revolves around the elf queen from a 'parasite universe' attempting to take over Lancre. There is a unicorn on the loose there, too. But it is not a serial rapist like the one in Monstrous Births.

But why a unicorn, you may ask. Well, I don't like the buggers. I can't identify any particular reason, they just rub me the wrong way. In Western tradition the unicorn is a symbol of purity and grace, and can only be tamed by a virgin. I just went and flipped that on its head.

In regard to appearance, I did not wish to make him look overtly wicked, with spikes and the like. Christian Schwager's Vnicorne (2013) is a really neat twisted unicorn, but is an example of this spikiness I wished to steer clear of. Mine should be a light-haired, relatively elegant thing, but with a few details that are off. So there are the red eyes and the visible dong.  

The Marriage of the Unicorn. Ernst Fuchs. 1952.

The Temptation of the Unicorn. Ernst Fuchs. 1952.

Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn. Albrecht Dürer. 1516.
Detail from an illustration in The Brave Little Tailor book by Andrej Dugin and Olga Dugina. 2000.


The Rules

As stated many times before, the ruleset I used was Malifaux 2E. I wrote my own stat cards for the characters, often using existing ones as a starting point. The suits in my decks have different names and symbols, but otherwise work the same. I call Soul Stones Fate Points, because there is no such thing as Soul Stones in my universe. Since each Encounter has its own predetermined objectives, there are no Strategies or Schemes to choose. There are no Scrap, Corpse nor Scheme Markers. The faction system of Malifaux and all that jazz does not apply here for obvious reasons. The Countess had a limited pool of models she could choose from. Since I was the one playing the Countess' enemies and game-mastering at the same time, I did not have to have everything programmed and could improvise a bit during the game.

Act I


Tomislav in control of the Countess could assemble his crew of up to 30 points. He chose the following: the Countess, a Crimson Sphynx, 3 Custodians, the Ubergheist, and a Ravenous Bloodfiend. His Fate Point Pool thus only had 3 FP to spend during the game. The Wolf Herdsman's crew was fixed. It consisted of him and 6 Wolves, and the Herdsman had a Fate Point Pool of 4.

Board and Terrain:
Board size was 100cm x 100cm. I used my Wilderness scenery: forests, trees, rocky outcrops, stone fence. Special features in this encounter were the cave and the well.

Deployment: Corner.

Special Rules: 
The Deer Event.
In Turn 3, a Misshapen Deer appears at an edge of the board, placed so that it must pass near the two crews on its path towards the well. The Deer does not activate like normal, and the information on its stat card is secret to the Countess player. After each activation of any model, randomly determine whether the Deer makes an Action. If it is not engaged with an enemy model, it makes walk actions, if it is engaged it makes attack actions or attempts to disengage. The Misshapen Deer makes 2 actions per turn. It is meant to walk the shortest route to the well terrain piece, and when it comes in base contact it is immediately sacrificed. The Wolves should avoid coming near the Misshapen Deer.

Before deployment, three Herb Markers are placed by the GM on their half of the board.

The Countess: Control the cave terrain piece at the end of Turn 5 by having more non-peon models in base contact with the terrain piece than the opponent's crew. Additionally, gather at least two out of three Herb markers present on the board (picking it up takes a (1) Interact Action). If successful, the Crew will get a one-use Healing Potion upgrade for the next two games.  

The Wolf Herdsman: Stop the spirits from coming near the cave.  

Act II

The Countess could again assemble her crew of up to 30 points. However, in this game the Countess is not deployed on the table, and The Beast model is deployed at the start of the game. Tomislav chose the following: the Countess, a Crimson Sphynx, 3 Custodians, the Ubergheist, and a Ravenous Bloodfiend. He again had 3 FP to spend during the game. 
There can be up to 5 Misshapen Deer on the table at any time. Only one Misshapen Deer deploys at the beginning of the game.

Board and Terrain:
Board size was 100cm x 100cm. I used my Wilderness scenery: forests, trees, rocky outcrops, stone fence, fairy ring. Special features in this encounter were two forest bases, which served as spawning points for Monstrous Deer.

Deployment: Close.

Special Rules: 
There is a fog on the battlefield that impairs visibility. On Turn 1 models cannot draw line of sight further than 10''. At the end of each turn, GM flips two cards. The first is to determine whether the LoS went up (on Blood and Flesh suits) or down (on Bone and Spirit). The second card determines for how much (1'' for 1-5, 2'' for 6-10, 3'' for 11-13, Jokers reflipped). 
Misshapen Deer. 
One is placed in base contact with the nearer of the two spawning forest bases whenever a Countess' model ended a move or activated within 3'' of any Clue Marker. This rule is not revealed to the Countess player at any time.

Fairy Taint. 
The Countess' crew will in all probability end the game with the Fairy Taint condition on its models. Note the value of the condition on each model at the end of the game. Each model will start the final Act of the campaign with the Fairy Taint condition whose value is equal to half the value it was at the end of Act II, rounded down.
Clue Markers. 
Before deployment, the GM places four Clue Markers on their half of the board and in base contact with a piece of terrain. For each marker controlled at the end of the game, the Countess player flips a card and consults the following table:
Bone - the droppings - BEAST, Wd, Ht, FAIRY TAINT, ABSORB TAINT.
Blood - the slain boar - HORN, HOOFS, TERRIFYING.
Spirit - the hoof prints - BEAST, Wd, Wk, Cg, NIMBLE.

Reflip the Jokers and any suits that have already been flipped. In the table, each suit has certain information assigned to it. Before the final game, the Countess player is given the Monster of Volovska Weald stat card, with all information (including the illustration) expunged but that which matches the suits flipped. If the player flips all four suits, they are given access to all information on the stat card.

The Countess: Control the four Clue Markers at the end of Turn 5. The crew controls a Clue Marker by having a non-peon model within 3'' of it.

The Misshapen Deer: Exterminate the enemy crew.



This time, the Countess had 35 points to spend. This was Tomislav's list: the Countess, a Crimson Sphynx, 2 Custodians, the Ubergheist, and 3 Ravenous Bloodfiends. This time there were 5 FP to spend during the game.

The opposing crew was again preconstructed, and it consisted of The Monster of Volovska Weald and five Misshapen deer.

Board and Terrain:
Board size was 100cm x 100cm. I used my Wilderness scenery: forests, trees, rocky outcrops, stone fence, fairy ring.

Deployment: Standard.

Special Rules: -

The Countess: Either to kill the The Monster of Volovska Weald, or to have it within engagement range of at least one friendly model and no enemy models at the end of Turn 5.
The Monster of Volovska Weald: Kill The Countess, evade capture.

How the photos were taken

It's obvious that the photos illustrating the accounts of the three battles were not taken during the games. The reason for that is twofold. First of all, halting the game all the time to take detailed photos of what is going on is distracting and ruins the experience for the players. Secondly, the photos come out much more aesthetically pleasing when I can take my time to arrange the scene and backdrop. So, while playing, I just took snaps with my phone and short written notes, which I then used to recreate the key events in image and word. That may not be 100% accurate to what it looked like during the game, but that is not what this is all about, anyway.
The fog and rain were edited in. I had no idea how to do that until I needed it for this project. I simply googled for tutorials and tried them out. Used this one for fog: FOG, and this one for rain: RAIN

Music is important

...for atmosphere. I invested in some dark ambient music. The titles I used are mostly very affordable and can be purchased as mp3 downloads. It works like a charm. I will list all the albums again here:

Flowers for Bodysnatchers: Aokigahara (2015)
Paleowolf: Primordial (2015)
The Witch (2015) OST
Diablo II 15th Anniversary Soundtrack
Asath Reon: Buried Visions (2017)
Ugasanie: The Dark Side (2016)

 *   *   *

Somewhere in the left sidebar you can find an icon that says Monstrous Births. If you click on it, you'll end up on a page that has the entire three-act story from beginning to end, with all the pretty pictures. This is there to stay. The events as they happened in this playthrough are canon.


Aaaand we've reached the end of this lengthy post, and of coverage of the campaign. Thank you for following the Countess on her adventure. See you again soon.

Friday 2 February 2018

CLVIII. Legen: Sir Pelial and the Snake King

Sir Pelial of Turm was on his way across the island Erebos, set on the quest to slay giants in the North. As he rode through a dark wood one morning, he met an Aelf. The Aelf said to Sir Pelial from under her hood, "Good morning, Sir Knight. What brings you to this here dark wood?"

"I am on a journey North to slay giants," replied Sir Pelial to the Aelf, and introduced himself. The Aelf did not return the courtesy, which is a behaviour Sir Pelial did not appreciate at all. She simply went on with her prying questions.

"So, you are a monster-slayer, too. Perhaps we could help each other out? I am on a quest myself, you see..."  Sir Pelial only stared blankly at the Aelf. She continued, "I am in these woods to end the snake-king Basilisk and cut off his head. If you help me, I shall join you on your journey to find giants to slay. I have great skill with a bow, and I can shoot them in the eye to blind them."

"I have no time for snake-hunting, nameless Aelf. I must go on my way," said Sir Pelial finally, and lightly spurred his horse.

"But there is treasure in the snake-king's den! If you help me, I will let you have it," the Aelf exclaimed. Sir Pelial halted the nag and turned to the Aelf. 

"Lead the way..." 

The Aelf tracked the snake-king to the pit, where he had his home. A terrifying monster he was, with wings and talons of a rooster, and a green, scaly tail like a dragon. On his head he had a bright red comb, as a crown. 

Sir Pelial readied his lance and shield, and the Aelf strung her bow. From the shadows of the trees she fired her first arrow at Basilisk's side. The monster crowed in pain, and, enraged, turned his sharp gleaming beak in the knight's direction. That is when the second arrow came. And Sir Pelial charged boldly at the monster, aiming the lance for its serpent heart.

When the snake-king Basilisk was dead, the Aelf took her sword and cut off his ugly red head, which she placed on a hook. "Indeed, you have great skill with a bow. The second arrow hit him straight in the eye," Sir Pelial said, and then asked, "Where is the treasure?"

"'It must be in the snake-king's den. Everybody knows that is where snakes keep their gold," the Aelf replied over her shoulder. She was busy plucking feathers from the slain monster's breast. Sir Pelial stepped off his horse, and walked over to the snake-pit. He looked inside. There was no treasure.

"Why, there is nothing in here, Aelf. You have tricked me." Sir Pelial was mad, and he took his sword to cut the Aelf.

"They must have known we were coming, and moved their gold. I did not trick you, Sir Knight," the Aelf tried, nervously. "I do not wish to leave you without a reward. I will share with you a secret." Sir Pelial was listening, his face like a statue. 
"The reason why I sought to slay this here snake-king and lope off his head, was to cut his flesh and feast on it. I have been looking for one for a long, long time. Not many know this, but one that cooks and eats the meat of a snake-king will be granted the power to understand the speech of birds, and to tell the healing properties of herbs just by looking at them. It was my desire to do so," explained the Aelf.

Sir Pelial did not believe this story. "You would poison me, would you?"
"No, Sir Knight, I would not dream of it! Let us prepare the meat, and I shall eat first so that you know there is nothing to fear."

And so they dined on the snake-king Basilisk, and from that moment they could both understand the language of birds and tell the healing properties of herbs just by looking at them. The Aelf was most content. Sir Pelial would have been happier if he had found treasure in the snake's pit instead.

After their meal, on they both went to pursue Pelial's quest to slay giants in the North.

*   *   * 

This Aelf ranger is the first member to join Sir Pelial's retinue. Keeping in theme with my other Vvolos faction members, I based this on an older Warhammer miniature. She was converted a little bit: I added a fox tail on her belt (it is emblematic of her personality, if we take a look at her actions in the above story), a bowstring (made of thread) and I elongated the hood to fall over her face and make her look more mysterious. The character has smurf skin because I imagine Aelves on my isles have bluish-greenish skin tones.

The story is based on legends and beliefs about snakes that I've found while researching for my ethnology master's thesis. In Croatian folklore, snakes are believed to have their king. This is also true of some other species of animals, but snake king is the one most widely mentioned. This is usually a very large snake with the head of a cat or rooster, or with a red 'crown' on its head, or with three heads. Nothing too unusual; basilisk/cockatrice is a thing found all over Europe in one form or another. The famous deadly gaze is not a feature of the Croatian snake king, but there is a belief a snake's eyes can be hypnotising (which they use when hunting their prey; a bird, for example). The king, or some other special snake in other instances, often guards a treasure (can be a variety of things), and there are special ways to obtain it. I also found a story about hunters who decapitated a three-headed snake king and ate him, in order to gain the power to understand the language of animals and knowledge of healing herbs. I find this especially unusual because, at the same time, the flesh of a venomous animal was usually believed to be poisonous itself, and therefore not good to eat. It's all quite bizarre from the perspective of here and now, but very interesting to me. 

The monster from the tale of Sir Pelial will not appear in the Legen game. I'd had this Cockatrice conversion on my 'to do' list for a while, and since an opportunity arose to include it in a story, I finally did it. It's based on the mount from one of Malifaux Gremlin Rooster Riders. I assembled it witout the rider, cleaned up a few details and cut off the feather tail. Then I sculpted a serpentine one (green stuff over wire armature, for scales I had a press mould saved from an earlier commission project). Reference for the monster design came from medieval depictions of basilisk/cockatrice combined with real-life chickens. Turned out as well as I'd hoped. Now that it has served its photo purpose, the model can be used for any fantasy game, so it's a useful addition to my collection. Here are some shots against a white background:

*   *   *

Some of the other Legen participants have begun posting work in progress shots. Alexander Winberg's pair of undead knights have been announced a while ago. Saul is making worried villagers of Dol for the game. Vladimir is sculpting his knight's mount: a Dureresque rhinoceros. Helge shared WIPs of one of the attacking gargants. Tommy's sphynx is being as disturbing as they get, even though it's still in its early stage. And here is Sir Pelial having a pint with the very first member of Goran's Ambivalent Cohort: