Monday, October 15, 2012

Clan Blazenbeard - The Lantern Fades

Over the last two few years I've played my Dwarf army in most of the tournaments around the Midwest. As I'm on the cusp of a few new army projects I decided Throne of Skulls would be the swan song for Clan Blazenbeard. It's not that I've grown tired of playing the Dwarfs, in fact, they actually fit my play style more than any other army.  It's more that I've done everything I wanted to do with them from a modeling perspective and I'm ready for new challenges. Certainly once a new Dwarf book drops with new toys I'm sure to dive back in and pick them up where I left them off.


I picked Throne of Skulls as their "final" tournament since it was my last tournament of the Calendar year for me. Also, ToS is the amalgamation of all things GW, which is a sweet spot for my army as this army is pure GW models. So you can imagine my excitement when I walked away from ToS with the Best Painted trophy for Fantasy. It's quite simply the perfect capstone for this army and reaffirms that now is the right time to make the change.


Recently I have started to reflect on Clan Blazenbeard and the implications of taking this heavy themed army on the tournament road show. What I hope to encapsulate below are my observations of how my particular army fared within the current tournament scene, specifically as it relates to the paint judging rubrics. Though to be fair I'm not going to cover painting directly as that has been extensively covered by othersmuch more qualified than me. Hopefully those of you starting new armies will find usefulness in the things I did well and fair warnings on the areas that I will improve on in the future.

Let's dive in right at the top and talk about army theme as this is an area that the army grades particularly well in. On a basic level the army is aesthetically and compositionally consistent as everything ties back to the central mining theme. When someone looks at the army on display it's very easy to identify the mining picks, torches and steam drills. The first models I painted were Ironbreakers (shame they never make it to the table since 8th edition started) followed by a series of stock standard core troops from the Battle of Skull Pass box set. Eventually I got an itch to do a large unit of miners and that is when the theme really took off. The miners unit was the first time I incorporated the mine shaft unit fillers. It was also the first time I heavily converted models with special face masks and steam drills which is something I've continued on many units afterwards. This carried over to the other infantry units by using miner torsos and heads for my Warriors and the War Machine crew. Finally, the War Machines themselves are so heavily converted that it was impossible to miss that they are built for excavating and blasting through rock. 
In addition to how the army was modeled I fleshed out the theme with a rich origin story that I prominently display with the army and include within the army list provided to my opponents. It details where Clan Blazenbeard came from, the history of Drengi Grung, what's up with the orange beards along with where all the weird mining equipment came from. Within the story I fleshed out names for all the prominent characters, units and war machines which I also incorporate into the army lists. The link above will take you to the full story. Here is a summary from the fluff:

Originally settling in Slayer Keep, Blazenbeard can trace their lineage to the distant Thanes of Karak Kadrin. Over the years their mining expeditions have led them deeper into the mountains finally putting down roots in an exhausted mine near the end of Peaks Pass. As the Clan dyes their hair in homage to the Slayer Kings of Antiquity the Dawi have come to know this hold as Drengi Grung, which in manling translates to "Slayer Mine". Far removed from the prying eyes of the Engineering Guild the Clan has invented several pieces of innovative mining technology which ensures their continued influence over the Mining Guild and access to some of the richest mineral deposits in the region.

All of these pieces join together to make a singular, cohesive theme which makes the army score really well on the theme-specific check boxes. I do hope I will be able to find equally original themes and background stories for all my future army projects.

Color Palette

Over the years in too many art classes to count I learned the value of strong, harmonious
color schemes. This more than any other single factor determines how others will receive the visual impact of the army. When I set out on this army back in 6th edtion the most important thing I wanted to achieve was to individualize the look and make it my own. I envisioned a strong mining army anchored by a large (by 6th edition standards) contingent of Ironbreakers. I've always been enamored by the background and fluff of these stout underground warriors. However, when I scoured for sources of inspiration all I saw were Ironbreakers painted up in cool schemes that included the typical (and uninteresting) silver armor. The more I thought about it the more I felt it was time for Ironbreakers with bronze armor. Also, it didn't hurt that I had a fairly decent process for the bronze and gold armor after toiling on my Tomb Kings for so many years. After I had settled on the armor I used a color wheel to find some complementary colors that would make the army pop and reinforce the warm color scheme I wanted. I finally selected orange and came up with the background for why their beards were all the same. I then came up with my step by step process for painting the models and got to work. Over the years as I continually added more units I improved my techniques and refined my painting process.

In the end the strong and a-typical color scheme has been very beneficial. It was a simple scheme that I could quickly adapt it to the various units and be able to pump out models quickly, which is important given that I'm a very slow painter. The color scheme is so different from the other Dwarf armies I’ve seen that it makes it stand out. This coupled with the theme makes for a unique and individualized Dwarf army. Finally, the colors are very striking at a distant which draws the eye to want to see more and more. In the end the color scheme along with the mine shafts is what most folks remember about my army.


As anyone but the blind will attest the largest deficiency with my army is basing. It's even more apparent with the work that Joe has recently put in on his Demon bases. As the army was started many years ago with no consideration to tournaments I never took the time to properly think through the bases. At a basic level of functionality I failed to adequately determine how I would transport the army early in the process as to avoid having to apply rare earth models retroactively to a large portion of the army all at one. In terms of appearance I never thought it through until after I had the first batch of models completed. This means that most of the bases, particularly the older ones, are simply covered by a dry brushed texture and accented by gray flock and dead grass. The cool gray base contrasts well with the warm color scheme of the model and is appropriately evocative of a mine shaft. However, it was an opportunity missed to have the high movement and dynamic bases that yield the wow factor in some of the great armies I've seen. One great example is Ryan Nichols's demon army where the units are clamoring over ancient ruins that span multiple bases. By paring this with appropriately converted models the whole army emotes speed, which is both terrifying and consistent with an army of Khorne.  Another great example is Domus's forest bases of varying heights which when used in moderation are effective at breaking up the monotony of having the whole army at one level. Fortunately, this is something I've been able to squeeze into the army on some of my newer characters.

Making Characters Stand Out

An area that awards specific points in many painting rubrics relates to characters. Specifically, are they appropriately modeled and painted to stand out from the rest of the army. Given the theme and color scheme of my army this was a real danger area for me. The army from a short distance away is a wall of warm bronze, oranges and reds. You have to get up close to see the detail. As a slave to theme I decided to use the same color scheme for characters meaning I ran the risk they would blend in seamlessly into the background once placed into units. One simple thing I did was to use alternative GW models where possible (remember I play in a GW bunker which means true alternative models are not an option). For example my Dragon Slayer hero is a Los Angeles Games Day model from a few years ago (thanks Rob!). It's such an uncommon model to see that folks often mistake it for a conversion. Either way it's an awesome model that is a real attention grabber. I also use characters as an opportunity to go over the top with conversions. Maintaining full WYSIWYG I tried to make all of my significant characters as different as possible from the stock model. One good example is my Dwarf Lord who was converted from a great weapon to hand weapon and shield. Another example is the Battle Standard Bearer that I made from plastic bits and a sculpted torso. Finally, I use each character's basing as a way to change the height of the model to further differentiate them from the unit and army. Going one step further I used the height to define their status in the clan, reserving the loftiest heights for the Lords. So the Dwarf Lord is, obviously, on Shield Bearers and the Rune Lord is standing on top of a crate.

While I think I was sort of successful in this area there are a few things I wish I would have improved on. One is to add freehand to the characters to make them further stand out. The best example is to simply add tattoos to the Dragon Slayer. Maybe one day when my freehand ability improves. Another simple thing is to give the lords white beards to indicate their status and further contrast against the wall of orange. Finally, my battle standard bearer carries a magical mining lamp rather than the typical army standard. It's a subtle thing that is often lost in the shuffle and a missed opportunity for an over the top banner to make him really stand out. This is something that I like to call the "Johnny Factor".

Movement Trays

This is another area that did not get enough consideration at the front end of the process. After several units were completed I simply selected the option that appeared to be the easiest. I created the movement trays using the GW modular movement tray kit. I filled in the various gaps and textured the edge using sand. I followed this up by painting the movement trays in the same color scheme used on the bases and display board. I finally applied some winter grass tufts to add interest to the wall of gray. Given the appearance checklist I typically get all of the points relating to the movement trays. But in retrospect it was an opportunity missed as I could have done so much more with the trays visually. I could have made the trays match the display board better. I could have made the trays (and the bases) look like planking to give the appearance of the army was standing on the wooden floors of a mine shaft.

One thing about the movement trays that I am happy with is their functionality. I mounted a precut steel insert from Shogun Miniatures into the tray using 2 part epoxy. This gave something for the magnets in the models bases to adhere to along with the added benefit that the trays were slightly heavier and less prone to flexing. Finally I drilled out small 1/8" holes in the bottom of the tray and inserted rare earth magnets. This secures the movement trays to the steel inserts in my Table War case.

Unit fillers

There is not always a specific check box on the painting rubric for unit fillers, but when they are done well they will always improve your score for theme. However, at this point I should mention that I have a strong opinion of unit fillers and their application. I loathe unit fillers that are simply used as a way to avoid either the time commitment or the cost of building larger units. You want a block of 50 Bloodletters, than suck it up and paint the models. I also hate the mixing of different troop types (ogres in a night goblin unit for example) as it's much more difficult to track wound allocation. Bad or abusive unit fillers rank up there with count as armies in my book.

To give the appearance that the army is in a mine shaft I've created several interchangeable
mine support beams. I created the beams using a pair of wooden wall supports from the GW Watchtower kit. The beams are mounted on 20mm bases and are placed typically in the center of the 2nd rank of infantry units along with additional beams at the back of deeper units. The beams are treated as a one wound and are removed in place of a single model. They work really well as they support the theme yet are easy for my opponents to understand what they count as. In fact in all my games of 8th edition with this army I've only been asked once about the unit fillers.

Looking at them in hindsight I still think there is more I could do with them. I could easily add lanterns or torches to individualize each of the beams. I could do more with their bases like adding the typical equipment and supplies you would see in a mine, like a pick axe leaning against the beam. In the end though, I'm still really happy with how they turned out as they, along with the orange beards, are two hallmarks of the army that everyone remembers.

Display Board
Display boards are absolutely included on every painting rubric I've seen. It's a must have with any serious tournament army. Since running this army on the Indy GT circuit within 8th edition I've actually had two different display boards. My first was a very simple 3 tiered display board I created for Brawler Bash 2011. It was painted in mottled grays and took about a weekend to
construct. One thing I appreciated with this board was that it was very versatile as it could be used with numerous army builds and even different armies if necessary. However, as my tastes shifted and my infantry units started to get deeper I started to run into trouble fitting them on the board. Also, the board was a bit lacking in the theme department. It really didn't convey the look of the infamous Dwarven hold, Drengi Grung.

So for Waaaghpaca this year I created a new board building on what I had learned from the first board. I won't go into great detail about its construction because it's covered at nauseaom on the blog. However, the impetus for the new board was to showcase the entrance to Drengi Grung and allow the army to be presented as if defending the hold. Secondary objectives were to accommodate the deeper units and to light the mine shaft with LED lighting effects that give the impression of torch light from within the mine. Ultimately the new board improved my paint score in regards to theme and definitely solidified a few best army votes in the process.

Army Add Ons

Always one to push things over the top I added a few extra things to my army that enhance the theme in the mind of the viewer. The first is a map of the Old World which incorporates Drengi Grung. Using Adobe Shop I created the map and printed it out on heavy off-white resume paper. Then tapping into my inner Martha Stewart I "aged" the paper. This boiled down to crumpling the paper, staining it with and then drying it in the oven at the lowest temperature available. Placing it in frame I display it next to the army and it's just one more touch that shows how much effort and thought I put into the army.
The second thing that I created for my army is custom Dwarf dice. After creating the runes in Photoshop I had Chessex replace the "6" with the runes on copper and steel colored dice. I'm currently up to 8 different dice with more hopefully on the way. I enjoy using the dice in game as it continually ties me to the army while playing. As a bonus if my opponent gave me a great game I will typically offer up a pair of the dice as a small thank you.

Both of these things haven't directly affected my paint score but they further round out my army theme which everyone seems to appreciate. And after meeting fellow Dwarf player, Iggie Helmetcleaver, at Buckeyes Battles last year I will never worry about going too far ever again. He was so committed to his army that he covered his arms with Dwarf tattoos. And to show just how hardcore he was his tattoos had tattoos.


For those of you that made it through this lengthy post, congratulations. Hopefully, you found at least one useful nugget buried here that will help you on your next army project. If you have anything to add to the conversation I would love to hear (or read as the case may be) your thoughts in the comments sections below.  Finally, GW took a ton of photos of my army for the website that should be posted with the Throne of Skulls results in the near future. 


Johnny Hastings said...

Excellent post Rob! It's kewl to follow an army like that, along with your thought processes and goals. I dig it. It's clear that you poured a ton of yourself into this army, and I can totally relate.

Johnny Hastings said...

PS You spelled lantern wrong in the title brah.

retroalias said...

Thanks Johnny. I fixed the Title. I'm a terrible speller. :(

Rogers said...

Nice post man! Good read for sure.

Unknown said...

Awesome army. Looked even better in person when I saw it at Buckeye. Your blogs on the army help motivate me to finish my own converted Epire ary.
Sad to see the clan retired but looking forward to seeing what else you come up with.

retroalias said...

Thanks Keith! Looking forward to catching up with you, Kevin and the rest of your Erie, PA crew at next years Buckeye.

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