I love painting. I also love modelling, sculpting and I even quite enjoy playing, but especially I love painting. Why then is it that I almost never find myself painting except when I'm frantically trying to get something ready for an event? BOYL 2016 was a case in point. Great motivation it was to finally finish off the units for my Fimir army which had been building over the past year or four. Whilst it got done (along with a load of heroquest models I'd been similarly stalling on getting painted)the rate of 208 models in 25 days is not one I wish to repeat anytime soon!
This seems to be a fairly common problem. Lives are busy and hobbies get pushed to the sidelines by all the other things that need to be done. In the wake of BOY 2016 I have already seen three attempts to get ahead of the game ready for next year. Paul/Golgfag is working his way through an extensive Barbarian horde and pile of Dark Elves. I was honoured by an invite to join this year's Tale of Four Gamers, but had to decline since I will be tied up with GROG's big dungeon bash at BOYL next year. Over at Snickit's Tail the "I'm a dad with no time or I'm a slow painter challenge" is open to allcomers trying to get 1000 pts of 3rd ed army done in time for next summer. Well, I'm not a dad, and since I pulled off 208 figures in 25 days and don't tend to leave models sat half-painted for more than a day or so I think I'm probably out of the running for being a slow painter. BUT I do need a challenge for myself otherwise it will be another year before I lay down the sculpting tools to pick up a paintbrush again.
My 'to paint' shelves are a bit less full not the Fimir have cleared off to their swamp, but there's still plenty to choose from. I've got the Oathsworn Burrows and Badgers minis I want to paint up as a Mordheim Skaven warband. There's half an Egyptian-themed High Elf army left to do. Still a few AdMech units to get some colour on. I've spent some of the last week playing around with converting crazy Chaos Daemons and thinking I should really make a start on the Snakemen. There's the Gobinoids Combat Cards minis I still want to get going on before somebody else beats me to it. I've got a big drawer of Snotlings all divided up into units ready to form a massive Cave Snots force and my Space Crusade minis are not going to paint themselves... all in all quite a lot to pick from. But naturally when an idea pops into your head you have to abandon a thoughts of the stuff you already have and acquire more minis. And such an idea has just popped...
The first army I ever had was an Undead 4th Edition force. It was a small affair, mainly heroquest skeletons, a chariot, a few horsemen and some archers with a necromancer, vampire and (ambitiously) Nagash. Now it's long gone, and I'm not going to pretend it was ever a fantastic sight, the envy of all my friends or particularly good at winning battles. That said, when I was packing away my heroquest miniatures after BOYL this year I realised that I'd been concentrating on greenskins and had quite an array of goblins, orcs and fimir, but my undead were seriously lacking numerically. That doesn't matter for games of HQ, it's rare you'd ever have more than a handful of skellibobs on the table at any time, but they looked so pitifully outnumbered as I painstakingly boxed everything up in lines of creature type that I thought I really ought to even things up a bit... to ebay for HQ undead! And there's the thing. I couldn't find much at all, not at prices I was willing to pay for cheap plastic grim reapers anyhow, so my attention drifted to other undead and I got to thinking whether I could put together a small force that was the undead army I had in my head way back when I started collecting... cue wavy flashback thing.
So then, thinking about building an Undead army from scratch. There are a few things that are essentials to my mind. Firstly, I am not a Zombie person, or a Mummy person. I'm wanting Old-World Skeletons of the grungy, 80s type with bits of armour and stuff hanging off them. Secondly, I'm looking for miniatures with character. Thirdly I mainly play 3rd Edition Fantasy when I play anything at all these days, but I do also have friends who play 8th and for the sake of nostalgia I'd like to have a 4th-compatible list, so whatever force I build has to work well points-wise in 3rd, 4th and 8th editions. I don't want this to be an enormous task, so my current plan is to work to a 1500 pt 3rd ed contingent, which will probably give me an OK 1000pt 8th ed army. I can always bulk up with some allies or more units at a later date. There have to be missile weapons in the army, I already have a close quarters force in my Fimir and want this contingent to be more flexible. Lastly I don't want to spend a fortune on this. Since I plan to collect and complete this army quite fast (we shall see) and I have almost no undead lying around to raise up I will be buying pretty much everything. Whilst I like the C-series Citadel and Iron Claw skeletons a lot I'm not going to have the time to wait for good value models to float onto the bay of e or come up in trades. If they do, great, if they don't it won't cause me a problem. So, I'm looking for currently available miniatures with at least an old-school feel if not actual pedigree. In 3rd ed a standard skeleton warrior is 10pts, so I'm going to set my budget at £150 for the army. That's £1 a skeleton or £1 every 10 points. Obviously I won't just have skeletons, any savings I make on other things can go into making the rank and file more interesting.
First things first, let's see what I already have in the collection to start things off:
A Bob Olley Q111 Liche Master on galloping horse from Essex Miniatures which I bought when I discovered Essex were still doing loads of old stuff. I love this guy, and his horse is the epitome of what an undead steed should look like to my mind. Grimacing, wild, gangrel... OK. So this guy will be my necromancer. This means of course I will have to have some more horsemen in the army, and their horses will have to tie in well.
Not quite so old this one, Krell- the second edition of. I did have this guy in my first army, and picked him up to have him as a character in my (unstarted) Chaos Warrior unit. Now this gives me an idea. In Terror of the Lichemaster it relates how Heinrich Kemler raised Krell and his followers into a terrible undead force. I already have a Lichemaster (albeit not either of the actual Kemler/Kemmler models) so how about the army is Krell's retinue? That means I'm looking for skeletons who look like they were formerly Chaos Warriors, Marauders and Thugs. I've already said I'm not a Zombie fan, so whilst I understand why Mikael Jacsen has a Zombie unit behind him I'm going to either dispense with it or use HQ Zombies. My thinking is that Krell's force has been buried for a very long time and any flesh is we and truly gone. If they want Zombies they'll have to make fresh kills first.
Old Longhorn. Ideally I'll find his chariot at a good price (if anyone has one they want rid of...) but I think that's unlikely, so he'll probably just be a champion in one of the skeleton units.
And lastly some new-oldhammer in the form of Tim Prow's Diehard miniatures undead knight and minotaur. I liked the models, I wasn't sure what I would do with them, I have now decided. They will be an independent pair in the army, a Chaos Knight and his former minotaur bodyguard, bound together beyond the grave.
Right, that's a starting point. Now where to look for models? My first port of call was Essex, since I already had the Liche Master and his perfect steed. Now Bob Olley is a bit of a marmite sculptor, you either love it or hate it. For grizzled old characters like the Liche Master I think he's tough to beat, but for skeletons? The Iron Claw horses are nice (sadly very OOP) but the skeletons themselves don't do anything for me, especially the Essex ones. I have begun my purchases by ordering their 4 mounted skeletons which look quite good. If the riders turn out to be poor I can always keep the steeds and replace them. That's a start anyhow.
My next go-to was more positive. The good ol' pedigree of Ral Partha Europe. They have some great miniatures in the undead category, not just in the Ral Partha Fantasy section either but in the Mage Knight, Fantasy Warbands and Horrors sections too. My initial wishlist from them totals about £100, so clearly some whittling down to be done, but good to know the selection is there. What I really like is the number of the skeletons which look like they have the remnants of chaotic armour on, really suited to the theme. They also have some great armoured skeleton steeds, although they aren't that cheap and their light cavalry steeds look like less good sculpts. There are some gems in here too which will be must-haves on my list. I'm definitely having the Necromancer on Undead Pegasus and Tome Meier's original Zombie Dragon is an essential. I don't care if the army's not really large enough for a Zombie Dragon, it's such a great model it's going in! A bit of pondering and editing and I'm down to 18 infantry, 5 cavalry (those chaosy-barded beasts are great for the theme!), the bolt thrower and the Zombie Dragon. That's about £90 for almost a whole unit (with Krell and the Longhorn that's a whole unit) of 20 infantry and along with the Essex cavalry will be my death riders sorted. Lined up to purchase when there are funds.
Now at an average of £2.50-3 per model RPE's miniatures are not going to build me blocks of skeletons at the size a 1500pt force of undead requires within my budget. That pretty much means I'm looking at plastic skellibobs to lower the per-unit price. A few years back I bought my wife some Wargames Factory skeletons which were great models (slim and Harryhausen-esque) and at 30 for £15 a great buy economically. Sadly they seem to be no longer available anywhere so my next go-to was the good-but-not-quite-so-good-value Mantic sets. I've looked at them previously and not really liked them much, but with the Chaos theme in mind their tattered robes and helmets work better to my mind. Plus RPE do packs of 12 skulls, so I can mix up the heads a bit more to unify them. I'm as yet undecided whether to opt for the 40 or 20-strong box, it may be useful to have the extra bodies if my budget can take it, but the unit of 20 will fill my second block of infantry just fine.
My next thought was to check out Grenadier's offerings for still-in-production old-school skellies. I discovered some great skeleton cavalry which I'd love to add in to the force... through Mirliton which means shipping to the UK worked out at 17 euros when I tried the check out to see. Miniature Heroes, which is a great site for getting stuff in the UK that's otherwise only available overseas, does have them, but at £13.23 for a pair it's getting on the pricey side. So if anyone has any Grenadier skeletons they'd like to sell or trade and are in the UK, let me know! Tempted with their undead mammoth and rhino, but that would about blow my budget in one fell swoop!
I had a similar problem with RAFM. Again, some great models including some stunning undead cavalry but all in America with $18 overseas shipping. Not huge as some shipping goes, but everything spent on postage decreases the amount of minis I can get for my £150.
Alternative Armies have a few decent offerings in their variable collection, some very former-chaos looking characters, but probably too few to be value for money with postage. Denizen's Legion of the Damned however I may well pay a visit to for skeletons under the £2 bracket and a couple of good mounted models under £3.
So, to the list. Here are my current thoughts based on what my internet trawl has pulled up:
Henrich Kemler on undead steed
5-9 skeleton horsemen
2 units of 20 skeletons, one heavily armoured former-chaos-warriors lead by Krell
one unit of 10-20 skeleton bowmen
a war machine (bolt thrower or catapult)
the Zombie Dragon
a chariot- the plastic undead chariot was the first thing I bought for my 4th ed army and is a thing which must be recreated!
That works out at about 1500 (allowing for magic items) in 3rd, calling Kemler a lv15 Necromancer and Krell a lv15 hero which is probably doing them a disservice! Krell and Kemler/Kemmler in 4th come out at a staggering 845pts together, which is technically illegal for a 1500pt army, but since the Zombie Dragon is 500 pts both he and the two characters can legally fit into the 2000pt force which the army becomes! I will have to see how they fit into Vampire Counts/Tomb Kings lists as I don't have either at 8th ed yet. We'll also see how that wandering undead minotaur and necromancer on a Pegasus fit!
Well, that all seems fairly successful so far... let me know you thoughts if you're experienced playing undead in any of those eras, know of any suppliers I've missed or have stocks of Grenadier, RAFM, Citadel (especially the chariots) or any other manufacturer's skeletons available for sale or trade. Or if you want to jump in on an order and split postage. :) Cheers all.