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Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Dameon Princess for a Naughty New Year's

Hey there Chaos fanatics. Old Man Chaos is back with a bit fun. For Christmas, I bought my friend Pete a basic "studio" kit- it came with some lights, different fabric backgrounds, etc. It is the perfect size for taking pics of Warhammer miniatures. He told me that it was great, and I said "Boy, I should get one of those for my blog". As it turns out, my brother was listening, and he decided to get one for me for Christmas.

The thing is awesome, no doubt. Now, I am sure there are "higher end" products like this on the market, but it is something so simple, so basic, that it is perfect for someone like me- I'm an amateur, not a photographer. This is just the right speed for me, and I love it- both for its ease of use functionality and for the fact that I will no longer have to use the backs of foam trays to block out the background (which is invariably my living room).

So, I decided to take it for a test whirl by taking pics of something that I don't believe that I have ever shown on my blog before- my "Daemon Princess of Slaanesh". Undoubtedly, many of you recognize the model as the Ultraforge Pleasure Daemon. Holy cow- what a model. When the original Daemon codex appeared several years ago, everyone wanted a Daemon Prince with the Lash of Despair. Hehe! Now here was a model that looked perfectly "Slaaneshi", and it had a whip. Perfect indeed!

I wanted to paint the model to look similar to, but different from, what I was planning to do with my Slaanseh Daemonettes- black clothing (S&M leather), with purples, pinks, and a nice-looking skin tone (for me, what GW shows as their Daemonettes is actually waaaaayyy too ugly for Slaanesh- and I like the old metal ones better, truth be told).

At any rate, assembling and painting this model was a breeze. The flesh tone came out perfectly and smoothly, and the wings made a nice contrast with the rest of the model. The black "leather" and metal studs complete the effect. Finally, I added some runes (which I copied out of a Fantasy book, but I can't remember what they mean...).

It has been ages since I have used this model, and after looking at it now I realize that I should correct that- it is an amazing model, if not entirely PC. However, it certainly fits with the fluff and aesthetic of Slaanesh.

As for the photography kit- it works very well. The pictures I got with this are just great. The details show, the colors pop, and I have nothing getting in the way in the background. Further, these pics were taken with a simple digital camera (I don't have a fancy SLR or anything), and the result is just terrific. Maybe one day I'll get a better camera or something (again, I am more of an amateur).

So, now that I have my new "studio", I will be showing more pics of my previous models, and also as I finish new ones (and boy, I have a few doozies in the pipeline that I am really excited about). I plan on showing another of my old Ultraforge models very soon too... Hehe.

Anyways, I hope that you like the pics and much as I enjoyed shooting the pics (which I certainly did). Until next time...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Hey there, my fellow followers of the Ruinous Powers. Old Man Chaos is back with a (somewhat brief) review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which I shall just call Hobbit DOS just for short). Shall we begin?

OK. Let me be honest. I was very disappointed with Hobbit 1. As a guy who loved Lord of The Rings trilogy, seeing them as the pinnacle of what film-making could accomplish in terms of story, characterization, and special effects, it is understandable that my expectations were quite high for the adaptation of The Hobbit. Now, I knew that there was no way it could live up to LOTR (how could it, it's a single story, lighter in tone), but I was unprepared for just how bad Hobbit UJ turned out to be. I hated it. I have never felt so dejected about a movie (even, believe it or not, Episode I)- I left the theater not wanting to see it again (I saw each of the LOTR movies multiple times in the theater). My original review is HERE - it captures my disappointment and bitterness quite well. A few weeks ago, they released Hobbit UJ Extended Edition, and I decided to pick it up and give it another try. It was telling that the extended cut is only like 10 minutes more footage. At any rate, upon watching it, my opinion remained largely unchanged. My complaints about Hobbit UJ remained, despite my giving it a second chance. At this point, I felt little desire to see Hobbit DOS.

However, last week some reviews began to appear on line. Although they varied in their enthusiasm, the consensus seemed to be that Hobbit DOS was a great improvement over the first. Now, I was torn. I wanted this movie to be good. Perhaps Hobbit UJ was just a fluke. Maybe it was just "ring-rust" that Jackson and company had to work through. Or... was Hobbit DOS destined to fail? Were the reviewers just so elated that Hobbit DOS wasn't the train-wreck that the first was, that they let their positive hyperbole get the better of them? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me...

Bilbo wasn't too happy with the first movie either
Luckily, that was not the case. Hobbit DOS was pretty darn good. Now, it at no point reached the stately, graceful power of the LOTR movies. However, it was a really good, fun, action packed, and at times contemplative film. Gone were the inane attempts at humor, the slap-stick, the fart/bleach jokes, the "forced" moments that meandered and moved along at a snails pace. Instead, we have a  movie that has a mission, and pretty much sticks to it throughout. The characters- even a few of those 13 dwarves, are developed a bit more, while new characters add some much needed depth and contrast. The action is almost constant, with many deeds of daring do, and the stakes are getting higher. Finally, there is a theme emerging here, which I did not expect, which the dragon Smaug ties into perfectly- how greed destroys you from within.

Let's take a few things in turn. First, the action sequences are plainly better. In Hobbit UJ, the few action scenes there were simply were stupid. The fight in the Goblin kingdom was the height of it- no danger, no menace, with a compete disregard for the gritty semi-realism that made LOTR so powerful. In DOS, the action scenes are frantic, with injuries occurring and at all times there is a real threat. From the Mirkwood spiders to the barrel chase to the confrontation with Smaug, their journey is fraught with risk and danger. The action scenes (mostly) mean something to the plot, and characters change as a result of these perils. There's one or two bits that echo UJ, but those are few, and the rest more than makes up for those deficiencies. 

Now, about the characters. Bilbo certainly shines in the first part and the last part (admittedly he gets a little lost in the shuffle in the middle section). Bilbo is clearly becoming braver, more shrewd. He saves the dwarves single- handed in more than one instance. His confrontation with the Mirkwood spiders was a real highlight for me, and his "escape plan" in the barrels is amusing and cunning all at once. Then, at the end, his "confrontation" with Smaug is just wonderful (more on that later). However, Jackson carefully posits the question- is Bilbo getting braver, or is it the ring already manipulating him? A great moral shading here, and well handled.

Some of the dwarves are also given more to do. Thorin, of course, is a strong presence here, being brave but also facing impossible odds- it hangs heavily upon him. His decision to abandon an injured comrade is both sad but very believable. However, Jackson again adds some shading here- is Thorin doing right by his people, or is it "personal"? Does he want to restore his homeland for his people, or does he simply want to be king again, whatever the cost?

The new characters get plenty, and are indeed essential to the theme that Jackson seems to be working on here. The first is Thranduil, the king of the wood elves. His elf king is all but detached from the world, and this is due to an underlying selfishness- the troubles of the world are not for him to get involved in. He simply wants to carry on as he has been. His son, Legolas (back from LOTR in a big role, as it turns out) generally agrees with his father, but his views are tested by Tauriel (well-played by Evangeline Lilly) a female elf that realizes the need to help others and begs Legolas to look beyond to the rest of the world (thus, Legolas will have a transforming arc, which is quite interesting). Finally, there's the people of Laketown, notably Bard, an honest man who has a great doubt gnawing at him; and the greedy and corpulent "Master of Laketown", who decides to aid the dwarves for selfish reasons. All these new roles are preformed very well, adding some great new characters to Jackson's cinematic universe. Lee Pace in particular is great as Thranduil- selfish, uncaring, and short-sighted. He is a great contrast to the wise Elrond and the inspiring Galadriel and the actor plays him very well.

Now, let's get to the titular dragon and the theme of the movie (indeed- the whole Hobbit trilogy?). If it plays out as it looks to, Gandalf is aware that Sauron is trying to return (in the form of the mysterious Necromancer- who is realized by a brilliant special effect). Now, Gandalf goes to investigate this Necromancer- and his fears are realized. What is allowing Sauron to make his return? Greed and selfishness. At the end of DOS it hit me how many of the characters are motivated by greed or entirely selfish needs: Thurandril and (initially) Legolas, Thorin, the "Master of Laketown", the people of Laketown, and, of course, Smaug. These are contrasted by characters who act to help others, who want to aid those in need, including Bilbo, Balin, Tauriel, Bard, and of course, Gandalf (he sees farther than all the others, admittedly, but he is motivated to help all of Middle Earth).

This shot has more thematic importance than might be guessed at first glance
Greed and selfishness have driven the "free peoples of Middle Earth" apart. Insular, self-serving, and indifferent to the needs of others, most of the kingdoms of Middle Earth have put their heads in the sand, unwilling or unable to acknowledge the growing threats and work together to form a solution. This moral failing allows Sauron to begin working toward his return. If they peoples of Middle Earth are busy being suspicious and angry at one another, how can they possibly join hands to stop Sauron?

And, tying all this together is Smaug. Voiced (and played, via motion capture) with superb skill by Benedict Cumberbatch (he's still NOT Khan), Smaug is the brilliantly realized (both in technical and in character terms) epitome of the evil of greed- scary, fearsome, and neigh unstoppable. As a greedy dragon, Smaug wants all the gold he can get (why does he want/need it? Who knows? It makes no sense, which is exactly the problem with insatiable greed), thus he has driven out the dwarves of Erebor and has stayed with his gold for decades, never leaving the Lonely Mountain. He is powerful, vicious, slightly slothful, greedy, and very condescending while being supremely intelligent. He has all this great and terrible power, but all he wants is to guard his hoard.  Smaug is the ugly side of such greed and selfishness, his flames filled with hate and jealousy at those who would wrest his wealth from him, and Thorin has similar feelings- does Thorin want Smaug out to reclaim the kingdom for his people, or does he simply want the wealth and power of Erebor for himself?

As Sauron returns, Smaug would be a natural ally, one who would burn all of civilization just for more gold, while scaring the people of Middle Earth into submission, making Sauron's job easier. Thus, greed becomes a force for even greater evil. Each of the characters is going to have to make a choice- help others or let greed and self-interest have sway. As Bilbo says at the end of the movie- "What have we done?" fits the mood and theme of the film perfectly. I commend Jackson and co for expounding on this so well- after UJ I didn't think he had it in him. Luckily, I was wrong.

There are, of course, flaws in the film that certainly keep it from LOTR status. There's a bit too much going on at times, the screen is a bit too busy for its own good- and you can't get a good fix at what's happening. There is also a lot of padding, with some bits that simply could have been cut- I'm tired of the Orcs mindlessly chasing the Dwarves for the umpteenth time. I also felt that the dwarf battle with Smaug was a bit too much, as it was apparent they couldn't win and as the "battle" went longer the energy of the scene dissipated. Finally, since the Hobbit is such a smaller book, its insane that there are 3 almost 3 hour movies to come from that one book, and you can just feel how they are adding stuff just to fill that run time. There are still issues with having too many dwarves, and there's the occasional bit that just doesn't ring true. Could Tauriel really "love" a dwarf? I'd prefer to think that she is just fascinated by this outsider, rather than "in love", which smacks of studio demographic testing.

Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is superior in every way to its predecessor. The action, the stakes, the characterization, and most importantly, a bigger theme are all well done. IF this had been the way The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey had been handled, this doubt about the Hobbit trilogy would never have come to pass. The quality of DOS makes UJ all the more maddening- how did they make such a poor film, and follow it up by such a strong one. The best I can say about DOS is that I left the theater happy, and I may see it in theaters again. At the very least, I will be looking forward to seeing it on DVD, and I am hopeful now about the third Hobbit movie, concluding the trilogy. If it is as good as this one, I'll be thrilled. I guess two out of three ain't bad. I give it 3 out of 4 Marks of Chaos

Until Next Time!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Grand Unveiling: The Lord of Skulls

Hey there Chaos fanatics. Let's just get right to it, shall we? Drum roll please.... I submit to you, for your approval... The LORD OF SKULLS!!!!

The Lord of Skulls
The Lord of Battles
Krond- The Beast's Head!

 Now before some of my friends start going crazy that Lords of War unbalance the game and that 40K is ruined all that (and you are certainly entitled to your opinions), take a moment with me here. This beast came out in last June/July with Apocalypse. Now, I really wanted the model (was GW reading my mind? I just started my Khorne army that fall...), but it is, as you know, quite pricey. Although I really wanted it as a centerpiece to my World Eaters, I knew that I wouldn't use it that often (outside of the odd Apoc game), and that it would, sadly, collect dust along side my Plaguereaper and Warhound Titan (great models, but not allowed in regular games). So, I decided not to get it.

That didn't stop me from drooling over it every time I went into a hobby store that had it. My brother and my wife noticed, and decided to get it for me for my birthday. Luckily, they got a good deal online, so they didn't pay full price. Little did I know, upon opening it, that the game was about to change, and Escalation would allow me to use this monster in regular games. Possibly.

Now there is currently a huge debate as to whether Escalation breaks 40K. Some love the idea, others loathe it. I see it as this- I've got this cool model, and I'd love to use it besides Apoc. Here's what I propose. If you are playing a one off game in a local, have 2 lists ready- one with the Lord of War, one without. Tell the person you're going to play- and give them the option. I bet that most will say yes (they want a challenge, they have already planned for it, etc). I think players just want to have a choice in the matter, and I think most players will go for it. As for tournaments, well, that is up to the tournament. I like the idea of an "escalation" league- starting with say 1000 points, the next battle is 1500, and the final battle utilizes a Lord of War... that would be a blast, actually. Again, it'll be on a tournament by tournament basis. And hey, more choice and options are good for this game, I think.

Anyways, I didn't know of Escalation when I got the Lord of Skulls, but I was thrilled. My wife and brother were not, as I knew what it was before I unwrapped it (the size of the box was a dead giveaway). Knowing the complexity of the model, I decided not to assemble it immediately. Instead, I ... gasp.... read the instructions first (which I rarely do).

After going through it a few times, I decided to dive in. It turns out that the model is in fact quite a breeze to put together. There were a couple of challenges, but it actually went quite well. The hardest part, strangely, was putting the pistons of the body on the tank part- it didn't quite line up for some reason, but I managed to get it. The other thing was the axe arm. It seems to only want to be placed in lower positions. I wanted it raised up, like he was going to strike. It worked out, but the shoulder pad is a bit uneven, since the arm was not supposed to be that high. Once it was done, I decided to add two things. Neither were anything huge- this model really doesn't need conversion, as it has a ton of details already.

Painting it was the hard part. The thing is huge, with lots of nooks and crannies, and you simply can't paint it while its sitting on the table. But, its a heavy model to hold, and there are little spikes and the tracks are rough- making it a bit painful to hold- just the way Khorne would like it, I suppose.

My determination was to paint him exactly the way my Bezerkers. I had Khorne Red base, Nuln Oil wash, crimson wash, and a P3 red ink (lightly). The highlights are Wazdakka Red. The treads and pipes are Leadbelcher, followed by Nuln and Earthshade washes (dirty and dull but not rusted).

The armor trim and symbols were straight up Brass Scorpion with some Runelord Brass highlights. The "warp energy" is Maccragge Blue followed by a streak of Caledor Sky (a sickly warp emanation powers the beast). The skulls were done with Dust followed by drybrushings of Tyrant Skull and Praxetti White.

I am most proud of the tanks. All the pics show the tanks being bright metal. I though this was too bright and distracting. Instead, I did black tanks. At first, I thought this may be too much negative space. But, as I worked on it, with leadbelcher chains and Brass Scorpion details, it started to look better. Then, I did the glass/inside. I used Mephistion Red with crimson wash, followed by highlights of Wazadakka and Evil Sunz reds. Finally, I used Dark Reaper for the empty part- followed by a simple streak of white scar, and the whole glass done with a varnish. The results are quite striking, and just what I wanted from the blood tanks.

My final task was to add some blood, and the Blood for the Blood God paint was perfect. I didn't want to overdo it, so I think I did just enough, particularly on the axe, the arm plating, and the grate in front. The effect paint is really, really handy. Now, the model was complete.

Overall, I am pleased with it. It fits in very well with the rest of my army. Indeed, I put the lone Khorne Bezerker standing on the rim, looking just like the Lord of Skulls in motion and action- the Lord of Skulls is a living effigy of the World Eaters, just as they are a mirror for the rage of Khorne. Just that little touch was enough for me.

I don't think I'll be playing at my local store until the end of the month- its a busy time of year, after all. I'll broach the matter with the guys there- I am sure that somebody would be willing to do Escalation, even if its not till the beginning of next year. I can't wait to give him a spin and try him out!

"Do you see anything?" Uhhhhh....

Skulls for the Skull Throne indeed!!!

Until next time!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Musings on Escalation

Hey there Chaos heretics and traitors! Old Man Chaos is back with a bit of review/thoughts/musings on GW's latest offering, Escalation. Now, I have been working on my Lord of Skulls diligently (a big model with a surprising amount of details). It's looking good, but I have a lot to go. I was given the Lord of Skulls by my wife and brother for my birthday- before there were real whispers of Escalation. I wanted the model when it first came out with Apocalypse in July, but I didn't have the scratch for it. Little did I know that when I got it that there would be a possibility that I could use it in regular games! I had just wanted it to be a centerpiece for my Khorne Bezerker army (and for the occasional Apoc game). Now, with Escalation, my plans on the Lord of Skulls may change.

I want to give my 2 cents about the Escalation book, but it is a complicated matter. From my viewpoint, the book is intriguing with interesting possibilities. Others may not be so sure. So, let me dissect it on an issue per issue basis:

The Escalation Book as a GW Product: My subject here is, is it worth buying? That's a complicated answer. If you don't have and don't plan to have the super heavies they have in this book (about a dozen or so), then don't bother with it, there's nothing here for you. If you do have super-heavies and but you don't want to use them outside of Apoc, then, again, don't bother with the book- especially if you already have the Apoc book, as it is pretty much a repeat of the rules found therein. However, if you have always dreamed of using your super heavy on a more frequent basis (but not liking those big Apoc battles), then this is the book for you. It gives you the rules, allowing you to incorporate your super heavy "Lord of War" into all regular battles. The book in general has a nice presentation, with a short story, the super heavy rules, data sheets, and lots of nice artwork. The best part, in my opinion, is the extra missions that the book provides- 9 in total. Some are straightforward, others are actually really cool and offer incredible challenges- in fact the writers admit that some are very difficult for one side or another- thus heroic victories and hopeless defeats are made.

Will Escalation "Unbalance" The Game: This is, I think, a simpler question, despite the howls of rage on the Internet. Some believe that the superheavies are so powerful, that they will destroy an entire army in one turn and can't be stopped at all. First off, I don't think many players will bring their Lords of War to many random pick up games. Why? For one thing, people may not want to put up with opponents whining about it, but, for a more important reason, the simple fact is MOST super heavies are just so damn expensive (points wise). Indeed, in a 2000 point game, most of the super heavies make up a huge part of your army points, leaving you with little to use otherwise. Further, they give bonuses to the player WITHOUT the super heavy, including an extra victory point for every 3 HP taken from the Lord of War- which can make all the difference in a game. Finally, most super heavies are not invulnerable. Since both glances and pens take HPs (with pens taking off an additional D3), concentrated fire can take out- it may take a turn or two, but it can be done. And then, since the Lord of War tends to cost lots of points, then the Lord of War player will be left with little else, and probably lose. I personally think Escalation will make games a bit more unpredictable if people embrace it, but I don't think it will ruin the game at all. I think, if the players accept it, it will just be one more variable in planning and playing (on top of supplements, special character sheets (like Bel'akor, allies, etc), and I think this additional variety will be a good thing.

Which Super-Heavies: Sadly, the book is very limited in terms of which super heavies are allowed in regular 40K games. Now, I wouldn't want to see anything that was TOO overpowered. However, I am disappointed that my Plague Marines can't take their Plaguereaper (its in Apoc, but not in Escalation), which is a shame. I can understand that I can't take my Plague Titan, but still... There are certainly things left out that could have been in. However, I suspect that, based on GWs digital release schedule, there may be more super heavy datasheets released, with the moniker "Escalation-approved" or something like that. Especially if Escalation is accepted by players readily. How will GW know? If they sell more Baneblades, Lord of Skulls, etc. But where's the plastic Thunderhawk?

Who Benefits The Most From Escalation: most of the super heavies are quite costly for their points. The Lord of Skulls is 100 times the sacred number of Khorne (if you catch my drift). That's a lot of scratch for an 1800 or 2000 point game. Must of the super heavies are in that upper range. However, the various Baneblade variants are in a decent price range. Imperial Guard players can take a Baneblade and still have points left over for their cheap troops and some Leman Russ'. In my opinion, Guard players are going to be even more dangerous! Space Marines get the least, as who can afford a Thunderhawk to begin with... unless a cheaper plastic one is coming...

So, what's the verdict? I won't actually give this a rating, as I think your mileage will vary depending on your views on super heavies. If you don't have one and don't plan on one, there's little point in getting this. However, if you want to blow the dust off that Baneblade or Harridan this is the book for you. If you have been drooling over the Necron Tesseract, this may push you over the edge. However, the question that everyone has is will Escalation have a negative impact on the game? I do not believe so, as I feel that GW has really done a good job of keeping it pretty even. Lords of War are incredibly powerful, but glances and pens are certainly doable, and if the Lord of War is vanquished, it will be an easy job to roll up the rest of that force.

Ultimately, time will tell, but I just think that Escalation represents just one more contingency to plan for. Personally, thinking of the fluff, it's pretty exciting, as this just makes the battlefield more nihilistic, which is what this universe is all about. I believe that if I were playing a series with a particular player/friend, this would be a fun story to tell on the battlefield- one battle is 1000 points, the next is 1800, then the last would be 2000 with a Lord of War thrown in for the exciting climax. Sounds fun to me. I am hoping that I can get the chance to play a match in a couple of weeks.

For the record, I am getting the other book, Stronghold Assault, for Christmas, so I can give my impressions then.

Until next time...