Friday, May 31, 2013

Grumpy Old Stoners

Petrifaction is a process by which matter composing a [once] living creature is replaced with minerals, resulting in a change from organic material to stone. In the fantasy genre, the power of petrifaction has been instantaneous and lethal, but NetHack had an interesting variation where under certain circumstances, "stiffening" would occur over a period of time before the victim would fully transform to stone.

                        "But his wife looked back from behind him,
                        and she became a pillar of salt."

                        – Genesis 19:26

The myths and stories are never very specific as to what type of stone victims were turned into, but I can envision a Hargravian petrification spell table that details all the different types of minerals the enterprising sorcerer could change his victim into.

Dammit Edmund... They're minerals!

With regard to monsters that possess the ability to petrify their victims by gaze or with a touch, there are three main mythological creatures that have all been used in D&D and other FRPGs. Note that details about these creatures vary with the story being told, and some interpretations are of modern invention.

A. The Gorgon was depicted by the ancient Greeks with serpents for hair, wings, boars tusks, scaly skin, and a protruding tongue. Its visage was so terrible to behold, that the sight of its face would turn the viewer to stone. Somewhere along the line, the Gorgon turned into a triad of sisters – Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale.

                  "Near them their sisters three, the Gorgons, winged;
                  With snakes for hair – hated of mortal man"

                  – Prometheus Bound

By the fifth century B.C., writers started becoming more sympathetic to the Gorgons, describing them as both beautiful and terrifying.

Gorgons today, are commonly referred to as Medusae, and are most often depicted as having snake-like bodies due to the influence of Ray Harryhausen's work in the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans. This form is more reminiscent of Echidna, another serpent bodied female who is also said to have been depicted with snakes for hair (though I have yet to see any such images). Another recent invention is the depiction of Medusa's petrifaction ability as originating from her gaze, but from what I understand of the myth, it was always the other way around. It was not being looked at, or meeting her gaze that turned the viewer to stone, but it was rather seeing her horrible visage that did this.

Anyway, just as Echidna was known as the Mother of All Monsters, Medusa was similarly the progenitor of Pegasus, Chrysaor, Amphisbaena, and the poisonous vipers of the Sahara Desert.

As far as miniatures go, both humanoid and serpentine forms of the Gorgon exist, though I don't think I've ever seen a winged version as depicted on Greek vases. The two humanoid Gorgons below are from the Ral Partha Female Creatures blister (Personalities and Things that go Bump in the Night 01-087), and the Grenadier Monsters of Mythology box set (Fantasy Lords 6004).

The next miniatures are a Mage Knight Gorgon (Pyramid #041), and two Ral Partha Gorgons (Crucible 91-506). The Mage Knight Gorgon had a severed head in her right hand, but I removed it as superfluous.

Two smaller serpentine versions are the Grenadier Medusa (Monster Manuscript Vol.VI 1506, MM49), and the Citadel Medusa (C18 Night Horrors).

B. The Basilisk was first described by Pliny as a small snake that seemed to be made up of one part horned viper, one part cobra, and three parts fantasy. The appearance of the Basilisk evolved over time, and has given rise to a number of creatures with the ability to either poison or petrify their victims.

"It is a native of the province of Cyrenaica, not more than 12 inches long, and adorned with a bright white marking on the head like a sort of diadem. It routs all snakes with its hiss, and does not move its body forward in manifold coils like other snakes but advancing with its middle raised high. It kills bushes not only by its touch but also by its breath, scorches up grass and bursts rocks. Its effect on other animals is disastrous: it is believed that once one was killed with a spear by a man on horseback and the infection rising through the spear killed not only the rider but also the horse. Yet to a creature so marvellous as this - indeed kings have often wished to see a specimen when safely dead - the venom of weasels is fatal: so fixed is the decree of nature that nothing shall be without its match. They throw the Basilisks into weasels' holes, which are easily known by the foulness of the ground, and the weasels kill them by their stench and die themselves at the same time, and nature's battle is accomplished."

Natural History

Pliny's assertion that the Basilisk was a native of Cyrenaica is particularly interesting, because it is the location of the Libyan Sahara, where the drops of Medusa's blood were said to have spawned the poisonous vipers of that region. It could be interpreted from this, that the Basilisk is descended from Medusa.

The snake-form of the Basilisk is now largely ignored, and I propose using the term Asphynx (from SLASH'EM, a NetHack variant), or perhaps Ouraion (from the Hieroglyphica by Horapollo) to refer to snake-like creatures with the ability to petrify its victims.

The snake-form of the Basilisk was often portrayed with a crown on its head, demonstrating that there is a fine artistic tradition of illustrating monsters based on literal description that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Medieval sources describe the Basilisk as being hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent or toad. Its glare had the ability to petrify a victim, and its breath was poisonous. This development lead to the next evolution of the Basilisk's appearance as a creature that was half rooster, half serpent. I would just call this particular creature a Cockatrice, and leave it at that.

For the final evolution of the Basilisk, we have to give credit to Ulisse Aldrovandi who provided an illustration of a Basilisk in his Monstrorum historia.

Aldrovandi's scaly eight-legged reptile ultimately gave rise to David Trampier's iconic Basilisk from the AD&D Monster Manual.

Two larger miniatures that can represent Greater Basilisks are the Grenadier Basilisk (Monster Manuscript Vol.I 1501, MM4), and the Reaper Basilisk (Dark Heaven Legends 02567).

For more standard sized Basilisks, there is the classic Grenadier Basilisk from the Denizens of the Swamp boxed set (AD&D 2010). Two different versions exist - one with a lifted foreleg, and the other resting on a rock. Next is a Heartbreaker Miniatures Thicket Basilisk (Magic: The Gathering 9135), and finally a Reaper baby basilisk from the Familiars II blister (Warlord 14087).

C. The Cockatrice was often mixed up in the Medieval mind with the Basilisk. The Cockatrice was said to have been hatched from a cockerel's egg incubated by a serpent or toad. It could either kill (through poison) or petrify its victims by its glare, touch (peck), or breath.

In any event, I think the common consensus is that the Cockatrice is half rooster, half serpent, and for gaming purposes retains a separate identity from the Basilisk.

One of the things that is difficult about the Cockatrice for scale comparisons, is how to interpret how big the thing is. In the Monster Manual, it is just listed as small. I have found other sources claiming Cockatrice are 3' high. Various Medieval illustrations indicate people envisioned Cockatrice as being fairly large. I'll stick with this interpretation, but obviously it can be whatever you want.

Two larger miniatures are the Citadel Cockatrice (C29 Large Monsters), and the Grenadier Cockatrice (Monster Manuscript Vol.II 1502, MM13). The Citadel miniature is a beautiful sculpt, though the wings were awful. I just wish that it was about half the size that it actually is.

Next are three smaller miniatures that look closer in size to how Cockatrice are depicted in medieval manuscripts. The first one is from Grim Reaper Casting (Nasteez 1105) now produced by Perth Pewter (N105). The second is from Reaper (Dark Heaven Legends 02631), and the final one is from Ral Partha (All Things Dark and Dangerous 02-962).

Monday, May 20, 2013

Studebaker M29C Weasel

The M29C is the amphibious version of the M29, a tracked cargo carrier for transport across snow. The addition of float tanks that were bolted onto the front and rear of the vehicle gave it enough buoyancy to travel through calm waters while propelled by its tracks.

I have wanted a 1/72 version of the M29C for a long time because one of the first models I built happened to be the 1/35 scale Monogram Amphibious Weasel. Unfortunately, most of the 1/72 versions of the M29C are very expensive – the Hauler kit runs about $40, while the Extratech kit runs about $65.

The only other 1/72 M29C I could find was from Sergeant’s Mess. Their amphibious Weasel (AV13) is priced at £7, which is a bargain compared to the resin models. My only reservation was that they bill their miniatures as "1/72 20mm" which always sends up warning flags for me, because 1/72 ≠ 20mm.

Anyway, I decided to take a chance and order some of their miniatures to see how they scaled out, and included the Weasel in my order. Here's what I got:

The kit comes with 15 parts, some of which are not described by the instruction sheet (headlamp, front and rear tow hooks, windshield, rear panel, and canvas top). The hull is a solid chunk metal, and has quite a bit of heft.

The interior detail is not bad, but the driver's compartment did not have any leg room, so I drilled out some space to give the illusion of there being some space for the driver's legs.

I inscribed some lines to delineate the surf shield on the front, and then assembled most of the model in about 30 minutes.

I couldn't find the length of the Weasel with float tanks installed, but the width of the vehicle is only about 0.5mm off of the expected dimension in 1/72, so I think that the length is probably not far off either. Although I guess it's not saying much, since the difference in width between 1/72 and 1/76 is only a little over 1mm. However, it certainly looks about right compared to pictures of the real thing.

One difference that is very noticeable, is that the model does not have the side skirts that partially cover the wheel well.

The instructions show the rudders installed in the down position, but I placed them in an upright position for travelling on land.

I'll be adding some additional details to the model before painting, but for gaming, it can really be used without any additional modification.

I wonder if anyone makes a 1/72 SCR-508 or SCR-528 radio in resin, or if I have to scratchbuild one myself?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Improving the Classics

I love the classic Ral Partha and Grenadier miniatures because they were among the first miniatures I owned, and one of my many projects is to recreate or convert some of these figures so that they are compatible with my 1/72 scale figures.

When I first started doing conversions, I was hesitant about taking my file and metal snips to old figures. My conservationist instincts told me that I would essentially be destroying something that was no longer in production, and what some might consider a work of art.

Then I got over it. Having figures sitting around and not being used is also a disservice to them, and despite what eBay listings would have you believe, the vast majority of these figures are not rare.

Here are some of the results of my efforts:

The Barbarian Hero (Ral Partha 01-009) is one of the early true 25mm figures, and can pretty much be used as is (although his head is rather large). The main issue I had with this particular miniature is the awkward pose. I modeled my conversion after the appearance of Frazetta's Conan the Adventurer.

A tooth necklace was made with Kneadatite, and his arms were repositioned. The scabbard was moved to the small of his back. Simple.

In many cases though, the old 25mm figures have the typical issues common to metal figures of being too chunky, having oversized heads, and oversized arms/hands. One such example is the Magic User from the Grenadier Wizards boxed set (Grenadier 2001).

I sculpted a new head and narrowed the torso a bit. An arm was added from a plastic figure, with the sleeve built up from Kneadatite. I also reduced the volume of the left sleeve, and added a dagger blade made from a flattened paperclip to his right hip.

It's pretty amazing what a couple of minor changes can do to the appearance of the figure when doing scale comparisons. The modified figure does not look too different compared to the base model, but it matches well with 1/72 plastics, whereas the original figure looks much larger.

Scale related modifications are typically not required for monsters, but I often alter the poses (particularly when I have multiple copies of the same monster).

The Stalking Kree-Ack from the Subterranean Terrors boxed set (Grenadier 2012) was a fairly simple conversion. I never really liked this miniatures because it always fell apart at the slightest touch. I don't think I've seen one of these figures that was assembled that didn't have the single supporting leg on the "waving" side that was not broken either.

I lowered the waving hand so that the creature looked less cheerful. I pinned, glued, and epoxied to hold all the pieces together. The patina on the converted Kree-Ack is actually quite nice. It's a bit of a shame to paint over it.

The Grenadier Dragon Turtle (Monster Manuscript Vol.II 1502, MM17) is a great figure, but I wasn't too fond of the "Hey Steve!" pose.

Grenadier metal from this period is often crystalline and brittle in nature, and I ended up snapping the neck when I tried to bend the head, so some pinning and sculpting was required to straighten the head so that it faced forward.