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Sneaky peeky like

March 26, 2017

In a fit of inspiration, I’ve started working on the pirate book I outlined in my previous post. The first character I’ve written about is the pirate queen who has been appearing in various gaming scenarios. This is an early draft, unless everyone loves it at which point it becomes “nearly finished”. I’d love your commentary: is the description and the background interesting? Are there enough hints and hooks to spark the imagination? Does this feel like a character you could built a gaming scenario around? No need to be too gentle, I want to make this as good as possible. If something is rubbish, let me know!

As you can see in the piece below, several details are intentionally fuzzy. I haven’t set an exact date – it’s sometime in the early 1700s. The geographic location of the small, fictitious island Port George is located on isn’t set in stone. It’s somewhere in the West Indies. Things like ship types aren’t defined either. A few characters are mentioned in passing, but not really detailed. This isn’t laziness on my part, but rather an effort to make the material easy to modify and adapt. I have tried to keep the details historically plausible.

The Pirate Queen
Maricruz Aguilera de Cartagena

Few people on the island command as much respect as Maricruz Aguilera, known as the Pirate Queen of [to be defined] Bay. The daughter of a wealthy criollo merchant family from Cartagena on the Spanish Main, her turn to piracy remains shrouded in mystery. In their parlours bitter men speak of hysteria, ill humours and a mind seduced by piratical tales. For all their talk, they come up short when trying to give a credible explanation as to why and how years back the crew of merchantman Santa Estrella de la Esperanza violently mutinied and gave a female passenger command of the ship. Some claim it was the Devil’s work, others that she simply knew how to stoke the anger of the flogged and hungry sailors.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, Aguilera has since mercilessly raided shipping in the West Indies and the Spanish Main. Rumour has it her disgraced family has put a sizeable bounty on her head, and several pirate hunters have made it their task to track her down. The Vindictive, sailing under the infamous captain Oxley, is the only one to even come close, at a heavy cost to both the captain and his ship.

In Port George Aguilera holds a strong position. She has a hand in most of the contraband that passes through the town, while her ship, the sleek Espíritu del Viento sits at anchor in the bay. The queen drives a hard but fair bargain, and she is well-liked. Aguilera surrounds herself with a fiercely loyal multi-national crew of thirty, with her first mate, the Welshman Davies having sailed with her since her early days as a rover. The close bond the rakish Davies shares with his captain is a constant source of rumour.

Lately the pirate queen has been preoccupied. While illegitimate trade and piracy still flourish, she can see the tide slowly turning both on the island and the West Indies. With the recent calls to purge Port George of its unsavoury elements, it will soon be a time to decide whether to fight or to slip away into a comfortable life of anonymity while still ahead. The first carries with it the risk of the gallows, the second would mean throwing away years of struggle against the rich and the powerful and abandoning her crew to their fate.

I’ve also contacted a very talented artist for some character portraits, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with. Here’s a 19th century painting by Gustave Courbet that I sent to her as part of the character description, for visual reference.

So, fire away! Hit or miss?

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A book of pirates? 

March 7, 2017

Long, lazy days on sunny Gili Air have left me toying with an idea of doing something new regarding my pirate project. Namely, I’ve been thinking of turning it into a book of sorts! 

Now, I’m not talking about an epic novel or anything like that, but simply collecting the fiction and fact around Port George into one something like a compendium, providing fellow gamers – whether RPG or minis – with a ready-made fictional early 18th century town somewhere in the Caribbean. NPCs, plot hooks, historical facts and so on. Nothing system specifix, just things that spark the imagination and maybe provide inspiration and ideas for gaming and painting. 20-30 pages maybe.

This would of course give me a great opportunity to commission art from friends (I definitely want a map and some character illustrations), write some scraps of fiction and do some more pirate research. What I want most of all, though, is to create something, to make those minis, buildings and these blog posts into something more than just their sum. Who knows, maybe someone else might find it interesting or inspiring as well!

So, dear readers, what do you think? Cool idea or silly waste of time and effort? Something you might consider getting once finished, as a pdf maybe? What would you like to see in something like this? Any other comments or ideas?

Article picture by the great Howard Pyle, public domain.

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On the road again

March 1, 2017

I’m currently vacationing in Indonesia after spending a few weeks in Malaysia. I’m missing my toys, but the surroundings do help! I haven’t forgotten about my pirates even out here, so here’s a blog post on how the project is travelling with me despite no miniatures. I’m cleverly writing this on my smartphone after equally cleverly leaving my laptop at Bangkok airport. 

Inspiration is readily available here and in many forms. Not only is the area known for its piracy, the East India company and colonisation have left their stamp on many things. The tropical sights serve to spark the imagination, with palm trees, white sands and turquoise waters.

The local architecture in George Town, Malaysia, has a strong Georgian (well, duhh) feel to it. Many of the houses are from early 19th to early 20th century, and at times it felt like walking around in an actual pirate town milieu. A couple of photos to illustrate below.

Also, many of the buildings show the ravages of time and the weather, which gave me plenty of ideas.

We also visited a lovely old graveyard from the 19th century, and now I want to build one. 

George Town also featured an actual, late 18th century fort named Fort Cornwallis. While the fort never saw combat, it was really inspiring to visit. I even bought a mug – a sure sign of a good sight!

I brought along some appropriate reading, namely two books by Marcus Rediker (the second one co-written with Peter Linebaugh): The Slave Ship and The Many-Headed Hydra. As tends to happen, the project has sparked a wider interest in the period. I’m currently reading the latter book, and it’s super interesting.
I picked up some really cheap (less than 0.50€ each) nylon brushes at the local bookstore. Even if the quality doesn’t turn out to be special, these will undoubtedly find use, and at that price they were a steal.

As for Indonesia and pirate inspiration, well, let’s just say we’re on an island that looks like something out of a film.

And last but definitely not least, we got engaged yesterday. Apparently my pirate fixation is adorable…or at least tolerable.

Until next time, dear readers!

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From the painting desk #48 – The Unkillable Frenchman

January 30, 2017

Another miniature finished, this time a pirate from Hasslefree. I’ve been putting off painting him for a while, and the reason is the Hasslefree curse: I love HF minis, but because of the high quality of the sculpts they always feel intimidating, and I find myself thinking I can’t give the mini enough attention. In the end I’ll paint them, enjoy it and love the end result. It has happened before (notice how I’m talking about the same thing on that post, and that was in 2012) and this time was no exception.

The miniature being very characterful, I once again found myself concocting a background story, as I tend to do while painting. So was born Jean Blanc – the Unkillable Frenchman. Pirates like Blackbeard would often count on their fearsome reputation to do their work for them as, after all, it was always better if you could take a ship without firing a shot. I applied this theme to the portly French pirate as well. He was wearing a padded coat and heavy armour, so I assumed these had obviously saved his life more than once, contributing to the legend of the Frenchman impervious to pistol balls and blades. I painted his hair grey to suggest he has been surviving on the seven seas for some time. This nicely tied in with his name, which in turn was a nod towards the original inspiration for the sculpt.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

“The Devil takes care of his own!” say the British merchants.

“Non. C’est simplement une abondance d’armures” thinks captain Blanc according to Traducteur nommé Google.

The captain was great fun to paint. A well-sculpted miniature will do that! No guesswork on facial features, no lacking definition or the usual annoying little problems often found on minis. It’s much easier to paint a nice miniature to a good standard. There were some quality issues uncharacteristic of Hasslefree, namely some pitting of the metal on the sword and the back of his coat, but nothing serious.

I went for a combination of bright and subdued tones, and picked a darker skintone than normal. After complaining in my previous post about laying paint on too thick, I paid extra attention to thinner layers and utilized my wet palette to what I think is good effect. For once, I’m really, really happy with a finished mini! I even painted some freehand wood grain on his peg leg, and I all but hate painting freehand.

As the lightbox tends to have really harsh lighting (note to self: might need a thicker filter), here’s a more natural, warmer shot of Blanc as part of the Queen’s crew. As you can see, he’s a big, bulky guy:

Pirate crew

Click for a larger version

That’s miniature #4 of 2017 finished. I’m going on a six week trip to Malaysia and Indonesia starting next Sunday, so that will sadly put an end to my painting for a month and a half. Still, I can think of far, far worse distractions, and obviously I’ll be taking a bunch of pirate books along for some holiday reading.

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From the painting desk #47 – Governor’s retinue

January 23, 2017

Port George finally has a crown-appointed governor and I have my first painted minis of 2017! I finished painting a trio of miniatures I started in late 2016, representing the governor, his son and their manservant. All three are from different manufacturers, with the governor being a Front Rank gentleman, his son a Galloping Major sailor character and the manservant a Black Cat Bases bounty hunter.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Governor Weatherby is a classic, stylish gentleman. I’ve yet to decide whether he’s a governor of the pirate hanging type or the pirate embracing type. The mini was good fun to paint. I went for a bright blue for the jacket, but otherwise kept the palette fairly muted. I wanted the governor to look well-off but not ostentatious, leaving the latter for his son. Being a Front Rank miniature, he is fairly small, but I think that actually works quite well here, as it does make him look a little older. That’s also why I decided to make his hair grey.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

I wanted the governor’s son to be something of a foppish dandy, so I gave him a purple jacket combined with a yellow waistcoat. The emerald green bows on his plait and hat add even more touches of colour, and obviously all of his button are bright brass. I botched painting his left eye, and decided to make it into an expression. I think the end result makes him quite characterful, as he is glancing sideways somewhat nervously and reaching for his sword. The expression, the large hands and smallis head make him look young and awkward, which is exactly what I wanted. Well, initially I didn’t know that it was exactly what I wanted, but I love the end result.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Stylistically the manservant, Mitchell, is an entirely different case from his employers. “Manservant” is obviously just a polite expression for “bodyguard and muscle”, and the mini’s huge size (typical of Black Cat Bases sculpts) works in this regard. I’ve always loved the look of a greatcoat with the collar up, so this was a real treat. I wanted Mitchell to look properly badass, so I kept the colours dark with the exception of the boots and the pistols. For some extra diversity and to spark the imagination regarding his background, I gave him dark skin. I’m really happy with the greatcoat and the miniature in general, I think he looks hard as nails.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

I had a lot of fun painting these three, as they’re all very different both in style and colour scheme. While the governor and his son are really bright and colourful, their servant is dark and menacing. As it is, I think these three minis manage to create a nice little narrative. It’s stuff like this that really keeps up my enthusiasm and motivation for a project! These three have been waiting for me to finish them for a while, so finally getting them done is extra rewarding to boot.

I’ve been thinking that I need to improve my painting. While I’m fairly happy with my basic level, I tend to get lazy with thinning paint, layering and blending. I think there’s plenty of space for improvement there. Of course taking massive closeup photos of minis doesn’t help either! Feedback on this front much appreciated.

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X marks the spot

January 6, 2017

The first thing of 2017 painted! I bought this Giant Doom Track Marker from Fenris Games, as to me it definitely fits a trope prevalent in pop culture pirate map imagery – the skull shaped rock (see this or this). Most likely known as Dead man’s rock, Skull rock, Cursed rock or something equally imaginative, this is one of the usual checkpoints when looking for hidden treasure, and as such it fit the project perfectly.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

The paintjob was super simple, and the plentiful texture made this an easy piece. I gave it a black basecoat followed by a highlight layer of grey (I used an airbrush for this, as this is pretty much the level of complexity I can manage at the moment), then followed with progressively lighter drybrush layers and a black wash to dull it down a little. The rock features small, literally beady eyeballs in its sockets. I painted these black, put in a dot of white and gave them a gloss varnish. Onyx stones or the soul of a dead pirate? Who knows.

All in all this probably took less than thirty minutes from start to finish, so it was very rewarding and a nice and easy start to the painting year. In games it will function as a lovely little piece of thematic scatter terrain, like this:

"This is where the magick points?" "Yes ma'am." "Dig, ye scallywags, dig!"

“This is where the magick points?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Dig, ye scallywags, dig!”

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Looking back on 2016

December 31, 2016

By now we’ve all heard several variations of “2016 was the worst year ever” comments. Enough of those! We all know the horrible stuff that has been going on for the past year, but this isn’t a blog about all that. Instead, a quick recap of the year’s hobby-related things and a cautious look forward!

Miniature output this year has been decent-ish. I think my total comes to around 30+ minis, but it could have been much higher. At this rate I’ll have all of my unpainted lead and plastic nicely painted around age 70 or 80 – assuming I don’t buy anything new. Apparently my painting output in 2015 was 33 miniatures, so this seems to be a fairly standard rate. I’ve also cleared out a fair bit of old lead that I know I won’t get around to painting. If someone else can get fun out of them, they shouldn’t sit in a cupboard tucked away in a box for years and years.

Reaching goals definitely happened. In my “Looking back on 2015” post I was planning on the following for 2016:

  • Painting up pirates, 18th century civilians, navy types and colonial soldiers (✓)
  • Building a second terrain board as well as a few different extra pieces (✓)
  • Modifying and painting a bunch of houses (✓)
  • Basing and touching up loads of palm trees (✓)
  • Building and painting plenty of scatter terrain (✓)
  • Most likely sneaking a few RPG miniatures in as well (✓)
  • Salute 2016 as well as visiting plenty of awesome sights and people in the UK and Ireland (✓)

Seriously, I managed all of that! In a hobby that for me is characterized by unfinished and discarded projects, periodical slumps and time and motivation constraints, I’m super happy to have reached my hobby goals for once. Salute was great, and meeting Paul of sho3box fame was definitely one of the high points of the hobby year.

The UK and Ireland trip was excellent in general, and I got to spend time with some wonderful people who I’ve met through this hobby. I spent an evening in the pub with Annie from Bad Squiddo and Dameon from Hasslefree, had a browse through boxes of Roy Duffy’s brilliantly painted miniatures and got to visit Pete “the Mouldmaker” Brown’s workshop and see miniatures cast. Good stuff!

Project-wise my pirate thing is still going strong. This is an actual surprise. I started the project in May 2015, and to my surprise it still hasn’t died. I’ve built terrain, I’ve gamed, I’ve read a ton of literature on the subject…what is this madness? Not that I’m complaining. The project has also seen me drift somewhat towards historical gaming. It’s a scary thought, so I’m painting the occasional undead pirate, ghost and crab man to keep me on the right track. The pirate ship that you may recall is still not finished, and it definitely should be. That brings me to…

Hobby plans for 2017

  • Finish the pirate ship. Started in 2015, if it’s still unfinished by the end of 2017, it’s going in the project graveyard, and that would be a crying shame.
  • Paint a dragon. More on this later.
  • Keep up steady work on the pirate project. There’s still plenty to do and I’m enthusiastic, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Play games. Much as I love the modelling part of the hobby, I’ve found that the occasional game keeps me motivated.
  • Increase miniatures output. Nothing drastic, but maybe I’ll aim for 40.
  • Update the blog somewhat steadily, as always.

Next year might present some challenges to hobby activities due to (generally positive) real life things taking up time and concentration, but I’m definitely hopeful!

As I’ve mentioned before, my warmest thanks to all of you readers, both regulars and occasional visitors. Your feedback and engagement does wonders for my blogging motivation, and I’m happy to see people enjoy what I’m creating.

Have a great 2017, everyone!

Fireworks photo by VasenkaPhotography, used under CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

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