Repost: Old school figures part two: Minis on the web!

A longer version of this post originally appeared in 2010 but was in need of updating. I’m not completely done but here’s a start. Thanks to Anthony Emmel for bringing just how out of date this was to my attention!

A lot of miniatures people turn their noses up at old Grenadier and Heritage and Minifigs figures. I will grant that many modern figures, which take advantage of sculpting and molding techniques unavailable to the original manufacturers (and an aesthetic sharpened by the intervening years of fantasy illustration, comics, etc.) are often quite impressive. The level of animation, and the overall quality are amazing. The crisp detail, and the fact the pieces fit perfectly make them a joy to assemble and paint. But I still love the old school minis too. They often have a gritty realism modern figures just lack.

Heritage Models has a number of sites and yahoo groups devoted to it. There’s Dungeon Dwellers info, a great site for all things Dungeon Dwellers. If you didn’t know, this line would have been their “Dungeons & Dragons” line, but the license agreement never got signed and instead Grenadier would get the license for AD&D miniatures. There are several Heritage Yahoo groups, devoted to collecting the figures, providing documentation, and so on. Disciples of Heritage and the Heritage Models Reference groups are worth checking out. The collectors Yahoo groups for Ral Partha and Grenadier are great too.

I love and hate Games Workshop/Citadel figures. They are certainly nice looking. The only things not to like are the scale creep and cost. Citadel minis, back in the late 1980s, were the first figures I had that just didn’t quite fit with my Grenadier, Ral Partha, and Heritage stuff. Ral Partha was always a slight bit smaller than the others, but with Citadel I could tell the scale was actually shifting. Of course nowadays, almost all modern figures are a little bigger than before. “28mm”, “30mm”, “heroic 28mm scale”, even “32mm” are bandied about, whereas in the olden days everyone claimed to be making 25mm figures, whether that 25mm was toes-to-eyes, toes-to-tip of head, or just 25mm=6′. Some of my newer Reaper and Kenzer Co. figures absolutely tower over my old figures. And that is too bad, because no-one chooses a Ral Partha figure any more for their PC in the games I’ve been playing. They just look too runty. In fact we’ve been using a Ral Partha mounted fighter as a Dwarf on a pony, and I’m probably the only one who realizes the figure was “meant” to be a human! Still, when Citadel was making RPG minis instead of exclusively Warhammer/Warhammer 40k/other branded IP minis, they made some seriously awesome figures. And they made so many that there is a whole wiki just for Citadel, which rivals the Lost Minis Wiki! But readers of this blog may be more interested in another site that just focuses on Citadel’s old AD&D/D&D lines.

The Lost Minis Wiki was created last year with the explicit intention of covering all the out-of-production lines and models, and I can kill hours there. Update: The wiki is now also awash in newer and current lines. Mission creep, I guess. But you can still find lots of old stuff. The Lost Minis Wiki has vast amounts of unpainted lead, but we really want to see the painted stuff, right?

Stuff of Legends hasn’t been updated much lately, but as far as I know it was the first site devoted to classic minis. Another great site is the Blue Mule, which showcases well-loved and well-painted old figures. Silverblade’s Suitcase has a collection of very nice looking figures too, many of them very old. There is even one site devoted just to dwarves!

Anyway I found a legal copy of the Armory’s Buying Guide to Fantasy Miniatures at the Mega Minis Magazine site. There is a stunning array of old catalogs there to drool over, with images of miniatures that you can only hope to scrounge up at a convention or eBay. But if you love classic minis, the good news is that there are both new lines that are inspired by older lines, and a few companies still casting the classic figures. Update: although Mega Minis is out of business, the first link still works. The second is now a link to the Wayback Machine’s backup.

Center Stage is still getting off the ground but I have high hopes for their Swords & Wizardry line. Update: Center Stage had a disastrous and possibly fraudulent Kick Starter campaign that did the company in, but good news, the minis are being cast be Pacesetter Games.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to know about Otherworld Miniatures, which is creating minis directly inspired by the classic illustrations of Sutherland, Trampier, etc. Update: But they are in 28mm scale, not classic 25mm. 

Classic Miniatures is recasting many Heritage models, and also has a number of interesting things in the pipeline, including “Unreleased figures by Dave Sutherland III.” Update: Link broken; some classic Heritage and Archive recasts are available; check out the Disciples of Heritage yahoo group for info.

Games Figures Inc. is producing some Minifigs, some Heritage Models not owned by Classic Miniatures, and a few other ranges. Update: link broken; GFI apparently out of business. 😦

Ironwind Metals, which rose from the ashes of Ral Partha, is producing some of the old RP lines. Update: Ral Partha is more or less resurrected here.

Thunderbolt Mountain, Tom Meier’s company, is producing figures similar to his Ral Partha classics, but in a more “modern” 28mm scale. Update: also 30mm scale Arthurian stuff, and some true 25mm.

Mirliton, an Italian company, is producing some of the latest Grenadier lines, but sadly not the old Wizzards & Warriors/AD&D lines. Update: Some older Fantasy Lords and earlier models are in fact available.

Mega Minis produces original figures as well as an extensive array of older lines. They are providing a great service but I wish they didn’t cancel lines after short runs. Update: Mega Minis, sadly, is out of business. Their molds may have been picked up by other companies. Their original stuff is now at Johnnyborg Castings. These seem to be Kick Starters so caveat emptor.

Viking Forge is producing classic Asgard minis … the ones illustrated in the Armory ads in old Dragon Magazines!

Next time, maybe some more revived  or old-school style lines? I wanted to add Barony Miniatures, Max Carr’s company which republished the Warlord rules and had a new line of medievals similar to his Heritage sculpts but the site is offline since the spring of 2016. 😦

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 9:23 am  Comments (3)  
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The torture chamber

I got these GFI recasts of Minifigs of some torture equipment a while ago and finally finished them.  I didn’t realize the rack was missing the spokes or handles that would turn the top roller until I began painting it.  I just added some with florist wire, so no problem.  (I never did check a reference photo to make sure this is what they’d look like; it’s possible there should just be one long arm rather than three short ones.)  Anyway they are the iron maiden I posted earlier; a rack; and a table with a cat-o-nine-tails, poker, and giant knife.

minifigs-torture-chamber

Here’s the denizens: an orc jailer by Ral Partha, a plastic WotC torturer, and an assortment of prisoners: two WotC prisoners, a Ral Partha victim from another set, and a plastic GW dwarf who has been securely bound by goblins.

torture-chamberThere are many more, much more lurid torture chamber furnishings and victims that Citadel sold back in the early 1980s.  [That link is NSFW, maybe!] I don’t know whether they were poor sellers or just garnered complaints but by the time the Armory (the major US distributor of fantasy miniatures) put out their big “Buyers Guide” catalog, they were listed as “out of production”.  Ral Partha had some similar stuff too — not quite as misogynist though.  As did Grenadier & Dragon Tooth.

So my question is: what’s up with this anyway?  Why were torture chambers such a big thing in early D&D figures?  Is it just the association of “dungeons” with imprisonment and medieval punishments, or something else?  Do you put torture chambers in your D&D dungeons?  I’m not sure if I ever have — if so it would have been in the context of some evil lord or mad scientist type wizard.  Do they have a place “random” dungeons or “mythic underworld” style megadungeons?

Published in: on February 15, 2014 at 8:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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At the court of the Crimson King

Posting a little more rapidly this week — the polar vortex has caused my library to close today, so I have some free time!

I stumbled across this absolutely stunning army of ancient lead (Minifigs mostly, with a few Citadel thrown in) and had to point it out. (The picture above is from that site & is the least of them.)  The figures are mostly Minfigs “Tunnel elves” (which were later repackaged as goblins when Minifigs had the D&D license) and the units refer to various tracks on King Crimson’s first album.  The army is absolutely stunning and surreal.

Someone on The Miniatures Page pointed out how uncannily these minis resemble Rodney Matthew paintings.   This can’t be a coincidence.

picture

Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Mind flayers & Iron maiden

Grenadier Models had one mind flayer sculpt back when they had the AD&D liscense and it is not great.  It always looked like it was trying to do the robot or the safety dance.

Mind flayer from the Tomb of Spells

This might have been the first mind flayer miniature ever made; it is certainly the first and only mind flayer model I ever owned.  When I went to paint mine, I had to look up ‘mauve’ (the color of mind flayers per the Monster Manual) and eventually decided to paint it in a mix of purple and silver, with a red robe.  That paint job did not hold up well (it was one of my experiments with Testors enamels but for some reason the paint did not adhere well — maybe I didn’t wash or prime the figure?

Anyway when I was given a second mind flayer (again a Grenadier), I decided to repaint my first one too and do something about the pose.  In the end they sat in a box for months before I used a mind flayer in my D&D campaign and I realized I still hadn’t painted either.  I did not manage to finish painting them before the mind flayer menace was dealt with, but better late than never.

flairs2

Click to embiggen

The one on left had his hand opened up to receive a sword.  There was a mind flayer with a flaming sword in the campaign, Bobdobolina, that this figure would have represented.  The one in the middle just had his left arm rotated.  I think they look alright. The white skin on the first looks good to me.  Maybe mind flayers should have color-changing abilities like octopodes anyway, given their heads.

On the far right is a Minifigs iron maiden. Actually, it’s a recast of the Minifig design by GFI.  I am not sure if GFI is still casting Minifig sculpts.  My iron maiden had some defects (cracks and some details not filled completely) that suggest a lack of quality control.  Maybe the caster was in a hurry — a few other figures I bought around the same time from that line have problems too, but since I got them from a third party (Noble Knight) I didn’t bother trying to get replacements.  In the case of the iron maiden, the cracks and such actually don’t bother me anyway; it just makes the maiden look well-used.

Published in: on January 20, 2013 at 11:29 pm  Comments (7)  
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The battle of Took’s Farm

I’ve been following the ‘Old school wargaming’ Yahoo group for a while and although they mostly stick to more traditional wargaming fare — Napoleonics and WWII and that sort of thing — once in a while I see some interesting ancient, medieval, and fantasy stuff.  Recently someone posted a link to their blog, with photos and some details of a game run using 1976 Mythical Earth minis (a line of Middle Earth style figures produced by Minifigs that just barely avoided blatant use of words that would incite the Tolkien estate).  Check out the vintage fantasy goodness here. (The rules mentioned, also circa 1976, are presumably unpublished house rules from the period.)

Published in: on December 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Now THIS is old school

Vintage20Mil, a site dedicated to metal wargaming miniatures of the 60s an 70s, has some interesting history. Old school D&D enthusiasts will recognize Miniature Figurines (“Minifigs”) as one of the pioneers of D&D minis in the mid-late 1970s, and Greyhawk figures in 1980 or so, but their bread and butter was always historical wargaming minis.

The figures here are largely 20mm, rather than 25mm like the golden age Grenadier, Ral Partha, and Heritage minis, and would probably look like hobbits next to the 28, 30, even 32mm figures you see today. But “History” sections give a fascinating look at the hobby that in part spawned D&D, and the “Reviews” and “Galleries” have great pictures, an even reprints of reviews from the 60s and 70s. A real treasure trove.

If you’d like to check out some forgotten classics of fantasy literature, two quick jump-in points I found are a list of underrated fantasies from before 1937 (the year The Hobbit was published) and also the quick reviews of early pulp at Skulls in the Stars (blog mainly about science, but generally very interesting even to the lay man!)

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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4e crap for old lead: Mission accomplished!

Monday night I found another package waiting for me. I knew Scottsz had just sent the minis he’d offered for my 4e books, and the address label confirmed it was from him! I’d already gotten email with images and a listing of his stuff (and two follow-ups as he found yet more figures).

They were all “buckled in” with heavy plastic ties. Scottsz was very concerned that they would get dinged up worse they already are in the mail, and came up with this way keep them all in place. Only the Yuan-ti was loose in the box, so it worked pretty well.

Here they are (sorry for the grainy photo taken on my phone!)

In the upper right, you’ll notice the thief with 10′ pole (broken to about 7′ — every example of this figure I’ve seen since BITD has his pole broken off at the hand). I NEEDED this figure badly, because it is damn cool and old-school and because my copy is lost. Similarly the Heritage barbarian woman in the lower right replaces my badly broken copy from the Caverns of Doom game. Score! There are also several Grenadier blister-pack figures: lizard men and a bugbear, which I’d never hoped to get to complete my collection in those areas… the Cockatrice variant #1 (I had variant #2, with a separately cast wing that never fit quite right, this one is one piece)… a drider from the blister pack to match my other drider from a boxed set. There is the lamia figure that was missing from my Tomb of Spells box! About 1/2 of these guys are “New” to me, and the of the rest, the “duplicates” either replace ones I lost or bolster the ranks nicely. It’s ok to have a third Umber Hulk, right? Also, with Khazan’s donation, I now have THREE Grenadier giant snakes. That really gives me the freedom to experiment in painting them up, or perhaps realize my mad dream of joining two together into one GINOURMOS snake!

There is also a nice Citadel troll (no base but clearly slotta-base era) and what I am tentatively identifying as a Minifigs giant of some kind (near the center, primered gray).

The “bonus” he sent is pure awesome, though, and I hope it is OK to mention it, as I know Scottsz has some secret projects in the works. Just as I’d been creating add-ons for the old Heritage dungeon crawl games, Scottsz had been tinkering with adapting old TSR modules to the same solo/GM-free rules, while adding his own interesting modifications to better simulate the RPG experience. He sent me a hand-drawn adaptation of the Hommlet moathouse dungeon (complete with awesome key and extra copies of the charts!) The whole thing is drawn on poster-board sections about the size of a standard letter sheet. NINE of them! Assembled, it looks thus:

This is about as big, or a little bigger than,the larger Tomb of the Pharaoh/Sorcerer’s Crypt map I did on on a single sheet of
foamcore last year. I will have to try this out soon!

Published in: on August 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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More ogres and trolls

A while back I posted some pics to illustrate how you might convert the crummy Dragonstrike! game trolls into slightly better models, which is worth doing if you pick pu the cheap remainders of the green and gray sprues from here. They paint up ok too.(Far left, a rare Minifigs troll)  They are clearly Poul Anderson style “true trolls.”

Here are some Ral Partha trolls:

Ral Partha trolls, until they got the D&D liscence, were always very Tolkien-style to me, and would also make good ogres.  I painted these guys all a long time ago.

And a “Ral Partha Import,” cast by Citadel, but I think he may also be a Tom Meier sculpt:

(Reminds me of those Otherworld Bugbears for some reason)

And some more recent Citadel trolls:

That’s a blurry picture, sorry.  Citadel used to make their trolls very comical; these guys are slightly less comical than usual.  You can just make out a bit of a jawbone on the base of the one on the left.  That is a real bone from an “owl pellet” I found in the yard.  I used other parts on the bases of other figures, like this Citadel troll that I painted non-green, hoping to get a more ogrish effect:

The stones are bits of dried sap, and the femur must be from a mouse or mole.  Seeing this figure in such good light (from the camera’s flash), I think I probably should have done some black lining to emphasize the borders of the hands vs. stone etc.  Oh well.  I entered this guy in a painting competition about sixteen years ago (‘monster’ category; I lost to some far superior paint jobs) and the judge mentioned she had no idea what it was supposed to be.  Seriously?  That doesn’t look like it might be an ogre or troll or something? Sheesh.

Here are a couple of Grenadier trolls in armor:

The shorter guy has a katar! How awesome is that?

And an old Castle Creations ogre that I think my brother bought in Baltimore:

And a Nick Lund-sculpted Grenadier ogre:

If ogres were a playable race, this guy could be a PC.  He looks just barely smart enough to wipe properly, for example.

And a Ral Partha hill giant:

He must be a Tom Meier sculpt too.  He looks about ready to go berserk.

Lastly, a Ral Partha ettin:

I never really liked the Ral Partha D&D line of figures, although this is one of the better ones.  I’d like to convert a few figures to have four, ten, or more heads some time.  I wish I had bought the 1979 Ral Partha “three headed troll” when it was available.

(Image from the Lost Minis Wiki, nyuk nyuk nyuk.)

Published in: on June 26, 2010 at 10:33 am  Comments (3)  
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First fantasy wargame?

Being interested in the origins of the hobby, I was looking over the amazing chronology of wargaming over at Bob Beattie’s site. (Sorry for rambling in this one…bear with me… I wrote this as I was doing the “research” online.)

In 1970, we read that “NEWA [the New England Wargamers Association] display the first large scale fantasy miniatures game, Middle Earth, at MFCA gaming convention. Wins Best in Show.”  This was probably using some house rules.

I was thinking Chainmail included the first fantasy war game rules I knew of, but that is based on seeing only the 3rd. edition of these rules (an early printing that retains references to Tolkien creatures like ents and hobbits!).  When was the first edition of Chainmail published? 1971 (thanks, Bob!)  But apparently the fantasy appendix was not there; Bob’s chronology says that in the same year: “Gary writes in Wargamer’s Newsletter that he will write rules for fantasy games with 20mm hobbits and 70mm giants.”

So, the question is, when was Chainmail 2nd edition published? Did that have the fantasy appendix? I checked the Acaeum, and apparently the first edition did in fact have the fantasy rules after all; so maybe the 1971 letter Bob described above is pre-Chainmail or just refers to additional rules Gygax had in mind?

1972, besides being the year of my own birth, was the birth of fantasy miniatures: “Dick Higgs, MiniFigs designer, produces 5mm figures — Napoleonics and Modern. He also does the first commercial fantasy range — Middle Earth.”  So it looks like Minifigs gets the prize for first fantasy figures after all!

WRG published it a “fantasy” appendix for its own 4th edition war game rules in 1973. (Link is to an archived version of the text from Phil Barker’s old web site.)  I’m not sure is earlier WRG rules had fantasy extensions or not but I think 4th ed. was their first.

It looks like Chainmail is the oldest set of fantasy rules (1971) and Minifigs Middle Earth line the oldest figures (1972).

One other piece of the puzzle though is Tony Bath’s Hyborian campaign, which I’ve been unable to determine the exact dates for, so far, and also I don’t know if he used his own rules or a published set.  He seems to have been running it as early as 1960 (!) though.

So, hivemind,what is the oldest set of fantasy war game rules?

I guess we need to define “fantasy” as including some element of magic… after all H.G. Wells was using invented (“fantasy”) countries in his Little Wars! (Apparently the Bronte sisters had an interesting game like that too, and I’ve also read that Nietzsche, as a boy, played an elaborate fantasy game involving kingdoms and war with his little friends…but these proto-RPGs don’t count either.)

Published in: on June 5, 2010 at 9:52 am  Comments (3)  
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Lead rot update

Some more notes on the eighth plague (my original lead rot post is here), largely culled from some discussion at the Collecting Ral Partha Yahoo group:

Apparently zinc-lead alloys can have the same sort of problem (“Zinc pest“).

I don’t know if any version of Ral Patha’s “Ralidium,” which I earlier reported to be pure zinc, would have contained lead, but I think almost certainly not, since Ralidium was introduced because of the lead scare of the mid 1990s.

Also, I’ve been reading that acetic acid — vinegar — is actually a good way to remove lead rot; you just need to wash it off thoroughly.  Further Update: a great blog post here more or less confirms that acetic acid, the known catalyst of lead rot, is also a good remover of it.

Finally, here is a picture of some Minifig riders (Pathans? Sepoys? Rajputs? Not sure anymore; I bought them long, long ago for WFB…). I think the middle guy has some lead rot sprouting up through the paint! (I think the white spots on the other two is just dust which looks worse than it is due to the camera’s flash.)

The weird thing, of course, is that these three would presumably all have same alloy composition, the same priming, painting, and sealing, and the same storage conditions. What the hell? I think another possibility is that I super-glued the middle guy’s lance once too many times and the excess glue, reacting with the humidity in the air, left that white residue.  I’ll have to disassemble the stand and look into this.

Published in: on June 4, 2010 at 8:34 am  Comments (3)  
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