It’s not been a particularly well kept secret that I’ve been working on a couple of new and exciting projects recently – Games Workshops have recently released a new edition of the LOTR/Hobbit SBG games, now known as the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game1), but I’m thrilled to say that I have some real results to show for it now.
This whole crazy diversion2 began when a couple of folk from my every-other-Wednesday-night gaming club were saying that their Saturday night gaming club were talking about maybe getting a foot in the door with The Hobbit SBG through Battle Companies. Battle Companies is a neat little bolt-on system to The Hobbit which brings the (already skirmish sized) system down to a small warband of 4-7 or so models, with the potential to gain experience, hire new recruits and even take injuries or die between games – not dissimilar to other warband systems like Kill Team, Necromunda, etc. Because, clearly, I don’t have enough armies and systems on my hands right now, I thought this sounded like a really neat little pallet cleanser – I could paint up 5 or 6 little 25mm High Elves between finishing my Blood Bowl team and getting back onto my 30K projects, and I could scratch off that Elf itch that’s been slowly bubbling beneath the surface. It also didn’t hurt that my fiancé is a big ol’ Tolkien geek, and that her eyes would glaze over just that little bit less if I could show her painted models she might even recognise. Win, win, win and over in a jiffy.
So, of course, I have just finished painting 1000pts+ of Rivendell, and I’m working on an Angmar force for the Evil faction as you read this.
This past weekend saw me finishing off my Mounted Elrond miniature, which is the last model I needed for my planned 800pts list (a number I was aiming for to play in The Scouring of Stirlingshire next year). The army is far from optimal – most of the miniatures from the Rivendell range are venerable Last Alliance plastics and metals, and there’s not a lot of choice or variation in there without buying a lot of expensive finecast models for the shields alone – but it’s a solid place to start and one that I feel covers enough bases that should I wish to add to or modify it after I get some games under my belt.
As always, when I talk about my models, it’s easiest to start with the colour scheme. If I’m honest, it wasn’t really my intention to do the cloaks as bright as I did – I’d originally started out wanting to make these guys super authentic to the Last Alliance scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, having decided that the availability of the films was a useful resource for painting that I wanted to take advantage of. This helped – it was watching the films that led me to notice the subtle green patinas on the Elven armour that led to the green/oxide wash step in my method for these guys; still, the blue really got away from me. This was partially because I didn’t really have any darker blue paint to hand at the time, and partially down to my tendency to really ramp up the brightness of my edge highlights. Instead of night blue, the cloaks all ended up somewhat.. luminescent, shall we say, than they appear on screen. This annoyed me at first when I went to compare my test miniature to some stills of the movie, but as the numbers of the House of Elrond grew, so to did the shade of blue grow on me. At tabletop distance, the cloaks appear luminescent and vaguely magical, which looks pretty and brings a unique element to the army. In fact, most nice comments I’ve received about the army so far have been largely about the blue, so it’s turned out to be something of a happy accident after all.
Given the non-heroic (for the most part3) 25mm scale, there’s not really all that much to most of the foot sloggers – gold armour, blue cloaks and undershirts, grey sash, leather boots and weapons. Faces are an exercise in patience – it can be a bit of a struggle to not obscure detail, although this is harder on some miniatures than others. Characters were by in large safe from this4, while the plastics were manageable. Unfortunately, my finecast Spearmen that I bought off of eBay were a different story. The facial slits in their helmets were narrower than the plastics, leaving very little space for the face, with fewer recesses for wash to settle and raised areas to pick out with highlights. They look fine on the tabletop, but don’t stand up to closer inspection quite as well as my plastic Archers do whose faces had just enough definition to justify a thin red glaze over the lips and a reasonable attempt at eyes. C’est la vie.
Where the vast majority of my time went on each of these miniatures was the blue cloaks, and the gold armour. There is a lot of cloaks in this army; it’s extremely possible that I’ve painted more cloaks in this army than I have across all of my other projects that led up to this point. This was a challenge for me, as cloaks are an area that I have traditionally had a lot of trouble with – while I certainly have a few cloaked miniatures in my collection that I’m rather proud of, almost all of these have taken all damn night and a great amount of trial and error and frustration to get them to that point. With at least 24 cloaked infantry and 6 cavalry to do for this army (excluding characters), each adorned in all manners of draping, folding and billowing cloaks, I had to figure out how to get to a reasonable mid-point and produce an army of cloaks that I’m happy with, but wouldn’t take me a month of evenings working on cloaks alone. My solution in the end was a Magic Blue basecoat, followed by Electric Blue edge highlights and a Guilliman Blue Glaze wash to blend things together a bit again followed by another Electric Blue highlight and a finer, final highlight with a little white mixed into the Electric Blue. They’re not the smoothest blends I’ve ever done, but it looks striking enough at tabletop distance, and they were very repeatable – so much so that when I attempted to do a little better with my blending on hero’s such as Elladan and Elrohir, it was a whole new world of frustration pushing paint around those big billowing cloaks.
The gold was also surprisingly challenging, given the amount of experience I have in painting gold in that exact style from my Stormcast Eternals. I blame some of that on the age of these sculpts – the 25mm scale was a contributing factor to be sure, but these plastics really don’t have quite the same depth of detail to them as modern GW plastics to – the intricacy is there, but armour plates are not as pronounced as I’m used to. The holes in the links of chainmail are more delicate, and it’s tremendously easy to apply paint too thickly or let a wash pool a little too much in any area. This was exacerbated by my decision to give the armour a bit of a green tinged patina5, as there was a fine line between not enough green, or too much green that the shading disappeared. Likewise, a silver edge highlight can really bring out a gold plate, but too thick a line and the armour no longer looked.. well, gold. It’s a fine line, and I’m sure I strayed from it in one or two places throughout the project – depending on how closely you want to look. Where it works though, it works.
Before I talk about basing, my Knights of Rivendell probably deserve a paragraph or two as the centrepiece to this whole project. These guys were.. well, the first was a really fun project, and the next five were exhausting. They’re great looking miniatures, and the only Cavalry I have in this army so I wanted to really spend the time on them. I didn’t bother with any subassemblies, which was a silly mistake to make and I found reaching some areas on their chest and legs – especially on the shield side – to be a bit awkward. With that aside, they weren’t so much challenging to paint (the Riders, cloaks aside, were essentially just the infantry again), but they were extremely time consuming when you factor in the horse and those great billowing capes. I knew I wanted them to be black, so as to differentiate them a little and add a bit of a sense of menace to them, and this proved to be.. a learning experience. There’s a few folds in there which were easy enough to edge highlight by the book, but the vast expanse of the cloak is a wide, curved angle that really called for several very subtle glazes to give them definition. Glazing is not my usual modus operandi, and even with the practice from repeating the tedious process over six miniatures I can’t say that I’m particularly comfortable with the technique yet, but it was definitely a good learning experience and – while far from perfect – I’m happy that my cloaks have a bit of definition to them without just looking grey.
If I had one regret with the Rivendell Knights, it’s that I wish I had magnetised one of the arms with a banner bearer, to future proof them. You live, you learn.
For basing, I knew I wanted to do something pretty and something with a lot of depth to it – I considered finding some sort of roller to create a textured stone floors, etc to represent Rivendell itself, but I didn’t really picture the army wouldn’t be defending the city itself – but rather patrolling it’s borders, such as Eriador, the River of Bruinen, etc. I imagine the Elves would take great care of the surrounding greenery, and so I went out and bought as many different coloured basing tufts as I could and tried to apply several over a a light brown textured base (Vallejo Game Earth, washed with Seraphim Sepia and drybrushed Earth/Elfic Flesh) to make the greenery look as lush and bushy as I could. I did mess up a little bit with some of the floral tufts though, and ended up ordering strips – which often needed flanked by other tufts in order to cover the imperfections on them, but still worked well at introducing an extra element of colour.
I didn’t go too nuts on the infantry models’ bases – every model gets at least one tuft, but there’s not a whole lot of space on those 25mms. With the extra space afforded by the Cavalry models’ 40mm bases though, I was able to do something a little more interesting, and carved a channel in the bases when I was applying the texture paint, which I would stain a sea-blue (Nihilakh Oxide with a little Waywatcher Green or Guillman Blue glaze in there for colour) after drybrushing the rest of the base. When all of this had dried, the model sealed with Dullcote and any tufts or static grass had been applied, I then put on two thick coats (one atop the other, after drying) of Vallejo Water Texture gel as smoothly as I could, which gave the slightly rippling stream effects.
The only other basing decision that I want to touch on is the black rims. I’d actually rather wanted to trim these guys in brown – I’m actually a big fan of coloured base trims, and brown seems to be pretty common in Middle-earth basing. That being said, I knew that I wanted to do an Evil army for Middle-earth after this, and while I wasn’t going to base that army in the same way, I did want my unified collection to feel cohesive in some way – and plain black trims seemed the easiest way to do this without completely limiting my basing options for future projects; brown trims wouldn’t look completely right on a black Moria base for one example, and who knows – I might even want to incorporate some of my Fellowship models that I painted for a Balin’s Tomb diorama that I did for fun last last Christmas. The topsoil won’t exactly match, but it’s a lot less jarring than clashing base rims. And who doesn’t want to field Strider alongside Arwen, Elladan and Elrohir from time to time, right?
So, that’s my Rivendell army for the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game. I won’t say it’s “done” (what army ever really is), but it’s certainly together enough now that I feel like I could play some games without feeling hamstrung by a lack of options. The plan for the immediate future is to work on my Evil counterpart to this army – the Fell Kingdom of Angmar! I don’t expect the wait will be too long for this army, as at the time of typing this I’m already a good bit of the way there. I’m incredibly excited to talk about those guys, real soon. Beyond that? Well, I might mix up my hobby again for a while and head back to the grim darkness of the far future for a while – or I might polish off some of my other Elven Heroes that I have, such as Glorfindel (foot and mounted), mounted Arwen and my alternative Elrond sculpt. Or maybe a few more infantry for the Rivendell army, as I don’t have any particularly suitable dismount models for my Knights yet (which might be problematic).
Until then, thanks for reading, and happy wargaming!
1 It’s a move that I am thrilled by, personally. As much as I have come to enjoy the Hobbit films for what they are, Middle-earth – and the LOTR SBG – has always had a degree of gravitas to it, in my opinion, that the close association with the polarising Hobbit films sullied a little. It’s just nice to see the game take advantage of the wide-spectrum of Tolkien’s incredibly rich and dignified setting, without being tied as closely to any cinematic adaptation.
2 Remember when I said I was going to get my last 1000pts of VI Legion painted by the end of September? Hahahahahahaha…
3 I think that Elladan and Elrohir’s gigantic swords most definitely fall into the ‘heroic scale’ bracket.
4 With the exception of my generic High Elf Captain, who unfortunately had a bit of a mould seam running down his metal face. That wasn’t an easy clean-up job, and it does show, upon close inspection
5 A 50/50 mix of Waywatcher Green and Nihilakh Oxide