What’s better than one Cave Troll? Four Cave Trolls, that’s what!
We’ve had the Good Guys, but now it’s time for Part II of my current Middle-earth infatuation – my Evil force, the Fell Kingdom of Angmar.
That’s 1000pts+ of Angmar, smooshed up into a single LP record mailer (they make terrific surfaces to prime on). While this isn’t the last you’ve seen from this faction1, this will be my army going forward for now while I return to High Elves for a bit of work on characters and some other bits and pieces2.
For this army, I didn’t have any particular notions of a specific ‘colour scheme’. To me, Orcs have always been somewhat individualistic and a little bit of a rabble – perhaps less true of the Moria Goblins or Morannan Orcs from the Battle of Pellanor Fields, but it certainly seemed the case with most of the Orcs in the movies that there’s wasn’t a lot of rhyme or reason to either their outfits, or indeed their very flesh. With that in mind, I knew that I wanted my Orcs to all look subtly different and varied, but they still needed to have something to really tie them together as an army. Another less pressing concern was that Mordor Orcs are a fairly ubiquitous kit for the Evil faction, and I wanted some flexibility with them to field them as Angmar or repurpose them for a Barad-Dur Last Alliance list with Sauron, or even use them to bulk up numbers in a Mordor list.
When I finally settled on Angmar as my priority faction3, I tried to factor in a few other considerations – how the spirits and spectres would fit into the list, how the Cave (or Hill) Trolls would fit into things and the nature of the land of the Kingdom of Angmar – what that meant for basing and theme. In the end, I drew a little bit of inspiration from my time playing The Lord of the Rings Online and a little bit of inspiration from Battle for Middle-earth II. Alongside the fluff for Buhrdur and the Hill Trolls, I pictured my army as a marauding horde of Orcs and Trolls, roaming the gloomy, chilly hills and munro’s of Angmar – a muted, dead place with the only flickers of colour coming from the ghostly apparitions of my spirits.
This turned out to be an incredibly fortuitous decision as far as preserving my own sanity was concerned – painting 46 Orcs is slog, and corners had to be cut. I’ll confess, I actually cheated a little bit with the Orcs – using a method that I’ve used before for my Skaven Clanrats – and most of these Orcs I bought off of eBay ‘Pro Painted’. It’s a little bit of a cheat, but I find that you’ve got a huge number of miniatures to get through, it’s often worth getting used minis that are not quite up to code yet, but that save you from having to manually lay the base coats on 10s and 20s of near identical miniatures. These Orcs were actually in better shape than most ‘Pro Painted’ miniatures that I start with, but they still required a good bit of TLC.
Having come from several sources with a variety of different basing styles, they all had one thing in common – not a single miniature had their very pronounced mould lines shaved off. The first step thus was to take my trusty X-Acto blade and shave the flash from all 46 of them. Once this was finished, I used Vallejo brush-on primer to cover up the now exposed plastic, and went through all of the miniatures making improvements here and there – I wanted these models to look muted and dingy and depressing to a degree, so I had a much softer hand in highlighting these than my usual style. Black cloth was given a dark grey (Vallejo Sombre Grey mostly, Mechanicus Standard Grey in other cases) edge highlight in places while brown would have some subtle layering to bring a little more texture to the leathers. Faces were drybrushed with the closest approximated colour match to give them a little more depth. I made a bit of a point of completely repainting the banner – the surface was just textured enough to be interesting without being too difficult to paint on, so I decided to have a go at free hand painting a symbol of the Witch King, using the ‘Angmar’ page in the new Armies of Lord of the Rings book as my guide. I’m pretty pleased with how well it came out as a first attempt, and I’m definitely considering making more of a conscious effort to improve my free-hand painting in the future – it’s a lot more do-able than I originally considered it as long as you have some sort of reference image.
By the end, I had a grim horde of 46 Mordor Orcs painted to a level that I was content to game with, clear of mould lines and other unsightly blemishes. By the time I unified all of their bases, they really felt like I had made them my own – and it only really took one Saturday to get through them all.
On the subject of bases, it was while batch-up-painting these Orcs that I came up with my basing for this army. At the end of the process, I gave all the bases a wash of Agrax Earthshade and a gentle drybrush of Khaki to unify their topsoil again, and painted all of the rims black. This created a mildly varied assortment of blackish, browny soil that looked as if it was from the same patch of land. At this point though, the Orcs had all sorted to blend into an amorphous blob of black and grey, with the odd pop of colour from flesh or garbs. To counteract this (and taking into account my inspiration from BFMEII), I added some Army Painter Mountain tufts along with some thin, squished spots of Valhallan Blizzard to the bases to brighten the minis up a little, with a little scattering of a dark green leaf litter product I had laying around as well. The contrast of the bright white of the snow really brightens up the miniatures overall and brings the colour balance, while the dead leaves, dark soil and mountain tufts give off a cold, oppressive, mountainous feel.
The spirits came next in the army. First and foremost, I painted the Witch King himself – in twilight/wraith form. While the Fell-Beast mounted variant is most definitely the most impressive and fitting General for the army, I wanted this first pass at Angmar to be more about the army itself. I had planned to build up the absolute core of an Angmar force to get started – much like my Rivendell Elves – then, when both armies were finished, I would return to mop up some of the massive, awesome heroes as something to look forward to and keep momentum after I finished. In the case of my Rivendell, I’m currently working on the plethora of awesome foot and mounted heroes for the faction. For Angmar, however, we’re talking Fellbeasts, named Ringwraiths and Gulavar, the Terror of Arnor. All awesome centrepiece miniatures and I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into them eventually. With most of the Ringwriaths on the backburner, I still really wanted at least one generic Ringwraith in the army as a cheap Magic casting hero and after a lot of deliberation (I really really like the Black Rider look for Ringwraiths), came to the conclusion that the ‘Twilight’ form of Ringwraiths was absolutely perfect for the aesthetic of Angmar. Down the line, when I’ve added the named Ringwraiths and Fell Beasts to my army, I’ll probably go hunting for the other two Twilight sculpts if I feel the need to add more Generic Ringwraiths to the army at a later date, but for now it seemed most sensible to pick the Witch King himself if I only had access to one.
My method for painting spirits in this army is a time honoured one. White primer, liberal all-over wash of Nihilakh Oxide, and some fine drybrushing of Ghost Grey and then White. I had picked up the new Citadel Technical paint, Nighthaunt Gloom to give a blast here too as I’d heard good things, but ultimately, I preferred the look still of the original Oxide. In the end, I used Nighthaunt Gloom as an alternative colour with the Oxide – using it to paint my Wraith and other spirits’ hair, specifically, along with different layers of clothing to break up the monocolour and give them a little more depth. I also used Nighthaunt Gloom exclusively on my Shade miniature as – per the name – I figured that would be a darker, even more sinister kind of spirit. Colour preference aside, the new spooky scary technical paints work a treat and I’m looking forward to experimenting with them more in the future – I think that a mixture of Oxide and Hexwraith Flame would make for an excellent basis for the Dead of Dunharrow army which I may or may not already be planning to run allied with Aragorn & The Rangers a little down the line to coincide with the planned Pellanor Fields sourcebook in January.
I used the same technique on the skins of The Barrow-Wights and Dead Marsh Spectres, although I opted to keep their bodies and clothing in the material world, in opposition to the fully etheral Ringwraith and Shade. The Barrow Wights sculpts, to my eyes, were somewhat Blanchitsu in their design and so I couldn’t resist trying to go the sloppy, wash heavy minimal colour orange/brown route. The armour was AP Gunmetal with Brassy Brass features, with a relatively thin wash of 50/50 Nuln Oil and Typhus Corrosion over it to rob it of metallic shine. I’m really happy with the overall look of these miniatures, and the spectral colour of the Oxide and Nighthaunt Gloom face/hands/hair contrasts really nicely against the earthy, corpse-like bodies. The Dead Marsh Spectres had a similar treatment, albeit with a little more ‘normal’ painting going over the clothes, etc. For the Orc, I put an extra Agrax wash over his rags after highlighting to mute the colours back down again a bit to match my Orcs, while the Numenorean had his black robes highlighted with purpley-grey and the High Elf had his gold armour drybrushed a little with beige/grey to take the sheen off of it a bit. I also tried to apply a little bit of Fuegan Orange wash to the bottom of their robes to give the appearance of marshy mud staining. As a final nod to the Dead Marshes, I used a singular Army Painter Wasteland Tuft on their bases instead of Mountain Tuft, just to really hammer in the ‘swamp’ angle. These guys were a ton of fun to work on, and at only 15pts a pop, I’d definitely consider adding another three into the army at a later date.
The last thing I worked on for this army were my Hill Trolls. I saved these for last, partly as a reward to myself for getting through a bazillion rank and file infantry, but also because I was a little terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. The existence of that Burdhur model was one of the things that really swung me from Barad-Dúr to Angmar, and as much as I love (maybe even prefer) the armoured aesthetic or Mordor Trolls and Gundabad Trolls, the combination of the Hill Trolls rolled into the Spirits and Orc Hordes of Angmar just really appealed to me. I loved the idea that Cave Trolls were cheap enough that you could sort of spam them, and having a named Hero specifically to lead them just gives them a real character of their own. I’d also be lying if I denied the impact of nostalgia factor – the Cave Troll was the first real monster we got exposed to in The Fellowship of the Ring. That kind of thing has an impact on you as a kid!
It also didn’t hurt that Cave Trolls were re-usable within the Moria faction either4.
Believe it or not, I managed to chew through the Cave Trolls in a single weekend. The great thing about these metal sculpts (and in fact the primary reason I don’t have the plastic troll from the Mines of Moria box set that would complete the set of poses) is that they’re absolutely caked in texture from head to toe. Their bodies are so rich with lines and indents, their backs scaly and lumpy or creased with folds in leathery skin. This makes them absolutely amazing to paint with washes and drybrushing and – in lieu of any quality written guides onlineaccess to an airbrush – this was exactly what I did. All four of the Cave Trolls were given a white primer, and their backs were coloured with two layers of Drakenhof Nightshade followed by a final wash of Nuln Oil Their underarms and chests were given two layers of Seraphim Sepia followed by a final coat of Reikland Fleshshade. These were followed up by successively lighter drybrushes of VGC Sombre Grey/Heavy Bluegrey/Glacier Blue and Rosy Flesh/Cadmium Flesh/Pale Flesh respectively.
Thing is, once you’ve done that, you’ve pretty much finished the miniatures. I covered all the metal parts with Vallejo Metal Colour Silver followed by a Typhus Corrision wash, a thinned down Lahmian Medium/Ryza Rust wash and a drybrush of AP Chainmail Silver. Toenails were painted Elfic Flesh and given a wash of Seraphim Sepia. As a little bit of extra disgusting detail, I drew fine lines for the grain of their nails again in Elfic Flesh and washed the toenails a second time, albeit a little thinner, to stain it again and blend everything back in. Eyes were painted yellow and given a little slit for the pupil. Base texture, Dullcote, tufts and snow and you’re done!
Of course, Buhrdur was a little more complicated with all of his extra features. The leather was a lot of fun, and I painted it with a variety of different froms (VGC Leather Brown, Earth Brown, Dark Fleshtone), washed different panels in different colours and highlighted them back up with their original colour and a little White. The arm-bandages were Elfic Flesh, washed with Seraphim Sepia and highlighted again with Elfic Flesh – giving them a kinda yellowed, old, unwashed look that seemed pretty fitting given their owner.
I have to say, I was a little disappointed with how small Buhrdur looked next to his buddies. It’s not that he was any smaller in scale, but his slightly squat pose just looked a little dwarfed next to three Cave Trolls all holding their massive weapons over their heads. It never even really occurred to me until I started painting him and I was looking at him next to his painted buddies. To compensate, I ended up cutting the trim off of his base and mounting it on another base of the same size and applying texture paint around the edges. It’s not a lot, but the little mound it creates alleviates him in height just enough to offset his squat pose, I think.
So, that’s my first thousand points of Angmar – and that concludes my first two army projects for the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game. I have to say, the project has been an enormous amount of fun and has had my hyped to levels I haven’t previously felt since working on my Horus Heresy Space Wolves.Getting into the system with the intention from the very beginning of building a faction for both Good and Evil does wonders for keeping stagnation at bay – it’s great to have a completely different direction to switch gears to, while at the same time knowing that you’re not wasting your time on a project that will never see play. My Iron Warriors project stagnated somewhat when I realised that I was only really building them demo games or the rare occasion that we’d be short of Traitor players at events – not the case with my Angmar or Rivendell, as plenty of ME SBG events will outright require me to bring both, so there’s no need to pick favourites. In addition, the army sizes feel “just right” for a hobby project – the relatively low model count of the skirmish system means you tend to finish off units of a particular miniature before they outstay their welcome, but you still get the satisfaction from a “full army” kind of project
What’s next? Well, I’m in a pretty fortunate position that I have no major project to undertake in my immediate future. Speaking purely from a Middle-earth standpoint, early 2019 has been earmarked for expanding this Angmar force with the centrepiece miniatures such as Fell Beasts and Gulavar, and maybe even picking up Sauron for funsies3. In the meantime, I plan on switching back to my Rivendell Elves for a spell and filling out the gaps in my Heroes roster – as well as maybe converting up some Sword/Shield Warriors for my front lines.
Beyond Middle-earth, loaning out my Stormcast Eternals for a quick game recently has re-ignited my interest in getting them onto the tabletop again – perhaps in time for Tempest 2019. I actually spent a reasonable amount of time in 2018 adding more Judicators and Fulminators, as well as making minor paint job improvements and converting my push-fit Hammer Prosecutors into Javelin/Trident Prosecutors in an effort to make my first army table-worthy again; by November, I aim to finally leverage that work into a playable army for January with a few more useful heroes. It’ll be nice to no longer feel like that whole army was a waste of time and money, yes?
Thanks for reading, and happy wargaming!
1 I’ll be adding a Witch King on Fell Beast, The Tainted, The Dwimmerlaik and Gulavar, Terror of Arnor early 2019, I suspect)
2 Glorfindel (foot and mounted), mounted versions of The Twins, Cirdan, Erestor – and more infantry! I’d like to boost up my Shield/Spear and Bows to a full warband of 12 each, and convert myself 8 Sword/Shield Warriors for a little versatility (and as dismounts for my Rivendell Knights)
3 There was a lot of bouncing between Angmar and Barad-Dúr. In the end, Angmar won out of sheer aesthetic (and that facing Sauron every game would probably get boring fast if he was my main army), although I did build my army flexibly enough that I could reuse and repurpose a lot of it for other reasons – 46 Orcs, a Captain and a Banner for example only requires another Captain and Sauron to make a 800pts Barad-Dúr list, while the 3 Cave Trolls…
4 … would be a great start to a Moria army! Cave Trolls! Balrog! Goblins! YAAAAAAASS!