With my two ‘bread and butter’ Matched Play armies for Middle-earth SBG now more or less under my belt, I’ve found myself in the fortunate position of once again having no major projects to work on from the ground-up.
Of course, there are always things to do. For the Horus Heresy, I have a small allied contingent of Talons of the Emperor to get through – never mind the new and rather excellent releases of MkIII Deathsworn and Hvarl Red-Blade1. There’s a battletome finally coming for Skaven, which tempt me from my current hiatus from Age of Sigmar. And for Blood Bowl, there’s the small matter of my Rat Ogre and Hakflem Skuttlespike to finish off my Skaven – as well as the new(ish) Orc booster to finish off my Orc team.
And yet, I can’t quite tear myself away from Middle-earth.
At first, I decided to give myself a little bit of a break from assembly-line painting and focus on filling out some of the gaps in my Rivendell and Dol Guldur collections, as well as the odd departure from my existing armies. Then Gondor at War finally dropped in all it’s spectacular narrative glory – and with it’s majestic Legendary Legions. The stars had aligned, and it was time to get cracking on my Grey Company force.
Way back in November, Armies of the Hobbit was released and all of a sudden I became obsessed with getting my hands on some of the more modern sculpts released during this period. Of course, the idea that my Rivendell Knights were from exactly this period had completely escaped my head at the time and the end result was I wound up building and painting a Dark Powers of Dol Guldur force. It was pretty easy, and I knocked it out over the course of a weekend with, I thought, fairly satisfying results.
I rather enjoyed the experience of putting that small, elite force together with a fairly fast turnaround, and it led me to consider what other small, elite projects I might turn my hand to. The smart money, of course, would be to build The White Council – another small, elite army, most of which could ally neatly with my Rivendell force and make for a fantastic, thematic counterpart to my Nazgul – it was the White Council that battled The Nine atop Dol Guldur after all. I tallied up the various points and played around in my head a cool little narrative scenario, went off to eBay to source the miniatures missing from my collection…
… and then I stumbled on a cheap auction for some Rangers of the North, including Halbarad with the Evenstar Banner. Best laid plans, eh.
The Rangers seemed to tick all my boxes – they felt like a sensible place to grow out of from my Rivendell force, having such close ties with Rivendell in the books, as well as being situated originally in Eriador, patrolling the Shire and the Trollshaws surrounding Rivendell – the area most of my Middle-earth terrain is based in. I had wanted to represent the Race of Men in my Middle-earth collection, and who better than the noble lineage of the Dúnedain? Finally, I knew that they would become somewhat relevant with the Grey Company and the Army of the Dead in the forthcoming Gondor at War supplement, which ultimately sealed the deal for me – my next mini force would be The Grey Company.
So, I did what any red blooded Wargamer would do – I closed my eyes, hit “Buy it now” and went back to painting Elves, forgetting all about the White Council until exactly 4 paragraphs ago. Huh2.
A couple of months later, and both the Gondor at War supplement was released and my backlog had cleared up. The time had come.
There was a couple of surprises in the Legendary Legion for Grey Company, but the main one was that the entire army was denied access to horses. This was interesting for a couple of reasons – first of all, that my mounted Aragorn that I painted ahead of schedule wasn’t of any use.. but also that it meant Elladan and Elrohir would also not be needing their mounted miniatures.
Although maybe a little surprising from a rules standpoint, this did benefit me by way of Hobby Synergy. Way back when I started my Rivendell force, Elladan and Elrohir were still out of production, and thus getting my hands on the armoured sculpts or the mounted ones proved an impossible task. In the end, I settled for their original, robed variants that were released around the Two Towers period. Of course, when the mounted sculpts came back at Games Workshop, I opted to bite the bullet and paint up the armoured ones on foot as well – duplication of effort sucks, but mismatching dismounts sucked more, and the armoured variants fit the aesthetic of the Rivendell army better anyway. The robed twins were thus doomed to sit on my shelf in disuse forever.
Flash forward to today, and suddenly the Twins have renewed purpose. Not only is their aesthetic much closer to the rest of the Grey Company than their armoured counterparts, but being they were entirely duplicate miniatures, I can play simultaneous games or loan them out or sell them later as part of the Grey Company army without having to taking anything away from my Rivendell army3. I dunno, it’s just nice to get some legitimate use out of them after all the work went into them.
As for the Three Hunters, as I stated before, I opted to go for the older, Finecast version of the Three Hunters, featuring a sprinting Gimli, and cloaked Legolas and Aragorn. I didn’t opt for the rather excellent new plastic sculpts for a couple of reasons, the first and most obvious being they didn’t exist when I started this project – like I said earlier, a lot of this project was purchased impulsively back in November, and I had no idea that Games Workshop would release yet another set of miniatures for Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. That being said, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have sourced these older miniatures regardless for this particular project. I love the new plastics – the pose on Aragorn is wonderfully distinguishable from his charge into the fray with the Army of the Dead, and is laden with little details such as the patchwork on his coat. The Gimli has a great sense of motion to him, while Legolas has some wonderful detailing on his bow.
Still, this legendary legion is not The Return of the King – it is the Grey Company Rangers. The original Three Hunters absolutely captures that nomadic, road-worn look of a ranger. From the shadowy, hooded figure of Strider to the ponderous, observant Legolas and the wearied yet unstoppable pursuit from the helmet-less Gimli, all three of these minis just seem to mesh seamlessly with the Rangers of the North themselves.
That just about covers the who, what and why of it all. With that behind us, let’s move on and talk hobby.
The very first thing I tackled in this army was Aragorn himself – who I managed to knock out amongst a few Rivendell bits and pieces back in December. Without repeating myself, there are a couple of things about the paint job which, upon reflection, stand out to me now. The first is that I really wished that I had made his trousers and undergarments a little closer to a burgundy red, similar to how I attempted Gimli, as he’s a little too matching, I think, which perhaps isn’t as visually interesting as it could be. Another major observation is that I totally messed up on his cloak. Or the Rangers, depending on your perspective – while both the Rangers and Aragorn were painted with a blueish-grey on their cloaks, Aragorn’s has come out way more saturated and colourful, while the Rangers themselves are a lot closer to a classic grey. How did I manage this? Well, quite simply, I didn’t bother writing down the recipe for painting the cloak, and wound up mixing up Vallejo Game Steel Grey with Sombre Grey, and/or used Wolf Grey for highlights rather than Glacier Blue. Or something to that effect – it’s clearly a completely different set of paints I’ve used, and as a consequence, Aragorn doesn’t quite match Halbarad and the rest of his Dúnedain kin.
This wasn’t the extent of my oversights while painting this force. The next couple of miniatures that I tackled before moving onto Halbarad and his Kin were Legolas and Gimli, who I worked on sporadically between other projects such as Sauron and my Rivendell additions. Without putting much thought into unifying the force (aside from on the bases), I followed the example of an image I found on Google from Warhammer Community and painted the pair of them with their own unique cloak colours – a matching green for Legolas, while Gimli was given a darker, deeper blue.
It was only when I finished painting and amassed the whole Grey Company together for some photos did I realise A. my mistakes and B. how they actually worked out in my favour. Three Hunters aside, my Elladan and Elrohir were already painted with cloaks in the style of my Rivendell force, which would have never matched the Rangers anyway. I couldn’t repaint the armoured ones, as they were needed for my Rivendell army, nor was I willing to undo the hard work I’d put into the cloaks on the robed miniatures. Ergo, had I not painted my Three Hunters in unique, separate colours, the Twins would have stood out like a sore thumb in the army on the whole. Funny how that works out. Instead, I have a cohesive company of Dúnedain Rangers (Halbarad inclusive) with four unique sets of characters, with different colours of cloaks for each individual hero. Legolas, Gimli, The Twins and Aragorn all have their own unique, distinguishing colours – and what’s more, some of the colour choices make sense, thematically. The Twins have luminescent electric blue of my Rivendell army, while Aragorn’s cloak is somewhere between the Grey of his kinsman and the blue of Rivendell – fitting for his character, I thought.
I suppose one final thing I should touch on the Three Hunters before moving onto the Rangers themselves was Gimli’s hair, which is a much brighter and yellower ginger colour than his actual auburn locks. This is true. And the reason for doing this was.. pretty much for the benefit of the miniature, and in keeping with the tone of the rest of my Middle-earth miniatures. I have always tried to make a point of using very saturated colours for my Good armies – I like nice, rich and vibrant colours, with even the browns being deep and colourful and staying away as much as possible from chalky, drybrushed textures or highlights tending towards a grey tone. On one hand, I think it just makes for a nice looking miniature, but as I’ve said before, the effect really comes to life when the miniatures are situated next to my dingy, desaturated Evil miniatures. Occasionally, I will make concessions to ‘historical’ accuracy for the sake of this effect, and this is one such occasion4.
Moving onto my Grey Company Rangers themselves, I decided to start with Halbarad – as a standalone hero (moreso than the rest of the party), he felt like the easiest ‘quick win’ to boost up the finished points percentage and keep up my morale before diving into 10 very similar miniatures. Halbarad, like the rest of the Rangers started with a Chaos Black primer, and a heavy zenithal of Hycote Grey Primer to help lighten up the base layer. His basecoats were something like Mutation Green for the robes, Sombre Green for the cloak, Heavy Skintone for the flesh, Metal Color Silver for the metallics and Dark Fleshtone for pretty much all the browns, followed by a big all over coat of Agrax Earthshade. One thing I’ve discovered in my time painting is that if you’re going to give things an all-over-wash and then layer over the wash with base colours like I often do, there’s not much point to being precious with your base tones. While the wooden bows, the leather quiver and leather bracers would all ultimately have different layer colours, the only visible part of the base coat after I layer over the wash phase is going to be the shaded recesses, which will mostly be the colour of the shade anyway; the smartest thing to do is thus to simply pick your most opaque colour with a nice consistent coverage to basecoat all these sections, and in the case of brown, that is often Dark Fleshtone5.
With the basecoats down and the wash applied, I then started to do my layering. I started with the cloak (as this is often the most time consuming portion) and laid some some more Sombre Grey over everything but the darkest recesses., layered over the bracers and boots with Dark Fleshtone, the neck fastener, trousers and quiver with Leather Brown, the tunic Mutation Green and pretty much painted over the skin again with Heavy Skintone – that took a couple of layers. The hands and face were washed with Reikland Fleshshade, and then layered again – missing the darkest recesses – with Heavy Skinstone. At this point, I also put the gold on the hilts of his weapons and helmet trim, and washed that with Reikland Fleshshade.
For the successive highlights, I employed a technique that I’ve been using a lot lately which I just sort of stumbled on which lives somewhere between a wash, a glaze and layering. The idea is that you paint on really stark edge highlights and pretty high contrast layers, and then apply a wash over the whole thing, bringing everything back down again and smoothing out the transitions. While this is extremely useful on smaller, fiddley portions like the bracers – which I would paint Dark Fleshtone, edge highlight messily with Elfic Flesh and then clean up the line with Leather Brown before washing the whole damn thing with a reasonably thick wash of Reikland Fleshshade – the technique works extremely well on even the Tunic, which was layered immediately with Camoflague Green and edged with Dead Flesh, washed with Athonian Camoshade all over and finished with a final highlight on the extremities with Camoflague Green again. The quiver and trousers were done with a few layers of Elfic Flesh, each layer smaller and more precise between coats of Seraphim Sepia wash. It’s not the most technical approach to getting a clean gradient of shadow and light, and it’s limitations are plain to see in my photographs, but it’s a surprisingly fast method that doesn’t require a great deal of brush control to pull off – which comes in handy when you’re trying to crank out ten miniatures at a time.
I used the above method a little bit on the cloak, at least as far as initial blends went, but followed up with a few thin glaze layers to bring out up some of the raised areas and shade some of the recesses, as well as some careful edge highlighting around the trims.
The final highlights were then applied to the chainmail, metallic bits on the quiver and swords. The fletching on the arrows were base painted with Ghost Grey and given a shallow wash of Athonian Camoshade and then the feathers picked out again with a detail brush and a little Ghost Grey.
The banner was the last thing I worked on. The shaft was a Dark Fleshtone base with an Agrax wash like the rest of the miniature. Following the wash, I started with Dark Fleshtone and moved up in tones of brown, using a progressively lighter touch to paint a line up the length of the shaft, all the way up through Leather Brown to Elfic Flesh, and washed the whole thing with Seraphim Sepia again. The end result was a feint, woodgrain sort of effect where the layers of lines would divide the thicker ones underneath – and my unsteady hand would provide the imperfect wavy grains. The final wash blends everything again and keeps the effect subtle, and tones the Elfic Flesh back down to a yellowish brown.
As for the banner itself, I drybrushed it grey and washed it in Nuln Oil, and performed a couple of fine glazes over the folds to give it some definition without making it look ‘grey’ rather than black. Afterward, I painted the edges and tree with a few thin coats of Ghost Grey, washed this with Vallejo Light Grey Wash, layered up with Ghost Grey again and hit the most exposed edges with a little Dead White. Finally, I applied some Nuln Oil around the outlining edges to bring a little definition back to the emblems.
The final touch was painting the base texture Earth, drybrushing Elfic Flesh and washing the whole thing Seraphim Sepia. When this dried, I stained the water nook with Nihilakh Oxide with a little drop of Guilliman Blue glaze pushed around at the borders of the water. I painted the rim of the base Black and varnished the mini with a coat of Munitorum Varnish followed by a quick blast of Testors Dullcote to remove the satin sheen. Some forest scatter and a tuft was glued, and Halbarad was done!
To tell the truth, the rest of the Rangers of the North followed pretty much the exact same format as Halbarad, with a couple of minor differences. I didn’t bother basecoating the hands and face at all before the Agrax Earthshade wash phase, and basecoated them with a layer of Heavy Skintone followed by a layer of Rosy Flesh. This was washed with Reikland Fleshshade, layered with Rosy Flesh and highlighted with Pale Flesh.
I used the same technique on the Rangers’ bows and spears as I did Halbarad’s banner shaft, with the only difference being I used the same bowstring technique as I used on my Rivendell Elf archers. This was fiddley for some of the miniatures with their bows halfway tucked into their cloaks, but not impossible – I simply put a put of CA glue on the end of the string, pushed it into the neat little perfectly sized space and sprayed some CA glue accelerator. This held the string nice and tight – just tight enough to pull it straight and stick the other end on the back of the bow. Less fiddley than the full bows, in the end! Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Halbarad’s bow, whose position and angle was just too awkward to affix anything, with no real nooks to hide the end of the string inside. Guess you can’t win them all
That about covers the Rangers of the North, save for another quick couple of points.
As far as my batching process went with these guys, all 10 received their initial base coats and Agrax Wash, and then I painted all 10 of their cloaks in full (the photo of the cloaks with unfinished bases above was taken at that point). With the largest, most time consuming area of each Ranger done and dusted, I set about taking each miniature to completion in batches of 1, 3, and then 6 – with each batch taking roughly about the same amount of time as I got more comfortable with the process and figured out the short cuts.
The last point I want to make is that some Ranger are clearly missing Spears from the miniature, which was no good to me as I needed all 10 with Spears to fit my 1000pts list exactly. My solution was to paint up a bunch of plastic spears individually, using the same plastic spear bits I used to create the shaft of the spears I added to my Rivendell Elf archers, this time keeping the basic spearhead as it sort of fitted the aesthetic of the Rangers anyway. Unfortunately, their quivers were not worn on their backs like the Elves, meaning there was no simple and obvious place to attach them to their cloaks, and after some amount of deliberation I decided just to shove them into the bases, as if they had stuck them like a post in the dirt to free their hands up for their bows.
Immediately after I did this, I showed my fiancé, who commented that surely the sharp spear end would be the bit they drove into the ground. She is right, and I am an idiot. LIVE, LEARN, ETC.
So, that is my Grey Company army all done and dusted – bringing my total Middle-earth army counts up to 2 a piece for both good and Evil, with both a full-size tournment ready army and a low-model count hero force for each side. This was an extremely fun project that I’m really glad I left to simmer until the time was right, and while the turnaround wasn’t quite as lightning fast as my Dol Guldur, it was still a pretty damn quick win with an end result I’m extremely proud of.
So, as per usual.. what’s next?
Well, I’ve clearly had my fill of Middle-earth for the time being, and I’m thinking I might mix it up with some Age of Sigmar and I AM SO FREAKING HYPED FOR MORE MIDDLE-EARTH RIGHT NOW!
Do you remember when I knocked out those refurbished eBay Moria Goblins? Well, we’re moving into Phase II of Middle-earth – THE NARRATIVE CAMPAIGN! My aim here is to finally do some actual scene recreation from the books and movies and maybe run some alternative timeline scenarios. In the immediate future, I’ll be working on putting some of the missing Hero element such as Captains and Shamans together, as well as expanding the Goblins numbers with some Archers and finally finishing up with the Thrilling Conclusion to Moria.
From there, who knows? It could be cool to build a small Númenorian presence to add to my Elves and really double down on the Last Alliance. Or maybe I’ll swing back to the Horus Heresy for a while and finally paint those Jetbikes for my Space Wolves. Oh, the possibilities!
As always, thanks for reading, and happy wargaming!
1 I do have functional miniatures for both Deathsworn and Hvarl Red-blade – both of which I converted myself some time ago, which makes getting these new miniatures a whole lot less pressing and/or exciting, however stunning the sculpts are. Still, the Hvarl is definitely an improvement over my own, and being a special character, I’m definitely inclined to pick one up.. and Deathsworn being MkIII armour, I kind of like the idea of having a MkIII Squad and a MkII Squad. Both of them are way down on my ‘to do’ list for my VI Legion though.
2 So, it’s off to eBay then…
3 I do have a nasty habit of forgetting to bring bits and pieces whenever I need to ‘pack’ an army whose bits don’t always live in the same case together. My 30K Space Wolves characters, for example, generally live in a KR case as I’m likely to bring at least one card case full of 30K armour/etc to a game – this can be problematic when I take just my Citadel Crusade case out for a game of 40K and find the only HQ choice I have with me is Bjorn. I love me some Hobby Synergy, but there’s definitely value sometimes in keeping things separate.
4 Another example is on my Elrond Twins, Elladan and Elrohir, who each have been given a sort of dusty blonde hair colour rather than the dark, deep brown of their father (and descriptions in the books for that matter). This was a mistake initially, as I highlighted their brown hair a little too bright, but eventually I just settled for making them blondes, because it contrasted better with the miniature.
5 Dark Fleshtone remains one of my all time favourite paints for it’s rich colour, creamy consistency and even coverage. Other such colours belonging in the Hall of Fame include Heavy Bluegrey, Elfic Flesh, Ghost Grey and Rosy Flesh from Vallejo Game Color, Silver from Vallejo Metal Color (as an absolutely perfect daily driver for metallic base coats) and Mechanicus Standard Grey from Citadel. Everyone should own these awesome paints.