Entering the Blackstone Fortress – Part Two

Hello, and welcome to my first blog post of the new decade! Happy new year, and all that.

First things first, I want to apologize for how brief this post is compared to my usual long winded drawl – it was my original intention to completely finish Entering the Blackstone Fortress with this post (at least until I start buying and painting the Expansions, anyway). Towards the tail end of 2019 however, I ended up moving house1. It’s been a.. disruptive time. Several delays to the move in date resulted in us having to move over the festive period2. Not only that, but the property ended up needing everything from a complete rewire to a new coat of paint and a carpet in just about every room. As you can imagine, it did not leave me with a great deal of time for hobby. C’est la vie and all that, but the bottom line is that the last four Explorers -and the big group shot – will now have to wait until Part Three.

But enough moping! It’s a new year, so let’s rattle off a few customary Highlights From My 2019 before we get back to our previously scheduled hobby, shall we?

  • Miniatures painted: 277
    • This falls a little (well, 218) short of the 485 that I managed to crank out in 2018. I’m putting this down a focus on skirmish-sized systems and boxed games such as Middle-earth SBG, Mordheim and Blackstone Fortress in 2019 rather than the massive regiments in Age of Sigmar and the Horus Heresy of 2018.
  • Space Marine infantry painted: 32 power armour
    • This includes 3 Land Speeder Javelins (counting pilot and passenger), 6 Jetbikes, then 10 Tacticals and 10 Grey Slayers. Kind of neat how even the split was between my two legions.
  • Best army awards won: 6
    • I managed to take home all 4 of the Best Army awards from Scottish Middle-earth SBG events, plus 2 for Age of Sigmar in 2019. I didn’t bother with Armies on Parade this year – one for 2020, perhaps.
  • Middle-earth Hobby Bingo achieved: 24/25
    • So close. So.. close. I only missed the ‘build custom objective markers’ square.
  • Brand new armies/warbands finished: 4
    • These were my Grey Company, Iron Hills, Fangorn and Mordheim Skaven. All pretty small projects, mind; one of these warbands is only 5 miniatures3.
  • New tabletop environments built: 3
    • That is to say a table full of themed terrain and a mat. In 2019, I put together a Trollshaws, a Moria and a Zone Mortalis board.
  • Digital gaming aids developed: 1
    • Not really a statistic, but a shameless plug for my SBG Hero Tracker, available free on any web browser or for 79p on Android
  • Traffic increase on PLASTIC CRACK over 2018: 1700% (!!!)
    • This one is absolutely mindblowing. Sincerely, thank you so much to everyone that checks out this blog. My analytics (and my social media) tell me that a lot of you come here for my Middle-earth content, and I’m pleased to say there’s already lot more of that lined up for 2020 – including an Isenguard Scout army, some Mirkwood allies for my Iron Hills, over 1000 points of Azog’s Legion and even a diorama coming this way. Watch this space!

On the whole, it was a pretty great year – I made a lot of progress with a lot of existing projects, built some exciting new armies, played a lot of fun games, met a lot of nice people and painted a lot of really cool miniatures. I can’t wait to do it all over again in 2020. Speaking of which…

Thanks to the aforementioned moving house situation, finishing Blackstone Fortress has slipped from I’ll get it done before the year is up to I’ll get it done before I’ve owned the kit for a year. In Part One of Entering the Blackstone Fortress, I managed to finish the bare bones needed to play the first mission. This left me 2x Rogue Psykers, 4x Chaos Beastmen, 2x Chaos Space Marines, Obsidius Mallex and 4 of the remaining Explorers – Taddeus the Purifier, Pious Vorne, Dahyak Grekh plus the Ratling twins Rein & Raus. Picking this back up again, I have to say – it’s a whole lot more manageable looking without those 14 Traitor Guard looming over me anymore.

First up on the docket were the two Rogue Psykers. After the tedious process of painting 14x Traitor Guardsmen, it was pretty refreshing to be able to crank the pair of these out in an evening. The process for painting them was the exact same as it was on the Traitor Guard in Part One, minus the khaki and the leathers.

One potentially contentious decision I made was to keep their flesh bright and healthy looking like the Traitor Guardsmen, rather than pick out the veins or put some discolouration over the deformities. Why? I just liked how the bright flesh looked. It’s nice and saturated and contrasts well against the rest of the model, so I didn’t want to mess with the formula. Sometimes, consistency is key.

Forgive me for waxing nostalgic here, but these were the last miniatures that I painted in my flat before moving. That tiny one-bedroom apartment was where I started back up my long-dormant miniature painting hobby with Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower back in 2016. Kind of fitting that the last thing I paint in there was for another Warhammer Quest game.

Not long after finishing my Rogue Psykers, the house move kicked off in earnest and my free time was all but gone. Somewhere amidst all the Chaos (heh) however, I managed to score a couple of evenings to myself and decided I would paint something. As time was sparse, I opted for the pair of Chaos Space Marines.

I don’t really know what I expected going into it, but I found these miniatures – like most of the contents of Blackstone Fortress if I’m being honest with myself – quite challenging to paint. Some areas were easier than others – the red cloth was business as usual and the face on the masked Marine wasn’t too bad either. The leather holster was completely fine. Okay, a lot of things went pretty okay. But the power armour itself? Now that was a nightmare.

You’d think that by now, painting Space Marine power armour would come pretty naturally to me, even with all the metal trim. Nope. Perhaps it was the overly warm lighting in the kitchen I was painting in4, or maybe it’s just how detailed the sculpt was, but everything I did to the armour just made it look messy. Something about the combination of highlighting black and the intricate metal trim just really kicked my ass.

On a positive note, it was around this point that I had finally gotten the hang of freehanding the bases in a reasonably timely manner. With 10 more bases yet to finish in this box set (and more to come in subsequent expansions), I’m taking that as a win worth celebrating.

And celebrate I did! Before the top coat of satin varnish over my Chaos Space Marines’ bases had a chance to dry, I started putting base coats over my Chaos Beastmen5.

As far as colour choice is concerned, I employed the same colours on their armour and fatigues as on the Traitor Guard (Leather Brown shorts, Black carapace armour, Heavy Red cloth and Dark Fleshtone for the leather pouches), with Heavy Skintone to base the flesh and Charred Brown for the fur. The hooves I kept in black, while the horns were done in Elfic Flesh.

But Michael, why are their horns a different colour to their hooves? I hear you ask. Well, about that…

Uhhh.. Hm. Well…

Listen, maybe just don’t think about it, okay? Okay. Moving on.

To shade, I applied a quick wash of Seraphim Sepia over everything, followed by a wash of Agrax Earthshade over the metallics and the fur. Then, it’s onto the highlights. As with the base coats, this followed the very familiar patterns as on previous models with the notable exceptions being the skin tones and the hair.

I concocted a mixture of Heavy Skintone and Heavy Goldbrown for the initial layer over the flesh, which I am hereby going to refer to as Beastie Boy Flesh (sorry). This was followed up by a pair of successively smaller layers with a little Elfic Flesh mixed in to highlight. Finally, the skin received a wash of Seraphim Sepia to soften and blend everything again followed by one final highlight across the most raised points and all of the various folds, wrinkles and facial features such as cheekbones, nose and brow. This step was pretty challenging, and took about as long as the rest of the miniature combined – those snub-nosed faces have so many tiny little lines and folds to pick out that it’s extremely easy to mess up.

Thankfully, the hair/fur areas were a simple case of drybrush and wash. The Charred Brown base was drybrushed first with Leather Brown, then followed up with Elfic Flesh. When this was dry, it received with a heavy wash of Agrax Earthshade to tint everything back to dark brown and bring definition back to any recesses that managed to get a little paint in them. It’s a quick and dirty, but effective way of painting dark hair.

And finally, we come to Obsidius Mallex – the very last of the adversaries. The big bad himself. And just like his Chaos Space Marine minions before him, this miniature absolutely kicked my ass. I’m starting to feel a little sad just thinking about it.

As with on the Marines, it felt like everything I did to this miniature just kept making it messier and messier. Maybe my primer went on a little too thick or maybe I’m just a little out of practice, but nothing I did felt like it was working. Even on areas I would consider within my comfort zone – such as the cloak – I would try and smooth the blends and end up looking flat, or I’d up the contrast and it would look jarring. When I thought that the weird metallic tentacles pervading his armour looked a bit plain, I thought it might be cool to paint the little vents a glowing orange, but ended up clogging up those delicate little details with too many coats of paint.

When I thought I had finished and happy with the miniature, I took a snap and put it up on Instagram – as is my custom. He lasted all of 5 minutes on my feed before I started to notice enough glaring flaws that I decided to pull the photo and do some additional clean up work.

This is all probably coming off as a little bit negative, so I should state that I am reasonably content with how Mallex turned out when all is said and done – at least I was after I finished the aforementioned clean up work. He’s still a far cry from my finest work – but I’ve certainly done worse6 in my time. One thing I did like about painting him was experimenting with a different skintone – I wanted a slightly darker tone with, less of a healthy glow than my usual approach, so I used Heavy Skintone as the base and highlighted by mixing Heavy Red and Elfic Flesh into the Heavy Skintone paint. The end result was exactly what I wanted – similar, but without that healthy glow that my usual Rosy Flesh-based approach gives. It’s something I’ll definitely experiment with again in the future.

It’s not quite the “every model in the boxed game” shot I was hoping to end this post on, but here’s a quick group shot with one of everything from the Servants of the Abyss at least.

With Mallex out of the way, the Servants of the Abyss section of Blackstone Fortress boxed set is finished – leaving me with only a small handful of Explorers to paint. The finish line is most reassuringly within sight. Heck, if I wanted to, I could now play the entire game from start to finish, albeit with a fixed subset of playable characters. That’s a pipe dream, of course – chances are, I won’t get a single game in until I’ve had the whole box painted for a month, but auch, it’s a niche wee thought, innt it?

So, what do I think of these miniatures on the whole? I mean, they’re terrific. The sculpts are great, the proportions are great, the amount of detail is just crazy (and entirely expected of Games Workshop). On the flipside, they’re an absolute pain in the arse to paint. With the exception of maybe the Ur-Ghuls, just about every one of these models felt super crowded. I don’t have the cleanest approach to painting miniatures, so just colouring within the lines can feel pretty daunting when there’s just so many damn lines.

Still, I’m nitpicking here. Overall, I’m very happy with how my Servants of the Abyss turned out – the sculpts are great and I think I did them justice enough for the tabletop in what would have been a timely manner were it not for the unexpected hiatus. They look especially satisfying laid out together with their cohesive colour scheme – and I’m even more excited now to get that full box contents shot when I finish the rest of the Explorers in Part Three. And then onwards to Ambulls, Traitor Commisars and oh my god there’s even a Zoat coming now I can’t wait this game is fantastic.

Until then, thanks for reading, and happy wargaming!

1 This is old news to anyone who follows my Twitter account as, apparently, I can’t seem to shut up about it.

2 I do not recommend ever doing this. It is terrible.

3 Well, 5 miniatures if you include Merry and Pippin – which you should, because I put more effort into their dismount bases than I do most characters.

4 Evident by the photo of these Chaos Marines I put up on Instagram. Check out my feed and see how much warmer and redder the lighting was in the original photo – and that was after reducing the warmth of the photo my usual amount. Lessons learned.

5 I know what you’re thinking – this guy sure knows how to party, right?

6 Here’s an up close of the Darkoath Cheiftain from my Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower set that I painted on re-entry to the hobby (back in 2016). This was before I discovered ‘Flesh Wash’ was a thing, and long before I discovered how to appropriately layer for skin tones. But if you want to go even further back, I also have a single Wolf Guard model from my original Space Wolves army back in 2002 or something.

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