It�?Ts time for me to confess: for many years now I�?Tve had this fantasy about a deep, dank dungeon, and six women trapped inside who have to�?�
Wait. That sounds bad. I�?Tll start again.
I think we all remember our first exposure to the hobby. For me, as with so many other children of the 80s, this came in the form of the Games Workshop/MB joint-venture board game called HeroQuest. It�?Ts well known on this board, and some of you will have seen pieces from my own set creep their way into my various armies. I never had HeroQuest as a kid. But one of my best friends who lived a few doors down from me did �?" or rather, one of his older brothers did. We were too young to actually play the game ourselves: we just played with the models, setting up dungeons, maybe moving some figures around a bit, doing the voices and stuff. I don�?Tt know exactly how old we were, but I was quite precocious, so if it was before I could handle HQ�?Ts pretty basic rules, it must have been young�?�
I don�?Tt remember if I ever actually asked for HQ myself. I think I must have, but it was also towards the end of its life-cycle, so what I got for various Christmases and birthdays was knock-offs designed to cash in on the popularity of GW�?Ts mainstream juggernaut. So I found myself with the D&D starter set around at the time (a brown box with a big fold out map of Zanzer Tem�?Ts dungeon and lots of stand up counters inside), and something called Dragon Quest which was basically the same thing, albeit simplified and with lots of cards. Both sets had a few plastic figures (and metal ones in the case of Dragon Quest), but they didn�?Tt have the tactile appeal of HQ with all its furniture. Next I got Dark World which was an incredibly blatant imitation of HQ, even down to having its own special dice. Actually it wasn�?Tt that bad as a game, but you couldn�?Tt make your own dungeon �?" there were just nine rooms you proceeded through and a big temple complex at the end. For some years I created my own games with a couple of my friends using these components. D&D was still a bit complex for me I guess, though we did try it a couple of times later on.
Naturally enough, this all led to Warhammer. Or Warhammer 40,000, to be more accurate. It was just one of those hobbies that was hovering in potential for years and finally reached critical mass. But the thing that had originally captivated me as a child was still there in my brain, and it occasionally leaked out. Now and then I�?Td try to run some sort of dungeon crawl game again, making tiles out of card, or using the boards I had from the games described above. I was also an occasional RPG player, doing some D&D, and later GURPs, Fudge and dabbling with many, many others. Warhammer Quest would have been perfect for me, but again I arrived just a little too late, and it was on its way out by that time. This was before eBay was much of a thing, and the idea of trying to get hold of a second-hand copy wasn�?Tt even on my radar. So I continued, always with this vague idea of dungeon crawling in my imagination.
As a student, I�?Td go some way to realising my childhood fantasy by finally buying a copy of HeroQuest. It was a nostalgic delight and I played the game a few times but, after spending so many years tinkering with rules for Warhammer, 40K, Epic, Battlefleet Gothic, Mordheim and all those RPGs, I found it a bit lacking. I was glad to have bought it though, and freely used the models in my armies when they fit. But still�?�I was unsatisfied�?�
My casual yearning for dungeons was just so much background noise until a few things came together at once. First, with a new edition of D&D just released, I began to think about RPGs again (well, I�?Td never really stopped to be honest) and I also discovered that it was possible to cheaply buy old PC games compatible with modern operating systems from GOG.com. One of my favourite games as an adolescent had been (can you guess?) Dungeon Keeper, in which you play an evil overlord who designs a fiendish dungeon to thwart hapless heroes. So, basically what I�?Td been doing for years. I bought and started playing Dungeon Keeper again, revelling in more of that warm nostalgia, but it made me want to do something with my toys too. So began some vague planning of a tabletop version of DK, that gradually evolved into thinking about a traditional dungeon crawl, which then calcified and I finally resolved to ease over two decades of yearning.
Hm. I guess this still sounds pretty gross�?�
I had the HQ board, which is fine, but what I wanted was the modularity of Warhammer Quest. Full sets and even just the tiles are relatively easy to find on eBay, but I didn�?Tt feel like forking out for that. There are also plenty of PDFs online that let you print out your own onto cardstock, and many, many alternative options from various more recent games, not least Mantic�?Ts dungeon crawl games. But then I was walking by my painting table one weekend and saw an unused plate from the Warhammer movement tray kit. It was a grey plastic square covered with smaller squares �?" 20mm on one side, 25mm on the other. It occurred to me suddenly that it was a perfect dungeon room. I started thinking. I wasn�?Tt going to buy a load of GW�?Ts movement trays; too expensive for too little, but I would explore similar sorts of things. I looked at plastic bases used for historical wargaming (nice enough, but hard to get the right sizes in enough quantity), movement trays (too limited) and then another lightbulb moment: MDF. Historical gamers often use MDF to make bases, and since different systems often require different basing types, there are a few companies that do a service laser-cutting sheets of MDF to whatever size is required. This then, was the answer: the solution I had been (largely unconsciously) searching for for so long. I promptly worked out what tiles were included in WHQ and its supplements and built a shopping cart of bases in the correct size, along with a few other useful bits and pieces, on East Riding Miniatures. I didn�?Tt know quite how much it would cost, but when I had everything I needed I went to inspect the damage�?�
About £15. Huh.
So that was that. I had plenty of monsters too, and heroes if I needed them, but I wanted to do something special and so I also went and bought a few figures I�?Td been wanting an excuse to get for a long time, as well as repurposing a couple I already had. I wanted to have a party of classic fantasy archetypes, but I also wanted them to have a slight twist, which will become clear as you read on. When my MDF arrived, it was just blank sheets of board smelling faintly of charred wood where the laser had done its job. They were nice and crisp though and pleasingly tactile. They still needed some work though: out came the pencil and ruler and then a heavy-duty file not at all designed for miniature work (I once used it to make my Hellcannon fit together �?" that should give you an idea of what sort of tool we�?Tre talking about). I�?Td purchased bases in 30mm increments, so I now divided them up into rough squares and filed along the lines. I did a pretty shoddy job and gave myself a chesty cough for a day or two, but they didn�?Tt have to be perfect. Then came the paint: I bought some dirt-cheap tubes of kids�?T poster paint in black, white and brown and made a thick gloopy mess that I daubed onto the primed bases. Then I just kept mixing in white and drybrushed to taste. The poor quality of the paint was actually a boon as it dried with a great rough texture over the smooth MDF meaning the drybrushing actually worked! I added a few details to some of the tiles, not to the extent of incredible work like Nico�?Ts astounding 3-D Warhammer Quest set and other similar examples on Warseer and elsewhere, but enough to spice things up a bit.
This is what I ended up with:
With shipping, paint, etc. I estimate this cost me a total of £25. Can�?Tt really argue with that.
But what of heroes who might dare to plumb the depths of this deadly labyrinth? Well, that was a project in itself. I�?Td already started thinking about rules, and one of the first things I decided was that I�?Td use GW�?Ts LOTR/Hobbit rules since for my money it�?Ts one of the best skirmish games around and, of course, it�?Ts designed for exactly this sort of thing. The basic system was written to allow people to refight the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, in which a small band of exceptional individuals travel across mountains and under them, facing down weaker but vastly more numerous enemies. Sometimes there�?Ts a big monster, and sometimes there�?Ts a nasty villain, but basically it�?Ts a couple of rangers, a couple of fighters, a wizard and some class-less halflings (Frodo could be a rogue I guess?) hacking their way through orcs. The Fellowship is in fact the original dungeon crawl, so what better rules to use? I had to add some of my own bits and pieces, such as proper rules for doors, traps, new weapons, monsters (hundreds and hundreds of them�?�) and, most importantly, the heroes themselves. I started with the �?oclassic quartet�?� from both HQ and WHQ: Barbarian, Wizard, Elf and Dwarf and gradually expanded the list to cover a whole host of traditional fantasy archetypes. This informed how I went about choosing the figures, but let me start with the four we know and love:
Frieda Sigridsdottir �?" The Barbarian
Frieda is from Hasslefree Miniatures, and a very nice model she is too. A classic female barbarian, complete with chainmail bikini, although the thick cloak makes it a little more practical an ensemble. And despite being a little bit cheesecake, Frieda isn�?Tt someone you should take lightly, as her tribe�?Ts rivals, the Bloodwolves, are about to find out:
The Bloodwolf tribe have long been a scourge to the Bearskins, of which Frieda Sigridsdottir is the foremost warrior. Recently they burned her village to the ground, carrying off two Bearskins to sacrifice to their ravenous wolf god. Frieda sought retribution, but it turned out the Bloodwolves were now migrating en masse across the Great Mountains to the weak southern lands. Why is a mystery, but Frieda had already sworn vengeance and, against the wishes of her father, chieftain of the Bearskins, she set off alone in pursuit. Now she has caught up with their rearguard who have set up camp in an abandoned dwarf mine. Wasting no time, Frieda enters the dungeon, stumbling across her first enemy soon enough.
Having slain the warrior, she advances to the next room and comes face to face with more reavers and a grim chieftain, the notorious Ulf Eriksson�?�
After a hard-fought battle with Eriksson, Frieda explores a side-room, and encounters a hideous troll guarding a locked door! Letting out a war cry to the bear god, she charges in without hesitation.
Still reeking of noxious troll blood, Frieda kicks down the door and beyond discovers what every adventurer really seeks �?" treasure!
Now loaded down with dwarf gold, Frieda ventures deeper into the complex and finds herself face to face with a Bloodwolf shaman and his bodyguard. She hefts her axe, preparing for battle.
The bodyguard goes down easily enough but the shaman is a little tougher. He has foul magicks at his disposal and Frieda must call upon all her cunning, resourcefulness and raw barbarian strength to overcome him. Will she win the day?
Katherine d�?TArgent �?" The Wizard
Another great Hasslefree miniature. This time there�?Ts no denying the sex appeal, so Katherine is a rather different sort of hero than the others �?" a woman of noble birth who is used to getting people to do whatever she wants them to. Her familiar �?" Midnight the raven �?" is from GW�?Ts Radagast on sleigh, where it�?Ts a small scenic element for his base. Don�?Tt underestimate her either:
Katherine is pursuing rumours of the renegade wizard Asp Wattle, who has allegedly been using forbidden magicks to obtain wordly power. As she enters his tower, she realises it is much worse than even the rumours suggested, as she is confronted by two animated skeleton guards!
Such trickery hardly impresses Katherine, and she disposes of the restless dead with a mere flick of her wrist, then unbars the doors they guard and storms into Wattle�?Ts study to confront him.
Wattle cackles at his rival wizard and activates a secret door. Before Katherine can follow the ground bursts open and two more skeleton soldiers rise up on either side of her! They�?Tre no real threat, but the distraction gives Wattle time to escape. He leaves behind only his evil grimoire �?" at first Katherine rejoices, but then realises that if he would so readily abandon it, this can only mean he has now moved beyond what it can teach him�?�
Karri Stonecutter �?" The Dwarf
This adorable little dwarf lady (another Hasslefree one) used to be in my Chaos Dwarf army, back when it was the Black Host of Lord Zhurduz. She led one of my blunderbuss regiments. Like most of that army, she�?Td just been gathering dust for a few years, so I stripped her back to bare metal and transformed her into a goodie. It�?Ts hard to know what to do with the dwarf archetype and I couldn�?Tt figure out how to paint her for a while, but then I was inspired by The Hobbit. This presents the dwarves as a wandering, landless folk, still retaining a trace of their old majesty, but basically now miners, peddlers and tinkers. I find it odd that this trope hasn�?Tt caught on more with modern fantasy dwarves, since a) Tolkien�?Ts dwarves are where it all started and b) all dwarves are essentially the same (there�?Ts even a TV Trope for it�?�), so why aren�?Tt they more like the source material? They�?Tre always rich and live in mountains these days �?" the whole point of Tolkien�?Ts dwarves was that they didn�?Tt live in the mountain! Anyway, Karri�?Ts clan has fallen on hard times following a devastating war and, after her father was killed by orcs and their hold plundered, she takes up his axe and armour and goes out to seek her fortune in the world. The helmet�?Ts a bit big, as you can see.
Karri Stonecutter, seeking to find some of her lost kin in a distant hold, enters what seems to be an abandoned hallway and finds an ominous trail of blood leading her onwards�?�
Duergar! The corrupt grey dwarves of the underworld have obviously found a way to the surface via the foundations of the shattered hold. Luckily for Karri, the Duergar guards aren�?Tt expecting her and she�?Ts able to charge and overcome them.
Karri hesitates to continue, but she can�?Tt ignore the fresh blood on the flagstones. Clearly the Duergar are up to no good. In the next room she meets one of the evil dwarves carrying a drum. Its use becomes clear when he beats out a warning rhythm on it as soon as he sees her. This gives her the perfect opportunity to strike off his head, but the alarm has already been raised.
Beyond lies a dim chamber in which some terrible ritual is underway. The cleric standing at the head of the pentagram levels his finger. �?oSeize her!�?� he bellows. The two guards by his side are only too pleased to acquiesce. Has Karri got in over her head this time?
Lelith D�?Trax �?" The Elf
Everyone loves drow, right? I certainly do: they�?Tre like regular elves, except they�?Tre more obviously capricious and arrogant, which is really the only thing that makes elves interesting anyway. This is a model from the now-defunct Spyglass range sculpted by Steve Buddle. He now works for GW and was responsible for a lot of the most recent Dark Elf range, so this sort of references that. You can still get her from Heresy Miniatures though, as Andy bought the rights to the sculpts when Spyglass stopped trading. I got her in a pack of three models some years ago, one of which became my female vampire in my VC army, and the other of which was a gift for my wife, which you�?Tll see in just a second�?�
Lelith is an exile from the subterranean city of Abyz, realm of the drow. She turned on her house in battle when it looked like they were about to lose, only to find her matriarch had a sorcerous back-up plan that turned the tide, leaving Lelith on the wrong side. She fled to the surface world to escape retribution, but that exposes her to more danger: most recently she has fallen into the hands of a green elf patrol who have brought her back to the court of their queen to answer for the crimes of her people.
The elven captain, Adriel, seems a reasonable woman and Lelith attempts some negotiation. She manages to persuade the suspicious green elf to take her before the queen to be judged.
Granted her audience with Queen Gilraen, Lelith attempts to talk her way out, but the queen is made of sterner stuff than her captain. �?oYou are drow; your words are tainted. However�?�I am not qualified to sit in judgment over your evil race. Your fate can only be determined by the gods themselves.
Lelith feels relief, but she has misunderstood the queen�?Ts words. She will not go free, instead she must undergo trial by combat, and her opponent steps into the centre of the courtroom: one of the wild dervishes of the green elves, mystic shaman-warriors known for their deadly skill and grace. Sighing, Lelith retrieves her sword from Adriel and prepares to win her freedom.
Okay, so that�?Ts the main four, but there are two more members of this dysfunctional adventuring party:
Sister Ayesha of the Order of the Undying Flame �?" The Knight
Yet another Hasslefree miniature. I loved this one the moment I saw it and was so glad to have an excuse to buy it. She has a very simple paintjob, and to add a bit of colour and I had to put some red bricks on her base �?" it was just grey at first, and she looked unfinished. The texture was made by the deeply unimpressive technique of covering the base with a thick layer of liquid green stuff and roughly indenting it with the tip of a narrow file. Ayesha is essentially a D&D paladin, a crusader against evil with access to some limited divine magic. In her case, she serves Ano, Goddess of Light, and is one of the militant Sisterhood, a contrast to the more passive Brotherhood (clerics).
Rumours of strange things happening in the sewers below her home city of Freehold have drawn Sister Ayesha down into the darkness, and there her worst fears are confirmed as the living dead shamble from the shadows, low moans escaping from their rotting mouths. She smiles grimly and lifts her sword.
Further down the foetid tunnels lurk more hideous zombies, but they do little to bar the progress of one so blessed by Ano as Ayesha.
As Ayesha enters the next room, she is surprised by a pack of cannibalistic ghouls that leap and bound towards her. Whispering a prayer to the goddess, she adopts a defensive stance�?�
The ghouls are led by a hideous ghast and a bloated henchman. This explains the rising zombies: his dark power suffuses the sewers. Ayesha cannot allow him to remain, lest all of Freehold fall into darkness and decay!
Polly Twelvetrees �?" The Halfling
This model comes from Andrew Rae�?Ts Statuesque Miniatures, but it�?Ts now OOP, so don�?Tt bother checking the website (although there�?Ts lots of other good stuff there, including some fantasy figures that offer a more traditional take on the HQ/WHQ quartet). Again, this is a figure I saw a long time ago and always wanted, but by the time I came to start this project, I discovered she was no longer available. After googling around for a bit, I discovered a webstore selling it �?" they had only one left in stock! I placed an order straight away before it was too late. So, this may be the last example of this wee lass floating about, short of scouring eBay. She�?Ts officially called Esmerelda Tyke if you want to try. I think the name and short trousers make it clear she�?Ts a halfling, but she is a little bigger than you might expect (standing straight, she�?Td be taller than Karri!) and her bow makes her seem a bit more elvish. I painted her feet with hair to remove any doubt. One thing I like about this model is that the bandana lends her a slightly unexpected aspect, and it took me a while to figure out what it reminded me of �?" I knew I wanted to paint her with a darker complexion and hair but didn�?Tt know why, then I figured it out. She looked Roma, like a traditional gypsy, and that got me thinking about halflings, and I decided that in my setting, rather than being a settled folk, they would be just the opposite. Thus, halflings are travelling folk, searching for their homeland that they lost fleeing a terrible war. They yearn for fields and hobbit holes, but roam the land in brightly-painted wagons. They aren�?Tt always welcome, so much so that some of them have fallen foul of human authorities and have had to leave their clans. Polly (actually named Poppy, but she thinks that�?Ts too twee) is one such; a woodland ranger with a temper who doesn�?Tt trust anyone over four feet tall.
A group of human soldiers forcibly evicted a halfling clan a short time ago, and stole some of their possession into the bargain, knowing they wouldn�?Tt dare fight back. Polly has tracked them to their base of operations, an old fort in the forest, and now enters boldly. Her first obstacles are two ruffians guarding the entrance hall.
After slaying the guards before they can raise the alarm, Polly enters the armoury to find a surly quartermaster waiting for intruders. He grabs a shield and halberd and attacks!
Beyond the door is a dining room, filled with soldiers! Polly is hopelessly outnumbered�?�
However, it looks like there�?Ts some sort of party going on. Everyone�?Ts distracted and a little drunk. Polly takes advantage, setting an arrow to her bow.
Before anyone knows what�?Ts going on, the odds become a little more even!
Our Heroes united:
And, as you�?Tve seen bits and pieces in action so far, the painted Her