Gaming on the Cheap

It’s the new year, so I thought I’d post a few quick thoughts about this geeky blog and... well, what I feel like I’m doing here.

Yeah, I know.  I don’t do much here.  Very funny.

Anyway, on one level, this page is pretty straightforward.  Miniature wargaming can be an expensive hobby.  Bare-bones entry level can be over a hundred dollars, and that’s not even talking glue, paint, or time. A few years back I hit a long stretch of poverty—not imagined-poverty or slight-belt-tightening, but actual how-do-we-pay-rent-this-month poverty?  It was a really bleak time, made more so because my absolute favorite hobby went from a big part of my life to completely unaffordable in about a month.

Then I found Paperhammer.  It’s like finding the light of the Emperor, just... cheaper.  I’d worked in the film industry for a bunch of years as a prop guy, so I had some passable art/craft skills.  I dug around online (using the internet at the library) and found templates for Rhinos, Land Raiders, Baneblades, Monoliths... even Titans.  And there are some great templates out there.  Almost identical to the company models once they’re painted.  Suddenly 40K was affordable again!  The big expense was white glue and paper for the printer.

Alas, while I’ve managed to claw my way back into the middle class, I know there are still some folks who haven’t.  Worse yet, Games Workshop’s prices have skyrocketed over the past few years.  Thirty dollars per figure?  Fifty dollars for bare-basic tanks?  I remember when $150 would pretty much get you a solid army—and that wasn’t so long ago.  Now it’s a lucky thing if that same $150 can round out your Heavy Support choices. 

So being able to build a lot of these models on the cheap means keeping the game open and available to a lot more folks.  That’s a good thing.  And I’m glad to share my tips and experience with you.  Read another way, I’ve screwed up so you don’t have to.

On another level, though... The hobby part of this game doesn’t just mean buying the boxed set, putting it together with company glue, and painting it with company paints. In fact, there was a time when said company encouraged creativity and offered tips to players who couldn’t afford to drop a lot of money.  Making terrain out of cardboard and styrofoam used to be a regular feature in White Dwarf  articles.  Black Gobbo ran a great piece (remember Black Gobbo?) showing how to mix parts from a Basilisk and a Leman Russ to create  a very passable Salamander and Destroyer.  Heck, I remember when the Ogre line was first introduced for Fantasy, White Dwarf ran a whole article about how to convert Hero characters from basic ogres (just in case you couldn’t afford the big metal models.

(I’ll touch on this again in a few weeks)

Thing is, I like making my own models and scenery pieces.  I enjoy it.  I’m proud of the fact that I turned three Tony’s Pizza boxes into a very solid Imperial Knight and some bargain-store Halloween decorations into multi-use scenery.  I like being able to turn some random pieces I dug out of my local gaming store’s bitz bins into a unique and impressive Captain for my Relictors or a character for an Age of Sigmar game.

So, that’s that this is all about.  For me, anyway.  Making the game accessible to a lot more people and giving those people a chance to do something a lot more personal and unique with the units in their army.

If any of that interests you... thanks for being here. 

I’ll try to be semi-interesting.


Defiler Weapons

Whoa!  I wanted to get one last post in before the end of the year and realized this is post #150.  Many thanks to the seven of you who bother to keep checking in...

Anyway, in these last days of the year,  I thought we could go over the final weapons options for the Defiler.  Yeah, only three years late.  Or a few weeks late, depending on how you look at it.  Either way, not too impressive, I know.

A quick recap.  I built the hull and legs of a Chaos Defiler entirely from cardstock.  The only non-paper part is the ball-and-socket joints, made from some wooden balls I got at my local hobby shop for about two bucks. I designed one to be more of a Nurgle firebase while the other was going to be a Khorne close-combat monster.

First off, I’m not going to be doing the weapons for my Khornate one, despite the current wave of Khorne madness.  Games Workshop changed the options for Defilers since I first worked on this project, and I think it doesn’t work out that great for an all close-combat version.  Power fists and dreadnaught close combat weapons are not the same thing, alas.
That’s just one of my many problems with the current Chaos Marine codex, though.  Maybe it’ll all go away someday soon and we’ll finally get one that shows the ruinous powers some love.

But I’m not holding my breath.
As I mentioned above, I’d always planned on going much more range-oriented on the Death Guard Defiler.  As such, I decided to skip close-combat arms altogether and go with an autocannon/ havoc missile launcher set-up.  Ranged firepower on the move, plus the battle cannon when stationary.

So, here’s what a bit of experience and R&D can teach you. 

The twin autocannons are using the template from Newobmij‘s Imperial Knight—it comes with a heavy stubber, and a few subtle tweaks will let it work as an autocannon.  That template’s available in the STC archive if you want to check that.

Now, I used this template twice for the Knight, and the only issue was that it doesn’t work as well with thicker material.  So I looked around for something a little thinner-than-cereal/pizza box cardstock that would curve well.  It being the holidays, I realized the mailing envelopes I was using to send out books was maybe 30-40% thinner.  Also plentiful and cheap (don’t be greedy—some folks need these envelopes to mail presents and end-of-year business stuff).

That gave me two barrels.  The body’s just a basic 1” square box, 1/2” on the sides.  I sketched it out, added some tabs, and out ti together.  If it was a little loose, no big deal (I'll explain why in a minute).  I glued the barrels on the cleanest side, putting them together and closer to the top. I held it for about three minutes, then added another line of glue where the two barrels touched.  If it was a little messy, well... it's Nurgle.  I stood this on end and let it dry for about fifteen minutes or so before I started handling it. 

While the main body was drying, I made a simple axe-blade by cutting out a chisel shape and then layering smaller chisels on either side of it. If you really wanted to go crazy, you could put more of a curve to this, but just remember it's really important to make the curves on all three pieces line up.  I mounted this on the bottom barrel of the autocannon as the standard chaos underslung blade.

Normally each autocannon would have big ammunition drums or at least dangling belts.  I decided to work around those by putting an armor plate over the whole thing.  It was just a matching 1” square that I extended by 1/2” in the back and 1/4” in the front.  Then I put a top and bottom on it and gave the whole thing 45 degree corners.  That might all sound a little odd, but by doing it this way I’ve got a bit more weight towards the back.  Which is cool, because the Defiler’s “abdomen” is already a little front-heavy with the battle cannon. 
I cut some 1/8” strips and added trim along the edges of the armor, and also a few little Chaos “barbs,” or whatever you might like to call them.  The little jags and triangles that show up on most Chaos armor and weaponry.  I used the 1/16" and 1/8" hole punch to create a bit of "corrosion" on one corner of the armor plate.  As a final touch, I used some 1/4" discs to add a Nurgle icon.

I thought about building a traditional, six-barreled missile launcher like the one that comes on the Chaos vehicle sprue.  But then I realized I could do something fun and a little more custom with a seven-barreled missile launcher.  Because all the true believers know how much Papa Nurgle loves his sevens...
I started with a 3/4” x 3/4” box and drew an X across it, corner to corner.  Then I used discs from the 1/8” hole punch to mark out five spots—one at the center and the others equidistant out from the center one.  The whole thing looked a lot like a D6 when I was done.

Helpful Hint—When laying this out, remember that you’re not going from the center point—you’re measuring from the edge of the center disc, 1/16” out from the center point. If you don’t take that into account, you D6 face will look a bit squished.

Once I had the five spots, I just mirrored them above and below to give me a 1-2-1-2-1 pattern.  Seven silos.  I added a 45 degree line off each corner and that gave me the front plate of my Nurglesque havoc launcher.  I cut it out, traced it, and now I had a back plate.  Measuring the edges gave me the lengths of all six faces of the sides (which were 3/4” and just a hair over 9/16”).  I’d be more exact about it except the whole body is going to be covered by another armor plate.  I gave it the same trim, jags, and icon as the autocannon.

For the shoulders I traced a 25mm base and cut out 14 circles.  These were stacked and glued until I had two discs that were seven layers thick (there’s those sevens again).  I put clothespins on these so they’d glue flat and let them sit for a bit.

Important Note—in retrospect, these are a little small for Defiler shoulders.  Not horribly so, but just enough that it gnaws at me a bit.  It wasn’t clear until the whole thing was together.  If you wanted to use this same method, I’d use a 40mm for my tracing template.  I still might pull it apart and do new ones before the warm liquid goo phase.

While the shoulders were drying I decided to go back and add some rivets to the whole model.  Looking back, I guess I never got to the rivet stage before.  I know I had the 1/16” hole punch at that point because the corroded effects were done with it. Anyway, I glued a few rivets on at some key points.

I also decided to bulk up the blast plate that sits behind the battle cannon.  The one from the original template is kind of puny.  So I built a larger one and added some more trim and rivets.  It gave the center a bit more heft.

I glued the shoulders onto the central hull. Again, I tried to center them back a bit to help counterbalance the battle cannon.  Once they were dry I added the weapons.  Because all of this is straight connections, I was able to stack the whole thing and use my phone for a bit of weight.

And there’s a range-loaded Defiler, just like that.

(ignoring the three year gap)


Cheap Helbrute Conversion

So, lots of people are already talking about the new Horus Heresy plastics. I might at some point in the future, too.  For the moment, though, I wanted to look back at the last big sci-fi set...
(okay, seriously, how do we describe the connection between 30K/Heresy and 40K?  Are they just the #0K games? Imperium-based games?  Grim Future games?)
...their last box set from mankind’s grim future, and show something fun and cheap you can do with that.
You can still find lots of Dark Vengeance stuff online, most of it at half to 1/5th what you’d pay for them as individual units. A full tactical squad is about twenty bucks.  A lot of HQ characters are just two or three dollars.  And you can usually find the Dark Vengeance Dreadna—sorry, old habits—Helbrute for under ten bucks.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a reason for this.  Like most of the Dark Vengeance models, the Helbrute’s a block of plastic that takes some serious time and effort if you want to do any major conversions (that said—I’ve seen some great ones).  But it is possible to do some neat looking ones on the cheap without half as much effort.
For example...
This particular Helbrute is going to be named Occulus Blight, and it’ll be joining my Death Guard.  Before I even started putting him together, I rolled up a little ball of green stuff.  A little bigger than a pea, a little smaller than a marble.  I rolled this back and forth between my fingers until it was as round and smooth as I could get it.  Then I very carefully pushed it into the hood/collar hole where the little face piece would normally go.  I didn’t want the teeth/claws around the hole to gouge the surface of the ball.

Once this was in place, I stretched the putty out on either side to help hold it in place. Again, I had to be careful so I didn’t force it into the teeth/claws on the other side. This was tricky and I had to try twice.  Fortunately, on something this simple, messing up just means pulling the blob out and rolling it smooth again. So don’t panic too much.  It maybe took ten minutes from starting to mix the green stuff to having it in place.  I let it  dry for another fifteen minutes—face up! I didn’t want its own weight to make a flat spot on the ball—and then assembled the Helbrute as normal.

Look at that.  One big eye in the socket.  Much Nurgle.  So pestilent.
I did a few quick detail things.  An old scenic rubble piece went on the base.  I snipped off the chains that hang from the power fist and added some “tentacles” made from the horns of a Chaos Marine helmet.  It’s hard to tell, but I also added a big tentacle to his power plant—one of the ones from the old mutation sprue.  It looks really good there, and it’s got me thinking some of those bulkier pieces might work really well on other Chaos dreadna—sorry, did it again—Helbrutes.

I didn’t glue the front plate-armor-hull piece in place because I want to paint the eye without too many extra bits around it. So I’ll prime those seperately and assemble them later.  As one last bit of detail, I added a centered horn to the armor plate.  It’s something I pulled from the bits bins at one point—I think it might be from the Chaos Terminators set.  Central horns are distinctively Nurgle in 40K (and related games).

All in all, maybe an hour to make a distinctive Helbrute.  And about a third of that was just digging up parts and mixing drinks.

(Primed and basic paint pictures coming this weekend)