Sunday, 26 January 2014

Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits

Putting together a proud little band of Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits, and so duly I introduce... The Hobbits of the Fourth Farthing Irregulars.

10 Archers, 10 Spearman, 1 Captain

Prompted by Whisky Priest's "How to Oldhammer"  to put together a small warband of cheap and easily available miniatures, just to prove to naysayers that Oldhammer isn't some kind of weird exclusive collectors club... I thought what a great opportunity to not only do that but explore some fantasy wargaming history, kind of celebrate 40 Years of D&D and pay hommage to one of gamings greats, and prove that Oldhammer is actually some kind of weird, tweedy, pipe-smoking, beard stroking rambling cult who sit around whittering on about fairytales and the history of wargaming...

But wait, what is he on about? "Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits" what's them when they're at home? To answer that, dear reader, let us roll back the Fomorian mists of time... back... back...

Back to 1970 where the fantasy gaming industry didn't exist. Just imagine. There were no fantasy miniatures being produced, no rules-sets, no role-playing games, no Warhammer, no D&D, only earth beneath us, and above us only sky. There were, however, small groups of gentlemen gamers and vagabond street urchins pushing little models around, inspired by the Fantasy authors of the day, the likes of Vance, Tolkien, Moorcock, Howard. Into this heady, smoke filled arena, enter Gary Gygax, wargamer and soon to be inventor of Dungeons & Dragons publisher and co-author of Chainmail - rules for medieval miniatures including the "Fantasy Supplement" - wherein all manner of Nazgul, Ents, Balrogs, Orcs and Hobbits were detailed for your wargaming pleasure.

Chainmail represents the very first commercially available fantasy wargames rules - WRGs "Suggested Adaptions of Swords and Sorcery Fantatics" wouldn't appear until 1973, and sadly (or perhaps wisely) avoided the wrath of Tolkien Enterprises Legal Dept. and  neglected the Tolkienesque in favour of some kind of weird Crusader mythos with religious overtones. Chainmail might not quite represent year zero for Fantasy Wargaming, as luminaries such as Tony Bath demonstrate using ancients rules in their own fantasy setting, but returning to the matter in hand...

It all started here. Or hereabouts.

In the Chainmail "Fantasy Supplement" Gary describes Hobbits thusly:

"These little chaps have small place in the wargame, but you may want them for recreation of certain battles. Remember that they are able to blend into the background so make exellent scouts. They can fire a stone as far as an archer shoots, and because of their well known accuracy, for every two Halflings firing count as three on the Missile Fire table."

Nice enough - but no accompanying illustration tells us what this Hobbity "little chap" might look like, or how we might represent such a thing on our tabletops, which is a shame, but very much par for the course on early games - the gamer was supposed to work out for themselves and choose whatever they liked. The idea that there was a peculiar relationship between a specific ruleset and a specific miniatures range had yet to enslave the minds of gamers. Setting the chronometer forward a little to 1971,  in an article in Wargamers Newsletter, Gary states...
"...converted Airfix 'Robin Hood' men serve as Hobbits..."

And there we have it, Gary was using Airfix Robin Hood figures as Hobbits, and thus the Gygaxian Airfix Hobbit was born. You can read the full text of Garys article in Wargamer's Newsletter #127 via James Maliszewski's post on Grognardia here where none other than Jervis Johnson issued forth a copy of an extract of a 1972 Wargames Newsletter (edited by Donald Featherstone), and there's a picture below, which you can click, make big, print out on actual paper and pretend like it's the 1970s, maaaan.

Wargamer's Newsletter #127, from October 1972.
via Vintage Wargaming

Wargamer's Newsletter #127, from October 1972.
via Vintage Wargaming

But what are the aforementioned Robin Hood Airfix figures like? Well here's a shot of the original packaging, of the type Gary might very well have purchased back in the day...

Box without hinges, key or lid, yet little green Hobbitses inside are hid

Airfix don't currently list the Robin Hood set on their website any more - but they seem to be listed in various online retailers, and were widely available in HobbyCraft until a short while ago, with a big red £2.99 sticker on them - passed up by me because I'm somewhat lackadaisical when it comes to shopping.  Having "Airfix Robin Hood" on my watchlist on eBay for over a year - determined to pick up a set for under £5 but alas kept missing out, and the ever increasing postage making the likelihood of a total bargain. Found a seller on selling a box for £4.60 - including postage, for 40 figures. Perfect, I thought, and bought them. Returning to the store they now cost around £7 - still inexpensive in comparison to 40 28mm figures, but the price does seem to fluctuate.

Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits on Amazon
Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits on

And it must be said that Squarehex (purvayors of fine gaming stationary) also have a limited number in stock at a very reasonable price. Squarehex

Airfix -  a British company making model kits and toy soldiers - and probably familiar to most readers of this blog from their airplane, dinosaur and military kits, has a venerable place in our Wargaming history. The name continually crops up in the reminisces of the early fantasy wargames scene, be it Joe Dever, Bryan Ansell, Andy Chambers, everyone around that era talks of playing with Airfix models, whether it's giving Romans ray-guns to recreate the comic-book world of the Trigan Empire or just battling out WWII on the linoleum of youth, Airfix provided the entry-drug into  miniatures skirmish gaming, perhaps much like how Fighting Fantasy would feed the UK RPG scene a decade later.

But what of the figures themselves?

Here's some superbly based and painted up versions by Paul of Paul Bods.

via 1:72
 And here they are in the raw, to wit the back of the box, as it were.

Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits

The set contains
  • 17 archers (inc. "Robin")
  • 10 Spearmen
  • 10 Hand weapons (inc. 1 Little John "Axeman")
  • 1 Maid Marion (mounted)
  • 1 Cleric / Wizard / Friar Tuck
They are really small and quite delicately detailed, they are they aren't heroically proportioned.
My original plan was to use these as Anglo Saxons for the Wildwood  Campaign, along with the Sherrif of Nottingham set for the Normans, based loosely on British Neopaganism and the 1980's TV series Robin of Sherwood. I still might do that, between the conkers and rose-thorns, the earth is good. Anyway, this set is earmarked to be converted into Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits, but how?

From Robin Hood to Old Took

Unfortunately Gary doesn't go into much detail as to how he converted his Airfix Robin Hood figures into Hobbits, nor what his Hobbits looked like. So far my  research has not turned up any pictorial documentation of these figures or Garys early Chainmail fantasy games in action - any help would be most welcome on that front.

We do know that Gary was eclectic in his use of cheap plastic toys - remember that there were no fantasy miniatures to buy at this time, and improvisation, creativity and affordability were the order of the day. And we know that many of the AD&D Monster Manual illustrations and creatures  were based directly on the models being used in Gygax games (an excellent post by fantasy artist Tony Di'Terlizzi here illustrates quite well). While correlation does not prove causation,  it is entirely possible the drawings for the Halfling by Dave Sutherland from the 1977 Monster Manual are based on Gary's personal figures from the Airfix Robin Hood set.

And the weapon-types covered in the Monster Manual under the Halfling entry run like so:
  • small sword and short bow 
  • small sword and spear 
  • short bow 
  • sling 
  • small sword 
  • spear 
  • hand axe
Interestingly enough, if we accept that the quarterstaffs are spears, these are exactly as the Airfix Robin Hood figures are armed. Except the addition of slings, which possibly could be converted from the archers.

For now I will let Dave Sutherlands piece dicate the formation of the Fourth Farthing Irregulars warband, 10 bowmen and 10 spearmen, no armour. I'll definitely convert some of the models in the set with cloaks, backpacks and pole-arms and might add some shields to the hand weapons...


I have to admit that my reconstruction of the Gygaxian Airfix Hobbit is not going to be 100% authentic. My first intentional deviation - the issue of basing.

Gary may well have based his Hobbits on bits of cardboard, or washers, or nothing at all. However, he definitely didn't use the common slotta-bases that appeared in the mid-80s and I'm not either, and it's highly unlikely Gary used British currency, but that is exactly what I'm going to do.


Old bronze coins are still in circulation, and I've been collecting them for a while (and swapping new coins for old  with friends and colleagues, much to their amusement) for intended use aforementioned Wildwood Campaign project, so that's why I have an abundance of them. I'd decided to go with pennies for infantry, UK 1p coins, specifically UK 1p coins minted before 1992, not only does this just fall over the threshold of the end of Oldhammer (1991 being the year Bryan Ansell sold the business to it's current management team, and so marks the end of the "Oldhammer period") but also marks the change from a solid bronze coin to a copper-plated steel (and if one were allowed to melt them down, the solid bronze ones would be more valuable). Add to that, I based my first ever Citadel Miniatures on pennies, so there's personal nostalgia there too.

I'm going to be a hard-core numismatist nerd and only used coins dated 1971 - 1972, to fit the creation window before the article was published - I wouldn't have bothered, but going through the penny-jar discovered I have enough, so job done.

These are quick and easy to identify as they are non-magnetic and the pre 1981 coins have NEW PENNY on them and the date on the Queens side, for final verification. The more practically minded of you might see a magentisable base of modern coins as an advantage in storage and transport, but hey I'm going for historical reconstructionist modelling here, not common sense!

However all of this means the basing for this project is going to cost me a grand total of 21 pence. An inordinate sum of money, I think you'll agree. Their low profile and naturally patined brown edge, and slight weight will make them look and feel really nice.

Currently 20 x 20mm bases would cost £6 from GW, so that's a 'saving' of £5.79 over modern Warhammer.

Conversion Materials

OK. So I need to convert some of the quarterstaff's into more obvious spears, should be simple enough to add a spearhead on the end, or perhaps replace the fragile plastic with a sturdier metal rod / pin. None of the Airfix models have quivers, which strikes me as odd, and Dave Sutherlands Hobbit archer in the Monster Manual is carrying one, so I'll definitely need to add those. Also I'll want to add cloaks and shields to my dual-classed fighter-thief types, and yes, I'm gonna try giving them slightly bigger furry feet. So some modelling material is called for...

Keeping things authentic, Garys Wargaming Newsletter article was published 1972 - two years before Tom Meier accidentally discovered Green Stuff, so GS is out.  Gary mentions "auto body putty" in his  article, but I have no idea that that may be. Miliput has been around since 1968, so is in-period for this project, and according to the manufacturer, got into widespread use in the modelling field in 1970 so seems totally appropriate. Over to Amazon to pick up some Milliput Standard Yellow-Grey for £2.80


20g of Green Stuff from GW = £6.20 (31p per gram)
113g of Miliput from amazon = £2.80 (2p per gram)

So that's 15 times cheaper per gram.

Oldhammer on a Budget?

So as part of the aim is to demonstrate how accessible Oldhammer can be, a breakdown of costs for The Hobbits of the Fourth Farthing Irregulars.


40 Airfix "Robin Hood" / Gygaxian Airfix Halfling figures:  £4.60
21 pre New Pence 1p coins: £0.21

Modelling supplies

1 Swann Morton scalpel #3 Handle : £2.60
Loctite Super Glue : £1.95
1 pack Milliput : £2.80

That's £12.60 so far, with some things left over to go into the general supplies tin. Note that all of these items are commonly available, without trawling through eBay, entering a Games Workshop, or getting out of ones bed.

I might be using 1:72 models for Hobbits (scale shots will come) but there's no reason not to just play the entire game in 1:72 either by converting random historical armies - following in the footsteps of Gary and Joe Dever, or just buying some of the newer Fantasy ranges that have come on the market in recent years (Dark Alliance come in at around 14p each), but much coverage is out of scope of this post, and I've rambled on enough.

They're behind you!

What Next?

I'm really pleased so far, Gygaxian Airfix Hobbits, an experiment in period modelling, budget gaming, OSR, Oldhammer and hobbitry, highlights  Gygax's ingenuity and creativity back in the 70's and provides us with an alternative route into gaming that avoids both the corporate and collectors markets, "The future", as they say "is History!". Of course the project is not quite finished yet, although we could start playing with our little Hobbits right away, they should really be painted and decorated, and then of course, there's thorny issue of the rules. But first I have 42 little Hobbit feet to sculpt on, with nothing but Milliput a scalpel and some Zeppelin and some Hawkwind...


  1. This is a really great post, Zhu; thanks very much for taking the time to share. I worry sometimes when I see the prices that old Citadel minis are commanding these days on eBay that the Oldhammer movement is getting away from what it should really be about. Your demonstration of why it isn't about collecting so much as capturing the spirit of the mid 80's (or earlier) is right on point, and I sincerely hope that more people take it to heart. If it becomes more affordable, then more people get into it, and then there's more opponents for all of us, and more companies start designing for us, and it just snowballs. . .

    The link to the plastic toys from Asia article was stunning to read. Who would have ever guessed that the inspiration for fantasy "standards" like the owlbear, rust monster, and bullette would come from a lilttle 99p plastic baggie? Just awesome.

    Thanks again!

    1. You're welcome. There was certainly a requirement to be a lot more inventive back in the day. In many ways we're lucky today, and all the fantasy tropes we could hope for are catered to by many manufacturers, and the hugely talented pool of sculptors that they can call upon.

  2. What a brilliant post. I was excited by the Oldhammer movement but my main interest is really Prehammer, using pre-1982 figures and working to a budget (still possible with Garrison figures and of course the like of Airfix). I own one of the Bulette figures I bought as a small boy back in the 70's, long before I ever heard of D and D. How about some YES as well to make your Milliput flow easily.

    1. Thank you. I'll give some YES a go too (although it's been Blood Ceremony of late). I have to admit my bias is more towards the earlier end of the period and digging at the roots of those things, and much of what passes for Oldhammer these days holds little interest to me personally. Still, an original Bulette, aye, must be a thing to behold!

  3. Fantastic article! Can't wait to see the little dudes on the table. I've been basing some of my figs on pennies as well, they are perfect!

    1. Might be a while before the little chaps are ready to take the field, as I'm not all that proficient with a putty-stick, and those tiny toes are being a bit stubborn. Pennies are great, although I'm half regretting not picking washers that can be drilled and pinned lol!

      And thank you for prompting the effort - Cheers!

  4. Gygax was talking about Bondo when he said auto body putty. You can get it on amazon,

    I would much rather use green stuff, and I'm sure no one else would disparage you lacking early 70s authenticity.

    1. The authentically 1970's retro-modelling is more of a personal challenge than anything I'd expect to be measured against :-) Bondo - sounds interesting, I might try that for the next project, thanks for the tip!

  5. Although I've got no time to paint them, I still feel the need to get some. I've got a great Hobbits Lycanthrope (wererats) Adventure that I could use them in. I've already got some old 15mm ratmen for them in were form. Thanks for a great article.

    1. You're welcome Peter, glad you enjoyed it.

      At some point I do plan to run them through Halfling Proof Fence - not sure they'll make it to the end, success looks very slim!

    2. I didn't even think of that. They'd be perfect for it! I've managed to track down 4 boxes of the Robin Hood figures. I'm going to keep 1 and stick the rest on my site with a link here for inspiration. I won't make anything on them, but some things are worth doing just for the fun of it.
      Cheer, Peter

    3. Heh! Let me know when they're up in your shop and I'll link back to them.

    4. I put these in a box and forgot about them, until I found them again at the weekend. I've now added my 3 spare boxes to my site if anybody wants some.

  6. Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Nuff said.

    1. Thank you, that is very kind of you to say.

  7. Brilliant, a real Oldhammer lesson, hardcore style.
    It's no big surprise from you but your attention to every detail is really inspiring.
    Seeing all these projects really helps to realise a lot of the old references are still available (maybe this is a sign of their quality?)
    Sculpting 21 pairs of hairy feet is going to be a long haul but the way it's heading, it is going to be a very nice force.

    1. Yep, I've done 4 feet so fr and am very unhappy with them so will have to re-think my approach! Might be a while before they crawl out of their burrows.

      Not sure the quality is all that great, there is quite a lot of flash and mould lines to deal with (often running down the face), but the details are much better than I'd expected. Robin is very much of the Errol Flynn variety, and really could do with a chat with his stylist about appealing to todays "yoof" or "kidz". Of course I'll be giving him an 80's mullet.

  8. Really cool project sir! Really a great idea and as you mention I think you hit 20 miniatures/gaming/catch-all categories with this project!

    1. Thank you. If only I could have shoehorned some Fighting Fantasy and Runequest in there it would have been perfect!

  9. Glorious Chainmail and classic Airfix!! Yeah, yeah! Just throw in some Elastolin and Starlux figs, and drop the needle on some Hawkwind and us weird tweedy, pipe-smoking, beard strokers are ready to go! Wow, terrific dead-on post, Zhu! Yes, Chainmail is where it's at and where it all began. I am excited to watch your project come together. And the fact that you are using only year-specific pennies as bases sends it beautifully over the top in wonderfulness. Yeah!

    1. Aha! Well, if the Hobbit Irregulars go well, I have it in mind to "convert" some Cherilea Vikings into AD&D Frost Giants. See the charmingly named Slag Productions, doing just that, for reference. Hope they can fit on a tuppence.

  10. I do my oldhammering in 20mm scale and these minis are perfect for so many things. They currently fill in as (deep breath...) peasants, druids, flagulants, brigands, foresters, wizards and squires but hobbits is a new one on me. What a fantastic idea, cant wait to see how they turn out.

    1. Yes they are quite flexible figures. Be really interested in seeing your 20mm forces.