Wednesday 28 January 2015

Rodney Matthews & Aureola Rococo Elves

Perusing Imagine Magazine #1 I came across an advert for Minifigs "High Elfs". Immediately struck by the fact that I don't recall ever having seen them before. A quick scour through some early White Dwarf magazines shows them to be  completely absent, strange considering other ranges from Minifigs were heavily advertised.

The second thing that struck me was they look absolutely brilliant, and owe something of a debt to the artwork of Rodney Mathews.

Warriors from the Sky | Rodney Matthews | 1974

Aureola Rococo | Tunnel Elfs
Have to apologise for the low-res images - The original poster print of Matthews Warriors of the Sky is a meter wide, a few measly pixels can't really communicate it. Similarly the Minifigs catalogue, through black and white photography, offset printing and scanning  doesn't really translate the models either.

Twelve Towers at Dawn | Rodney Matthews | 1975

Aureola Rococo | High Elfs | Undercoated | Ms. Delaney King

Aureola Rococo | High Elfs

The Court of the Crimson King | Mr. Springfield
I think it's reasonably obvious by now that the range was somewhat inspired by Matthews work, but the details are not exact - Matthews goblins tend towards scale mail, whereas Aurelo Roccoco Elfs tend towards plate mail.

Rodney Mathews | People of the Pines | 1977

Aureola Rococo | High Elf Cavalry

The stylised alien horses are one of the more striking of the direct resemblances between the art - the People of the Pines from Corum stories, and the sculpt.

Rodney Mathews | Dragonlord (1976)
Aureola Rococo | Large Dragons with Elvin Dragon Masters

Aureola Rococo || Large Dragons | Mr. Goblin Lee
The Roccoco Large Dragon is clearly based on the Matthews original image - the horns, mouth, neck segmentation. Incidentally this painting of Elric, entitled the Dragon Lord also appeared on Citadel Miniatures "Eternal Champion" boxed set.

Citadel Miniatures Eternal Champion Box Set | via

The Aureola Rococo range also appears in the 1985 Minifigs Catalogue (via Henry's Wargaming) so undoubtedly they were in production, maybe earlier. Most likely they sculpted by Richard Higgs who ran Minifigs - and also did the Valley of the Four Winds range. More detailed photographs can be seen on the excellent Lost Minis Wiki.

Meanwhile the original moulds have been aquired by Cavalier / Matchlock minis and they are slowly getting all the old Minifigs back into production  - so far from the Aureola Rococo range the Mounted Knights of the Silver Rose and Aureola Rococo and the Neaderthals but no Elfs yet. If they're dedicated to getting the whole lot into production including all the 15mm historicals it might take a while!

Matthews elfin designs do have precedent in fairy illustrations, and we can trace many of the motifs to earlier works, not to deny him his stunning originality in style, but rather to draw his work, and that of Higgs into a wider traditional community of depictions of the little people.

pine fairy | The Sun Egg | Elsa Berskow | 1932

People of the Pine | Hat | Ms. Anabel Sousa Moss

Cicely Mary Barker | 1923 (?)

Froud & Lee | Fairies | 1979 | N.B Freddy Mercury comment.

Monday 19 January 2015

Imagine Dragons

I was browsing through Rodney Matthews book In Search of Forever - a gift from the beautiful Mrs. Zhu. It's a veritable treasure trove of imagery, a wonderful thing to behold. I'd seen several of the images on Rodneys website and other art-sites before, but there is nothing like seeing them here in high quality, large format print.

In Search of Forever | Rodney Matthews

Anyway, yes, I was browsing this weighty tome when I came across Rodneys cover artwork for Imagine #12 (one of the few issues I don't have) in the section of work he did for TSR -

Imagine #12 | Rodney Matthews | 1984

The version in In Search of Forever doesn't have the masthead or other type on it, it's just the art. It's interesting that TSR UK were commissioning original artwork for their Imagine covers, whereas GW with the arguably better distributed White Dwarf had developed the habit of using images from the morguefile of the Young Artists illustration agency, reproducing art originally destined for SF&F books, often with zero relevance to the content of the issue. Incidentally there is a pencil sketch from Rodney of what looks like a proto Eldar Farseer done for a TSR catalogue in the section for all you Oldhammererers as well.

Anyway, daydreaming about that dragon, One of those eerie feeling of familiarity hit me, and rather than considering it the usual bout of indigestion, actually recalled what it reminded me of - Rodneys cover is an almost precise mirror image of Chris 'Fangorn' Bakers illustration from the Fiend Folio, albeit rendered in Matthews unique style. 

Chris 'Fangorn' Baker | 1981 | via

In Search of Forever, Mathews mentions being handed a 'sketch' as a brief, it is possible he's referring to the Fangorn piece above. The Fangorn piece itself was something of a re-imagining of Dave Sutherlands cover for the 1977 D&D Basic Set - including the same elements of dragon / treasure / light-bearing magic user and fighter.

Dave Sutherland | D&D | 1977

Again we see these same distinct elements, but in a radically different composition in the 1977 UK edition by John Blanche, which we can see establishes the dragon on the left, wizard nearest the dragon and the fighter on the right. Mr Zenopus, speculates that the Fangorn art in the Fiend Folio may have been originally intended for the UK D&D cover - for which he did all the interior illustrations.

John Blanche | D&D | 1977 via

It's interesting to see John has returned to a similar mark-making technique in his recent personal work as the sublime chaos of the Voodoo Forest documents, although the underlying drawing is stronger in his newer work. Again all the hallmark elements are there - the treasure, Magic User, carrying the light, the archway, the fighter and Dragon. These same elements appear again in a composition closer to Fangorns on the 1981 Basic Set, by Erol Otus:

Erol Otus | D&D | 1981 | via

Fangorns Fiend Folio image does also carry strong compositional resemblance to  Erol Otus' 1981 cover, which makes me question whether Fangorns peice was composed for the 1977 UK D&D cover, or a re-drawing of the Otus. Otus' cover is notable not only for his stunning stylisation and use of colour,  but the only one approaching gender equality in terms of representation, although through the traditional gender role of the female magic user. The image also seems to be laden with acid soaked psychosexual Freudian undertones which give such a mythical richness and phantasmagorical depth to the work.

I'm not sure if Fangorn, Blanche or Otus had line of sight of each others work (the horns on the warriors helmet suggests that perhaps they did), rolled for initiative or were working from the same brief, but the details of motifs and compositional similarities are interesting.

Saint George and the Dragon | Paolo Uccello | 1470

Tuesday 13 January 2015

quick, lads! run!

It's Diana Rigg!
This months Miniatures Wargaming magazine has a lovely little introduction to all things Oldhammer - spreading the word to the wider gaming community.

Miniatures Wargaming #381 | via

The article starts with a really good definition of Oldhammer that manages to be both to the point and inclusive (no mean feat!) and then goes on to list a handful of sites and blogs of interest. Several of these are run by net-buddies and hugely talented miniatures gamers - well worth having a dig through if you don't already:

But wait, what's this? ? Shome mishtake shurely ? What is our humble old Realm doing listed in amongst these worthy sites? According to the author...
"More fantasy focussed than most of the other blogs on this list . Mr Zhu spends his time writing about British Industrial Relations of the early 1980s as represented in Warhammer Fantasy Battle Scenario Packs as well as a 2nd Edition Amazon Army List, feminism and Diana Rigg. Normally that stuff I would run a mile from - it is a credit to Mr Zhu that he manages to make this material interesting. Recommended."

The rest I can kind of see, but I'm not sure why anyone would run a mile from Diana Rigg! Thank you Mr. Kinch I'm glad you found my ramblings interesting enough to write about. Cheers!

Monday 5 January 2015

Meridian: An Alternative Gaming History

H.G Wells is often lauded as being the father of modern hobby war gaming, with his Little Wars published in 1901. It's an interesting rule-set and very much a-kin to the idea of playing with toy soldiers. Combat is largely resolved by kinetic means - literally firing things from toy cannons, not unlike the 1980s classic Crossbows & Catapults.

He finished the book with an appendix on Kriegspiel, originally by Georg Leopold von Reiswitz in 1812 adopted by the Prussian army as a training mechanism for officers. Some of the key factors are maps, tables, random factors and a games master - usually in this case a high ranking officer who has field experience and will adjudicate based on that in-the field experience (not simply his opinion of rules interpretations, something to think on in terms of RPGs).

Immediately we're faced with one of the fundamental divisions within gaming discourse, the separation between hobby and serious wargames. Finding the fun in something like Phoenix Command can be a bit of a challenge for some, but as Wounded Ronin put it,  "if people played more games like Phoenix Command, the IQ of our collective society would go up."

In my opinion Kriegspiel looks significantly more like wargaming, role-playing and online-gaming as we know it today than Little Wars does. This could be down to journalistic oversight on the part of the commentators- an unfamiliarity with contemporary and historical wargaming, and taking a non-critical view of the materials at hand, perhaps confusing Wells Appendix on Kriegspiel  following the suggestions of Colonel Mark Sykes with the content of Little Wars itself. Possibly taking at face value Wells criticism of Kriegspeil as being "complex", many versions of it is in fact far, far simpler than any contemporary wargame, and absolutely no where near the IQ pushing levels of Phoenix Command. However I'm not sure any distinction regarding the rules themselves is as significant as promoting a British Science Fiction Author as the founder of all Gaming as we know it, rather than a Prussian Military Scientist.  History: it's political.

Kriegspiel itself developed into two forms, the Strict (rules-orientated) and Free (games-master orientated, General Julius von Verdy du Vernois 1876 ) - a division which still dominates the discussion of open ended and simulation based gaming today, in Tournament and Open gaming, playing by-the-book or house-ruling - the discourse is right there in the development of Kriegspiel, the territory mapped, positions laid out, strategies developed and systems deployed. But the general psychic lethargy of gamers towards the history of gaming beyond "that one game I like" means these approaches to game design are endlessly debated rather than being documented and understood. These were the two main forms of playstyle, as Kriegspiel was adopted by armies around the world, and multiple variants developed and expanded.

Beyond the game mechanics and playstyles, there's another significant duality which opens up. H.G. Wells is much better known as a Science Fiction author for works such as The Time Machine and War of the Worlds than his limited repertoire as a game designer. Yet he never crossed the streams and transformed his historical (Napoleonic level tech) wargames into Science Fiction gaming. It may have been a simple technological issue, in a similar way the Beaker People couldn't have invented malware, the cultural building blocks weren't in place to achieve it, or a product of his increasing pacifism in the face of the horrors of WW1 or simply a matter of not having the time or inclination. Yet the Historical / Fantasy (yes, including Space Fantasy here) divide in wargaming was long and persistent.

Whatever the cause, Wells didn't game his Martian Tripods taking over some alternate Europe, nor the skirmishes of the Eloi and Morloks, in their grim dark caves of the far future, and it has fallen to others to make the game, and envision the material cultures of H.G. Wells. And here is where Steampunk and/or Victorian Science Fiction steps in, and opens up another duality and something of a false dichotomy.

If I search for Steampunk I invariably get images like this:

 If I search for Victorian Science Fiction I invariably get images like this:



I don't really need to point out the dualities in those sets of images do I? I have to reign it in a little and not go off the deep end about the image, society of the spectacle and all that. However that may be part of the reason for the development of Victorian Science Fiction, whilst Steampunk started out as a genuine attempt at retro-futurism, things took a slow and gradual expansion into the realm of the Burlesque. Ultimately they are different approaches to the same territory, both have a dedication to craft and spectacle, both present historical ideas of the future as their basis.

yeah. tangents.

Which reminds me of how the original Speculative Fiction -punk game, R Talsorians Cyberpunk, was originally set in 2013, which is now history, which makes this extremely 1980s vision of the future also retro. The stunning black and white illustration hugely reminiscent of the work of Peter Nagel and Hajime Sorayama. The American government treat the early release of a Japanese corporations entertainment products by an unidentified group of hackers, as cause for economic sanctions and according to some sources blacking out the communications infrastructure of North Korea. And that's just yesterdays news. is there any doubt we are all living in a William Gibson novel?

Meanwhile, on the other edge of psyberspace, we've pulled the levers, cranked the handles adjusted the aetheric tubes and published the Meridian Miniatures Webshop! 

British Steampunk Miniatures

Prussian Steampunk Miniatures

The initial wave of releases center around the Steam & Aether range, a wargame set in a post apocalyptic 19th Century Europe, where strange, alien technology has ripped open the time-space fabric that was once France and spewed all sorts of strange otherworldly technology and creatures across it. Battling for control of the region and scavenging for technology in the wreckage are forces of British and Prussian troopers. The models are multi pose war gaming figures, with a vast array of head and pose options, bringing variety to massed, marching troops and skirmishing warbands.

What seems strangely significant that a game-world that centres on alternate history gives us an alternative vision of gaming history itself. The British (Little Wars) vs. Prussian (Kriegspiel) take wargaming into its origins not only as a game design, by setting it in the period Wells was gaming in, but also bridging the chasm between  H.G. Wells hobby wargaming and his Science Fiction writing. Had Meridian been around in 1901 and been producing these kind of red-team / blue-team gaming pieces, no doubt Wells would have spent his time fighting his Kriegspiel with Stroboscopic Prismatoniums and Telesisted Kinetomats instead of rifles and cannons, expanding his Prussian Empire to the Moon and beyond.