Wednesday 28 October 2020

Grognardia, Gargantuas & Goblins

Illustrations for two Classes for James Maliszewski's Grognards Grimoire series, set in, around and under the Monastery of Urheim.


The Gargantua stands with his trusty felling axe, shifting his iron-buckled belt. He wears a self-made black bearskin jerkin over a woollen tunic, decorated with traditional hillfolk patterns. His linen breeches are tied at the calf with leather straps, as are the deer-leather shoes.

Along with André The Giant's portrayal of Fezzik in Rob Reiners 1987 film Princess Bride as suggested by James as the direction,  the idea of a demi-giant character class conjured images Little John from the Robin Hood oeuvre, Clive Mansell's Little John in Richard Carpenters 1984 TV series Robin of Sherwood, and Howard Hew Lewis's Rabies in Tony Robinsons 1989 BBC childrens comedy Maid Marian and her Merry Men, but also of Bernard Breslaw's Gort in Terry Marcels 1981 movie Hawk the Slayer, Dudly Watkins cartoon creation Desparate Dan, himself probably influenced by characters such as Paul Bunyan  the massive lumberjack and John Henry the enormous railway worker from American Folklore and the oversized, overstrong hero of Edwardian folk song My Brother Sylveste.  and childhood memories of the giant smuggler at Black Gang Chine and the image of since vanished 1970s saturday morning sporting heroes of the British Wrestling Foundation such as Giant Haystacks and Worlds Strongest Man Geoff Capes. The mythic archetype of the 'big man' probably traceable back to Thor

Goblin Adventurer

The Goblin holds aloft a pitch and rag torch as he creeps forward, holding a bronze leaf-bladed knife. He wears a stiffened leather jerkin fastened at the sides with hemp string over a simple woolen tunic. A small leather pouch hangs from his tanned and oiled leather belt, fastened with bronze buckle and he carries a dark leather shoulder-slung bag. Footware consists of lengths of leather wrapped around a linen sock.

James supplied a couple of goblin images that emerged from the OSR, unfortunately I don't know their exact origins, but they were quite good. Alongside these I had in mind the miniature sculptor Kevin Adams  Goblins and especially his mid-1980s  C12 Goblin range for Citadel Miniatures, along with something of Bil Sedgwicks anarchic comic strip goblin Anti-hero Gobbeldigook from White Dwarf Magazine, undoubtedly influenced by Arthur Rackhams goblins managerie. My original drawing was considered a little too evil, and James wanted a more neutral character suitable for a wider range of Player Characters, so I softened the expression and rounded the features a little, perhaps one or two of Joe Johnstons early concept art for Yoda from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, alongside Dave Trampiers comic cast of trolls from the classic Wormy comic strip from Dragon Magazine. 

There are exits here to: 

Basic / Expert Dungeons & Dragons and Old-School Essentials
The Gargantua  and Goblin Character Classes of the Grognards Grimoire at Grognardia.
The Urheim at Grognardia.

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Orc Designs for Crooked Dice

A look at some of the concept drawings for Crooked Dice Orcs. The design process kicked off with a question: what might Orcs have looked like if they had appeared in an imaginary 1980s Swords and Sorcery movie?

To find an answer we scoured Orc imagery from the 1960s to the 1980s. The starting point suggested by Karl at Crooked Dice were the Orcs of the Dungeons & Dragons design bible, drawn by Tim Truman and used by TSR for the cartoon series and product merchandising - including the infamous LJN 'bendy' plastic toys. These are undoubtedly the most pop-culture incarnation of the Orc, so very on-brand for 7TV in it's pop-culture infused cinematic parallel-universe. Into the mix went several other Orcish references: Nilo Rodis-Jameros concept art for the Gammorean Guard of Return of the Jedi,  The Hildebrandt Bros Tolkien Calendar (which no doubt influenced Tims work for TSR) and their slightly more obscure Urshurak project where they further developed the long snouted pig-lizard motif, Tim Kirk's Tolkien Calendar and SPI games work, Rankin-Bass's The Hobbit cartoon, and of course Micheal Frith's work on Bored of the Rings and The Land of Gorch, Angus McBrides work for Middle-Earth Role Playing.

Example Research Page | D&D Cartoon Orcs

Having a direction to head towards, we also had to steer away from accidentally reproducing existing Pig Faced Orc miniatures - the whole idea being to give gamers something new to play with. From the venerable Grenadier range, through the renaissance of Pig Faced Orc miniatures led by Otherworld Miniatures, to the barbaric porkers of Lucid Eye, to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon inspired from Antedeluvian Miniatures all great Orcs. As John Pickford would be sculpting the orc miniatures, it was crucial to avoid repeating the orcs he'd done for Foundry.

Conceptually all of this also created an opportunity to go back to the murky roots of Orcdom in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkiens Orcs are a military body, they march en-mass, they have hierarchies, they try to follow orders but are a bit thick and aggressive. The description of Orcs in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons has them as Lawful Evil, which suggests something, an orderliness, a sense of organisation that we also see in Tolkiens massed Orcish armies.  So rather than a motley gang of green skinned noble-savages or rag-tag band of mercenaries, with piece-meal scavenged equipment, the Orcs were envisioned as "The Foot-Soldiers of Evil", their arms and armour being manufactured en mass, as a uniform, on the orders of some off-screen evil overlord. 

With the research done and a direction set, but lots of elements still to be decided,  time to get some sketches under way:

Orc Footsoldier | Pencil Sketches

Physically the over-weight bow-legged ape-like physique owes much to Tim Trumans vision but is equally found in mid-80s orc miniatures like Kevin Adams Ugluds Armoured Orcs.  It lends a recognisably strong and bestial motif of humans closest relatives, perhaps a divergent evolutionary strain of simian or somesuch. The feet are bare - large, hard clawed leathery things rather than boots or sandals to keep them animalistic, and with the knuckle-dragging arms "the long arm of The Law" (har, har)  and wicked curved blades so near their exposed toes, perhaps none too bright.

Translating the pop-culture influences into an anachronistic mashup of bronze-age and early-modern military references also eschewed the rag-tag chainmail and leather of the Dark Ages armour that characterise the majority of the existing ranges. There is a lot of talk about Orcs being racial caricatures, and I wanted steer away from those kinds of interpretations, so the material references are to European arms and armour. The Orcs have English Civil War style breastplates melded with Roman cuirass - perhaps moulded to a piggishly aspirational porky paunch as well as deflecting blows, British Colonialist pith-style helmets with the plumes of the Household Cavalry that also echo Romano-British helms, along with  Hopelite greaves and Graeco-roman pteruges,  all of course simply and crudely made of iron and leather lending them an oddly out-of-place, quasi-historical fantasy feel.

Orc Warlord & Shield | Pencils

Then there are of course horns on the helmets. What are they about?  18th Century Romantic ideas about vikingsRitual war trophies of the Chang Naga from WW2? Extending a bovine element to a primitive ancestral monkey pig chimera? Yes. All these things. Similar to the mixing of historical references, In many ways design isn't about constructing a thing, but creating the imaginative space within which the thing can exist by itself, and monsters, even heavily codified pop-culture inflected footsoldiers of evil, must encompass the irrational...

With the physique, material culture and a variety of lumbering "at ready" poses settled, it remained to expand the range with some personalities, some of which have yet to emerge from the Orc breeding pits of Orthanc one dark and dismal day. Some work on the orcs faces - including much scribbling on the length of snout and pointed or roundness of nose, again, my aim was to avoid something that could not be mis-read as racial caricature, so ultimately decided almost bat-like pointed pig snout, giving their faces a constantly irritated expression. A shield device, mass produced and crudely simple developed emphasising the tusks.  Imagine, if you will, the furnaces of Isengard belching black smoke as production lines of barely cooled beaten iron armour are handed out to the lines of naked porky orcs preparing them for battle...

Orc Characters | Pencil Roughs

With the initial concepts and poses signed off,  took to drawing up in pen and ink as linework to clarify some of the details and add a little finesse. The drawings were intended to describe the overall design and provide John with a direction to base his sculpts on, so didn't need to work up all the poses etc.

Orc Footsoldier | Inked Concept Art

The Footsolider is armed with a triumvirate of traditional romanesque arms, a super-heavy plium, designed to destroy shields a, typically orcish scimitar in place of a straight-bladed gladius, and a small pugio hanging at the belt.

The other infamous orc-weapon is of course, the heavy axe...

Orc Warlord | Inked Concept Art

As we'd already established something of a trophy-language with the horns, of course the Leader gets bigger horns, but also a sabre-toothed skull and tooth necklace, along with a huge fur cloak which combined with the heavier armour also physically bulks out the model making him more impressive and dramatic on the tabletop than the rank and file, and perhaps conjures some cinematic images of a Roman general on campaign in the grim, dark and frostbitten forests of the north. The pose - shouting, giving orders, gesturing with his axe as a leader. He's also carrying a mug of ale, because he was off duty, in the tavern, when it all kicked off, and since the days of Uglúk force-marching Merry and Pippin to Isengard (and perhaps even before that) Orcs and grog just go together.

So with the inks dry, and scanned in, the drawings were sent over to John as guidelines  developing the final miniatures... 

 Sculpted by John Pickford | Painted by Andrew Taylor | Crooked Dice Orcs

And I'm sure you'll agree John has done a top job and made are some characterful additions, like the Celtic horned horse helmet on the champion, which ties in nicely with the bronze age and cavalry motifs, and a whole tranche of suitably orcy accoutrements, including a stunning standard bearer and musician to round out the command group. 

You can see more pictures of the entire Crooked Dice Orc range on Kickstarter, alongside some ex-Otherworld ranges including John Pickfords Goblins, Ogres, enormous Giant, and some brand new Boggarts from Andrew May. Waaaargh!