Gripping Beast's plastic Swordpoint and SAGA miniatures are a great cost-effective way to get into the game, but the sets arguably do not provide quite as wide a variety of cool units and poses as GB's excellent metal miniatures do. With that in mind, this week's installment looks at some of the awesome ways in which one can assemble and modify the miniatures from these sets to build a more interesting and varied warband.
I've been looking forward to assembling the plastic sets I first described in Building Your First Warband. I wanted to build them in such a way that I could field at least three, possibly four different factions, giving me a nice variety of play styles and approaches to choose from. The obvious ones, Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Dane were relatively straight-forward, but I also set myself the challenge of a more extensive conversion, and settled on building a Welsh force.
Before we continue, a quick disclaimer: I heavily modified my Gripping Beast Plastic miniatures in order to show what's possible with these kits, but it's perfectly reasonable to assemble them with minimal modding and field them as intended by the manufacturer. Have fun and experiment, but only go as far as you feel comfortable with, and keep in mind that some experiments inevitably fail. Some of mine did, and what I've shown here was occasionally the result of having to completely redo a miniature, often more than once.
Tools and Materials
Before getting started with one's modelling, it's always a good idea to have the right tools and materials on hand.
- Craft Knife - You absolutely need one of these, From simple things like cutting models from sprues and shaving away mold-lines to complex bits of surgery to repose miniatures, you will use this tool more than everything else combined.
- Pliers - A good pair of needlenose pliers is essential for gripping small items securely, for bending bits of metal accurately, etc. Having a second pair for your off-hand is even better.
- Poly Cement - Poly Cement is a special type of glue for polystyrene-based plastics, that works by melting the two surfaces together. This makes for a really secure bond, even with minimal surface area. Poly Cement is a fantastic glue to use for modding, since it allows you to do very fine cut and assemble procedures that might otherwise leave the bonded area too weak.
- Super Glue - Because Poly Cement only works on one particular type of plastic, you'll need a strong glue to bond other materials. A good brand of Cyanoacrylate (the chemical name for Super Glue) is essential when pinning models or attaching other materials, such as resin or green-stuff sculpted bits.
- Tack - A good quality tack material such as Prestik is really useful for holding stuff in place when you need them to not go anywhere. During modelling I find it especially useful to test out poses and other modifications before I commit to gluing things in place permanently.
- Green Stuff - 'Green Stuff' is a two-part putty that is a popular sculpting and modding material amongst miniature gamers. It's perfect for sculpting simple additions for your miniatures, such as capes, sashes, knotwork and such. Talented modellers can sculpt entire bodyparts, variant heads or anything else they can think of really. Let your imagination run wild and experiment!
- Pins and Paperclips - Little bits of metal are an essential part of my modelling kit. I use them to pin miniatures, as sculpting armatures, to scratch, clean and score surfaces - I would be lost without these.
I started by assessing what was available across the three boxes - the Anglo-Saxon/Dane Starter Box, Dark Ages Warriors, and Viking Hirdmen.
Putting aside the 12 Saxon poses that come in the starter box, there are four each of the levy/warrior and the hirdmen bodies. About half of these lend themselves well to action poses, while the rest tend to be more static, so it makes sense to assess how many of each you have and to get an idea of what the various bodies might be best suited for before you begin assembling.
I continued by assessing heads, arms and weapons in the same way and started to form a plan in my head of what to use for which units and models. I decided early on, for example, that I wanted to try and preserve some of the helmed heads for use on my non-elite troops, allowing me to use the presence of a helmet to differentiate between peasant levies and more wealthy and well-trained warriors. A helm was usually the next protective item after a shield that a wealthy middle-class land-holder would own. The trade-off of course was that about half my elites would end up not having protective head-gear, but considering they are all wearing mail, I felt it was worth doing, and that I could wave their lack of head armour away on account of how awesome they look!
Having decided on building a core of Welsh, I was also going to need some javelins. Unfortunately none of the boxes I had purchased contain any, but I found that some of the spears looked lighter, and that they could as easily be used to represent a javelin being thrown as an overhead spear thrust. The GBP boxes had more spear arms than I would ever be able to use, so I would have plenty extra to assemble these with.
Assembling the Levy and Warriors
Having determined what I had to work with and where I wanted to go with it I got stuck in, assembling my warriors and levy first to build a variety of regular troops that could be used by a number of different factions. A solid block of spearmen came first, both because spears were by far the most common and useful weapon during the Dark Ages, but also because Anglo-Saxons especially benefit from large units of massed spearmen.
I split the balance about equally between slingers, javelineers and warriors using hand-weapons such as swords and axes. I held off attaching any heads, wanting first to see what I could get away with as far as my elite units were concerned.
Slings are the only ranged weapon option included in the GBP Dark Ages Warriors box, and require a simple conversion to use, since the sling hand replaces the hand on a weapon arm:
For something a bit more challenging I went about assembling my javelins. Javelis are shorter than spears, and are often carried behind a shield, so I cut and re-glued some of the spears to be shorter, and made a collection of javelin shields using extra shields and spear arms. Where necessary I cut the thumbs off and replaced them with green stuff to switch hands from right to left or vice-versa.
Assembling the Elites
Once done with the Levy and Warriors, I moved on to my Elites. Here I wanted to build a variety of intimidating, clearly specialised troops who looked like they were intimately familiar with war. Having an interest in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA for short), I also wanted to see if I could illustrate some known historical techniques using my miniatures.
I started off by building my 4 Dane Axe warriors, but I wasn't really happy with the standard pose achieved using the included components, and decided I was going to mod the remaining three.I started off by getting a clear picture in my mind of what poses I wanted to achieve, then using bits of off-cut arms, I played around with Prestik till I found the poses I liked. I then gradually assembled these poses, harvesting the gripping hands from the standard arms, and refining step by step as I went. The process is pictured below:
I built a variety of additional elite troops, modding two or three models in each unit to add some visual interest and dynamism to my warband. Some favourites are pictured below:
Assembling the HQ (Headquarters)
HQ, short for Headquarters, is used as a military term referring to commanders and their support staff. Even though the core SAGA rules use only a warlord for command, The Crescent and the Cross adds rules for a banner-bearer, and there is always the possibility that further rules expansions may add rules for musicians as well. With this in mind I decided to assemble a command trio for each of my four chosen factions.
This was a fun challenge. I actually modelled most of the twelve leader models first - I wanted each trio to feel heroic and unique, despite having access to a limited selection of components, so I decided to use whatever I had at my disposal and to deal with any shortfalls later if they occurred. Many of these have been extensively modded to get to a point where I was happy with them, so keep that in mind when building your own.
First up, the Danes. A Dane Axe was a must, and I really wanted my warlord to stand out, so I decided to use the wolf-pelt cloak for him and model him as a grizzled, commanding old warrior. I modified an arm and resculpted the hand so that he would be pointing, urging his warriors forward as he strides into battle.
Sticking with the wolf theme, I sculpted the second pelt cloak into a banner, attaching it to a crossbar modelled from bits of discarded spear. The musician was a simple, straightforward assembly, with the only modification I made here being to resculpt the arm holding the horn so that it would angle more forward than off to the side.
I next decided to tackle the Vikings. Being a huge fan of the television show, I decided to model my warlord on Ragnar, and selected a suitably bald head from the Warriors box - tattoos to be added later. Like every other TV warrior ever, Ragnar's plot-armour ensures that he did not need a helmet, and it just felt right for him to steal the Anglo-Saxon cloak for himself.
For the bannerman I simply used a spear-arm, reposed to be held overhead. I will sculpt and add a flag in green stuff once the model is painted and based.
With the Anglo-Danish musician being a bit plain, I really wanted the Viking one to stand out. I wanted him to be epic, a hero in his own right, and I thought it would be really cool to pose him holding his shield by his feet as he blew his mighty horn. I assembled a shield arm from bits left over from assembling various other models, and drilled a small hole through the hand. I then very carefully cut the hand open and pried the fingers gently into a gripping pose as pictured below.
The Saxon command was up next. Having appropriated the Saxon cloak for Ragnar, I decided to model another out of green stuff. The rest of the assembly on these models were very straight-forward, with no further modifications made.
Finally, the Welsh presented a unique challenge. I needed to make them feel different while using the same bits as I had for the other factions, so I spent a bit of time online researching Dark Ages Welsh clothing, weapons and tactics, and looking at miniatures representing Welsh from the time-period.
Dark Ages Welsh warriors were expert javelineers, and favoured guerilla tactics over more direct warfare. They wer generally quite poor, and so fewer Welsh had access to mail, swords and helms than other factions did. Where they did have access to helms, they were similar to Anglo-Saxon designs. Having been heavily Romanized before the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, Welshmen rarely wore breeches, wearing a tunic over bare legs in a similar fashion to that of the Romans. Wealthier warriors would wear cloaks representing their family and clan.
With the bodies at my disposal I wasn't going to be able to do bare legs, so I decided to focus on the cloaks and javelins as visual signifiers. To make up for the lack of the correct dress, I wanted my warlord to look really intimidating, so I decided to model him attacking aggressively. Having experimented with modifying a striding body to look like it was running for an earlier spearman, I thought something similar would work for my Welsh Warlord. As with flags, I will add greenstuff cloaks later, once all the Welsh have been painted and based.
I did end up having to pin the model as the left leg, once modified to lean him forward, was simply too weak and broke. I did this by first drilling a 1mm diameter hole in the leg using my pin-vice, about 3mm deep. I then lined up and drilled through the foot, before threading the leg and foot onto a straightened paperclip using superglue. I drilled a hole into the base, glued the foot to the base using poly cement, and finally reinforced the bond by dabbing superglue into the pin-hole under the base:
The Final Tally
Upon completion of the project I have enough miniatures to field up to 4 6-point warbands, assuming I fields everything as elite units. More realistically, I can comfortably field two or three, demonstrating the great value one can get from the Gripping Beast Plastic sets. For just over R1000, two or three players could easily playing SAGA, four if one replaces the SAGA starter box with a third Gripping Beast Plastics box - Saxon Thegns perhaps.
The collection breaks down as follows:
Levy and Warriors (60)
- 12 Slingers
- 12 Axe and Swordsmen
- 24 Spearmen
- 12 Javelineers, of which 4 may be fielded as Axe and Spearmen instead.
- 12 Axe and Swordsmen
- 16 Spearmen
- 4 Dual-wielding Axe and Swordsmen
- 4 Dane Axes
- 8 Javelineers
- 3 Anglo-Danish
- 3 Anglo-Saxon
- 3 Viking
- 3 Anglo-Saxon
Tips and Techniques
- All the Anglo-Saxon Elites wear crosses, while the Vikings all wear pagan religious symbols. This makes it slightly akward to field the one group as the other, so I modified a few bodies, converting the Hammers of Thor they wore into crosses by gluing a small piece of cut-off plastic in under the hammer.
- Poly Cement takes a about a minute to cure to the point where you don't need to support it. After about 30 seconds it has melted the plastic and started fusing it together, but the junction is still soft and maleable, making it possible to sculpt sleeves, fingers and other small details.
- The GBP sets contain a limited selection of heads, leading to a bit of sameness to the models, but it is pretty easy to individualise them by resculpting beards and hair. I selected a balding head for my Viking Warlord, for example, but then trimmed the band of hair around the base of his skull away to leave him entirely bald. I did however mess up 3 heads experimenting in this way, so do take care if you attempt the same.
- The 'handedness' of a hand can be changed by carefully cutting the thumb and the heel of the hand away. A new thumb can then be added to the opposite side of the hand by using a tiny amount of green stuff. This can be tricky to get right, so practice first.
- Greenstuff and paint hide a multitude of sins. A miniature may look rough once it has been modified, but as long as you're happy with the overall shape of the miniature and there aren't obvious mistakes as far as anatomy or shape is concerned, it should come out fine. Again, this is something you learn with experience, so experiment and learn, but be ready to make some mistakes along the way.