Fantasy Battle on a Budget II
by Will Johnson
This article is a sequel to Steve Blease's article in Ragnarok 1 on 20mm plastic fantasy figures. Steve's article is a fine description of the use of these cheap and plentiful figures, but it did not go far enough.
Before getting on to the extension of Steve's article that I propose, I am going to put forward my use of the figures already described in my own fantasy games. I use the box of Muslim warriors as Arabic types, Normans and Saxons as themselves. The Barbarians and Celts provide my Orcs, with only a paint job conversion in most cases. Finally the Zulu set is converted into Elves, both races being tall and lithe. I have also been lucky enough to find a couple of boxes of Airfix zoo sets which have given me 4 lions, 4 tigers, 4 brown bears and 2 crocodiles.
In their unaltered state these figures look like what they are meant to be, at least within the limited accuracy of the plastic figure range. For fantasy purposes we need to alter this appearance to some extent. Aside from paint jobs the simplest change is to substitute a new shield for the one supplied with the figure. Sequins from a haberdashery shop or counter will provide plenty of cheap shields from basic small or large circular shields to star, shell and leaf shaped. For Rohirrim types a kite shaped shield can be obtained from the DIY picture framing tabs. Substitution of any of these shields on a plastic figure, together with a fantasy paint job changes the little figures almost beyond recognition.
Conversion work does not have to stop there. If the horses in any cavalry set have their equipment and harness pared away they become the basis for many conversions. Two of these are unicorns and centaurs.
Unicorns are made by simply giving the basic horse a wire or pin horn on its forehead and painting the result white. Centaurs are rather more involved. First, once the basic horse has been relived of its equipment, remove the horses head and neck with a clean knife cut at the shoulders of the horse. Cut down a steel pin to 10mm long, from the sharp end and insert the cut end of the pin in between the shoulders of the horse. Then cut an archer figure from the barbarian warriors set in half at the waist. Push the top half of this bowman onto the point of the pin sticking out of the horse. The two halves will not match up exactly and the horse should be pared down to match the human torso. Any gaps can be filled up with Milliput, and the change in colour when painted, between the horse and human bodies is deliberately kept away from the join of the two figures ie. by extending the human skin colour down the front of the horse torso is unnoticeable. The resulting figure, even using two plastic figures, is much cheaper than metal equivalents.
Some fantasy types can be modelled from scratch, although I have not got round to this. Suitable for creation are giant snakes, worms and Ents all of which have simple body shapes.
You can supplement the boxed 20mm plastic figures with several other sources of plastic figures. I have purchased Games Workshop's boxed set of plastic skeletons as I can think of no other way of obtaining plastic skeletons. The skeleton box with its 30 infantry, 8 cavalry and chariot is sufficient for both the Hordes of the Things list and to cover all the possibilities of summoned skeletons in the Fantasy Warlord rules.
Whilst looking at other sources, consider the Early Learning Centre chain of shops. They are currently selling a range of plastic figures by Invicta, plastics that include animals (too large for our scale) fish and interesting dinosaurs. Particularly useful is the pterosaur figure which makes an excellent mount for Ringwraiths. On a similar theme keep an eye out for market stalls selling Taiwanese and Hong Kong plastic toys, especially giant rats and spiders. If you are ever in Wales, for any reason, take a look in the tourist souvenir shops. Someone is producing a line of 4 small baby dragons available in either red or green. These will provide your adult dragon figures with their offspring and can be easily painted to match the adults.
A more unusual source of plastic figures is the cake decorating shop or section of any stationers. There, in addition to cheap terrain items like 20mm scale fir trees and wishing wells and 6mm houses and trees, you can find polar bears which can be painted up as black bears, together with large and small doves. These birds are most useful. The small doves are of a suitable size to paint up as normal ravens, hawks and eagles. The large doves can be simply painted up as giant ravens or hawks, but the chief interest lies in their wings. If these wings are cut off they can be pinned to the shoulders of basic horses to form pegasi and pinned to the back of a human figure they male flying humanoids or even angels and demons.
Brittains the toy makers produce an eagle in their zoo set which when cut off the tree branch it is perched on, makes an excellent giant eagle. However, if the tail and part of the back are cut away and the rear three quarters of a horse attached, a very serviceable hipogriff is created.
Although not plastic figures, some metal figures have definite purpose in plastic fantasy games. For instance 15mm orcs when used in 20mm games become goblins, as a much cheaper alternative to their 5mm cousins. I recommend Warrior Miniatures for these as their 15mm wargs are just right for 20mm wolves. If for the monstrous types of figure you can find no plastic alternatives, do not be afraid to match 25mm metal figures with your plastic ones, they end up looking even more enormous in relation to the 20mm figures increasing their terrifying appearance.
All in all, I can thoroughly recommend the use of the 20mm plastic figure in fantasy games, not only for cheapness but also because they are the lightest troops around and you won't get a hernia carrying your troops to their next engagement.
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