Sunday, September 27, 2015

Painting: Shadows of Brimstone, City of the Ancients

I cannot remember where I first came across Shadows of Brimstone, but when I heard that it mixed the wild west with Lovecraftian horror, I was sold. There are two base sets, and a friend told me that City of the Ancients was one of the most fun cooperative dungeon crawls he had played. This one includes tentacle demons and night terrors, whereas Swamps of Death has endless zombies, so I placed my order for City of the Ancients.
Obligatory Box Art
This was my first time building models from the sprue, so I bought myself a pair of sprue cutters and got to work. Honestly, I thought it would be more fun, but mostly it was tedious. I was able to delicately balance the figures around assorted desk stuff in order for the limbs, tails, and tentacles to dry in place.

Workspace, Demons, and Heroes
Once the assembly was done, there was still a lot of patching up to do. I mixed up some Milliput and got to work.
The Milliput Plague affects us all
The next step was to attach the miniatures to their bases---another step I never had to do before, having been mostly painting pre-assembled board game miniatures. Most were no trouble, but the U.S. Marshal has a "lean" to his pose. A clever balancing act helped me to ensure he was affixed at the proper angle.
Cheaper than clamps
The first figures that I painted were the void spiders, all twelve of them. Some of my other sets included multiples of monsters, but I really think that twelve is too many. Brimstone comes with a metric ton of cardboard: it seems they could have had more variety in the monsters. These were kind of fun to paint except that there were so blasted many of them. I spray-primed them white and then used blue-purple washes and drybrushing. The mouth was done more conventionally, with a black ink wash to get the depths of the mouth and between the teeth.

A horde of void spiders
A horde of void spiders, but in a different pile
I should mention, either before or while working on the void spiders, I ran out of white paint—my second bottle to finish, following black a few months ago. Next time I was out, I picked up a new bottle at Hobby Lobby... or at least, I thought I did. I noticed that the texture seemed really strange, which at first I attributed to not having properly shaken the bottle. A few more spiders, and I was sure something was strange. Turns out, I had picked up “Foundation White,” which is really a primer and not the same as “White”.
White vs. Foundation White. Not interchangeable.
For basing, I used a mix of fine, medium, and large ballast, in approximately at 8:4:1 ratio. Although the game allows the characters to go to different worlds, I decided for simplicity's sake to try to make the bases match the Brimstone mines. Turns out Americana Spiced Pumpkin is almost a perfect match for the orange shade used on the game's tiles. I had primed the miniatures before doing the basing, using a Krylon black primer aerosol.

The primer is less rough than the base, but not as much as I would have liked.
You cannot see it so well from the picture, but I must have done something wrong with the priming. I suspect I was too far from the figures, because the texture that came out was really coarse, similar in feel to when I tried the Liquitex Basics Gesso on my grells. The primer absorbed thinned paints and washes like a sponge, leaving me very little control. I went ahead and finished the tentacles—which are not very interesting models anyway—but it was unpleasant enough that I did not want to continue this way.

Finished tentacles. Tabletop-quality, but not much more.
I threw the rest of the miniatures into a bath of Simple Green for a day or two, brushed them down, and re-primed (and re-based) them. This time, I was careful to do them in smaller batches, and on a table rather than the garage floor. The results were much better, although still not with the smoothness of the Vallejo surface primer I would normally brush on and which I used to touch up areas missed by the spray.

Undercoated on a much nicer layer of primer

The next batch I worked on were the stranglers. One of my goals for this set, which I could not meet appropriately on the tentacles, was to work on having higher contrast. I think I frequently make the mistake of thinking something looks great in my hand under my painting lamp, but when it's out on the table, it lacks the contrast to be interesting. I built up the stranglers from a dark undercoat, trying to keep shaded areas dark to make the muscles ripple. This was tricky in part because the models are not actually very detailed: some of what you see is "faked" with paint, not sculpted into the model. I was pretty happy with the flesh colors and then moved on to the mouth (sorry, no halfway photos here, though I wish I had some). I mixed a fleshy glaze and applied it in multiple layers around the "lips" area, matching the visual design of the box and rulebook art. At first, I was very unhappy with the appearance, and I was worried I had wrecked them. I took some more time to mix intermediate shades and try blending them in, and I tried to bring out more highlights at the edges and ridges. The result, I think, is one of the best blending jobs of any figure I've done.
Stranglers, amassing to form a target
Next up were the night terrors. The art on these figures is interesting, as they appear almost non-corporeal, which certainly matches the name. I built up in layers from almost black up to a mix of blue and white with a hint of green. I was pretty happy with these and took this picture thinking I would be done.
Night Terrors... but not quite yet complete
Looking at them the next day, I got to thinking about my goal to practice high contrast. These guys already have a lot of contrast... but is that my own delusion? What if I added even more contrast... what if I really turned it up to eleven? The card art certainly takes the highlights up closer to white than I had painted them. I decided to try it.
Super-contrast on the left, original on the right
I am sure I giggled with delight at the effect. I went through and touched them all up.
Night Terrors, actually complete
This brought me to the Goliath—a name which conjures up the notion that this creature was created only to be destroyed by so many Davids, but that's game design for you. I think I re-started this model twice before I got colors that really clicked. I believe I was trying to make it look muscular, similar to the stranglers, but in re-working it, I realized I needed more texture. Again, the model itself is kind of drab, devoid of detail, and I needed to use the paint to add texture, not just try to emphasize what was there.
Here are an undercoat and base color. Will it work this time?
After getting the two base layers down in a fairly straightforward approach, I started adding spots and bumps to the back, following the sculpted pattern but really trying to bring it out. For the “arms,” I put in thin parallel stripes, again to give more texture. After several layers of highlights, I had a flesh style that I was really happy with. The mouth tentacles are completely smooth, and I also decided to add some more textural interest there. The eyes are barely sculpted, and so I think this part is merely sufficient but nothing outstanding. The undersides of the arms were a little disappointing. Looking at it now, it doesn't look bad, but it's not quite what I wanted. I think I ran out of steam here. I tried using a bright yellow and then a sepia wash to bring out the shadows, but that just made the whole thing look dingy. I spent a lot of time just covering up areas where the wash had left unseemly spots. Despite this frustration, I think the overall model is quite good, having good contrast, interesting texture, and looking a bit frightening. Sorry that the images are a little overexposed.
*hack hack hack*
I happened to be working on this across the first weekend of the semester. I had already told my students in my course introduction that miniature painting is a hobby of mine. On the second Monday of the semester, I mentioned that they probably were involved in a range of activities: seeing old friends, making new friends, traveling home to spend time with family before big projects are assigned. I suggested that, perhaps, they wondered how their humble professor spent his weekend? Then I brought up this image and told them that I had spent it painting a demon's butt.

It's true, I spent hours staring at those cheeks.
This brings us to the heroes. The first one I painted was the Saloon Girl. I wonder, if she marries the U.S. Marshal, will she become Saloon Woman? Anyway, something interesting about this game is that each character card is reversible, with a different gender on each side. I first saw this in Legends of Andor, but that game used standees, so it was easy for them to include both male and female versions. Brimstone, on the other hand, only provides one gender of figure. I can't say I blame them, but I did wonder... what's a male Saloon Girl? Turns out it's a piano player. Hm. In digging up this picture, I came across an interesting theory that even this side is just a woman with a fake mustache, dressed up so she can come along monster-killing with the gents. It's hard to say without being able to tell what this character's skill is like with an actual piano.

Anyway, the figure was fun to paint. I used to fear reds, but now that I understand more about how to paint them, I see them as an exciting challenge. The Saloon Girl's outfit is highlighted up to orange, but it still reads as "red." Looking once again at contrast as a goal, I think this turned out well in several parts of this model, including the black trim that is highlighted up to grey. Her face is a bit flat, and I find faces hard to paint anyway. I tried to match the colors in the card art for all these characters, and I do wonder why the artist chose Christmas colors. I think I'll call her Merry.

Saloon Girl
Saloon Girl
Remember back when I said that I scrubbed these miniatures down after a bad priming job? Well, this was not entirely without casualties. The U.S. Marshal's rifle had a weak spot from the time I received it, and my old toothbrush was too much for it: the end of it broke off, never to be found.

Necessity, like Frank Zappa, is the mother of invention. I decided to try rebuilding the gun, making this my first real figure modification. I suppose if you split hairs, it's a repair job, but calling it a mod makes it sound more intentional. I found a straight pin that was the right diameter for the barrel...

and with a few snips of my wire cutters, some filing, superglue, and a touch of Milliput, my Marshal had a new weapon.

You may also remember that this guy leans backward. Many of the figures came off of their bases when I scrubbed them down, including him, which I took as an indication that he wasn't well on there in the first place. I decided that, after getting into the hobby about 1.5 years ago, it was time to start pinning. The first time I took my pin vise to a miniature, it was a bit daunting, but everything went smoothly. The first two I pinned were actually the Bandido and Gunslinger; the Marshal came afterward.

Compared to the Saloon Girl, the Marshal was a pretty dull miniature. I decided to put him in a matching vest and trousers, so there are not a lot of colors. The wooden handle to his rifle has some texture to it, and I used brown-red ink to try to make it look like stained wood. I built up the base with Milliput to make him standing on a slight slope, which helps correct his leaning pose as well.

I had moved on to the other heroes when I looked back at the Marshal and, as with the night terrors, wondered what would happen if I took up the contrast and highlights even more. I'm glad I did, as the final version is much more vibrant than before, when it was just too much brown. (Sorry, no comparison photos.)
U.S. Marshal
U.S. Marshal
The Bandido was much more fun to paint, with lots of accessories. I like how he has a very different look than the dull 19th-century men's fashion of the Marshal and Gunslinger. I'm happy with the contrast on his shirt, pants, and accessories. The green and white pattern on the hat is inspired by the card art and is mostly freehanded. It's not perfect, but it's sufficient. If anyone asks, it's not woven into the hat: the Bandido painted it himself. Also, once again, fun with reds, this time taking the highlights on the sash toward a mix of orange, yellow, and white. He's purposefully the hero around the most large stones, by the way, since he's the guy with the dynamite.
The last of the lot is the Gunslinger. I was going to refer to him as Gunhaver, but the trouble is that they all have guns. I mentioned 19th-century fashion above, and I was being serious. I looked around the Web a bit to see how others had painted their sets, and I am amazed at the number of people who have the Gunslinger in blue jeans and a black coat. I think this makes him look like a 1990s fashion reject rather than a stranger with no name. I ended up on the Wikipedia page about 1880s fashion and I thought, "There's a Wikipedia page about 1880s fashion?!" The Internet is an amazing place. Let me be... if not the first, then one of the few... to thank the community that maintains that page. As I suspected from my rigorous research (i.e. watching Deadwood), a gentleman certainly would have worn a matching jacket and trousers. As in the card art, I used a purple-pink waistcoat to add some color to what would otherwise be a dark model.
Here are all the heroes, standing together, ready to face evil.

Bring it on, evil.

Here they are, facing evil, and perhaps regretting that decision.
Don't look behind you...

Finally, to wrap things up, some happy family photographs.

Those tentacles are clearly less interesting than the rest.
Tall people... er, things... in the back

Some days, when I look at the variety of pictures I take during this projects, I think about building a lightbox, but where would I put it?

Thanks for reading!

Wait, what's that? How's the game, you ask?

I have no idea. We're still playing the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.


  1. Nice! This really inspires me, now when I'm painting my own set :)

  2. Do you have a list of what paints your used?

    1. Sorry, no. If I'm doing a small set of models, I can usually remember which paints I used along the way over the span of a few sessions, and then it escapes my memory. I know a lot of folks who do tabletop wargames need to keep careful track of their paints to perfectly match army colors. Mine are all ad hoc, so I found writing down the paints I used to be more trouble than it was worth. (Also, most colors, I only have one dropper anyway! Flesh and brown I have a few since they're a bit tricky.)