Monday, May 1, 2017

Painting Descent Visions of Dawn, Part 1: Monsters

A few months ago, my brother bought me the Visions of Dawn expansion to Descent 2nd Edition. He knew I had been working on painting the base game monsters and gearing up to try the Road to Legend co-op app. His main reason for choosing this particular Hero & Monster expansion was one of the heroes, but I was honestly most excited about the monsters: more variety in monsters is always good, and I've always had a soft spot for manticores. As the semester has wrapped up, so has my painting of the six monsters from Visions of Dawn.

Ogre minion, front

Ogre minion, back

Ogre captain, front
First up are the ogres. I started with the metal pieces so I could drybrush chainmail with impunity. The flesh was then done using two-brush blending, and I am quite pleased with how that turned out. Maybe the shadows could have been even darker, but regular readers would know that's something I perennially question as I try to gain a better eye for contrast. As with the core set monsters, I've distinguished the captains in this set by including red features—for the troll, the glove and gorget (if that's the right term for it). The ogres took the longest of the three monsters in the set due to the number of different pieces and the nice quality of detail. I was worried that my approach to the metals was a bit too lazy, using a base coat, wash, and highlight, but really I think it turned out fine. The ogre's sword was large enough that I decided to try to do some fancy highlighting, running the highlights in opposite directions on the top and bottom sides of the blade, as described in this Massive Voodoo post. Mine was really not that impressive, but it's fine for tabletop quality.

As I started writing this up, I realized that there might not be much of a sense of scale for these guys, so I shot a bonus picture of the ogre captain fighting Master Thorn.
Ogre captain vs Master Thorn
Master Thorn seemed like an appropriate figure to pick since he's actually one of the heroes in Visions of Dawn. I have the figure from my painted set of Runebound heroes, although looking at the sculpt in Visions of Dawn I noticed a small difference: mine has his staff affixed to the robes, whereas in Visions of Dawn, it is separated. Looks like my Runebound copy may have actually had an error, unless they changed the mold at some point. No matter, I may just give the extra one to one of my boys to paint sometime.

Now, on to the next monster!
Troll Minion, front

Troll Minion, back

Troll Captain, front
All these figures were primed black, and I started the trolls with a total skin covering of cold grey, planning to layer up the highlights. For the belly area, I mixed a cold white and wet-blended it into the grey; the result was good, but it's a technique I should practice since I don't use it too often. I am pleased with the darker textured areas around the shoulders, as well as the dark spots on the sides. I think I could have gone in and darkened the recesses even more, but I didn't want to overdo it and risk trouble with that tricky white-grey transition. I also used layering for the loincloths, working up from a dark shade to tan or red. For these, I was sure that I had used too much contrast. However, I had recently watched Atom Smasher's interviews with several painters at Adepticon, and I was struck by the advice to carry a project to completion even if uncertain, since it's only at the end that you can really evaluate it. In fact, now I look at it, and I think it's fine. Perhaps it's yet another indication that I should be using even more contrast.

The massive stone club was painted using a different technique than the rest of the model, picking a slightly brown grey as a base color, washing with a dark brown to deepen the shadows, and then bringing the highlights back up. I am happy with the contrast here too, both on the stone and between the stone and the winding cables holding it to the shaft.

I'll point out here that in the card art for all three of these monsters, none of them have pupils, and I decided to follow that in my painting. The ogres and manticores have dead white eyes, while the trolls have red eyes. It's fine. I think the manticore's is best, and speak of the devil...

Manticore minion

Manticore captain

Manticore captain
Since my days running tabletop RPGs, I have always found manticores to be particularly creepy. I think it's the savage human face combined with the animal body. I don't know that I threw them at my players more often than anything else, and certainly less often than staples like ogres and orcs, but still, they made the occasional menacing appearance. My brother assures me that these will scare the chainmail socks off the heroes in Descent too.

I was able to paint these fairly quickly since although it's a nice sculpt, there's not a whole lot of variation. I base coated and drybrushed highlights onto the fur in two tone combinations, and then I applied a series of washes to add depth. I did some manual highlighting on the darker fur, and I added a little more wash to the undersides and shaded areas of the light fur. The face also got manual highlights to give it a bit more pop.

The tail and wings were done in a different shade, mixed from black, beige brown, and buff. My first pass at the wings, I thought they were too plain, so I brushed in some horizontal striations as highlights, remembering Dr. Faust's video about it. I found these lines to be too bold even after a few layers of ink wash, so I changed tack and just painted the base color over it again. This hid the striations, although if you look carefully they are still there. It's probably too subtle to make a real difference, but I like the idea that they add subtle texture. Truth is, the wings were just kind of a drag, and so after getting a good color and layering on some mild highlights, I was ready to be done. I think of these as velvety bat wings anyway, and therefore with more diffuse highlights than something like scaly dragon wings.

The only difference between the captain and minion is the stinger on the tail: on the minion, there are dark brown spots and stinger, and these are red on the captain. This difference is probably too subtle to pick out from any appreciable distance. However, playing Road to Legend with my wife and son, we realized only one deploys at a time anyway, so there's really no great need to distinguish them.

Varnish wars
There's one more note about this little painting adventure. For some time I have been using Golden's matte varnish, which dries quickly to a nice matte finish. I undercoat this with a gloss varnish for protection. Then I give one coat of the matte, wait a bit, and then use a second coat to touch up spots that I missed. Then I roll my eyes and use a third coat on the spots that I missed again. Then I say, "Nobody will notice those spots." The Golden varnish is very thick, a gel consistency, and the instructions are to thin it 25% with water. This is no problem, although it is a bit tedious, and it does mean that the consistency is not always the same.

The other day, Ghool posted a video about brush-on varnish. I have appreciated Ghool's videos about using brush-on rather than spray products, and I have been experimenting with brush-on primer in painting my Descent heroes—more about that in the future! Ghool is also very responsive and helpful in the comments to his videos. Anyway, I happened to have some Vallejo Matt Varnish, which I suppose comes from the land with a dearth of 'E's. I picked up the varnish on a lark once and I cannot remember what I tried it on, but I was surprised at how runny it was. I decided to use the Vallejo on the manticores here. After one coat, it had dried fairly quickly to a nice, slightly satin finish---not as flat as the Golden, but still pretty good. I needed a second coat anyway to cover the spots I missed, and the second coat took the shine down even more. Looking at the manticores next to the trolls, the trolls are really flat, with not a hint of sheen, while the manticores have slight reflectivity. However, I do have occasional problems with the Golden varnish, where I get a build up of matting agent in the recesses: the greyish powder is easy to miss at a cursory glance, but it is noticeable on inspection, and its appearance may be related to the dilution precision and thinness of layers, but I've never quite nailed it down. It's more prone to happening in highly textured areas, though, like the ridges in the trolls' loincloths.

Here's the other piece, though: that Golden varnish has all sorts of health warnings on it. I always take care not to get any on my skin and to wash everything immediately afterward. Is it worth the stress and hassle for completely flat models? I'll have to evaluate it again under my gaming lights.

A happy, evil family
My wife, my son, and I enjoyed the mini-campaign of Road to Legend, but we put it aside while I painted up these monsters to add to the mix. I'm looking forward to trying the full-length campaign with them, especially now that the semester is winding down and my summer schedule is almost upon me. We'll make due with the subset of heroes I have currently painted, figures that were prioritized because they were the ones we wanted to play. I imagine I'll get back to painting those base set heroes or the Visions of Dawn heroes next, but you know, I always have a few tricks up my painting-flannel's ratty sleeves. Certainly the next set of posts will be end-of-semester reflections, in any case.

Thanks for reading!

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