Pachyderm Perils, or the Shah’s Revenge

Its finally finished and boy has it been a labour of love. I mean that in the most positive sense. So much thought went into it, even when I wasn’t actually working on it. I took my time and had some disasters and with all creative enterprises there was  quite a bit of bodging, fiddling about and improvisation.

The brief was to create a non-playing gaming piece to ‘Shock and Awe’ (ironic really as the Persians are winning) any opponent. I am sure I was told to go and indulge myself, but I do acknowledge I may have gone a bit out of brief. – I don’t think the client was expecting so many distressed Romans!

But that is what I am here for really the client tells me what he thinks he wants and I give him something I think is a little better. In this case it would not have worked without  the Romans. It just wouldn’t have looked ‘right’.

I think all dioramas should tell a story, and whilst I accept that charging Sassanids on their own would have looked impressive, the message of this model is, I think, much clearer as it clearly illustrates the fate about to fall upon their gaming opponents!

The centre pieces of the model are the two Aventine Sassanid elephants. Both have been tweaked. Research I did suggested that they may very well have had headdresses like contemporary Indian war elephants. Illustrations of various Sassanid nobles and emperors show them festooned with tassels and ribbons.

These additions were made from milliput and pro-create, brass wires and brass strip. The standard bearer is fastened to his elephant by (brass wire) rope and that elephants tail has been replaced. Milliput was used to fill gaps in the elephants and their passengers.

I added three of A&A’s delightful Sassanid cavalry. Bodies were filled with milliput – I have seen ones which have been just glued together and I think they look awful. I could not leave them like that. Ribbons were added with pro-create. You can leave the shield off the models but I decided to put them on so I could paint them. I modelled shield straps from brass wire. Spears were made from brass rod and pro-create.

The Roman participants for the model just  grew and grew. I had always had it in mind to use Gripping Beast shield wall. Now, I don’t think much of these to be honest. They look good when finished, but un painted they leave me uninspired. These were supplemented by some Gripping Beast dead and wounded and an equivalent pack form A&A.

This left me with a problem. A Roman Shield wall wouldn’t just be there, on the battlefield waiting for something to happen. Certainly not when faced with charging elephants. So they HAD to be defending someone.

I looked and looked at all the late roman generals by all manufacturers and none of them seemed to work for me. They were nice enough models, but non appeared to strike me as ‘imperilled’, and I didn’t want a general or emperor who was gazing unconcerned into the middle distance.

I came across Westwind’s Arthurian range and was intrigued by their death of Arthur pack. It took ages to find a picture, but I realized when I found it, that with some cutting and sticking I had my emperor.

He had his head cut about with a crown added. The man holding Excalibur had that great sword removed and a Draco standard added. In the scene he is pulling it from the grasp of a dead comrade. He is going to die, but he is going to die like a roman! The Draco was a chopped up metal Draco with the deflated body made from brass wire, milliput and pro-create. I decided that there should be lots of debris, so I spent many lonely nights (my family has serious doubts about my sanity!)carving the faces off a Westwind Romano-British head pack to leave just the helmets. I chopped about some A&A shields to show the leather facing hacked off and the wood showing underneath. And would you believe, I made some caltrops! These were made of brass and glued to a length of marine rigging twine. I know the Byzantines used their caltrops in this manner and it is such a good idea that the Romans must have employed the same method. It would make them very easy to deploy and very quick to collect.

And arrows. Lots of arrows. I imagined that the shield wall has been brought to breaking point by concentrated bow shooting and so there are arrows liberally scattered among the Romans, some in shields, some in the ground and some inside Romans.

The base proved the singularly most frustrating thing. The final one is mark3. Number one looked very nice but proved to be too small, not exactly to fit the figures on, but it did not leave me with much personal space for each figure. It just wouldn’t look right. So into the bin.

Mark2 warped to buggery. 2 mm mdf (there’s a lesson – mk1 was mounting board-no warp) nothing I did would recover the shape, so into the bin with that.

Mk3 is old 7mm ply wood lovingly chiselled. I added some cork tile here and there and some bark to give the illusion of shallow cliffs. The stream bed was built of sand with some green twine as water plants. The actual water is a mixable resin which is great and given a coat or two of brilliant gloss paste that Jewellery makers user. This is much brighter than the resin

Of course when people and animals leap into water there is much splashing and for this I used Woodland Scenics (which is acrylic gloss medium by any other name-cheaper!). This has to be built up in several layers and takes a few days to go from opaque white to clear gloss.

The landscape is a milliput base, painted with an earth grey and covered with my soil mixture. I then airbrushed this desert yellow. Now, Iraq/Iran and the Euphrates basin generally is not desert- It was (is) part of the fertile crescent and is surprisingly verdant, especially near water. For the grassy structure I used Silflor tufts and their ‘hay’ static grass applied onto tacky glue with a static grass applicator. A little dusting of yellow colour was added by airbrush.

As for the reeds and river band plants I have found the following to be as realistic as can be achieved. Natural  sisal string dyed green, fibres from sweeping brushes. You can buy these fibres from Noch and Green Scene etc., but its better if you can find some sort of ‘folk art’ Halloween broomstick sort of thing. It is made from some natural fibres. The final ingredient is fake hair. Yes the stuff wigs and theatrical moustaches and beards are made from. Buy from a theatrical suppliers.

Painting usually starts with Halfords grey primer. I cannot do with black primer. Just hate the stuff (see comment about my sanity above). I continue with acrylics. These are either Vallejo and Folk Art acrylics. They complement each other well. I do not paint by numbers like many painters do. That way just does not work for me.

For added depth I use oils, and occasionally ink, but I use these sparingly. I love oil paints over acrylics, you can get lovely effects (well to my eyes anyhow).

All the shields were hand painted. The Romans are Legio Quinta Macedonia, with a member of Domestici Equites picking up the Draco. Both taken from the Notitia Dignitatum. I think that soldiers probably painted their own shields (or paid an individual to do it) The don’t all look exactly the same.

Sassanid heraldry can be found with some oblique internet searching. Apparently all the nobles had their own colours and emblems, not unlike western heraldry. There is also quite an amount of Sassanian textile, showing traditional patterns and symbols- Islamic oppression notwithstanding- still in use today. Foremost among these expressions of Persian power is the Shimurg, the half lion half peacock. There is no way on god’s (choose your own) green earth that I could paint these on this scale. So I got my rather talented daughter to draw them,  I then scanned them, coloured them in Photoshop, reduced them then printed them as decals – along with some other details I didn’t think I could convincingly do. If anyone has a better method of going about this PLEASE  tell me!!

The shields were hand painted though. I am especially pleased with the peacock shield one of the cavalry men carries. I tried to put little patterns on the clothing though I am concerned that through my Optivisor they look rather crude.

All figures were gloss varnished before a coating of the wonderful dullcote.

And that’s it really. I right enjoyed myself with this project. There are lots of things I learned, which is always a good thing.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to post them here.




4 responses

  1. Thank you Paul!
    I know about the Little big Men decals, but I wanted something different. On reflection it would have probably been easier to go down that route.

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