27 May 2017

Alan Bligh Remembered

Alan Bligh - 1974 to 2017
This is not something I ever wanted to write. 

Alan Bligh died on the 26th of May 2017 after a brief fight with cancer. 

I met Alan in 2003. I was on the edge of deciding that a career in academia was not for me, he looking for something to do after going through university as a mature student. We both answered adverts for part time mail order staff to work at Games Workshop. They employed us both, and I got both a job that lasted a couple of years, and a once in a lifetime friendship. Now, facing the prospect of the future without him, and seeing the impact that he has had on people, made me want to tell those not as lucky as me what he was like.

Alan had a fierce intelligence, boundless creativity, and a will to put them to use. It’s fairly common to find people who want to write, or design games. Lots of people have lots of ideas and some of them might even think about doing something with them, but mostly those people only get as far as having the idea. 

Alan was different. He did things. 

You would talk to him about an idea for a game setting, for a universe, for a game, and the next time you saw him he would hand you a thick block of printed pages. 'I rattled something out,' he would say, or 'I confabulated* those notes'. And what he would hand you wasn't a rough draft it was a fully fleshed out piece of work. 

I am not kidding, look:

The top one is from 2004 when Alan was still just a guy in mail order
In all the years I knew him, Alan never stopped working, never stopped creating, never stopped tweaking and fiddling with projects. We came up with an RPG rule set based on a draft I did back in 2003. He was still mucking about with it last year. His spaceship combat system, Star Killer, had so many iterations that the best idea when playing a test game was to ask for a fresh print out each time. His idea of a break was to switch gears into a different project. 

He believed absolutely that this nonstop creation was the business of anyone who took their craft seriously; 'You never know when it will be useful,' he would say. And he was right. I have one of the only copies of an Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator codex that Alan wrote twelve years ago. Flicking through you see terms like 'paragon of metal', 'sarcosan wave generator', and 'volkite'. When it came time to do the Mechanicum for Horus Heresy, so much of it was already there, in his head and on the page. That wasn't a one off either. He worked and reworked, and stored and confabulated without cease.

Why? Because he loved it, and he was very good at it. 

At the back of this, feeding his abilities like a petrol tank was a vast consumption of ideas, media, and books. Especially books. 'The problem, John, is that writers need a wider erudition.' He was right, and he had erudition to spare, and then a bit more. He read widely and deeply, and in places that would surprise you. He knew enough about the structure of the medieval Catholic Church to break it down, spindle it, fold it with other alloys and hand it back to you looking like nothing you could dream. I watched him once go toe to toe with a well-known authority on Horror cinema and come off better in a battle of obscure filmic knowledge. He also could tell you the plots of most musicals between about 1950 and the present day. Go figure.
Pure Alan - 'Well I want it to feel a bit like the Romano Germanic boarder under Augustus, you know?'
And he put all of this to use. You could say 'Shall we make it read a bit like a late Victorian history book?' when talking about a project, and he would reply 'Ah, yes, but, there is a thing...' and then suggest a specific slant on the suggestion, because he knew both exactly what late Victorian history books were like, but also that what you actually meant were those books that were written specifically to illustrate the growth of the British Empire. It was head-spinning, but it was the best fun you could have when making things up for a living.

I was lucky, Alan was my friend, colleague, and collaborator, which meant that even when the work was hard, it was fun.

The best book to co-write. Ever.

My single favourite project was working with him, and for our mutual friend Mike Mason, on ‘Disciples of the Dark Gods’ for the Dark Heresy RPG. We had two months to write the whole thing, and it was incredibly stressful. Late night phone calls, seat of the pants writing, fear and terror and corrupted hard drives; we had it all, but we poured ideas and then some into that book. I did my share but much of the pure sparkle was Alan. Get a copy if you can, go read about Vile Savants, and the Menagerie, and the Beast House, and you are seeing Alan having some of the best fun of his life. 

There is a lot more about him than I have space to tell, the things that make him a person who lived and laughed, and was wanting to do more right up to the end:

- The half dozen personal projects that he had on the go.
- His admiration of the stories of Manly Wade Wellman. 
- His love of the Phantasm films. 
- His joy of good conversation in good company. 
- His habit of inviting people around to play board games on Halloween and plying everyone with ghost themed chocolate. 
- The way that you always tell a miniature Alan had painted because they somehow always became works of horror, frequently with the eyes drilled out...
Look! No eyes!
A classic set of Bligh miniatures 

- His obsession with the TORG RPG.

- The way he would say 'Greetings, upon this day,' as I sat down for a cup of tea in Bugman’s. 
- The habit that electronic devices had of destroying themselves as soon as he touched them. 
- His fierce, fierce loyalty to his friends.

I will miss all of this and so much more. I will miss seeing Alan's craft and talent create fun for thousands of people, but, most of all, I will miss my friend. 

Rest easy, chap.

*A peak Blighism

22 May 2017

The Lamp Bearer - An AoS28 Character

Light. That's what they all ask for. No matter who they are, they want light. They want to see it again. They want to feel it's warmth on their face. They want to know that - in this age of night' tyranny - light still exists.'
- Azubiades the Elder

'Gods do not walk these realms. They abandoned us to the dark, and left only candle flames to comfort us.'
- inscription on a wall in the city of Azyrplos

'All souls are shadows beneath the sun.'
Lord-Castellant Arachidamia

This is my first miniature for AoS28* - A blind Lamp Bearer of the Order of the Last Illumination. He is a vagabond daemon banishers, and spirit scourge who roams the tide line where Chaos has rolled back from the Mortal Realms. The Lamp Bearers are the most spiritually strong of the Order, a fact tested by starring into the brightest flame until they loose sight.. So tested they go out into the lands to face daemons, warlocks, and those who, in their hearts, are slaves to darkness. 

Part preacher part exorcist, he carries a book of instructions for banishment bound in human skin, scrolls of abhorrence, and, of course, a lamp. The lamp is both holy symbol and weapon against the powers of Chaos. It's light is said to make the unclean shrink from its bearer, and even drive daemons from the flesh of the living. 

Lightless Lands 
The Order of the Last Illumination exist of the margins of the Mortal Realms. While Sigmar is waging war against Chaos, far away from these grand battles, there are lands where there has been no flash of liberating lightning, no warrior-heroes coming in glory to strike down the darkness.  Memories of hope and the power of gods cling to these lands, alongside the remnants of Chaos. Unclean spirits, starved daemons, blighted witches and those who still make offerings to the dark gods. They are benighted places where the dark lingers in the soul as much as in the sky. In such realms even the light of a candle is revelation. 

Thought Notes 
I really didn't start with an idea, I just started putting bits together and hacking at plastic. Well, sort of, because I did start with the Necromancer and that makes this part of a long tradition of Necromancer conversions. The thing that really pivoted the whole idea in my mind was when I found the lamp - a bit from the old Mordheim accessory sprue. That had an obvious link to heroes like the Lord-Castellant, as a tool for daemon banishing. It also fitted with the idea of bringing literal light to the dark. The idea of the Lamp Bearers being blind came once I had stuck the lamp in place. Looking at the miniature the story of Diogenes and the lamp came to mind. A holy man holding a light he cannot see felt like it fitted really well with a paradoxical, bleak reading of Age of Sigmar. 

I started to think along lines of post apocalyptic story settings and how they pivot  around a single scarce resource. What if that scarce resource was light and hope? That would make any lamp, or flame coveted, and revered. A cult built around light and illumination in a land of figurative and literal darkness grew in my mind, and the lamp bearer became not just a lone figure, but a representative of a harsh creed bred from bitter times.

In terms of painting, I tried to do everything that I would not normally do. Normally, I basecoat and highlight my miniatures conventionally. The Lamp Bearer did not get that treatment, but instead was blasted with black undercoat, and then a crude spray of white from above using Corax White in a can. Everything, apart from the metals and the wood of the staff, were done with washes and inks, all worked wet over the undercoat. A few extreme highlights on the hair and Typhus Corrosion worked over the metal of the lamp and hem of the robe finished it off. The base deliberately blends with the colours of the miniature with just a little red rust weathering powder for contrast; he is meant to feel like his robes are dusted with the earth he walks over. 

*If you don't know that is head over here for a good summary. Essentially, it is a creative movement that takes Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and looks into its hidden corners with night tinted spectacles. A bit of searching on Google images and Instagram is probably the best way to find out what it's all about.