When I was maybe ten years old I a won a copy of Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy game-book The Island of the Lizard King, which has quite recently been re-released as a smartphone app by Tin Man Games. I don’t recall if I ever finished the book back then, but the detailed monochrome line drawings had a huge influence over my drawing style – and of course, preferred subject matter. Although they suffered from poor quality printing on worse quality paper, I remember thinking that the best illustrations were impossibly great works of art, which I couldn’t even aspire to replicating.
It’s no surprise that one of the background characters in my illustrations for Majeena, by Michael P. Adams (available for Kindle) last year took some inspiration from Russ Nicholson’s Rhino-Man, mixed with some of John Howe’s Rhinoceros Armour. More on that below the cut.
Nicholson’s rhino-man illustrates an encounter in Steve Jackson’s The Citadel of Chaos. From the title, to the eclectic and anarchic list of creatures, to Russ Nicholson’s perfect illustrations, the whole book is gloriously evocative of the fantasy genre in the 1980s. Even 25 years later the book seems to be filled with original, imaginative and quintessentially chaotic characters, and very few stale tropes. So I’ve decided to embark on a side quest: to paint one miniature for each of the creatures encountered in the citadel.
I know I’m not the first person to try to paint The Citadel of Chaos, and other people have taken on Steve Jackson’s Trolltooth Wars (which requires some of the same miniatures). I’m also not the only one waiting for a new official line of Fighting Fantasy miniatures. Over the past couple of years there has been occasional news from Otherworld and Pure Evil Miniatures, both of whom announced ranges of Fighting Fantasy miniatures. With the exception of the Otherworld Zagor nothing has been released, and like an idiot waiting for payday I missed out on ordering him before they all sold. Otherworld have been busy producing the excellent Judges Guild range, which I am equally happy to see and likely to buy. I’m not sure what the status of the Pure Evil range is, but given the time elapsed since they announced it I suspect it’s not good news. Meanwhile, Tin Man Games have created a digital version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, with collectible digital figures – but no sign of physical miniatures, so no hope for an Iron Cyclops of my own.
From Titannica, the Fighting Fantasy Wiki, there are 19 unique creatures encountered in Citadel of Chaos. There’s actually perhaps a dozen others, including an unnamed Air-Elemental (which makes an appearance on the cover of the ‘dragon’ edition and gets a full-page Nicholson illustration), Butler, King, Leprechaun, Miks, Tentacle, Sorceress, and Wizard, although some of these are not encounters in the classic Fighting Fantasy sense. I decided that to be sure I missed nothing, I should buy the book. These arrived today:
As well as Steve Jackson’s Citadel of Chaos, I picked up Ian Livingstone’s Return to Firetop Mountain – an adventure peopled with an equally diverse range of creatures and characters. Next side quest? Probably. Between these and the Tin Man Games versions of Forest of Doom and Island of the Lizard King, I’m now the proud owner of my four favourite game books. And at the bottom of the pile is Jonathan Green’s You are the Hero, a history of Fighting Fantasy, which should help me find some inspiration.
So what will I be painting? I won’t spend long on the fantasy staples, but there are a few beasts in the citadel that I think will present a challenge.
- Ape-Dog and Dog-Ape: Much as you’d expect, this is a dog with an ape’s head and an ape with a dog’s head. I am not aware of any particularly close matches for this pair (other than the obvious – buying an ape and a dog and swapping the heads). Many of the Citadel Miniatures Chaos Beastmen from the 1991 ‘Red Catalogue’ or CP Models Dogs of War – might work for one.
- Balthus Dire: The chief antagonist and demi-sorceror. As the hero learns at the end of the adventure, this means he’s at least half a warrior general, and much more robustly built than the Warlock of the preceding book. In the absence of an official Otherworld miniature sculpt, I’ve found a decent proxy. Dark Fable Miniature’s ‘Prophet of Set’, the design of which was clearly inspired by James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom in the original film adaptation of Conan the Barbarian, and there’s more than a passing similarity between the warlord-turn-cult-leader and the demi sorceror. Indeed, note even the similar construction of their names: Balthus Dire and Thulsa Doom (although according to Jackson, the inspiration for Dire’s name came from somewhere totally different). Here he is:
- Black Elf: It’s surprisingly difficult to find a dark elf civilian, but I’m sure it’s possible.
- Calacorm: This is a two-headed lizardman, one of two that I remember from Fighting Fantasy (the second turning up in Island of the Lizard King). I’ve never seen anything really like this. I’m sad to have missed the Die Hard Miniatures Kickstarter, as their Two-Faced Sanvarr would be a decent stand-in (even though he’s a snake). They should be available to buy again later in the year. In the meantime, Reaper’s Demonic Lasher might work as a stand in – I know, it’s Demogorgon in all but name. It’s got baboon faces and tentacles. It’s probably quite a lot too big. But I quite like it.
- Clawbeast: Like above, as far as I know no company has ever produced a Clawbeast. I suspect that this monster – a sort of giant ape with four arms, each ending in a single hooked claw – was Fighting Fantasy’s answer to D&D’s hooked horror, for which a few alternatives exist. Since there’s no Nicholson illustration, and I’m not overly fond of the artwork in Out of the Pit, I’ll probably use my discretion and choose something large, threatening, clawed, and fun to paint, or a four-armed gorilla. Bronze Age make three different variants (and loads of cool Frank Frazetta stuff that I’d like to buy), or there’s the Fenris Games Fourambe, Great Polar Ape.
- Dwarf: It’s got green skin, so a Chaos Dwarf of some sort would probably be best.
- Ganjee: Would the Forgeworld Mourngul be overkill? It’s kind of big, but the ganjee is an iconic illustration and I feel like the mourngul captures his spirit, if not his exact look.
- Gargoyle: I can pick up a Reaper Bones gargoyle in Orc’s Nest, which is pretty near my office, for less than the price of a bus fare into town. Hooray!
- Gark: A goblin-giant hybrid. I’m not aware that there has ever been an official miniature of one of these. The Troll Leader from the soon-to-be-delivered Greenskin Wars Kickstarter has potential, as it has some goblin-like features. The closest match to Nicholson’s original gark illustration, for me, is possibly the Mierce Miniatures Mjagnir Jotunn, which really captures the same sense of feral savagery and rage. It’s very large – standing on a 120mm round base – and quite expensive though, and there are other big miniatures I kind of want to spend the money on more. A smaller alternative might be one of the Games Workshop Lord of the Rings half-trolls.
- Goblins: Like the dwarf from the same illustration, this pair of goblins should be easy enough.
- Golem: Otherworld Miniatures’ Stone Golem would be a more or less perfect miniature for this one; his hat matches the Nicholson golem’s silhouette really nicely. And I love Otherworld Miniatures.
- Short and Tall Humans: Almost any retro adventurer/villager/henchman combination from almost any manufacturer will work for these two. Dark Sword’s Male Warrior with Crossbow looks quite like the “tall” human, and Otherworld’s Human Male Assassin isn’t too far off the short one (sans beard).
- Hydra: There are loads of hydras out there but the Citadel C29 Hydra is perfect, with it’s snake body, lack of overly dragon-like features and reasonable size. I suspect the miniature and the illustration are connected. Back in 1987 it retailed at £1.95 – I should be able to get it for the same price now, right? Right?
- Orc: I don’t actually have many orcs so it’s perhaps time to invest. I’m really not into the lantern-jawed, post-Warcraft Orcs with their bodybuilder physiques, but in the illustration (the same scene as the Dwarf and Goblins) Nicholson depicts a pretty run-of-the-mill Orc soldier in close fitting leather armour. There’s a great Zhu Bajiee post on the Unnatural History of the Fighting Fantasy Orc, the closest minis I’ve found are found in the Warlord Games orc sprue.
One of the wonderful things about Russ Nicholsons Orcs is how threadbare, downtrodden, grumpy and human they are.
- Rhino-Man: I will be using Studio McVey’s Kifaro, who is arguably more of a brontotherium than a rhinoceros. There are a few other miniatures which would work well, including the Mierce Qaano, Srónax Untain (which is a really sweet model so I might buy it anyway) and Fenris’ more affordable Rogerick the Rhino, which I believe is a pretty sizable miniature. If you want more of a challenge, there’s the Citadel Miniatures C27 Chaos Beastmen ‘Rhino Man’ which I’ve never seen anywhere.
- Sewer Snake: Any large snake. Here’s two. It’s Otherworld again.
- Spider-Man: This is basically a small D&D drider (so it should be quite easy to pick up something). Or if I feel like animal-faced men is the way to go, I could flip the spider-man on it’s head and get a ‘Herald of Malice’ or ‘Loec the Hunter’ when the Pantheon of Chaos miniatures are available to buy online. The Pantheon of Chaos range also includes just about the most Fighting Fantasy-esque lizardman I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame he only has one head.
- Wheelies: It’s great that these come last alphabetically, because it really is saving the best until last. I don’t think anyone ever has or ever will produce wheelies commercially. So far the closest equivalents I’ve found are the Rackham Confrontation Goblin Mad Wheels (which lets face it, aren’t in any way the same as Wheelies) or the Bushido Wanyudo (which is much too big on a 40mm base). It might finally be time for me to learn how to sculpt!
- The Grand Wizard of Yore: I can’t remember this character at all. He is an old white wizard of great power. I expect any wizard would be OK though.
- King Salamon: A wise man of action and King of the Vale of Willow, again, plenty of kings out there.
- Leprechaun: Paddy O’ Furniture the Belligerent, Drunken Leprechaun from Ginfritter’s Gnomish Workshop is an interesting model which looks like it’s packed with lots of details for its size. At $9.95 delivery to the UK would be almost double the price of the miniature though, so I think finding something on the domestic market or bundling an overseas purchase up with something bigger might be the way to go.
- Spy: A half-elf spy.
- Wounded Man: as described.
- Air Elemental: Off to a shaky start for this last section; the RAFM Air Elemental looks nothing like the living whirlwind in Nicholson’s illustration, but it does come with a summoning wizard which I quite like. I like the Rackham/Confrontation Elemental of Air much less than their Fire, Water and Darkness brethren and I think I’d struggle to paint it. Even in their Web store it’s unpainted.
- Butler: The old Citadel BC5 Melnibonean ‘Tanglebones‘ looks a lot like the illustration, but I reckon he’ll be tricky to find at a reasonable price.
- Devlin: A sort of fire sprite. Not many miniatures fit the bill here, but there are always Games Workshop’s Brimstone Horrors.
- Fire Demon: Dire takes on this form. It doesn’t get much of a description but there are a lot of fire demons in production.
- Ghosts: A female ghost and a host of spirits. Plenty of options.
- Giant Scorpion: The adventurer creates the illusion of a giant scorpion towards the end of the book. Again, this should be easy.
- Gorgon: Another form taken on by Dire in the final encounter, and another common miniature.
- Hags: There are three of them. They’re not quite as popular as the above, but there are plenty of alternatives.
- Infant Orcs: How about the Orcling Booze Up from Warmonger for these infant orcs?
- Miks: These don’t get much of a look-in on the Wiki – other than the rather creepy quote below – and there’s no illustration in the book. I think I remember them as kind of like nasty little pixies. I have an idea that since they are described as “masters of illusion”, and seem to have some sort of administrative role in the citadel, that maybe the new Blue Scribes of Tzeentch from Games Workshop might be a fitting pair.
The Miks’ favourite weapon is the Needle Knife, a stiletto-like dagger
- Sorceror’s Apprentice: The master of the citadel’s games room.
- Sorceress: Plenty of options. The adventurer – and it’s you, so we’re all complicit – distracts her with a mirror. Fighting Fantasy did delve into a few sexist and racist tropes over the years, which is a shame given how incredibly diverse their world is – dozens, maybe even hundreds of different sentient species.
- Scouts: Pictured as skinny little elfin creatures. These are hard! Elves are always too tall and heavily armed, dwarves too robust, halflings too recognisable with their feet and gnomes to rare and expensive. I might just call it quits on any semblance of visual similarity and use the Marauder dark elf scouts. They kind of have the right hair (OK, they don’t) and they aren’t ridiculously heavily armed (OK, they are).
- Tentacle: Fenris’ Mistbeast Tentacle.
- Winged Gremlins: Three of them! Not a common miniature, but Dark Sword’s DiTerlizzi Masterwork Stirge Attack Pack or Titan Forge’s Jawbats both seem like they would be fun to paint.
I’m sure I’ve missed some encounters, creatures and characters, but at a rough count that’s 49 miniatures already – and so far I have painted zero. This could take a while, so I’d better get started!