Picking a Dark Elf Sorceress: Adventures in Male Gaze

Recently I have been shopping around for a new Sorceress miniature for my Dark Elf army and I realized that I didn’t really like most of the existing games workshop miniatures. I read a really great piece of advice with regards to character creation that I really took to heart. If you’re a man and you are trying to create a compelling and interesting female character you should ask yourself whether or not you would want to be her. Not whether you would want to date her, or impress her, or protect her or anything like that. Many writers fall into this trap of treating women as these mysterious “others” who don’t have a direct relationship with the audience and their feelings and thoughts are communicated only by filtering them through the eyes and ears of the male protagonist. If you want to have an awesome female character, she needs to be an actual person with her own story arc, needs and goals independent from those of the male protagonist. Furthermore (and that’s crucial) she has to be cool and interesting enough for you as an author/creator to identify with.

Granted, I wasn’t creating a fleshed out literary protagonist, but merely imagining some background fluff for my tabletop general. So a lot of the above does not necessarily apply. Still, I kinda wanted a miniature that would represent a strong, independent Elf woman who is both feared and respected by her underlings. I wanted her to be a graceful and distinguished but also ruthless and intimidating. In essence I kinda seen her as Cersei Lanister, if she had magic powers and a personal army at her disposal and no one in particular to answer to. Or maybe an evil Galadriel who has fully succumbed to the lure of the ring. That’s the kind of character I had in mind.

This is more or less the mental image I had of her:

Cersei Lanister

Cersei Lanister

The basic idea behind her is that she is a highborn sorceress with a lot of power and influence. She is as much a magic user as she is a shrewd politician and a power player in the Nagarroth court. The rather subtle dress Cersei is wearing in the picture above would be a perfect representation of what she would wear on a regular basis. It looks expensive, but is not extravagant showing off her status, without really flaunting it. She eschews elaborate, full-on mage gear because she does not need to telegraph her power. People know her face, and know her reputation well enough to show proper respect or stay clear.

I figured I would just grab the model labeled “Dark Elf Supreme Sorceress” from the official Games Worlshop website because that sounded about right. It sounds like someone with a lot of power and gravitas. Unfortunately, this is how the model looks like:

Supreme Sorceress

Dark Elf Supreme Sorceress

I have a whole number of issues with this miniature. For one, it is a prime example of the “dynamic pose” thing that Games Workshop has been doing lately with varied success. Many of their new miniatures are sculpted in such a way as to convey sense of movement. When it works, it looks really cool. Other times, it falls flat – like on the Supreme Sorceress. I have no clue what does the smoke/mist snake thing is supposed to represent and frankly, it looks quite silly. Not nearly as silly as the damage Slave Leia outfit she is wearing. Can someone explain to me why does it come with only half a bra?

I might be wrong here, but I don’t think her attire is in any way practical or empowering. I have a hard time imagining the Dark Elf version of Cersei (let’s call her Xersei) that I just made up in my head, actually choosing to show up to battle like this. Another sorceress might actually find this attire cool, but I think Xersei would rather wear something more comfortable and warm (Dark Elf homeland Nagarroth is also known as The Land of Chill, and not because they are laid back people, but because it is a permafrost tundra and ice wastelands). She would go for something that would show of her wealth, power, status as a noble born and a magic user, rather than maximize skin exposure and sexiness because I consider these things more integral to her identity.

So Supreme Sorceress model is out. Let’s try the “standard” sorceress model:

Dark Elf Sorceress

Dark Elf Sorceress

I have very mixed feelings about this model. On one hand, I really like the static pose, and the subtle gear. One of my ongoing complaints about the Dark Elf sculpts are the out-of-control, extravagant head pieces that I usually clip off or file down. I’m all about the simple looking magic staff, and the very subtle head-gear on this model.

On the other hand, I have same complaint as above: I just don’t think this is the right fashion sense for my Sorceress given the head cannon I made up for her. She could perhaps be an apprentice – a secondary level 2 mage in the army or something. But not my cunning, ruthless aristocrat Xersei.

So, does Games Worshop sell any Dark Elf sorcerer models that are fully clothed? Well, there is this old sculpt from the 90′s:

Old Sorcerer Sculpt

Old Sorcerer Sculpt

This is much better. The cloth to skin ratio seems about right at the first glance, thought if you look closely enough you will notice that the sculptor could not resist actually having her entire leg poke out from the folds of her cloak for added “sexy”. In fact, I think he tried so hard to get as much of leg surface exposed I think he actually broke her anatomy. There does not actually seem to be enough space between where her waist ends, and the leg starts to account for hip bones. So her cloak is either a trans-dimensional portal of some sort, or she has the extra-special super-heroine anatomy rightfully mocked by Hawkeye Initiative, Escher Girls and similar blogs.

I am also not very fond of the Madonna styled conic bra thing she has going. In fact the entire outfit is too Maleficent, and not enough Cersei for my taste. Which reminds me, I should get around to watching Maleficent, because I heard it is actually slightly not terrible for the most part.

While this is the closest we got to what I wanted so far, it is far from perfect. I actually own this model, and my goal was to replace it. The extra-ordinary anatomy, mega-shoulder-pads, cone-bra and crazy head-gear aside, I’m not actually very font of the facial detail on this model. Unlike the two miniatures featured above, this one was hand sculpted rather than computer generated. Working in 28mm scale using Green Stuff™ as your primary scuplting medium is not easy and in the 90′s warped or lop-sided faces were a common problem on elf and human models (not so much on Dwarfs who typically had larger faces, and bushy low detail beards that could be used to mask any defects).

Perhaps I was looking in all the wrong places. Dark Elf army book actually includes rules for Morathi, the most powerful and influential dark sorceress of them all. She is actually one of the oldest living beings in the Warhammer universe, and some say she is actually the true ruler of Nagaroth (and that her son, Malekith the Sauronesque Witch King is merely a figurehead). Out of all the miniatures in the Dark Elf range, hers should have the right mix of power, gravitas and grace…

Morathi

Morathi

Nope, never mind. She is also wearing an armor-plated bikini, because of course she would. I don’t even know what I was expecting.

There is one more sorceress model in the range I didn’t show you which is probably the best of all of them:

Sorceress on a Cold One

Sorceress on a Cold One

She has an almost functional armor, and a strong Xena Warrior Princess vibe to her, which isn’t actually a bad thing. She would make an excellent battle worn, front line mage. That said, I was still stuck on my Xersei idea. Also, I didn’t want to put my Sorceress on a Cold one because she would typically be embedded in a big infantry unit or running around on foot.

This, by the way is the entire available range of Dark Elf magic users. What really irks me about it is how one note all of them are. I do understand they are trying to make the miniatures unique, and so they are all highly stylized so that when you put a Dark Elf Sorceress, a High Elf mage and a Woof Elf Spell Singer next to each other there would be no question which is which. So they do need a distinctive art style. I just don’t like the one they chose.

All of these designs are designed for male gaze. Their attire doesn’t make any sense fluff wise. For one, Nagaroth is a cold and windy place, and male models are usually sculpted wearing heavy, layered clothing and/or fur under their armor. For example, check out this Dreadlord miniature:

Dreadlord

Dark Elf Dreadlord

This guy is all bundled up underneath his plate armor, and his base is modeled to mimic snow and ice, which are common in Naggaroth.

Secondly, Sorceresses are typically wealthy, affluent and powerful, so one would expect them to wear warm ornate cloaks rather than run around half naked. Nearly all the women in the Dark Elf range are depicted as wearing these skimpy metal bikinis, and it’s for the sole reason of titilating the men and boys who are presumed to be the core consumers of the game. We can discuss Witch Elves and Harpies at some other time maybe.

Funny thing is, when I searched outside of the Games Workshop range it was actually trivial to find a model that looked exactly the way I wanted:

Xersei

Dark Elf Sorceress by Reaper Miniatures

This one is made by Reaper Miniatures and it gives off the exactly right vibe. She is wearing a rather simple, but still rather expensive looking dress with some fancy ornaments. She is carrying a magic tome, and a simple staff crowned with a menacing looking skull and some dark crystal that can be painted to look like it is giving off a sinister glow. The evil looking staff and the claw-like appearance of her free hand telegraph the fact she is definitely not one of the good, kind elves. It’s perfect.

So it is not impossible to make an interesting Dark Elf model without resorting to a skimpy chain-mail bikini. The Cold One sorceress is a good example of that, and this one is another. With five available models in the range I just wish there was a bit more variety.

You should note that I am not saying all of this to be a prude. I am refraining from passing a judgment of whether or not the loin-cloths and half-bras are “appropriate” or “respectable” because it all really depends. Besides, who am I to try to pass judgment or police what women choose or choose not to wear. All I’m saying is that none of these models felt right for the character I made up in my head, who in turn I heavily based on another character in a popular Fantasy series on TV. None of them screamed Cersei at me. But perhaps it is unfair to criticize a limited line of models for not having the exact miniature you think you want.

Here is the thing though: if you look at all the available models together, and compare them to for example male characters for the same army, you will notice certain patterns emerging. So really, I just want you to notice them and ponder what do these patterns say about us (the Warhammer players), and our hobby.

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Tectonic Craft Studios Movement Trays

In Warhammer tabletop game most models move and fight as units anywhere between five and sixty models strong. To simplify the game, they are mounted on square bases that can be arranged into neat unit grids that look a little bit like this:

Warhammer Saven Unit

Skaven unit 20 models strong, arranged in 4 ranks of 5 models.

The unit above is actually kinda small for that particular army: Skaven are actually very weak troops so you usually want your units to be at least 30 strong, and if you can get away with it you want to set them up 10 models wide to benefit from the “horde” special rule. But I digress. As you can probably tell from the picture, moving such block of miniatures every turn is a non-trivial task. Repositioning models one by one will take forever, making an already slow paced game unbearably long and boring for your opponent. Pushing the back of the unit with a ruler and measuring tape doesn’t usually work well, because it causes models to crowd together and fall over. As a result most Warhammer players use “movement trays”.

A movement tray is basically a flat piece of paper, cardboard or plastic that you put underneath your models to facilitate movement. They are basically something you need to play the game and forgetting to bring enough trays to a game usually results in a mad scramble to find paper/cardboard and scisors to make them on the fly. I actually made an online service that lets you print out paper trays ready to be cut out to save you the time and effort needed to trace and measure stuff. Granted, most people prefer to have more permanent movement trays made out of something more solid than a piece of paper.

Since the game is a modeling hobby, many players opt to make their own trays out of various materials. For example my brother cuts them out of PVC tiles and then flocks and paints them. I tend to be rather lazy and have no patience for cutting, filing and trimming square slabs so I typically take the easy way and buy trays.

If you are in the market for trays there are many options available for you as there are many third party vendors that make them. Most of the pre-made trays you can buy typically come in select dimensions that correspond to most common unit sizes such as 5×5 or 6×5. Many also try to make products that can be used for both the 20mm and 25mm bases (both of which are common in Warhammer) usually resulting with a rather narrow selection. Games Workshop sells their own branded modular set that lets you build your own trays, with a minimum effort:

Games Workshop Movement Tray Set

Games Workshop Movement Tray Set

This is a very nice option, but unfortunately it does require a lot of cutting and measuring. The borders stoppers that you stick around the base to prevent models from sliding off are rather oddly sized. For example, the most common base size in Warhammer is 20mm, and the most common unit configuration is twenty models arranged in 5×5 square. You would think that they would manufacture their set in such a way that it would merely require cutting the base to size, than taking 4 corner pieces, and 4 border stoppers and gluing them around. Unfortunately the pieces are half and inch to long and require you to trim them to fit together. If you want a “perfect” tray you will have to spend a lot of time measuring, cutting and filing them down to get a seamless fit. If you eyeball it and just clip the piece, you end up with small gaps that don’t actually affect the function, but don’t look very pretty.

Since I am super lazy and always on the lookout for things that can enable me not doing to much work, I have recently discovered Tectonic Craft Studios – a company that makes custom, laser cut movement trays out of medium density fiberboard. The company was successfully kickstarted (kickstartered?) back in 2012 as a terrain manufacturing startup, but they have since expanded their offering to Warhammer movement trays, 40k tournament racks and more.

The neat thing about their tray selection is that they are fully customizable. The online store lets you specify the base size, number of ranks and files and then a custom cut tray is going to be sent to your house. I purchased a number of trays in various configurations and I must say I am really pleased with their quality:

Standard Tray

8×3 tray for 20mm models

The MDF is a surprisingly good medium. It is light, but dense. The trays feel very solid, but still slide around the table quite easily. They come scored with a grid that makes arranging the miniatures easier after removing casualties. The raised border fits snugly around the bases and it is tall enough to prevent the models from sliding or tipping off, but not to obscure the legs or base finish.

Tectonic Craft Studios currently sell trays for every common base size: 20x20mm infantry, 25x25mm large infantry, 40x40mm monstrous infantry, 25x50mm cavalry, 50x75mm monstrous cavalry and even the 40x100mm chariot bases. They can all be cut to your specifications. For example, this is how a regular, single rank, cavalry base looks like with models on it:

Cavalry Base

5×1 standard 25x50mm cavalry base

My favorite product however are the skirmish trays. In Warhammer units with the skirmisher rule do not use the usual grid, rank and file formation. Instead they are to be deployed in a “lose” formation with models no further than 2″ apart. This means you typically have to move them model by model since there was never an easy way to arrange them on a movement tray… That is until now:

Skirmish Tray

Skirmish Tray with 10 Skaven Night Runners

Some might dislike this arrangement since the models are still positioned aligned to a grid and many players prefer to use more organic formations. I personally like it, because it fits with the 8th edition rules that stipulate that even in bulbous, random arrangement skirmishers still count as having flanks when it comes to combat. My armies are not usually very skirmish heavy, so I really appreciate this neat little invention that keeps my models in the 2″ coherency, and at the same time lets me move them with ease.

Skirmish Tray Closeup

Skirmish Tray Closeup

As you can see in the image above, the skirmish trays are perfect, snug fit for the 20x20mm bases. There is very little play, and the models stay in place even if you pick up the tray by one end and lift it all the way up. I only ever use 20mm skirmishers, but I was pleasantly surprised that the store page lets you bump the size all the way up to 50x75mm. I don’t even know if there exists a skirmisher unit that large (probably Ogre Kingdoms unit) but if you have one, you can buy a tray for it.

Now onto the bad stuff:

The production time for these trays seems to be somewhere between 2-3 weeks. It seems a bit long for what essentially is cutting squares to known dimensions, but I honestly don’t know their process so I won’t judge. The web store sends you an automated email confirmation but beyond that there is no way to check on the progress of your order, and there are no follow up shipment emails. The only way to check up on your order is to email the owner (you can do that by simply replying to your order confirmation) who, to his credit, responds to every email in timely manner and is very accommodating.

So far I have placed 3 orders with the company and the turnaround time was the same for all of them, though the owner assured me it is not actually normal citing personal issues, trouble with post pickups and a big order backlog as the reasons for the delays. I honestly don’t know if that’s true, but seeing how Tectonic Craft Studios seems to be a one man shop, I actually have no problem with 3 week production time as long as I know that this information is communicated to me up-front. Which is why I’m putting it in this review: not to knock the shop down, but to warn potential buyers to be patient.

My main complaint would be the packaging. The trays were shipped to me in a plain cardboard UPS envelope with no padding. The trays themselves are very sturdy and the material does not scratch easily, so they survived undamaged. Still, a little bit of padding (a padded envelope, or a sheet of bubble wrap would be perfect for this) would go a long way. The individual trays were not sealed or packaged in any way. Shrink wrapping them, or at the very least sealing them in labeled ziplock bags would actually give the operation a much needed air of professionalism.

The trays themselves are really neat, and worth overlooking long production times and a bit unprofessional packaging. They look great on the table, they can be painted with Citadel paints quite easily, and they are quite affordable. Unlike the packaging, the actual quality of craftsmanship on these pieces is really high so I highly recommend them.

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Spectacular Computer Failures: Part 2

My PC has died once again. This has happened before but it turned out to be a video card failure. I was able to identify the problem by listening to the beep-codes, ordered a new card and I was back in business. This time it seems like it is something a tad more serious.

I was talking about it this morning on Twitter so to avoid repeating myself over and over, let me embed my rant here:

From what I have gathered so far, the culprits can be:

  • The motherboard – when I replaced the video card last year I noticed one of the PCIe ports was not working at all, so it is likely that something on the board shorted out back then and I was simply really lucky to bypass it and get a whole another year out of the hardware. Replacing it wouldn’t make my sense because I would also likely need to replace the PSU and the CPU, expand memory, and with a new PSU I could actually get a new video card so I would essentially be building a brand new machine.
  • The PSU – I am told that a failing power supply can cause such symptoms. If the CPU and/or video card are not getting enough juice the system won’t even POST, but the chassis lights, fans and LED’s which only require low voltage may still be fully operational. Unfortunately I don’t have a spare PSU lying around to test this theory.
  • The CPU – someone said to take the fan and radiator off and re-apply thermal paste which may work, unless it’s already to late and it fried itself. You technically ought to be able to see/smell when a immolates itself, but other than eyeballing it I don’t really have a way of testing it.

I kinda hate these situations where it is really hard to tell what is going on. I honestly kinda hate working with hardware. I can tinker with software all day, but with hardware I always feel like I’m just throwing money on the problem and I can never be sure if I:

  • Replaced the wrong part (and the real problem is actually elsewhere)
  • Replaced the right part but somehow attached it or configured it wrong
  • Just damaged a brand new component by doing something stupid

At this point I am seriously tempted not to be frugal and just irresponsibly splurge on something I can have shipped to my house within a week, that I will be able to take out of the box and start using right away:

Anyone ever had a similar issue? Any troubleshooting steps that I’m missing? Any recommendations?

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