Miniatures Spotlight: Dark Sword Is A Delight
Written by Thessaly Tracy
A little part of me died inside when plastic became the favored material for making fantasy games miniatures. When the Dungeons and Dragons and Mage Knight collectible lines proliferated, I was thankful. Reaper was still catering to old grognards with their vintage sculpts and pewter castings. Then something unspeakable happened. Reaper went plastic as well.
So when I was asked by Multiverse to review a cross-selection of miniatures from Dark Sword Miniatures, I was pleased from the outset by the fact that the miniatures were still cast in metal. I hold metal in higher esteem than plastic when it comes to fantasy miniatures for a number of reasons, not all of which are nostalgic and sentimental.
Metal is unquestionably easier to paint than plastic is. There’s all manner of advice concerning washing and priming plastic miniatures so that they hold paint better. But it is the metal mini that’s generally ready to be painted right out of the packet. If a staff, sword, or bow is bent out of shape on a metal miniature, it’s easily remedied. These situations can be bent back into proper shape in a matter of seconds. That’s a far cry from the boiling water method popular among plastic miniature enthusiasts.
My unscientific opinion? Metal minis have a feel and a presence at the table that plastic minis, simply put, do not.
There’s a lot to like about these Dark Sword minis beyond just the casting material however. The sculpts under review, came from several different “lines” of Dark Sword product. Across the board, they’re finely-crafted with delicate textures. Details can be seen on clothing, weapons, and facial expressions. The forms are lithe and elegant, as opposed to the chunkiness you see in say, the Games Workshop miniatures. These minis reminded me, if anything, of the Ral Partha line. The same Ral Partha that set the standard for fine fantasy minis during the last quarter of the 20th century.
Consider the classic DeTerlizzi owlbear from the 2e Monster Manual. To make this amazing interpretation come even further to life, Dark Sword added two playful owlbear cubs to this mix. These are the kind of details that assist miniatures in really bringing a sense of realism to play. You know your party had better stay out of the way if they encounter a mother owlbear with cubs in tow. Or perhaps those party members would care to take their chances in order to capture an owlbear cub? In any case this is precisely how miniatures have the power to bring a standard encounter to life.
Another favorite mini from this batch is Harrek the Otter cleric. My campaigns tend to have a fair number of anthropomorphic animals, a la Narnia. Outside of the Mouse Guard minis these kinds of characters have remained overall fairly elusive and hard to come by. The otter looks properly friendly and fun-loving, whilst also looking like he wouldn’t be a pushover in a smackdown. Harrek is stockier than the elves or humans in this batch. Harrek holds a holy symbol that looks like a dead fish, whilst wielding a nice, heavy-looking mace.
A skilled painter could really show off with these minis. The amount of detail in the sculpts (even in the bases) is impeccable. Additional basing might almost be considered overkill. A less-skilled painter could also turn these minis into a fine representation of their own character. It will naturally look great at the table.
There is a high degree of variety in the samples in this batch. In addition to the unique design of more common archetypes like the helmed knight with sword and shield, there was also a dwarf in a hooded cloak holding a wrought iron lantern and hiding a dagger in his other hand. He struck me as being an unusual throwback in a time when most dwarves seem to be heavily muscled and wielding large axes or hammers. I also have in front of me a female hobbit ranger. There’s enough variety and innovation in the line to cover whatever unusual characters a player might want to create.
In short, I highly recommend this line of miniatures for use in tabletop roleplaying games. Wargaming miniature lines tend to produce more homogeneous models, with few unique or unusual sculpts.
Dark Sword bucks that trend.
These miniatures are geared more towards roleplaying gamers looking to represent the single character they have imagined playing. As a GM, I found the monster sculpt I received very unique. I’m interested in seeing more of what the line has to offer in terms of monsters. In short, these miniatures are, in terms of detailing, superior to the Reaper Bones minis that seem to proliferate at game tables these days. Moreover they are of finer (and more old school) materials.
The 28mm lead-free pewter minis appearing in the photos above were precision-primed by hand. Royal Langnickel aqualon detail brushes were used. Citadel ceramic white was the base paint of choice (acrylic, non-toxic, water-based.)
How To Do It:
To precision-prime minis by hand, aim for multiple thin coats/layers. Use a bristly brush that’s first been dipped gently in paint. Then dip the brush in water before applying these primer layers to the mini. “Two parts water to one part paint” is a good ratio for such a mixture on the brush. Spread the mixture evenly around the mini. Let each coat dry for 15 to 20 minutes, before applying the next coat. Three or four coats will do the trick.
Precision-priming minis by hand takes longer to do than spray-priming does (or misting does.) It’s still a nice and relaxing way to familiarize oneself with each particular mini. Before you know it, you’ll be ready for the next step (the actual painting.) Getting to know each little nook-and-cranny of each mini is all just part of the fun. Paint on!