Well a few months back now I interviewed Rob Lane, then of BaneLegions, about their miniature line and tried teasing a few tidbits of information out of him. It was a fairly long interview, but people seemed to enjoy it and it certainly got a fair few hits. So when I heard that things were all change at BaneLegions, Templars Forge and Maelstrom Games I decided to ask him a few more questions, to see if I could clear up what is going on for you all.
FrontLine Gamer: So then, the times they are a changing at Templars Forge, Maelstrom Games and BaneLegions, or according to your press release they are! There are a number of new names to get used to, most notably Mierce Miniatures. Can you talk us through the logic of starting up Mierce Miniatures as a separate entity from Maelstrom Games?
Rob Lane: Mierce Miniatures the company is the end result of thoughts we had when Maelstrom Games first started to produce miniatures, but it has really been kick-started by the available space - there isn't enough, we're growing so fast - and the environmental conditions we've had to work in, which have been awful, frankly. Producing polyurethane resin miniatures has to be done in a well-ventilated space with an even temperature, and only by moving somewhere suitable could that happen, and we felt that having another property in the possession of Maelstrom Games simply wasn't the best way to go.
Additionally, having Mierce Miniatures separate from Maelstrom Games makes things a lot neater for myself as Managing Director of both companies and enables us to pursue funding for Mierce Miniatures as a creative new manufacturer, rather than part of an older retail company.
|The Darklands logo, which will be all but replacing the old BaneLegions one.|
FLG: Along with the switch over to Mierce Miniatures comes the news that the Banelegions range is moving over to Darklands. Is the entire range moving over to Darklands, or will some remain in the BaneLegions range? If so what miniatures are going into which ranges?
RL: Around 90% of the available BaneLegions range is moving to Darklands - basically, anything that doesn't fit the setting for Darklands will stay as a BaneLegions miniature. As I've said previously, Elves, Dwarfs and Orcs won't feature in Darklands, so they certainly won't be moving!
To clarify, these miniatures will be staying in the BaneLegions range:
BNB-008 - Oácyning, Lord of the Oak-Enta
BNB-015 - Ophius, Gorgon Lord (although a wingless version will represent Ophius in Darklands, which will be released in December)
BNL-003 - Guillame le Pèlerin, Vagrant Knight
BNL-005 - Erec One-Arm Dwarf of Càrn Corm
BNL-006 - Cynuise of Old, Barrow-Knight Banner Bearer
BNL-008 - Alassar, Bearer of the Dragon Standard
BNL-011 - Ornung, Bone Orc Shaman
BNL-012 - Nagausith, Black Ælf Augurer
BNL-015 - Viktor cel Rău, Vojvod of Ardeal
Everything else is moving to Darklands, with new codes, (some) new titles and so forth.
|The BaneLegions Logo won't disappear for good, but the range will be reduced.|
FLG: Do you plan to continue to support the BaneLegions range then? Not just by continuing to produce those miniatures you already do but also by releasing new miniatures for the range?
RL: Yes we do, but at the moment all our attention is focused on Darklands, and rightly so. We intend the BaneLegions range to become a generic fantasy resource and will add to it from time to time, as we feel like it, or as something comes up!
FLG: I’ve got to ask about the name Mierce Miniatures. I take it Mierce is a reference to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia rather than the Yiddish version of the word, which means ugly! What was the reason behind the name?
RL: Er, yes - it's in reference to the Anglian (not Anglo-Saxon) kingdom of Mercia. Mierce is the Old English version of Mercia, pronounced “Mer-sher”, with the stress on “Mer”, and as Mercia is where I am from (as well as most of my staff!) we thought the name fitted perfectly.
As well as that, you can't beat a bit of alliteration!
FLG: Alliteration is fun, also to be brutally honest with you given the size of Mercia as a Kingdom anyone who lives anywhere within the midlands both east and west is from Mercia, I am! Moving on, the next thing I have to ask you about has to be Darklands. It’s the name of your forthcoming game isn’t it? If so why Darklands? Is it just because it sounds good?
RL: “Darklands” describes the northwest of Europe in the so-called Dark Ages rather well, we think, and as there is already a wargame out there called Dark Age, we thought we'd better avoid that! That's the reason in a nutshell, really. Plus it sounds good!
FLG: I know I’ve pushed you before on this one, but now you’ve let the name of the game out of the bag, is there any chance I can encourage you to spill a few more details on the game?
RL: Yes, it involves miniatures and rules and measuring and dice.
FLG: Haha, I didn’t realise you were a comedian too Rob! However, I wouldn't give up your day job just yet. I’ve mentioned to a few peeps I know what you are doing with regards to the BaneLegions range, and also let slip that there would also likely be changes to the Templars Forge range of accessories. It caused more consternation than I honestly thought it would, so can you clear up for people what will be happening to the Templars Forge range of stuff?
RL: I am quite surprised about the consternation - although it's nice that people are concerned, it means they care! It's really quite simple. As the Templar's Forge range is heavily branded for Maelstrom Games, it must be changed to Mierce Miniatures for it to be produced by Mierce Miniatures. This takes time, and when that will actually happen I honestly don't know; but we do still have quite a stock of Templar's Forge products for those that want them in the meantime. The designs themselves won't change, but the branding will.
Moving Templar's Forge to Mierce Miniatures also ensures we have more freedom when it comes to producing more stuff; there are some products made for Templar's Forge that have not yet seen the light of day, and we hope they will be well received by the general wargaming public.
|These are actually exceedingly useful believe it or not!|
FLG: I think it’s mainly the area effect rings people are worried about, they’re quite popular amongst my friends! A few weeks back you may have noticed I caused a bit of a stir when I suggested that our hobby (like many other aspects of society) is in fact institutionally misogynistic. Given I have you here now, remiss of me not to ask you what you think. Especially as I mentioned your Sword Melusines in the article.
RL: Our hobby, institutionally misogynistic? As a whole? I'm not so sure about that, and I can only really speak for myself and Darklands; but, for sure, Darklands is a pretty misogynistic place to be, although its inhabitants wouldn't care about that on a cerebral level - they're too busy trying to stay alive and kill each other.
Just so this is clear to everyone reading this - Darklands is dark fantasy, with the emphasis on “dark”. It is not a nice place to be and we will pull no punches in its depiction. Violence is an inherent part of it and we will depict that violence without restraint. Similarly, sex is an inherent part of the world and that will be depicted without restraint. This is why our miniatures have all their working parts, for one thing. It will be a wargame and a setting for adults.
The Melusines are naked and have “extreme” body parts because they depict the Sheela-na-gig in living form, which - if you know your history - is open to interpretation; the Ysians, being rather depraved, have embraced them as a depiction of sexuality of an extreme type. The Ysians have a habit of mutating flesh too, which you should see already with the Brutes; the Melusines are no different, and neither are the Ax-Drunes (who should be released in December) and many other Ysian miniatures. Similarly, when we flesh out the Albainn (and some others), there will be naked men in their ranks, although they will be shown as nature intended and not enhanced.
I make no apologies whatsoever for releasing miniatures of naked humans, or any other creature. You either like the miniatures or you don't!
What the Melusines aren't - at least from our perspective - are some cheap boob-fantasy designed to excite the excitable, although in saying that I do not have anything against such things. That is for other people to debate. The Melusines are deliberately grotesque and deliberately extreme because we want them to be and for no other reason. The extreme reaction to them (at least on some forums) only proves the argument for them to exist in my eyes.
The minority on forums that have reacted extremely to them are perfectly entitled to their opinion, of course; but the Melusines have sold by the truckload, which means their opinions are not the only opinions to pay heed to. It is sad that for every naysayer there are ten others that buy a Melusine and won't go on forums to say why, but that is the nature of the internet: the ones that shout the loudest are usually the minority, and the majority fear to say anything in case they are turned upon.
|In case you're not sure what we're talking about.|
FLG: I actually think on the whole the debate on the article was civil and constructive, and not the normal ranting hate filled garbage that can often happen on the Internet. I also think the fact that you point out you can only speak for yourself only serves to prove the point that the hobby as a whole might exhibit institutionalized behaviours that individuals themselves are not perhaps directly aware of, and therefore directly responsible for. I guess in some respects it’s a bit unfair to judge the Melusines out of their universe context, but without that context there they are. Also I’m not sure commercial success is a valid argument for something’s existence, if it were we’d be able to buy crystal meth at local corner shops! Sometimes there needs to be some restraint, and when it comes to our hobby and the portrayal of females I just think that all to often designers reach for the ‘sexy’ button first and foremost. So why did you feel the need to include them in Darklands?
RL: As I said in the previous answer, because they represent a specific ideal within the Ysian faction - the Sheela-na-gig, as Euryalia does before them. We don't release any miniature for Darklands without thought as to how they “fit”.
I've got to pick you up on “Also I’m not sure commercial success is a valid argument for something’s existence”, because - as a father and with a mortgage - commercial success is the argument for something's existence, especially in these recession-hit times. Sure, pursue an ideal in business, as long as what you are doing is legal; but my three-year old son will not thank me if I cannot put food in his belly or a roof over his head if I create miniatures that do not sell.
|Eurayalia - from the Ysian faction.|
FLG: Of course things need to be commercially viable, otherwise what’s the point? The issue I was making is that if that’s the only justification for creating something it is weak and ultimately you could use that justification to argue for pretty much anything being fair game. Any way I think I’ve given you your right to reply on that, so moving away from sexism and that particular debate a little bit, your entire range hasn’t shied away I guess from showing beasties with todgers, schlongs, wangs, penises. This is clearly a design direction (as hinted at in an above answer) you have taken with your miniature range, was it a deliberate conscious decision, and if so why? Or was it something that just happened?
RL: It's a deliberate decision; we are trying to portray the denizens of Darklands in as realistic a fashion as possible, warts and all. Monsters don't just “happen” - they must have tackle, just like everything else that reproduces, and they wouldn't care about showing said tackle (except for protection purposes). We portray mutants and aberrations as well as “normal” monsters, of course, and it would be entirely at the whim of the mutators as to whether they have sexual organs or not, so some will and some won't.
|The first piece of exclusive concept art for you.|
FLG: So in terms of visual representation of your fantasy world as it were, is a firm grounding in reality important to you? Not just being historically as accurate as you can be, well, what with Polar Bear riding nut jobs, but in terms of not shying away from reality?
RL: Yea, as far as possible within that fantasy setting. It has to be grounded in reality, otherwise its higher fantasy than I would like. The way I look at it is very simple: is it likely? Is it too silly? If what I'm creating is likely and not silly, it's in!
FLG: As you’re clearly in a better position to reveal things about Darklands (like its name) are you in a better position to give us a stronger sense of the background and how it all fits together? Any new tidbits of information you can give us?
RL: Sure. I've given a short background to each “race” beforehand, but it should be noted right here and now that Darklands will not just be a wargame. Some wargames are all about the mechanics, and how you fight rather than why you fight. Worse, the background to some wargames are little more than lip service and many are written quite poorly. I would like even a casual player of Darklands to understand that he is playing a wargame he can believe in rather than something to kill a few hours.
For that reason, Darklands will be as “realistic” as possible. Words, and by extension the using of them, have a lot of power over the imagination and when you begin to play Darklands you will understand this because almost the very first thing you will do is use whatever race's coinage - instead of simply “points” - to create your army.
When you begin the battle, the time of the day, where the battle is fought and the weather must be decided, even in pick-up games because those three things will be an integral part of how things unfold. Instead of game “turns”, you will talk in terms of hours. Instead of victory points, you will speak about how many of your men are dead or wounded, and whether your enemy has left the field.
Thus, even from those few snippets, you should understand that Darklands will be somewhat different to other wargames in that it directly involves its setting - but equally, very understandable because it mirrors our own world and what would happen before, during and after a real battle even during gameplay.
|The second piece of exclusive concept art.|
FLG: I think the point you make about games existing for games sake is a valid one, often the background feels bolted on, almost an after thought. It’ll be interesting to see how you manage an ‘organic’ back story. For you personally how important is what gamers call ‘fluff’ to you? Thinking not only about Darklands, but other games you enjoy?
RL: The “fluff” is extremely important for me in terms of Darklands, but it doesn't mean it must be there for every other game. I like a game of abstraction as much as anybody else, but for what I'm creating... well, it must at least be believable. I've probably been far too cautious in that regard, because what I'm creating is based as far as possible in the real world, simply because I'm not a fan of “made-up” fantasy settings where the geography is wrong and the races are silly.
FLG: Do you have any new miniatures you would like to show us? Go on you know you want to.
RL: Absolutely! I've been keeping a lot of things back for a long while, simply because I wanted to wait until Darklands was unveiled, but now I can. Have a look at this lot, coming soon to a hobby store near you...
FLG: I’m guessing all these changes that you are making is predominantly because you are now progressing apace with the project as a whole. Are you happy with how things are going now? By that I mean is Darklands shaping up to be what you expected it to be when you first embarked on its development?
RL: It is in a lot of ways, but it has grown very organically since we decided to make miniatures. It almost writes itself, and I find some creations mutating into something entirely different from our intentions after I write briefs for them. I'm confident enough to allow that to happen, but there are also some really nailed-on concepts that we wanted to do from the very beginning that have formulated really well.
In short, the development of Darklands has gone almost how we expected, but for me personally it has exceeded all of my own goals in terms of what it could become, and I know there is also much more in our collective heads still to come out, and that's very exciting for me - and hopefully everybody who reads this!
FLG: That must be satisfying. If you were to describe Darklands then in generic terms, flesh out it’s personality if you will, how would you describe it and what can we expect?
RL: Darklands at its core is a parallel of our world, or at least the northwest Europe part of it, and it is very close to most of the belief systems that existed in the Dark Ages. If you look around at all nations and the people that make up those nations, virtually all of them identify themselves with beasts of some kind (such as the English lion or the Welsh dragon). Even today, we project upon ourselves the strength or the ferocity or the beauty of the creatures around us, believe ourselves to be like them and take strength from that belief. Following on from that, since ancient times, we have imagined man and beast as one form with the qualities of both - hence the centaur, or the minotaur, or the sphinx, or many other creatures.
Darklands is man and beast from history and legend thrown into a big mixing bowl, which gives me an immense amount of freedom to create new creatures and remake old myths. If you believe the Minotaur existed, then it follows that other creatures would also be mixed with man. Our extant fauna is very diverse, and if you include extinct fauna and megafauna... well, the possibilities are almost endless.
All Darklands asks is, what if the berserkers were actually bear-men, man and bear joined together? What if dragons really flew and giants really stomped around? What if all of the myths and legends we take for granted as such were drawn from creatures that actually existed? More importantly, how would “normal” humans interact with them, and how would the people that existed in the Dark Ages behave, if such things were true, and how would they interact with other people?
Thus, you can expect humans as they were in 650AD - as brutal and harsh as the environment around them - fighting with and against beasts and man-beasts and men alike. As a race, humans are extremely tribal, and it was even more so in that age, and believe me, there were plenty of tribes... so fret not: if your ancient civilisation existed in northwest Europe, it will be depicted eventually!
|The third piece of exclusive concept art.|
FLG: The myths and legends of Europe are indeed a rich source of material to tap into. Arguably most fantasy tropes and themes spring from these myths and legends. But you seem to be stripping back the layers of post Tolkien fantasy to try and get back to the original inspiration and start again if you will. Is that a fair assessment? And if so why have you done that?
RL: Yes, that's exactly what I'm trying to do; the root of all these myths and legends is basically the root of a lot of modern fantasy, if not most of it, but the reason I've stripped it back is because - for me - the roots are far more believable than most modern fantasy.
Most modern fantasy builds on Tolkien, which was itself built on to something else. Tolkien's world-making is frankly awe-inspiring, but it's still higher fantasy than the root. I want what's at the root!
FLG: There are so many myths, legends and tales within Northwestern Europe, how the hell do you decide which ones to run with, and which ones to leave well alone? Do you have a filtering process in place or is it just what interests you, or gut instinct?
RL: I'd be lying if I said there was a plan to it! It's gut instinct, really; what I think fits with the rest. You must understand that the northwest of Europe is simply the start of things, and even within that region there are some races or factions I haven't yet touched. There is just so much myth and legend out there!
|The fourth piece of exclusive concept art.|
FLG: Coming back to Mierce Miniatures and the fact it is a new start up, I suppose I have to ask this because it seems very de rigueur right now, but are you planning on doing a Kickstarter or crowd funding campaign for Darklands?
RL: Yes, we are.
FLG: Awesome! On crowd funding specifically I’d be interested in your opinions of it, from the perspective that you are now the managing director of a small miniatures company that could obviously benefit from such schemes, and the fact that you’re also the managing director of a retail store, that in effect could view sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter as pulling customers away from them. So where do you sit on the crowd funding debate?
RL: I think it's an awesome way to fund a creative project like ours, and for me it is very exciting - not just for Darklands, but for all the other creations that, for the want of a few thousand pounds, would not be made for us to enjoy.
In wargaming, it is especially crucial to have both miniatures and a rules set - one cannot grow without the other - and if cash is short, crowd-funding is a great alternative to the bank manager who, let's be honest, simply isn't lending at the moment; and not many bank managers lend to creative projects because they don't understand them.
I for one believe that banks should be very worried about crowd-funding, because there's almost no risk to the individual if only spare cash is added to the mix and it neatly sidesteps banks' onerous procedures and Jurassic thinking. More and more companies will source funding in this way, and I believe it is the individual that now matters in lending rather than a creaking old institution.
Crowd-funding is a co-operative of a kind, for it allows us - as consumers of wargames and miniatures and that kind of thing - to feel like we are a part of that project, to gain satisfaction from the fact that we have done something to benefit our hobby as a whole. That, to me, is a very good thing.
However, I do think the managers of those projects must be very careful to not lose money on these schemes, and ensure they will not be out of pocket at the end of it. It is very easy to promise all sorts of things on, say, Kickstarter; but you must be very sure of your costs before you promise those things.
|The fifth and final piece of exclusive concept art for you.|
FLG: I honestly think we must share pretty similar opinions on crowd funding. As somebody who has worked in the past on trying to get funding into businesses via the conventional methods, crowd funding is really exciting. But, equally for those trying to get funded via it there are pitfalls as you point out. I often think some Kickstarters can’t be making that much money when you take the free add-ons into consideration. But moving away from the negative for now, have there been any recent Kickstarter / Indiegogo campaigns you’ve been tempted by?
RL: Not really, if I'm honest - but then I haven't seen much because I'm so busy! The McVey one did tempt me, and I know some of the Mierce staff have put their money into that and some other Kickstarters; but I'm so focussed on what I'm doing I have very little time to look at things like that. Tim watches most things so he's my eyes and ears for that market!
FLG: Well I think I've taken up enough of your time and I think that seems as good a point as any to stop this, and let you get on with some work. Thanks again for talking to me Rob. You can visit Mierce Miniatures website here. Peace out!