Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Ambull: An Oldhammer-ish Painting Adventure

Combat Cards 4 Life, Dawg

One thing notably missing from current Games Workshop design principles is a cheap and cheerful "gateway drug".  It would be impossible to get a nerdy 13 year old into the hobby without a three digit price tag and (speaking very much from personal experience here) convincing random mates of yours who haven't tried the hobby before to play a several hours long game of Warhammer is a big ask.

Back in the Ye Olden Days things were a little difference. Citadel Combat Cards were an excellent little toy that I brought to the playground on many an occasion - cheap, quick and portable.  They were basically just Games Workshop-themed Top Trumps with some suggestions for more involved, complex games to play.  Every card had a picture of a gorgeous painted Citadel Miniature on them and individual Orcs, Space Marines, Ogres etc even had names - years later I can still remember some of those names.

Most of the creatures in the Yellow-bordered "Monsters" set are fairly classic mythological beasts like Ogres, Minotaurs, Trolls, Dragons etc along but there's a few odder examples.  Front and center is perhaps the strangest in the set, a 40K monster surrounded by Warhammer Fantasy beasties - the Ambull, a creature who I now have a painted example of

First appearance... and pretty much last appearance, if we're going to be honest.
First, some history.  The Ambull, a sort of burrowing ape/insect hybrid, makes it debut in the bestiary at the back of Warhammer 40,000 1st Edition.  A book which can't quite decide if it's a skirmish wargame or a roleplaying game, it assumes your battles will include a GM and features various animals & other non-combatants to use as complications to throw into a scenario.

One important thing to know about 40K is that, as surprising as it might seem to us know, Rick Priestly informs us that it wasn't initially considered to be likely to succeed.  Sci-fi games were rare and sci-fi figures in short supply so everything had to be made assuming that players would be mostly converting Warhammer, D&D, World War II and other fantasy figures to the task.  It became quickly apparent that wasn't the case but the bulk of the 1st Ed book was written under that premise - and the classic "Space Elves/Dwarves/Orcs" conceit was there as much for easy availability of figures as a stylistic conceit.  The Adeptus Arbites aren't just inspired by the Judges of Judge Dredd - GW were making figures of those judges, so including them was just common-sense.

The Warhammer rulebook, therefore, is filled with  creatures who are Expies of other things that GW was making figures of at the time - a lot of them D&D creatures, since Games Workshop had started supporting RPGs first and foremost.  The Ferro-Beast is a fairly obvious Rust Monster proxy, both in powers and insectoid appearance, while the Enslaver feels like a fourth hand recollection of what a Beholder looks like - round body, central eye, tentacles emitting...

1st Ed and 3rd Ed Umber Hulk art: spot the family resemblance!
The Ambull has similar roots.  The Umber Hulk, a somewhat B-List D&D monster, is the inspiration of this darling.  There's a clear physical and behavioural comparison, with a little bit of changing-to-avoid-breaching-copyrights thrown in.

Now, the Ambull is fun and all but it doesn't really fit the current Warhammer game style.  Random beasties running in, controlled by a third party, and fucking shit up is not really going to fly with someone raised on 2000s era Warhammer and it's mass battle, balanced points, quasi-tournament-conditions ruleset.  To be honest, not long after 1st Edition came out they already seemed out of place with how the game was evolving - in White Dwarf 99 there was an attempt to restyle them for use as trained beasts but it fell a bit flat.

Just a few months later and this article shows how quickly 40K was changing from quasi-RPG to wargame
So, that's the history over with - what about the pretty figure?

A plastic honeycomb of Ambull-y goodness.
Well, if you were hoping for an official Ambull figure, you have been let down.  A gentleman called Adam Devitt who I met on the Oldhammer forum had designed his own and sold me a 3D printed version thereof.  All the way from the US of A this came to me my post.  The above pic shows the model as I first received it - body, legs and two arms in a sort of faintly honeycombed plastic.

Now the previous data may have made you think Ambulls are human/ogre sized.  That's true - that's about who big the original figure was.  That's now how big this Ambull is, though...

Put together with a traditional Space Marine for scale.

No, Adam was a true American and decided that the correct thing to do to improve this was to make it BIGGER.   His Ambull, shown above with a Space Marine not even reaching his waist, is standing on a 75mm square base and is clearly a Queen Ambull, Dire Ambull, Gene-Spliced Ambull or some other oversized version.  He's quite intimidating looking!

I assembled him with some Millput to cover the joints and also to add a little bit of texture to the model.  I was a little nervous about painting it since the lattice of the printed plastic was visible to the naked eye and I feared it would end up looking a bit flat-  this would not be the case, however.

Some Milliput and a coat of Rhinox Hide and this'll be right as rain.
The only thing I needed was a base, and preferably one that was sturdy yet cheap.  The above is in fact a slate coaster, slightly larger than the 60mm square I'd have preferred but with all kinds of lovely texture to it.  Milliput was added to blank out the alcohol brand name on it and then we were done.  Rather than sand it, I figured I would paint it like my rock spires and make the most of the slate layers..

Base coated and. flat
I need not have worried about the lattice appearing through the paintwork - the white spray undercoat totally sealed it up.  Without looking at the old Combat Card again I had the colour scheme burnt in from my childhood so a simple base coat of Foundation Paint Taucept Ochre gave the whole body roughly the right browny look.  For the boney/teethy/claw-like protrusions, I did a one for one mix of Warpstone Glow and Vallejo Off-White to produce a green but pale hue, like the nails of something with a weird diet.

Rhinox Hide went all over the base, as per the rock spires.  Finally I gave the gums and eyes an even mix of Vallejo Pink and Vallejo Off-White - I tried just using Pink at first but it was a bit luminescent!  The end result is much tamer and makes the whole thing, at base coat stage, oddly subdued and pastel for a yellow/green/pink monstrosity.

Don't mind the green splodge on the arm, I'll fix that in a sec.
I then went to town with the quickshade.  QUICKSHADE EVERYWHERE!  I stuck with Soft Quickshade for the body, only using the darker stuff on the dark brown base.  I also added a line of raw Warpstone Glow to the top of the teeth and claws as though there was a "quick" of the growth visible.

As ever, this went on quite glossy but calmed down a bit when try.

A little spiritz of drybrushing - Iyanden Darksun, Rust and even paler Warpstone Glow.
At this point I then drybrushed to bring up some lightness.  Iyanden Darksun, another Foundation Colour, gave a yellow-y tinge to the body and stopped Sister Superior from referring to it as being "jobbie brown".  Coat D'Arms Rust gave a reddish tinge to the edges of the slate base, serving both as highlighting and as though flecks of red martian dust were blown across it.  A 1:2 mix of Warpstone Glow/Off-White was used to add a little bit more depth and variation to the colour of the green.

Normally I cover everything in Matt or Satin varnish but I think this time I want to try a gloss.  It will add a bit of an insectoid organic sheen to the creature - as well as being a very Oldhammer thing to do!


  1. Very good paint job! You are an artist
    I would buy this little beast too.
    Can you give me the address of Adam Devitt?
    My adress: (

    1. Bonjour!

      I do not think I am a very good painter but the Ambull does look quite good. The Quickshade can make any model nice!

      I will email you Adam's email shortly.

  2. hi there! Great miniature and paintingskillz. May you give me his e mail too?My adress is

    thanks alot for your report

  3. Good stuff. I stumbled across your blog while looking for pictures of Ambull paint schemes. I'm trying to come up with a Ambull Safari themed scenario.