In spite of the growing number of plastic figures out there (see my reviews page for more details) there will still be times when you can't find exactly what you're after. Well, without having to resort to the overseas mail order for 20mm metal figures (well, for those of us Down Under anyway!), which sort of defeats the whole purpose of the exercise - low cost!

Generic Figures

You can get around this problem with a little ingenuity and lateral thinking. Basically, find some 'generic' type figures, and paint them such that they can be used to represent a number of different armies.

For example, HaT8017, Zv8016

Even the old ESCI "Barbarians" (which Italeri are rumoured to be bringing back into production), which are a fair-ish representation of Early Germanic warriors in the Early Imperial Roman period, can also pass as pretty much any Western [Ancient] "Barbarian" army of the same period. They can even expand out to include fantasy ones as well.

Actually, Revell Celts translate well to the fantasy genre, as they're all wearing horned helmets and they are all well moulded, muscle bound he-men!

Speaking of Fantasy gaming...

Fantasy Wargaming on a Budget

- An Exerpt from Practical Wargamer, May/June issue, 199?)

Ages back, when I was first getting into DBx Wargaming with 20mm Soft Plastic Figures, I came across an article in a copy of Practical Wargamer, May/June 199? from my local library that quite inspired me. It was all about, well, fantasy wargaming with plastics, and that's pretty much were I got my idea for my Orcs. To quote the article itself...

Middle Earth

An example of the suitability of these figures can be given by consideration of the troops of Tolkien's Middle Earth.

The Rohirrim are often depicted as "Vikings on horse back", although many fought on foot. Revellís Saxons are ideal for the Rohirrim [as an example of how they might look, have a look at how Tony De Lyall has converted some Saxons as Turkopoles for his Crusader army]. The Dunlanders are described as wild hill and herd-folk The Celts, barbarians and Britons would represent these well and together provide a wide range of sword, spear and javelin types as well as archers and slingers. The Esci standard bearer would make a good shaman. The Revell Normanís provide a number of high elves, other figures could be wood elves or foot troops of Gondor or Mordor. The English and French knights are perfect for Gondorian types, as are the figures provided With the Airfix Sherwood castle. The three Revell sets also contain a number of open handed figures (as do some Esci boxes), this allows for an even greater variety of troops).

Esci Legionari/OrcsFurther Mordor foot can be found in the Muslim warriors (Near Harad) and Zuluís (Far Harad). The Zuluís could also be used as Woses. No Middle Earth battle would be complete without orcs and goblins, or should I say Roman legionaries, which paint up well into these roles.

(In fact, if anyone is interested in having a look, I've got a poorly scanned/OCR'd Word6/Win 95 file of that article which can be downloaded here (220 Kb))

I personally see the Middle Earth Armies slightly differently, in as far as Gondor types might work better using Italeri Crusaders, perhaps mixed in with some converted Normans or Zvezda Livonian Knights (with the addition of some of those sleeveless vest things that mid medieval fellows wore over their mail to show their colours, so to speak?). That is to say, mail armour instead of the plate of the Accurate/Revell 100 Years War figures.

Have a look at Luke Ueda-Sarson's Middle Earth Lists for more details - especially his Army Notes. They include references to the books 'n all.

And ok, so the Esci Legionaries painted green don't look a whole lot like Orcs from close up (though I do have a couple of nice illustrations from The Hobit that look kinda similar), but from across the table top, I think they pass. And lets face it, for Orc armies, you need a whole heap of figures (Hordes, in fact!) so, for my way of thinking, the price is right!

(Having said that, I've been toying with an idea to base my Orcs according to my alternative basing conventions. That way the figures required for one HOTT army can be spread out to fill out a 350 AP DBM army. Now, if I could only get them painted...)

One of the great things about HOTT is the flexibility of the whole army building system. Since each troop type have their own points value (Hordes cost 1AP, Blades/Warband/Knights/Shooters are 2AP, Behemoths/Airboats are 3AP, Heroes are 4AP etc), and since all armies are made up to 24AP (but no more than 12AP can be made up of elements costing more than 2AP), you can pretty much make up own lists depending on what you are trying to represent, or, more importantly, what figures you have available! (As an example of this, have a look at my Milton Bradley psuedo Chaos army!)

Dinasour riding Zulu'sCase in point, I had some Esci Zulu's given to me as well as some matching Esci Imperial British and so I decided to make a couple of HOTT armies out of them. To the Brit's I'll give an airboat (a powered ballon of some kind), and I decided to give the Zulu's some Behemoths - ESCI Zulu's mounted on Jurassic Park dinosaurs - just to add a more Fantasy feel to otherwise historical armies in defference to the rules!

As an example of what can now be achieved with Fantasy Wargaming with 20mm Plastic, I've worked out that there is now enough variety out there to make seven out of the nine Hyboria armies listed in the back of the [1 st edition] HOTT rule book.

But I digress...

Simple Conversions

Esci Barbarians with Roman shieldsAnother effective way around the [slightly diminishing] problem of limited choice in plastic (see my Review page) is with simple conversion of the figures.

One of the easiest conversions I have done was simply giving some Esci Barbarians some Esci Roman shields, and hey presto, you've got some Roman "barbarian" allies (your allowed up to four in the Western Early Imperial Roman DBM list). I know, they didn't fight with Roman equipment, but this is a really easy way to distinguish exactly who they are fighting for. Consider it a wargaming consession!

Esci Early Imperial Roman AuxiliaOr, you could simply paint Esci Early Imperial Roman Legionaries green, and give them cardboard shields, and lo and behold you have Early Imperial Auxiliaries. After all, it has been established that some Auxiliary units actually wore the same equipment as their legionary counterparts.

(Since writing this, it has come to my attention, thanks to Tony De Lyall's picture of a conversion he made for a first century Roman Auxilia, that the old Airfix/new HaT Romans would look really good as auxilia, being as they are already moulded in mail armour. All they need would be some different shields made from cardboard, with their tunics painted green (or blue - a different colour from your legionaries anyway!).)

(And since writing that, HaT have announced that they are starting on their own Early Imperial Roman Auxiliary Infantry!)

Less Simple Conversions

For slightly more complex conversions the techniques are slightly different according on type of plastic involved (see above).

Esci Middle Imperial Roman AuxiliaFor the soft stuff, a sharp knife is your best bet. For example, ESCI Romans are Early Imperial legionaries with well moulded lorica segmenta armour, but with the judicious application of a sharp blade, the laminated armour can be cut away, leaving un-armoured Middle Imperial Roman auxiliaries.

For the harder stuff, you can change the figures with a little gentle force, aided by the application of heat. Drop the figure into a bowl of really hot water, leave it for a short time (say, about 30 seconds), then remove it, bend whatever you want to bend whatever way you want to bend it, and then drop it into a bowl of cold water to "remind it" of it's new shape.

Another way of converting the figures is simply by replacing their weapons, usually from holding a sword to hefting a spear or javelin, which can be really useful when producing cavalry figures.

I cut the sword off, being careful not to cut off their hand, and then cut a small groove into the palm of their hand in which to place the spear or whatever (half the time this chops his hand in half, but he's going to be holding a spear anyway, so no one will notice!). I just use Bostic glue and then go over it again with PVA. And presto, you've got a spear instead of a blade!

As for the new weapon, I either use a spare plastic one from another figure who isn't useing it, a piece of thin brass rod filed at one end to a point, or 15mm lead pikes cut to size, which are particularly good for heavy spears (they look good with my Esci Roman cav and Norman knights). I was thinking of using them for my Saramtion's lances, but they look kinda chunky alongside the slim Revel Roman figures I'm using for the riders. I'll probably revert back to plan A - brass rod.

Other People's Tips

What follows is a collection of tips on how to convert plastics sent to me by visitors to this site. If you've got anything to add, please let me know.

Ken's Shields

(December, 2002)

Ken has sent this rather elegant solution for making spare shields for your figures...

Ken's Shield Punch The hole punches I picked up at a local market for about £1.00 each and they come in a range of sizes ideal for all those round shields. You can also cut a circle then cut a the middle out to get a crescent shaped pelta.

For more information, have a look here. To see working examples of this technique, have a look at his Spanish Light Horse.

Cut to the Quick

(November, 2002)

Here's another of Mike's clever ideas, this time - how to cut flash off your figures...

I built a couple of hot wire tools the other night - basically just cut-down chopsticks with two leads attached, and nichrome wire (from a heating element) as the actual "hot" bit. Connected jack-plugs to the leads and plugged it into a $40 multi-voltage power pack from Dick Smiths.

It was built as a tool for heat engraving styrofoam and suchlike, but I thought it'd be worth a go on a couple of 20mm figures as well. And lo & behold, it gets rid of mould lines with ease. Quick and efficient. I've used two different thicknesses of nichrome wire, and between those and the different voltage & current options, it allows for a pretty good variation in terms of heat, so it can be used for carving, 'welding' and other useful things too, for both the hard styrene figures and soft vinyl ones.

Anyway, just thought you might want to know about it - it's definitely worth both the investment, and the time spent making the tools.

...for the handymen (and women, right Anne?!) amoung us.

Plugging a Hole

(May, 2002)

Mike Hansen suggested these ideas to filling in the holes of the Esci Early Imperial Roman shields...

Had a look at those paper shields on the yahoo site last night [I'm using them for my HOTT EIR Tortoise]. In all honesty, I can't see how they'd work properly on shields with raised detail like the Esci ones... The raised detail's really nice anyway, why cover it up? Especially if it's just the hole you want to hide.

Here's a couple of alternative suggestions (and probably much less fiddly) -

  1. Put a small ball of Das or some other air-drying clay into the hole, then paint over it with PVA, and then when it dries, you'll have a semi-circular boss on the front of the shield.

  2. A variation of above - put in a small bit of Das or similar and then flatten it to smooth over the hole - and again paint it with PVA to help hold it in and give it a nice surface.

    By the way, I hate using das because of the horrible powdery residue it leaves on your hands afterwards - just a personal thing, but it drives me up the wall and takes ages to wash out... But I suggested Das 'coz it's relatively cheap and easer to get than ordinary clay, which would work just as well. Anyway, I wouldn't use Das personally, I'd go for one of the two-part epoxy putties like Selley's Knead-It range, which are superb for doing this kind of thing (don't use the multipurpose one for this, it sets too fast - you want the red and blue tube which is made to work underwater and has a 30 minute working time.) Sets like a rock. Great stuff. About $12 a tube, but it lasts for ages and often comes in handy.

  3. Plasticene should also work, if you wanted a flat surface - provided it was well sealed with PVA, both to protect it and keep the oil from leeching out and affecting the paint.

  4. Another option for a flat surface finish is to put in a small blob of polyfilla or similar and smooth it over, and again seal it with PVA when dry.

  5. Or how about cutting a long thin strip of card, just a little bit wider than the hole in the shield, then chopping that strip up into little squares or rectangles, then gluing those over the holes?

  6. As the holes are all square or rectangular, yet another option would be to trim a thin length of balsa to the right size, cut that into little blocks and use it as a plug for the holes. If they're cut oversize, they'll be easy to trim flush with the shield once the glue is set. (or even better, trim them so they just stick out a little bit) And again, seal with PVA, etc etc.

Well there you go, just some alternatives for you. I'd go for any one of those before resorting to covering the shields with paper, simply because the detail on the shields is (I reckon) too nice to hide...and also because it sounds fiddly and I'm a lazy modeller.


I wouldn't go so far as to say that Mike! (Have a look at his Gallic cavalry conversions.)

Hot Guns

(March 2002)

Here's another tip from Alberto Zumarraga in Spain, this time on the use of a Hot Glue Gun for gluing plastics...

I have just discovered a way to glue polytene figures with a rather strong bond, enough to withstand the use and abuse during a wargame or even playing with your kids, like in my case. The way is to use a melting glue of the kind used with gluing pistols sold in any store, and really cheap. I have just tried it with Svezda's Livonians Knights ballestiers hands and shields and your get a bond very hard against traction and not so strong if you try a lever effect onto it.

Just get a small drop of melted glue from the pistol into the piece you want to glue and proceed rapidly with the other part. The problem is you don't have too much time to go around, just a few seconds. If it does not go properly on the first try you can retry it for the bond is strong but not permanent. You must be very careful as the glue is hot, you might hurt yourself or damage the piece if it's too hot.

A collateral effect are the hair thin lines of glue you get everywhere but you can get rid of them easilly. Also you can have excess glue arround the joint, it is not easy to get only the amount you want, but you can trim it when cold with a sharp knife, and with practice I think the process can be mastered.

I have not tried it yet but I think a pyrogravure[?] could also be used latter to melt the excess glue so you can remove it easily. The fact that the glue is hot, the temperature level will be key for a good bonding, helps the hardness of the union.


Stick it to the Man!

(January 2002)

This latest product announcement is from Ken Gordon in the UK...

Loctite have released their soft plastics glue over here for domestic use. It goes by the name of 'Super Pastix' and is designed for the sort of Polythene plastic we know and love. Its not cheap at £4.00 for a 4ml bottle and a 2g tube but it works. The bottle contains a primer which coats both surfaces to be glued and the super glue added to one surface. It makes a brilliant join much better than normal super glue. The key would appear to be the cleanliness of the joint. The best results I had were with figures I chopped in half and immediately glued back together!.

So far I have only tried it on hat figures. I also tried the primer with another superglue and that did not appear to work so well.

Anyway save up and buy some 'tis the stuff we have been waiting for.



Replacing Body Parts

Stan's Converted AxStan Walker has just completed some clever conversions whereby he swapped heads with some Zvezda Greek Infantry and HaT Spanish slingers and Zvezda Greek archers, thereby turning them from Psiloi into Auxilia. Nice!

Also, have a look here for a really good guide on how to convert 20mm plastic figures from John-Michael Murray's MiniatureZone site.

Putting the Heat on...

This just in from John Koziol...

My main technique is to use a pin or similar inset into a handle, heated up and used to carve in detail, bend limbs etc. I find it gives a more natural effect in the latter role than the hot water method, and is probably more permenant - plastic will regain its 'natural' state after a while! It is also useful for welding on arms etc, I often add beards, open up mouths and give figures shaggier hair-dos this way.

I have recently picked up something called 'Mod-Podge'. I bought it very cheap when a D.I.Y. chainstore was closing down. I think it's French - so I don't know what it is made from etc. It seems a sort of Acrylic and is sold as a sealent, adhesive and mat coating. It sets faster, stronger and more effectively than PVA as an undercoat, glues pretty well - more effective than contact adhesive or PVA for gluing baseless horse to a card base, and it gives a very good mat varnish, great stuff, hope I can find more. I don't rate superglue for plastics, possibly I am using the wrong sort.

When building up my Romans I converted some Sarmatian allies for them, I used a mix of Revell Normans and Saxons with the sheilds carved off and Airfix Roman Eastern Archers - these are all wearing the right sorts of head gear - but mostly in mail armour. To make scale, I used to use a cheap carving tool, the sort bough in crap dry goods shops with the whole set only costing a pound or so. Some of these will be semi circular. Heated up they texture Robin Hood figures and similar a treat.

Keep the faith,

John Koziol

Floral Wire Spears

I have just recently received this tip from Kosta, a recent plastic figure convert (alrighty!)...

I recently made my first ever plastic figure purchase here in the states, aquiring some of the Greek, Persian, and Mongol boxed sets from Zvezda and they are really nice looking. I also got some Ancient Britons from HaT which, after browsing your site, found out that they are actually Airfix re-prints. These seem slightly smaller & not as sturdy as the Zvezda figs which makes me like the Zvezda even more.

The one thing I find disappointing though are the plastic spears that are very hard to maintain perfectly straight once cut from the sprue.

I decided to instead look for a viable replacement. Going over to a nearby craft store, I purchased a suprising substitute that I hope will work. The item is Floral Stem Wire. Bringing one of the Mongol figures with me, I tried out different gauges and determined that 20gauge wire with a green plastic coating fit perfectly.

Being metal wire which is stiffer than the plastic ones, I realize there is potential for the part to break-out since there isn't much plastic on the figure's hand. Hopefully a nice dab of Zap Gel will create a sturdy sealer and give more substance to the joint.

Anyway, just wanted to pass along info. that may be helpful to others.

Thanks for reading,

Kosta K.

Plasticine Armor

This tip for making plasticine armor comes from Michael Clifford in Aus...

The plasticine trick is easy, but be careful plasticine clings to fingers, craft tools ectra and is a bad medium to work with on a hot day.

To make cloaked robin hood figure into Anglo-Saxon in bryne...

  1. make sure figure is clear of flash to prevent irregularities in plasticine helmet or bryne....

  2. pinch off measures of plasticine either with thumb or forefinger or small crafting tool. I use tip of nail file....

  3. press plasticine onto head. I didn't bother to remove hair as this helps plasticine to grip figure better and provides guide for bottom rim of helmet - ie natural finish....

  4. using thumb and forefinger shape plasticine onto head. Anglo-Saxon helmets were a bit " pudding bowl " like. When finished coat with thin layer of nail varnish. Allow half hour to dry....

  5. to make bryne. Coat body in thin layer of plasticine. Using pin head, thumbnail or craft knife cut and scrap off jaggededges to mail coat. Then using pin, I need to refine this stage myself, punch series of holes - representing mail ringsin bryne. Be careful! It is easy to unintenionally remove plasticine and spoil work....

  6. coat figure in thin layer of nail varnish. Guard against filling in mail links. Allow to dry....

  7. paint as desired - including trousers and leggings....

  8. shield - plastic coated tac with plasticine or miliput boss.



For more examples of my own (and others) converted plastic figures, please have a look at the Picture Gallery.

Next - Poses

[Home] [Plastic Figures] [Buy] [Bulletin Board] [Battles] [Gallery] [Guestbook] [History] [NZ Wargaming] [Painting] [Rules]

This page hosted by Get your own Free Homepage