Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Buddy Ian: the Challenges and Rewards of Teaching

I think I may have finally cleared up some writers block. I'll still keep my site review and Helpful Handy Hint cop-outs on standby, though.

Moving along... A while ago a enticed my buddy Ian to take his first baby steps into the world of tabletop gaming. He likes to do arts and crafts type stuff and he loves games with complicated rule sets (he inexplicably loves the OOP Doctor Who CCG) so 40k was a good fit. As an added bonus, i was just starting a Space Marine army, so we would both be building armies from scratch.

I loaned him the rule book, all my codicies and pointed him at the GW site.

A few weeks later, he had decided on Necrons (Ian's Rule #1: when in doubt, go with the undead).

Fast forward to now: I've made slow (but steady) progress on my Loyalist Iron Warriors. Ian is getting married in three weeks and has a long commute to work - his free time has been at a premium. His Necrons have suffered a bit. They're assembled and mostly primed, but that's about it. The other day, I invited him over to get the ball rolling on his first 1000 points - more on that later.

A bit about Ian: Ian is what I would call 'inexperienced' as far as the whole table-top gaming hobby. He's never really played a TTG before nor has he painted many (if any) miniatures. He's essentially a blank slate. This has it's advantages and its challenges. On one hand, he doesn't have any bad habits to break (unlike myself). On the other, his skill base is tiny. He needs a lot more info and practice to get up to speed.

This brings me back to his recent visit with his big ol' box of Necrons. I had Ian over to play with color schemes and to use my airbrush to speed up the task of applying a base color to 39 identical guys (a truely tedious task). In the meantime, I discovered that while Ian is a a pretty amazing sculptor and had a solid grasp on model construction, he knew fuck all about the incredibly specialized skill set for miniature painting.

So, in addition to a Necron jump start, I ended up wearing my teacher hat.

Knowledge of the extreme basics of removing mold lines and simply washing your metal miniatures is easy to impart. All you have to do is simply tell someone - no detailed tutorial required. Pinning is largely irrelevant to a mostly plastic army and an expense that isn't necessary since I am more than willing to do it for him (1).

Beyond that, techniques and skills need to be developed. Simply telling someone how to prime is one thing, but there are actually tips and tricks to be shared. Hell, an actual technique needs to be developed. The same is doubly true of the actual business of painting your models. Most gamers don't have formal art training. Even the basic use of a paintbrush may need to be taught.

I think that this need for knowledge and practice with a gigantic array of skills is why there are so many gray legions on people's gaming tables. Painting is hard and intimidating when you first start. Just ask Josiah.

It's also very hard to get good instructional help with painting - especially when you're starting out. There are a ton of tutorials out there, unfortunately, the good ones are few and far between and the basics are never covered in enough detail. Most detailed tutorials are aimed at more advanced skills. But what good does that do someone who is just now putting their first strokes of paint on a model?

As an example: I'm on record as someone who is more than willing to gush over how great the Brushthralls site is. But take a look at their priming tutorial. How useful is that to someone with the type of skill base I'm talking about? The problem with these type of 'extreme basics' articles is that it the extreme basics tend to be extremely hard to capture on film. This is largely due to a slant towards finished results rather than technique.

It is incredibly difficult to impart knowledge on how to spray black paint on a miniature when all you can reliably show is a picture of the end result. How do you show someone what an over thick primer coat looks like through a picture? What about proper spraying technique? You almost have to have someone who knows what they're doing around just to to be able to get a visual (2).

At the end of the day, Ian walked away with a bunch of base colored necrons and a signifigant increase to his skill level. Overall, a very rewarding experience.

It got me thinking too. As part of a rant a while ago, a mentioned trying to improve the level of "table top quality" army painting. For the most part I have pursued this by pushing information on more advanced techniques. But painting is just like anything else, the basics are super important. Many of the shit-tastic paint jobs out there, I feel, can be attributed to a lack of the basic knowledge needed to paint a good model.

So, I am now going to be adding some articles on the basic miniature painting skills. The advanced stuff will still continue, but now the new painters will find something more as well.

1: I still highly recommend getting a pin vise for pinning at some point, but it adds to the expense of getting brushes, paints AND models when you're just starting out.

2: I've seen some pretty solid tutorials on youtube, but they're usually plagued by poor quality.

General Note: From what I've been told and from what I've seen, Necrons desperately need some codex lovin'. To that end, I've also been using Stelek's blog to shore up Ian's Necron list building skills and general knowledge.

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