After a few days of uncharacteristically consistent posting I find myself coming more-or-less back onto the main topic of this blog: collecting and painting old lead fantasy miniatures. Today’s offering is something I’d been keen to do for a long time; one of Games Workshop’s mostly original creations, the ‘forest guardian’, a Warhammer Fantasy zoat.
Here is how I first learned about zoats. There was a bit of a Top Trumps craze at my school, I was off sick, and to make me feel better my mum gave me a deck of Combat Cards – ‘Monsters’, with bright yellow borders and (what I didn’t realise at the time) were lovely painted examples of Citadel Miniatures. Among various traditional monsters from myth, folklore, and modern fantasy were a few fascinatingly odd creatures: now familiar, but at the time mysterious references to the Ruinous Powers of Chaos – Khorne, Nurgle, Slaanesh and Tzeentch, an ambull (which would go on to become my first miniature), and the axe-wielding ‘zoat’. I think some trick of perspective made the zoat seem larger than his brethren, and I imagined this creature slowly lumbering through the forest, driving off both monstrous and civilized interlopers. I was hooked…
… and almost immediately Games Workshop withdrew zoats from circulation. It would be around three decades before I would paint one.
I believe the story goes that as Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K came into their own in the early 90s, Games Workshop wanted to move away from generic miniatures (for use in games of D&D or in faction- and manufacturer-agnostic armies of the players own devising). That certainly seems in character for a company that currently sells trolls under the name ‘troggoths’, so I won’t fact check myself. D&D had iconic, original* creatures galore – many-eyed beholders, owlbears and land sharks, and tentacle-faced mindflayers or illithid (many of which turned up under slightly different names in Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy gamebooks).
Even the most insane demon would have trouble imagining a Brain Slayer. It is as though an octopus had sprouted from the shoulders of a large, strong human body.Out of the Pit, 1985
Games Workshop needed their own iconic creatures, and so commissioned the fimir – cyclopean beings inspired by Irish myth with very hard-to-market reproductive habits, and our friend, the zoat. Within the Warhammer Fantasy canon zoats were guardians of the forest; unaligned and ancient, with a natural affinity for wild magic. I suppose reptilian centaurs pop up here-and-there in works of fantasy, but zoats are very similar to the Jovians in Poul Anderson’s 1957 novelette Call Me Joe (but to be fair to Games Workshop so is the entire plot of Avatar). I’ve also always thought the ‘Forest Spirit’ in Princess Mononoke has more than a passing similarity, with its three-pointed toes and general attitude.
Of course, everything in Warhammer Fantasy had its counterpart in Warhammer 40K. In the grim darkness of the far future the noble, woodland-loving zoats were reduced to a genetically engineered slave-race of the tyranids, complete with organic weaponry. In the lore they acted as ambassadors and envoys from the hive fleets; I think on the table they acted as generic heavy cavalry? I hated it. I think most people hated it, based on how quickly they were pulled from the catalogues. I’m more comfortable with dichotomy today, so I’ve picked up a sci-fi zoat proxy from Knightmare Games, which I’m hoping to paint before the end of this year.
Oddly enough zoats have made a bit of a comeback in Games Workshop’s semi-recent Blackstone Fortress, with slightly retconned lore that suggests they might have a more interesting role yet to play in the 41st millennium.
I’ve made it all the way to the bottom of the post without talking about painting the zoat, because it was a bit of a disaster – this miniature was part of a small batch where the spray undercoat didn’t, for whatever reason, quite adhere properly to the lead. That made painting it a little more challenging, but I’m happy with the results. I wanted to use a mostly natural colour scheme, so layered greens and browns for the flesh (which took a while to get right) and used a warm grey for the rhinoceros hide hindquarters. I took a stab at some very basic object sourced lighting from the eyes and axe, in a brighter, less natural green, and then just piled up woodland tufts and clump foliage on the base.
At the end I did my best to salvage the undercoat mishap with an extra coat of gloss varnish. That’s affected the photo a bit. I’m not sure if I should have just washed the base coat off an re-primed it, but it’s done now, safely displayed behind glass and unlikely to be handled much in the near future, and anyway I have many, many more miniatures still to paint.
*I think it’s quite well-known that a lot of D&D’s original creatures were in fact based on sketches of cheap plastic dinosaur toys from China.