Introduction: Kit-Bashed Plague Doctor Miniature Model
My friends and I just wrapped up our latest Dungeon's & Dragons campaign, and we've been planning the next one. Our DM wants us to try out 6 characters for the first few months before we dive into a long term campaign. I think this is a pretty cool move, because you can make sure the character you're going to have for the next 1-2 years is flight tested and ready. Once we've play tested our characters over the initial trial period, we'll pick just one.
For the first one, I came up with kind of a bizarre character concept - a doctor/physician that loses everyone he loves to a plague, and becomes completely obsessed with finding a cure. He sells everything he owns and joins the monastic society that sponsors his former university. At the monastery, he continues in his obsessive research and neglects self care. Late one night he's reaching for a simple tincture of iodine and his hand slips on the bottle, bringing an entire bookshelf of potions down on top of him. He's badly scarred and the elders at the monastery think he should find peace seeking the cure on the road. He takes his meager possessions, 10 gold pieces and dons the only vestments of his former life - a plague doctor's outfit. At that moment he loses a great deal of his humanity and becomes The Black Kestrel.
A character with a backstory that dark needs an equally awesome miniature for the table. Searching for 'Plague Doctor Miniatures' reveals a 54mm metal figurine - a scale much too big, and the Reaper Chronoscope Plague Doctor miniature. The Reaper miniature in my opinion is good, but I wanted something great. It's just a doctor holding a flask in a bird mask. That's it. Straight standing posture, like he/she's standing in a laboratory - and never going to travel out of his/her pox-stricken village.
That would never do for The Black Kestrel. As we wrapped up the campaign today, I realized I'd need a miniature soon, so I started searching for minis on my phone. I could take an existing miniature - a human-sized hooded figure carrying the right type of weapon, and kit bash it!
If you're curious about the character's class & race - he's a human cleric. If he makes the longterm cut, I want to take a few ranger levels so I can get an animal companion (hawk).
I have been binge-watching Black Magic Craft on YouTube and he's been really inspiring for me. I've been painting miniatures out of the box, no frills since December. I've wanted to level up my game so kit bashing a mini like BMC would be a good next step.
This episode was pretty inspiring to get me started working with Milliput.
Credit: Black Magic Craft - Custom Cadaver Collector Miniature for D&D (episode 093)
Since then I've wanted to kit bash my own miniature, so I'm glad I couldn't just find a plague doctor miniature I liked! ;-)
Step 1: Tools & Supplies
I've included Amazon.com links for the 2 miniatures needed, but I'd highly suggest finding a local game or comic book store and visiting them. My local game shops provide a neat gaming culture scene and I love going to support them. Support local first!
- Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures Male Elf Wizard 2 pack
- Pathfinder Deep Cuts Wizard's Room
- Basic 2 part Milliput epoxy putty or similar
- Super Glue/Cyanoacrylate
- Acrylicos Vallejo Primer, grey
- Acrylic miniature/model paint
- Matt Varnish
- Exacto/Hobby knives
- Hobby saw
- Needle files
- Sculpting tools (use whatever you have on hand)
- Paint brushes
- Paint palette
- Baking parchment paper & painters tape
- A glass of water
Step 2: Prep the Miniature
In my mind I see The Black Kestrel as very intimidating - so a wide stance with his legs, flowing robes in black and dark gray. In his gloved hands he carries a vial or flask of a green liquid, and a long cane. The cane in the game mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons is statted out to be a mace, since he's a cleric. So it will be his weapon, as well as his holy symbol for his cleric class.
Finding the elf wizard miniature at my local game shop was great - I just needed to knock off the fire in his hand and sculpt a face.
To prep the miniature, first we want to take off the flashing from the mold seams. As shown his legs have lines running up the edges. Paint will stick to those high spots and it will be obvious that I didn't tidy up the mold lines. After the cleanup, we need to remove the fire magic clear plastic on his hand. I was afraid I'd need to cut gently and take off a little and a time. So I probed some pressure near his hand in the flame with my Exacto knife just to see how easy the plastic would cut. All of the sudden, the plastic fire shot off his hand, removed perfectly cleanly - and still serviceable as a flame for another model! The difference in materials - clear plastic and primed white plastic made separation really easy.
Saving little bits inside a Chessex dice container is a fantastic organization tip!
Step 3: Hand Me 50CCs of Awesome...
Once the fire was off the hand, I needed to trim down the excess plastic in his palm to enable him to hold a flask or bottle. I used needle files, emery boards, hobby saws and exacto knives to carve out a channel in his palm - taking care to not cut off his thumb too much.
I selected the round bulbous bottle with a narrow top because it would give lots of glue surface to adhere to his hand. He would grip the bottle by the top, so I measured it against a needle file to make sure I wouldn't cut too deep. The best tool ended up being the hobby saw to hog out most of the material (we're talking millimeters here) and then clean it up with the emery boards and files.
Once the channel was cut into his palm -- leaving all 5 fingers, I carefully glued the flask into his hand using a tiny drop of cyanoacrylate (super glue). Once it was set, I put a larger drop over the bottle and let it seep into his hand. I then used an old medicine bottle, and some blue sticky tack to anchor him down at an angle that would prevent glue running. I let the CA glue fully dry before disturbing it. I wanted to ensure the flask wouldn't fall out of his hand - especially since removing the fire (same clear plastic) was so easy!
Step 4: Sculpt the Face and Fingers
At this point The Black Kestrel was really shaping up, so I took him and ran around the house to my wife and all my children and my dog. "Hey look, but don't touch. Neat, yes? Do you like that he's holding a bottle! This is so good, my best work yet!" ha ha ha.
Just adding a new item in the model's hand is a new level up for me. So I guess I'm a level 3 modeler now? Time to choose my path feature... I think the kit-basher class feature is a great addition.
Let's jump right into level 4 - sculpting with Milliput.
Milliput and it's other cousins on the market (sometimes just called "green stuff") are a rock hard epoxy putty. It starts life as two separate tubes of clay-consistency sticky gunk. When you cut equal amounts and evenly mix them together (no streaks of any color - full uniform color) it kicks off a magic process and goes from sticky, to moldable like cold blue sticky tack (poster tack) to Sculpy/Fimo clay to rock hard.
Being a total newbie, I read the directions - which indicate that after an hour the putty will be firmer but workable. It seems like that was wisdom, but I ignored it. Being too excited I started sculpting while the Milliput was too soft.
I taped down a piece of parchment paper to my desk and rolled a cylinder over it (sandwiched with more parchment) to flatten out a small amount.
Then I cut out a small triangle with an Exacto knife. I learned that Milliput, especially when soft sticks to everything. Your fingers, itself, Exacto knives, dental picks, itself, unintended places on your model, itself, your fingers again... Use some water. Get your fingers wet, dip your tools in the water, it helps things not stick. It doesn't stick well to parchment paper.
I took the triangle and shaped it into a beak shape and then mushed it into his face. Then I spent 10 minutes perfecting it. It was a beautiful beak face shape. I originally intended the eyes to be protruding from the surface like googles, but I couldn't find anything scale correct to punch out circles. The divot in a Lego minifig's head is not the right scale, ha ha. Instead, I poked in concave holes using a 2mm electronics standoff. The head was beautiful and perfect.... and I think you know where the plot is going to turn next.
Yep. I wrecked it. I started sculpting some fingers on. I cut a small square and put it on the hand. The plan was to adhere the square to the hand over the bottle, then carve grooves in between the fingers - sculpt the fingers in situ, essentially. On one of my backstrokes carving the hand I smooshed his face (correct medical term). And had to start literally all over. I ripped off his face and attached a new triangle, re-sculpted it. Despite the failure, I fixed it pretty good and I'm really excited to do more Milliput sculptures in my models.
- Sculpt minor details first - start with the smallest stuff.
- Sculpt key details last - maybe even wait for the other parts to dry
- Be patient and wait a bit to start working the Milliput so its a bit firmer.
- I'd rather slay a 100 goblins than 1 black dragon, but I've only ever done the latter.
I cut a 1/4 inch of each side of the Milliput and had plenty left over. So I used the fire from his hand and sculpted a simple camp fire with the leftovers.
Step 5: Priming & Painting
The Milliput package insert says that you can paint the hardened putty immediately, but I prefer to use a primer. I find that the even coating of under paint allows the acrylics to bond well. I know acrylics can bond well to primer, so that's what we're doing.
Reaper Bones plastic miniatures aren't primed - and I prime those too, with Acrylicos Vallejo grey primer.
Deep Cuts miniatures, like the ones used here are pre-primed with Acrylicos Vallejo. But I primed the entire miniature again lightly to ensure that any oils, stray milliput or anything is well sealed and the paint would adhere evenly. I don't prime clear pieces obviously, so those can be masked with a bit of Silly Putty. You have to work a bit quickly though, because the Silly Putty moves and thins out a bit naturally from gravity.
For the paint job, I went with a black theme - but if I painted the entire miniature black head to toe, there would be no contrast, and no highlights and shadows.
Instead, I did a charcoal gray base coat on everything except his mask, the items on his belt and his clear potion bottle. The mask I base coated a light bone color. The belt items were called out in black with the large pouch painted in light bone. Then I washed black all over the miniature except the areas painted in light bone. I want the mask and the potion bottle to be the focal point. The mask is washed in a sepia wash. The potion bottle is glazed part-way with green by mixing thinner medium and green paint. I also made sure the liquid in the bottle is level with the horizon line. After the wash dried, I dry brushed the miniature with charcoal gray and then lighter grays to bring out the highlights.
I found a set of brushes at Hobby Lobby where one of the brushes has a bent tip, allowing reaching access into tight places. This was especially helpful painting the underside of his cape.
Step 6: Basing & Seal Coat
Normally I take the included base and just super glue the miniature to it.
This model is a level up on my skills, so I wanted to make the base a bit more embellished. I'm not a fan of putting the fake plants on the base and other materials. I think that it makes you look at the base first and then the miniature - and that's not how a focal point works.
For The Black Kestrel I glued the model to the base as normal, then built up a base with Milliput around the "pudding" base at his feet to meet the edge of the 1" circular plastic base. Then I sculpted some details into the base and let it dry.
For the seal coat I always use brush on Matt Acrylic Varnish from Vallejo. It comes in a dropper bottle and fits into my Reaper Bones Learn to Paint Kit case. Wait a day to put the seal coat on to ensure the paint is all dry, else you might cause it to run in spots.
The photos above show The Black Kestrel in his laboratory working on a cure. The dungeon tiles pictured I picked up on Etsy.
Step 7: Bonus: the Black Kestrel Backstory
It was late and I was tired. I was a young physician working long, late hours at the hospital in Kith, and it had begun to wear on me. My burden was softened that night when she came in - a broken clavicle, earned in a bar fight. Katya didn't tolerate sultry behavior, and nor did I. I mended her shoulder and she stole my heart. Months later we were wed, and a year later she bore our daughter. Everything was perfect, just like the stories the old bard tells in the town square for a copper piece. And that's when it all began to fall apart. First my daughter got the symptoms. Black fingers, toes. Bleeding, vomiting. Eventually she died - I felt so powerless, so helpless as a physician. I researched and documented everything - trying to find a cure, trying to spare another father from losing his child. And then, my wife, my beloved Katya had fallen to the plague. I was broken. I had nothing left, so I turned to the Order. I had studied at an Order University, so membership to the Order could be obtained anytime after graduation. But the commitment to the Order is a lifetime, and breaking that commitment meant consequences. I had spent my fortune as a physician and mortgaged my estate to try and find the cure. Finding myself homeless and alone I joined the Order. Just as seasons change and the moons drift in the sky, the epidemic ceased. The plague disappeared just as mysteriously as it had arrived. Haunted by my past I continued my work at the monastery, furiously trying to find a cure should the disease return. Late one night I was too fatigued to work, but continued nonetheless. Reaching for a simple tincture of iodine, my hands trembling on the bottle, at once lost their purchase and fell, knocking an entire bookcase of potions and vials all over my body. Broken and burned I lie on the ground, defeated like a bird with clipped wings. The members of the Order saved me that night, but my body was so burned and disfigured that I'd never be recognized by anyone. So shamed by my appearance, I cloaked myself in black, donned a black leather hat and gloves - and the only vestment of my former life - a plague doctor's mask.
The Order could not use a cleric so distracted at the monastery. I had kept my oath to serve and protect the innocent, but the Elders of the Order felt that I needed to spend some time among the people - serving, protecting and healing them to find inner peace again. I agreed with them, mostly because it would grant me the ability to research disease in the field and at larger libraries.
Dr Falco Tinnunculus died that day, and The Black Kestrel was born.
I've also uploaded The Black Kestrel's character sheet. If anyone ends up remaking this project and playing a campaign as The Black Kestrel or "Kes" for short, let me know in the comments below.
Participated in the