Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Gencon Online

This past weekend would have been the time for our (now) annual trip to Gencon.  Of course, there was no chance that 65,000 of my nearest and dearest as-yet-unmet friends were going to be packed into the Indianapolis Convention Center for a super-spreader event in this Year of the Plague, so it was cancelled by the organizers.  However, the organizers were not willing that the gaming world should remain entirely isolated and alone, and set up Gencon Online.

My brother and I had been planning to run four or five miniatures games as our usual contribution to the festivities.  While I have now played a lot of 1:1 remote games, I would need to improve my technical skills before I volunteered to run a game over any network system for 4-6 other players, so we did not try running anything.  Happily, other more technically-adept gamemasters did step up, and I ended up registered for three roleplaying games and four seminars.  I had already cancelled my planned vacation time for the week, but I added a Friday off back in to the schedule after the events registration happened, as I found myself with a four hour session of the Prince Valiant RPG running from 8:00PM to midnight, which would have made work the next day dicey.

So, with fairly low expectations, I signed in to watch the opening ceremonies on Thursday during my lunch break, and then logged back on to play the Prince Valiant game in the evening.  Gencon set up a Discord group (??—I don’t have all the Discord-specific jargon learned yet) for the convention.  This had the effect of providing a discussion area which felt a lot like roaming the halls of a convention striking up random conversations with previously-unmet gamers.  I spent the next three days cycling between the games and the Discord chats.  Overall, it was a positive experience; much better than I had anticipated. Was it as good as going to the physical convention?  No, of course not, but it was a lot better than sitting around on my couch feeling sorry about all the gaming I’m not doing this year.  I’m sure we all hope that next year will be better, and that our convention will occur, but, if they don’t, I feel better about there being something fun to look forward to.

The convention was spread across nearly every platform I’ve ever heard of.  I was on Zoom, YouTube Live, Discord, Twitch,  and Roll20 that I recall.

Here’s a screen shot of my Friday afternoon RPG, a Fate Accelerated/Masters of Umdaar (science fantasy; think Thundarr the Barbarian), using Roll20:

The gamemasters for the RPGs had to double as technical consultants, since all three of the games I was in experienced some technical glitches.  Nevertheless, RPGs translate fairly well to the online format, so they were fun.  The third game, by the way, was a session of Monster of the Week, a Powered By the Apocalypse game of team monster hunting (think Buffy or Supernatural), and was run by a staff member of the Critshow podcast.  That was the best of the three that I played, though all were good games.  I may have to make some time for an online RPG game again.  (I was in one for a while back in 2014, which was a good game, but it eventually folded and I was too busy to worry about replacing it.)

Most of the seminars I attended were not germane to this post, but I would note that I was particularly interested in one titled War at the Table, on bringing some reality-based military considerations to your tabletop RPG.  Any discussion that cites Tony Bath’s Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, the Anabasis, and Doyle’s The White Company is off to a good start, from my point of view. They did stop short of discussing how to integrate miniatures battles into an RPG campaign, though, which I would have enjoyed hearing about.

Being unconstrained by physical space, the convention ran a couple of hours longer than the live version, and wrapped up with closing ceremonies at 7:45PM on Sunday.  If I had realized that I was going to be as involved as I was, I would have taken Monday off as well. (However, a work crisis loomed, so I’d probably have been called back anyway.)

There were a few less good parts.  The virtual dealers’ hall didn’t have the same opportunity to see something unexpected that you get wandering around physical space.  Miniatures related events were slim indeed.  There wasn’t an auction, and I still had to deal with cooking and laundry and the like, which would be outsourced  or ignored during a normal vacation.  As I said before, though, overall I was very happy with the experience.

Since I was missing miniatures events, my older son suggested that we do our own speed paint challenge, so we each chose a primed Reaper Bones figure, collected up a 12 color limited palette (black, white, grey, brown, caucasian skin, blue, green, purple, red, yellow, metallic silver, and metallic gold), and two brushes. We were generous to ourselves; we put 60 minutes on the timer, set up a video chat link, and started painting.

Norman chose to paint this female gnome warrior:

I’ve chose the rear view here, to show off his shield.  The flat shield on this figure gave him the opportunity to highlight his freehand skills.

I chose this flute player.  As with any speed paint, high magnification is not the kindest view.  I ran short on time before I could start striping her trousers or sleeves.  Viewed at normal gaming distance, it’s been growing on me since Sunday, but overall, I’m confident that he would have placed higher.

I hope to get a little more painting done soon.  There’s nothing like a speed paint for breaking the ice and whetting your appetite for more painting.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Down the Rabbit Hole, Part IV

It has been more than usually busy here the past couple of weeks.  My partner and I finally got married yesterday, in a quiet ceremony at home.  For pandemic protection, attendance was limited to eight total, but we still had everything all cleaned up and looking good around the house.  The folding wargames tables did double duty as actual banquet tables for a change.

I got a few additional Prince August castings finished up for the fresh start fantasy project.  There are two figures from the Men of the City mold (652), and a wizard from the Wizards mold (657).  

I’ve got a mounted warrior in progress that I’ll probably finish next. That would give me nine humans, which is probably close enough to work up a standard-sized Song of Blades and Heroes warband.  (There are also four Men of the City spearmen being done as a group, if it turns out that I’m a bit short.). That means the next thing that I will get started on is an opposition warband, to be drawn from the collection of orc, goblin, hobgoblin, and troll castings.  The undead warriors, skeletons, and wraiths all cast reasonably well, and would be an alternative possibility, but Oathmark currently has no undead unit profiles, so my intention is to do this with an eye toward future expansion.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Down the Rabbit Hole, Part III

Life continues to be somewhat hectic in the midst of the pandemic.  Working from home has been more exciting than usual, as my work computer has been failing, so that everything requires more effort than it is supposed to.  Perhaps it’s for that reason that I have turned to hobbying to get away from things for a bit.  Since the last post I have had two casting sessions (finishing off venting and test casting all the early Prince August fantasy molds, catalog numbers 651 through 671), painted four buildings and some 3-D printed rock formations, finished four hills which had been in process for a while, and built three tree stands.  What I haven’t done is painted any more of the Prince August figures.

Joe Procopio recently posted pictures of work he had been doing on a Hudson and Allen castle, but he also had a freestanding tower from the old Milton Bradley/Games Workshop Battle Masters game.  I thought it looked good, and was able to find one on eBay for a reasonable price.

I have been playing around with various ideas for scenery upgrades for a while, and had ordered a package of 3-D printed cottages from an outfit on Amazon called Ender Toys.  They aren’t the most detailed buildings, but I decided I’d give them a try since they were light and inexpensive.  Also, the reviews noted that the doors were more in scale with 1/72 or old 25mm figures than with modern ranges like Reaper’s, and that’s just what I’m working with at the moment.  In the long run, I anticipate adding them to my convention scenery collection due to the light weight and durability.

Ender Toys cottages (3 of 4) with the tower and some Ender rocks
 The hills I finished were done using the same techniques I posted about back in May.

Three of these are flat-sided for use at the table edge; the last one used a scrap of plastic otherwise useless, and got the vertical stone treatment all around (signifying rough terrain) to be big enough to bother with.  Beveled edges would have left very little flat area on the top.

First tree base
Last year at Gencon I took a workshop on scenery, and resolved that I was going to trade increased storage volume for trees against reduced wear and tear on them by mounting my home scenery collection trees on group bases.  I came back with one partially constructed sample base, and finally got around this week to building some Woodland Scenics trees and mounting them to the base. I’ve also acquired some finished commercial trees of varying qualities.  Recalling the advice from Dave Frary’s book How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery, I anticipated basing trees in groups of at least three, and mixing colors, sizes, and sources as much as possible.

I also recently obtained two small (30” by 22”) mousepad-type mats from Frontline Gaming, one of which is a basic grassland design.

Frontline Gaming mats (Urban mat for a different project)

I finished up the other two woods bases this morning, and loaded everything recent onto the 30” by 22” mat to see.  It’s now looking crowded enough for a skirmish game, although some walls or hedges would be nice.  I’ve got some Mantic Terrain Crate walls needing painting, and this will probably be a good excuse to get it done.  I have some 2-D roads and river sections (also in neoprene), to finish off the battlefield.

When I get back to painting figures, I want to get a few more humans done to beef up the warband represented by the five figures shown last time, and then get the double handful of orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins done so that I can stage a Song of Blades and Heroes game with all new figures and terrain.  I’m hoping that will give me a little more appreciation for what somebody new to the hobby is facing, at least a little.  Obviously I have years of practice in getting things painted quickly, and the information necessary to source things from all over the internet.  Once I’ve got that game out of my system, I’ll shift to painting something else for a while...

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Down the Rabbit Hole, Part 2 ...

I mentioned last time that I had decided to cast a batch of Prince August fantasy figures (as well as some historicals for my Dux Bellorum project).  I grabbed five of them with reasonably good casting quality and tried painting them with my travel paint kit.  It’s taken all week to get them finished, time being somewhat scarce, but here they are.  The sorceress and the spearman were shown before basing last week.  From left to right, we have a sorceress from mold 657 (Wizards), a female rogue/fighter from mold 660 (Female Adventurers), an archer from mold 669 (Heroes and Fighters), a spearman from mold 652 (Men of the City), and a barbarian leader from mold 670 (Barbarians II).

Sample Troupe of Prince August Figures

I had fun painting them, which, of course, is the main object.  I set up another dozen, including some sample dwarves, and enough spearmen to start looking like a unit plus a Men of the City swordsman/officer, and we’ll see if I make any progress on them in the near term.

While the Oathmark game remains the end goal, once I finish this dozen, I will probably try cleaning up and painting some goblins, orcs and trolls, which would give me a chance to get them on the table as a small skirmish game, probably using A Song of Blades and Heroes.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Down the rabbit hole...

TL;DR version: Got out some Prince August molds, cast things unrelated to any recent projects...

This has been an eventful month here in the United States, which has been interfering with my motivation to play with toy solders.  I delayed a remote game expected to be played with my brother (a re-visit of Chainmail) and it’s now been several weeks since I laid out a game, and (until yesterday) as long since I put a brush to a figure.

However, I have been keeping my eyes open for anything interesting in vintage toy soldier molds, and recently received two packages containing these three molds:

Newly arrived vintage molds
 The top one is a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century mold, one which is new to the club collection.  I foresee a resurgence in the influence of the Tigermen of Mars in the near future...

My brother has been practicing his sculpting again recently.  (He’s the artistic one in the family.) That led him to think about mold-making and casting, so that he’ll be ready when he sculpts something he likes.  He has a small collection of Prince August molds that I gave him a few years ago, and decided that he would finally get them out and try casting.  He ordered a melting pot, and ten pounds of lead-free pewter (“Britannia metal”, an alloy of ~92% Sn, ~8% Sb, balance Cu, to be specific) from  Nathan Trotter.  (You’ve got to love a company that’s been in the pewter business since 1789...).  They were very polite about his inquiry and ten pound order and responded promptly, which is the sort of business style getting to be all too rare these days, so I wanted to give them a shout-out.

Prompted by his interest, I ended up deciding that it was finally time to convert over to lead-free material as well, so I ordered 25 pounds of the same material, and had it on my doorstep the next morning.  The very same delivery also brought me my long-ago-preordered copy of Oathmark, a new set of fantasy mass battle rules from Osprey Games, written by Joe McCullough, the author of  Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago.

Osprey’s latest, from the creator of Frostgrave

I had agreed to watch over my brother’s shoulder (remotely, of course) as he tried casting, and then I set up my own casting equipment so that he could watch the way I did it.  That’s how I ended up casting Prince August figures from rubber molds rather than trying out the new vintage mold collection.

Setting up the melting pots outdoors
I decided that I would cast some figures I would want for my Dux Bellorum project.  To prepare for that, I went through my existing inventory of castings and started organizing them into unit sets.  I concluded that I needed some horse, some shields, and some skirmishers, so I pulled out the appropriate molds and went to work.

I was interested to see that the Britannia metal has good flow characteristics, and my success rate in pours was pretty good.

Results of a casting session
I had spent a little more time preparing the molds in advance, cutting additional vents pretty aggressively.  I was pleased to find that the Persian cataphract figure (who at Prince August in 1982 thought that multiple part 25s was a good idea?) was suddenly casting with both arm variations and the open hand all in good shape.  

Prince August 605, Persian Cataphract
The bow and quiver will need to be removed or disguised to render him a more generic western Dark Ages horseman, but at least the multiple separate head system allows me to substitute something more generic (e.g. a spangenhelm) for the big Persian hat.  It will be time to work on cavalry.  

Because I needed shields, and also wanted the somewhat Roman-esque archer from the Prince August 652 (Men of the City) mold, I ended up pouring that mold quite a few times.  Add the figures that were coming out reasonable well, and the new fantasy mass battle rules (which my brother also decided to buy), and the next thing I knew, I was deciding to do trial casting on all of the fantasy molds I own, especially the ones that have never been tested. 

That had to wait until this weekend, though.  To keep the process orderly, I decided that I would take them in catalog number order, starting with the molds I hadn’t used, so I skipped over 651 (Barbarians) and 652 (Men of the City) and started with 653 (Dwarves).  You can see from the picture below what I mean about aggressive venting.  However, it seems to have paid off, since between that and the new metal, the success rate was running above 75% yesterday.  

Prince August 653, Dwarves (old mold)
I tried molds 653-658 (Dwarves, Wood Elves, Orcs, Troll and Goblins, Wizards, and Armored Dwarves) as well as the half-armored Persian cataphract horse to go with last week’s rider.  I turned out about 70 reasonable castings in a two hour session.  Irene, my partner, wanted to know whether this was really cheaper than buying figures.  I weighed the human-sized figures in the new metal, and it looks like one could expect about 40 25mm humans on foot from a pound of the material.  At $12.50 per pound for a 25 pound order, that works out to less than 32 cents per figure in metal cost.  With vintage 25s from Iron Wind metals running $3.50 or more, the answer is a resounding “Yes”.  She also wanted to know how long the molds lasted, and I really don’t know the answer to that.  The most-used 40mm NQSYW molds I own have produced hundreds of castings and seem to be fine.  At $15/mold or so, the amortized cost  of the molds is probably less than a penny per figure.  The amount of time invested in the casting process is also not much; yesterday’s session averages out to less than two minutes per figure.  There is certainly more time needed to prepare a home cast figure for painting than a commercial figure of similar complexity (i.e., if containing the same number of pieces needing assembly).

That leaves questions of art to be considered.  An individual home cast figure, due to the limitations of the process, is going to be less detailed than a commercial spin-cast figure.  On the other hand, simpler castings can be easier to paint, and that’s a plus if your goal is to fill the table with painted armies. On the third hand, the variety of castings in somewhat limited.  On the fourth hand, limitations make good art...

My brother has tentatively decided that he is building his Oathmark armies with home cast figures (jumping into the deep end?).  While considering the question of whether I am backing him up in this endeavor (in the hopes of running a joint game at a convention someday), I started painting a few trial castings.

Sorceress from Prince August 657 (Wizards)
While the main benefit of casting things is that masses of troops are inexpensive, I do have molds for things that would only be needed in small numbers.  I don’t think the sorceress came out badly as an individual.
Spearman from Prince August 652 (Men of the City)
The spearman is one I cast last weekend.  I’ve got five more sitting on my desk to be cleaned up, and we’ll see what a unit might look like.  

I’d like to try a small skirmish with Oathmark before I write a rules review.  My first observation, though, is that the use of a non-standard basing system is mildly off-putting.  Units have a fixed maximum frontage of five figures, with a fixed base size of 25mm square for most foot.  Prince August “true 25s” are going to look like they are in pretty loose order, so I am currently thinking that I am going to be using group movement (sabot) stands.  

So that’s what’s been going on here. I’m glad to have painted anything, and hope to get back around to the French Revolution, the Renaissance, and even the NQSYW while I’m in the mood for home cast projects.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Death on the Nile, in Remote DBA

During the current  difficulties, I have been keeping in touch with the hobby by playing games remotely.  Happily, years of practice left us ready for this.  Yesterday, my sons had their turn, as I hosted a game for the two of them, separately remote.  Since younger son William acquired DBA 3.0  fall, we have had a resurgence of interest in the game, and older son Norman and I (well, mostly Norman) have been at work reshaping and extending an earlier 1/72 Bronze Age project to cover more of the possible armies of the 13th century BCE.  For yesterday’s game, we pitted the ancient Libyans (DBA Army I/7b) against the New Kingdom Egyptians (I/22b).

 I set up the iPad on a tripod, having recently acquired a tripod mount for it, and laid out the reversible 3x3 ground cloth on the desert side.

Norman elected to command the Libyans, and William was therefore cast as the Egyptians.

We had to use a spare Egyptian chariot on a sabot base in lieue of the as-yet-unbuilt Libyan chariot, and the camps were also improvised.  Of the choices that we could make, Norman elected to take an element of Sea Peoples “blades” rather than a second chariot, and William elected to deploy his Sherden guards as “solid” (rather than “fast”) blades.

The terrain system gave us a waterway along one edge (as the Egyptians, a “littoral” culture, were defending).  William chose to use his amphibious capability to land two elements, some Nubian skirmishers and a renegade Libyan warband, behind the Libyan line in a bid to capture the enemy camp.

The battle then commenced.  William’s amphibious force won an early advantage by destroying two of Norman’s right flank skirmishers, but faltered in their attack on the camp.  After a single attempt, the situation in the main battle demanded all of his attention and command pips.

There was a good deal of pushing and shoving along the left end of the Libyan line (the Egyptian right), and eventually Norman’s Libyan “warbands” came screaming down off the hill in a bid to destroy the Egyptian infantry (against which they had a quick kill capability).  He was in the unenviable position of attempting to hold off chariots with skirmishers while hoping for some luck with the warbands, and the dice were not with him.  A couple of turns into the main fight, William finally overcame his cold dice situation, and killed two elements out on his right flank for the win.  

The video quality was still a little underwhelming, so we supplemented it by taking and texting pictures of the situations on demand.  As a result, the game took rather longer than it would have face to face.  However, if there’s one thing that most of us have these days, it’s time on the weekends.  With side discussion, set up, and the like, we were at it for about two hours.  We all agreed that we need to gain a little more familiarity with the rules, as extensive play with the first edition of Hordes of the Things was tripping us up fairly regularly.

Next time, perhaps we shall dig out the 2nd Punic War figures; they haven’t seen a battle in several years...

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Catching Up a Bit — Scenery and Remote Games

I haven’t done well at updating my blog the past couple of weeks, but all is still well here under lockdown.  I am still finding myself too distracted to paint as I would like to, but I have gotten the big brushes and craft paint out and had a go at some scenery.  First up is another of the resin village buildings I’ve been working on, the “Trader’s Shack“ from Apocalypse Miniatures.     
Apocalypse Miniatures “Trader’s Shack”

I am looking forward to getting the village into a game; at three buildings plus the outhouse, it’s starting to look like something.  A fourth large building, the Apocalypse “farm house” is on the painting desk with some paint on it.

Last weekend I pulled out all of the 25mm scenery boxes, sorted, consolidated, and labeled, so I now have an empty 12 liter Really Useful Box earmarked (and labeled) for transporting scenery for away games, and all of the scenery pieces have a labeled box to call home, so that can be sorted back after use.
Scenery Organization in Progress
In the upper right corner of the organization picture, a tan ruined tower can be seen.  I think I acquired this from a dealer at Huzzah a couple of years ago.  The manufacturer had already gone out of business, so I couldn’t get one in the grays I usually use for scenery.  Since I found it while organizing, I was reminded that I should try repainting it.

Wartorn Worlds ruined tower repainted...

...and with a little vegetation added to enhance it.
Happily, the recycled tire material seemed to take paint well, and I am pretty happy with the enhanced piece.  Now that it looks like it fits in with the rest of the scenery, I hope to have it on the table soon.

Following the scenery sorting, I set up a game of Burrows and Badgers.

My brother joined me remotely, seen in the upper right where a clamp to mount my iPad to a photographic tripod had arrived to make remote gaming easier.

We ran B&B last year at Gencon, so I used two of the war bands I had statted out, printed, and laminated.  I took the unlucky Reynard the highwayfox with his new-fangled pistol, and Norman took Sir Caradoc, a noble dog of the old school.

Reyanrd’s camp about to be attacked; ruined doorway by Reaper
A roll for scenarios brought us an ambush of a camp, and Reynard was elected to be the ambushee.  While he actually had some success with the pistol, for a change, Caradoc personally managed to bring him to justice.  I was reminded that I have an unfilled appetite for some detailed skirmish gaming; I should do something about that.

Just before everything locked down, I ordered a Hot Wire Foam Factory kit and picked up some 2’x2’ sections of pink insulation board from the Home Despot to work on my scenery upgrade.  The first warm day we had, I took the foam cutter outside and sliced up a few test hills.

Hot Wire Foam Factory test output
I recently acquired a neoprene mat from Frontline Games to be the usual basis for miniatures in the gaming table.  I hoped that Woodland Scenics flock would be a reasonable enough match; otherwise it’ll be post-lockdown before I can use the sand and house paint technique.  When I flocked the first test hill, I found that I had misplaced the reserve stock of flock, so I needed to reserve what I had for miniatures.  It was close, but I thought that it might be improved with some mottling of other flock shades. 
Small test hill with a rocky section
Eventually the flock supply arrived. (Thank you, USPS, for continuing to work during this!)  I tried again, and thought that would probably do.

Multiple flock colors
With the remote game this weekend, I was able to open up the table, which has generally been in use as my partner’s work-at-home space, and set up a game, including the test hills.

Corner hill...2.5” will be the limit if I want them to be flush with the top of the well.

You can judge the overall results from the set-up picture.

Terrain layout for this week’s game
This week’s remote game was played by Chris Palmer, who volunteered to help me out by taking one side in a pending battle in my Northlands (usually solo) campaign.  I shall hope to get a separate battle report up for that, but the short version is that the defenders of the kingdom of Darmis defeated a detachment of raiders from the neighboring kingdom of Verdance.  The small encounter was played out using the Dragon Rampant rules, and the “Crystal Gale” scenario from the rule book.  With that out of the way, I can figure out what the other pending battle looks like, and then get on with the next month’s worth of map movement.

The leaders of the two forces meet in battle, with the local cavalry sending the raiders packing
  At least with a solo campaign, nobody else is inconvenienced if it takes a while to resolve the next event.