Thursday, January 14, 2021

Rogue Thrust

          Early on in the year of Papa Nurgle's (tm) Plague Rat Special I had the grand ideas of running a campaign. There has clearly been some tension between his High Holiness the Emperor of Space (or at least his closest advisors) and the provincial governments way out on the northern frontiers in and around the Tartarus Rim. And so the orbital shipyards here in Vide Poche set about the task of both creating and responding to this threat. (Always best when you can work both sides of an equation. At least until the Empress of Everything looks at the bottom line of not one, but two astral building programs.)
          But it turns out that I am still somewhat of an extrovert. Summer has been the hard season for me for a good ten years now, but 2020 . . . well, it's been special. And extroverted musicians locked in their homes get even more melancholy than usual, which means they get even less done. Thankfully winter still provides some relief. There is light at the end of the tunnel. And in the meantime there are at least some spaceships that I got done in the Spring before I crashed and burned a little.

Miniature Spaceships

          So to get things rolling again I set about adapting all that loveliness to a nice set of fleet-scale space combat rules. Most of the miniatures above were, of course, either crafted for or adapted to GW's 90s space combat game Space Fleet. (The ships on the right actually owed their origin to an earlier company whose molds Citadel bought at some point. This wouldn't be their habit later on, but it's not uncommon for smaller miniatures companies even now.) But me, I like Ground Zero's Full Thrust. I've been playing it forever, albeit intermittently. And it's a pretty simple and elegant rules set. It plays fast and clean. So why learn a new one?
          *whisper whisper*
          What, you say? People expect Gothic Battleships and Ironclads to behave certain ways?
          *whisper whisper*
          And to recreate that in another game you're going to have to at least minimally understand how the first one worked?
          Well, shoot. Okay. I'll at least read the original ship data sheets and see what I can learn before I make my own cards for another system.

. . . . .

          Thus did I set off on the long journey of learning at least a little about an ancient GW game I'd never once played in order to halfway knock it off in a different game system with a remarkably different philosophy of how things should work; to stitch the materials of a dark space comedy into a light space opera. Space Sondheim meets Space Mozart, if you will. It can be made to work, but not without effort, compromise, and some understanding of those original materials.
          First, I had to learn the Sondhei . . . I mean Space Fleet. And what I learned was weird and quirky. Everything is a different speed. Everything has weird abilities. I sketched things out, realized everything was wrong, read through everything again, sketched everything out again, and still screwed it up. What you see below is about the third draft . . . and it's still wrong. But it's at least a gameable wrong, so we have a start. With second draft stats I set about making first draft ship sheets. Which were of course wrong. And not very sexy. So I fixed them up and sexed them up and arrived at something almost usable.

          In the end I decided that sexy wasn't as important as legible for gaming purposes. Stark black silhouettes look great on a computer screen, but they don't work as well when you're crossing things off on a sheet of paper. So I went back to an outline version (albeit a somewhat improved outline) and arrived at the third/fourth draft you see below. It's still not perfect, but it works. It should make good sense to anyone familiar with Full Thrust. Further, it should incorporate some of the odd quirkiness of Space Fleet. (As much as I can preserve.)
          The eventual goal is to pit an enormous, but ancient and ossified space empire against a bunch of upstart frontier rebels with new ways of thinking and possibly fighting, but with much more modest resources to project their ambitions of self-determination. (We will studiously avoid considering the process by which the upstart rebels become the ossified empire until an as yet unspecified future date. Wash, rinse, and repeat.) But first you have to have rules that work. And what better way to test them than pitting some related ships of known capability against one another? By that means we arrive at the tableau you see below. Actual dice were rolled. Ship data sheets were printed on real paper and marked up with real pencils as imagined laser fusilades were exchanged at decidedly sub-space distances.
          And I got my tousche handed to me. How does that always happen? You might get the idea that I'm a lousy tactician, but I prefer to think I suck at dice. I'm going to chalk it up to my opponent having Old Ironsides front and center there. I drew Ye Olde Gothicke Novel. Didn't stand a chance. ;-)

          I expect more will come later. Jay Bobson, my friend and erstwhile sparring partner, has bought some new spaceships. As have I, as it happens. And we hope to try out ideas for fun and mayhem as we are able. And maybe even game out that conflict between the Spaceish Armada and the Plucky Frontiersmen. Thank you for reading along. Until next time!

          The Composer

Thursday, January 7, 2021

2020 In Review

2020 has been . . . 2020. And may there never be another year quite like it. But in spite of all that (and I do mean in spite) I at least got a few things painted. Not so many as I might have in a normal year, but I am making no apologies for 2020.

So here's the rundown beginning with 28mm vehicles:

1: The Half Jimmy

2: The Eldar Skimmer

2020 was in many ways the year of the farm animal on Moab 2. I painted up lots of 'em. (Probably more than anything else, save possibly scatter terrain. More on that later.)

1-6: Noiffen

7 and 8: "Babe" Blue Oxen

9-11: Terror Birds

12: Mr. Donkey

13-20: Pigs in Space

21-23: Also goats in Space

I did also get some people painted. Not tons, but enough.

1-4: The Duchess of Pain Court and her Boudoir Noire.

5: The Pieman

6: The Ringmaster

7-9: The Sushi seller, the pilot, and the honeymooners.

10: A Goat with a Gun
(I'll leave you the little preview of 2021 as a teaser for what comes next.)

To this we can add a fair bit of scatter terrain, including the pizza kitchen seen with the pieman above, the carnival barkers platform, and . . .

Ore bins, hazmat casks, 50 gallon drums, wheels, road cases, beer kegs (all local brews) and even a few wine casks. (I should really post about that. Meant to. Got distracted by plague.) All manner of loads and a couple of shipping pallets
(not pictured) to hold them.

Last but not least I painted a whole new collection of spaceships, many of which have not as yet appeared elsewhere on the blog. And while these have o-fee-shul GW names I'm ignoring that in favor of fun:

1-8: Space Swords (which are not cancelled)

9: Space Galleon With Fun Gun

10-11: Space Galleons with Pokers

12-13: Poncy Elven Sailboats in Space

Like nearly all great empires Games Workshop got their navy started with ships designed by and purchased from foreign builders. And since these would be those I'm going to utterly ignore what GW thinks these things are and make it up myself. After all, that's what the Caster of Nottingham did before me!

14-20: Space Destroyers and Space Cruisers with Balls!
(Ignore the home-build. Though maybe if I add balls . . . )

21: Space Battleship with Balls

22: Big Honking Freighter with More and Bigger Balls

It really was not a banner year. Adequate, but only because the first six months punched above their weight output-wise. But then . . . 2020. Oh boy! Will that ever mean the same thing again? Hindsight is surviving 2020 and looking back and saying "Nya nya! I'm out, you sneaky plague rat!" 2020.

But the tally:
2 vehicles
23 heads of space livestock
10 people (It started so well!)
22 spaceships. (Might actually have been 23. I think there was a little atmospheric shuttle lost in there.)
A lot of scatter terrain. (Not going to count. It was all pretty quick. Though putting local brew labels ont things did take a little work. And I created my own space label logo. Maybe that'll come up when I do the scatter terrain catchup post.)

It's not terrible. But not what I'd been hoping for. As to 2021? I make no promises. Let's survive what I hope is the tail end of the plague, find our mojo, and move forward.

Congratulations living through all of this. May none of us ever again live in such interesting times. ;-)

The Composer

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Sentinel Gate Affair, Episode III: Step Into My Parlor

. . .  Said the Master to the Spy.

Continued from our last episode, A Bounty on the Mutant.

     The bounty hunter Tommy Takara waited near the hulking guards in the catacombs beneath the palace for what seemed a dog's age before their subtle separation heralded the arrival of the two cardinals tasked with the inquisition into what they called the "Frei matter."

     Takara was glad he was accustomed to industrial worlds, as the atmosphere was dank and acrid. In fact, the two high lords both wore masks and respirators so large their faces were either completely, or nearly completely obscured. Even in armor that was clearly ceremonial they looked surprisingly formidable. He was not eager to deliver disappointment to men such as these. While the first fellow stroked some kind of animal the second waved a greeting and began.
     "I understand you have returned empty handed."
     "Yes, your eminence. A team of local operatives found Frei and moved him into the hinterlands before I was able to secure him," Takara answered. "After that I quickly found my transit permits had disappeared."
     The air hung silent for a long moment as Takara sweated over his fate. Eventually the first fellow, the taller one with the . . . cat Takara decided, spoke out almost inaudibly.
     "Do you care to add anything before we dispatch you?"
     The word hung in the air like an axe.
     Takara swallowed before he replied. "No, your eminence. My failure is my own responsibility."
     "I'm not seeking excuses," the cardinal continued. "Merely information. What else did you observe?"
     Takara thought long about his reply. If his information was useful perhaps he would still have breath when this audience ended. Maybe even a career.
     "There seem to be quite a few parties interested. There was a second bounty hunter. Some kind of orc. Or troll, maybe."
     "And he was permitted to search freely?" the shorter cardinal interrupted.
     "Yes your eminence. It appears there is some kind of peace between the local officials and a wide variety of xenos. Maybe not trust, but tolerance. Orcs were allowed access to the administrative seat. It wasn't even walled."
     Takara paused for a moment. "Go on," prompted the quiet cardinal.
     "The operatives who secured Frei are apparently a rather well known local group. They've done a lot of work for the Rex-Avis clan in the past. And Rex-Avis seems to have some association with the Proconsul."
     "Anything else?" the shorter cardinal queried further. (Though the difference in height probably came down mostly to the size of their hats.)
     "No your eminence. I think that's all."
     The quiet man dismissed him with a nod and Takara was happy to take his leave of the place. And he made a note to himself not to accept any more jobs from the bloody cardinal electors if he could possibly help it.

. . . . .

     A short time later the two prelates turned to welcome a gentleman with heavy grey armor and a data pad.
     "Ah, Augustus. Thank you for coming," said the shorter cardinal, waving once again.

     "It seems we have need of an inquest, and we would like to ask you to lead it."
     "Absolutely, your grace," Augustus replied confidently and rather more familiarly. The two cardinals were old associates of the grizzled investigator, who was himself sworn to the service of Holy Terra; a priest inquisitor in the Imperial cult. "What do you require of me?"
     "We need you to investigate rumors of apostasy in the north; in the Tartarus Rim. Perhaps the whole of it. The very highest levels of provincial government may not be keeping full faith with Terra. There are even rumors of peace with hostile xenogennimous races, which would be a most foul heresy if it were true."
     Augustus merely nodded at this and tapped a few notes into his pad before the cardinal continued.
     "We will dispatch a force to support you, should our fears be true and invasion necessary. We cannot immediately spare much more than a squadron; a few galleons and cruisers. But they should suffice to hold any local forces at bay until the Armada can be mustered."
     Again Augustus nodded. "Do you wish me to await this force? Is it prepared?"
     "We will send you aboard the flagship, IMS Periastron," the shorter cardinal continued. "You should probably approach in secret. Perhaps leave the squadron near, but outside the province. Lord Simon will provide you with a list of suitable contacts with ships that can carry you the last few parsecs. Most likely tramp traders, but reliable and known to us."
     "Very good," Augustus said. "I pray all the fates and his Divine Majesty will smile upon you in my absence, and that they will grant this enterprise good fortune."
     "Calm spaces and prosperous voyage my friend," the cardinal replied.
     With that the three bowed slightly and made their individual ways to their appointed tasks.

. . . . .

     When Augustus reached orbit, he found a small, but formidable force awaiting him. The Periastron was a little older, but she was still a powerful warship. With her he saw the Furious class great galleon Sacrosanctus, two Comitatus class cruisers, and several smaller escorts.

     For the most part the journey was smooth. They encountered no serious storms in transit space, and much of the journey was within the boundaries of Imperial NavAid control. Only in the far galactic north was the skilled reckoning of a bound navigator required. With the aid of arcane half-alien implants in their brains, bound to them and passed down through families and guilds, navigators were able to sense the subtle metaspace currents travelers called "the warp." And indeed, Augustus found the act of looking out his porthole in transit space deeply unsettling. The other ships in the squadron seemed warped and distorted; almost monstrous. Barely recognizable as ships at all when they were visible. So he was glad when Periastron once again dropped into normal space. Ironically, it was there that his troubles began. Upon warping out the fleet found a soldified gas tanker, presumably servicing some automated mining platform.

     The commodore immediately fired a warning, seized the vessel, and took the crew into custody. Neither EM nor gravitics had shown anything that looked like a transmission. Upon inspection, there was nothing in the tanker's memory banks, but those could be scrubbed easily enough. It probably wouldn't change much if the Rimmers knew there were a fleet nearby, but it would make investigation more . . . challenging.

. . . . .

     Proconsul Commodus was deep in conversation with Marcus Camber when his chief of staff interrupted.
     "This had better be good," Commodus muttered.
     "Sir, we just got a waveless flash from a rim flagged tanker: DePCoPro Vacuum 2. It seems an imperial fleet has taken station on the border. Vac 2 shot out a coded tightbeam to a gas platform that they were servicing that had an automatic waveless reporting feature that mostly sent tech information back to corporate. The report came through buried in the regular data, but according to the timestamps it seems like this probably happened about six hours ago."
     He handed the Proconsul a flimsy with the basic details. Commodus examined it for a moment and Camber observed silently.

     The tall official pondered to himself. He wasn't prepared for open rebellion against the Terrans, but he also didn't care to sacrifice the tenuous peace he was building to political expediency in a far away and notoriously xenophobic court.
     "What do you make of this, Alex?" he asked.
     "Not much sir. There's really nothing in the report beyond the seizure itself and some probable ship IDs. Unless they were really paying attention to their EM and gravitics they may not have had any warning until the first coms came in and they popped up on visual. I doubt there was much time to react. I'm pretty impressed they got off what they did. Given everything I can't imagine the Terran intents are completely peaceful and above board. But what their aims and reasons might be . . . Your guess is as good as mine."
     After a brief pause he added "Hell, your guess is probably a lot better. Have we done anything since Project Iowa that would set the council off?"
     Commodus was honestly rather annoyed at the timing, but he tried not to let it show. "Clearly we have," he answered slowly and evenly. "Or they wouldn't be here. I have an idea, but I'd like to keep it close to my chest for now. I'll read you in later, Alex."
     With a nod, he dismissed the aide and turned to Camber. "Marcus, we have a problem. And we're going to need eyes and ears. Who do we have?"
     "That can operate in the south? Maybe the Duchess," he answered.
     "Can you get word to her? Call her in?" Commodus asked.
     "Not personally, no. But Rex-Avis might be able to."
     "Dear lord, I'm getting tired of this. Do we have to run all our ops through her?" Commodus let his cool demeanor slip a bit at this last part.
     Camber, who was personal friends with Colorado Rex-Avis thanks to his gibsonite ventures on Moab III, let the jab slide. "Well, she and Ursaline-Drakemore have built a hell of a network on their own dollar. We're deeply lucky she's on our side."
     "I begin to think de Bayamon and the Dragons answer more to her than to me!" Commodus huffed.
     "They're both on Moab, sir. While we're usually on Proserpine."
     Commodus had to grant that point. "Very well. Send word. And by the way . . . Thank you. And Rex-Avis. I'd appreciate a more redundant operational structure. I hate relying on a system so apparently susceptible to a single-point failure. But I am truly grateful for your help."
     Camber nodded at that. It was a small apology, but it was an apology. "Very good sir. By your leave . . . "
     Commodus waved him off and Camber hurried below to the code shack to make a secure transmission. Soon after Sergeant Maxim Wether was on a Logansport terrace opposite Sir Stanley Ursaline-Drakemore.

     Wether had arrived in Logansport in a great hurry. "Sir Stanley, I urgently need to speak with Rex-Avis."
     Sir Stanley replied calmly "I'm afraid she's out of the system at present."
     Wether looked a little surprised at this. "Oh?" he asked.
     "She got an invitation to observe a fleet exercise near Starship Rock," Sir Stanley answered. "Not the sort of thing you turn down. She's not expected back until next week."
     "Starship Rock is actually perfect. Commodus is hoping she can contact the Duchess," said Wether. "Do you have a secure line of communication with her? It's really quite pressing."
     "Of course," Stanley replied. "Follow me."

. . . . .

     Starship rock was three jumps and a good several parsecs distant, but the entangled particles of a secure waveless network made transmission nearly instantaneous, with the lag between repeaters being the only delay. Waveless required linked sets, and their use tended to produce localized high energy radiation that could be detected, but the sets were slowly catching on, making communication across galactic distances much simpler than it had been even just a few years ago.

     And in barely any time at all, Rex-Avis and the notorious Duchess of Pain Court were face to face in an abandoned section of the starport terminal.

     "Elaine," Colorado Rex-Avis began. "Thank you for coming."
     "It's no trouble at all. I owe you one for sorting things out with Commodus and Snakeskin. I really had no idea Penny was his daughter."
     "Water under the bridge," said Colorado. "And the official story was quite useful. I'd been trying to talk Commodus into peace for years, but without a lever he wasn't willing to go there."
     "Well," replied the self styled Duchess, "I'm glad it worked out. It really was not what I envisioned. And getting bested by a gob doesn't really help your reputation any."
     "Snakeskin is pretty special, even as gobblins go," Colorado replied. "Anyway, it was actually Commodus that wanted your help."
     "Oh really?" Elaine replied. "I'm just glad not to be rotting in jail. I'm really genuinely surprised he's willing to speak to me."
     "He's looking for a spy, not a friend."
     At this Elaine grew more visibly interested. "That is not at all what I expected."
     "There's a bunch of Terran warships gathering just south of the Rim," Colorado said.
     "I know," Elaine replied flatly.
     It was Colorado's turn to be caught flat footed. "How on earth would you have heard about that?"
     "They called me."
     "You can't be serious?" Colorado said, utterly shocked. "And who, precisely, are they?"
     "An inquisitor named Augustus. He wants me to pick him up and play nanny for him while he's on Moab looking into something or other."
     "Oh ho? Is that why they're here?" Colorado began to put the pieces together. Moab meant it was more likely related to Gordon Frei than Project Iowa. They really needed to slow the pace of diplomatic incidents. She was privately glad it wasn't Inquisitor Guimar this time. That man had been a complete boor. Though . . . this did mean the present fellow was more likely to be at least somewhat capable. Which would complicate matters.
     Colorado spoke again. "Commodus is hoping you can ingratiate yourself to the Terrans. Maybe pretend you're still on the outs with the local Spacing Guild, smuggling and tramping as you are able. Your network is . . . formidable. Especially in the French sector."
     Elaine could only agree with that. She nodded for Colorado to continue. "It's a pretty thin cover, really. But it sticks at least somewhat close to the truth, which makes it easier. And we're short on leads in that direction, and coming perilously close to conflict. It will be dangerous. Of course. You are welcome to use your judgment to feed them whatever information to which you are privy you feel is necessary to win their trust, just so long as it's short of causus belli."
     "I'll do what I can," Elaine answered. "I should get back to the Boudoir," she said, as she turned. "If I'm to pick this Terran monk-spy up I'll need to get back warpside chop chop."

. . . . .

     A few day's spacing later the Duchess of Pain Court and her Boudoir Noire were outside the Tartarus Gate meeting an imperial, by god, galleon. One of the big ones with the huge temples tacked on all antique style. A real first rate, by the look of it. Maybe even a bona-fide relic from the Terran Reconquista. (They kept ships that long, she'd heard. Maybe they'd plum forgotten how to build them and didn't care if hull plates rotted out from warp radiation. Or maybe they just plassed them over and pretended they were fine. Hell, maybe they really did make them better back then like the oldest spacers sometimes said. Though Elaine rather doubted the truth of that.) Anyway, there it was, right on time. Marked up with a big red V and a stripe. Probably squardon markings, she decided. One stripe for the commodore and two for the flag? Ah, who knew how the Terrans did things. Didn't really matter anyway. She wasn't fighting it, just meeting a launch to carry the contents a few jumps back into what passed for civilization so far north.

     And just like that Inquisitor Augustus and the Duchess were planetside in yet another bland pre-fab starport terminal. What was it the princess had said in the classic play? "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" Yes. That was it. She'd had the chance to play that part when she was a girl on Vide Poche. Fun little roll for a ten year old girl. She smiled at the memory.
     "So Augustus," she said. "Where can I take you first? I love a good mystery novel and I hope you will let me help you solve yours."
     "That, madame, is precisely what I'm hoping. We have so few reliable contacts this far north. And his majesty, may he live ten thousand years, informs me you have a solid network. We can, of course, make the matter worth your while."

     "It will be my pleasure," Elaine smiled. It would, she realized. This should be the most exquisite fun.

. . . . .

Thank you dear readers for joining me on this adventure. It's shaping up to be a wild ride. Please do tune in next time for episode IV of the Sentinel Gate Affair: Where is Your Ambassador?

The Composer

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Business is Picking Up

While much of the rest of the galaxy is under quarantine, thanks to the spread of some alien disease,
the Tartarus Rim has been relatively busy. Along with the usual stream of coreward tourists and itinerant workers seen at the shuttleport the infamous Duchess of Pain Court and her Boudoir Noire arrived from points unknown.


Meanwhile, business at Pie in the Sky remains steady as Longansport gears up for the district fair.

. . . . . . .

Stepping back from the table let me introduce the new arrivals. They're are a fun mixture of Colony 87 (now available from Crooked Dice), assorted oldhammer fan commissions, and Ramshackle's carnival barker from the pizza set Curtis Fell kindly sent out to his patrons. (Among whom I now count myself.)

Below are the first three of the rather extensive "third wave": the food vendor, the alien tourists, and the human pilot. I've really struggled with these. They look deceptively simple, but in reality the detail is incredibly fine, which makes them more of a challenge to paint. Break out the magnifying glass kiddos. In spite of all this, I love them and I'm glad to have them. Not much to say about the paint schemes here. I try to keep my NPCs varied. They are, after all, ordinary people from quite different backgrounds just out living their lives. While you might think I fell into a bit of a green and blue palette trap, I'm not too worried about it since the rest of the set has plenty of other hues already. (The blue for the pilot was a conscious decision, as my other two pilots are variously in khaki and green. I have a fourth I might paint in red and white.)

I've chosen to depict the food as sushi, which . . . seems not ideal. But hey, maybe that's a high tech tray. Hopefully it keeps it cold as the vendor walks his route and treats his customers to his favorite music.

The fan commissions are variously from Oldhammer in the New World and the Emporium of Rogue Dreams. "Psycho Sam", on the left, is by Mark Copplestone. "Max" and "Maddie," bracketing Mark Perry's legendary LE Chaos Amazon, are both by Drew Williams. Altogether, I think they make a fairly homogeneous and quite fantastic group, and I expect you will see more of them. Since they are supposed to be a gang I decided to go ahead and use that dreaded restricted palette. (Well, a little. I don't want to go too crazy.) I kept the colors mostly cooler, and leaned heavily on the black leather so prevalent in my memories of 80s glam punk and darker sci-fi. I did allow myself some "warm" colors as small touches here and there to break up the monotony. I am pretty darn happy with the overall effect.

Last but absolutely not least is our dimmunitive carnival barker by Curtis Fell of Ramshackle. I've chosen to give him a bright and eye catching outfit loosely based on Dick Van Dyke's Bert out of Mary Poppins. After all, he's trying to draw a crowd. Showmanship!

While not perfect, I'm reasonably pleased with the effect. He's colorful and eye catching and looks good at table distance.

Thank you for coming along for the ride. Hope to see you at the fair!

The Composer

Friday, May 1, 2020

Pie in the Sky

Pizza pie, that is. Among the assorted artists out there sculpting retro-chic miniatures right now is one Curtis Fell of Ramshackle Games. Of course, making a living sculpting things is always a challenge, so Curtis, like many artists, has set up a Patreon account. "Buy me a coffee" he says. Well . . . I did.

(It was the least I could do. He's shared his coffee with me in the actual factual. And I know how important coffee is.)

And in return he has sent his patrons (including yours truly) delicious looking resin pizza pie served up by a hulking giant of a fellow out of battered and ancient looking ovens that could have sailed on the Titanic.

So now there's pizza on the Tartarus Rim. The locals seem pretty eager to give it a try . . . as soon as they're allowed to take off their masks, that is. (Must be some kind of space bug going around.)

Happy Mayday everyone. And remember essential workers of the world; United we stand.

The Composer