Monday, August 12, 2013

Any Port in a Storm

Some months back I decided I was renaming the capitol of my basement Cai Lay. I've revised my thinking somewhat. Since there was a Cai Lay before I started I think New Cai Lay might be better. And thus far Cai Lay was . . . pretty industrial and rather spartan.

I don't plan to get rid of the old harbor anytime soon. After all, I have been updating it with efficient modern piers like the one below:

But somehow I want my city to have glittery edge, a little class, some glamour. Someplace for people to disembark from a beautiful ship that isn't surrounded by warehouses and refineries, someplace more like Manhattan and less like Jersey City. (Indeed, someplace across the river from my old harbor. Which means I'll need a bridge, sooner or later. Or two or three.) Of course, it also means I'll need a city.

Well, I've broken ground. The first step is grading and initial construction on the liner piers. You can see what I'm up to below:

It may not look like much, but it should make a decent foundation. I'm experimenting with what I believe is called "hard-shell" scenery. I've built a core of foam and crumpled paper, shaped it with masking tape, and layered wallboard joint compound on top of that. I've done two layers thus far. The next step will be to sand it into the rough shapes I want and perhaps add a little more to cover bare spots. The piers themselves are pieces of foam packaging that came with a screen we installed at a local college. My plan is to make the skyscrapers from blocks of foam or balsa and build them up similarly. (I can add kneadtite details, or maybe I'll try out milliput.) I'll have to cut foundations for the buildings, but hey, that's all the more real, right? Plaster carves easily enough, so long as you don't need fancy and don't mind patching. Heck, maybe I can even try casting some details for my skyscrapers. Surely the same construction companies and architectural firms have built more than one New CL building, right? And maybe they reuse elements from old plans when no one is looking too closely.

To give you a very rough idea of how all of this will scale and how I hope it will lay out I've placed some appropriately sized wood blocks on the hill and docked some liners at the still incomplete berths.

It's still rough, but I think I can make it work.

Revisiting a Dark and Distant Fantasy Part III: Lighter and Friendlier Metals

Now for the lighter stuff. Of course just about the same time GW began to super-size their astro-arsenal Citadel moved away from the lead miniatures I talked about in Part II and into the recently departed world of "pewter."  (I guess they prefer to be on the other side of frivolous legal maneuvers.) I was at first skeptical, since the material was harder and more brittle, but I jumped aboard. At this point I'm even sold on it, if one wishes to cast in metal.

The fellow above is nothing particularly special, but I do like the wolf tail markings I painted on the interior lining of his cloak. The next three fellows go together. There's a kind of tango that happens. Follow with me now . . .

Huh. Those are nifty arms. Where did they come from?

Now that looks suspciously like the "official"Logan Grimnar model (which looks absolutely nothing like the Grimnar in the drawing where he first appeared.) But something's different. Looks like something I saw somewhere else once too . . .

Heck of an axe on that one. I wonder who he is . . . Wait . . . I think I get it now.

One of the very last Citadel models I bought was their "Logan Grimnar." He reminded me very much of the character drawn on the front of the Space Wolf codex. (On which drawing I must assume the model is based.) But they decided to use this terminator for Logan Grimnar, which was in my opinion a terrible mistake. He's "just" another Terminator officer. Maybe even a non-com. Nothing wrong with that, but he wasn't intended to be the leader of the whole dang chapter. Chapter leaders were, by and large, relatively normal guys. More medals. Fancier uniforms. But no special armament or stature. I wanted a Logan Grimnar model. I also thought the model was interesting. But the two needed to be pried apart and a bright line drawn between them. The terminator gave up his arms to the greater good and received in turn two normal, but quite functional ones. The arms came from the second model, which was a normal wolfguard sergeant. I cut the sword off and built it up with a plastic chainsword. I also carved up a knife to put in the jaws off the wolf head and added a chain and some emblems carved from putty to the right arm. Lastly I carved a new wolf pelt from putty to substitute for the one that came with the model. (Which I later recycled with a dreadnaught, to which I believe it is a better fit.) The resulting model is a decent approximation of the drawing from the cover of the codex.
I then took the arms from the "Grimnar" model, cut the axe off, and affixed them to the wolfguard sergeant model. I used a sword cut from the third model to replace the axe, thereby gaining two sergeants for the price of about three and a half. (Two really cool and different ones. So I count it adequate.

But in the end I wanted Grimnar. The drawing depicts a quite balding older man with the usual long teeth, but doesn't show much beyond his face and a suggestion of his torso. I had several duplicate Space Wolf sergeants so I started with the one I felt was closest. As a beginning I cut off his head and replaced it with a nicely bearded plastic squat head. I lengthened his beard and let it run down onto the armor in several places, added fangs, and gave him a bionic eye. This was a mistake. When I later looked at the Grimnar model I found that he didn't have a bionic eye, but was instead wearing a targeter. That's what you get when you work off memory, I suppose. (I had misplaced the codex. I was able to find the cover picture online, but not the old drawing from the interior. I wonder why that might be?) Again, I cut off his sword and gave it to the first terminator. In the newly vacated hand I placed the haft of the large axe. To balance this massive piece of weapon I needed a pommel. A piece from the end of a pull chain turned out to be about ideal.

And there you have it. That's about where I left off when I was last in the world of the dark future. For the curious I'll continue by posting a few collection reviews, and I suspect the Malleus Bellum is back to stay, so episodes from Antiques Roadshow and This Old Fig might pop up every now and then. For present, happy gaming.

Revisiting a Dark and Distant Fantasy Part II: Fiat Plumbum

And on the third day the Gamemaster said: "Let there be lead." And He brought forth lead miniatures in all their varieties: man and beast; elves, orcs, and dragons; dwarves, halflings and lesser creatures. Even an artillery piece or two.

But today we're just going to talk about men. (And anyone who dismisses halflings obviously hasn't been on the other end of a sniper scope from one. Or within throwing distance, really. I want a baseball team made entirely of halflings. We'll win every game.)

In Part I we left off with discussions of plastic miniatures. My first experiments with heavy metals were relatively tame as they go. I painted them up and left it at that.

Modifications, such as they were, were little different from what I was occasionally doing in plastic to "wolf" things up:

Okay, the plastic guy has some small alterations beyond wolfing. But if I recall correctly that miniature was one I acquired from Ben. I modded the bolter and added the pelt. Ben had already posed it. For some reason I kept it though. But back to lead . . .

One subtle but significant modification is visible in the next two pictures:

Can't see it? It's subtle. Let's try one more . . .

Whad'ya think? There it is. I started drilling out the barrels on my guns. Plastic, lead, or whatever else I might have used. It's a small thing, but I like it. Saw it in White Dwarf and I was hooked.

When the Space Wolves characters came out I had the fantastic idea, absolutely fantastic, that my command section should be mounted on wolfback. Wolves the size of draught horses. Pretty silly, honestly, but I did it. The results were mixed, but I was all of twenty or twenty one at the time. Still learning.

That was the beginning of my experiments with sculpting. Still hadn't discovered kneadtite (or green stuff, if you prefer), so everything was rather crude. But the concept wasn't terrible. I find it might almost be worth updating. Shortly after this I started building an orc army and got a little more serious about conversions.

To the curious, the mage-advisor (*cough* runepriest) started as a chaplain, lost his head, gained a plastic beak, a wire and plastic staff not visible from this side, an assortment of Squadron Signal green putty runes, and a crude home-made wolf head. The CinCWolf, Leman Lord Geri, has plastic legs, a rough-rider torso (apt, no?), a plastic head modified by the addition of a wolf-snout, an orc sawblade coated in putty and sculpted into a chainsword, a spare Freki's head on his helm, her tail on his sword, a plastic power-first, a wire necklace with plastic-sliver teeth, several crude putty gemstones, and a paper cloak with a homemade wolf pelt. While I still have uses for Squardon Signal's green putty, It's not the material I'd use for sculpting anymore. I used it then as I had it lying about, but now I'd go for kneadtite or possibly milliput. (Still have to give the old standby a try. I'm learning to like the "green stuff," but the "white stuff" supposedly has advantages for some projects. Possibly of the largish sort I sometimes enjoy.)

In the next edition I'll show you my very last conversions before jumping off the bus and moving to 1/2400. Of course, I seem to be back aboard, so maybe I'll try my hand at it again now that I've learned a thing or two. And tell me if you spot this evening's easter egg modeling project. Again, thanks for listening. It's a journey, but we're getting closer to the end.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Revisiting a Dark and Distant Fantasy Part I: Early Imperial Plastic

40,000 years in the future used to be a fairly grim place. Kind of a dirty classic steampunk. Then it got bright and all comic-booky heroic and I decided the light bothered my eyes so I left. Mind you, I never got rid of my toys, so the door was always open. To be honest, I guess I'd just pretended I'd left: threw some blankets over the windows and retreated to the basement. (To crib shamelessly from my friend Z, who lives the dark and dangerous steampunk life every day.)

While the apocalyptic destruction of the great gaming citadel is ongoing, I've decided I might as well admit I'm still here and come out and play with the bones a little. They're good bones. Bones with character.

I first met the Space Marines in a friends box set of the then ubiquitous "beakies." I hated them. Everything was exagerated. The models were crude and poorly detailed. They didn't fit together well. The plastic was some kind of harder grade of styrenesque something that didn't bond well with standard hobby glue. In short, they were plastic models from people that had no real clue how to make plastic models. But after I bonded with them for a little while . . . (Not literally people! I didn't use CA glue then.) . . . after I'd had some time to grow comfortable with the aesthetic I realized they had some character and this was an arms race I could join. After I read my friend Ben's Rogue Trader I was hooked. I could modify things. There were models that looked somewhat more elegant. I had some ideas.

So I bought my own box of beakies. When my friends bought multi-meltas and heavy bolters and all those fancy guns I, being on a budget then, hacked and slashed with the bits I had lying about and made my own special guns. For several years my beakies were well equipped but with something of an odd-lot look about them. Later, when I started to buy lead I found this unsatisfactory and most of the conversions ended up in the repaint/repair bin, from whence I dug these:

Everything from fishing weights to the drive shaft from a pickup truck model made it's way into the arsenal. There's also the grip from a motorcycle, sprue, German clips in large calibers, and folding fin aerial rockets. Or at least pods to carry them. Lots of model parts. I like styrene. It's good to have some sitting about. I always worry I'll run out of interesting parts but I truly never do.

None of these are in their original paint, but they're from the first couple of years. By the time of the last one I was beginning to get just a little more bold. You might see that I sliced and diced some lead in the service of a very crude conversion. He was intended as a chapter commander in the absence of the original great wolf himself. (Which figure I owned but couldn't really toss onto a battlefield.) While this miniature wasn't particularly successful, some of the techniques I tried turned out useful later.

Another technique I was slow to learn was stripping. This fellow is an example of what came out of the repair bin for a repaint. It's perhaps obvious that the stripping was accomplished with a hobby knife, but in this case I almost like it. The thick paint and bad strip job kind of give him a nice battle-worn character. He's probably due up for some repairs, but this gives you the flavor of what I did. All in all, I'd say it's not too bad for an eighteen-year-old kid. The banner is the usual paint and paper, but I think the pose, the rubber band straps, and the putty wolf's tail were nice touches.

But enough of soldiers. Given that I started out with plastic airplanes maybe it's not surprising that my army was a little more armor heavy than most:

Of course, I've never met a military model that couldn't be improved by a little cutting and pasting, or even smacking about with a ball-peen hammer. The lead Predator has had the hammer technique applied to the track guard. The small piece of track is salvaged from a converted Rhino that you can see with large red crosses in a previous post. The camouflage netting is nylon screen. More hammer work and some possibly identifiable bits from more recent kits can be seen on the leftmost tank in the second picture. In the background are an old-school Whirlwind that was visible in the previous post and a Razorback that was not. (Not having been released yet and all.) The Whirlwind makes use of a conversion from an issue of White Dwarf. I cut up a large square base for the rockets (and still have baseless dreadnaughts as a result) and used some leftover bits from my Predators for the rest. The bottom was the big angle door front piece. the top was the eagle plate.

When I picked up the land raider you see below I found all this lovely empty space inside. It had a nice floor, some couches, hatches and doors you could leave unglued, but no place for a driver to sit. (And no room elsewhere in the model that couldn't be seen through that door.)

A dive into my parts bin fixed that. I've begun to forget what some of the particular bits are, but there are pieces of a visible nuclear submarine model, chairs from a German flak cannon, a wheel from a Panzer IV I think it was, an ammunition drum, a harness from a dorsal turret . . . parts. Spare parts in assorted scales repurposed to become consoles and controls. I'm still relatively pleased with the result twenty years later.

And if you want some really intense conversion, try this on for size . . .

He's beginning to show his age, Eddie is, but he's still a sight on a battlefield. He uses guns from G.I. Joe toys, electrical conduit, a cockpit from an A-10, sheet styrene, wooden dowel, paintbrush handles, a barrel from a predator, German ammo lockers, British drop tanks, the bones of two or three beakies, the flight console from a B-17 and I believe the engineer's console from a B-29 . . . and lord only knows what else. Fun stuff. I've actually used him in a battle once. Try this one on: he lost. (My friend Ben had two. Ed was a little overmatched. But I gave as good as I got.) Oh yes: if it wasn't obvious Ed started life as a vinyl ED-209 model. I have a toy star wars walker sitting about for use one day in the future. Maybe.

In Part II I talk a little about my experiments with lead and wonder where those extra brain-cells went.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How I got myself into this . . .

Once in a while people ask me how I got into naval wargaming. The answer is a little complicated, but here goes:

I grew up on stories, models, and games. My grandfather, who served in the First Marine Raider Battalion, was at a stage where he was occasionally telling war stories when I was young. Most often the funny ones and not the ones involving honest to deadly fighting, but once in while those came out to. And the sword, medals, and Japanese flag were story enough on their own.

Add to this a father who was quite interested in World War Two. I was raised on Sunday reruns of Hogans Heroes and Tora! Tora! Tora! And of course dad was an avid model railroader and occasional aircraft modeler. He built a few plastic aircraft with my brother, sister, and I when I was quite young. When I was in middle school I began to build them on my own, and promptly got into a miniature arms race with a neighborhood friend. We counted coup in rare Airfix, Italieri, and Fujimi kits and in sheer numbers of Monogram and Revel airframes. By the time I graduated I'd guess I had fifty or more and Ben maybe half again that. (He always had a larger allowance than I.) You can get an idea of the scope of the collection in the background of this aging (Kodak instant) photograph:

Of course if you have models you have to sometimes do fun things with them:

If I can find a way to scan disc negatives I'll add one or two more to the bunch later. (There's a cool one of which I cannot find a print.) But moving on . . . 

Even on vacation I couldn't quite avoid the modeling bug.

This may not look like much, but it's a crude scale model of a town I'd sketched out in some detail for a role playing game I was in. Later on that town became a kingdom and that kingdom a world, which I suppose I ought to write about sometime, seeing as there's art and it is thus germane to this little kettle of creativity. But this is an aside for another day. Instead let me take you to the a-historical distraction that brought me to the world of formal wargaming. And models small enough to fit several into the palm of your hand. This too is an aside, but it's the one I want to get to today.

Right. So I had an arms race with my friend down the block. Well, one day he and his brother (also a friend) brought home some odd little plastic science fiction soldiers. I hated them. Really hated them. And then a few weeks later I bought some of my very own and stayed hooked for the next dozen years or so.

Oyez, oyez, I found myself sucked into the dark and stormy world of psychic monsters, dead emperors, and overstuffed beefcakes in three meters of composite (tactical dreadnaught) power armor. (Or should I say armour?)

The world known to those of us silly enough to know it as Warhammer 40K. (tm)

Yes. I was addicted. Might still be, though I just don't care for what they've done to the place in the last twenty odd years. But that's another story. This is me admitting that I still have most of that stuff. (Though sadly not the Land Raider Spartan seen in the fifth picture. But I think I know where it is. Could even make a new one with a little time and expense.) [Editorial Update: I do have the Spartan., or to be more accurate its bones. Forgot I'd reacquired that.]

So yes, those 40K pictures occasionally popping up along with music in earlier posts are in fact mine. And . . . I've bought some more and begun painting it again lately. Some were in trade for a painting commission, to be fair, but others were bought on our favorite e-commerce site for buying overpriced used jun . . . treasures.I'll take the liberty of putting the results of both the commissions and the recent purchases into another post, which should be along shortly. But back to the process . . . 

So that got me into wargaming. You can see an actual game unfolding on the lawn. As I recall it didn't go terribly well for the defenders. Some twenty years later I was teaching music at a small liberal arts college in Marshall Missouri when a colleague decided I really needed to watch the new Battlestar Galactica. I'd been thinking about wargaming and miniatures again anyway, as I'd just started painting a Squat army I'd acquired many years before. (Really should get some pictures of that one of these days.) And BG Mk. II put me in the mood for carrier combat, which naturally draws one back to the exploits of the "Big E," who inspired the "Big G." ("Big Gal," maybe? Every good ship deserves a bad nickname. Galactica shouldn't really be any exception. "Galactigator" is a little awkward so I'll go with the "Gal.")

And there you have it. Cylons lead inevitably to Midway if you follow the right path. Thus did I get into naval wargaming. And in case you wonder, tiny little ships aren't really any more economical now than tiny little science-fantasy soldiers were then. I love miniatures wargaming, but I think the hobby does itself a disservice when a (fancy) model two inches long costs about as much as (an inexpensive) one twenty inches long. Still . . . navies require fewer ships than armies require soldiers so it's not so extravagantly expensive. Just more than you want when you decide to build fleets big enough to refight Leyte Gulf or Philippine Sea. Thanks for listening. Come back later and maybe there will be more.

(P.S. The decoration on the side of the B-17 is not a decal, for the curious. Good luck finding that decal in the late eighties. But that's what every sixteen year old boy wants on his B-17, so I painted it myself. Came up with a novel process to draw it on paper and transfer the outline onto the model so I could paint from that. Ought to revisit that process. It worked fairly well.)