Thursday, 29 June 2017

Perilous Island 3: At Death's Door

Introduction

Scenario 3 in the "Perilous Island" campaign book for Pulp Alley is set in a large customs warehouse, full of row upon row of crates.  The leagues are searching for a package that may contain clues to the location of Lord Darrow (the missing archaeologist), so they break in to the warehouse at night and hunt for the item, all the while avoiding (or overpowering!) the guards and each other.

Of course, I don't have a model of a large warehouse filled with shipping crates.  Instead, I decided to set the game in one of the Snake Cult's (see previous "Pulp" posts) outposts.  The cult was last seen being fought to a no-score draw in Perilous Island 2: Final Flight It's not unreasonable that while they and the Safari's characters are languishing in Lumbasa jail, the other two leagues in the campaign should raid their base!


The Setup


Somewhere in east or north Africa, the snake cult has complete control of a small village.  They have a big operation under way; the hamlet is full of crates of supplies and trucks - but for now there aren't too many cultists around.
The infiltrating leagues have decided to approach in the middle of the night, so visibility is reduced to 12".

Plot Points

Unwittingly, it seems, the cult actually have Lord Darrow's box [major plot point] hidden amongst their piles of goods.  There are also 4 minor plot points, any one of which might be able to reveal this important item:
  • Achmed: a night watchman.  Armed and potentially dangerous.
  • Baqil: another night watchman.  Also armed.
  • Jasar: the janitor.  Not particularly dangerous, but he might know a bit about recent comings and goings.
  • A catalogue/inventory: It's written in a simple code, but someone might be able to decipher the writings.  This document has been mislaid; it has been dropped on the road leading into the village.
To find the major item, a character must take any one of the 4 minor points into the centre of the board and query them [using finesse] to reveal the box's location.  It is then placed on the table close by and may be attempted as a normal, major plot point.

Terrain

We decided on the following effects:
  • Climbing 1 level of a building would be perilous.  Climbing 2 storeys would be extremely perilous.
  • Anywhere within 2" of a non-building terrain feature would be perilous (snakes come out at night to hunt), apart from the path through the rocks to the north (marked with a blue arrow, as one of Tarzan's entry points).

The Leagues

Tarzan's Jungle Alliance.
Tarzan is mighty, the gorilla is savage and the monkeys are numerous.

Stahl Helm's Doom Squad.
A relentless Nazi leads an assortment of sinister sidekicks and heavily-armed goons.  Plus a robot.

As mentioned before, the Snake Cult is providing "guest stars" in the form of the watchmen and the janitor.  Officially the Cult isn't involved though; the fate of these extras will not alter the league's reputation, experience or other attributes in the wider campaign.


The Game

In the first turn of the game, all four minor plot points were attempted:



Koko crept up behind Jasar in the dark.  The first thing the poor janitor knew of the ape's presence was when a large, dark arm wrapped itself around him.  Jasar tried to struggle [the plot challenge was against might], but he didn't have a chance of escaping.  1-0 to the Jungle Alliance!



Johann and Herr Stengel approached from the south.  In a staggering display of bad luck, Johann tripped over something unexpected in the road and knocked himself out.  Herr Stengel then groped about in the dark to see what was there, but ended up stubbing his toe badly against a large account book [in other words, both of them failed the plot point challenge for the inventory rather badly].



In the east, night watchman Achmed took his job seriously.  When approached, he fought like a dervish and immediately felled Ernst.  It took all their energy for Stahl Helm and Panzerbot 5 to avoid the guard's flashing blade [another set of terrible dice rolls by the Nazis!].


Meanwhile, Tarzan had no trouble at all in subduing the other watchman, Baqil.  2-0 to the Jungle Alliance!


Monkey Time!


Stahl Helm finally convinced Achmed to stop waving sharp objects around [so that's now 2-1 in favour of the Jungle Alliance], but Herr Stengel just couldn't find the inventory in the darkness.  Life was about to become a whole lot more chaotic for the spectacled Nazi, as the whole troop of monkeys made a beeline for him - they could hear the sounds of him scrabbling about on the road and thought that this needed to be investigated!

It wasn't all good for Tarzan's followers, though: Caesar was bitten by a snake as the monkeys passed near the well and Kurt arrived to protect his Nazi boss, having been delayed by a random event.



Within moments, the monkeys were all over the Germans, hooting, throwing things and generally getting in the way.  They weren't much good at brawling, but the little creatures had a reasonable Dodge ability and it was hard to prevent them from making a nuisance of themselves [Importantly, their presence prevented Herr Stengel from attempting to complete the Inventory plot point, much to his frustration].


Bullets and more Bullets


At the crossroads, all the remaining characters stumbled into each other at the same time.  Tarzan and his captive watchman turned a corner and came face to face with Stahl Helm and his captive.  Awkward...

Meanwhile, the Nazi goons attempted to pin down Koko and the janitor with machine gun fire and grenades.  This just served to annoy the great ape!



In a brief lull, Koko seized his chance to reveal the location of the final plot point.  He dragged the janitor into the middle of the crossroads, held him up and shook him until the terrified man pointed towards the stack of crates and squeaked "it's over there!" [Koko's finesse skill was not great, but it turned out to be enough (just!) for this task].

Quick as a flash, Tarzan jumped onto the baggage and after throwing a few boxes aside he came up with a package addressed to Lord Darrow.  [As in a number of previous games, the random challenge for the major plot point was against might, which Tarzan has in spades!  He does seem phenomenally lucky in this respect]



Having reloaded, Ernst and Panzerbot 5 blazed away at the gorilla.  Bullet after bullet hit Koko; he fell, stood up again and then collapsed once more, not to recover.  As the ape's grasp weakened, Jasar (the janitor) decided that he was needed somewhere else; he fled before any of the Nazis could corner him.

On the other size of the truck, Stahl Helm levelled his pistol and shot at Tarzan, but he missed.  Thus alerted, the jungle man dodged around the corner of the building and ran away with his prize into the night.



Back down the road, the monkeys finally made a mistake and Kurt, the Nazi muscle man, managed to grab the pair that were taunting him and bash their heads together.  He then stepped into the other brawl and rescued Herr Stengel from the attentions of the third creature - but it was too late.  Some time during the fight, the inventory must have been kicked away and was now lost in the darkness.

With signs that more cultists were coming to investigate the fracas, the Nazis left the village, not particularly well-rewarded for their efforts.


Conclusion

That was another excellent game, though a bit one-sided!  Final score:
  • Tarzan: 4 victory points (1 major and 1 minor plot point), though almost all of the Jungle Alliance were knocked out.
  • Nazis: 1 victory point (for 1 minor plot point).  They held the field and only lost 1 follower, but in the long run this didn't help.
I don't make a habit of commenting on poor dice rolling, as normally such effects are more in the mind of the player than in any scientific reality.  However in this game, the Nazis really did have a tough time.  In particular, Herr Stengel's repeated attempts to pick up a book in the dark were somewhat comical.  Perhaps he broke his glasses when he tripped initially and couldn't see properly thereafter?

It could all have gone very differently, of course.  If Koko hadn't managed to make the janitor reveal the location of the final prize then there would have been an almighty fight in the centre of the village.  Both sets of potential combatants would have been fairly evenly matched, I think: Tarzan and Koko would be better in a brawl, but the Nazis had all the guns...

Friday, 16 June 2017

Bonsai? 28mm Tree!

Introduction

Did you know that it is possible to buy plastic bonsai trees?  I didn't know this, at least until very recently.


It went something like this: I was wondering how I could model a large, solitary tree for my African games (probably Congo and/or Pulp Alley).  I'm thinking of the sort of thing that frequently provides a focal point in the savanna, something like an acacia or baobab tree.  For whatever reason, my mind skipped from scale model vegetation to cheap, "fishtank" grasses and shrubs and from there to larger pieces.  A quick Internet search and I had discovered imitation bonsai trees!


Preparing The Tree

It turns out that there is at least one Chinese company which makes fake bonsai trees.  I saw these on eBay, put in an order for two of them and waited for the postman to arrive.  In due course, this occurred.  Here's some things about plastic bonsai trees:
  • They're very cheap.  I paid just over £2 for each item, including postage.  At this price, I figured that I could afford to bin them if they didn't work for my purposes.
  • They're also very crudely moulded, in brightly coloured polythene.  Not really like any real tree at all (bonsai or otherwise)!
So, what could I do with this?




  1. Firstly, I stripped off all the green foliage clusters.  In hindsight, this was a mistake because it took a surprising amount of time and I ended up spraying the foliage with the same colour of paint before putting it back on the branches.  I might as well have just left it where it was!
  2. Next, I glued the roots to an old CD, after first roughening the glossy surface of the CD with some coarse sandpaper.  This should help with adhesion.
  3. The base was spread with pre-mixed filler, paying particular attention to working it under the places where the roots arched upwards.  Once the filler was dry, sand and grit was glued all over the ground.
  4. I sprayed the model with a paint that was specially formulated for vinyl and other plastics.  This I obtained from an automotive store (Halfords, in the UK).  Usefully, for my purposes, the paint was a very dark grey/black in colour and therefore perfect as an undercoat.  It was quite expensive to buy, but really does seem to stick to the polythene in a way that a regular undercoat would not have done.

Finishing Off



    1. When the undercoat was hard, I dry-brushed the trunk and branches with a single coat of "lichen grey" (a slightly greenish-tinged, mid grey colour).
    2. I sprayed all the green foliage clusters with the same undercoat, then pushed them laboriously back onto the branches.  Should just have left them on in the first place...
    3. Next, I painted the foliage generously with "foam tack" glue and sprinkled it with Woodland Scenics "Fine Turf" flock.  Despite the "fine" in the name, this is a slightly coarse, ground-up sponge material that provided a useful texture for the leaves.
    4. Finally, once all the glue was dry, I sprayed the model heavily with sealer.


    Conclusion


    This was a very cheap and relatively easy model to build, at least when using glues and paints that are designed to work with soft plastics.  I think it will be a useful addition to many of my games tables.

    Of course, I did buy two of these trees, so I have another one to build as well.  I'm going to try some surgery on the second one, to reposition one of the branches so that the 2 models don't look completely identical.  How hard could this be?

    Monday, 12 June 2017

    28mm: The Middle Eastern Village

    Introduction

    A few months ago, I started to prepare for Scenario 3 in my Pulp Alley "Perilous Island" campaign.  As written, this scenario takes place inside a large warehouse that is full of goods and inhabited by a few night watchmen.  I did look for warehouse models (I have quite a few crates and the like already), but didn't really find any that were both large enough to fit my vision and at the same time cheap enough to be affordable.



    One day, I was browsing the Hoka Hey Wargaming/Timeline Miniatures website when I happened to see some 28mm MDF Middle Eastern buildings.  Suddenly, I changed my plans: Tarzan and the Nazis could fight the scenario at the hideout of the Snake Cultists instead!  Since my cultists are vaguely North African, some adobe buildings would work just fine.

    I'll add some trucks and some crates & other goods for clutter (hmm - the Cultists obviously are in the middle of some nefarious plan, such as shipping copies of their manifesto to unsuspecting bookshops across the civilised world!).  Of course, the night watchmen will then become a handful of cultist guards instead.  Muahaha!

    So, the rest of this article describes the 3 buildings that I have constructed...


    The Small Adobe Building


    The smallest of these models is basically a simple, wooden box.  It has been detailed slightly by the addition of wooden beams that protrude from the tops of the walls to hold the roof (these are just about visible in the picture below).

    For all 3 models, the laser-cut MDF fitted absolutely perfectly.  I suppose that I should expect that these days, yet it always comes as a pleasant surprise when a kit such as this goes together so well.



    I've "upgraded" the basic MDF shells by coating them with a mixture of white glue, sand and a ballast powder (I used an old tile grout).  Of course, this required some fixing up after the mixture had dried, to clean any excess from the joints between the walls and the roof!  Oh, well...


    The Medium Adobe Building


    My second building is slightly larger than the small, simple one above.  It also has a second storey and a canopy over the front door.



    Like the first building, the interiors are playable.  In this case, the top lifts off to reveal the upper floor, which I have decorated with some printed paper planks and rugs.  I've also added a piece of dowel in the centre of the floor, to act as a handle...



    ...allowing the upper floor to be lifted out easily to reveal the ground storey.  I've left most of this space empty, but there are some more rugs, a table and some pots to hint at habitation.


    The Large Adobe Building


    The 3rd and final building in this collection has multiple rooms, a dome (a resin hemisphere) and a courtyard.  This latter has allowed me to add some exterior detail; in a couple of the nooks and crannies there are large pots that contain lemon trees



    Once again, the top storey lifts off to reveal the upper floor.  Again, I've added a dowelling handle to make it easier to remove the next piece...



    ...which then shows the 2 rooms on the ground floor.  Once more, I've added minimal detail to these space - just some rugs - thus allowing plenty of room for figures or loose scenery items.


    Conclusion

    Timeline make only these 3 types of Middle Eastern building, which is a pity as they're really nice models.  I think that repeats of the largest building would look a bit strange (it's quite distinctive), though I'm somewhat tempted to get more of the small and medium ones.

    These kits are easy to build and could be painted just as they came.  However, I'm glad that I added the plaster mix to the walls; it gives texture to the otherwise completely smooth MDF.  It was a messy and slow process, though!

    I'm in two minds about my interior detail.  Part of me thinks that there should be much more to be realistic, whilst the other part says that open space is better for playability.  I'm really not that sure...

    I note that other manufacturers exist: Knights of Dice (in the USA) have a larger "Tabula Rasa" range that includes quite a variety of adobe buildings.  These seem to be specifically designed for the model-maker to add detail (the name of the range is a bit of a giveaway!) and are very similar in concept to the Timeline models.

    Sunday, 4 June 2017

    Low Tables for 28mm Middle Eastern Homes

    Introduction

    I'm working on making some 28mm North African or Middle Eastern buildings.  Why?  Because they'll be useful for Pulp games - specifically, for the 3rd instalment of my Pulp Alley "Perilous Island" campaign.  Technically, the 3rd scenario as written is set in a large warehouse, but I figure that it will work just as well in amongst buildings.  I've never been afraid to change a scenario's setting before!

    Before I get to the buildings themselves, I thought that I'd need some furnishings.  If they have playable interiors then I don't like my wargames buildings to be completely empty, though any furniture is strictly representational and will leave plenty of room for figures or other models.

    So, tables...


    Low Tables

    Now I don't know a whole lot about North African buildings or their furnishings.  Nevertheless, it seemed to me that some tables would show that the places were inhabited.  They should be easy enough to make as well, right?




    I started with the table tops.  Now I could have just cut out some rectangles of thick card or plastic.  Instead, I found some unused rectangular bases from Renedra.  These worked just fine; I took one of the longer bases and cut it into 2 pieces.



    For legs, I raided an old sprue from a Wargames Factory kit.  These were designed with legs on one side and cups on the other, so that the sprues could be stacked with each other to make a block that was easily packaged (seemed like a neat idea to me).

    Each of my sprues had eight cylindrical spacers of about 1cm in length; pretty good for a 28mm coffee table, though rather too short for a full-height table.




    To make them a bit more interesting, I added some baskets and pots to the tables.  These metal items come from Steve Barber Models, from his "28mm Market" range.  Roughly speaking, one table has food on it (bread and fruit), whilst the other has drink (3 cups/goblets/small jugs and a larger vessel)




    Finally, here's a (rather gloomy) picture of the finished items.  I've also included some larger pots that also came from Steve Barber Models.


    Conclusion

    These tables were easy to make and cheap.  I do wonder if they'll be enough, though - even if my goal is to have very sparsely-furnished buildings.

    Sunday, 28 May 2017

    Plotting Away...

    Introduction

    I like my wargames to be fought over something important.  It's not very interesting to play to inflict casualties on the enemy for the sake of it, or to gather more "plot points" than the opposition if these are in the abstract form of yellow tiddlywinks.  No, victory (or defeat) has to be tangible.

    With that in mind, I've written articles about modelling plot points for my Pulp games on a couple of occasions previously:
    Well, the collection continues to grow...


    Yet More Plot Points


    I think that I have described the pouch of diamonds before, but the dynamite is new.  It was formed from 7 identical lengths of plastic rod, glued into a bundle [and oddly that was much harder to build than it sounds; I had glue and lost pieces of rod all over the place].  Two thin strips of paper were wrapped round the bundle and I finished the model off with a thin piece of wire as a fuse.



    The missionary's luggage is a commercial casting.  It comes with the "Lady Isabel Poppington" model from North Star, though obviously I have based it separately from her.

    The pile of skulls also comes from North Star; if I remember correctly then it was part of the "Cannibal King" pack.



    The crate of rifles is a bit more complex.  The crate itself is based on a small MDF/Greyboard kit [I cannot remember the manufacturer at the moment], but with a scratch built lid.  The rifles came from the Wargames Factory Zulus set.

    Lastly, the enormous footprint was made very simply by pressing the foot of a toy dinosaur into Milliput.  Note that I mixed the putty and then left it for quite a while before making the print; I wanted the mixture to be malleable but have lost all its stickiness.


    Conclusion

    Left-to-right:
    Back row: 4 totems/skulls on sticks
    3rd row: Missionary's baggage, pile of skulls, suitcase, whip & hat
    2nd row: radio, dynamite, jewelled sword, crate of guns, giant snail
    Front row: pouch of diamonds, journal, Spratchett's Quintail, enormous footprint

    These plot points are intended for use in my Pulp games, which are roughly speaking based around Tarzan, The Lost World, King Solomon's Mines, King Kong and the like (so tropical wilderness).  But there's no reason why the concept shouldn't be used for any objective-driven game.  In fact, I should really build myself something similar for games of 7TV set in Star Trek, Captain Scarlet or similar "space opera" settings.  Hmm, ideas are forming...



    Tuesday, 23 May 2017

    ATZ: The Race

    Introduction

    I've been putting off this article for nearly a month now; battle reports are a lot of effort.  Still, I promised a description of our last, one-off All Things Zombie game and so here it is...


    The Scenario


    I decided, at short notice, that this game would involve a race for safety.  Mark, Will and Barbara have spotted a helicopter parked on top of a police station several blocks away.  They'd really like to leave the zombie-infested city - but will the chopper pick them up?  Will the pilot (if indeed he or she is still alive) carry them away?

    Without telling the players, I chose a 10-turn limit for the helicopter.  On the 11th turn, it would try to stat its engine, just as a car would (and making noise like any other vehicle).  On the turn after the rotors are spinning, it will depart, whether or not the players have made it that far.  The pilot is just performing some reconnaissance and, whilst not hostile to a request for a lift, isn't aware that there are (live) people in the area.

    10 turns is tight, but doable.  With a REP5 leader, the party should activate on 8 or 9 of the 10 turns.  It should only take 3 or 4 turns to cross the square and another 3 or 4 to work their way upstairs once inside the police station.  So, no dawdling then!  Of course, the players don't know about the time limit...


    The Characters


    Today's victims survivors are as follows:
    • Mark: REP 5 Poser with machete and pistol
    • Barbara: REP 4 Medic with sword
    • Will: REP 4 Fast with crossbow

    The Game


    All started reasonably well, as Mark, Will and Barbara ran along the pavement.  Will even paused to shoot a zombie at long range with his crossbow.



    On hearing the noise, there was movement in the open-top car and 3 people clambered out.  [In other words, a PEF was revealed as civilians].  Jade, Curly and Jenny had been hiding from the zombies and hoping not to be noticed, but the near approach of the moaning undead had spooked them:
    • Jade, REP 4 civilian with pistol.
    • Curly: REP 3 civilian with shotgun
    • Jenny: REP 3 civilian with shotgun.



    The newcomers immediately ran over to the players, begging them for help [the players won the talk very decisively!].  Mark was a bit distracted by trying to break in to the gun shop [naughty!] and didn't immediately appreciate just how many zombies had seen the movement and were now converging on the strengthened party.



    OK, keep your heads.  Don't panic and scatter like startled bunnies.  Ah, heck!  Mark and Jenny ran forwards, towards the police station.  Barbara raced back round to the other side of the gun store as if all the hounds of hell were after her.  Curly and Will followed her more slowly, leaving a startled Jade all on her own.



    So, here's the situation a turn or two later:
    • Mark and Jenny have been accosted by 5 zombies, but are manfully (and womanfully?) fighting them off.
    • Barbara has made it round 3 sides of the building at top speed and is about to come into the open again.
    • Jade has caught up with Curly and Will; they're somewhere on the other side of the store.  It was about now that Will twisted his ankle...


    Barbara


    For a moment, it looked as if Barbara might be clear and away.  Only for a moment, mind: she was caught by a fat zombie in a dirty nightdress and couldn't escape from her clutches.  Before she could even scream for help, the pack was upon her, tearing the poor girl apart and feasting on her remains.


    Jade, Curly & Will


    Jade wasn't having a good day.  No sooner had she caught up with the boys and mouthed off at them for leaving her in the lurch than they were beset by the trailing zombies.  She and Curly fought off the first pair, but there were more lurchers coming.



    One of the zombies grabbed Jade, just as Curly and Will turned and fled round the corner.  She couldn't break the cold grasp of the creature; with the odds against her she died cursing and screaming.



    The guys didn't do a whole lot better, though.  Their way was cut off by the zombie pack which had just finished feasting on Barbara, so they turned and fled.  Fortunately for them, Jade's body was still attracting all the attention of the original group of zombies, so Curly ran and Will hobbled past them in safety.  Both men fled off the board into the city, to an unknown fate.


    Mark & Jenny


    Jenny seemed welded to Mark now; even though she was only a REP 3 civilian she was sticking with him like glue!  The pair shook off the zombies in the square and burst through the front doors of the police station.  There were more zombies inside, but these were destroyed with very little effort.




    "Hurry!  Up the stairs!" called Mark.  The pair charged onwards, only to be confronted by another pack of monsters.  Truly this place was infested with them!



    At that moment, there was a noise from the roof.  Before Mark and Jenny could disentangle themselves from the latest set of zombies, the helicopter's engine whined and burst into life.  It paused for a moment, then took off and was soon lost to sight in the clouds.  Had the pilot been frightened off by zombies?  Or maybe he/she had just finished their business and departed without even noticing the survivors?  We'll never know...



    Hearing the helicopter departing, Mark and Jenny knew that they were in trouble.  There was no rescue - and the noise of the aircraft had attracted a lot of zombies.  They didn't bother to run onto the roof [to shout and shake their fists at the injustice of the universe?] but rather doubled back, down the stairs and into the lobby.  The pair could see through the front windows that many zeds were approaching so they looked for another way out.



    The back corridor past the line-up room was also full of zombies.  Jenny followed Mark's lead and charged into combat, but this time she wasn't successful.  Her opponent bit her shoulder and then fell on top of her, so that she smothered to death.



    There was nothing that Mark could do to save his companion.  He did manage to take revenge on the remaining zombies, killing two and knocking the other one down.  Once his route was clear, he didn't hesitate in running through the back door and away - just as more zombies came pouring into the building in search of him.


    Conclusion

    Well, 3 humans started the mission and 3 finished it - just not the same ones.  Oddly, it was the 3 guys who survived and the 3 women who didn't, though they were evenly mixed in abilities and equipment.

    Was it a failure?  Realistically, the helicopter was going to be hard to catch (and wouldn't have been able to carry all 6 passengers anyway), so I wouldn't fault the players for not making the rendezvous.  However, the loss of 50% of the party cannot really be anything other than a disaster!