Sunday 28 September 2014

They came from beneath the waves!


It's not often that I show any of my 28mm Doctor Who miniatures.  Mainly this is because they don't get used in many games and so they languish in half-forgotten storage.  It takes me some effort to find them, so it's usually easier to present something else.

This time I was determined to catalogue my Sea Devils, so I made the effort to uncover the correct box and get them out.  Indeed, I did this twice since the first batch of photos were all badly focussed - I only realised this when transferring the pictures from my camera to the computer after putting the models away for the first time.  Ah, the troubles I go to for you lot...

Sea Devils

The bulk of this force consists of 7 regular Sea Devil warriors.  Why 7?  Well, because the models come from Black Tree Design and that just happens to be the number of figures in one of their sets, though you can buy them singly as well.

There are 2 poses amongst these models, though both are quite similar to each other.  Each Sea Devil is holding up its "heat ray", though they look very much like 1970s car headlamps to me!


There are 2 Sea Devil models in heavy armour available from Black Tree Design.  I use these figures as leaders, though I suppose they could just as well be assault troops or elites of some kind.

Again, the models are quite similar to each other, though not identical.


In the 1970s episodes, the Sea Devils had a pet/ally/slave creature called a "Myrka".  It has very thick hide and is therefore resistant to bullets and other projectiles, though it's sensitive to light and can be driven into a mindless frenzy by the smell of blood.

While the concept is reasonable enough, this isn't one of the better-looking monsters from the Doctor Who show.  Indeed, it looks very much like a pantomime horse: 2 men in a bad costume.  No doubt some 40 years ago small schoolchildren found it a lot more scary than the pantomime animal!

All Together

So, I think I have enough Sea Devils for a reasonable skirmish game, especially if I add in the Master or some Silurians to control them!  What's stopping me so far is my lack of appropriate terrain, as I don't have any coastal scenery or suitable buildings/vessels and fittings.  Hmm, how big would a model of a lighthouse need to be to go with 28mm figures, I wonder?

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Dumbarton Castle: A Walkround


The weather was beautiful last weekend, quite unusually warm and clear for the time of year.  On a whim, I decided to take my 2 younger children on a visit to nearby Dumbarton Castle in the afternoon.  After all, I'm already a paid up member of Historic Scotland (who own the castle), so we get free entry!

This aerial shot isn't my own picture, but it gives a good overview of the site.  I'll use a scaled-down and sepia-toned version of this picture during the rest of this article to indicate where my own pictures were taken. 
Dumbarton Rock is a volcanic plug that sits where the river Leven flows into the much larger river Clyde.  Although the site has been used for many centuries, most of the current configuration is a Napoleonic coastal defence fortress, built to protect the city of Glasgow some 10 miles further up the Clyde.

The rock itself consists of 2 peaks with a narrow gulley between them.  At some points, the cliffs around the perimeter are very steep, so that walls are only present around the north and south edges of the castle.  I guess that there was never a realistic chance of anyone attacking by scaling the east or west faces!

A Brief History

View from the west, across the mouth of the river Leven
This site has at least many hundreds, if not thousands of years of history.  I'm not going to even try to list them all, but here are a few highlights:

  • The name of the town derives from the fort: Dum (or Dun) is a hill fort and Barton is a corruption of "Briton".  Thus, the fort of the Britons.
  • Dumbarton castle was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde (i.e. the Strathclyde Welsh faction in the Studio Tomahawk's very popular SAGA wargames rules).
  • In 870AD, 200 Viking ships besieged the rock for 4 months and carried off loot and slaves to Dublin when the well dried up and the castle fell.
  • Both William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots passed through the castle; the former on his way to execution in London and the latter on her way to France to live out her childhood.
  • As a royal castle (i.e. one owned by the monarch rather than one of his lords), Dumbarton castle was often used to hold important prisoners of state, for example after the Jacobite uprisings.
  • Later, the castle housed French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic wars, including General Simon who was captured at the battle of Busaco (1810).

The South, River Face

Starting near the entrance, just below the Governor's house, is the King George battery of 12pdr cannon.  This is one of the larger batteries in the fortress; it protects the most easily accessible part of the rock and consists of maybe 4 or 5 guns (most of the batteries have their cannon still in place, but a few are missing).

How do I know that these are 12pdr guns?  Well, there are various marks on the cast iron, either on the carriages or on the gun barrels themselves.  I've always been fascinated by the amount of information present, though I suspect that most visitors aren't even aware of it.

From the top, clockwise:
  • "12Pr" is the weight of the cannonball that the gun would have fired.
  • The broad arrowhead denotes "Government property".  It's probably better known on the clothing worn by convicts, but the meaning is just the same!
  • The date of this carriage is "16-3-7", or in other words 16th March, 1807.
  • The crest with "GR" under it will be for the king.  "Georgius Rex" is, of course, Latin for King George.  I'm guessing that this will be George III as he was on the throne from 1760 to 1820, which is the right time period for this type of gun.
  • There are a series of horizontal marks at the rear end of the cannon.  These are for range finding: the gunner would choose the mark for the desired range and look along the side of the barrel to line it up with a single notch at the muzzle of the cannon.  Assuming that line also passed through the intended target then he would be aiming correctly!

Around the south wall. the path goes up and down a lot as it hugs the steep side of the rock.  There are 2 or 3 small batteries, each of 1 or 2 cannon, wherever there is a slightly wider point.

At the far end (the Spanish Battery), there is no cannon.  All that's left are the flagstones on which it would have sat and an iron ring in the side of the cliff.

The Central Cleft

To get into the main part of the castle, it is necessary to climb the gulley that runs between the 2 peaks of the rock.  Even though the modern stairs are well constructed, it is easy to see how hard it would be to assault this position.  There are 2 guardhouses on the route and one of them has a portcullis as well!

The French Prison, where prisoners from the Napoleonic wars were held
At the top of the cleft there is a flatter piece of land.  This is large enough to have some buildings on it, including the foundations of the late medieval gatehouse which gave entrance to the castle from the north-west.  There is a small flight of stairs down to the well, but the area is dominated by the French Prison.  Sadly, it's not possible to see inside this building; it's undergoing restoration work and may be opened to the public when this is completed.  I can't help wondering just how many people were held in here...

The Lesser Hill

The Duke of Argyll's battery
Moving up the smaller, flatter mound to the east, we come to the Duke of Argyll's Battery of 3 x 18pdr cannon.  These are the heaviest guns in the fort, but they're pointing up the river Leven towards Loch Lomond and the Highlands.  It seems to me that they wouldn't have been much use against an invading foreign fleet - though any land army coming from the north would have been easy targets.  Perhaps the battery was placed here simply because they could?

Slightly further around there is a good view of the stadium for Dumbarton Football Club.  Apparently, the castle is closed to visitors on the days of big matches!  It does show just how flat and open the land to the north is, at least for a mile or two.

The Prince Regent's Battery is next.  This also faces landwards, but has slightly lighter guns (1 x 12pdr and 2 x 6pdr).  Once again, the field of fire is excellent and it's hard to imagine how a successful attack could be mounted from this direction.

Perched on top of the lesser hill is the Magazine.  I had great arguments with my 9-year old daughter, who insisted (still does) that a magazine was a kind of comic book.  She just wouldn't accept that it's also the name for a place where ammunition is stored.
Many of the design features of this type of magazine are explained on boards nearby; all are designed to keep the gunpowder dry but to prevent an explosion - or at least to limit the damage if the worst should happen.  The most obvious such measure are the double walls around the building itself; if the magazine blows up then the explosion will go upwards instead of outwards!

Musketry loopholes and a rather nice little 2-storey sentry box/lookout post.
There is little provision for muskets in Dumbarton castle, but to the north east one wall has a number of firing ports.  It seems to me that the range would be fairly extreme for a smooth bore musket, even to the closest point outside the fortress.  I must be missing something here; I imagine that the builders of the fortifications knew what they were doing and that these weren't just for show.

Looking west from the lesser peak towards the taller mound.  The gulley between them isn't very obvious in this picture.
There's not much evidence of human construction on the tops of the castle rock.  However this picture does demonstrate how rugged are the sides of the rock and what a good viewpoint it makes.  No wonder that it has been popular as a fort for as long as people have been in the area!

The Western Peak

The path up to the taller, western part of the rock is steep and tortuous.  Apparently General Simon, the French prisoner, was allowed to walk this way twice a day as a special privilege.  He was accompanied by 2 guards during these excursions, mind!

From the top of the hill, the modern town of Dumbarton can be seen spreading out to the north and west.  In this picture you can clearly spot the double-walled magazine on the lesser peak, together with the Duke of Argyll's Battery.  The smaller Prince Regent's Battery is partially hidden, just behind and below the magazine.

Finally, here's the view down the Firth of Clyde.  The Clyde flows from bottom to top, while the river Leven joins from the right.  Any attacking fleet, whether they are Viking longboats or French ships of the line, would be visible for many miles and would have to pass the channel in front of the castle to go anywhere further.  Good luck with that!

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Black Powder personality cards


The Black Powder wargames rules are very popular - and rightly so in my opinion.  They're an excellent toolkit which can be easily adjusted to provide the type of "Horse and Musket" game that you want.

One of the optional blocks of rules in which I've been particularly interested can be found on pages 94-95 of the original rulebook, under the heading The Personal Qualities of Commanders.  Some may feel that this is edging into role-playing, but I've always been fascinated by the human effect in warfare and so I believe that these characteristics are entirely appropriate and desirable, even (say) in a large-scale Napoleonic battle.

So, why use cards?

Why indeed?  The rules in the Black Powder book give 3 characteristics (Aggression, Decisiveness and Independence), each of which has a 1 in 6 chance of being rated "high" and a 1 in 6 chance of being rated "low".  So we could just roll 3 dice for each commander at the start of the game and write down the results.

This approach will give us the mechanics perfectly well, but there's something not satisfying about it:
  1. If you're anything like me then the rolled-for characteristics would be written on rough scraps of paper.  These would invariably be ugly and we'd need to refer back to the main rulebook every time we needed to apply the effect of a general's characteristic(s).
  2. Writing the characteristics out like this is functionally correct, but they're just labels.  I need to get a better sense of the man to whom these characteristics apply.

Right, so a deck of cards with the characteristics on them can address all these issues: a single draw can replace 3 dice rolls, the card can have a quick-reference copy of the rule effects for the characteristic(s) on it and it can have a quote or a picture that helps to describe the commander as a person.

How are the cards designed?

If we ignore the trimmings, there are 2 functional parts to each of my card: the portrait and the rules summary.  Let's take a closer look at each of these in turn:

The Portraits

I was determined to use pictures for my Napoleonic officers, but this was a somewhat daunting task!  Collecting images of 54 period paintings wouldn't be too hard with the modern internet, but they'd almost certainly be quite varied in style and quality.  It might have worked, but would have taken a lot of effort to get the effect I desired.

Fortunately, very early in my search for suitable images I stumbled across .  This is a godsend!  It's a site where a modern artist has taken a large collection of portraits of Napoleonic-period Russian Officers and has replaced their faces with those of modern celebrities.  Well, OK - I could have used the original portraits for my purposes if I could have found them, but that didn't matter: celebrities would work too.  Oh, by the way - I've used these portraits pretty much at random, so the association of certain characteristics with specific celebrities is just coincidence.  Mostly, at any rate.

The Attributes

Once again, there are 2 aspects to this functional part of the card.  Firstly, the presentation: I was determined to include a rule summary for each characteristic.  Sadly, in some cases with multiple characteristics this has resulted in quite a lot of text to fit into a small area.  Although this has been achieved, the result is that the rules are in a very small font and can be quite hard to read if your eyesight isn't good.  There's not a great deal I could have done different here, but at least the title of each characteristic is somewhat larger and the rules could therefore be looked up in the main rulebook if needed.

Next there's the distribution of the characteristics.  To remain truly faithful to the probabilities of rolling 3 6-sided dice, we'd need 216 cards (6 x 6 x 6).  However, a standard print-your-own, poker-sized deck has 54 cards (52 regular suit cards and 2 jokers).  This is exactly 1/4 of what would be needed.

For a single characteristic, that's easy.  9 of the 54 cards should have High aggression and 9 should have Low aggression; the remainder should be neutral as far as this characteristic is concerned.  But what are we to do when we add in more characteristics?  A general can have more than one characteristic that is not average, surely?

OK, first decision: I won't put 3 non-average characteristics on a single card.  That would make the card very full of text and hard to read and in any case the probability is quite low.

So, for our 9 High aggression cards, we should have 1.5 (i.e. 1/6 of 9) that also have High decisiveness, along with 1.5 that have Low decisiveness.  Similarly if we honour the probabilities in the rulebook then we need the same numbers for High and Low independence.  Awkward: they're not whole numbers.

This leads us on to my next decision, which is quite arbitrary but gives a reasonable distribution.  Of the 9 cards that have High aggression, we'll have 4 that also have another characteristic: 1 each of High/Low decisiveness/independence.  That works quite well: a card can have no exceptional attribute, sometimes one, or occasionally two.  Of course, the same formula applies to all the other characteristics as well: 5 cards with each aspect (high or low) of the characteristic on its own and 4 with the aspect plus another characteristic as well.  Excellent!

Can I try?

We've used these cards just once so far; you can read about it here: The Three Villages.  I'm certainly encouraged to use them again, though!

The master file for these cards is a PowerPoint document.  If you wish, you can view and download it freely here,   All I ask is that you don't use it for commercial purposes and that you give me due credit if you share this with anyone else.

If you prefer to obtain a professionally-printed deck of cards, such as I have shown in the pictures above, then here's a link to the design on Artscow.  I believe that you should be able to buy a deck by clicking the appropriate buttons on that page.  Note: I have no association, financial or otherwise, with other than that of a satisfied customer.

Monday 15 September 2014

Dreadball: the Men


Once again, life (work, family &c) is getting a bit on top of me and I haven't been posting or commenting as much as I would like.  My apologies for that; I'd like to say that normal service will be resumed shortly, but I rather suspect that this is normal these days.  Need some more mojo - too much to do and not enough energy & time to do it...

OK, enough with the moaning.  Here are some Dreadball players for your delectation.  These are the 2nd squad from the boxed game: the humans.  Unlike the Ork squad that I showed previously, I haven't got my own name for this team yet, so for now they'll just have to be the official Trontek 29ers!


3 of this squad are strikers.  These players have the lightest armour, but they're nimble and good at ball-handling.  Their job is to score points!

I've decided to make all the numbers for my players unique, no matter for which team they play.  Since there were 8 members in the Ork squad, this new group starts from 09 and carries on from there.  Note that should I expand the Ork team some day (with extra players or stars/MVPs), I'll just give them whatever numbers are next in the sequence without worrying about any discontinuities.


As befits a team with no particular extremes, the 29ers have 3 jacks in the squad.  These are all-rounders; neither as good as the strikers at carrying or throwing the ball nor as good as the guards at pushing and shoving - but they can do either job moderately well.


The biggest, strongest human players are the guards; their job is to protect their own ball handlers and hit the opposition's equivalents.  They're reasonably good, though they'll never be able to match an Ork one-on-one.  Better double-team them, then!


I've tried my own colour scheme on this team, rather than using the "official" patterns.  It still uses the same basic palette of silver and mid-blue, though.  Personally, I'm not very happy with the way it has turned out; these were something of a rushed job.  Still, I suppose I could paint another human team in due course, if I find I really don't like them.

Actually, I do have another human team on the painting desk, but that's the all-female Void Sirens.  They'll look much better than this bunch, I promise - they're certainly taking much longer to paint!

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Showcase: the Mean Green Team


And now, for something completely different...

I've been thinking that it's about time I showed some more of my models, since that seems to be what people like.  I've had a few Dreadball models for quite a while now (a year?) and they've languished on my painting desk, undercoated and unloved.  However since my son and I played a few rushes in an exhibition game at Claymore 2014, I've been trying to finish off a couple of teams of my own so that we could explore the game properly.  Here is the first such squad - the orx and goblins of the Mean Green Team, just completed yesterday evening!

The Mean Green Team

First up: 3 guards.  Orx guards are the best available in Dreadball, which is hardly surprising since their role is basically to flatten anything which gets in their way.  These guys are plenty big enough to do that in style!

Obviously, these models all have the same pose.  Normally I wouldn't be happy about that, but for this game their role needs to be easily identifiable and having them similar will make this a bit easier.  In any case, I've varied the paint schemes a bit to help separate them.

The Mean Green Team doesn't have any strikers (specialised ball handlers), so it relies on its jacks instead.  A jack-of-all-trades can do anything that a striker or a guard can do, but the jack doesn't fulfil either role as effectively as the specialists.  In other words, these goblins are a bit clumsy.  Ah, well...

For the most part, I was reasonably happy with the hand-painted numbers on the players' armour.  However I can clearly see in this shot that I've made a right mess of 06 (in the centre).  Bother!

Final thought: this ref-bot is trying to tell off number 02 for some infringement.  I hope they have a spare referee handy; I don't think the player is taking it very well!

Saturday 6 September 2014

Robots in 28mm: Film, TV and beyond.


Once again, I find that I'm falling behind in my intended schedule of blog posts.  To try to regain some lost ground, here's a relatively simple post about my robot models.

Didn't we already do robots recently?  Well, yes - here - but those were really mechs.  I'm not sure that I really understand the difference, but I know it when I see it.  Perhaps a mech has built-in tools/weapons appropriate to its function, whereas a robot is more general purpose and can use regular human devices?  Whether this is a reasonable distinction or not, in this post, you'll find real robots!


Until Star Wars came along, I think that Robbie was possibly the best-known robot in science fiction.  He made his debut in Forbidden Planet, but has since appeared in a number of cameo roles in other films (such as Gremlins).

Of course, this model isn't really of Robbie.  Rather, it's the Classic Robot from Black Cat Bases.  The model does bear an uncanny similarity to Robbie, though...

Danger, Danger!

My next machine is also from Black Cat Bases.  This one looks remarkably like the Robinson family's machine from the original TV series of Lost in Space (not the more recent film with Gary Oldman as the villain).  It must be just a coincidence that it looks so similar, but nevertheless...

In homage to the TV show, I've added a young woman called "Penny" to this set.  However unlike the original Lost In Space, my version of Penny has a remote control for the robot, rather than the machine being completely autonomous.  Penny is a converted em4 plastic ganger.


Of all the robot models I have which portray a film or TV character, this is the only official one!  It's a servo robot from Black Tree Design's licensed Doctor Who range and it faithfully replicates the cutting edge special effects from a 1960's BBC TV show.  'Nuf said.

I'll be back!

Here are some more models from em-4, these bear a passing resemblance to the T-800 from The Terminator.  Of course, the idea of a skeletal, metallic robot isn't exactly unique, but I do like these ones a lot.  That doesn't mean I've ever used them in a game, of course...

Even 1 of these looks frightening, so I'm not sure what effect the entire range of 5 models would have on any players.  Very menacing!

The Elephant in the Room

There is, of course, a rather large manufacturer who have a range of robots amongst their products.  This is Games Workshop (as if you didn't know!); here are some examples of their basic Necron warriors.

Personally, I don't think that the bandy legs and oversize weapons do these models any favours.  Still, I suspect that I'm outnumbered in this by tens of thousands of teenage boys across the world.  Ah, well...


Of course, this collection doesn't even scratch the surface of all the robot models that are out there.  They do give me some options for games though: I could run a classic Terminator scenario, or add a robot as an impassive (& malfunctioning?) sidekick to any science fiction skirmish game.  One of these days I fancy running a game of All Things Zombie set in a science fiction convention (like Night of the Living Trekkies); a couple of home-built robots would be brilliant as props or accessories.  Of course, I'd need to build a convention centre model first, so this might have to remain a pipe dream for now!