Sunday 23 June 2019

Sword Dance: 28mm figure


The Sword Dance has been a staple part of Highland Dancing competitions for many decades.  Although these days it's more likely to be performed by young girls, the origins of this dance are as a martial exercise - to show off the fitness, strength and dexterity of a warrior.

So why am I telling you this?  The audience for this blog are (I imagine) primarily wargamers and model makers.  Well, I had a hankering to include some character figure models in my Dark Age Scots warband; a sword dancer seemed appropriate.  Also, it's a way of showing an interest in my daughter's hobby 🙂.


Actually, there are a number of issues with my idea.  It is quite possibly anachronistic and out of place.  Here are some of the things that I have considered:
  1. Issue: the Highland sword dance is only recorded from the early Renaissance onwards; the earliest mention is in a 15th century document.
    Rebuttal: it seems likely that some form of "showing off" to enemies did exist in 800AD (the time period for my Scots warband).  Such a display could have been a complex dance, couldn't it - just because it isn't recorded doesn't mean that it didn't happen?
  2. Issue: in historical records, the sword dance seems to have been performed before the king and court to show the readiness and power of his army - something like a military parade today.
    Rebuttal: my dancer model could be part of a camp scene, or maybe is just practicing his art before any hostilities have begun.  I don't imagine that he's performing in the middle of a shieldwall during a battle!
  3. Issue: it's unlikely that the modern steps are anything like a dance from the early medieval period.
    Rebuttal: I don't care!  No-one will know the difference.  It's not as if I was portraying a Napoleonic redcoat breakdancing, or a knight in full armour doing the Lindy Hop...
  4. Issue: no-one makes a 28mm model of a Dark Age sword dancer.
    Rebuttal: well, I'll have to convert one then.  No big deal...

The Figure

Ideally, I needed to start with a figure that had only one foot on the ground - preferably on tiptoes.  Fortunately, one of Crusader Miniatures "Scots skirmishers" had exactly this posture.  So, a fairly straightforward conversion:
  • I bent the head around (gently!) so that the model was looking straight ahead instead of to one side.
  • The raised right leg was bent inwards somewhat and the foot repositioned to touch the calf of the left leg.  Actually, refixing the cut-off foot was very fiddly and caused me a lot of frustration.  Ideally (at least, if I was matching the modern steps), his right foot should be behind the left calf, but I just couldn't manage that.  I guess that this guy's technique isn't going to win him any prizes!
  • Both arms were cut off and replaced.  The new plastic arms came from a Gripping Beast set; I believe they were both intended for an archer.
  • The right hand is tucked in to the waist; that was reasonably straightforward.
  • The left hand is the difficult one; it should ideally show the iconic position where the middle finger touches the thumb and the other fingers are outstretched.
    I achieved this with a "grasping" hand from a plastic zombie set; this had very clearly-defined fingers.  The middle finger of the donor hand was cut off and replaced with a (tiny!) piece of green stuff, curled in just the right manner to meet the thumb.


Firstly, I glued the model to a suitable base, though somewhat off centre.  The base was levelled up with brown wood filler.

The next step was to texture the base by adding some sand to it.  I added a few small rocks to break up the monotony, though these are around the edges rather than in the middle.  After all, I imagine that my dancer has selected a reasonably flat, open area for his dance so as not to trip over any obstacles.

Two plastic swords were then stuck to the base, in the classic "X" shape.  I didn't have any bare swords in my bits box; so these swords had to be constructed by taking the blade from a "hand-with-sword" piece and marrying it to a hilt from a "sword-in-scabbard" part.


Painting this model was easy; he doesn't have much in the way of detail.  So: undercoat, flesh, hair, tunic. The tunic is easily the most complex bit of painting; my dancer wears a "pseudo tartan" tunic.  I've described my technique for these before, so I won't repeat it again.

By custom, figures in my SAGA warbands have names.  I called the dancer "Muiredach".


I had the idea for this model a very long time ago, but it took a long time to get around to making it.  When I finally began, it was a reasonably easy conversion that was built and painted quickly; I'm pleased with the result.  Of course, now I really need a piper or other musician to accompany him...

History is full of examples of warriors trying to intimidate or insult their enemies just before a fight begins.  Or maybe they are just trying to bolster their own courage?  Either way, there aren't as many models of these as I would like - but they're often not hard to convert.  Pretty much any army from any time period could have such figures.  As well as the sword dance or other weapons display, here are some more ideas:
  • Shaking a fist.  Optionally with one (or two) fingers raised.
  • Baring buttocks/"mooning".  This one might be a bit harder to find a suitable donor model to convert...
  • Facial expressions.  Could be anything from sticking out a tongue to the exaggerated eye rolling and grimaces of the Maoris.
So, let's see your insulting or showing-off figures!

Saturday 15 June 2019

Glasgow: The Great Game


This weekend, the University of Glasgow plays host to one of the biggest wargames ever played.  Indeed, some have claimed that this could be the biggest game ever, though I'm not at all sure what the contenders for such a title would be and whether this game would top them all.  Anyway, here's the official website for anyone who wants to find out more: The Great Game: Waterloo Replayed.

My son and I visited as spectators; we've just returned home.  Casual visitors are allowed in the gallery that overlooks the main event, though numbers are limited and therefore they requested that visitors spend no longer than two hours.  This was enough for us anyway; we were quite tired of the heat, the noise and the sounds by the end of our time.

The Waterloo Game

So, here's a photo dump.  I've very little idea what is going on here, though I was told that the players in charge of the French are wearing blue and the guys commanding the British are in red.  Makes sense...  I don't know about those in white, though I'd hazard a guess that they were umpires.

Note that there were 3 tables, each 6 feet wide and 80 feet long.  I believe that they are conceptually meant to go end-to-end (thus forming a "front" of 240 feet), rather than having the gaps close up to create a playing area of 80 feet by 18 feet.  [Edit: the 240x6 layout is based on a conversation with another spectator who seemed plausible at the time.  However I think this opinion is probably mistaken and the correct topology is indeed the 80x18]

There were announcements occasionally, but some form of commentary and/or diary of game events would have been very useful to us observers.  If anyone is ever planning something similar to this event then I would suggest that more connection with the public would be very useful.  Tell the viewers what is happening 😃!

Rules were Black Powder, figures are 28mm.

Prussians, waiting to arrive at just the right time.

A massive French attack (top) is developing on Hougoumont farm/chateau.

The Gallery

As well as the huge game on the floor of the chamber, the gallery was filled with stands.  There were a number of demo/participation games, scale model displays, many reenactors and their kit laid out, plus representatives from the archaeologists who fund and veterans who benefit from the charity in whose name the entire event was staged.  Apparently some of the veterans at the Erskine soldiers home paint figures as a form of relaxation, even if they don't play games themselves.

Here's a selection of photos from the gallery tables:

A Viking raid participation game.  Sadly we didn't get to try this.

A very helpful reenactor from a French ligne regiment (the 21st?)

Model from the archaeologist's exhibition.

"Muskets and Tomahawks", hosted by Flags of War using his own beautifully-painted figures.
We did play this game: my Government troops raced my son's Jacobites to find some hidden treasure.  This picture was taken just before a volley from my redcoats almost wiped out the highlanders.

On the other side of the table, 2 groups of my son's Régiment écossais decimated a column of redcoats.  However, they were too gentlemanly to fire on my lone hero as he questioned a couple of women about the hidden treasure. 

In the race to find the gold behind a rocky outcrop, the redcoat officer just beat the Jacobite leader.  Having recovered the treasure, I reckon that he would immediately seek ship to Barbados and live the rest of his life in luxury.  Or he could give it all to King George... 

A rather nice Bolt Action table from Warlord Games.  Interestingly, it contained a Stug III (out of shot) and a British Mk IV (male) - so I'm not really sure whether it was WWI or WWII.  The host was too busy to ask, so I never found out...


This was very different from any other wargaming event I've attended.  It's been quite well publicised and I know that at least one news organisation (the BBC) was in attendance.  I suspect that most of the media attention will go on the great game itself (i.e. Waterloo).

We did our duty as spectators and watched what was happening on the main floor.  However I think that as non-participants we actually had more fun in the gallery by talking to reenactors, looking at exhibitions and playing demo games.

Finally, anyone who filled out a show feedback form was given a copy of the Black Powder rules (1st edition).  Since I already have the subtly different 2nd edition I declined, but my son accepted this offer with glee!

The Great Game continues for the rest of the weekend, so if you can get to Glasgow for a couple of hours tomorrow then I would recommend it.