Wednesday, 28 March 2012

When Irish eyes are smiling...

Finally, about six months after the figures were bought, after six months of shuttling onto the painting table.. shuttling off the painting table, being put to the top of the painting queue... getting replaced in the queue by something else etc etc etc.  Finally, I've actually made some significant progress with my beloved bloody Fenians!  To the point where I'm realistically hoping to have a good portion of the infantry ready for a game this weekend.  I've completed the first of two units of irregular militia, while the four units of regulars have all had their pants and kepis painted, plus two of them have had hair, moustaches and rifle stocks completed.  Photos of the Fenian vehicles already completed were posted a couple of weeks ago. I've primed the unit of Cavalry I originally bought for them (Renegade Miniatures, like all the Fenian regulars), but recently I picked up a box of Perry Miniatures plastic ACW cavalry.  These are much smaller figures than the Renegades, although the horses are of comparable size, and ironically the figures make a good match for my current Irregular Miniatures cavalry.  While I'm not sure the two ranges of figures would mix well in the same unit, I think we can get away with them in two separate units.

The Perry plastics are, by the way, a delight to assemble.  They come with separate headgear, so whether I make them up with kepis to match the metal Renegade figures, or as more irregular cavalry with Confederate-style slouch hats, there'll be plenty of hats leftover, which will be useful for conversions.  If/When I start gaming colonial actions again, I'll definitely be picking up a heap of their plastic Ansars for the natives, and I'm sorely tempted to see if some of their Napoleonic cavalry couldn't be converted to pass for later 19th century county Yeomanry.

Other than that I've been doing lots of tinkering with little bits and pieces.  The Amera Ministry building has now had its base textured, a little more detailing required and then it's down to weathering.  I've knocked together over a dozen Breakdown markers with assorted cogs and clockwork gubbins on a cobblestone texture, as the grass-flocked ones don't exactly blend in on the city terrain!  Finally I assembled four objective markers using barrels, boxes and crates from PMC - very quick to do since the PMC stuff comes pre-painted.  All I did was cut four squares from vinyl floor tiles (again!), paint the sticky side brown and cover it with fine sand, superglue the resin bits to the base then finally add splotches of green flock for grass.

Photos of all this on the weekend, I promise.

Finally, for anyone in the Manchester (UK!) area, the "Battle of Weston-super-Mare" scenario I outlined last post will be run at Manchester Area Wargames Society on the fifth Sunday in April (29th I think).  If you're local and fancy joining in the fun (and needless to say, possess the proper gentlemanly spirit for a friendly game of GASLIGHT) then drop me a line in the comments.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Telegram Sam, you're my main man.

I'm organising another GASLIGHT game for the 5th Sunday in April, aimed mainly at new players who haven't played the game before.  Because I want to give any new players a more typical first game experience, this won't be the planned "Battle of Salisbury Plain" tank-only battle.  In coming up with what this new battle would be, I thought it made a good worked example of how to devise a battle scenario for a narrative campaign.

The Southern Front - projected Battle of Salisbury Plain battle indicated in red

So if you look to the left on this map, you'll see that Somerset is currently uncontested.  It would make sense for the German invaders to bring their right flank forward to secure this county, cutting off Devon and Cornwall, or for the British to move here to try to outflank the invaders' position in Wiltshire.  So let's make the next battle one to determine the fate of Somerset.

Next step is to fire up Google Maps and have a look at the area in question.  I was looking for anything that looked interesting, from significant terrain features (visible with the Satellite Photo option) to amusing or punnable place names.  Chipping Sodbury leapt right off the screen, but apart from the excellent name it didn't strike me as a particularly interesting place (apologies to any Chipping Sodburians who happen to be reading).  I worked my way further south, till I came to Weston-Super-Mare.  Now I thought this was one of the New Towns that grew up in the 20th century, but a quick visit to Wikipedia soon corrected that misunderstanding.  And then I read..

"In 1885, the first transatlantic telegraph cable of the Commercial Cable Company was brought ashore and the company started a long association with the town, ending in 1962."

This sounded like a possible strategic target.  The text indicated that this was the second major transatlantic telegraph cable, so a little more Googling revealed that the first one connected to England via Liverpool... which in our timeline is in the hands of the Fenian Brotherhood.  Excellent.  The British would definitely want to secure this instant communication link to the Americas, which the Germans would equally wish to cut.  Further Googling revealed a very useful local history site which not only had photos of Weston in the 1890s (having grown from a cluster of fisherman's cottages at the start of the century into a thriving seaside tourist destination) but the location of the telegraph cable office in the town.

Back to Google Maps, and we can not only see where the building in question is on the map, thanks to Street View we can get a 360 degree view of the area.  Zooming out on the map a little gives us a look at the surrounding terrain.  There's the wooded hills to the north, and you've got what looks like four main routes into the town centre.  Two head north-east generally towards Bristol - we can simplify them into one for the purposes of setting up a wargames terrain.  Meanwhile the A370 comes into town from the south, then fish-hooks back south-east towards Bournville. (I momentarily pause to check if this might be a more important strategic target, but no this isn't the chocolate-producing Bournville).  From experience from the last game, I know for a fact there'll be no way of exactly replicating the road network in Weston on the tabletop, so we'll simplify it to a handful of roads, aligned in a grid, fed by those main routes.

So we almost have our terrain and mission objective laid out for us.  The terrain would be an urban area, with a seafront, beach and fairly open promenade area to the west, bounded by hilly woods to the north (may not need to be represented on table) and roads coming in from north-east, southeast and south.  Right in the centre, just off the promenade would be the main objective - the telegraph office.

Reading further, it's not entirely clear at what point along the coast the cable actually came ashore.  However Weston did have a pier that was built around about this timeframe, stretching out into the ocean directly opposite where the telegraph office is.  It's not too much of a stretch to surmise that the cable came in under the pier, which now becomes our second tactical objective. (It also requires me to knock together a passable pier for 28mm, but that's another story)  All of a sudden I've got a mental image - zeppelins landing troops in the largest open space around - the beach front, making a lightning deep-strike towards both objectives.  All that stands against them are some light local defence troops, while the main British forces come in from the north-east, and the main thrust of the Germans come in from the South/South-East.

And there you have it, a Tabletop Teaser almost worthy of the Charles Grants.  All that remains is to work out the forces involved and knock up a few seasidey terrain features.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Me, Myself and I

Converting gaming miniatures is great fun.  Sometimes it's through necessity, if the exact figure you need isn't available for whatever reason.  Sometimes it's to tiake advantage of a spare figure that isn't *quite* what you need as it is.  Sometimes it's sheerly for the hell of it.  In this case, it's a little bit of all three.

Gentle readers, allow me to introduce Little Dr Vesuvius.
And I will call him.... Mini Me.

I had previously used Design 28's Chinese Gordon figure for Dr Vesuvius, the mild mannered and deeply misunderstood scientific genius with barely any ambitions to take over the world.  But sadly in that first game he died, pounced on by a mob of unruly Boche.  And anyway, the figure resembled neither the traditional image of Dr Vesuvius that I've used on various web fora since adopting the handle (slim, shaven headed, red business suit) nor my own real-world self.  Clearly it was an imposter/stand-in who fell in battle that day.

The base figure used for this conversion was the Marvel character Kingpin from the Heroclix game.  in real life I am somewhat "broad and tall" so this made a good starting point.  I decided to model the figure loosely on my outfit at the 2011 Asylum steampunk festival.  The spectacular moustache and mutton chops were added with greenstuff, and Kingpin's dinner jacket was extended into a greatcoat. The figure's cigar was trimmed from the left hand, and a pith helmet borrowed from the Wargames Factory plastic Zulu War British set.

I've taken a bit of a liberty painting him with a red gloved hand, in homage to the classic Nick Cave song.  It was only after I'd put the final coat of Quickshade on the figure that I realised I'd missed out the golden epaulettes that I had on my real-life costume.  I might come back later and add them in, but for now I'm happy enough with the figure that I don't want to risk messing it up.

Little Dr V isn't the only other conversion I've been doing recently.  This figure started out life as a Perry brothers "Defenders of Mafeking" figure.  It arrived with a badly miscast rifle.  Since the figures hadn't been bought for a particular unit but to be added into the generic "armed militia" pile, I didn't feel it was worth the hassle getting a replacement, so I put this one aside for future tinkering.

The head was quickly lopped off and replaced with one from the Lead Adventure Miniatures Steampunk Heads set.  The faulty rifle was snipped away and replaced with a spare aether weapon from Black Pyramid.  The result looks to me like your typical backyard inventor, showing off his latest creation.

For some reason, this guy really reminds me of Wilf Lunn.

The two inventors side by side, gives you an idea of just how big the Dr Vesuvius figure is.

Finally, Dr Vesuvius is going to need a new place in the country to conduct his evil... I mean his perfectly legitimate lines of scientific inquiry.  It's funny but every time I try to look for pictures online of the Amera Plastic Mouldings Ministry building painted up, Google keeps directing me back to the Axis of Naughtiness.  In which case I don't expect the following will help matters.

Not quite finished yet.  The doors need painting and the base needs texturing.  I'm toying with the idea of going all the way and making frames for all those windows, but that'll be a heck of a lot of work.  But so far, so good.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The way we were

Here's a little bit of hard-drive archaeology.  I was pootling around my old backup drive yesterday when I found copies of all my old Olistan colonial battle reports from back in 1999-2001.  Nestled among them was a series of photos of what I think was the very first GASLIGHT VSF game I ran at the club back in 2001.  I'd tried GASLIGHT for a couple of colonial games prior to this, but this was the very first time we'd used any vehicles and represents the very first shots fired in the Invasion of England 188x.

The scenario went by the name "Mr Brown Goes Off To Town", a reference to the classic TV series "Dad's Army".  Details are a little sketchy in my memory, but I remember it as being based  #29 "Raid on a Train" from "Scenarios for all Ages".  The 8:21 train from Walmington-On-Sea had broken down, and the small detachment of troops on board had to defend it until a recovery engine could reach it.  The aggressors in this scenario were actually Russian instead of German, at the time this was simply because I had more of them painted up, but now it firmly places the battle somewhere in the far north of England or even Scotland.  And everything, of course, was in 15mm (this back in the day when almost nobody was doing 15mm VSF.)
"Hold on, 'Arry.  I fink I hear something..."

Details of the actual course of the battle are sadly lost apart from these few pictures.  I do remember right from the word go we had players wanting to close assault vehicles with infantry or cavalry.  Or have their vehicles trundle over infantry.  Or ram vehicles with other vehicles.  Basically pretty much everything that wasn't covered in the original rules booklet (I was pleased to note the Compendium now covers such "unexpected" eventualities.)

I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story, such as it is.
Brave Tommies assaulting the Russian steam tank.
This is what I like about VSF.  A cavalry charge with a
steam tank in the background.
Another cavalry charge.  Against a train. (sigh)

The relief column arrives.  The P5s looked positively
gargantuan in 15mm!

Approaching endgame.

The steam tank rams the recovery engine.  Certain players
who shall not be named now consider this the main objective
for every GASLIGHT game I run with a train track on the table.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Busy doin' nothin', workin' the whole day through.

It would have been nice to have made some real progress on the Fenians for St Patrick's day.   Sadly no battle plan survives contact with my father, whose ongoing project to redecorate the house took precedence last week and in fact saw me rudely evicted from the room in his house where my painting station is setup!

Instead I've found myself tinkering with odds and sods.  I bought some electronic tealights and made some fire/explosion markers within them.  It's mindbogglingly simple and quick to do for a very cool effect.  There are plenty of sets of instructions on how to do this around the web, such as this video, so I'm not going to bore you with the details.

I also started working on a set of canal lengths.  I'm not happy just using rivers to represent canals, especially if they're going to be heading into or through the city terrain.  I worked out a design that looks more artificial, based on vinyl floor tiles and using foamboard to build up the banks, but ran into a bit of a problem with the edging stonework.  To be continued.

I've also been thinking an awful lot about VSF flyers, something that's been missing from our current games.  While I've not done anything solid yet I've been working on the design of some airships (for the Germans) and Cavorite/liftwood/handwavium aeronefs (for the British).  I'm going over and over the the construction techniques in my head, so that when time comes to put knife to foamcore I'll know exactly what needs to be done.

Finally, for some reason that I can't fathom, a couple of days ago I started assembling the Amera Plastic Mouldings "Ministry" building.  It's an absolute brute, and looks set to dominate any terrain layout it's used on.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Happy talk, keep talking happy talk.

I've started work proper on the "Vesuvian Reforms" of GASLIGHT.  If needs be, go back to one of my earlier posts for the "GASLIGHT is great as it is, but..." disclaimers.  To summarise, I'm doing this to tailor the game to better fit the tastes of me and my group.  This is totally unofficial, in no way endorsed by Chris and Buck, and I'm NOT trying to encourage other people to use these house rules.  But if one of the things I'm changing is something that's put you off GASLIGHT in the past, maybe my tweaks might improve the game for you.

As mentioned previously, the current Morale & Tests of Manhood mechanic, while I really admire the elegance and the thinking behind it, is one that doesn't work for my group.  My players all seem to automatically write off any unit that fails a check, never bothering to "rally" them, making the process of rolling the individual reactions a waste of time.

My objectives in writing these new Morale rules were (1) keep to the spirit of the original rules i.e. stateless morale, (2) give a broadly similar result to the original rules (3) be able to represent different troop qualities without using the "unit size = quality" idea from the Compendium (4) Get away from the original 10-man unit limitation and (5) Be as quick and simple in play as possible

The Compendium didn't shy away from suggesting new attributes for GASLIGHT (like the Swoop, Soar etc attributes for flyers) so the simplest thing to do was to take the original base target number (i.e. 10 for the number of men in a unit) and make that a new morale attribute, which I've called Steel. If you were playing an ACW or Western based game, you might want to use the name "Sand" instead.  I did briefly toy with the idea of using the name "Stiffness"... as in "stiff upper lip", but I figured that would lead to way too much bawdy sniggering.

So everyone has a Steel attribute which defaults to 10.  Elite troops have 12, Poorer troops have 8.

Instead of reducing this directly by the number of casualties, I set a penalty for every 25% casualties. I think it's easier to intuit that a 7 man unit that's lost 3 men has lost more than 25% but not quite 50% for a -2 penalty, than it is to divide your roll by (20/7=)2.85 as per the current guidelines.

Finally I wanted the severity of hits that vehicles take to affect their morale checks - vehicle morale checks are something we've always forgotten to do, but since they currently just boil down to "anything but a 20" unless the vehicle has lost some crew.  The crew of a vehicle that's just taken a penetrating hit should be shaken up.

For the results, I went with a much simpler graded response.  How much you fail the Steel check by determines how bad the morale failure is.  For each level of failure, half the surviving unit will have one reaction, while the other half will have a reaction one step worse.  So half your unit might fall back 6" in good order, while the other half will run 12" away.  I've also got specific results for Vehicles and, a departure from the original rules, Main Characters.  The original rules state that Main Characters are immune to Morale... but then again one of the character skills is "Nerves of Steel" which allows a character to "never fail morale", which is a bit of a niggling inconsistency.

It looses a little bit of the current randomness, where a lone berserker might charge the enemy.  But it does leave a "broken" unit somewhat scattered, though not as badly as per the current rules.  It would typically only take one turn of movement to bring all the troops back into unit integrity, making rallying a more attractive option.  And I think it'll be a lot quicker in practice than resolving the current rules.

The result is a nice, tidy modular Morale mechanism that you can easily slot into an otherwise unmodified GASLIGHT game, by simply assuming that everyone has a Steel of 10.  We'll definitely be using these rules in the next GASLIGHT game, even if the rest of the Vesuvian Reforms are nowhere near completion by then.

For your consideration

Morale and Tests of Manhood

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

My lovely horse, running through the fields

STOP PRESS:  First off I want to wish all the best to Bluebear Jeff of Saxe-Bearstein. While we were all busy sending him our CS Grant-based campaign frameworks last month, Jeff was in the middle of dealing with some of the worst health news you never want to hear.  I urge you all to send Jeff and his good lady positive vibes, think happy thoughts and/or have a word with the fellow upstairs, according to your custom.

(This hit a bit close to home for me - having just buried one parent with the Big C, caring for the other one with the same and being in the middle of my own scare with exactly the same symptoms as Jeff.  With regards to the latter I'm grateful to report an all clear, with nothing worse than both dignity and nether ye somewhat bruised and abused in the discovery process. Plus, after a lifetime of it being useless trivia, I finally got to use the word "perineum" in real life.)

Despite initially wanting to take a break from VSF stuff, I've found myself drawn back into it once again.  I've finally made a proper start on the Fenian Brotherhood army.  In addition to the four platoons of ACW-style infantry, I've also assembled a couple of platoons of irregular militia for them. Heavily inspired by 1938 AVBCW-type units, they are made up from a wide range of figures (Perry Miniatures Mafeking & ACW rioters, Dixon WWII partisans, Empress Maori Wars, to name but a few)  with a few conversions here and there, including headswaps and armbands.  They look like a suitably irregular mob, in a mix of clothing styles that shouldn't look too out of place anywhere between 1838 and 1938 (the way I paint, you shouldn't be able to tell the difference between a caplock musket and a bolt-action rifle!)

I've also primed and started on a unit of Fenian cavalry.  In my half-formed alt-history (inspired by the real life Fenian Raids and the Battle of Ridgeway) the Fenian Brotherhood's forces originally came from Civil War veterans of Irish descent.  As a result, instead of the outdated lancers favoured by the European powers, the Fenian cavalry is pistol armed, which should lead to some different tactics.

Unfortunately, the figures I'm using for all the Fenians are from Renegade Miniatures.  It's not that they're not very nice figures, they are - their WWI Germans make up most of my VSF German forces.  But their figures are definitely at the tall end of the 28mm scale.  Putting the Renegade cavalry alongside my Irregular Miniatures British cavalry... well let's just say that the Brits ltook like they're getting donkey rides at the beach.  So that leads on to the next sub-project, which is expanding and updating my VSF cavalry.  I managed to find some cavalry in the Perry Miniatures Sudan Wars range that have spiked helmets and a little trimming and filing to remove the puggeree (cloth that was often wrapped around helmets in hot climates) produces something that doesn't look too out of place for home service.  Renegade Early WWI German range provide suitable cavalry for the Kaiser.  In addition, I recently picked up a load of Black Tree Design Zulu War British, with an eye to using them as alternate British troops for Winter of 1871: A Very Victorian Civil War.  Once I get into the swing of painting the horseys, I might as well add them to the back of the queue.  With two units each of British, German and British Colonial and one of Fenians, that makes for 70 horses and riders on the horizon.  Yowch!

Given how popular the Lledo wagons I threw out onto the city terrain turned out to be, I've also been looking at Project Traffic - building the Westwind Hansom cab and some Irregular horsecarts, replacing Lledo's OO scale horses and drivers with 28mm miniatures and basing them for city terrain.  I've worked out a neat and fairly painless technique to fix wargames horses on cobblestone bases that looks pretty good.  This of course means more horseys to paint!

Finally I've started taking a long, hard look at the GASLIGHT rules as-is.   Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with the rules as they stand.  At the end of the day, they do what they were designed to do very well, and the basic game mechanics are simple enough that players are able to pick them up very quickly.  But there are a couple of instances where GASLIGHT's design/world assumptions don't quite mesh with how I personally want the game to play.   In some cases they rely on GM Fiat, which is entirely appropriate for a convention style game.  What I want to do is look at a lot of the more common cases, decide how I would rule on the matter, and codify it ahead of the game.  For example, vehicle design is very open-ended, and it's up to the GM if they want to limit arcs of fire for different weapon mounts.  It also leaves it up to the GM whether a vehicle that has failed a Sustain roll may fire its weapons.  I want to codify this so that I can describe a vehicle's armament in a way that makes all these points clear - so for example if a weapon description says "Powered, Right Sponson" it's instantly clear that it can fire in an 90 degree arc between forward and to the right, and that it can't fire if the vehicle fails its Sustain.

In other, much rarer cases, we (either myself or my players) disagree with the designer's finer decisions.  For example, in the original booklet, a modified Save roll of 20 or more results in a Catastrophic hit.  This means that heavier guns with positive SRMs are more likely to cause bigger damage.  In the revised Compendium version of the rules, this is changed so that Catastrophic hits are caused by a natural roll of 20.  This creates the "magic BB" effect, where even small-arms fire can take out heavily armoured vehicles.  In our games, I've combined both rules, to provide us with more "BOOM!!" moments.    Another example, according to default GASLIGHT, a vehicle cannot perform any action on the turn that it successfully makes a Start roll.  We decided that this frankly sucked - there's nothing less fun in a game than not being able to do stuff for extended periods, and collectively ruled that a vehicle that Starts may move or fire normally.

With the GASLIGHT Compendium, most of these sorts of things can be worked around, often by mixing and matching with bits from Battles by GASLIGHT (or my own Adventures and Expeditions by GASLIGHT, he says modestly).  What I'm hoping to end up with still recognisably be Palmer & Surdu's GASLIGHT, and will play 90% the same, but will be a single, streamlined and comprehensive set of rules for the games that we want to play, without the bits that we don't use (random generation of vehicle stats, for example) and any house rules, optional rules or imported rules embedded seamlessly in the text.  Something I can give to players and say "That's the game we're playing." not "That's the game we're playing, but we're using the tables on pages X and Y of this other $49 book, and we don't bother with rule Z, while we've added A,B and C..."

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Yesterday, all our troubles seemed so far away...

(note: I started writing this on Monday night, but didn't finish until after midnight.  So "yesterday"= Sunday)
Yesterday's March Madness Melee went off with barely a hitch.  Although I'd been worried about a lack of tables, there was no sign of the large Warhammer 40K game, and most of the players in the DBMM campaign were also no-shows, leaving us plenty of tables.  We started the day with 5 players, with two more turning up at later times (one due to work shifts, the other claiming family commitments though I suspect a hangover may have also come into play!) and a third who popped in to say hello but couldn't stay.

The terrain all came together nicely, and we got quite a positive response from the MAWS "Black Panthers" who were busy with their own impressive Napoleonic game in the main hall.  The brick walls that I'd hastily thrown together held up well enough on the day and the building interiors saw quite a bit of action during the game.

The one black spot for me was that sometime in between dividing up the forces and the end of turn 1, one of the players managed to drop the turret off the Brass Coffin model, breaking it into three pieces, but annoyingly didn't say anything about it at the time.  When I noticed that they were using the turret's cannon as a smokestack and that the hatch was missing, they then admitted to dropping it but insisted that it had never had the hatch on it, which I know wasn't true.  In the end I had to press them to tell me exactly how and where they'd dropped it, and after thirty seconds of scrabbling around on the floor I found where the broken hatch had rolled behind some pipes.

It's not so much that a model I'd worked hard on got broken within minutes of being handed over to someone, as at the end of the day accidents happen and it should be repairable (worst case scenario, a whole new turret would only be £3.50), but (a) not saying anything at the time it happened and (b) then lying about the hatch, well that was just shitty behaviour in my opinion.  And shitty behaviour will be remembered long after the superglue is long dried.

(Yes Saul, I used the shit-word.  Don't tell your mum and dad, okay?) 

Anyway, rant over, on with the battle report.

The Battle of Aldershot, 188x

Following the Russo-German invasion of Great Britain, fighting along the southern front had ground into something of a stalemate, with neither attacker nor defender able to make any significant headway (most of our previous games ended fairly inconclusively, with both sides able to claim partial victories)

In a last desperate attempt to break the impasse, German high command ordered a deep strike against the military town of Aldershot.  Britain had just begun fielding a new class of heavy landship, the King Henry VIII class, and the objective  was to capture the secrets of its construction.

This is the view from the British side.  The grey building on the extreme left of the board is the slightly relocated Chobham Armour Factory.  You can see a partially built King Henry-class landship on the rail flatbed.  The other objective is the Ministry building with the red roof just to the right of centre.  This is assumed to hold a set of technical blueprints for the King Henry class.  With two Leman Russ models in mid conversion, I decided that they would be painted up based on whoever held those two objectives at the end of the game.  So if the Germans managed to capture both the Factory and the Ministry, both models would be painted as German vehicles and be available to them in future games.

Here is the view from the German side.  As you can see, not only were the roads aligned on the diagonal to the table , but we took great pains to offset the roads so that the lines of sight didn't extend across the whole width of the board.  That way the vehicles wouldn't simply enter on turn one and then start firing immediately on turn two, but would have to do some manoeuvring first.

Roads in a built up area effectively limit the lines of advance for vehicles.  This layout had two main routes, but the open square in the middle allowed some crossfire between the two.

 I was very happy with how the square came out in the end with the park and the statue.  Not surprisingly this became a focal point of the battlefield, but more on that later.

One house-rule (ish) I implemented for the first time this game was to borrow the wound system from Adventures and Expeditions by GASLIGHT for Main Characters.  In case you don't own that book or the Compendium, Main Characters have a number of wound levels (Unhurt, Wounded, Seriously Wounded, Mortally Wounded, Dead).  On a failed Save roll, the character knocks off the current wound level, and must then make another Save roll, continuing until either a successful Save roll is made, or the Character is Dead.  This rule allows Main Characters to last a little bit longer in battle, allows them to be wounded but carry on, but still has the chance of them dying from a single shot.

The battle started fairly conventionally, with the Kings Own Borderers and the light tankettes HMLS Elizabeth and HMLS Beetle deploying to protect the factory, while Major Roger D'Ars (hero of last year's Big Birthday Bash) led a platoon of regulars through the alleyway towards the square, supported by a Royal Horseless Artillery Gun-Truck.  The King Henry moved up the Eastern road to watch their flank.

Meanwhile, on the German left, Professor Wilhelm von Pugh was struggling to control his Tigger Mk II Springenpanzer, which suffered an early malfunction (for fun we decided instead of simply not moving on a failed Sustain, it would spring off in a random direction, which nearly resulted in it bouncing off the table on turn 1)

The leader of the Evil League of Evil, Dr Rebecca Henchwoman (promoted after the alleged death of Dr Vesuvius in the Big Birthday Bash) took up a position on the roof of one of the tall residency buildings, alongside her former nemesis, Hilda Brecht, She-Wolf of the 2nd Reich.  In the street below, the Brass Coffin (after pausing for field-expedient repairs) advanced to the corner and did its best to hide behind a lamppost, while the Masked Minions pushed forward towards the square.

The German heavy landship "Gotterdammerung" advanced down the main street on the German right, along with a unit of regulars, Baron von Guttstein and "Grosser Otto", the Clockwork soldier.  Gotterdammerung fired the first shot of the battle, not an enemy soldier or vehicle, but at the brick Gasometer in the Factory grounds.  The first shot from the Gotterdammerung's Lightning cannon arced out and shorted on a nearby chimney stack, but the second shot shortly afterwards triggered a massive exposion.  Luckily the only casualty was a special weapons trooper for the Special Aether Service who... we can neither confirm or deny was present for the battle.

The Borderers and... some soldiers from another regiment whose identity cannot be confirmed, managed to make it to the factory building itself where they setup defensive positions.  The two light tankettes moved up the main road in the vain hope of delaying the heavy German landship.  But that Leviathan was shortly joined by another vehicle, the Prussian Armoured Pullman "Heimdall", with its forward mounted flame cannon.  HMLS Elizabeth also came under fire from a Ludwig quad walker across the square.  The cannon blast knocked one of Elizabeth's tracks into reverse and she was stuck turning to the right.  She managed to get off a couple of shots before turning past the enemy.  HMLS Beetle tried to shield Elizabeth, but a blast from Gotterdammerung's Lightning gun shorted her control systems and Beetle charged full speed out of control into nearby building where it was stuck for the rest of the battle.  Heimdall took the opportunity to smother both the light tankettes in fiery death, resulting HMLS Elizabeth exploding in a small but spectacular fashion.

The German regular troops were the first to make it across the square and formed a screen to allow the Masked Minions into the Ministry building.  Major D'Ars and the British regulars fought a quick and bloody skirmish against the Germans and routed them, then the survivors charged headlong into the ministry building to battle the Evil League of Evil minions.  A fierce and bloody battle ensued in the hallway of the Ministry, and although the British platoon was all but wiped out, the Minions' nerve broke and they fled the building, leaving D'Ars in control of the vital plans.  The next turn, Baron von Guttmann entered the building, accompanied by Grosser Otto.  The one remaining trooper was killed, but Major D'Ars fought on alone, managing to kill Gutmann with a saber thrust.

The Professor von Pugh managed to bring the Springenpanzer under control and leapt over the building into the road , right into the sights of the British landship HMLS King Henry.  A blast from the King Henry's main cannon narrowly missed the Springenpanzer, setting fire to the building behind it.  The Springenpanzer leapt again, this time onto the roof of the Ministry building.  The King Henry tracked its turret around to follow the target, but as it did so a round from the Brass Coffin tore through the turret causing the gun to misfire.  The blast tore through the ground floor of the Ministry building, narrowly missing Major D'Ars and hitting Grosser Otto, which exploded in a shower of clockwork sparks.
(note: this might not be exactly how it happened in game mechanics terms, but narratively it makes a lot more sense than what actually happened, which was the Henry's round had no effect, while Otto was KO'd the following turn in close combat by D'Ars)

Shortly afterwards, King Henry hit the Brass Coffin and knocked it out with a critical hit.  The blast nearly killed off Hilda Brecht, who had come down from her sniping position on the rooftop and had been hiding behind the brass and burgundy vehicle.  Recovering from the shock she sneaked her way into the Ministry building without anyone noticing.

It was at this point that somebody woke up Hauptman Blitzmann, the German "hero".  Sleeping off the effects of the previous night's carousing, he was late to the battle, and led his platoon of Zeptruppen forward with all the dash and elan of a Galapagos tortoise.  Pausing only to importune a nearby maidservant, he settled into the safety of a building across from the Chobham factory, found a quiet corner and then proceeded to do nothing for the rest of the battle.

Hauptmann Weber, the Zepptruppen officer looked at his "superior" asleep in the corner and assessed his position.  The British were well forted up in the factory, and attempting to charge across the road in an unsupported assault was likely to be certain death.  The rest of the German troops were held up along Main Street and focussed around the square and would not be able to support them any time soon.  He then hatched a plan so fiendish, so diabolical, only a beastly Boche would ever think of sinking so low.

Weber grabbed the maid from where Blitzmann had cast her aside and roughly manhandled her out the front door into the street.  Waving a white flag, he called out to the British defenders.
"Zere has been enuff blutshett today.  Let us settle zis matter as officers and gentlemen.  Single combat betveen your champion unt ours."

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Colour Sergeant Davis stepped out from the factory gates, stripped down to his shirtsleeves.  Weber had expected to face a fellow officer saber-to-saber, but this common NCO was coming towards him bare-handed.  He would show the wretch the error of his ways.  Drawing his blade, he essayed a quick salute then lunged lightning fast, catching Davis in the right shoulder.  Looking down at the red stain spreading across his shirt, Davis looked up and said "You'll 'ave to do better than that, lovey-boy."  Weber never even saw the right upper-cut that lifted him two feet into the air and dumped his unconscious body onto the cobbles at the feet of three-times Regimental Boxing Champion, Colour Sergeant Davis.

Be off, you 'orrible little Boche.  You is messin' up my nice clean street.
(for the sake of the duel, I gave Weber the wound track, even though he wasn't an unattached Main Character.  But Davis had the Tough advantage, giving him an extra free wound level.  Both characters hit in the first round of combat, Davis failed his first save but made his second, while Weber failed all four saves on the trot to be taken out by a single blow)

A platoon of Grenadier Guards approached the square to try to join up with Major D'Ars in the Ministry building, but they came under fire from the Gotterdammerung and the Ludwig walker before facing off against a unit of German Jaegers and were routed ignominiously.  The Jaegers then forced their way into the Ministry building and surrounded Major D'Ars.  The plucky major fought for all he was worth, but eventually his luck ran out and numbers overcame him.

Main Street was turning into a landship graveyard.  HMLS Pinafore had come up to challenge the two German machines, but after first getting itself snagged on a lamppost, it took a hit from the Gotterdammerung that knocked its furnace offline for the rest of the battle.  The RHA Gun Truck, still nestled into the alleyway beside the Ministry, fired across the square and caught the armoured pullman Heimdall on its side armour, which exploded sending one last fiery ball of incendiary doom up Main Street.  The Ludwig quad walker crossed the square and headed up Main Street, while HMLS Mikado had come up behind the disabled Pinafore.

At the same time, the men of the Special Aether Service... or not... probably someone else entirely... had decided that the Borderers could hold the factory by themselves and had headed out across the street to the same junction where the Ludwig and the Mikado were converging.  At the same time, Lord George Fox, another latecomer to the battle, had successfully requisitioned two passing wagons and was trying to use them to quickly bring his platoon of men forward to the battle.  Finally, the Springenpanzer had leapt from the Ministry building onto the roof of the building... yes you've guessed it, overlooking the same junction.  It sent a couple of shells from its Steam Dynamite Cannon towards the factory, but with no effect.  Von Pugh then saw the SAeS troopers.... I mean bystanders, entirely innocent civilian bystanders... crossing the junction below, and raked them with his gatling guns, killing two of them.  The surviving ... civilians... opened fire with their new experimental Cone Rifles (heavy caliber weapons firing rocket-propelled explosive rounds) against the Ludwig walker, which promptly exploded, sending a fireball directly ahead.. straight into Lord Fox's improvised wagon convoy.  The bloodshed was... frightful, and only Lord Fox survived.

In the closing shots of the battle, the Jaegers in the Ministry building took some casualties from Gatling fire which sent them running from the building.  The only person left was Hilda Brecht, who was able to secure the secret plans, hide them about her person, then escape in the confusion disguised as a maidservant.

The Zeptruppen held to Hauptmann Weber's deal with the British defenders of the factory, which remained in British hands at the end of the game.  So the final result was yet another draw, with each side holding one objective.  Consequently one of the two landships currently in conversion will be painted up to go into German service as a Beutepanzer (Did you know.. that in the First World War, the most common tank used by the Germans was... the British Mk IV? They captured so many damaged or broken down British tanks they were able to repair and re-equip them for their own use.)

The Aftermath - the Campaign

As a result of the failed push on Aldershot, the mighty German war machine ground to a halt, unable to push any further towards London.  Seeing an opportunity, the British launched a counter-offensive in Wiltshire, aimed at cutting through the enemy lines at a weak point.  The route of attack was across the open landscape of the chalk plateau north of Salisbury, perfect countryside for the new landships to demonstrate their performance in open battle without infantry to slow them down.  Historians would later call it the Battle of Salisbury Plain.

The Aftermath - the game

Everyone seemed to enjoy the game.  There were a few moments where the rules let us down a bit - for example one vehicle penetrating hit description read "The vehicle fireman takes a hit." without really explaining what that is supposed to mean in game terms.  I found myself a little dissatisfied with a lot of the damage results we got - penetrating hits that pass through and do no effect, critical hits triggering a weapon to fire, in our instance killing an enemy contraption but otherwise doing no effect.   The morale rules also gave us some funky results - and in practice when units failed and were scattered to the four winds, most players were inclined to just consider the unit completely lost. I keep thinking I need to rewrite the GASLIGHT rulebook, (a) to incorporate our house rules (b) to clarify where the current rules are a little unclear and (c) make things a little more to my taste in places.

When I broached the idea of the next game with all the players, they seemed a lot more keen on the idea of an all-landship game than the "Battle of Llandudno" game idea.  On the bright side this does give me a break from working on buildings and city terrain.  I quite fancy knocking up a small circle of standing stones as a terrain piece for the "Battle of Salisbury", but that shouldn't take too long.  I'm going to have to sit down and take a good look at all my vehicles & contraptions to see how best we can field two fairly evenly matched forces.

The Aftermath - the project

.. you know what? It's later than I thought and I needs me beauty sleep.  I'll post about what I'm going to work on next later in the week.  But in short, I've got a hankering to take a short break from 28mm VSF and do something a little different.  Watch this space.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Eve Of The War

It's the night before our first game with the city terrain.  I've just finished printing out the record sheets for the Main Characters and the new vehicles that are debuting in this game.  I spent most of today working out how to pack all the vehicles and troops into as few cases as possible.  One thing I'm going to have to do after this weekend is take another look at what news cases I'm going to need for all the recent vehicle acquisitions.

I'm a little nervous about tomorrow.  We'll have between six and ten players, but unusually MAWS is expecting a particularly busy Sunday session, and there's talk of rationing tables.  Normally I'd postpone the game, but despite my having enquired how busy the club was going to be a couple of weeks ago, it only just this week came to light that there would be not one but two campaigns being played on this Sunday, plus another Big Game (TM) of 40K, and unfortunately this only came up after I'd sent out the final invitations.  Ten of us could find ourselves crammed around a very small table, and we're almost certainly not going to be allowed a side table for setting up and paperwork.

Bah!  Worrying never fixed anything.  Time to chill out for a couple of hours, try to get a good night's sleep and be up early to get down there and stake an early claim to our table(s).

Friday, 2 March 2012

Tanks for the memories

Yes I did perpetrate that pun.  So sue me.

As promised, here's a look at the WIPs on my VSF vehicle painting queue. I generally prefer to use the word "landships" rather than "steam tanks" to try to emphasise the VSF nature of the game.  As you probably know, back in World War One, the British research team working on the first armoured fighting vehicles did in fact call themselves "The Landship Committee", and the name "tank" comes from an attempt to foil enemy spies by pretending the factories working on them were producing water tanks.  Harry Turtledoves "Southern Victory" alternate history series has a fun alternative to this, in his world the new armoured fighting vehicles are put together in a barrel factory, resulting in armoured fighting vehicles becoming known as "barrels".  Which lends an extra meaning to the words of the old wartime song, "Roll Out The Barrel".

First up, I received a long awaited order from Ironclad Miniatures at the start of the week.  So naturally instead of doing the terrain work for the Victorian City that I was supposed to be doing, I started assembling them instead.  This is Steam 1, described as a Small Scout Tank.  It's little more than a box on tracks armed with a single machine gun.  It reminds me a lot of the real-world Carden-Lloyd tankettes from between the World Wars, and I'm pretty sure I've seen this used on at least one VBCW battlefield as an improvised steam machinegun carrier.  I got this because I'm planning to do some lower-intensity games between the British and the Fenians, where conventional cannon armed landships would be considered overkill, but a self-propelled machine gun like this would be an effective support without totally overwhelming the infantry.

Its big brother is Steam 3, billed as a Medium Tank, pictured here with just basecoat and black detailing.  It's about the same size as the "Spanner Tanks" I'm currently using as the mainstay of my British landship fleet, so fits well with them.  It's a lovely model, but I must admit I'm a little conlicted about VSF tanks that look to much like... well tanks.  Apart from the steam boiler at the back, this is another vehicle that wouldn't look too out of place on an inter-war battlefield (and again, I'm pretty sure I've seen it used as such). 

 The last of the Ironclad vehicles is this little rascal, Steam 4 Armoured Steam Carriage.  I've drafted this one into Fenian service along with several other wheeled vehicles, as I wanted the Fenian armour to look somewhat improvised.  This is probably the most technically advanced looking of all the Fenian vehicles.  I chose to arm this with a Nordenfelt machine gun instead of the usual Gatling, again because the Nordenfelt with its side-by -side barrels is an obsolete design that really helps give the thing a VSF feel to me.  Like all the other Fenian vehicles, it's daubed with graffiti'd Republican slogans, and unfortunately this one is a little rude, hence the pixellation. (hint: think Father Jack!)

The next two vehicles are from Scheltrum, and are also desribed as Armoured Stagecoaches/Wagons.  To be honest I'm pretty much undewhelmed with these models and can't honestly recommend them, but they're part of the batch of items I bought pre-2003 so I may as well get some use out of them now.  In the photos they are basecoated with decals and black detailiing - they need drybrushing and possibly a wash to be completed.

I ran into some problems with the decals I was planning on using on these green Fenian vehicles.  One weakness of print-your-own decal paper is that it can't produce white, meaning that your only option is to paint white under where the decal will go, which shows through clear parts of the decal.  You can see in these pictures where I've had to try to tidy up around the white backing of the Hibernian Brotherhood emblem(the flags on the side front).  In normal lighting conditions this is no-where near as noticeable as the flash photography makes it look, but I still need to do a little more blending work to be happy.

But I hadn't realised how much the lighter colours depended on a white background to give them their luminosity.  I had several graffiti slogans created as decals in yellow text.  But the decal yellow was only semi-opaque, and on a green background merely looked like a lighter green.  They didn't look good on either a green background or a white background, where they blended more than I'd like.

Finally the pride of the Fenian Brotherhood's armoured forces, Liath Macha (pron Lee-ah Mocker), named after one of the Irish legendary hero Cu Chullhain's chariot horses.

You might be forgiven for thinking this is another GW conversion, based this time on the Rhino APC, but in fact it's the Iron Grumbler from Ramshackle Games, with extra wing gun sponsons from their Tridlins range.  There's something about sponson-mounted weapons that again says "VSF" to me.  In real life they're less effective than turret or centrally mounted weapons, but they just look so funky.

In Ramshackle's original "Nuclear Renaissance" post apocalyptic setting, the Iron Grumbler is an improvised junkyard construction thrown together.  The model looks like it, and requires quite a bit of sanding  and tidying up to make the pieces fit together.  What you don't get from this picture is a sense of how much resign you're getting for your money with this vehicle.  It's easily as big as any two of the vehicles in this post put together, while costing under a tenner (plus a couple of quid for the sponsons).  If Ironclad Miniatures' vehicles are like a carefully orchestrated string quartet, Ramshackles seem to be a punk-rock guitar band - loud, brash and full of character, if somewhat lacking in technical precision.  The Ironclad models are clearly better sculpts, but I find myself liking the cruder Ramshackle vehicles more and more.

This isn't the entirity of my vehicle painting queue.  I've still got several ex-dwarven steamtanks from Grendel to complete, along with the armoured traction engine and Medium Landship from Black Pyramid.  But I'm hoping that after this weekend's game is done and dusted, having the Fenian vehicles completed and ready to play will be enough encouragement for me to finally knuckle down and paint the infantry and cavalry to go with them.