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  As a result, instead of the outdated lancers favoured by the European powers, the Fenian cavalry is pistol armed, which should lead to some different tactics.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..."


  1. Thank you, sir, for the kind thoughts. Today is my dear lady wife's birthday . . . and we are rather on edge because in a few hours we will find out the result of the CT Scan . . . and the possibilities are very scary.

    So I do appreciate your positive thoughts and prayers.

    I should add that concentrating on our hobby has helped keep my mind off of some of the frightening aspects of my situation.

    -- "Bluebear" Jeff

  2. Very best wishes to Jeff.

    Your thoughts on Fenian figures gel with mine when it comes to mixing and matching. I've had to scratch my head and discard several promising unpainted lead because of scale discrepancies.

    I can appreciate your ideas on GASLIGHT, although I've only played them through once.

    1. I've been stung a couple of times on discrepancies between 28mm scale figures. I hadn't quite realised that all the figures I had were so near the larger end of the scale (Redoubt, Ironclad, Renegade, Westwind). I've been stung a couple of times now with figure purchases that were too small to be compatible. The first was a unit of Reiver Miniatures VBCW Policemen, who despite being advertised as 28mm figures were only 27mm to the top of their service helmet! The second time, strangely enough, was some Wargames Foundry Crimean War figures. All the figures I'd had from Foundry before tended towards the larger "Heroic" proportions (Victoriana, Swashbucklers, Street Violence) but again these turned out to be closer to oldfashioned 25mm scale. I'm thinking of possibly still using a unit of them in pillbox hats as schoolboy cadets, inspired by the Virginia Military Institute in the ACW, though I'll have to do something about the figures' extravagant moustaches!

  3. Just back from the doctor and the news is good. The CT scan doesn't show my cancer as having spread. Next steps are radiation and surgery.

    As for GASLIGHT, I've only played it as straight Colonial rules (i.e., no VSF stuff) and it played well although Heroes were too strong IMO. Perhaps it says something that I've gone back to playing "The Sword and the Flame" for my Colonial games.

    -- Jeff

    1. Wonderful news, Jeff. The enemy has been out-scouted and his position pinned down. Now all that remains is to soften him up with an artillery bombardment before sending in the cavalry to sweep him from the field!

      Heroes are mega-super-duper characters alright. Personally I never use them, all our unattached Main Characters are Adventurers, which aren't quite so dominating. Funnily enough I started GASLIGHT playing it as a straight colonial game too, and am considering a return to Sword and the Flame to boot.

  4. "The Sword and the Flame" tends to often come down to some disparate hand-to-hand fighting that makes for a great "cinematic" climax. Lots of fun.

    -- Jeff

    PS, I just had a good five-hour nap.