Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cheap Trees for the Tabletop

 To run my big French & Indian War events, I need lots of trees. I mean LOTS of trees. I've been borrowing some from my friend Steve for the last couple years. I decided it was time I added to my own collection. And I wanted to do it in a relatively inexpensive way. So, I headed up to Michaels Craft store in the hope of finding something in their plastic plant collection that would work. I found a couple plastic pine branches meant as Christmas
decorations. The pine bristle parts pop off in "branches" of three fronds that look like trees on their own. They were the perfect height, too, so I picked one of them up for $4.99, at 60% off for about $3. Once I popped off all the branches, it would create 12 trees. I liked the looks of them so well, I went back and got a larger one at $9.99 (60% off for about $6). It was good for about 20.

Now, how to base them up? I would need washers for the base, of course. When the branches pop off, it creates a hollow plastic cylinder about 3mm in diameter, and about 1 cm long. I picked up a box of carpet tacks that the cylinder would fit tightly over. I found out after gluing the first batch down, though, that I needed heavier fender washers to keep the tree upright on the tabletop. So, it was back to the hardware store for about 30 big fender washers.

So, without further ado, here's the tutorial for creating pine trees for the tabletop on the cheap!

The carpet tack was epoxied upright over the hole in the smaller washer (1/8th inch hole by 3/4" diameter). However, the washer is not heavy enough to keep the tree from tipping over. Thus, it is epoxied to the thicker fender washer, as above.
A row of the washers with carpet tacks epoxied in place atop, waiting for the tree branch to be glued onto them. A friend suggested I should have had the carpet tack go up THROUGH the hole of the first washer, not just atop it. Good point, as I did have a few carpet tacks pop off during the process.
One of the Christmas pine branches from Michaels craft store. This larger one is good for about 20 separate trees.
Pop! The pine bristles pop easily off into a branch with three fronds that looks very, as Pippin would say, "Tree-ish"
I used a hot glue gun and placed a blob atop each carpet tack. Then the branch was pushed onto the carpet tack. The excess glue ran down onto the base to give a good contact with the washers.
I have a premixed batch of white glue and brown paint. I squirted some of this into the palette and brushed the glue/paint mix over the washer and onto the bottom of the trunk.
Quickly dip the wet washer into a tub of brown coarse ballast and swish it around to make sure the washer is fully covered. You will need to scrape or brush off the ballast that adheres to the bottom.
I missed taking pictures of a step here. After the ballast is dry, I fill up a dish with a premixed 50/50 white glue and water mixture. I then squirt some dark brown paint into it and mix thoroughly. I then dip each washer down into it, setting it to dry on something it won't stick to (I use a cardboard box that I place things on to spray prime). The dark brown glue and water mix settles into the crevices of the ballast as a kind dark wash -- sealing it at the same time. Next (the step pictured above), dry brush the base a khaki to give it depth.
One more dish of 50/50 white glue and water mix is put into a dish. I then do a final sealant by dipping the washer base into the dish and spreading the glue over it with a cheap brush. For the un-pictured step above, just imagine this white glue and water mix with dark brown paint in it.
And here they are -- my pine trees on the cheap -- with a 28m Conquest Miniatures Indian for scale.

So, how much did it all cost for about 32 trees? Well, I have lots of the small washers and carpet tacks left over, of course. I would estimate it cost me just a bit over 50 cents per tree. They were quick and easy to create and will look fine in mass on the tabletop. So, if you're interested, head out to the local craft store while they have the plastic Christmas pine branches on sale...!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dakota Smith's Oriental Adventures, Part 7: Debacle at the Docks

 It is a quiet morning in the riverport town of Hoi An, French Indochina. The freighter Dionysius is expected to pull in at the main pier at any moment. Coolies are stacking the cargo and stores to be loaded upon arrival. In town, various groups of Western archeologists are laying low, scanning the river anxiously. Dakota Smith has booked passage on the freighter for himself and his two companions. Hidden in their luggage (or being carried by them?), is an ancient artifact -- the Tears of the Buddha.
Dakota is not so naive to think he will get on board the freighter without a scrap. First, the French authorities -- represented by Inspector of Antiquities Pierre Fournereau -- don't want such a valuable artifact to leave French territory. Next, the British and Irish archeological teams may want to seize it for themselves. Plus, Dakota knows that it has been too long since his arch-rival, the German archeologist Von Jaeger has reared his ugly head. And finally, perhaps most dangerous, the Order of the Fire Coral has been dogging his footsteps since he arrived in Indochina. To think they would not make one last attempt to recover the Buddhist artifact would be hopelessly optimistic. Masters of disguise, they could be anywhere in Hoi An.
His good friend Harold Fortwine grunted and point to the far jungle. The black smoke of an approaching steamer could be seen rising above the treeline. Chairs scraped as Dakota and his companions headed for the door. It was now or never. As Dakota Smith and his companions left the customs house on the town square of Hoi An, Dakota grumbled, "I got a bad feeling about this. Harold, Dolly, keep a sharp eye out!" All around them, the river port bustled with activity. Coolies were on the wharf loading and unloading the freighter. Dakota saw their baggage among the items being carried aboard on the backs of the IndoChinese laborers. He patted his satchel which contained the prize from this expedition. The famed Buddhist relic, "The Tears of the Buddha" -- which legend said had magical powers.
Shouting on the pier drew the Americans' attention. The freighter's bosun was cursing mightily at two of the coolies who had apparently dashed their loads to the dock and stood glaring and pointing at the Americans. With a sinuous movement, they whipped off their peasant garb and assumed a fighting crouch. "Uh-oh," Dakota muttered as he noted the red and black uniforms they had been wearing underneath -- the unmistakable gear of the Order of the Fire Coral.
Dakota dashed for the cover of a line of wooden barrels beneath the harbor master's wooden observation tower. Dolly walked determinedly towards the pier when she saw one of the agents kick her luggage into the water and laugh. "Dolly, no!" Dakota shouted, unholstering his pistol. As he took careful aim at the agents on the pier, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. A warning shout from Harold Fortwine, made him turn. Chuckling and cracking their knuckles, three more agents walked out of the door of the customs house. He recognized the bald, muscled Tat Ko and the masked female, Jazh  Minh. "This could be bad..." he called over to Harold.
The hairs on Dakota's neck rose up when he a familiar voice call out, "I'm afraid, my dear Dakota, it is about to get much worse..." The American whirled and saw creeping up behind them Von Jaeger, his stooge Otto Tulmann, and the evil old with Fraulein Blucher. "Harold! Dolly!" he yelled. "We're surrounded...make a break for it!" Jazh Minh and one of the Fire Coral agents rushed him and he fired off shots quickly. He heard Harold cursing as he jabbed and boxed with Tat Ko. There was a blaze of gunfire from the Germans and he heard Dolly cry out and a thud as she fell hard at the foot fo the docks. There was nothing Dakota could do for her as he dodged the kicks and punches of the martial artists.
Dakota grimaced as Jazh Minh vaulted away, thinking "That wench's kicks hurt!" With no martial artists in his face, he turned to face the Germans...too late! Both Von Jaeger and Otto Tulmann opened fire. Dakota felt a searing pain and fell to the dirt. That jarred his wounds even harder and he blacked out. His last thought was for the Tears of the Budhha. Had it gone flying out of his satchel when he spun to the ground? Meanwhile, Harold was holding his own, bludgeoning Tat Ko with his boxing skills. Dolly, though, also in a heap near the pier. Fraulein Blucher growled in disdain as she saw Jazh Minh somersault backwards and landing on her feet. She rushed the martial artist, ignoring Von Jaeger's warning. Just as she began her roundhouse swing, Jazh Minh's foot connected with the bridge of her nose. The gray haired matron collapsed.
There was a gasp among the archeologists and the agents of the Fire Coral as the Tears of the Buddha flew from Dakota's satchel and landed several feet away from his unmoving form. One of the agents dashed in and picked it up. He was gunned down by Von Jaeger and again the Buddha went flying. Tat Ko rushed over and with Neen Wa stood over it and dared the Westerners to make a move towards it. Surprisingly, Von Jaeger nor his goons never tried to grab it. Instead, the were venting their anger on Dakota and Harold, blazing away at them and ignoring the Fire Coral. The Irish and British teams were closing in, but they also seemed leery of making a run at it.
Meanwhile the Irish and British teams were creeping stealthily through the town square towards the pier. Despite previous bad blood, they ignored each other for the most part this game. Both had valid chances to make a grab for the other's minor plot point (they could recognize it by passing two Cunning checks when within 12"). Neither took it. The Irish did close in on the French who were slinking down the road towards the freighter. They joined Otto Tulmann in blazing away at Pierre Fournereau and Dr. Lambert, who was carrying the French artifact. The French fire was accurate, though, and they gave better than they received.
 Surprised at their luck to be ignored by the Germans, Tat Ko nodded at Neen Wa to pick up the Tears of the Buddha and make a dash for it. Tat Ko charged the British Maj. Speke-Eastman who blocked the path leading over the bridge and into the jungle. Neen Wa took advantage of the distraction and raced over the bridge, stowing the idol in his robes.
Neen Wa's flight wasn't unobserved, though. Harris McLeod, the portly representative of the British Museum tut-tutted to himself. "Now, here, laddie. We can nae have yee fleeing with such a prize, can we?" The Scottish laird lined up the fleeing agent in his sites and squeeze the triggers of both barrels of his gun. There was a cry and a flash of silver as the idol flew from Neen Wa's lifeless body and tumbled into the jungle. Moving faster than you'd think possible, Harris followed the path of his fatal shot.
Harris heard footsteps behind him on the bridge as he pounded towards the Tears of the Buddha, which he could see glinting from beneath a swaying fern. He hoped that it was Speke-Eastman behind him, and sneaked a glance over his shoulder to see. An evil hiss in front of him froze him. Swaying above the idol was the hooded body of a cobra, who's nest must have been disturbed the idol's tumble through the vegetation. "Och, good god!" Harris yelped, then swung the barrel of his rifle over his head and pounded the snake into the jungle floor. Reaching tenderly for it, he confirmed the cobra was dead before picking up the gleaming artifact.
On the pier, Pierre waves off Dr. Lambert aboard the departing freighter, carrying the minor plot point that his team had secured. His main goal was to ensure no other Westerners escaped aboard the freighter. It was a shame that the British slinked off into the jungle with the Tears or the Buddha. However, they were not out of French Indochina yet. There was always a chance that his gendarmes would find them and capture it. Something would have to be done about the agents of the Fire Coral. How could an archeologist work here it they constantly had to watch for a knife in their back from their sinister hands!
And so, Dakota Smith's Oriental Adventures first story arc comes to an end. It was quite the adventure and the players seemed to really enjoy it. Each league seemed to have its moment in the sun. Would Harold be able to gather the wounded Dakota and Dolly and nurse them back to health? Would the Americans return empty-handed to Portland, Oregon? Or are there more adventures to be had in French Indochina? After all, only the French Dr. Lambert was on board the freighter when it sailed from Hoi An. The others would all need to find a different way home...
Thanks to Pulp Alley for making our games such a blast! I highly recommend these rules as they seem to create an exciting storyline just in the playing.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Making Scalp Markers for Song of Drums and Tomahawks

Scalp markers for my Song of Drums and Tomahawks games
 One of the rules in Song of Drums and Tomahawks that give a nice flavor for the period is "Scalping." When a figure has this Trait in the game, it will sometimes go out of control, so to speak. Whenever one of these figures puts an enemy out of action ("kills"), it must make an immediate Quality check. If it fails, then all subsequent movement must be to rush to the position of the downed enemy and take an action to scalp it. This may be foolhardy indeed. Even if the player may think it is foolish to have his Indian leave the cover of a patch of woods and run out into the open to scalp the enemy they just shot, the figure must do it if it failed its check.

Up to this point, I've been using red craft store pom-poms to mark the position of the downed figure (which is itself removed) and to place upon the base of the figure who failed their Scalping check. Late in a game, this may get a bit confusing remembering which marker applies to which figure. My solution? Scalp markers. Or more accurately, pairs of scalp markers. One of the pair is placed at the spot of the downed figure. The other is placed on the actual base of the miniature who must move to that spot and scalp that figure.

I am a big fan at keeping unnecessary and unattractive clutter off of the miniature gaming tabletop. So, though I could put a simple numbered marker on the table, I wanted "scenic" markers that would blend in with the tabletop. All of my miniatures are on 1" (25mm) square wooden bases. So, I looked through my supply of metal washers and found a box labeled "SAE" -- which measured about 3/8th inch diameter (1 cm). These are small enough to fit on my figures' bases, yet large enough to be visible and easily handled on the tabletop. My idea was to create flocked, scenic pieces in matching pairs, such as different colored bushes, rocks, etc. I decided that each player should have a half dozen pairs of these markers. My "Ohio Frontier Aflame" game features five matched pairs of players fighting linked, but essentially one-on-one games. So, that cut down on the variety I needed, as they could be duplicated from battle to battle.
Step 1: Taking the tiny washers and affixing a piece of cardboard to cover the hole. Step 2, flipping them over and adding a tiny ball of blue tack (some times called poster putty).
I started with ordinary cardboard and cut out a long strip the width that would cover the washer's hole. I then cut each individual square out equal to the number of washers I would be creating. The cardboard squares were then epoxied onto the washers. If you have a piece of styrofoam, this is a good place to let these dry, so that any epoxy that drips off of the washer or through the hole will not be too firmly attached to the cardboard or wherever you are drying them. After the epoxy had set, I turned the washers upside down and took a tiny ball of blue tack and placed it onto the washer. In the picture above, you can see the top two steps illustrated.
Step 3: Take a long screw and press it into the blue tack. This makes a nice, easy way handle for the tiny washer. Press the bottoms of these screws into a piece of styrofoam as a holder.
Next, I took a long screw and pressed it into the blue tack. The bottoms of the screws were then pressed into a styrofoam holder I'd created. I did my scalp markers in two batches because that was how many long screws I had sitting around. Once you have all of your screws with washers blue tacked to them sitting in your styrofoam holder, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Step 4: Dip each washer into a 50/50 mix of white glue and brown paint. Let the glue lap up to the sides but not over it onto the bottom of the washer.
 I mix up a batch of about 50/50 white glue and earth red paint -- the color I use for my bases on my figures. Actually, I premix it by taking a bottle of Elmers white glue that is about half empty and pouring in the paint. That way, all I have to do is shake it up and I can unscrew the cap and apply it. In this case, I squirted it into the depression in a plastic palette tray. I grabbed a screw and washer from the tray, inverted it, and pressed it into the glue/paint mixture. Don't let the bottom get covered up. Just dip it in deep enough so that the top and sides are covered in paint.
Step 5: Press the wet washer into a tub of sand -- I simply buy craft sand from the local hobby store as it is a nice, even texture. Set the screw upright back in the styrofoam tray to dry.
Immediately take the washer and press it lightly into a tub of sand. The sand will adhere to the glue/water mix. What's more, the paint will color the yellowish sand a nice shade of dirt brown. It only takes a second or two for the sand to soak up the glue and attach itself to the washer. Invert it and place it back in the styrofoam tray. This step goes real quickly, and you can do dozens in a couple minutes.
A row of washers attached to their screws and set out to let the sand/glue mixture dry overnight.
I let the sand and glue dry overnight. That way it forms a nice hard surface. At this point, you have to decide what type of scenic terrain you're going to put on the flocked washer base. Simple and easy ideas include Woodland Scenics "clump" flocking in various, easy to distinguish colors. I had a light green, dark green, and a reddish brown piece. Had I not been cheap, I would have bought a yellowish piece, as well. These will make good tiny bushes. You can get fancy and take green clumps and paint dots of bright color on them to make flowering bushes, too, like I did. You can also use various colors of rocks, such as aquarium gravel, railroad tallus, and so on. And finally, for piles of tiny stones, you can use Woodland Scenics ballast in different shades (tan, gray, etc.). Other ideas that I did not use could be discarded equipment like tomahawks, packs, hats, and so on. I did not use those ideas because I did not have any spares of these lying around, and I wanted to my first batch of scalp markers quickly without taking the time to make them out of Sculpy or whatever. Remember, keep the washers blue tacked to the screws until they are completely finished. This makes the tiny washer easy to handle.
Yes, I know it is a repeat picture! But here's another shot of the completed, flocked scalp markers. Let the game begin!
I recommend flocking the bases with whatever you use for grass -- I use fine Woodland Scenics blended turf. I flocked my bases by simply painting 100% white glue onto the earth mixture and then sprinkling the flocking onto it. I usually spray them with Dullcoate the seal it in before I go on to the next step. This is simply gluing on your bush, rock, pebbles -- whatever you've decided to decorate that pair of bases with. Try to make the pairs match up, choosing similar size and shapes of rocks or clumps of foliage.

After they have dried, I take a 50/50 white glue and water mix (premixed in a bottle, like above) and fill up the depression in the palette again. I grab each screw from the styrofoam holder, invert it and dip it into the watery glue mixture. I tap off the excess and then set it back in the holder to dry. This "seals in" the flocking effectively. After the glue has dried, give them a final spray of Dullcoate. Once dry, you have to peel off each washer from its screw. Tiny bits of the blue tack may stick to the bottom, or it may come off easily. No biggie either way as this is on the bottom of the scenic washer. The blue tack is reusable, of course. And now, your first batch of scalp markers are done!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Song of Drums and Tomahawks Demo

I packed up the Song of Drums and Tomahawks "show" and took it down the road a few miles to the local game store. The Central Ohio Gamers Association were having their monthly meeting and were looking for a second game to entertain their members. I set up a small table for 4 players merging two of my one-on-one scenarios I use in the "Ohio Frontier Aflame" game. I added a twist or two, and then set out the rule books to see if I could also get a sale or two.
My four players look over the 6'x2.5' board that I set up at the game store
One player was completely new and another needed a refresher, so I gave them a quick, 10-minute rundown on the rules. Halfway through turn one, I decided to "split" the 4-player turn sequence into the two separate one-on-one games, rationalizing that I would make adjustments if troops got near each other. They never did, so the players were able to go at their own pace and not wait for the other skirmish to progress.
The raiding party of Stockbridge Indians have decided not to wait for their Rogers Rangers allies and head home
One one side of the table was a Huron village. A squad of 7 Rogers Rangers are finishing up their looting of the village when a Huron hunting party returns and finds them. On the other side, the Rangers' Stockbridge Indian allies begin the climb up the cliffs to head home -- tired of waiting for the foolish Rangers who have lingered too long to loot. Unbeknownst to them, another hunting party of Hurons have seen the smoke and climbed ahead of them to cut off their escape.
A Huron hunting party have cut off the escape of the Stockbridge raiders
The battle along the cliffs was quick and brutal. Both sides advanced quickly and were soon exchanging musket fire. Early on, the Stockbridge aim proved more deadly, and a few Huron fell.
Tired of waiting, the Stockbridge raiding party ascend the cliffs
Soon another, and another Huron hunter fell lifeless to the rocks or plummeted far to their deaths. The Huron chieftain urged his men forward to close into the Stockbridge in melee. He hoped their tomahawks would take a toll that his muskets were not.
The Huron firing position proves inadequate, and they begin to take losses
This strategy proves no more successful. One by one, the Huron leader sees his braves cut down. He is proud when they stand firm despite their losses. At least they will die like men, and have no shame when they meet their ancestors around the council fires. Soon, only the leader is left. He, too, falls victim to a well-aimed Stockbridge shot. Only the Stockbridge remain on the ridge. They raise their emptied muskets aloft in triumph. Their war calls echo down into the valley below.
The Stockbridge raiders raise their muskets in triumph as they take possession of the cliffs
In the village, the Ranger sergeant orders his men to make for the exit, which he knows from the Huron howls will be guarded by warriors seeking vengeance. Some of their number take cover in the longhouse doorways while others sneak through the houses themselves towards the exit. The Hurons fan out from the entrance loosing off shots at the Rangers and howling as they close in.
Huron warriors fan out from the village entrance seeking the remaining Rangers
Musket fire is glancing harmlessly off the bark-covered longhouses. First blood goes to the Huron when two braves charge into a longhouse and find a couple Rangers sneaking through it. Their tomahawks flash in the gloomy interiors and soon the two Rangers are lying lifeless on the dirt floors. Knives flash and their scalps are held aloft as the Huron war-cries ring off the walls.
Two Huron braves race into a longhouse where two Rangers are sneaking though, seeking an exit from the village
A fatal shot echoes across the village, though, and the Huron warleader falls dead. The braves momentarily panic and race towards the exit. However, the sight of their smoking villages soon rallies them and they return to the fray. The momentum has swung to the Rangers, though. They crouch in doorways or at the edge of buildings and pour accurate fire into the Huron hunters. Indian after Indian falls. When their numbers drop blow half, many flee for safety in the nearby woods. The remaining Huron accept defeat and quit the village. They hope once the Rangers are gone, they will find some of their people alive and in hiding.

The game went quickly and lasted about two hours. Each warparty began with one leader and six troops. The players enjoyed the game and had fun -- even those whose ranks were decimated. The other club members complimented the terrain and looked interested. I sold a couple copies of the rules, too, so the day was a success! Song of Drums and Tomahawks always provides a fun game and today proved no exception...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chinese Civilians Completed!

28mm Chinese Civilians from Pulp Figures by Bob Murch
I am curious how long it has been since I've painted a batch of miniatures. I don't want to count terrain -- which I did a lot of this past summer and fall. However, I bet it has been at it is going on three months! Way too long, I say!

So, to remedy that situation, I finished off my batch of 10 28mm Chinese Civilians for my Pulp Skirmish games. Most of the minis are from Pulp Figures by Bob Murch, as mentioned in the previous post. I really like these figs, so will doubtless be buying more from this company. They are big, solid figures with interesting poses and equipment. Of course, I changed out a lot of that equipment to convert the pack of "Yangtze River Gangs" into more peaceful farmers, merchants, and laborers. These figures have a lot of character -- particularly the short guy selling the duck, the hobbled old man, and the porter with the two boxes suspended on a pole.
The Bob Murch line of Pulp Figures has lots of colorful characters, like these two on the left
I used the painting schemes on Pulp Figures' website as inspiration. Some color mixes I pretty much copied, while others I improvised upon. I'm happy with how they turned out. There is a nice mix of faded colors and brighter, more oriental silk palette. I think all of the conversion look natural. I was worried the barrel the one laborer was hefting would look out of scale, but I don't think it does. Same with the basket on the ground that the well-muscled porter has set down. They all look like they were off to the market rather than to war.
Farmers, Laborers, and other civilians will come in handy in my Pulp games
These figures will be pressed into action as soon as I run my final scenario in this storyline of Dakota Smith's Oriental Adventures. What's up next? I will likely paint some 28mm Native Americans. As I'm getting ready to playtest my Beaver Wars campaign rules, I need more figures I can use for youths or bow armed troops. Hopefully, these Chinese got the ball rolling and I'll get back into the swing of painting, again...