Thursday, 10 December 2009

Scenery for 1/300th scale: Trees

These are my various efforts at making trees and woods for 1/300 scale microarmour. The first picture is some pine trees. A few years ago I discovered a discarded plastic christmas tree in a skip and rescued some of it (not a very popular move with the wife!). As a result I have loads and loads of plastic christmas tree branches. I tried cutting them down to various sizes, including these which I think make very passable 1/300 scale pine trees.

These are a variation on what you can do with the aforementioned christmas tree 'trimmings'. In this case I've glued the trimmed branches the other way up, dipped them in glue and then dipped them in modelling flock.

Again, I'm not displeased, but have to confess that the amount of work trimming the little plastic branches to the right size/shape is pretty time consuming for one tiny tree and it was fairly clear that it would take many, many more hours to get a decent number of trees to represent woodland.

Down at my old club, Rob mentioned that he had made some 15 mm trees using some discarded upholstery foam he had scrounged from work. He used screws covered in putty for the trunks and coloured and flocked the foam which he attached with superglue from the local Pound Shop.

I thought I'd give the idea a spin for both 15mm and 1/300 scale. I didn't have upholstery foam, but an expedition to the Pound Shop produced a big bag of foam washing up sponges. They were in different textures of foam and different colours, both of which turned out to be an advantage.

I ripped up the foam sponges, trying as hard as I could to remove all straight sides/edges. I then got an old 2 litre ice-cream container and squirted artists acrylic into it, and added water, stirring and adding more paint until I got a darkish green. I then chucked in the ripped up sponges, stirred them around with my fingers until I was sure they were completed saturated. I left them a few hours, then squeezed them out and put them on a tray covered generously with kitchen paper and put them in a dry place for about a week. I varied the paint colour a little with a second batch. The fact that the original washing up sponges came in different colours also worked to my advantage as they dried different shades of green depending on the base colour, while the different textures helped to.

I tried making a few individual trees, but quickly realised that it was far easier to make a whole tree 'canopy'.

I also cut out some irregular bases with a jig saw from 2mm MDF and stuck several screws on each one with superglue. I found window putty the cheapest type down the local hardware store, but it takes a while to harden, but as I needed to wait for the sponges to completely dry out too, I didn't mind. I covered the screws in putty and left them for a week. Then painted the lot brown and applies some flock and static grass to the bases.

Finally, when the sponges were completely dry I assembled the tree stands, using cheap superglue to stick on bits of sponge onto the screws. It took a bit of arranging to get each clump looking right, usually achieved by sticking small scraps of a different colour on to a larger bit until they gave the impression of being several different trees close together.

I considered flocking, but at this scale, particularly the dark green shade looked very good without it. Overall, I was very pleased with the result, and I made far more 'wood' far more quickly than trying to make one tree at a time.

This is the whole lot...enough for lots of 1/300 woods on the tabletop when spread out

SciFi in 15mm for Traveller

I blame Rob at my last club for this. Aside from wargaming, out of my teenager gaming interests, one of the two areas of role-playing I have stayed hooked on is the Sci-Fi RPG Traveller. At least that is in terms of collecting and reading books, making notes etc, even if like a lot of middle-aged role-playing afficionados it is decades since I sat around a table to role play.

Some figures for Starship Crew or Naval Landing party

So when Rob said he was thinking of making 15mm Sci-Fi his next project, lost focus on my current projects and I remembered that I had bought a job lot of OOP 15mm Traveller figs from the private collection of one of my distributors while running the shop. I had one box of these Citadel 'official' Traveller figures from way back, but this was much more than that, and I subsequently found out they were most likely Martian Metals re-issues. These figures were selling for good prices on eBay at the time and I planned to resell, but this collection was unbelievable good. Because at the time I was trying to stay focused on other projects, I really thought no...don't do this...but these more than 200 15mm figs have been looking at me for 2 years saying 'paint me'.
Some Vacc Suited Characters

Once Rob mentioned the Dropship Horizon Blog site and I discovered some of the figs that I have painted up as a lovely unit of Traveller Lift Infantry I was hooked!!! Fortunately, I didn't have to lay out any cash immediately, the painting/basing went really smoothly, and I even made a lot of progress in knocking up some Sci-Fi scenery - getting around to scenery for a game being something I am normally very, very bad at.

Some close-ups of my 'hi-tech' Imperial Army units

I tend to think of this as yet another 'half-finished' project. But I am probably being a bit unfair to myself as I have three big 9 element units of Hi-Tech Imperial Army, one 9 element unit of Zhodani Marines and three 9 element units of mid-tech infantry all completely DONE!!! Then I got lucky and won a nice force of GZG Colonial Militia all well-painted on eBay for a very reasonable price. A nice set of GZG New Israelis, which people have generally been using for Zhodani army, turned up on eBay a few weeks later and saved me a few shekels compared to buying them new. Anyway, going well so far. There is certainly enough figures to put on a couple of different games.

When Rob and I discussed rules, I was fairly open, including using Traveller's own 'Striker' rules of which there are two completely different versions. Rob, however, was very keen to play a variant of the excellent 'Crossfire' he'd come across and had already based up some GZG infantry he had acquired. I tend to agonise over basing, particularly when I am not sure what rules I really want to use with a set of figures. Crossfire uses 'element' basing, whereas I could just conceivably be wanting to use some of these figures for role-playing and/or boarding action type games, when I'd want them as individuals. First edition Striker, too, as an older set of wargames rules had individual figure removal built into it. On the other had, I had a lot of these figures, they were mainly ground combat military troops, and it was really cumbersome moving a decent number of these figures individually. What finally made my mind up was Rob mentioning he had for his 'hi-tech' power armoured force based them two figures to an element, rather than three for his lower tech infantry. I realised that this would make my 'hi-techs' go a long way, if I element based. I took the precaution of basing them all individually on 1p coins, which I terrained first, and only lightly gluing them to card which I used for the element base, which I have been careful to terrain so I would not have difficulty prising the coins off again if I changed my mind.

In the event, Rob's appearances at the club dropped off sharply with the arrival of a new baby, so we never got around to playing with them, but it did at least mean I finally cracked into painting more than half the original collection.

The first force that I completed was about half the 'hi-tech' troopers in the collection, which I decided to paint green. The faceplates had already been painted a sort of metallic blue when I got them which I left. The rest of the figure hadn't been undercoated, and when I test painted one I thinned the paint a little and quite liked the slight metallic look I got, so carried on and painted the lot like that. I was probably reasonably influenced by the style of 'Starship Troopers' in the game/film/CGI animated TV series of the same name, but decided that I'd use these as my 'Imperial Army'. I gave them a red 'spot' on their left shoulders, to represent the 'Imperial Sunburst', and apart form painting the weapons in gunmetal this was about it. Just to finish the figures I added various 'dots' on the figures. I was initially inspired by the helmets in the 'Alien' film which were ringed with lights, but this was too difficult for a 15mm figure, but found that a row of three white dots on the top of the helmet looked good. Similarly I painted various white and red dots and red squares irregularly on their backpacks, which for the unit as a whole gave the impression of flickering lights on various computerised readouts.

I painted irregular white and red dots/squares on the back packs-quite effective in giving the look of flashing instrument read-outs

There is not that much written on the Imperial Army in the Traveller literature, although it does appear that there is an organised force above planetary level in the Imperium, possibly an independent force, or one drawing on the militaries of the hi-tech worlds at least with a unified high command.

My reading of the 'Imperium' in Traveller, is that there is a sort of Imperial 'mainstream' and then various local cultures beneath that, with 'mainstream' culture being sustained by the largest hi-tech worlds, with good starports on the main trade routes, becoming weaker in various 'backwater' worlds and regions. I see the 'Imperial Army' as very much being drawn from that mainstream, and reasonably uniformly equipped with equipment being supplied by the various MegaCorporations. At 15mm scale, it is pretty much impossible to really distinguish what weapons figures are carrying. In my head, I've decided that this is a force equipped with unpowered combat armour and gauss rifles, with PGMPs and FGMPs (plasma and fusion guns) as squad support weapons carrying by power armoured troops, but to be honest you could pick just about any armament you like to play them with, including all power armoured and PGMP/FGMP equipped. I don't have any 'heavy weapons' to go with them, but at this tech level man-portable plasma and fusion guns are very powerful weapons, mortars have been replaced by off-table missiles or airdropped disposable missile launchers, and everything else would be vehicle mounted, so I don't really need them.
This is the whole force - 27 elements, enough to represent a decent sized force

I was inspired when I took the same set of figures and made them look completely different with another colour scheme for the Zhodani Marine Commandos (see below), and so with about a quarter of the 'hi-tech' figures I tried a third colour scheme. This time I tried blue, liked the affect and decided that these could be Imperial marines. I gave them black visors, the red Imperial Sunburst and gunmetal weapons. These are perhaps not the elite 'assault' marines, who would be entrusted with boarding actionsor spearheading planetary assaults-for which I might get some tougher looking 'power-armoured' types from another figure range- but the less heavily equipped 'ship's troops' and marines employed to guard naval facilities all over the Imperium.
Same 'hi-tech' infantry figures, but given a different colour scheme to represent Imperial Marines
...And Black-Clad Zhodani Marine Commandos

The Imperial forces need an enemy, so before undertaking the Imperial Marines, so I tried another colour scheme on my' hi-tech' infantry figures. I am pretty sure that the Traveller adventure 'Broadsword' mentioned that the elite Zhodani Marine Commandos (which include the dreaded Zhodani Psionic Commandos) are uniformed in black armour, and it is mentioned somewhere that the helmet faceplate was atuned to detect infrared. I was worried that using the same figures would be too obvious, but I shouldn't have been because at this scale the colour scheme is far more noticeable than the sculpted detail, so on the tabletop look completely different.

I was pleased with the look of the Zhodani marines in their black armour with red helmet visors. They could also be used as Solomani marines, which are mentioned as having black uniforms. Eureka miniatures has recently produced a set of 15mm figures based on Denizen Miniatures 28mm Ventaurans, which were in turn closely modelled on the Zhodani, complete with their distinct 'clam-shell' helmets. While these are certainly closer to the look of Zhodani, at 15mm scale, I'm not sure it matters, as you can't see much detail of the figure anyway.

.Here's the whole force

Next up is a little force acquired on eBay. The Marine Commandos are only the elite of the Zhodani force, the main force is the Zhodani Army. It is mentioned that the Zhodani army was much more uniformly equipped than the Imperial. There is I think somewhere on the cover of a Traveller book an illustration of a Zhodani trooper in desert camo. In fact, according to Traveller 'canon' most forces would by this tech level have 'chameleon' armour, and probably would look the same, but this doesn't help distinguish them on the table, so as I've gone for green for the Imperial Army, I thought I'd go for 'desert' for these Zhodani.
Zhodani Army Troopers in desert camo

The figures are GZG 'New Israelis', but because of the shape of the helmets, at least from the front, they are a popular choice among Traveller fans for Zhodani. I tried visors in red, but didn't like them, so went for black instead. I'm still pondering if they need more detailing before varnishing and terraining the bases.

This is the whole force complete with some heavy weapons

Next up I had a large force of 'mid-tech' infantry. Most had already been given a basic paint job, with them all in a khakish green. The problem was that this was somewhat limiting for fighting different battles, especially if I wanted two sides represented. So I set to thinking about what uniforms to paint them in. I actually decided to split them not into two but into four. It is not uncommon in modern armies for different units to have different 'camos' issued to them, so there is not really any problem fielding two differently equipped units side-by-side as part of the same army, but like this I could also field them as two separate armies, or as different planetary forces on different worlds to create a bit of variety for when players travel from world to world.

For one force, I was inspired by WW2 Soviet uniforms and painted them up in a khaki brown, and from my 'Red Army' inspiration later added some red shoulder flashes. I somewhat arbitarily decided that I would use these as that other Imperial enemy the 'Sword Worlders'.
'Mid-Tech' infantry. I've decided these are 'Sword Worlders' although there's no guidance on uniforms in the 'official' literature

I normally leave my bases natural sand, but as 15mm are so quick to paint I thought I'd try painting, washing and dry-brushing them, and used a reddish chocolaty brown and was pleased with the affect.
In general, I am in general not looking to build up the figures that I have into bigger units, but in the case of the Sword Worlders 9 element bases might not be enough. All these figures were OOP when I got them, but RAFM has since re-issued them, so I am slightly tempted to get a few more to bring them up to, say, 27 elements, and I might add GZG's Eurasian Solar Union figures to represent the hi-tech troops from the world of Sacnoth within the Sword Worlds.
The whole 'Sword World' force for now

Next up is another variation on the 'mid-tech' troopers. Aside from the big interstellar powers, another source of conflict in the Traveller universe are all the 'brushfire' wars among local military forces on all the many different planets both within and beyond the borders of the Imperium, where it is common for 'mercenaries' to be employed, a whole level of adventuring for 'player characters' with a military background. Therefore all sorts of different military forces could be needed. For this unit, I particularly picked out a lot of figures where a sort of gas mask, and although I left them in the green khaki I acquired them in painted their back packs pale green and the bases a light grey. This is handy if I want a force for urban warfare or some bleak 'grey' coloured cratered planet, and if nothing else distinguishes the unit from any others.
A different selection of figures and paint/base colour job on the Mid-Tech infantry

Finally, I decided to paint another unit is a more distinctive 'camo'. I tried different designs, but in 15mm scale anything too subtle is completely lost, so I used a quite distinctive sand yellow and brown patches applied to the khaki-green base colour, which do make the unit stand out on the table.
Third colour scheme variation for mid-tech infantry: Jungle camo

I decided that this more of a 'jungle camo' so painted the bases green, adding flock and sand. I might add a bit more vegetation later, but for now they look a distinctive unit, but would sit happily side-by-side with most others. One their own they are probably most suitable as 'regular' army to hunt down jungle guerillas, for which I have some of Peter Pig's AK-47 figures in my sights as a future purchase.

As with all my mid-tech forces I have done some 9 element bases and some individually based NCOs or junior officers.

In addition, to these distinctively painted units, I still have enough of the khaki-green clad figures to make another 9 element unit, which I haven't pictured here. It was my intention to leave them as they are to use as 'generics' to be combined with any of the above units, but as they are very dull, I haven't completely made up my mind on this, and so they are still unvarnished and unbased.

As I mentioned all the figure that I bought were OOP at the time of my purchase but are now back in production-although at least I thought they were until I just checked the RAFM website and found everything there except the 'mid-techs', but as there are some missing codes, they could just be out of stock. As the mid-tech infantry are such good generic infantry, although the GZG range is probably a bit better and more varied, I might at some stage a few more, especially if I enlarge the Sword World force. I haven't exhausted the different colour scheme trick, and could easily add some more, for example in desert camo, or in black or blue as some sort of elite paramilitary or armed police unit.

Full force of 'jungle-camo' troops

All my military figures were initially drawn from the 'hi-tech' and 'mid-tech' figures that I acquired in the collection I purchased. But since these official 'Traveller' figures were produced the British company Ground Zero Games ('GZG') has produced a really excellent range of 15mm and 25mm Sci-Fi figures and vehicles, which really sets the standard that other 15mm manufacturers strive to match. In terms of modelling a 'wide' universe I was aware that my collection was somewhat limited.
Some GZG field-capped colonial militia that I picked up on eBay...

I was pleased then when I found a really nice force of GZG's colonial militia in field caps going for a good price on eBay. It is easy to imagine that a lot of the small colonies of the type the Traveller world generation table throws up, would rely on a part-time militia force for self-defence and this is exactly the sort of force for which the planetary government would employ off-world mercenaries to train and lead.
....perfect for the sort of force a cadre of mercenaries might be expected to train and lead

The figures came all painted and based, and although I might smarten the basing up by adding a bit of sand or static grass they are fine to field on the table as they are. In the course of buying them I ended up communicating with the seller, who turned out to be one of the author's of the 'Hammer's Slammers' rule set!

That completes what I have painted up completely for now, but I have a fair amount of stuff half painted and waiting for a revival in interest to get them all done. Among them are quite a few plastic spacecraft, which I understand were designed for the 'Silent Death' space combat game. They are a somewhat smaller scale, but they could easily stand in for attack speeders, drones or even at a push fighters.

I'm thinking of using some of these excellent (and cheap!) 'Silent Death' plastic space ships as attack speeders, drone and fighter support

I've also got some figures for the alien races in Traveller. These include a small number of 'Droyne', the mysterious 'bird-like' alien. I could buy some more RAFM figures if I want to bulk these up to a proper military force, but the 'Droyne' do not figure as an especially warlike race, and so they are more likely to feature as a small party to be protected or rescued.
Small force of 'Droyne'

In terms of what I've got the big job remaining is the Vargr. In the very first adventures, their was just a 'barbarian' race pencilled in to the 'coreward' of the Spinward Marches, but later literature filled this out to become the Vargr, a genetic manipulation of 'man's best friend' by the mysterious Ancients, who are a somewhat chaotic society constantly swayed by different 'pack leaders', which make civil wars very common, and piratical raiding by these 'space wolves' a constant threat. The collection that I bought had a really good force of Vargr. I've made a start on painting them, but have a way to go.
I'm still painting this nice force of Vargr

All of the figures are armed but lack armour or space suits of any kind, so they are suitable for a militia or disorganised corsair band. New Sci-Fi 15mm company, Critical Mass Games produced last year a range of figures for an alien race it calls the Protolene, which are distinctly 'dog' or 'wolf' like in appearance, and include various armoured figures, and would work well for better equipped Vargr, but I'd like to get these painted before buying them.
The collection also came with some other figures which were originally issued by Citadel as Adventurer and Imperial Citizens sets, although RAFM has now grouped into different sets. These include some more dishevelled looking civilians who would be suitable for a mob, scavengers or frontier colonists, and a bunch armed civilians who would make a nice force of armed colonists, miners or workers, perfect for defending their planet/colony/facility against attack, attacking their neighbours or rising up in revolution!

A few extra figures which might be useful as a mob, scavengers and frontier colonists
The original collection I bought also included these figures which are perfect as a force of armed colonists, miners or revolutionary force
Finally, I have some hi-tech infantry left over, as well as a few 'vacc suited' figures. I've experienced with different colour schemes, and will probably paint them up as a motley force to use also as colonists, miners and unless I can find something more suitable, space pirates.

Finally these are some 'hi-tech' infantry figures left over. I've been experimenting with different colour schemes, and thinking of using them as armed colonists or workers in vacc suits or space pirates

For the time being this is entirely an infantry force, which is generally also short on heavy weapons. I'd like to add a few vehicles, mainly from the GZG range, but don't intend to build a whole armoured force, just some grav/wheeled tanks and APCs. I'd also like to buy some more figs from both GZG, Peter Pig's AK47 range and some of Khurshan Miniatures and Critical Mass Games to get a fully optioned collection, but the good news is that there is more than enough painted up already to put on the table for a game.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

In the beginning...

When I was two or three years old my mum, to keep me quiet while she did the weekly shopping, would tell me if I was good our last stop would be the toy shop. For a long time she'd buy me a matchbox toy car every week. The collection grew and grew. I'd play racing games with them. I knew every car on the road, especially all the sports cars, and had a model of most of them. Then one day we passed a different toy shop. It had Britains and Timpo toy soldiers in the window. I was mesmerised. There ended my love affair with cars and my new one with toy soldiers started. I never bought a Matchbox Car again. Top Gear still just isn't my bag. But I guess, some Pavlovian response, a deep-seated memory of my weekly 'treats' kicks in when I see a nicely painted tank, or a zulu or a medieval knight, or a Star Wars spaceship, or...

I've never seen the point in having toy soldiers if you don't play with them. As week after week my little collection of cowboys, knights, British and Germans grew, there followed battles with knights for my toy castle, shoot'em down games with toy cannons, battles on the carpet with Airfix tanks and eventually expeditions to shops and a club in London to fight 'proper' wargames with rules which now appear crazily over-complicated. For a kid born in the sixties this was actually all pretty normal. This was an era of lots of war films and cowboy films, and no-one thought twice about buying boys toy guns for Christmas. Modelling was a big hobby and WWII was fresh in the memory of at least our parents generation. My dad would tell me about how his air raid shelter door was blown off on a raid on Liverpool docks, and one kid at school even had an older father who had been a Spitfire pilot. With no computer games to entertain us, lots of kids tried out their 'prototypes' -wargaming where you had to roll dice and look up tables-at one time or another and I guess I was a bit more serious about it than most.

I first got distracted by role-playing games when someone brought a set of Dungeons and Dragons to the Wargames Club. My mum persuaded me to give my treasured collection of Airfix 1/32 figures and Britain's knights and cowboys, which Donald Featherstone's 'Skirmish Wargaming' given a new life, to a neighbour's young son. My Hinchcliffe 25mm Byzantine Army disappeared into the attic, and I don't know what happened to most of my Airfix 1/72 scale tanks and figures. Then came girlfriends, and eventually work, wife and kids intervened for a couple of decades...

Then one day while I was having a very frustrating time at work I was clearing a cupboard and found a shoebox of Airfix Napoleonic figures. I'd kept them because some had been one the best paint jobs that I'd managed, the rest were just half or unpainted. I sat down and painted them up and found it therapeutically relaxing, and took my mind completely off problems in the office. As the internet had recently arrived on my PC, once I had found an online model shop, I ordered some more...and some more...and some more...

At the time though I lived abroad and so it was mainly a solo activity. I bought some military history books and read them more seriously than I did when I was a teenager. I found it useful to set up a company or battalion with figures to get an idea of how big it was, what frontage it would occupy, and what a brigade, division or corps consisted of, to understand what I was reading about. My Napoleonic collection grew as I read David Chandlers fantastic book, still one of the best books on military tactics and strategy that I've ever read. One thing fed the other. If I saw an interesting book on Africa, I'd end up looking at some Colonial figures. Some gorgeous pictures of Gripping Beast miniatures and I'd start buying books on Arthurian Britain, a period I had briefly studied at University.

My own collection steadily grew, but not with much rhyme or reason. Then a few years later I found myself stuck waiting for a delayed contract. I looked at some different ways of making money and ended up starting an online model shop as a trial run in online selling, to occupy my time and make a few bob. I'd been running it over a year, and was thinking of how to promote it some more. It seemed crazy not to at least check out my local wargames club for potential customers or helpers. It turned out to be a very small club. All the guys were around my age. In fact, I'd discovered running my shop that most historic wargamers are either in their 40s or older like me, and a lot of Warhammer players are in their 30s. I still haven't sold a thing to my wargaming buddies, but I ended up enjoying myself so much my renewed interest in Wargaming has outlived my online shop, which I discontinued over a year ago now.

Joining the club has made me realise that I need to be a lot more disciplined actually finishing projects, if my figures were ever to see it on to the tabletop. Up until that point, there was no need to actually get all the units in both forces painted, based, terrained and get all the scenary done. I did my degree in Ancient & Modern History and so I cannot resist dipping into just about every period. My collection is mainly 20mm plastics so the armies that I can field are more limited by the speed of my paint brush than the number of figures I can buy, but I have been tempted by some 28mm and even a few 15mm. But it is a bit frustrating having dozens of armies and periods 'nearly done' but only a couple of things actually finished. A guy at the club recommended a couple of blogging sites, and not only did I realise that they offered good practical advice but they were for some bloggers part of their discipline keeping their wargaming projects on track.

So I started this blog partly to show off what I am doing but mainly to help keep me focused on getting the paint brush out more and seeing a few things to completion. If it turns out to be of use to anyone else, that's great, but hopefully it will be a spur to get things off the production line.