Sunday, January 24, 2021

I Received My Dream Tool: A Laser

This was long overdue, but as I head towards retirement (three more years) I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and to buy a dream tool that I had been pondering for a long time: a laser cutter and engraver. Now you might be wondering why this is on this particular blog and the answer is because it will absolutely play a role in cutting out parts for my wooden warriors.

In the past I used a Cricut cutting machine to cut out arm shapes and Spanish bicornes from craft foam sheet and, although I liked the flexibility of the material, I did not like how it took paint. With a laser I will easily be able to cut out shapes in 3mm and 1/8" thickness.

Right now I am in the experimental phase. I have long drawn images for wargaming using various drawing packages on the Macintosh. I bought the Glowforge Plus and it accepts SVG format files as input for 2D work, i.e. cutting and scoring. I have been using Inkscape for years, and that saves in many of the formats that the Glowforge accepts.

My first experiment was creating a painting rack for my paints. I use Pro Acryl mostly right now and they have a large bottle size than the craft paints and the Vallejo/Army Painter sized bottles, so I thought I would cut out my own as an initial project.

The laser in action.

I looked at other paint holders and I noticed that many have the paint bottles standing straight up and down. The better ones stack one on top of another. I didn't really want that kind. I wanted the bottles angled and showing the color as much as possible.

The top of the holder.

The top plate of the holder has holes slightly larger than the bottle's diameter (30mm) so the paint bottle can slide in comfortably.

The sides of the holder.

I decided to cut out two of these sheets so I could double up on the sides and make it stiffer.

The bottom of the holder.

The bottom has small holes so the bottle's tip could slide in.

The finished product.

I really like how I can see all the colors so easily. It takes up a bit of space, but I don't want stackable holders where I have to unstack them to remove a paint bottle and I am tired of having to pick up bottles to look at the color from holders where the bottles stand straight. If I were afraid of the bottles leaking I could still reverse them (tips up) and see the colors while being able to easily grab the bottle.

The different cuts.

This was a really instructive project and I look forward to doing more. Right now all of my projects are more war-game accessories and the like. I am strongly considering continuing to use the 3mm chipboard as a replacement for craft foam sheets (although I have a ton of it still).

Friday, January 1, 2021

Back to Basics!

 First off, Happy New Year everyone!  Sorry it has been so long since my last post to this blog, but working my job in a COVID environment has turned out to be very challenging and has been extreme time consuming.

That said, I wanted to continue on with some of my wooden fellows and I have several constructions done for the more detailed figures (let's just say I have done some "caped crusader" figures).  But if I am honest with myself, these more detailed figures while I do enjoy them, are not really what prompted me to make wooden miniatures for wargaming out of spools, toothpicks, and such.  What I have always wanted to do was create miniatures that anyone could make and paint to a standard that they would be happy putting on the table top.

I am not sure if this is present on this blog or not, I don't think it is, but way back, about a decade ago to the day honestly (I can't believe it has been that long!), my original intention was not to create miniatures for wargaming.  What I wanted to do was to make playing pieces for the game of Chinese Chess.  Those of you who are not familiar with the game, it is a wonderful type of chess that is related to the game that we all call "chess" currently but has some important differences.  First, it is less abstracted in its pieces.  The pieces are more consistent with the types of troops used in actual ancient warfare.  For example, there are elephants, cannons, and chariots as pieces in Chinese Chess.  Second, the board is slightly different in that there is a "river" in the middle and at least the soldiers ("pawns") behave differently when they are on their side of the river compared to the enemy side.  In summary, the game really is more akin IMHO to ancient warfare than is what we call today "chess," at least in terms of its pieces.

The problem I encountered was, however, significant in that the game is played with flat discs (similar to checkers) as playing pieces and on these discs is written using a single Chinese character the name of the piece.  First challenge I encountered was, you guessed it, I don't read Chinese.  Second, the same characters are not always used for the same pieces in the two armies.  For example, the "elephant" character in the red army is a different character than the one used in the blue army for the "elephant" piece.  Yikes!  This proved to be a very difficult challenge for me to overcome.  Not only would I have to learn the characters for the pieces, I would in many cases have to learn two sets of characters for each piece depending on the army.

The good news for me, however, was that there were some 3D Chinese Chess sets available with pieces that were shaped like the troop type.  For example, the cannons looked like cannons, the elephants looked like elephants, etc.  Great!  I was in business!  But the issue was that these sets were a bit on the pricey side (for me anyway).  So after looking at these pieces, I thought, "I bet I can make a serviceable set of pieces out of wood craft parts that would allow me to play Chinese Chess.  I can use these spools with these mushroom caps to make 'pawns', and I can use these candle cups tipped at a 45 degree angle with these little discs on the side as wheels to make cannons," etc.  

But then once I did that it dawned on my that I could make huge armies for ancients wargames for very little money using these inexpensive craft parts and, equally importantly, with a simple paint scheme I could put hundreds of figures on the table top in not a lot of time.  And so that's what I did.  And since then, because of seeing the great work of all the folks out there that do more detailed figures, I started to do more detailed once myself.

I have decided, for a little while anyway, to return to my roots ... get back to basics ... to return to doing the simpler figures of a decade ago.  And further, to make pieces for board games that I really like.

Chess was an obvious choice, and I will do pieces for traditional chess eventually, but before that I have always wanted to do a homemade version of the old Parker Brothers' game "All the King's Men."  There are several variants out there, but this one is my favorite and it has a medieval theme.  Here is a picture of the game:

It is not the most popular of games, it is often seen as too simple and not challenging enough, but I have loved this game since my youth.  There are only three types of pieces, the King, four Knights, and seven Archers.  The King and the Archers each move one square.  The Knights can move any number of squares.  Fair enough, it is a very simple chess-like game, no doubt.  But the one thing that this game has that no other game at that time did (this was the late 70's) is that the board squares determine the direction the piece could move.  The distance in squares moved was established by the type of piece.  But the direction was dependent upon the arrows on the square the piece currently occupied.  It has been proposed by those who studied the game that this was done to simplify the movement of the pieces for beginners and make the game easier for even younger plays to enjoy.  Fair enough, I do think this is true.  But the wargamer in me saw something else, and it is what I have always loved about this game.  The squares effectively serve like terrain in a wargame.  If the square does not have a "forward" facing arrow in it, the piece cannot move in that direction.  This really is an abstraction of terrain in a wargame!

So, in an effort to return to my roots with crafting figures, I decided to make my own pieces for the game "All the King's Men."  The board?  I will try, but I know it is going to be difficult.  But I will try.

Consistent with the original, I am going to make a brown colored army and a cream colored army.  I am also sticking with the medieval theme of archers, knights, and a royal (I am going to do one King and one Queen however just for fun and also as a shout-out to the new Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit").  I am just going to use peg people and paint the designs on them to indicate the different playing pieces.  Keep it Simple Stupid approach here.  I am going to base coat all of the peg people in black and then paint the colors on top of this black base coat, being careful to use the "negative space" (in other words leave black showing throw) to create definition and a break between the different parts of the piece.  I am not shooting for something "realistic" or even necessarily proportional here.  In fact, I am only doing the figures from the waist up.  Instead, I am aiming for interesting looking playing pieces for a board game.  Also, I know that pieces of the same type will differ slightly from each other.  I'm okay with that.  This is supposed to be a "handmade" game, not a manufactured one.


Here are some photos of the brown colored army.

The King is about 3" tall, the Knights are about 2.5" tall and the Archers are 1.75" tall.  I did nothing to these pawns other than paint them.  The armor and weapons are somewhat abstracted, and I purposefully did not paint facial features on them.  This, along with their size difference, gives them more of a board game "playing piece" feel than a historical miniature wargame feel, which is what I was going for.

Here are the two "Royals" side by side, King on the left, Queen on the right.  Obviously I chose to use base colors for their outfits consistent with their army (brown and cream).

The Knights might be my favorite pieces.  I wanted them to have some plate armor on but also holding swords in their right hand and shields over their left arm.  So really, the plate armor is really only visible when looking at their helmet and their right arm holding the sword.  Again, I used the brown or cream colors to paint their surcoats as well as their shield front to make it easier to see in which army they serve.

Here is a better shot of the sword.  Super easy to do and I like the way they came out.



Here is a better shot of the right arm holding the sword.  Again, my goal was to create a "plate armor" look.


The archers were the first figures I did.  I couldn't decide whether to paint their mail head and shoulder covering as mail or just leave it gray.  I went with the more simple option of not painting the mail and just leaving it gray.  The bows they hold in hindsight I should have put in their other hand, but that's okay.  I used different colors for the bows to give more visual distinctiveness to these pieces as they are the smallest on the board.

The board will be tricky.  I have some ideas but even if I can't pull it off, I am happy with these playing pieces.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

And Still More Lankhmar Goodness!

 Finally got those two figures painted, the thief/slinger and the other bravo type guy.  Here they are.

I like how they turned out, especially the slinger although the leg position on the other figure turned out well too, I just don't like his head much.  More on that later.

Same lunging legs as before, the bent knee leg being a flat plug and the long straight leg being a tile spacer. I continued to try and get a little more creative with tile spacer pieces to make it look like he is wearing baggy pants.  Hard to see here but his left extended leg has some additional tile spacer pieces on the top and inside bottom of the leg to mimic draped cloth.

Head, body, weapons, and arms are just like the Gray Mouser figure.  The sling was fun.  It's just paper with a small round bead glued into the loop end and painted to look like a rock.

The bravo has a different leg positioning that's actually easier to see in the first picture.  His right leg is bent as normal and is a flat plug, but his bent left leg with the tip of the toe touching the ground only is also a flat plug for the upper part of the leg, and a tile spacer for the leg from the knee down.  Tile spacer feet and arms as normal.  I wasn't sure if this leg position would look good, but it turned out okay.

I don't like his head, though.  I like the close-cropped shaved head look, but I tried to give his leather armor a collar and I don't think it looks very good.  Makes him look like he has a really long neck!

You can see the left bent leg better in this shot.  Also, I used a small barrel bead for his upper torso.  I do like this look and at least with arm positions like these it works fine with the tile spacer arms if you first cover the holes on the end of the barrel bead with paper.

I've got several experimental builds on my table right now, but I'm not sure when or even if they will get painted.  Time will tell ...

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Even More Lankhmar Goodness!

Played in the Lankhmar game a couple of weeks ago.  It was really fun.  The DCC version is probably the best one that I know of on the market.  I like it slightly better than the old AD&D 1st or 2nd edition attempts, and I definitely like it better than the Savage World Lankhmar game books although I will say that they are very beautiful and well-done books.  I just don't like Savage Worlds that much as a game system.

Anyway, all this means I just did more figures.  And actually, I have all the figures done for the first part of my Lankhmar minis convention game that I want to do.  A few more bravo/thief types and I will have them all finished.

Anyway, here are some wizards for you.  The one on the left with the rat familiar is the infamous Hristomilo reading his arcane scroll.  The one on the right is one of the PCs in the game, a Mingol wizard from the Steppes.

Hrisomili is simple, he is just a milk bottle body with a large cap on the top with his head glued down on the cap somewhat to give him the proper "hunch back" posture and tall height that he has in the stories.  His scroll is just parchment paper wrapped around toothpicks on each end, then glued to his hands in a way that makes it look like he is reading it.

Next to Hristomili in the middle is Slivikin, his rat familiar.  He is supposed to have human-like hands.  Can't really see them well in this picture but that's okay, he's just a rat.  Tile spacer head, arms, and feet, with a body that is two beads, smaller on top of larger.  He has a paper tail that you can see better in the next picture.

The PC Mingol wizard was really tough to do, but I'm really happy with how he turned out.  The player wanted me to use actual Mongol Shaman as inspiration and they look really cool but they have these long hair-like things coming out of their hats that fly around impressively as they chant and dance.  It looks extremely cool in real life, but trying to mimic that in one of these figures was tough.  But I did it with twisted paper and I think it looks good.  He's got his interesting drum in his left hand and drum stick in the other.

Now for a rear view.

Better view of Slivikin's paper tail and Hristomilo's spell scroll.  Two very different looking wizards, but both very consistent with those in the Lankhmar setting.

Now onto some bravos ...

These intimidating-looking chaps are from the Slayers Brotherhood, a guild that the Thieves Guild often uses for protection.  In the first minis game I plan on doing these three are the main opposition for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (the players) and they guard two thieves who are carrying the valuables that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are trying to procure. 

Lots of inspiration for these from the graphic novel.  The only interesting build here is the bald guy on the right.  He is the first shirtless guy I tried doing using in this case the small barrel bead construction (I didn't want him as big as the barbarian figures but I still wanted him to look muscular).  I put a leather armor girdle around his waist to give him some protection.  He originally was going to just be wearing a loin cloth but I did the legs wrong for that look.  I will try that again in the future though.  Also, the middle guy has two legs that are made using the plug construction with no tile spacer leg like I did with the lunging figure like the Mouser.  I wanted a crouching guy and I am happy with him too.  He actually looks better in person.  Plus he has an eye patch!

And from the rear ...

And now for the two thieves these guys are guarding.  Their names are Fissif and Sleyvas and they are from the story "Ill Met in Lankhmar" as is the idea for the minis game, to be honest.  Fissif is a "fat" thief and Sleyvas is supposed to be tall, though I didn't make him that tall.

Again, the inspiration for how these guys look comes from the graphic novel.  Sleyvas is nothing new, milk bottle body construction.  Fissif, however, is new.  He is a large barrel bead for his entire body and lower legs, but the bead is vertical instead of side ways like it is in the barbarian and other "strong guy" figures.  He has tile spacer arms and feet, a bead head, and paper is glued to cover the top and bottom of the barrel bead.  His hat and shoulder pads are paper.

And from the rear ...

I am particularly fond of Fissif but that's not surprising, even in the stories he has far more personality than Sleyvas.  I just love his jaunty little cap!

I've got a slinging thief and another probably bravo character on the painting table.  I also want to try making some of the buildings that will serve as the terrain in the first game.  The three bravos are escorting Fissif and Sleyvase from one board edge to the other and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have to get the treasure from the two thieves without killing them (but they can kill the bravos) before the thieves get to the other side of the table.  Ambush and swordplay abounds!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

More Lankhmar Goodness!

One of my rpg gaming groups is starting a DCC Lankhmar campaign on Sunday.  To say I am excited about this is a huge understatement.  The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books are my favorite Swords & Sorcery stories, so being able to play a rpg campaign in the world I love so much with the characters that inspire me is a true gift and pleasure.  So of COURSE I had to make figures for the PCs!  The GM is turning pictures of them into tokens for Roll20 to use on the maps on that virtual tabletop platform, so it's the next best thing to actually using the figures on the real tabletop.

Here are two of the PCs, the one on the left is my character, a Warrior from the jungles of Klesh, and the character on the right is a Thief from one of the Eight Cities.

Not too much new construction wise from what I've been doing of late, especially with the figure on the left.  Standard upside down milk bottle for the body, bead for the head, tile spacer arms and feet, etc.  He has some cool equipment though.  He uses a blowgun (the bamboo rod hanging off his left shoulder), a small hand drum tucked into the front of his belt (he needs this to cast the one spell he can cast), and a huge two-handed scimitar on his back which you will see better in other pictures.  The bamboo rod is a toothpick, the drum is a toothpick handle with a tile spacer cut into a circle for the head of the drum, and the scimitar is made from tile spacers.  He has a loin cloth (can't see it well in this picture but you will in others) that is paper, and he has a togo/baggy tunic that is paper.  I put a lot of folds and creases in it to give it more visual interest.

The figure on the right is another one of my new action/crouching posed figures.  I'm starting to hit my stride with these figures.  This one is the best one I've done to date.  So as before with the Mouser, in this case it is the rear leg that is the small plug that serves as the bent leg and the extended left leg (on the figure) is a tile spacer.  What I did this time though was add a tile spacer on the bottom side of the extended leg to make it look like pants draping down and then gathering again at the top of the boot where they get tucked into the boot.  It came out really well, it's a shame it isn't very visible in these pictures.  Only other new construction thing with this figure is I did my first "sabre" sword.  Just a toothpick for the handle and blade but I cut a tile spacer in the shape of the hand guard and glued it on after the toothpick had been added.  Came out well I think.

I did a cool scabbard for the sabre as well, you can see it sticking out the back.  Just a tile spacer.  The buddy whose PC this is gave me a picture of a Reaper figure he liked and I used it for inspiration.  I really enjoy making figures like that, using a picture or other figure for inspiration.

The cloak came out awesome!  Much better view of my PC's big two-handed scimitar that he is about to draw.

Can see the loincloth here in my figure a little better, as well as the hand guard of the scimitar in the other figure.

I really enjoyed these.  The builds were fairly quick and the painting was even quicker, especially the crouching Thief figure given it was just for the most part two shades of gray for everything.

I've got a few more on my painting table now, mostly NPC thieves and bravos, and a Mingol Wizard on my building table.  At the request of the player I am using actual pictures of Mongol Shaman for inspiration.  I'm halfway through the build and he is looking pretty cool. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser!

Finished painting the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser miniatures I just constructed.  Of course this has spurred yet another idea for a game based on the story "Ill Met in Lankhmar."  Hey, why not?  Do a Conan game, and a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser game.  Makes sense, right?

Here are the twain in all their glory!

Fafhrd, the barbarian on the left, hails from the Cold Waste, a rough and rugged land of ice and snow.  Trained as a skald, he has an excellent singing voice but is also a fierce fighter, especially when wielding his sword "Graywand."  He has ventured to the city of Lankhmar in search of civilization, adventure, and riches.

The Gray Mouser, the smaller man on the right, has unknown origins, but likely comes from lands to the south of Lankhmar (for some reason I always think Italy in both culture and people).  Originally a sorcerer's apprentice, the small man has taken up thievery and is an outstanding swordsman, his flashing blade "Scalpel" felling many foes.

These figures were fun to build (I already talked about that) but I have to admit, they were even more fun to paint.  One of the things I really like about doing my own figures is that I don't to paint a bunch of stuff on the figure that I honestly don't care about.  Reaper figures are awesome sculpts, but most of the details on them I have no desire to paint.  If I am not interested in painting it, it doesn't end up on my figures.

Now for Fafhrd up close.

You can really see his leg position here much better than standing on the base on the table top.  I let the paper tell me where the folds in his pants are and I think his legs really turned out well.  The figure is far more dynamic in its pose than most of the figures I have been doing for the last several years.  The inspiration for the color palette and the equipment is from my imagination, but also heavily influenced by the graphic novel that covers many of the original stories.

Table view from the rear.

Laying on his back on the table.  You can see the dagger scabbard a bit better on the left and on the right on his belt is his pouch.  I cut the dagger scabbard so the bottom has an interesting "lightning bolt" shape, just to add some visual interest.  The barrel bead seems to work well for the barrel chest of the barbarian figures, at least it is working IMO for this Fafhrd figure.

And now onto his smaller companion ...

Interestingly, the Fafhrd figure looks a little better in pictures than in real life, but the Mouser figure looks even better in real life.  The colors really came together with this figure and the rapier sword, although oversized, came out well I think.

Now, of course, I need to do some thieves and Hristomilo the wizard for them to fight ... off to the crafting table!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Mounted Serpent Guard

I was able to get these guys painted pretty quickly.  Having done the other cavalry unit before, I learned from my mistakes and had less "repainting" over mistakes this time, even though these guys are much more complicated than the other ones.

Here the are arrayed.

Now for some closer up shots.

And now from the rear.

Turned out pretty good, I'm happy with them.  This completes are the regular troops for the first Conan game.  What is left are the four heroes (Conan, Valeria, Subotai, and Akiro) and the main three bad guys.  For the two henchmen I'm going to do a mounted and foot figure.  For Thulsa Doom I am going to do four mounted figures of him in different positions.  I'll describe what my thinking is about that when I actually get around to doing them.

Now, off to paint Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser ... as well as about 40 metal figures.



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