Monday, February 20, 2017

Update: Hirst Arts Tower/Gates and Pointmapping my Con games

Wow, time flies! It's been a month since I last posted, so WTH have I been up to?

There's a certain madness that happens when @thePrincessWife mentions moving or a real estate transaction. She's finally managed to convince me that we should move to a bigger home... and she used the lure of a dedicated gaming room to seal the deal. So our house of 13 years is being decluttered, painted and prepped for going on the market. That does cut down on my hobby time, and with GaryCon & Little Wars coming up, that's a lot to work on! Painting has continued during this time, just a lot more slowly than I would have liked.

But... last night, I dry fitted my City Towers/Gates together. I'm so happy  how it turned out. Forgive the crappy lighting, it's a lot brighter in good light.


I have the gates to build and the highlights on the domes, and the actual gluing together, but I am very pleased with how it's turned out. I'm not going to stress (right now) on filling in the gap between the gate side supports and tower - that will come later (if ever).

Then I have two foam walls for either side, and the gates of Shallam are ready for battle!

Speaking of GaryCon... in planning for this adventure, and taking some great advice from Fight On #3 and some great articles on the web, I'm planning this adventure a bit different than a normal AD&D game. I'm going to use a pointcrawl approach. That fits in very well with how to pace and flow a convention game. It allows me to build in options for player choices.

It also removes a worry for me. In other con games, I've watched as players bog down into the minutiae of the 10' square and the mapping and the dungeons. I wanted to go through something different. These locations will have those things and if these locations were going to be explored over a series of games, I would prep that way.

This is four hours. I have an area that is unexplored by current players, and it's a huge area. If I'm going to pull this off right, I'd much rather have a tour of the highlights rather than a focus on 10x10 rooms and dusty halls with coppers in the corners. So... point crawl it is. Major places will be mapped, prepped and factions/NPCs/wandering creatures noted.

This gives me the best of both worlds and I'm feeling a lot less pressure in preparation than if I had to stock what is on the order of megadungeon size. The Dark Ones delved deep in their greed, and those empty pits and tunnels are many.

After the Con, I'll go over the tools I used to help prep - one of them dates back to old school times and was invaluable in preparation!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

WIP - Hirst Arts City Gates/Towers

"It is a wondrous sight, to see the golden towers of Shallam gleaming in the evening light, reflected in the waters of the bay." Cal Thinean, poet of King Elthest IV.


The beautiful city of Shallam has long served as a gateway to the Duchy of Corridin, sitting on the main river as it empties out into the Bay of Shallam leading to the West Seas and Ocean of Ices. Gorgeous architecture and lush gardens have made this city the equal of Irecia, the "City of Diamonds." Throughout the 60 years of the Doom, it has served as a shining reminder of a better time.

It is also going to be the target of a large scale attack at my GaryCon game - The Desperate Defense of Shallam. (Yes, this is a shameless plug to come play my game(s)!) And to that end, the attack on a city requires a nice terrain piece of city walls and gates to make the game table complete.

I've recently (re)discovered the pure joy of putting together Hirst Arts projects as I've already created one piece for my other GaryCon wargame - The Battle of Tuluk Ruins. (another shameless plug!) Here's two pictures of that piece - WIP. It's finished now, I've just not had the time to set up a nice photo spot to take pictures of it.



That piece was ordered from Drakenstone - very nice folks and easy to deal with.

For the gates of Shallam, I had a picture in my head of something really cool, but it wasn't until I saw this picture on Pinterest that it crystalized.


But the octagonal towers didn't fit the image of long slender spires and golden domes. So I went back through the Hirst Arts site and found the turret mold and turret towers. Now, how to make the gate? I saw the travelers bridge on the same site and an idea was formed...


But in my head, the walls/battlements are about 40 feet high - about 7" in 25mm scale. So I need to make the turret towers taller, about 9 to 10" instead of 7" for this to work like I've pictured above. That's just adding more layers/blocks in between the lower door and upper area. I'd also have to figure out a way of connecting the bridge/battlements to the towers. Fortunately, I've found the Facebook Hirst Arts groups and G+ Hirst Arts groups and got some great advice.

I'm almost complete with the build, so here's the WIP so far.

The start of the bottom of the turret towers, following the plan (mostly) from Hirst Arts site. The other pieces are for small ruins to be scattered across the battlefield.


Starting on the battlements/gates frame. The Travelers Bridge is normally about 4" across (including the side rails) and the diameter of the turret tower is only 3". So I went with a 1" width - a slight modification of the plans. I also left out the slope of the bridge. On each end is a longer piece that sticks out - a "tab" so that it can fit onto the tower and have a solid connection point.


I'm building up the middle of the tower, making it higher. At a certain point, I needed to put "tabs" into the tower sticking out, so the bridge could sit on them. This makes two points of contact on each tower, giving it stability and security.
 

So that it fits like this! The bridge sits on the tower tabs. On the upper floor of the tower, there's an open area where the bridge tabs sit on. This also looks like stairs leading up to the bridge. I've been recommended using Gorilla Glue when I get to that point, and I'll give it a try.


Here's another look at all the tower pieces - the bottom (which is left unattached so I can paint the inside!), the middle section of the tower with the tabs, and the top floor, showing the cutout area for the bridge to rest on.


Here's the WIP showing what the towers will look like with the bridge attached. This is a dry fit right now, I still need to put sides on the battlements and then paint the individual pieces. This is the view from the city side.


Here's the view from the "outside" side.


And the tops of the towers come off! I can put figures in there, or if I want, interchange the domes. Perhaps I'll get more of the dome pieces and make red dome tops, or green or ... ?


There's a lot of work to be done. I have to make the support walls that project down from the battlements to attach the gates to, then shape blocks so that there's a solid connection between the support walls and towers. *THEN* I have to make the actual gates, and paint everything up, THEN assemble the whole thing. After that, make some wall sections - but those will be out of pink foam. I can't afford that much Hirst Arts blocks and I don't have the time to cast my own.

Speaking of which, how did I get the Hirst Arts blocks? Knowing that I had limited time, a ton of minis to paint while I'm doing all this, I went ahead and purchased the blocks from someone. In this case, I used CastleKits.com - Iain has been wonderful to work with. Just like Andy from Drakenstone. I highly recommend both of these guys.

Knowing how much I enjoy Hirst Arts, I will be buying my own molds and casting my own... but when I have a bit of time and breathing room! Eight weeks to GaryCon - I've got some work to do.

So what do you think? What would you have done differently? And who wants to come play some Chaos Wars in attacking or defending these gates? :)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Castle Mystery Solved!

Earlier this week, I posted about my new vacuum formed plastic castle that came from Germany. While the seller didn't identify which castle it was, I loved it and the price enough to buy it anyway. It will be perfect for my games!

The mystery remained, though, until I posted my blog post to The Miniatures Page. Lo and behold, today, a user by the name "thehawk" pointed me to a site that led to identification.

I am the proud owner of a 1983 version of an Elastolin "Ritterburg" (aka generic "castle")

As seen here on this site: http://deerbe.com/unt/13383-elastolin_hausser_ritterburg.html

The picture from the site


My castle


Perfect match! (Except that I still need a drawbridge, but that's coming after April...)

Interestingly, as I look through this site, I find that there appears to be at least one other "close" version of this castle, with some decreasing quality in the piece.


Regardless, I'm glad to have found a match. I'm still not sure that it actually models a real castle, though.

BTW, if you don't already use The Miniatures Page as a resource, I highly recommend it as a research and techniques site. Some of the folks there have some very deep knowledge of our hobbies and various pieces.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A box from Germany with a mystery inside

So look at this... a box from Germany arrived today! What's inside? (Hint: It's not handtowels...)


 

Yep, another plastic, vacuum formed castle! I seem to enjoy collecting these, I now have 2.




However, the mystery is this... what castle is it and who made it?

 

The folks at GermanToys.de list it as an Elastolin castle with no known number, but I'm wondering if this is another ECO vacuum formed castle. I base that guess on my previous purchase from them of what turned out to be an ECO "Camelot". This looks very similar.

However, my 30 minutes of searching by images, then by names like Elastolin, ECO, etc, I came up empty on identifying this one. I'll keep an eye on Ebay, but so far, the only other one I've seen on the web was an auction awhile back and it had no numbers either.

It did come with some damage, but I'll use some appropriate glue on the cracks on the inside to reinforce the plastic. It doesn't matter, I got this sucker for less than $20US. It cost more to ship it.

So now my players will have TWO standard keeps/castles that were built by the Kings Engineers before the Doom.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

How I make Heraldry

There are a thousand and one websites on heraldry and it's peculiar Norman and English vocabulary, but when I'm looking for something to put on miniatures or I have a vague idea, there are two sites I use for the vocabulary and then the visualization.

First, the random heraldry generator at Donjon - http://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/random/#type=Coat+of+Arms


It can spit out some crazy looking combinations, but that's a random generator for you!

Now if you're like me, you don't eat and breathe the heraldic vocabulary, you really just want to see how this sucker's going to look on your minis or when you're describing it. So let's visualize it from what donjon spits out.

For that, I turn to Drawshield - http://drawshield.net/drawshield/create/



You can copy/paste the output from donjon into that thing and viola, you see what craziness those words creates for you. Plus, if you are grokking the vocabulary (or like me, you have "Heraldry for Non-Heralds" open...  ) you can start adding/changing colors and what-not.

For instance, on the examples above, donjon gave me "Per fess purpure and argent, a rose counterchanged", which gives me a purple/white(silver) background and then a clear rose. Well, I didn't like that, so I added the word "or" after "a rose counterechanged" and got what you see above. I am, though, breaking THE rule of heraldry, which is that you don't put metal colors on metal colors UNLESS it's a charge and you can split the color. And now you're looking at me like I'm speaking tlhIngan. (You see that I'm not caring too much right at this point...)

ANYWAY... hope you enjoy! I've been doing a lot of painting of troops lately, and figuring out the various heraldry of my Duchies. To the point where I've managed to free-hand some shield designs, take a look! They look funky close up, but awesome at tabletop range - which is what I paint for.



PS. If you get a chance, throw the folks at Drawshield and Donjon a sawbone or two... they deserve it for providing such cool resources!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Solo Game w/The Wife - The d30 Curse

Oh d30, how you love to giveth and taketh away. Especially in my 1:1 game with @thePrincessWife.

Last game, she rolls the d30 for damage to kill the "skin wearer" (doppelganger) in one shot. She rolls... a 2.

Much cursing and growling. She did eventually kill him. He was fleeing out a window and she chopped at him, causing him to lose his grip. 3 story fall. Splat. The End.

Other quotes from the game:
Her: "It's a trap. It's always a trap!"

Her: "I'm taking my sword with me."
Me: "So you're going to walk around in public heavily armed. That might raise some eyebrows."
Her: "I'll hide it... under my pink, light, silky cloak!"
Me: "Of course you have one of those..."


We are still continuing to play the solo game I started with her back in 2009, although it comes in fits/starts. We just have tons on our plate. I'm hoping actually for more time to play this coming Friday. Fingers crossed...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Miniature Photography with my Samsung Galaxy S5

I've been struggling a long time with photographing minis. I know the mantra - "MORE LIGHT!" and I've tried all sorts of different configurations and setups with my Canon PowerShot. It just took setting up the home-made light box, getting the tripod out, setting up the lights, all things... c'mon, man, I've got minis to paint, terrain to build and games to play!

TL;DR version - Make a white foamboard L for a background/light reflection. Get about 300 watts (equivalent) of daylight spectrum light on the figures. Get the figures close to the lights, but not too close. Set your phone to ISO 200, Exposure adjustment to +1 or +1.5 (whichever suits your eye) and take photos! Quick and easy. I did this with a Samsung 5S. Your camera may vary in settings, but you should be able to find quick/dirty settings that work decently.

Recently, I tried something really quick and I've gotten some good results, so I thought I'd share the "WIP" on taking photographs. I am still a rank newbie and as long as I get the point across with the photos and the minis don't look like complete crap, I'm OK with it.

I have an older smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy 5S. It's got a decent camera and it can certainly take enough pixels in to get a nice shot.

I've also got a homebrew light box that I built awhile back, using white foam board. Both of them get used in my setup. I also have an overhead light in my work-nook that is a 100 or 150 watt-equivalent LED daylight spectrum bulb. I also have two hobby lamps with 27 watt (equivalent to 100 watts) daylight flourescent bulbs in them. 300 watts should be enough to get some decent photos.

To feed my need for quick set up, I reduced my setup to a minimum. I use a small bucket of spackle to rest an L shaped background on, using something behind the back to prop it up. I shine one of the lights from the top and the other from the front/side. This puts the figures close to the light, and that white foamboard bounces the light off nicely to illuminate most of the model. Here's what it looks like:

 

So I've got the setup, what about the camera.

Well, going back to the rule of "MOAHR LIGHT" and remembering what I learned through painful struggle with the Canon Powershot, I looked for two settings on my smartphone camera app - Exposure and ISO.

ISO is basically how sensitive the camera is to light. With digital cameras, the ISO can be used quite powerfully to ensure that you get the max out of each pixel. There's a downside to ISO though - the higher the ISO, the more grainy the shot can become. So you have to find that sweetspot. Through experimenting, I knew that ISOs of 200 to 400 seem to be a good range for the Powershot, so I put my Samsung to ISO of 200.

Next is exposure. Since I don't have a lot of control over the shutter, bumping up the exposure is what allows me to make sure that I get more light into into the lens and CCDs of the camera. The CCDs are what pick up the photons of light and translate them into pixels. Since I can't do things like control the aperture and shutter speed on the smart phone (or I'm still an idiot and haven't figure it out...), I use the exposure adjustment to help with that. Tom's Guide To Hardware explains it like this: The S5's Exposure value menu item lets you manually adjust exposure (how much light the camera sensor is exposed to), ranging from an exposure value of -2.0 (darkest) to 2.0 (brightest). 

So with both of these things to tinker with, I started taking photos. They turn out great!

Here's one set of archers with the camera settings to ISO 200, Exposure +1 (left), +1.5 (right):

 

It's pretty obvious to my idiot eye that the photo on the right (or bottom if you're on a phone/tablet) is brighter and allows more of the color to come through. I was pretty satisfied that this picture is showing what I see with my own two eyes, same colors and brightness. The photos look pretty good (and my paint job isn't as bad as I thought!)

Here's another set of archers. ISO 200, Exposure +1 (left), +1.5 (right):

 

Once again, the picture on the right lets in more light and color, and looks pretty decent! (dammit, I rubbed off some paint on the center dude's shoe. That's OK, basing material will cover it. LOL)

The only thing I might do is get one of those little tripods you can put a smart phone on. I have electrician's shake in my hands and I'm sure they'd be better with the camera steady.

That's it! What do you think? Easy peasy and hopefully you can find a way to replicate my approach on your phone.