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ggreig: (Dark Wizard)

I’ve taken a bit of an interest in Dad’s Army ever since I ran a short-lived roleplaying game in the 1990s in which the player characters were members of the Home Guard, dealing with mysterious happenings which turned out to be due to a burrow of Wombles rather than fifth-columnists – although one of the Wombles was blessed with the name Berlin…

This evening I went to the Byre Theatre to watch the St Andrews Play Club present their rendition of Dad’s Army. This was the opening night, and if you’re one of the local readers of this blog and fancy catching it, it’s on until Saturday. It has a running time of two hours, including the interval.

The St Andrews Play Club have put on a previous production of Dad’s Army in 2011, but I was unaware of it at the time. That consisted of a couple of TV episodes, “Mum’s Army” and “The Deadly Detachment”. The second episode there is the one you probably expect, with the U-boat crew as prisoners of war, and the oft-repeated line referring to Private Pike which I won’t spoil here just in case there’s anyone in the universe who hasn’t heard it.

So it sounds like this evening’s production was more ambitious, stretching to two TV episodes (“The Godiva Affair” and “The Deadly Attachment” again), an “episode” which was only ever performed on stage by the original cast (“The Floral Dance”) and an original piece to close by one of the society members, called “All Together Now”.

Alan Tricker as Captain Mainwaring (in the 2011 production)

The main characters were all recognisable, despite the rather odd experience of watching an unmistakably Scottish Sergeant Wilson. They were probably spoilt for choice for people to play Fraser! Captain Mainwaring and Lance Corporal Jones are probably the most demanding roles to play, as they involve not just acting but a lot of comic timing, and I’m pleased to say they carried it off admirably. Alan Tricker as Captain Mainwaring wasn’t a new Arthur Lowe, but that would be a tall order (for a short man); he didn’t have quite the level of frustrated self-importance of the original but nevertheless did a good job in the role. David Lee as Lance Corporal Jones did a great job – it was almost like watching Clive Dunn in action.

There’s a warm comfort to be had from watching something so familiar yet slightly new. The TV episodes were very familiar, of course – so much so that I was completely unfazed when rather endearingly in a moment of meta-character “”Pike” fluffed the punch line to “The Godiva Affair”, naming Mrs Fox instead of Mrs Mainwaring. For anyone previously unfamiliar with the story, I think the business probably sold what was actually meant to have been said. “The Deadly Detachment” strayed somewhat from the original in having an all-female U-boat crew, but that was cool (and played completely straight). Apart from that line, it’s not actually a favourite of mine, but I enjoyed seeing it on stage.

The two sections I was unfamiliar with both had a musical bent. “The Floral Dance” saw the platoon and other residents of Walmington-on-Sea, engaged in choir practice before an event in aid of wounded soldiers, and building up to a performance of the song named. Despite having a slightly different pedigree, it felt right. If you’re not able to see it in St. Andrews, and want an idea of what it was like, YouTube comes to the rescue – here’s audio of the original cast performing it on stage:

The final section, “All Together Now”, was a celebration of the end of the war (probably VE-day, but that wasn’t quite clear and I didn’t recognise the clip of Churchill on the radio announcement). Featuring a selection of songs culminating in White Cliffs of Dover and a tableau in which the cast were starkly lit and sprinkled with poppies. I didn’t feel it quite gelled as the scripts by Jimmy Perry and David Croft did, but again that’s a tall order, and apparently it was written at quite short notice, so good on the script writer all the same. It was more sentimental than amusing, but that’s OK – one of the strengths of Dad’s Army was that it would occasionally make it clear that, for all their ridiculousness, the characters were utterly sincere and serious about being prepared to lay down their lives to make the smallest of differences.

Worth checking out, if you can.

ggreig: (Western gentleman)

On Friday we were encouraged to come to work appropriately dressed for a Cowboy vs. Aliens Nerf battle.

Me as a cowboy with a belt-fed Nerf machine gun

ggreig: (Western gentleman)

You may (or more likely won’t) remember that about 18 months ago after painting some jolly nice models I made some suggestions for new designs to Nathan Yeoman of Yeoman Models, and he expressed a definite interest in making one of them. For various reasons, I rather lost track of what Nathan was doing until recently I discovered that he’d completed what I’d asked for (in various scales, including 28mm) and it was on sale!

What I’d asked for was a particular feature of Victorian streets that I couldn’t find anyone making a model of – the cabbies’ shelter. These did exist in other towns, but so far as I’m aware the only place they can still be found is in London, where almost a quarter (13) of the original 61 survive. The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was set up in 1875 by the Earl of Shaftesbury (among others) to construct and run these shelters, and is still looking after them today!

A cabbies' shelter in Wellington Place
More images of cabbies’ shelters

The cabbies’ shelter was built in the road, and wasn’t allowed to be bigger than a hansom cab – so to put it in modern terms, it only took up one parking space of the time. inside, cabbies could take shelter from inclement weather, and nosh on grub provided by a small, self-funding kitchen, all without leaving the cab stand (again in modern terms, the taxi rank).

The buildings themselves are quite distinctive – small, rectangular wooden sheds painted green, but sometimes with quite attractive panelling and fancy roof. I thought of designing a laser-cut model myself that I could have made by an online service, but ultimately I’m glad I didn’t soldier on and carry it through, because what I would have designed wouldn’t be as good as what I’ve got.

The 28mm cabbies’ shelter from Yeoman Models is a five part model cast in resin – four walls, and a solid roof. It doesn’t seem to be a replica of one particular shelter, but takes attractive elements from several of them. Nathan’s mouldings are very sharp, and although by the nature of resin castings a little clean-up was required, it was very minimal. I glued the four walls together with Araldite, and to make the roof removable, I built up a lip to go inside the walls by super-gluing on matchsticks and reinforcing with Milliput.

That was about it for modelling – the rest was paint. I’ve left the interior untouched for now, but I may attempt some representative additions in future like the stove from 4Ground. Here’s how it looks when done:

Cabbies' Shelter from Yeoman Models

There’s a serving hatch, if you’re not stopping (or not a cabbie – only cabbies allowed inside):

Figures 020

And here it is flipped 180°, to show the side usually facing away from the road:

Figures 017

ggreig: (Western gentleman)

Edit: I didn't know when I posted this earlier, but today would have been Roger Delgado's 97th birthday: #HappyBirthdayRogerDelgado.


I’m not a costumier. My skills stretch to sewing on the occasional button so, when attending Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, Roger Delgado’s Master was an easy choice for me. Although he does occasionally appear in extra-terrestrial garb, he’s mostly associated with smart dark suits, and as I mentioned last time, I’ve always fancied having something with a Nehru collar. The creative bit for me was constructing the Tissue Compression Eliminator, and [livejournal.com profile] msinvisfem helped me by applying black and white hair dyes from Manic Panic. Apart from that, everything was purchased.

I tend towards dressing in black anyway, so enjoyed putting together an ensemble that unashamedly emphasised it. The suit was by Alvin Amario, and ordered from eBay. Although the Nehru collar went through a bit of a revival in the UK fifteen or twenty years ago, it’s a bit tricky to find on the High Street these days, particularly when your High Street is in St. Andrews or Dundee. The suit’s light and comfortable, and although I had to settle for an oversize waist on the trousers, they were OK with a belt. Underneath, I wore a matching shirt from Bargear in case it showed (but I don’t think it did). I should probably have worn a shirt with long sleeves, but I’m not a long sleeve person – I’m just not comfortable with them.

For footwear, I wore my usual brogues, but with black jacquard spats from Gentleman’s Emporium which I’ve had for a while. Spats are disappointingly hard to get hold of, but they’re an ace item of clothing. They look smart, they can be unobtrusive (I’ve worn dark spats in public and at work without comment, although the day I don the silver ones I expect people will notice) and they’re remarkably comfortable, snuggled cosily around your ankles.

I covered my hands with military dress gloves from Southcombe in black cotton. Delgado’s gloves seem to be leather and I could probably have worn the leather gloves I already have, but I thought cotton would be less bulky and warm, while still looking smart.

Was it successful? Judge for yourself:

You? The Master? I'll be The Judge! )

4Ground

Jan. 26th, 2014 06:10 pm
ggreig: (Western gentleman)

You may remember last year I wrote about a Western building created as a laser-cut MDF kit by Battle Flag, which I’d picked up at Claymore in 2012.

Claymore in 2013 revealed a clear winner among producers of laser-cut scenery, at least in terms of the number of people stocking it; and there’s an obvious reason why.

4Ground’s models are “pre-printed” with colour paint, so don’t need a lot in the way of additional painting (or printing wallpaper as water-slide transfers). Stick ’em together, with a dab of glue for permanence, and you’re done.

Naturally, I did do a wee bit of painting myself to improve some of the minor details – doors, windows, joints – but  the assembled models you see are pretty much the pre-printed article. Given how thirsty MDF is when you try to paint it, this saves a lot of effort. For many people these will be good enough without any work beyond assembly. The Battle Flag building has a better finish, but at the expense of a lot more work.

(Although 4Ground win easily on convenience, I have some other Battle Flag kits that I look forward to building and although I don’t have any yet I love the look of Sarissa Precision’s Gaslamp Alley and City Block ranges.)

The 4Ground buildings have interiors, but are only printed on a single side of the MDF. What this means is that all the walls are double-thickness with the exterior printed on one slice and the interior on another, which makes for great, sturdy buildings but must shove the price up a bit.

As the buildings are designed for wargaming, roofs and interior floors lift out so that you can get at what’s inside – shown in the photo galleries accompanying this article. Doors can also be opened, which is a nice touch. Laser cutting allows “hinges” to be tight-fitting enough to sort of work.

The two models shown here are a small cottage and a larger market hall. The cottage is a rustic-looking timber-framed building, while the market hall is timber-framed but with the space between the framing filled with herringbone brickwork. Cool though this is, if I’d realised there was a version of the building that didn’t have the brickwork I’d have got that instead because:

  1. I prefer the look and
  2. it would have been cheaper. Brickwork means more laser etching, and more lasering increases the cost of the kit. By a tenner, in this case.

However, by the time I discovered that, it was too late and I’m still pleased with the result.

The cottage isn’t big enough to have stairs, but there is a ladder provided for getting to the upper floor. There are leaded windows, and for wargamers, there’s damage to the walls that can be punched out to make loopholes for firing through. I chose not to knock these out, but they can be seen plainly in the interior photos as I didn’t attempt to clean them up or hide them either. As an interesting aside, you can clearly see the scorching left there by the laser; in many places the scorching is not obtrusive, but in others it can need work to conceal it. I chose to live with it here, because I thought attempting to clean it up would just draw more attention to it. In other places, where it was easier to deal with, I covered it up.

The market hall has a largely open ground floor for traders, with a flight of stairs at one end leading to the upper floor and, tucked away at the back, a small jail cell for anyone breaching the peace. The upper story has a small walkway looking out over the side of the building, with a door opening from there into the main hall. The walkway is roofed over by a small internal gallery, accessible by ladder, so there are actually three levels to this building, albeit one of them is fairly minimal.

Between them, these buildings give a nice flavour of a small English village/market town. If you were serious, you could add more, although you would quickly require repeats – this range only includes one building not shown here, a timber-framed shop/dwelling somewhere between these two in size. For me, I think this may be enough and other buildings I may acquire will be about establishing other settings.

ggreig: (Western gentleman)

Royal Navy 50 foot Picket Boat (from HLBS)

For Christmas, my sister gave me a Royal Navy 50 foot Picket Boat (from HLBS) in 28mm scale, and I spent time over the New Year period painting and assembling it.

Prow of the pinnaceThe boat is a steam pinnace. “Pinnace” has a couple of possible meanings but in this case means a smaller boat carried by a larger ship for use as patrol boats, for ship-to-shore operations and as a defence against torpedo boats – the pinnace would be fast enough to respond to a torpedo boat, and was armed with one or more gun (a Hotchkiss 3 pounder in this case) that would allow it to respond at range. The other gun, not present on my model, might be a Nordenfeldt or Maxim machine gun mounted on the roof of the rear cabin.

This type of pinnace was in use from 1880 right up until the Second World War, with 620 in service during the Great War, so excellent for a steampunk setting.

The kit mouldings are very crisp and clean, mainly in resin with white metal for the finer details and fine plastic rod for the hand rails. The main thing required for painting it was a steady hand (never really got the hang of masking tape), though patience came in handy too while applying several layers of white paint to get a decent solid finish. The only thing I’m a little dissatisfied with is the rear cabin, which is a bit dark in colour and I feel I could maybe have done better there. Good enough though, and I’ll leave it.

An aft view of the pinnaceI had a few minor issues with the parts. The shoulder rest on the Hotchkiss 3 pounder doesn’t have an obvious place to attach it. I checked images of similar guns on the Internet and settled on a location to fix it; I then had to break it off and try again when I discovered the gun couldn’t pivot due to the shoulder rest hitting the top of the engine house. One of the stanchions for the handrails broke (recoverably). One of the cowl vents doesn’t sit comfortably in the space left for it, and some of the instructions could have been clearer.

Finally, I wondered whether the scale was quite right everywhere, as the spaces to be occupied by anyone operating the gun or steering the vessel seemed extremely cramped.  This might be just economy of space on an efficient working vessel, but in particular the space at the wheel is very restricted. Over all the issues were all relatively minor though, and didn’t distract from a very satisfactory model.

As far as colour schemes are concerned, I aimed to make it look more Victorian than 20th Century (which would have featured more light grey). I also went for black rather than blue, so it’s a perfectly normal pinnace; blue would have identified it as an Admiral’s barge. Picket boats such as this don’t seem to have had a lot in the way of individual markings – not even a name – so that helped to keep the paint job simple. If I ever feel brave enough, I may add a bit of coal dust around the coaling holes (the black circles on the deck amidships) using weathering powder, but as a working navy vessel I’m assuming it would be kept pretty spick and span most of the time.

There’s a surviving pinnace of more or less this pattern which is believed to be the last remaining naval steam boat in the UK. Steam Pinnace 199 was built in 1911 and now belongs to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth. Steam Pinnace 199 was an Admiral's barge, so you can see the blue colour previously mentioned. There are a couple of interesting videos on YouTube:

ggreig: (Western gentleman)

OK, how have I not heard about this before today?

Possibly the greatest concept album in the history of the world EVER, Tales From The Kingdom of Fife (buy it!) tells how the proud city of Dundee was destroyed by the evil sorceror Zargothrax and his army of undead unicorns…

…leading the prince of Fife, Angus McFife (noble and true with a heart of steel, natch), to swear vengeance:

Another favourite track is Hail to Crail, which is all about how hard the knights of Crail are, with their riding on eagles and all that.

Turns out that the band Gloryhammer (with a style self described as Heroic Fantasy Power Metal) are a side project spun off from Alestorm, the leading exponents of True Scottish Pirate Metal. Erm, perhaps the only exponents of True Scottish Pirate Metal. Anyway, enjoy Keelhauled:

...and the more thrashy but epic Death Throes of the Terrorsquid. Watch for the pose at the end:




ggreig: (Western gentleman)

Within the last couple of years, laser-cut MDF seems to have taken off as a material for building wargaming/roleplaying scenery with. Last year at Claymore, I picked up a small selection of carts and the fanciest looking of Battle Flag’s range of Western buildings. It so happens this is the bordello.

I didn’t think I could improve on the colour scheme in the publicity artwork, so I went for it wholesale; a bright red (toned down a bit by the MDF surface it was applied to), a golden yellow around windows and doors, and white for the balustrade.

Bordello ExteriorThe boardwalk

Where I did think I could improve a wee bit was on the interior, which can be exposed by lifting off the roof and the floor of the upper storey. The exterior has planks etched into it and ornamental carvings, but apart from a couple of planked floors the interior is very plain. I didn’t think large areas of flat, brushed colour were going to look too great and I’ve never really got into spraying or airbrushing for this sort of thing (a lot of hassle setting it up, messing about with mixing and thinning paint if you’re airbrushing, and cleaning up afterwards).

It occurred to me that it would probably be possible to find a bit of Victorian wallpaper on the Internet, hopefully in a form I could use. Right enough, there appears to be a number of possible sources. The site I wound up using was Jennifer’s Printables (a collection of free printable materials for doll’s houses) that has a page dedicated to Victorian wallpapers, but if the materials there aren’t to your taste there are alternatives.

I selected a relatively plain wallpaper for downstairs and other public areas, and a variety of richer papers for upstairs. There aren’t actually any internal partitions (nor stairs!) included for the interior, but they are marked out on the floor that lifts out, so I though I might as well try to give each an individual character.

I could have just printed them out onto decent paper and stuck them on, but that would have involved being sure they were cut exactly to shape for awkward bits like windows and doors, and my experience with gluing paper is mixed; Copydex is pretty good, but it doesn’t take much going wrong with paper in order to end up with a bit of a nasty mess.

So I thought I’d try something new, and bought some inkjet water-slide decal paper from Crafty Computer Paper.

Printing the wallpaper was a scoosh. I lined up the paper samples to the measurements I wanted using PagePlus, and rescaled them a bit so that the patterns looked OK; then when a few test prints satisfied me that I’d got it about right I printed my wallpapers onto a couple of A4 sheets of the decal paper.

That puts a layer of ink on top of the water-slide substrate, but if you just stuck that into water most ink would not come through the experience well. A layer of varnish sprayed on top will seal the ink between the two layers. I played safe and bought the brand that Crafty Computer Paper recommend for the job. Once the varnish had dried, it was time to apply the transfers. Click through for a closer look:

Wallpapering

There are two transfers on each wall of the house, one for upstairs and one for downstairs, each cut to size and applied over several layers of almond-coloured paint. The obvious gap between the storeys is well-hidden in practice once the floor is in place, but with the benefit of hindsight, I might have cut them a little more oversized – or even as a single transfer per wall – in order to eliminate the worries about that. I was nervous about how robust and easily managed such large transfers would be, but they held up very well and were fairly manageable. Positioning one edge and gradually sliding the backing paper out seemed to do the trick. It may also have helped that I pre-brushed the surfaces with Micro Set, and also applied more once the transfer was in place.

It was my original intention to use a sharp knife to cut out the excess transfer material over the windows and do, er, something else for glass, but at this stage I discovered that the pattern I’d chosen for the downstairs wallpaper also looked pretty good as patterned glass. So I left it. You can see it in this picture (again, click through for a closer look, the effect’s a bit subtle for blog-sized photos):

Transparent wallpaper passes as glass

You can also see one of the nice things about laser-cut MDF is that It’s pretty convincing as wood. There’s a slight texture to it that just works at this sort of scale that you wouldn’t get from anything else.

I stuck with my intention of cutting out the upper storey windows (stripy wallpaper isn’t so convincing as a pane of glass), but instead of using a thin bit of clear plastic in its place, as I’d originally thought, I used offcuts of the transfer paper to make clear windows that matched the patterned ones downstairs. The result is a bit blurrier to look through than the plastic would have been, but if anything I think that adds to the effect. Yay, serendipity!

The upper floorHappy with my results, I began assembling the walls permanently, and it was round about then that I discovered that, in all the best traditions of wallpapering slapstick, I’d papered over a door. There’s a passage across the middle of the top floor, leading to the door that opens onto the balcony, and with no markings on the interior wall apart form the two lights above the door I’d managed to ignore it. With the walls already assembled, it was a bit awkward to mark it in retrospectively, but I managed a passable result.

I may do a bit more to try to tidy the rough edges of that up, and maybe apply some weathering outside, but fundamentally the building’s done for now. Obviously there’s more could be done to build up a detailed interior, but that’s for another time (if ever).

Both floors wallpaperedBack door

Rear of the house

ggreig: (Western gentleman)
Having promoted one Kickstarter a few days ago, it would be churlish not to mention a similar fund-raising attempt elsewhere. North Star are also raising money, on their own site in this case, for a range of steampunk figures.


This attempt seems to have been stalled at about £10,000 since I first looked at it. As far as I can tell, this won't affect availability of the figures - they will be available - but you should invest before 18th April if you're interested in any of the "reward" figures, as this is the only way they'll be available.

The range being offered isn't as broad as the Empire of the Dead one, and there are no vehicles; but there are some nice figures that might be worth considering. To be honest, I haven't spent any money here myself yet, but I am thinking about it. Check it out for yourself:

IN HER MAJESTY'S NAME
ggreig: (Western gentleman)

There’s a Kickstarter project for a new range of 28mm steampunk/gothic horror figures, with accompanying table-top rules. Empire of the Dead: Requiem is a sizeable expansion to the Empire of the Dead range from West Wind Productions. Of particular interest are the horse-drawn vehicles; a Black Maria, 4 hansom cabs for £40, a brougham, a London omnibus, a Victorian fire engine and a landau.

The project was funded within the first two hours, but more support does no harm and unlocks further options. Depending on your interests, you might get a bargain. Check it out:

"Empire of the Dead: Requiem" Kickstarter

ggreig: (Steam Elephant)

It takes me a while to get round to painting stuff, especially since I went almost all of 2010 without lifting a brush (I broke my duck on 30th December). If you were reading in October 2008, you might have seen me announce that there was a figure I especially wanted, given that the name of my steampunk campaign is Steam Elephants. Today I finished painting it:

A scale model of a steam-powered elephant.

It was nice to spend a few days painting figures just for fun; a steam elephant, an armoured tram, a miniature submarine, a mausoleum, three triffids and a couple of dolphins is probably not the most practical selection. It cleared away a few figures I started long ago, as only the elephant and the submarine were started from scratch in the last few days, and put me in a slightly better place to get started on some more practical figures.

ggreig: (Black Hat)

25 years ago, I came to St. Andrews and joined WARSoc, the Wargaming And Role-playing Society at the University. I fancied giving wargaming a try, but everyone seemed to be involved in role-playing games instead. I was pointed at one particular group who were using miniatures, because that was about as wargamy as it got.

For the next five years, until he drew it to a close, I played in [livejournal.com profile] flybynightpress's historical fantasy game, New Jerusalem. NJ was a town on the border between eastern Germany and Færie, probably somewhere in what is now modern Poland. The inhabitants were godly puritans who stood fast against the encroachments of witches, Papists and particularly the abominations in the wilderness that surrounded the town (i.e. creatures of the Devil such as goblins, hobgoblins, trolls, giants, etc.).

It was a fantastic introduction to role-playing. The town of New Jerusalem was a classic Base Under Siege, and player characters had to deal with paranoia (their own and that of other citizens, PC and NPC) and issues of faith. Whether your character really believed or not, the appearance of belief was not optional. There was an ever-present threat of being burnt at the stake if you were found to be ungodly. Characters who did believe had to deal with shades of grey; when you went out into the wilderness you tended to discover that while the “abominations” might sometimes have interests that were inimical to yours, they were sometimes nicer people than the adventurers… Definite anti-hero territory.

Review the film, already! )
ggreig: (Simpsons)

I’ve just finished reading The Life of Hon. William F. Cody / Known As / Buffalo Bill / The Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide / An Autobiography, and very enjoyable it was too.

I’m not a great fan of the Western, and nearly didn’t pick this up off the second-hand bookstall, but second thoughts as to its suitability as source material made me have another look. I’m glad I did.

This edition of the autobiography covers less than half his life, as it was first published when he was 33, and perhaps his greatest fame still lay ahead; but it was already a pretty full life compared to some of the folk writing their autobiographies today, and probably contains the episodes of greatest interest.

It’s a great tale well told, though a bit thought-provoking to a modern reader too. Life is cheap, and some aspects of society deeply unpleasant. Bill’s father is knifed then hounded murderously by his neighbours for the views he expresses when asked; he’s considered treacherously liberal for being anti-slavery, even although he’s for an exclusively white state. The persecution continues until his  death from illness a few years later. Bill himself kills his first Indian* at age 11, and makes no bones of scalping Native Americans when they’re killed, or “lifting their hair”. Killings over card games do take place.

The edition I read has a modern (1978) foreword that considers how credible the tale is and whether it was really written by Bill himself or ghost-written. The general conclusion seems to be that it really is Buffalo Bill’s own writing, and that while it may not be a completely reliable account, this early edition is more true than not. (Later editions include embroidered material that may have been added by the publishers.) Some events recounted in the early edition that were once considered doubtful have been subsequently confirmed by independent documentary evidence, and Bill doesn’t always portray himself in the best light: admitting to pocketing a fine when a Justice of the Peace, for example; being unreliable in drink; or shooting his mule when within sight of his destination, at least partly in revenge because it had run away from him.

In role-playing terms, Buffalo Bill is clearly a player character. Reading of his early exploits tracking or evading Indians reminded me of the hobgoblins and the “golden horde” in New Jerusalem, the first role playing game I took part in. In less “heroic” form, there’s an incident in a battle where Bill spots an Indian riding a horse that he admires; so he sneaks forward to pick the owner off and is later given the horse by the soldier who caught it. Oh dear, I thought. I can see a player character doing exactly that.

It’s odd to think though, that the sort of behaviour that would prompt a bit of head-shaking and teeth-sucking in a game, and possible longer term consequences, depending on the GM, is not apparently considered very reprehensible or shameful in real life less than 150 years ago. To be fair, it was a hostile situation and the Native American would no doubt have been a target anyway; but the naked cupidity is a little shocking.

One thing that seems a little shocking now but probably shouldn’t is the number of buffalo slain; although 36 buffalo in a short ride may seem like a lot, it’s not so excessive when you’re shooting to feed an army. There is a reason that the buffalo is now scarce, but it’s not all Buffalo Bill’s fault; and as far as Native Americans are concerned, he seems to have been more inclined to treat them as fellow human beings than many of his contemporaries.

It was also a surprise to discover that Rome was not built in a day. It took a month; and then it took three days to fall when Bill and his partner refused to cut the railway company agent into the town they had founded. He set up a competing town a mile away, and spread the word that that was where the railway would pass by. The town that springs up overnight when oil is struck in Tintin in America is an exaggeration; but not so much as you might think!

Historical culture-shock aside, this is a good read and I’d unreservedly recommend it if you come across it as I did, for £2.50. I’d even recommend paying a bit more than that if you want the comfort of a paper copy. The author has an effective and engaging writing style – he tells a good yarn – and he doesn’t take himself too seriously; I didn’t think of “Bison William” myself!

On Project Gutenberg you can find the edition I read (sadly without illustrations), or a later, "revised" edition with some illustrations. You can also find a print copy like mine on Amazon, with many illustrations.

* No intent to offend any Native Americans who may happen to read this by my use of the period term.

ggreig: (Ribart's Elephant)

I ran a session of Steam Elephants on Saturday – my fledgling campaign using a very slightly modified version of  [livejournal.com profile] ffutures' Forgotten Futures rules. I say fledgling, because it's probably still accurate; it's been running for about two and a half years, but infrequently, so we've not racked up a lot of sessions. However, given how long it takes me to start a campaign these days, I’m inclined to think I’ll stick with this one for the foreseeable. It feels fairly comfortable for me, seems to be going down well with the players and it’s got lots of potential. And there are fun figures for me to paint, when I get the time!

This particular session was a not-particularly-steampunky first though; the first game I’ve been involved in where we had a virtual presence.

I set up a spare PC with a web cam on a chair in the living room, and [livejournal.com profile] msinvisfemtook part from California. The times worked out fairly well; our regular start time of 3 o’clock was 7 in the morning on the west coast of America so it was early, but not impossible.

I took advantage of someone else’s trial and error in finding the best solution; Scott Hanselman has written a couple of articles about remote working with a more social side to it, and in the absence of a spare $5000 for a Roundtable camera, I went with his Skype video recommendations, which he uses for speaking to the family when on the road, and sharing a virtual office with another remote worker, setting up a dedicated Skype account on the spare, and telling it to auto-answer anyone on its’ friends list with full-screen video. As it’s an old PC and I don’t have the world’s fastest broadband connection, I didn’t try the High Quality Video Hack, although the camera would have supported it.

Picture quality was good enough anyway, and help up fairly well for the nine or ten hours of play. There were some problems with corruption of the picture and freezing, and the sound was not always perfect, sometimes requiring repetition; but on the whole, OK. In the post-mortem, it turned out that some of these issues might have been due to a virus scan starting up in the background on one of the machines, so maybe the problems we did have can also be avoided in future.

From the GM’s point of view, I would say it was a success. It wasn’t hugely different from having a player in the room. There were some practical issues regarding who to send out of the room at some points when secrecy was required (i.e. everyone else might have to move rather than the remote person, because the PC is not easily shifted) but nothing insurmountable. I was kept busier than usual just keeping things going, but that may not have been due to the teleconferencing – we had a good turn-out, which means more people to deal with, which means more work.

From the remote player’s point of view, I think it was more of a qualified success. Although it did allow involvement in play from a distance, the positioning of the camera meant that other players were disembodied voices, so it wasn’t as immersive as actually being there. One thing I got right with the camera was putting it on a long USB extension lead, so that it could be brought over to the table to show the position of figures. I wonder if there’s a better place to put it for general play, though. On top of the monitor is good for other players, because it’s easy for them to face the remote player when talking to them; but positioning the whole assembly naturally as if it were just another player meant the other players usually weren’t within the camera’s field of view. Finding a different location that would show more of the other players to the remote player would be an improvement. I’ll have to see if I can come up with an alternative place to put it.

ggreig: (Ribart's Elephant)

After posting about 25mm servants before, I ordered some myself. As these are the first figures I’ve completed since getting a camera more capable of taking shots of miniatures, I thought I’d show the painted versions that I finished last week.

The house maid, Maisy, would have been better for the period with a longer skirt and mutton-chop sleeves, but I did find a period picture with a skirt of this length, and the colour scheme is taken from that picture. You can only see it sticking out past her left leg a bit, but she’s holding a yellow duster, or dish-cloth, or something of the sort.

The butler, Reeves, doesn’t look quite so cadaverous when painted up, but it’s still not a great face. He’s also a little on the short side.

Not sure why the chap in the DJ and holding a cigar has sneaked into the photo, but there you go.

The portrait )

This is actually two photos superimposed, because the flash-lit one was over-exposed, but did bring out some of the detail, whereas the photo taken sans flash had warmer colours but was fuzzy. The only place there’s a very noticeable unintended artefact of combining the two is DJ-man’s left eye. At least with my dodgy colour vision that’s true; maybe you’ll be able to spot something else.

I was going to scan the period picture of the maid (from an advert from the “Parkinson” Gold Medal Gas Cooker) but I seem to be having a problem with the scanner which I don’t have time to investigate and fix right now. Sorry.

Claymore

Aug. 2nd, 2009 12:35 am
ggreig: (Saint George)

I don’t go to Claymore every year, and I nearly didn’t go today. I didn’t really feel like it; but I thought I’d get out of the house, and find out where their new venue is and what it’s like. It’s no longer being held in the foyer of Meadowbank Stadium (nor has it gone back to Chambers Street, which is where I first remember attending).

I went to Edinburgh by bus, and slept part of the way while the weather got on with being dreich outside, in a particularly non-summery way. I got off in George Street, intending to catch another bus out to the location, Telford College on Granton Road. There was bus information provided, but as I looked at my printout, I thought “You know, I haven’t a scoobie where these actually depart from, especially with Princes Street up. I’ll walk part of the way, and if I get fed up I can always find a bus stop along the way.”

The weather had improved a wee bit, so I consulted my map and set off to boot it. I’d figured it was a bit further out from the centre than Meadowbank (and in a different direction), but wasn’t sure exactly how far. The route seemed straightforward enough though, and I reckoned it was probably a couple of miles, which apparently would take the bus 25 minutes. I didn’t think I could beat the bus, but it seemed plausible.

Retrospectively, Google tells me it was a little over three miles, and I did it in a little over three quarters of an hour, so I don’t reckon I did too badly. There wasn’t a huge amount of interest to see along the way, but I did get to cross Dean Bridge on foot. It’s always been intriguing when driving over it, with no chance for a more leisurely look. It was built by Thomas Telford in the early 1830s, and it still carries a lot of the traffic into the city centre.

The only other place of particular note I passed was Fettes College, alma mater of one Tony Blair. Now there’s a recommendation.

The space at Telford College turns out to be larger than at Meadowbank, and there were actually two halls in use. As a result, it felt like there were more trades stands, and there were certainly more demonstration games. However, I have to say I found less to be excited about in the way of figures this year than in previous years. In fact, I only bought three packs of figures from Scheltrum (the ones I bought are not yet on the price list there, at time of writing), and the rest was peripheral stuff. I did find myself looking at some Sudan figures from Perry Miniatures, but resisted. There were also some First World War figures of Scots in Lowland regiments, the sort with forage caps that you see quite a lot in Victorian and Edwardian period pictures of Scottish soldiers but never seem to see in miniature; again, I was a bit interested but couldn’t really justify them. I think they were from Scarab Miniatures, but I didn’t make a note and haven’t been able to find them online. Other items in Scarab’s WWI range look familiar though.

I walked back into the centre, and gave myself a blister, thereby proving that virtue is its own reward. If I’d known beforehand how much walking I was going to do I’d have worn boots instead of shoes, but hey ho. I also nipped into Henderson's on Hanover Street for a glass of melon, mint, pineapple and orange, which was expensive but just what the doctor ordered, as the day had got warmer as it went on.

ggreig: (Ribart's Elephant)

It’s a long time since I last did a proper game write-up, either as a player or as GM – the time and energy seldom coincide – but [livejournal.com profile] flybynightpress's Gin Lane game which I played in this weekend required some sort of communication with the other (London and other furrin parts) player group, so I thought I might as well go the whole hog and turn my letter into a game report.

No doubt in due course it’ll join the rest of the game write-ups in The Intelligencer, but in the meantime I felt the rare occasion noteworthy enough to post it here. For those of you not familiar with Gin Lane, there’s a brief background on the web site as well as more detailed information about the game.

Break the seal )

Gjetost

May. 23rd, 2009 01:09 pm
ggreig: (Vacant Podling)

I bought some Norwegian cheese for a game this afternoon, and I think it may have been a big mistake…

I went to a maths conference in Norway back in the mid 90s, and remember having some slices of some sort of brown cheese (yes, brown) for breakfast. For a cheese, it was unusual – it was sweet, with a caramelly flavour – but very nice.

Oh, but I think I must have been fed the wimpy tourist version!

I saw some Norwegian Gjetost [Wikipedia] for sale in town this morning and thought, “Ooh, never seen that in the UK, we’ll have some of that!” Having got home I tried a sliver.

It really was a thin slice, but I can still taste it, and in this case that’s not a good thing. Imagine a block of processed cheese for the slightly plasticky impression when cutting it; a sliver comes off without crumbling or squishing. The mouth feel is a bit like fudge, smooth, soft and a bit cloying. The flavour – a strong, savoury caramel that’s an odd mixture of salt and sweet.

I’ve had a quick look online to see how it’s usually eaten, and the trick seems to be to take it in small quantities with another strong flavour – apples, coffee, or strong sausage. Looks like using it on a pizza is also an option. As all of these are available, we’ll see how it goes, but I fear it isn’t going to be a hit.

Apparently gjetost (literally “goat cheese”) is a particular type of brunost (brown cheese). It’s a mixture of leftover whey of cow’s and goat’s milk, or just goat’s milk, that’s boiled until the lactose caramelises – so the caramel element of the flavour is explained.

I expect the local Anster cheese and the Prima Donna Maturo are a bit more accessible. I suspect I may find myself looking for a way to get rid of the gjetost.

ggreig: (Ribart's Elephant)

Having decided some time ago to call my steampunk role-playing campaign Steam Elephants, this new miniature has rocketed to the top of the “must-have” list:

Steam elephant

Techno-GM

Jul. 2nd, 2007 11:33 pm
ggreig: (Ribart's Elephant)

Last weekend's game was my first experience as a techno-GM, thanks to a loan of [livejournal.com profile] msinvisfem's laptop, and the wonders of WiFi.

I guess I have been a techno-player before, as there's one game in particular (Aulm, for those who will know what I'm talking about) where I used a Quicksheet spreadsheet and HanDBase databases on a Palm III in order to keep track of cascading changes to  attributes and skills (in the case of my character sheet, in Quicksheet) and relationships between people, places and events (in a linked collection of HanDBase databases).

That experience was fairly successful and certainly helped me to keep on top of things. However, I haven't really repeated it for other games. I think that's because the other games I've played in since then have been more easily tracked with brainpower, pencil and paper, so I've not felt the same urge to invest some time in designing spreadsheets/databases to cope. I'm also not new to the Palm and an avid learner of the new systems, as I was then!

However, it has shown me that electronic systems can bring something to the management of a game, so although I was prepared to run with pencil and paper alone, I was willing to take up the offer of a loaner laptop to try running a game with technology.

I didn't have much in the way of electronic systems to run, because of my base assumption that I'd have to run with pencil and paper, but even so there were a couple of ways in which the laptop proved useful.

My note-taking during the game, while it still dropped off a bit as things got more interesting, was more organised, legible and structured than would otherwise have been the case. I typed things directly into a GM's wiki using (which I mentioned in another post recently), and was also able to look things up in a player's wiki that may become more publicly available at some point in the future, once I have a less embarrassing dearth of content and a technical solution that will make it practical.

The wiki structure was loose enough not to feel restrictive despite the lack of prior design. Doing the same thing with a database would be restrictive without some serious thought prior to use, as I occasionally found with my HandDBase efforts. However, it is encouraging enough of structure that I may have a clue how to navigate it in future, and I won't lose the bit of paper in a pile of other, similar pieces of paper. It was very easy to add cross-references on the fly. I imagine this will be very valuable, though I do wonder what navigation will be like once there's a lot of information to navigate through.

I was also able to wield the mighty power of Google to our advantage; when the topic of cab fares came up in the game, I was able to get a ball-park figure for Victorian cab fares directly from the web. Of course, electronic GM-ing also offers the help of Excel for dealing with all those knock-on effects of wounds.

I have never (yet) been the owner of a laptop, but I am considering the possibility next time I get myself a new machine and this experience is a point in its favour.

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