Modular terrain (part 1)

Hopefully this will be part 1, at least, because I will get a chance to finish this.

The wargame I play most, which is DBMM, tends to be very precise in where units are positioned, which means that realistic terrain is a bit of a problem. For these games, the mouse-mat style 6×4 terrain mats are brilliant, and the range of them that are now available is amazing – I have a bunch from DeepCut Studios that I really love. However, I have also always really wanted some ‘proper’ wargaming terrain – tables with realistic hills and flocking and rivers etc etc. I have had a couple of aborted attempts at them in the past, and done some realistic extruded-polystyrene hills for particular exhibition battles (particularly for SoA Battle Days), but they have always been a pain to store, and haven’t been very reusable.

For a while though, I have been looking at the Terraformers modular terrain system on Sally4th, and been wondering whether I could use that to create some proper boards for 25mm skirmish games that would be practical and attractive. So I took the plunge and bought their nine-tile starter set. I’ve now got the first tile done, and I’m actually more pleased than I thought I would be with the results:

Terra-formers hillside module being defended by some elven Sisters of Avelorm.

A more-creative friend, when I mentioned the project, suggested this YouTube channel from Geek Gaming Scenics (hereafter GGS) as a useful source of inspiration, and so far it had been a revelation.

Critical first tip was using Sculptamold (I just got the standard stuff from Amazon, because the GGS version was out of stock). Its a mix of plaster and shredded paper, which makes it a lot lighter-weight and more flexible than just pure plaster, which I had tried to use before to give a nice finish to the extruded polystyrene. The plaster was also very prone to chipping and cracking – Sculptamold seems to be a lot more flexible.

The flocking is the foam flock from GGS – its a nice mix of different sizes and takes the PVA glue well. It’s scattered onto a coating of PVA and then saturated with watered down PVA glue which makes it really hard – I am hoping it will stand up to a decent amount of wear and tear, and should be easy to patch and repair if it needs it. I chose flock over static grass because I didn’t want to have the figure bases ‘floating’ above long static grass, and I still haven’t really cracked the skill of properly applying static grass.

The rocky crag is done using a rock mould from Woodland Scenics. The paint job on it is the real revelation though – another tip from a GGS YouTube video. I use splotches of watered down Raw Sienna and Burnt Umber, followed by a light wash of even more watered down Raw Umber to blend them a little. Then when they I dried, I give it a wash with very watered down black. I’m just using random cheap Daler Rowney acrylics because I have them to hand. It looks miles more realistic than the approach I would have used, which would have been dark grey dry-brushed with increasing highlights of lighter greys.

The whole crag is then blended in with a scattering of the GGS Arid Earth Base-Ready Mix.

Overall, very pleased with the results so far, and hop to get time to continue with the other tiles.

Byzantine Alakatia

The Nikephorian DBMM list allows for some elements of Art(O) on wagons. While not as tasty as the Roman Art(F) tachanka, they do have the advantage that they can shoot from their 80mm long side edge, which makes them quite flexible, and they seem to be a standard part of the SBPF (small but perfectly formed) Nikephorian lists.

Problem is that no one seems to make a model for them.

Which for years has stopped me using them. Well that plus I don’t really believe that the existed. It feels to be more likely that they were deployed with the baggage train wagons, rather than on wagons themselves. But I found this article by George T. Dennis on Byzantine artillery that also mentioned them as well. He does a good job of analysing all the various conflicting words that the Romans used for artillery of various sorts, and the interesting description of alakatia as revolving at both end, to suggest that they were rope-pulled pole trebuchets (a relatively new and very efficient type of artillery invented in China and brought west possibly by the Avars, although there are other accounts the suggest that the Avars actually learnt how to build seige machines from captured Byzantine soldiers).

Still can’t find any models for rope-pulled pole trebuchets, only later huge mediaeval trebuchets. So I have decided to try and scratch build some myself.

Looking around I have managed to find some images of them on this website. Such as:

Rope pull pole trebuchet from the Chronicle of Petrus d’Eboli
Byzantine trebuchet from the Skylintzes manuscript

Can’t remember who the wagons in the pictures come from – probably Essex I suspect. They’re not brilliant – I suspect I will do a v2 at some point, having seen what these look like.

Sui Chinese

Sui Chinese are obviously the army of choice/tournament tiger of the moment for DBMM Book 3, and, while I hate jumping on a bandwagon, I did have a bunch of random Chinese figures that I had accumulated over the years, but that had never made a coherent army. So I decided to see if I could bash together a Sui army out of them, to give me something vaguely competitive in Book 3 (to join my Early Byzantines and Nikephorian Byzantines, both of which are good armies in other people’s hands…)

The first complex thing about Sui is the variety of close order mounted – it has Kn(X), Kn(F), Cv(S) and Cv(O). And I like to be fair to my opponents and give them at least a vague chance of recognising which is which.

One of the many sets of vaguely Chinese figures are these, that I have been using as Tibetan cataphracts. I’m pretty sure they are Essex, but are not on their webstore any more. I am planning to use these as the Kn(X):

Essex? Chinese cataphracts

For the Cv(S), who are specifically called out in the list notes as being equipped in Turkish style, I had a bunch of old Essex Turkish heavy cavalry (I think they are actually in their Mongol range, but potaeto-potahto). So they will be the Sui Cv(S):

Essex Mongol heavy cavalry

Some of them were on half-barded horses, but I didn’t use these to avoid any confusion with the Kn(X).

For the Kn(F), I took some of the cataphract riders, and put them on the Mongol cavalry horses:

?Essex chinese cataphract riders on Essex unbarded mongol horses

The historicity of these guys is highly questionable, but they at least should be distinctively different to the Kn(F) or Cv(S) on the tabletop.

This meant that I then had three bases of Turkish/Mongol riders and three bases of fully barded horses. I’ll save them for a Mongol or Avar army, to mix in with the half-barded ones, and paint the barding to look like leather or horn.

Then for the Cv(O), I painted up some of a huge pile of unarmoured Mongol Cv(O) that I had had lying around for ages. So in this case completely the wrong figures, from the wrong period, but looking vaguely Chinese, and again, easily distinguished from the Cv(S) and Kn(F):

Essex Mongol cavalry masquerading as Sui Chinese cavalry…

Then there is the compulsory LH(F), which I didn’t have anything suitable for (there are limits even to my shame). So for these I actually bought some more figures – Essex Sui light cavalry:

Essex Sui light cavalry

Rather pleased with these actually – a nice variety of three poses, and well sculpted and case figures. And not all firing sideways at 90% to the horse, which is a pose that used to bedevil Essex (and other manufacturers) and makes the figures impossible to put sensibly on a base, especially for heavy cavalry.

Then on to the infantry. For the archers, I already had a load of figures – enough to do the back ranks of 5 Bw(X/O) and 10 Ps(O). Never been able to find out whose they were, but they have the right headcloth for Sui Chinese, so the plan was to use them. They are monopose, and have an Essex-y feel to them, so assumed they were Essex figures, but they are not on their website any more (but they did revamp their Sui & T’ang range a few years ago.

I didn’t have the spearmen to make up the front rank of the Bw(X), so I ordered some T’ang spearmen from Essex to go with them. Why does using up the lead pile always involve buying more lead? Anyway, they arrived, and were very well sculpted figures with a gentle variety of pose (nothing extravagant, but holding their spears with slightly different grips). The problem was that they were a head shorter than the bowmen I had, and nothing was going to get them looking OK when mounted on the same base. So back to Essex, and ordered enough archers to do the archers as well:

The Bw(X)/Bw(O) Pu-She archers and spearmen. All from Essex new Sui/T’ang range.
The Pu-Ping Ps(O) – again all from Essex.

And finally the baggage, again all from Essex, and their wonderfully characterful wheelbarrowmen:

Essex baggage figures

Painted Nikephorian Byzantines

These are the painted-up Nikephorian Byzantines from West Wind (although see previous posts – some of them are actually coded as Thematic Byzantines on their webstore – check the pictures).

In general pretty good figures that paint up well with my fairly brisk technique – certainly fine for general wargaming purposes. If I had a criticism, it would be that I could do with another couple of poses for the cavalry – they get a bit samey after a while.

So, the bulk of the regular part of the army:

Nikephorian Byzantine (DBMM) army, figures by West Wind.

The Emperor Ioannes Tzimikes, with his Athanatoi guards:

Tagmatic Kavallarioi (DBMM Reg Cv(S)) with general. Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.

The Megas Domestikos Michael, commanding the right wing:

Tagmatic Kavallarioi (DBMM Reg Cv(S)) with general. Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.

Under the protection of the Theotokos, the Logothete Basileos urges the left flank forwards:

Tagmatic Kavallarioi (DBMM Reg Cv(S)) with general. Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.

Meanwhile, brave Kaloioannes commands the rearguard, ready for any eventuality:

Tagmatic Kavallarioi (DBMM Reg Cv(S)) with general. Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.

The elite of the army are the heavily armoured klibanophoroi:

Tagmatic Klibanophoroi (DBMM Reg Kn(X)/Reg Kn(I) double base). Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.

But the backbone of the army are the sturdy thematic peasantry, forming a wall of spears and arrows:

Thematic Skoutatoi, Akontistoi, Psiloi and Menlavatoi (DBMM Reg Bw(X), Bw(O), Ps(S), Ps(O) and Bd(X)). Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.
Thematic Skoutatoi, Akontistoi, Psiloi and Menlavatoi (DBMM Reg Bw(X), Bw(O), Ps(S), Ps(O) and Bd(X)). Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.
Thematic Skoutatoi, Akontistoi, Psiloi and Menlavatoi (DBMM Reg Bw(X), Bw(O), Ps(S), Ps(O) and Bd(X)). Figures by West Wind, banners and shields by Little Big Men.

One thing I did discover during the painting of this army was that the Little Big Men shield transfers for Khurasan miniatures skoutatoi fitted the West Wind cavalry kite shields perfectly. The West Wind cavalry shields are shorter and fatter than the infantry shields, so the LBM transfers fit the infantry shields well, but need to be trimmed to fit the cavalry shields.

West Wind Nikephorian Byzantines

My West Wind / War and Empire Nikephorians finally arrived a few weeks ago, delayed by the pandemic disruptions and at the end of the queue because i had taken so long to get my Kickstarter order in. Wendy was great on keeping me appraised of progress though, and also answering random queries.

Which does raise the first issue, which is that some of the figures have been slightly miscoded on the site – the Nikephorian lancers are in the Thematic section and coded as Thematic Lancers, and vice versa. The key difference is that the ones with the Thematic code have the teardrop shields which only really came in at the very end of the Thematic period, and the ones with the Nikephorian codes have the round shields, which are fine if a bit old fashioned for the Nikephorian period – although useful if you want to distinguish between Tagmatic and Thematic regiments.

Overall the range is comprehensive as well – there are specific figures for the menavliatoi for example (3 poses, plus command) which a lot of ranges skip. It would be nice to have some light archers (i.e. not in epilorikon), some of the heavier artillery (although maybe I haven’t looked and there might be a specific section for that) and some fire-siphoneers (although that is pretty niche and probably not commercially viable). But everything else is there.

First impressions (so far I have only painted up some of the infantry):

A good amount of variety in poses. Sculpting reminds me somewhat of Old Glory – not quite as crisp as Xyston or Legio Heroica, but easy to paint and certain good at wargaming vision distance. There are a couple of the armoured bowmen where the straps disappear on the front side of the body though, which is a bit of an oversight. This bodes well for the Germanics I also bought, who I want to mix in with a mixture of Old Glory and Baueda – I think they will fit right in to give my warbands even more variety.

Historically they are pretty accurate – all in epilorikon and with a good variety of helmets and turbans as headgear. Most of the archers have the specified two quivers, and they all have a small shield and axe or sword. Spears are maybe a little short, but given they are cast in, I wouldn’t want them any longer. The standards feel wrong to me though – they are cast as vexillia type, whereas I think by this stage most Byzantine banners were flag type, so am cutting off the vexillias and adding my own steel spear and flag banner with LBM Byzantine standards.

A unit of Byzantine skoutatoi based for DBMM.

The world of Anaria

Which probably bears an actionable similarity to Greyhawk, but is also rather different. Plus I don’t like the direction that the Living Greyhawk campaign took. So my version keeps the same map (which I have always loved), and a lot of the same kingdoms, but put a new, less anthropocentric spin on the history. There are going to be a lot more elves…

So once, there was a great Elfish kingdom to the west, beyond the what are now the Barrier Peaks. Back then, this was a fertile land, not the Sea of Dust that it now is. And this kingdom became an empire – it conquered lands to the west that are beyond the knowledge of men now living, and it sent expeditions into the east, where it found forests and scattered tribes of men, that it dominated, and used to fell trees for its insatiable needs. And it warred with the elvish clans to the north, who roamed the great steppe, fierce archers on fleet horses who lived only for their freedom under the wide skies.

And the empire of S’el became darker and more decadent as it expanded. Its people gave themselves over to dark pleasures and depraved desires, and the spires of their cities echoes with the screams of tortured and pain. But ever were the clans of the north a thorn in their sides, and their greatest warriors rode to battle on great dragons that breathed fire. And they had no homes upon the steppe, but were ever on the move, falling back when assaulted, and striking again when least expected.

So the great mages of the S’El created a great magic, and wove their greatest spells into one great spell that would scourge all the northern plains. But the shamen of the northern clans felt the spell as it grew and grew, and they called upon their spirits of land and water, sky and earth, and the wrought their spells in return. Finally the hammer fell and the Invoked Devastation fell upon the northern plains, and the grass and trees withered and died. But the shamen of the north were powerful too, although they could not stop the spell entirely. But they could turn some of its power away, so not all life on the plains was extinguished, and they mixed the power they had turned away with the pain of the desecrated land, and drove it back on S’El. The mages of S’El were arrogant, and never expected the clans of the north to master such power. Few saw its coming , and fewer still escaped the Rain of Colourless Fire which fell upon S’El. Everything the rain touched turned to dust, and the whole great land of S’El – its rivers and forests and fields and people became a great sea of chocking dust.

Thus passed S’El into history.

But some of its people escaped, either because they had been in the east when the Rain fell, or they felt its coming and managed to escape.

To the east of S’El, beyond the mountains, was a fair land – a great valley watered by two great rivers. Here they tried to recreate the kingdom of S’El in exile – they rounded up the human tribes as slaves, and built new cities. Some of the elves already dwelling here had been remote garrisons of S’El, who were happy enough to help this endeavour, but many were those who had fled S’El at the shame of its depraved practices. In time, these scattered elves gathered their strength, and then, freeing the human slaves, they struck at the few remaining S’El mages. Many were slaughtered, but a few escaped, across the sea, yet further to the east.

In this newly freed land, many of the free elves settled down with the men who they had freed, and together created the Kingdom of K’el, which is now called the High Kingdom of Keoland. Keoland is probably the place in all of Oerth where men and elves are most at peace with each other. Indeed there are few in Keoland who could claim to be entirely elven or entirely human, so much is their blood mixed. And they claim that they have the best attributes of both races. Certainly Keoland is known as a kingdom that is ruled fairly and justly. The Kingdom itself contains many realms, all of which recognise the suzerainty of the High Kingdom, but many of which are to all intents and purposes independent. The most notable are the Yeomanry in the east, which is a human realm for those who hold to the purity of human blood, and the Celene in the west, which is the only pure-blooded elven realm in the High Kingdom.

The High King himself (or herself) is elected from those of royal blood by a council of barons, and serves for a term of twenty years, whether man or elf or any mixture of the two. The Keoish say that this practice of short reigns is what saves them from the decadence and decline of the Great Kingdom.

Which now brings us to the mention of the Great Kingdom. For when those elves who had been ousted from K’El fled east, across the sea, they found a new realm; a kingdom of men that flourished in the wide lands between the two seas. Unlike the land between the two rivers, this was no scattering of tribes that could be easily dominated, and their numbers were further reduced even from the scattered remnants that had fled S’El. But those of them that remained were those that were most cunning and puissant in dark magic. And so they came not in might, but under darkness, and cover of night. And they worked their way into the shadows of the Great Kingdom, watching and waiting; luring men into dark cults and enthralling those close to the halls of power. Gradually, their influence increased, as, disguised by their glamours, they took up their positions around the throne. Gradually, the Great Kingdom descended into factionalism and strife. Some men were tools of the dark elves, and others turned to other sources of power in order to counter them. The Great Kingdom split into a myriad of warring kingdoms. In some elves remained in the shadows, in others, they ascended the throne. All made pacts with dark powers to better dominate the others. The most successful of these were some kingdoms of the south that started to worship a serpent god – their deity granted them the power to become mighty serpents themselves, and create slave armies of serpent men. For a time, it seemed as if their legions would dominate all of the east, but the elves, emerging from the darkness and opposing themselves to the openly depraved behaviour of the serpent people, were able to fully use their magical power for the first time. The war was long and bloody, but gradually the serpent men were forced back, finally across the Azure Sea to the jungles of Amedio. The elves of S’El were able to set themselves up as the saviours of the Great Kingdom, and the greatest amongst them ascended to the golden throne of the new Great Kingdom.

The hearts of the elves of S’El were always dark however, and gradually they reverted to their former ways, as they pulled all power into their own hands. Their lives were many generations of those of men, and gradually men cam to resent and hate their new masters for their power, their immortality and their ruthlessness. Plots were hatched, and rebellions and uprisings became ever more frequent. At the same time, men of power dabbled again in pacts with dark powers in order to give themselves the power and lifespan of their elven masters. In the end, the elves were overthrown, but the men who raised themselves to the ruling class were every bit as depraved and degenerate, as well as long lived as their former masters. Thus the Great Kingdom stagnated, and became a dark place where the peasantry groaned and cowered in their villages, working for their feudal lords in dark castles between grim forests where dark creatures lurked.

2300AD character starship

Still thinking about the starship that the characters in my possibly-never-to-happen campaign will have.

The broad outlines are fine – I want an oldish survey vessel; decommissioned from the Royal Navy and being used by the Royal Society for xenology and survey purposes.

The original concept wasn’t quite working because of the habitat modules and the need to have two landers – I think it would be very dangerous to only have a single lander to access unknown worlds, but the hangarage for two was taking up too much of the ship.  Having two spin modules forced an inconvenient split in accommodation and working space which was very unergonomic.

There was also an issue with quarantine – watching lots of SG-1 reinforced my belief that any ground crew would need to be segregated on return for several days or weeks in case they infected the entire rest of the ship – so there needed to be a whole quarantine area, which is more space.

Plus there seemed to be a need to duplicate laboratory space in the main ship, but also in modules that could be landed on the surface, which then led to modular shuttles and lots of interface trips, which are very fuel intensive in 2300AD.

The design of the new Marseilles class liner gave me a great idea.  Rather than having a lander ferrying people to the surface, put all the scientists, laboratories and ATVs in two large interface landers, each massing 100 tons displacement and capable of interface travel.  In orbit these then dock at the ends of two arms via a top clamp, forming the spin modules for the scientists to live in and conduct research in orbit.  These then detach and land on the surface, where they are used as ground stations.  And when they return, they are self contained quarantine zones as well.

So the stats for the Explorer class landers are:

Hull: 100 dT streamline airframe self-sealing hull

0.5 MW New Commercial MHD power-plant with 100% radiators

0.01 MW closed loop recycling Fuel Cell backup power-plant, with Solar Panels

Air-breathing fusion thrusters, max acceleration 2G, max speed 2,000 km/h

344 m3 fuel

2 man cockpit

6 full size staterooms

4 laboratories

56 m3 of cargo hold

bay for a standard 15 dT Explorer class ATV


World of Xoth

Thinking of setting a new ‘swords and sorcery’ campaign for David and Adrian in the World of Xoth.

I like to visualise my campaign worlds to help create atmosphere, and in this case, like most S&S campaign worlds, the nations have fairly clear historical analogues (which I used to think was lazy, but I now realise is really useful to help players relate to the campaign world if they don’t have time to immerse themselves in the background).

In this case, I might get half a dozen 25mm wargaming figures for each nation and paint them up, to give a view of what the average soldier is wearing and to use as guardsmen and city watch.

So the nations in the World of Xoth, and their analogues (for me) are:

Mazania – black amazons – find some nude amazon warriors

Azimba –

Shoma –

Ikuna – zulus (Wargames Factory do some plastic zulus)

Zadj – Persia – sassanid persians – always wanted to paint a few of them.

Yar-Ammon – egyptians

Jairan – Arabs

Khazistan – turkish ghilmen

Susrah – Seleucids?

Taraam – Assyrians?

Nabastis – Myceneans or classical greeks

Lamu – pale men in long robes? Slavs?

Sea Reavers – arab pirates/Sinbad