Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Weekly Update - Sunday, October 30th, 2016 - WARNING! Philosophy Ahead!

The Ladies of the Court
A question came up about why I support the three (and maybe four) world-settings that I do - and right off the bat, I should note that I think there's a very real difference between 'rules' and 'worlds'. I am, not to make too fine a point about it, not very interested in 'rules'. I've seen a lot go by in my time, and a lot of them just don't excite much interest in me. I was in the FLGS yesterday, picking up two more chariots - more on this anon - and I looked over the racks of RPGs and miniatures rules.

None of them really appealed to me, through no fault of their authors. All good stuff, from what I could tell, and very nicely produced. It was just that none of what I was looking at had any real 'spark' for me; the world-settings that each had on offer just didn't 'click' for me.

This, by the way, is also true of my reading material; I much prefer a series of books, set in the same universe, to 'one-off' / 'standalone' works. I've picked up a lot of series, over the years, ranging from Asimov's "Foundation" series through Gordy's "Childe Cycle" and Cussler's NUMA collections to Burroughs' Barsoom and the 'Lord Meren' mysteries. I just like well-developed worlds, and love to adventure in them.

So, my 'supported world-settings'. This is where the Missus and I choose to spend our gaming budget; the kind of thing we enjoy, and what we like to see on the game table. Phil's Tekumel, of course, which I've been adventuring in for the past four decades; Burroughs' Barsoom, which Phil first introduced me to; and - in what I've been told is a curious thing - Ancient Egypt, specifically of the Eighteenth Dynasty and of the Technicolor 'Hollywood Aegyptus' of the big- and small-budget epics. These used to be all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s, and the tradition has been nobly carried on by the first two 'Mummy' movies. There are a lot of possible adventures, both in the historical record and in the legends oft he time, and I enjoy painting up the people and places I've read about and seen.

I enjoy history, and I enjoy gaming in historical settings just as much as I do in fictional ones. Back in Ye Olden Dayes, the difference between the two was a lot more 'porous', and we enjoyed making up fictional scenarios from history just as much as we did making up historical scenarios from fiction.

It also made doing the figures a lot easier. We regularly crossed between genres, using historical figures for fictional games, and the other way around. Yes, I do love getting specific figures for specific settings, but the kind of games that I play do require that we hire a lot of extras for the big crowd and battle scenes - no CGI on the game table.

The 'Lord Meren' series, for example; the players will need chariots to get around our miniature Thebes or Memphis, so I have obtained a half-dozen for their use. The FLGS happened to be having a sale - 25mm / 28mm Ancient Egyptians are not a hot seller, I gather - so the new transport is now on the Workbench. It also so happens that the Missus is a big horse person, so I have been getting 'advice' (read 'commands', there) on how I will need to paint the horses.

Will these chariots get used in Tekumel or Barsoom? Not really, but all the other Egyptians, Sea Peoples, and Philistines I picked up at the same time as I got the chariots will - we'll always need lots of 'extras' in our productions, and you never know when you need a horde of raiders to man that new trireme...

So, that's what's going on. More to come, as I slap on the paint...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Building The TRE Games Trireme - Photo heavy, by the way

Bottom of the hull; this is a 'waterline' kit.

Main and upper deck in place

Side view; note the 'egg crate' design

Yes, you will need a lot of clamps.

Bow, being glued up

Stern, being glued up

The ship, complete with masts and yards

This has been a most enjoyable project! The trireme looks just plain deadly; Tim at TRE games has captured the look of the full-sized ship - google 'Olympias', for the reconstructed ship of the Hellenic Navy - in a model that will still fit on a game table. This ship has sixty oars, thirty to a side, making her a smaller ship and quite suitable for our miniature adventures. (You also get spare oars, too; there must be something like 75 oars included.)

I will be right up front about it; this is a challenging kit, and not particularly suited for beginners. Having said that, if you look at the 'Blog' feature of the TRE website, you'll find out how to do this kit with a lot less effort. (Look at the 'Longship' entry; guess what the Missus wants me to build next, for her Norwegian ancestors.) The secret is soaking the planking sections of the hull in water, and bending them while wet; I built this kit dry, and so had to use a lot more clamps then I would have expected. And you do not need the kind of specialty clamps that I have; ordinary 'c-clamps' which you can get at any hardware store, big-box DIY, or ironmongers, will do just fine.

The secret is patience - take your time, and this kit will flow together. Follow the instructions as you go, and understand what you will be doing in each step; there are a lot of parts in this kit, and you'll want a good-sized table to spread them all out. And, if I may observe, work on a sheet of 'cling-film' (like 'Saran Wrap') or waxed paper to keep the parts from sticking to the table as you glue them up. Allow plenty of time for your glue to dry hard, and it'll all work just fine. TRE also includes spares of the more delicate and vital parts, so you can work with confidence. A little care in getting the parts out of the matrix pays for itself in assembly, and a sharp craft knife helps with this.

Now, this kit does cost US$80; it is not a cheap bit of gaming gear. Is it worth it? You bet it is; the final result is a whopping two feet long, and about four inches wide over the decks. There's plenty of room for figures on bases, and the ship is so sturdy I can put any number of them on the decks without any fear that I'll damage the ship. And the building process was well worth the cost of the kit in sheer entertainment, too; I loved doing this project, and I love the final product even more.

I am hugely impressed by this kit; both the Missus and I thought that the price was good, and well worth it.

Tim makes some very nice kits, and this is one of his best!

(Link to TRE Games in the left-hand column, too.)

The Weekly Update - Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 - Lots And Lots Of Good News

The Kickstarter has already fully funded! There are seven figures in the full set, too.

Lots of news to get through before I do the post on the TRE Games trireme, so let's dive right in.

First off, my father-in-law is walking again; he had surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves in his back that control his legs, and he's now back on the Iron Range regaining his strength. As might be assumed, we're very happy about this, and wishing him a speedy recovery!

One bit of very sad news, which I did not pass along until now out of respect to the people involved, was that there was a death in our very extended family a while back. I will not comment further, as I respect their privacy, but the Missus and I were both shocked and surprised by the news.

In the miniatures world, The Tekumel Project has been posting photos of Howard's upcoming release of Vimuhla troopers and personalities; link to his site in the left-hand column, and we encourage you to have a look.

Alex Bates,  who runs Forge of Ice Miniatures, as gotten a Kickstarter going for a set of 'Sleazy Merchant and Sleepy Guards'. I just found out about this last night, while on the Lead Adventure Forum, and we'll be getting this set; the Missus pronounced Herself to be pleased with these figures, so I know what I'm getting for my Christmas present. We already have the two Snake Priestess figures, which have joined Mike Burns' Dark Fable 'Temple of Set' set. (Sorry; could not resist that.) Alex does not have a formal website, but does have a Facebook page. The link to the Kickstarter is:

Speaking of Mike Burns, rumor has it that his next Dark Fable Miniatures set will be "The Legend of Cleopatra", with suitable figures of the lady her herself and various court officials and officers.I'll want to get in on this; I have a huge bronze scarab to use as the palace gong, so I'm well on my way to doing the epic production... :)

Getting the house ready for the arrival of Fifth Daughter from overseas continues; went out to IKEA yesterday and bought a new side table for the front door to hold all those hats, gloves, and scarves we seem to need up here in the Northwoods. I continue to find all sorts of treasures and curiosities that I had clean forgotten about, stashed away in the 'spare room', and I continue to sort them all out. I'm also making room in the workshop for the old painting desk; I'm really looking forward to using it again!

More to come!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Weekly Update - Tuesday, October 18th, 2016 - Terse, Sorry...

Sorry to be so terse, today; my father-in-law, the Missus' beloved dad, is in the hospital for spinal surgery. He's doing fine, and walking again, but we've been pretty busy.

Much more to come; we'll be back as soon as we can.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blowing off the dust; hidden treasures...

Yep. That's where this all started.

I thought that you, my gentle readers, might be amused to see something we uncovered in the living room this past weekend. It's been sitting there for around a decade, holding up all the gloves, scarves, and hats that are part and parcel of life hereabouts during our winters. It's a little wooden desk; the top has been cleaned up a bit, and I would guess that it doesn't look like much.

Except for one thing. That's the original Chirine's Workbench, bought second-hand right about the time I started painting figures in earnest, and right about the time I started working for Dave Arneson at Adventure Games.

Like me, it's a little older and a little more beat-up, but still serviceable. It's been replaced by the much larger and sturdier workbench that the Missus got for me, but you know, I think I still like this old desk.

I think, if nobody minds, I'll seal the top with a new coat of finish and paint some figures on it...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Tim At TRE Games Does It Again!!!

I'm having the vapors over this model...

It has been a truly wonderful weekend, and I'm pretty darn happy; there have been all too few weekends like this of late, what with both the Missus and I having health issues. Getting the wreckage cleared, and the living room reset has hugely improved our health and our morale. The icing on the cake came this evening; I give Second Daughter a ride to work, as transport is an issue for her, and I try to stop by The Source (my FLGS) to see what's new.

Tim over at TRE Games had stocked a set of biremes - about 1/400 scale? - to go with his pack of triremes mentioned in these pages; you get three for $8.00, and they look very nice. The big - and I do mean big - news was that he's done a 28mm scale trireme kit. The kit retails for $80, and it's simply huge; something like fifteen sheets of parts, and two pages of instructions.

The thing is huge, by gaming standards; it looks to be about two feet long, over all, and about four to five inches wide. The oars - and you get a lot of oars - will make it about six inches wide, I think. Parts are all, as usual for Tim, neatly cut and practically fall out of the sheets. Get out some wood glue, and we're in for a very happy time in the shipyard.

This model is especially attractive both for the very reasonable cost and for the vast amount of playable space on the top- and mid- decks. (You can't play the lower hold, but that's what paper plans are for.) The oars are all separate, so there's an immense amount of 'play value' there for hapless character to fall overboard and clutch at oars as they drift. Boarding actions, sea voyages, and treasure hunts all suggest themselves for several historical periods and for Hollywood 'Sword and Sandal'-style epics - in Technicolor, of course! - with everybody from Helen of Troy to Queen Cleopatra setting sail and telling the rowers to go a little faster.

This is, right out of the zip-loc bag, a model to dream about. I'll be taking this one very slowly, getting it right, and I'll take lots of pictures of the process.

The sheer size of this model is also perfect for me; it's halfway between my treasured old urethane foam liburnians that I got in the late 1980s at an Origins convention, and the vast (at some three feet long) Nemesis galley I built. She's sleek and fast, from the looks of her, and I think will see a lot of use in games. Both the Missus and Third Daughter have seen the kit, and both love the look of the galley; I think we'll score this one a success...

Break out the life jackets, and stand by for action!

The Weekly Update - Sunday, October 8th (2) - Getting Things Together

This is kind of a post-script to the one I just published, and is much more of a personal note then what usually gets published on this little effort.

As I've mentioned, Fifth Daughter will be moving in with us in January, and yesterday her elder sister (Third Daughter) and her husband (Second Son) came over and we spent a pleasant and productive afternoon clearing the place to move some furniture around to make some room for the new arrival. One ancient couch went out the door, one newer one got moved, and a family heirloom one arrived from the back of the van. Many. many boxes were filled, and several carpets cleaned. They'll be back today, to clear the actual room Fifth Daughter will occupy, and then we'll fall to the Sorting Of The Stuff in all the tubs and boxes.

If it sounds like our little house (2100 square feet, as I recall) sounds like it's much more of a warehouse then a home, that's because it is. For literally decades, The Missus and I have worked very hard to make other people's dreams come true. The left-overs from all those dreams have usually been abandoned when people lose interest in the dream-of-the-moment and move on to something else, and these left-overs usually get abandoned here with us. This is because we've always been Those People, the ones who sit in the back in the meeting and listed to all the ideas being floated and then are the ones who volunteer to help out. I got my very first award, while in the SCA in the 1970s, for "always helping out when needed". (I have a wall full of such awards, collected over the next forty years from a variety of people and organizations.)

The net result is that I have a house and garage full of stuff that I made or got for people, and which after a few years they left behind. (Need the interior to a Klingon D-7 for your cable access television show? I'm your man.) Starting yesterday, The Missus and I beganclearing all this stuff out, tossing the useless stuff, recycling the recycle stuff, and repacking and labeling the useful stuff. We are, in effect, starting our lives together all over again; we've been married since 1990, and we had to hit the ground running to satisfy the people we helped. Now, we're living for ourselves and our friends - we're making our dreams happen, after a life of making other people's dreams happen. We're taking control of our lives, after all this time; we think we've earned it.

You won't see a lot of changes here at the Workbench, stemming from all this; this blog has always been a way for me to tell folks about what we're doing, and how we do it. That will not change; what will change is the number and diversity of the projects you see, and how they relate to my gaming. In a lot of ways, this is your blog as much as it is mine - your questions and comments fuel it, and help keep it going.

Drop me a line; we'll be here! :)

The Weekly Update - Sunday, October 8th, 2016 (1) - A Question About Game Genres

The dead bird I have in the living room

A comment on yesterday's post about the ocean tiles got me thinking; I did a very quick and terse answer, but I thought that the question deserved a much better answer, as it gets to the heart of why I do things the way I do - and why this blog exists in the first place:

Nice looking gaming surface! What sort of scenarios do you envision using it for, role-playing or more traditional wargaming?

I've been thinking about this for most of last night, after it came in. In formulating my answer, we're going to go back in time about forty years, to the third floor of Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota and the meetings of the Conflict Simulation Club on Tuesday nights. There were guys named Arneson, Maker, and Wesely there, and the faculty adviser was a professor named Barker. So...

First off, thank you for the compliment! I have to say that what had  been a very unpromising project turned out pretty well, and I think the fleet will get many hours of high adventure and low comedy out of it.

When I did these tiles, I did them to match up with the three other sets that I have: 'Temperate', 'Arid', and 'Desert'. I can do a pretty good river or sea front by mixing this set with the others - or the canals of a dying world. In terms of scenarios, I can anything I want with about fifteen minutes' notice; all I have to do is put out the appropriate tiles and 'dress the set' with vegetation and scenery as required.

When I got started in gaming here in the Twin Cities, this was the then-unobtainable ideal; being able to put on a good game was as much about showmanship and craftsmanship as anything else. Quite a few games became legendary, like my "Great Mos Eiseley Spaceport Raid", as much for the sheer spectacle of the thing as for the actual gaming. Games varied wildly in form and content; in answer to your question, as we didn't see any difference between what I think you mean 'traditional wargames' and 'role-playing'. We looked at it as a spectrum of play styles, where one session we'd be playing a man at arms, a wizard, a ship captain, a tank commander, or a space pilot in a one-on-one game - and in the next game, we'd be pushing mighty armies around the table. We had various sets of rules, and each was pretty clear about the scale of the forces involved; for us, the 'campaign'; some rules were man-to-man, like "Chainmail", and some very abstract, like "Empire". It made no difference to us, as we played anything and everything that somebody wanted to run.

I still game this same way; I'll run what I need for players as required by what's going on in the campaign. If it's one or the other genre of gaming, it matters not; it's all gaming to me, and I don't really have any feel for a difference between the genres that seems to have evolved over the following decades. So, in effect, my gaming is a living fossil of what we did back in 1975-1980, and my game room a time capsule of that place and style of Twin Cities gaming. May I suggest:


Both will give you a sense of that time and place, I hope.

So, yes, I'll be using the tiles for both role-playing games and more traditional wargames. I run both, as you've seen, and hearken back to a time and place where I met some of the most amazing people in the world.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Catching Up - Something Cool For Mobile Gaming...

The great outdoors...

The great indoors...

Three-dimensional buildings...

... that have gameable interiors.

As regular readers of this little effort know, every now and then I mention something that I think is pretty cool, and worthy of your attention. And, I make no bones about it, I am a guy who likes models and miniatures. (There's an RPG title, in there...) Last week, a Kickstarter got going for a project that I think people may very well find useful; I was so busy with the Dave Arneson Day, I didn't get the chance to mention it. So, a little late, here is the link they sent me:

I will quite freely admit that one of the big drawbacks of the kind of gaming that I do is the sheer volume of storage space and logistics transport that is needed for me to get out on the road for events not happening here at the Workbench. What these gents have done is taken advantage of modern technology to come up with an answer to that problem; like a theater doing a road show, they are offering portable scenery for games that works like stage sets.

There are the usual tiles and modular floors, but that's the beginning; they've come up with a method of securing parts in three dimensions. You can have playable floors, and playable tree-tops - that great scene where Robin Hood's merry band drops out of the trees on the Sheriff and his thugs is now doable - and in a format that will go back into the briefcase at the end of the game.

It's like IKEA for miniatures, and I like it. Have a look at their site, and the video that they've got posted.

The Ocean Tiles - A Project Salvaged!

The tiles on the table. 25 x 25 array.

Triremes by TRE Games; islands by JR Miniatures

Customs inspection on Lake Hekellu; the marines seem wary...

The shoreline tiles in use; I liked the 'wave' texture, myself.
Well, I was delighted to finally wrap this 'easy little project' up, last night. It had been a sort of trying week - we're in football season, which means more work for me - and I needed a little break to sooth my nerves. The tiles did come out nicely, I thought.

These are pretty basic. I started by cutting MDF sheet stock - this was well over two years ago, so these are 'old stock' - into my usual 9.5 x 9.5 squares. Paint with a nice light blue (from the 'mismatched paint section, if you'll recall) and - after the first coat is dry! - then splatter drops of a lighter blue-grey paint (same source) onto the tiles and dry-brush into long streaks across the tile to give a subtle wave pattern. I had found an old spray can of Pactra 'Transparent Blue' while I was getting out the paint thinner to strip the tiles of the unsuccessful polyurethane varnish, so I very lightly sprayed all of the tiles to add a little 'depth' to the 'water'. Finally, a coat of spray gloss polyurethane varnish to give the 'water' a little shine, and our miniature ocean is ready to use. (After it all dries hard, of course.)

The shoreline tiles had an extra step. A bit of tan paint to mark out the beaches, and then some diluted (50:50, water to glue) white glue - all right, "Elmer's" school glue, familiar to generations of kids - dabbed on to make patches of vegetation; while this is still wet, sprinkle on some Woodland Scenics ground foam - I used two colors, just for variety - and let the whole thing dry out. Results as seen above...

If I may philosophize for a bit...

Not every project here at the Workbench is a great success. This one was one of them; I got distracted by several things - like being a part of Dave Arneson Day at The Source - and I kind of let this one get away from me. There's a moral, here; take your time, do things carefully, and you'll get a good job out of it. However, once I got my hands back on the controls, I was able to salvage this project; there's probably a moral in that, as well.

And I think I should make a comment about domestic harmony, too. It's been remarked that I have a lot of tools and gear dedicated to my model building, and that's quite fair and accurate to say. It is, I think, one of the reasons why I have been married to The Missus for over twenty-five years; I make sure to do any stinky or dusty jobs outside in the back yard, and I make sure to clean up any mess I make inside the house. I also have all my own measuring cups and spoons, spatulas, mixing bowls, brooms, dustpans, and cleaning rags - these do not get mixed in with the household stuff, both for safety reasons and to keep the domestic authorities happy. 'Dollar Stores' and 'Poundland Stores' are the model builders' friends - visit them!

And don't try the old wheeze of "Chirine says it's all right!" either; they are on to that, and will simply laugh at you. Get your own stuff; it's cheap, an makes these projects a lot easier on you...

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Ocean Tiles - A Project Adrift...

The set of 25 ocean  tiles and 6 shoreline tiles

This project was supposed to be a simple one; take some tiles, paint like ocean, cover with gloss varnish, let dry. The latter has been the issue' the polyurethane I'm using should be mixed two to one paint thinner to varnish, and I think I got the mix wrong. It hasn't dried, and if it hasn;t by tonight I'll wipe off the tacky finish with thinner and start over.

This is a prime example of having to be in multiple places at the same time; I had to leave this to do the Dave Arneson Day event, and am now having to Come Up With Something to fix this project. Luckily, I have paint thinner in stock by the gallon...

More photos as we progress...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Weekly Update - Sunday, October 2nd, 2016 - Dave Arneson Day, and I have now played D&D!!!

The 'booth' with Bob Meyer, custodian of The One True Blackmoor

Our friends at The Source Comics and Games here in the Twin Cities all knew Dave, so it was no surprise when they announced that they were going to have a 'Dave Arneson Day" at the store. A whole bunch of people pitched in to make this event both a success and lots of fun, and I was delighted to be asked to do a sort of 'information booth' along with some of the old Blackmoor crowd to answer questions about Dave and gaming back in 'ye olden days'. We did, and we had am immense amount of fun!

I set up my 4' x 6' Skyline display, and we sat in front of it all day being 'oracles' and 'elders'. (There's a game title in that, I think.) The event started at ten, when the store officially opened, and stopped when the guys threw us all out after the store closed at nine - the discussions kept on going in the parking lot, anf I finally got home well after midnight. Quite a few gamers asked us about play styles and how things were done, and we told many tales of high adventure and low comedy. What kind of started me were the number of gamers taking notes - I got the impression we were running a seminar on the early days of gaming, and I think a lot of our audience learned a lot that they can take back to their own games.

Malia, Dave's daughter, came by with her family to look over and bless the proceedings; she exhibited the new Arnesonian Granddaughter, who is a whole three months old and quite bemused at all the goings on.

Games on offer included Burl running D20 Blackmoor, Gerald running 'Daleks in the Dungeon", John Till running his FATE for Tekumel rules, and Dave Wesely running the original Braunstein. Burl's game ran all day, and I actually got to play after I got the booth taken down; the party had been doing very well in Blackmoor Castle, but a series of unfortunate dice rolls put them in dire straits and it looked like there was a really nasty Total Party Kill in the offing. It had been a really fun game session, from all the laughter we kept hearing all day, so ending on this very sour note was not going over well with either the GM or the players.

Now, having been in similar sticky situations like this myself - from both sides! - I sidled up to Burl and offered to loan him a rescue party; I had brought the miniatures case I had been given by Gary Gygax at the first Kenosha Gen-Con, and had packed it full of all the original members (in miniature, of course) of Phil's Thursday Night Group of Tekumel players. Burl jumped at the chance; so Chirine, Vrisa, Origo, Dori, and all the rest came out of their case and stormed in to the rescue. I managed to kill the skeleton what was laying waste to the players, and the rest of the party held the room's doors while our sorcerers got the players back on their feet. I played D&D. For the very, very first time. And I had a whole lot of fun!!!

So, a day of lots of fun, lots of laughter, and lots of stories about a really decent guy who changed our lives.

Thank you, Dave!