Tuesday, May 26, 2015

VSF Steam Propelled Combat Walker

It's getting warm these days, which mean we can have the windows open - which means it'll soon be time to start painting the house. The Man Cave is slated for a redo to get rid of the sad brown painted walls done by the house flippers. I began a lackluster sort of clear-up of the room and found one or two projects that had dropped by the wayside like stragglers on a long march.

One of them is this collection of components for a 28mm VSF Steam Propelled Combat Walker, begun four years or so ago...

Like my earlier Aerial Flyer, most of the pieces were cast in resin from Hirst Arts molds. The central turret/crew compartment is the tin from a variety of (rather disgusting) mini sausages, wrapped in card. The 'hips' for the legs are the central spools from dental floss filled with resin to make them stiffer.

So... I aim to resume work on this little beastie. I have an idea for the feet, which will probably look something like mechanical claws. I'll probably mount the whole model on a base, since it's not likely to balance too well on two legs. Weaponry has yet to be decided. Cannon, Gatling guns, or something else..?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Gardening has kept me pretty busy lately. A spell of cooler weather means I can dig over the ground and plant seedlings without turning into a puddle of perspiration. It also led me to ponder a means of protecting my head and neck from the sun, since I tend to burn easily. A baseball cap is next to useless. That took me in turn to - the Havelock cap.

It has to be said, along with the pith helmet the Havelock cap is the iconic head-wear of the Colonial period. Designed by Major General Sir Henry Havelock for use by the British army in India during the Mutiny, it went on to feature in the armies of the Union and of course the French Foreign Legion. I think it'll be perfect for protecting the old noggin in the hot summers found here in NW Ohio, so I'm making one based loosely on the example in the photo. Not having made any kind of hat since the heady days of Junior School, it's going to be a learning process. 
* * * * 
Gaming... I'm planning to resume the Darkest Africa campaign sometime soon, but have yet to decide the shape of the scenario. The Barsetshires are closing in on a town situated on the southern shores of a huge lake, their target for this campaign. Naturally they have a line of communication and supply. The G'Wunda tribe were licked but are still lurking in the area. Then there's the Arab slavers, who have their own agenda which doesn't welcome interference from the White Queen's men. Either or both could make a move against the Imperial force, directly in the field or against the LoC. Should I first play out the Imperial attack on the town, or an attack on the Barsetshire's halfway supply station at Tylers Knoll? Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sceptered Isle - post game

George Alcock, RIP. The Tribune was heard to mutter that he would probably have ordered Alcock shot at dawn for the three farms fiasco had Alcock survived the engagement.

The BUF suffered sixteen casualties. Of these 8 will never return, 4 will miss the next game, 4 will return to duty right away. Sergeant Huggins is promoted from the ranks to fill Alcock’s position. The Tribune is Displeased with the platoon’s performance and the current rating is -3, meaning -1 level of Support for each mission. The platoons morale drops but not as much as it would have had Alcock still been around. Their morale is now at -2. On the bright side those men that routed retired safely but will miss the next engagement. Six men missing from the first action at the airfield will return for the next encounter. Huggins outlook is Thoughtful.

The Anglican League suffered a mere four casualties. Of these, 2 are lost for good, 1 will miss the next encounter, and 1 returns to duty right away. Lt. Oliver Southgate’s stunning victory over the BUF has elevated him further in the eyes of his CO and the platoon. The capture of a BUF L3/33 adds to the spoils. The Colonel’s opinion is now at +4 giving the platoon +1 level of support for each mission. The platoon is pleased with Southgate’s improving battle skills, and their morale now stands at +1. 

The next step on the campaign ladder will take the Anglican League platoon into action against the BUF's main defences, located in the Domesday village of Ingham.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Drums at the Rapids

On Friday evening I had the pleasure of going to the Drums at the Rapids wargames con up at Fort Meigs, near Toledo. Like a twit I came out of doors in a rush and forgot my camera, which was a shame. The fellows had a wide variety of games going on from French-Indian War, WW2 aerial and onward to ground combat and various SF games; all nicely done. I had my eye on the A Canal Too Far game, a Victorian Sci-Fi romp with allied British and Prussian forces against Martians. I took my Aerial Flyer to show off to like-minded gamers. Unfortunately the guy running the game couldn't make it, so I opted for a Rorkes Drift game run to TSATF rules.

I took command of the British defenders of the outpost, modeled very nicely with a laser-cut MDF rendition of the famous storehouse/hospital. This was the first time I've played TSATF rules, and I found them very... bloody. Whilst I was able to deal with the Zulu charges on the barricades (aided by a verse of Men of Harlech and Lt. Chard and his belt-fed Webley), I suffered severely from dropping fire coming into the compound from the great hill. This whittled down my troops until the penultimate Zulu charge of the scenario swamped my men, cutting them down to a man. Bromhead was the last to fall. A good game, played with nice guys and all in a good spirit.

Another game played in the hall was a Pulp 1920's caper, with superb city scenery, including a movie theater with a lit marquee and flashing wall sign. Again, I wish I had my camera.

Returning to the main hall to collect my flyer I found a gamer admiring it. I showed him the optional armament and he promptly made me a generous offer for it!

So, another Aerial Flyer will begin rising on the slipway one of these days...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

This Sceptered Isle - Clash on the Roman Road

Platoon III, Saint Edmund the Martyr Cohort of the BUF had heard the airplane fly past at low altitude east of their position. They had seen the gunfire rise into the sky from the Anglican League outpost to the north-east, followed soon after by the sounds of a crash. It had kept them entertained for a while and lifted the gloomy thoughts engendered by their recent hard defeat at the hands of the League.

What they didn't expect was the bloodied figure of a man who staggered into their lines as dawn shaded the eastern sky.

He wore a torn and stained RAF flying rig, beneath which was a quality suit from a bespoke tailor's on Saville Row. The severed chain dangling from his wrist also drew interest. The NCO commanding the pickets had the sense to summon Under Leader George Alcock to the spot. He questioned the man, who appeared to have suffered a blow to the head, rendering his speech less than coherent. What he did say chilled Alcock to the bone. "The jewels. I hid them. Briefcase. Farmhouse. Must... recover them... For the King!"

The disappearance of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London had electrified the country. Few other topics of conversation were heard. Alcock looked up the A134 from whence the man came. "There are three farms up that way, sir. Which one did you hide the jewels in?"

But the man had lapsed into a coma. The platoon medic examined him and pronounced his patient would be lucky to regain consciousness.

Alcock rubbed his jaw and thought quickly. "We'll have to recover the jewels. Summon the platoon and get HQ on the phone..."

Tribune Forster-Oliphant didn't like being woken at such an early hour, especially by Alcock, who was not in his good graces. His displeasure rang clear down the phone up to the moment Alcock told him what was afoot in caged terms. "The missing... ah, valuables from London are nearby, sir. An aircraft crashed up the road with a King's Messenger aboard. He hid them in a farmhouse. I can lead my men and recover the... ah, items, but the chances are the traitors of the League will try for them also. I request reinforcements."

The Tribune breathed deeply for a few moments. "Right," he said at last. "I'll see what I can do, but this had better not be a wild goose chase or I'll have your guts for garters. Now, get going, man!"

Alcock dropped the phone into its cradle and left his headquarters. The platoon waited outside. Lately they'd been surly and indifferent to his presence. The arrival of the King's Messenger in their midst had set rumors flying, and they now awaited Alcock with interest. Alcock put his hands on his hips, unconsciously mimicking his hero Sir Oswald Mosely, and addressed them. "Men! We have a crisis at hand. A great treasure has fallen nearby and is in danger of being taken by traitors. We must, we will, recover them! To arms!" 

The platoon already carried their rifles. Alcock led them toward the road, regretting once again their lack of light machine guns. With luck we'll be in and out quickly enough there won't be a fight... 
* * * *
As usual I use Chain of Command rules with adaptations for AVBCW. The Anglican League was aided by a section of Police, counted as Green for this game along with the rest of the AL. The BUF upgraded one of their sections to veteran. Both sides had armored support due to arrive on a roll of 1 on a d6 ten moves after the game began.

The game terrain. Left to Right: Bridge Farm, Grange Farm, Brookfield Farm. The A134 runs approximately through the middle. North is to the top.

The patrol phase, with the AL approaching from the north, the BUF from the south. The terrain favored the AL.

Lieutenant Southgate leads his men into Grange Farm.

Across the road, Under Leader Alcock took possession of Brookfield Farm.

The main thrust of the BUF force approached from the south, with the veteran section moving up along the A134.

Over to the west, an AL section rushed across the open meadow to take Bridge Farm.

Hostilities opened with Grange Farm coming under heavy attack. The men of the BUF veteran section found the hedge lining the lane didn't offer as much cover as they'd hoped. The AL Lewis gun did particular execution, but not without the AL section taking casualties in return. Southgate began to worry as accurate rifle fire downed a number of his men. Three factors came to his aid: The shock on the BUF veterans mounted quickly and their firepower dropped off to match: Not far away to the west, the Anglican League's third and last section was outflanking the BUF position: To the north the Police section had arrived and was providing some support by firing (to modest effect) through the hedge. The BUF section occupying Brookfield Farm sent plenty of rifle fire in the direction of Grange Farm's upper floors but failed to hit anything!

When the third AL section reached the turn of the hedge around Grange Farm they opened up, catching the hapless BUF in a crossfire. The veteran section had had enough by now and the two BUF sections broke and ran. The AL third section was in a prime position to shoot them down as they ran - but their junior leader refused to order them to do so with the words "Don't lower yourselves to their level, lads."

...to be met by the arrival of two L3/33 tankettes. Tribune Forster-Oliphant had kept his word - but had they arrived too late?

A Very light fired from Brookfield Farm summoned the tankettes. Not fancying their chances against the AL holding Grange Farm they penetrated the roadside hedge and headed across the ploughed field toward the farm - only for one of the pair to run into severe difficulties when it bogged down in the soft soil. After several minutes spent in increasingly desperate attempts to free the vehicle the crew gave up and ran for safety, leaving their companions to head on alone.

The Anglican League consolidated their hold on Grange Farm. Sergeant Hayes lined his men up along the hedgerow in case the tankettes came their way. When they failed to do so he decided to take the initiative and attack Brookfield Farm.

To his relief assistance came in the shape of a Vickers Light Tank Mk. VIb. He wouldn't have to face the tankette without armor support of his own. After a quick conference the tank commander agreed to assist the police in their assault. The tankette fired upon it but failed to do any damage, retreating hurriedly behind the house. The tank ignored the puny attack, concentrating on hosing the farm with MG fire. Under Leader Alcock directed his men to the ground floor, ready to escape...

...but the tank's fire proved deadly accurate. Casualties amongst the BUF and AL leaders had been non-existent - up to now. The final volley of Vickers fire cut down Under Leader Alcock as he passed a shattered ground floor window on his way to the back door. His men were already disheartened by events and disgusted with their leadership. The death of Alcock and the approach of the coppers proved the final straw. They broke and ran, not noticing that Alcock clutched a monogrammed briefcase in his dead hands...
* * * *
Police Sergeant Hayes entered the farmhouse. Its confines reeked of cordite and spilled blood. He glanced around at the dead and dying BUF men and shook his head. "They'd legged it," he called back to his men. "Three of you come with me; the rest go see those gentlemen off the premises."

He scouted further into the house. Below a shattered window he found the body of a short chubby man with a ridiculous mustache. He clutched a once-fine briefcase, its flap bearing the Royal cypher. The lock had taken a bullet and opened easily at his touch. He looked inside and drew out a golden oil spoon. One glance with his eye, experienced in evaluating stolen goods, told him it was old and valuable.

"What's that, sarge?" one of his men asked, staring at it.

Hayes sighed and dropped the object back in the case. "That, son, is the most expensive bloody spoon you'll ever see."
* * * *
So, the Anglican League took the field and victory over their foes - but the Norfolk Constabulary have taken the prize; the consignment of Crown Jewels. Thoughts on the game and the aftermath to come in the next few days. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

This Sceptered Isle - Somewhere over Suffolk

The following is a novelization of the lead-up to a recent clash in my Very British Civil War universe as part of the Sceptered Isle international wargame campaign. It contains a few naughty words and political views written in context. If this offends the reader's sensibilities, stop reading now.

* * * *

King's Messenger William Tuck-Poynter OBE huddled in the rear cockpit of the biplane and shivered. He wished he were anywhere else but flying over the moonlit Suffolk countryside in the bitter early hours of a Sunday morning. Cold air stung the exposed part of his face between flying helmet, goggles and scarf. His arse stung from an onset of hemorrhoids that had chosen to begin hours earlier as he waited for the flight out of London. To cap it all, he had little idea who would meet him at Sandringham and relieve him of the terrible burden contained in the briefcase clamped between his legs. For the umpteenth time he thought longingly of the warm bed in his Knightsbridge flat and the comforting arms of his French mistress, Juliette. 

He could see the helmeted head of the RAF pilot in the forward cockpit moving as the man searched for landmarks in the landscape below. He hoped the fellow knew what he was doing. They'd met scant minutes from takeoff, exchanging a brief handshake before climbing into the Avro 621 Tutor 'loaned' from an RAF Flying School. Is he reliable? Does he know what we're about? Tuck-Poynter fretted and dozed intermittently as the minutes ticked by.  

A jet of flame lit the bright yellow wings and fuselage, waking him in an instant. The engine rattled and gave a nasty-sounding cough. Tuck-Poynter fumbled with the mike for the pilot-trainee intercom. "What the blazes was that?" He had to shout into the mike to be heard above the blattering roar of the engine. The pilot craned his head to look back. Tuck-Poynter heard his drawling reply in the helmet earpieces. "We're having a spot of trouble with the old coffee grinder. Hang on... Honington aerodrome's nearby. I think they finished the runway. We'll have to land there."

"Oh Hell! Do we have to?" 

He sensed the pilot's glare even through the man's goggles. "It's that or fall out of the fucking sky, old son! Now, hold on!"

The biplane began a troubled descent, the engine sounding like a concrete mixer full of gravel. Tuck-Poynter hunched deeper into the cockpit and prayed like he'd seldom prayed since leaving prep school many years before. He risked a glimpse outside. Treetops rose to meet him and he shut his eyes.

Bang! Bang!

"What the hell was that?"

"We're taking ground fire! The natives are hostile - " A stream of red tracers shot past the right wing then slammed into the biplane. BangBangBangBangBang! "Ugh!"

The Tutor swayed and dipped then executed a violent lurch to the left. Tuck-Poynter's stomach rose and he tasted bile in his mouth. "What's wrong?"

Pain filled the pilot's voice. "I'm hit. Damn good shooting by whoever that was. The A134's over that way. I'll... try... to set... her down."

The biplane lurched and staggered across the sky. Tuck-Poynter's prayers grew more vehement by the second. With a final twist that brought his dinner into his mouth the airplane made a hard bank to the right then slammed to earth. Things crunched, shook and shattered. Moonlight filled the cockpit as the upper wing sheared off, dragged away by the tall hedges either side of the road. Metal shrieked and sparks flew. Tuck-Poynter screamed in fear. Then something slammed into his head and he blacked out...
* * * *
Police Sergeant Daniel Hayes stood in the doorway to the hut, peacefully smoking his pipe and looking out at the night. A short distance away Constable Travers strolled back and forth in front of the barrier set across the old Roman road, rifle slung on his shoulder, the crunch of his boots a regular and familiar sound. Since the local civil war had begun to heat up he and his men had manned the checkpoint on the A134 where it crossed the Suffolk/Norfolk border. A recent clash between the Anglican League from Thetford and the BUF from Bury St. Edmunds meant a redrawing of the battle lines and civilians to be protected from the mayhem. Hayes detested the BUF and didn't have much time for the Holy Rollers of the League, but at least the latter didn't shoot a chap if he disagreed with them. The Chief Constable had announced the police had to be seen as neutral in the whole sorry business, something Hayes agreed with fervently.

A distant buzzing sound impinged on his hearing. Hayes' early career in the RAF out in Egypt told him an airplane flew somewhere to the east. The sound was unusual enough in daytime, what with the fuel shortage and everything. To hear an airplane at night was unprecedented. He scratched his cheek thoughtfully with the stem of his pipe. There's something wrong with the engine...

The distant crack of rifle fire drew his attention. A stream of red tracers rose like fairy lights into the sky somewhere in the vicinity of the half-built aerodrome at Honington. "Sarge?" Travers pointed into the sky. "The League's shooting at something!"

"I see it, lad." Seconds later Hayes' sharp eyes picked out the shape of a biplane, flying above treetop height. It bore the yellow livery of the RAF training schools and looked in deep trouble. He turned his head to bellow at the watch sleeping in the hut. "Stand to!"

Constables tumbled out of bunks and groped for boots, belts and bundooks. Hayes ran out into the road, searching the sky for the biplane. It suddenly appeared, almost overhead, and dipped toward the road. It landed hard. Hayes winced as the undercarriage collapsed. The wings tore free as the aircraft hurtled along the road in the direction of Bury St. Edmunds, shedding sparks like a grindstone. It stayed in the cut of the road for a good many yards before coming to rest, cocked up on the western bank, engine thrust into the hedge. The cessation of sound made his ears ring

His men emerged from the hut. Hayes directed his voice to the Constable on sentry duty. "Travers? You're the most awake. Get on the blower to HQ, tell 'em there's a plane down. The rest of you, come with me..."
* * * *     
Lieutenant Oliver Southgate stood by the hangar, rubbing sleep from his eyes and watching as the strange aircraft staggered off toward the highway. A thin trail of smoke streamed from its engine, shining pale in the moonlight. From the sound of it, the thing was not going to stay airborne for long. 

His platoon formed up on the hard stand in front of the hanger doors, their voices rising in excited chatter. The men who'd fired at the biplane when it came near fingered rifle and Lewis gun, their eyes bright with blood-lust and achievement. "Quiet!" Southgate's voice, long accustomed to the environs of the schoolroom, cut through the chatter. The men stilled instantly, memories of childhood and the deadly aim the average schoolmaster possessed with chalk and blackboard eraser etched deep into their minds. "That's better. Everyone here? Good. Sentries, stand your ground." A distant but loud crash announced the demise of the airplane. Southgate nodded. "Beardsley, go phone HQ, tell them what happened and ask for reinforcements. The rest of you, come with me."

He led them at a jog-trot down the lane toward the metaled surface of the A134. A Norfolk Constabulary checkpoint stood there, established soon after his recent victory over the Fascists of the BUF. Southgate felt a warm glow of pride in that memory. The hunger for more glory burned in his soul like the religious fervor that had brought him into the ranks of the Anglican League. He'd spoken with the copper in charge, a solid-looking Sergeant named Hayes, and found him agreeable if a little offish. Hopefully there won't be any bother over this airplane. I wonder whose it is?
* * * *
William Tuck-Poynter came-to an indeterminate time later. Warm, wet fluid dribbled down his face and into his eyes, stinging them. He pulled off the heavy gauntlets given him by the ground crew before take off and wiped the stuff away, feeling the stickiness of blood on his fingers. Groggily, the words of his old governess came back to him, echoing across the years, spoken after a daring boyhood scrape had tapped his claret. 'Scalp wounds always bleed copiously. I'll patch it up, it'll soon be all right.' 

He grunted and half-climbed, half-rolled out of the shattered cockpit. The briefcase trailed from his wrist, shackled there by a metal cuff, dragging like a sheet-anchor on a boat. The wretched cuff and chain had been a thorough pain in the backside to get under the stiff leather gauntlet. Aggregate met his boots; the fuselage sat on the road surface, canted at an angle with the engine thrust into the roadside hedge. The pilot slumped forward in his harness. As Tuck-Poynter shook the man's shoulder the pilot emitted a soft groan. Tuck-Poynter glanced around, saw a distant hut farther up the road. A checkpoint? Activity boiled around it. He lowered his voice. "Where are we?" The pilot groaned again and Tuck-Poynter shook him harder, heedless of any harm he might inflict on the pilot's existing injuries. "Where the blazes are we?"

"The A134." The pilot's left hand came up and he waved in a southerly direction. "Bury St Edmunds that way. BUF. They... take care... of..." The pilot's voice slurred and stopped as he passed out. 

Tuck-Poynter glanced around again desperately. To the north he saw the distinctive shape of police caps up the road near the checkpoint. "Hell's bells!" A couple of hundred yards away to the south he could see rooftops poking up above the hedgerows. Tucking the briefcase under his arm like a rugby ball he sprinted southward, aches, pains and a thundering headache beginning to make themselves felt. With luck and a following wind I'll make it to safety. His instructions burned in his mind. 'The Jewels must not fall into any other hands but the King's and those duly appointed by him!' The Court Chamberlain's eyes had burned with urgency. 'Fail at your peril, Mr. Tuck-Poynter!'

He gritted his teeth and ran, like the college prop-forward he'd once been. "Don't worry. A Tuck-Poynter has never let the side down yet!"

Monday, May 11, 2015

This Sceptered Isle

My wife and I are back from Marcon 50 where we had a great time this weekend. The atmosphere was terrific, with plenty of folks to meet and share SF/Fantasy and gaming nerdiness with. I sold all my artwork, the Aerial Flyer was a hit, and I even got to meet Steve Jackson (yes, that Steve Jackson). Having seen to the garden (the lawn seems to have grown three inches in as many days!) I've turned my thoughts to my next game in A Very British Civil War context. Which brings me to this...

The famous "PK", AVBCW buff and illustrator extraordinaire conceived a multi-national gaming effort in the genre set around the theft of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. The poster explains the background. To quote PK...

"38Fest2015: This Sceptred Isle is a celebration of 1938 A Very British Civil War, where it hopes to bring together the whole VBCW community with the aim of an international game, yes international, as some of the players and followers of this are chaps who live outside of these Isles and it would unfair to exclude them from the enjoyment of this. So what is planned is a series of games based on the scenario below that will feed into the Partizan game, in Newark, on 31st May. What we are hoping if this is a success that more of these campaign style event which happen in the future and help drive the VBCW plot along."

You can't say fairer than that. My own game will take place in the disputed area between the towns of Thetford in Norfolk and Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. With luck and a following wind I'll play it through to Chain of Command rules tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Launching the Aerial Flyer

'Tis complete! The vessel left the slipway this afternoon and soared into her natural environment, the sky.

Last touches included the navigation lights on the deck house and mast, painting and varnishing the sides and lower hull, and painting the 57mm Rotary Cannon.

The crew are Riveresco naval personnel.

The navigation lights are pearl-type plastic beads glued to a short section of plastic tube then inked and varnished. A pin through the bead hole secures it to the flyer.

I decided against using any decals so I could keep the model generic enough to suit any owner/operator.

And the optional aerial torpedo configuration.

To round things off I made a flight stand. When I explained to my lovely lady wife what a Flyer is and where it's to be encountered, she pointed out that the base should be red to fit in with Martian terrain. I took up her suggestion and made one side of the flight base red, the other green for deployment to Earth or Venus. The red looks rather hotter in the photo than in real life, but I might give it a wash of terracotta to tone it down more.

So there we have it. It gives me a real feeling of accomplishment having completed this little model after three weeks or so of effort. As it happens I've been invited to display the Aerial Flyer at the upcoming Marcon Multiple Realities convention in Columbus, OH this weekend, so it'll be there in all its VSF glory.

My next project may well be a private exploration vessel or yacht - something along the lines of this...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Railings and Rotary Cannon

We have the first truly nice weekend weather this year, so we've been really busy with the garden. I still had time to make a few additions to the Aerial Flyer, though.

I stained the deck to lose the fresh-out-of-the-dockyard starkness, giving it a more weathered look instead. I might use a more dilute wash for the deckhouse, which looks far too white. The railings are also now in place. These are Riveresco stanchions which come pre-drilled. I would've preferred to have used brass rod for the rails themselves but didn't have enough for the purpose. Some dark blue thread did the job, though. 

Up front is the 57mm Rotary Cannon, which is more or less complete apart from some aiming gadgets. The underside of the hull is undercoated, and I will add navigation lights either side of the deckhouse and at the masthead. A flight stand is under way, and needs a lick o' paint to finish it. With luck and a following wind, I might even complete the Flyer tomorrow. Watch this space...


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