Friday, 25 December 2009

Limits And Renewals

There's only a few figures left in my metal molehill (as opposed to the normal wargamer's metal mountain). I won't be ordering any new material until the new year, so it's time to reflect on what I'm going to do next.

The first decision is that my Croat infantryman isn't up to the standard I want. Rather than waste time on creating a battalion from a figure I'm not happy with, I'm going to try working on the milliput master a bit more to see if I can improve it. The cuirassier, on the other hand, is good enough. I've just used the last of my small pile of unwanted figures (including the Croat rejects) to cast another four cuirassiers: with these painted the regiment will be at half strength. So I'll order some white metal to cast more from, along with silicone rubber for new moulds in the new year.

I really like the idea of building units using my own figures, and it's hard to restrain myself from grandiose ideas about sculpting all the figures for my Reichsarmee. I have learnt a few things from my first attempts and from the mistakes made so far - both on the techniques of sculpting and when making moulds. So it's worth taking time to explore further what I can acheive. This is where working on a solo project is advantageous: I have no schedules to keep to, there's no battle marked on the calendar that I must be ready for. So even if my experiment does not produce anything usuable, there's no harm done and I can enjoy the journey.

If I'm looking at creating multiple figures then I need to use a process that ensures some uniformity in scale and proportions. I shouldn't be trying to sculpt each individual figure totally from scratch. So my next step is to make some dollies - basic human forms without any detail - that can be used to simplify the process that has to be gone through each time I want to create a new figure.

Not Quite Vitruvian Man

As usual with my sculpting efforts, I will cheat like an Member of Parliament filling out his expenses. The trick, I think, is to replace art with a more methodical approach that can be used without any great skill. So this time I will use a 2D template (hence the image, not quite Vitruvian Man), as I did previously with the horse, to improve my chances of creating a figure with acceptable shape and form. I'm going to experiment with laying a wire skeleton on the template and then filling in the figure with milliput. If I leave the areas around the joints bare, the figure can be bent at the joints to pose it.

Friday, 18 December 2009

In my teenage years the only Charge! style units I possessed that were at full strength were artillery batteries and light infantry. The Airfix French Napoleonic Artillery set probably dominated the battlefield wherever Airfix models could be bought by teenagers (their Royal Horse Artillery set was ignored by aspiring European dictators for providing fewer cannon per box). Building a light infantry battalion took a little more effort, but with a single box of Waterloo British Infantry, painted as 95th rifles, you had figures to spare.

Innkeepers Eye View Of Freikorps Le Noble. Stadden Grenadiers With Milliput Hats

So it is something of a surprise to find it has taken me two years in my project before the first unit of light infantry is fully mustered. But, finally, the full complement of officers and musicians has now been added to Freikorps Le Noble. I have to say I do have some qualms about how those drummer boys are going to fare mixed up with such a desperate crew.

More Of The Same

Using the Stadden grenadier for the rand and file does cause some difficulties of scale. Stadden seems to have sized them to fit the Potsdam giants of Frederick the 1st and so they tower over their officers. That reminds me again of the old Airfix days where Highlanders and the Old Guard were both surprisingly puny compared to other troops.

Friday, 11 December 2009

A Swirling Mass Of cavalry?

"Now the whole area forward of the Sittangwald was filled by a swirling mass of struggling cavalrymen". This is the description to be found in Charge!, in the opening stages of the Battle of Sittangbad. I will be guilty of hyperbole if I ever use anything like it myself. A more truthful description will be that large numbers of cavalrymen sat on their horses looking at each other. There is a downside to the sedate, parade ground poses that I prefer for my figures.

Cavalry Yes, Swirling No

As the photos show, the first squadron of my Hohenzollern Kurassiere is complete. It's slightly late, as I can happily state is only appropriate for a unit of the Reichsarmee: the only wonder is that they mustered with such useful accessories as a horse for every man.

Not Really A Mass Either

Painting up that squadron was great fun, and I shall use the enthusiasm generated to see me through a few less enjoyable tasks. I have a fair few figures - all in the eye-candy class - that have been waiting to be painted while I got ready the figures that were absolutely necessary for my refight of Action. So while the rank of file of all the units involved were present and correct on the field of battle, a fair number of their officers and drummers (gaudy fellows with overly complex uniforms that I hate painting) remained in barracks.

The first unit to turn to is my battalion of light infantry. I have just one officer to look after 24 men of Le Noble's Freicorps. That's not enough command and control to get a rabble like that out of the nearest Bierkeller, let alone keep them in line when the bullets start flying.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Return of the Prodigal Dilettante

I'd gotten past the hurdle of sculpting the figures. I'd made the moulds. I'd even cast some figures. But there it all stopped, while the sun beckoned and it was good to be outside. But now it's the annoying cold part of the year when the more naive type of goose is getting fat, and there's nothing to be done in the garden except shiver and bolt back inside the house as quickly as possible. All very depressing, but it does at least persuade me to get back to the various modelling projects that have lain unattended for so very long.

The priority job (that's common wargamer parlance for the most enjoyable bit) is to work on the first squadron of my Reichsarmee Cuirassiers. I'd cast a full squadron's worth of these gentlemen before breaking off for the summer. The next task, cleaning up what can fairly be described as very bad castings is quite a lengthy one. But, with commercial cavalry figures, I always had to cut off reins and saddle blankets, so the amount of time involved isn't so very different and there's less damage done to fingers by my clumsy knifework.

One unresolved problem from last winter was what musket to equip the cuirassiers with. I started by looking at the sensible suggestion that has been made of simply buying some muskets. But looking at those available, I can't find any that suit my tastes. Separate muskets by Stadden or Suren - in the slender style I prefer - aren't available, those muskets that I have seen are typical examples of 'cartoon fodder'.

The temptation at this stage was to avoid the problem by not issuing the cuirassiers with any muskets at all. There's some justification for doing this: in the Reichsarmee, where a fair proportion of the infantry would be lacking a properly functioning musket, the cuirassiers would very probably be the last to receive them. But I decided against this easy solution on the non-historical grounds that the more clutter I can add to the figures the less obvious the flaws in the castings are.

So my plan is to make my own. This shouldn't be too difficult: after all, most of an 18th Century musket is the barrel. I can model that in about 5 seconds flat by cutting a length of brass rod. As usual, my intention is to cheat as much as possible and use a paper template as a guide: no relying on that artist's sense of scale and proportion that I don't possess. The Wikipedia article on 'musket' includes a lovely jpeg of the article: this can be suitably scaled and then printed out. As an aside, I'd suggest doing this as a useful exercise for anyone who doesn't understand my criticism of commercial castings: the real thing is very elegant and slender compared to what is on offer from figure manufacturers. But be warned: the revelation may be an uncomfortable one.

The production process is very simple and surprisingly quick: a paper template with lots of muskets on it is printed out. 1/32" brass rod is cut to the length of the barrel with about 7mm extra to be incorporated into the stock (actually as these are for cavalry I have chosen to shorten the barrel considerably). The brass rod is bent where the stock meets the barrel. It is then lain on the template and milliput is used to form the stock. Subsequent applications of milliput can be used to add as much detail as wanted; but the thing to note here is that the need for most detail is illusory because properly scaled it's too thin to be visible. If detail has to be horribly overscale, I'd prefer it to be left out.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

The photo shows the completed figure with a Suren cavalryman on Stadden horse for comparison on the left. My brass rod/milliput musket is clearly visible and is, I think, pretty successful. The figure as a whole is shown to disadvantage when placed next to what I still consider to be a first rate commercial figure. I hope to complete the full squadron within a week and this will show better whether it works as a wargames figure.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

'The Emperor thought the moment propitious to settle accounts with the arrogant and overbearing Petrus, and despatched an Army under the Archduke Guitar to seize and sack the Electoral captital'.

It is in small pieces of narrative such as this that I find a great deal of the charm in Charge! that has kept me interested in wargaming the past forty years. The image of a crumbling empire with its well-connected generals of doubtful talent leading their long-suffering troops to war somehow has great appeal. It is difficult to know exactly why - perhaps it resonates with real life experience and can be fun when the only lives at risk are little metal ones.

Oddly enough, I have never in the past attempted to build an Imperial Army. Perhaps I have been deterred by the reputation of an Army remembered for its routs rather than for its victories. So it is the blue-coated opponents of the Emperor to whom I have been drawn in the past. It is time to make amends for this shameful adherence to what, from my newly adopted viewpoint, can be considered as a rebel cause.

Figure manufacturers seem to view the ReichsArmee with the same amount of enthusiasm as the average wargamer. We can't really blame them for this: a manufacturer who devoted much of their time to such an army would starve due to lack of demand for their figures. So it is especially important to check that all the troop types I want are available.

The infantry of the line will use the Stadden Prussian musketeer figure: so long as I choose regiments whose uniform had a 'Prussian cut' this should not be too inaccurate. Casting my own figures would be very economical, but would be too time consuming given the number required. Light infantry will be provided by an Austrian contingent in the form of home-sculpted and cast Croats. No Imperial general left home without some of these gentlemen.

Uhlan - From Remarks on Cavalry, by Warnery

For heavy cavalry it was an easy decision to raise two regiments of cuirassiers, again using my own castings. Light cavalry are a more vexing problem. The armies in Charge! had a regiment of lancers on each side. This does not appeal to me as lancers are an unusual troop type in the Seven Years war, receiving little more notice in the histories than a few unkind remarks about Frederick's Bosniaks. Also, the dress of these lancers tends to be far too exotic for my taste. Hussars and Chevaulegers are more representative of the army and the period, but I have decided to evade the issue entirely by not raising any light cavalry regiments at all. My excuse for the omission is that, while light cavalry are unmatched for utility on campaign, they appear on the battlefield as inferior to their heavier brethren in what is only their secondary role. As I only intend to fight battles and not campaigns I feel it is best to field additional heavy cavalry in their place.

The gunners will almost certainly be Stadden AWI British manning an Elite Miniatures 6pdr as suggested by Der Alte Fritz. This option combines elegant figures with an elegant gun.

One disappointment in basing an army on the Reichsarmee is the lack of references for it. Project SYW does have some uniform information, and the detail it gives on its recruitment are fascinating. The thought of the single cavalryman owed by the Abbess of Gutenzell turning up for duty conjures up quite a picture.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Hohenzollern Cuirassiers

The first figures that I 'successfully' sculpted were a cuirassier and his horse. I have now cast and painted the first figure from this master, as is shown in the photo below.

I have painted him as a member of the Hohenzollern cuirassiers, a unit of the Reichsarmee. From the references I have seen for this unit, it is not certain as to whether the cuirass was worn over or under the coast. I chose to model the latter as this makes for a greater difference in look from the Prussian cuirassiers that will oppose them.

The figure still lacks a musket - I haven't made a mould for one yet. It's therefore not yet varnished, nor have metallics been painted. I usually add the musket at this stage - the varnish adding a little more strength to the bond given by the glue - so the figure will not be completed until a musket is available.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Grenze Infantry

My first attempt at creating my own figures has gotten all the way to a result of sorts. The process took a lot longer than expected: partly my own fault, due to my trying to juggle too many different projects simultaneously, but also due to the bizarre society in which we all live.

I live in a town with a population of 25,000 people, and to any rational observer it might seem that such a town would support a thriving shopping area. What we actually have is a high street with a large number of charity shops, interspersed with banks and building societies, a few genuine shops (none of which seem to have a long life) and a wide selection of places where you can get food poisoning or drunk, depending on your preference. To acquire something as rare as plasticine required a trip to the nearest city. Unadulterated talcum powder was not to be had, so my moulds are dusted with baby powder (relieving me from any anxiety over my soldiery getting nappy rash).

The Silicone rubber I bought on the web from Alec Tiranti's. The mould making was poorly executed (if anyone can claim to be able to control the wilful determination of silicon rubber to explore the world far from the confines of a mould I can only envy him). I let the moulds dry out for some time before attempting casting. My wariness on this point owed much to an incident in my youth when I poured metal into a damp plaster of Paris mould. This turned into an impressive demonstration of the power of the steam catapult, pieces of metal being deposited on the ceiling.

The Offending Article

I have so far cast just one infantryman, although I have the moulds for a cavalryman and his horse also ready. I wanted to paint my first figure up so I could assess whether the results were usable. This is the figure shown in the photo.

With any project like this there is always the danger that one will view the products on one's labour with the same level of impartiality as a mother has for her new-born babe. However, in this case, even I can see the figure has it's faults: I would describe it as hovering dangerously close to the limits of acceptability. In particular, the face came out looking more like a lunar landscape than a face (the photo shows the figure after it has been cleaned up considerably). The overall impression is encouraging though. It does at least conform to my most important criteria: correct (slim) bodily proportions and a pose that works well on the wargames table. If, on my first attempt, I can get a figure that is at least usable, then it is worth pursuing this in the hope that with experience, I will acheive better results next time.

My choice of uniform helps a lot here: it's taken from the Funcken depiction of the Karlstadter-Oguliner Croat on page 99 of volume 2 of the Lace Wars books. The reason for choosing this uniform is that it is bright and busy: something which distracts from the figure's many blemishes. On the wargames table (and with the aid of a 50 year old's eyesight) I am happy with the look of the figure. And there is one good feature of making one's own figures that applies here: if I sculpt a better figure in the future this fellow can be melted down and reborn again.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Crunch

One disappointment in our recent refight of Action! was the absence of any attempt by cavalry to charge infantry in line. As long-term users of the Charge ruleset, we have in the past always written off such an event as inevitably resulting in nothing but woe for the cavalry. The Grantian rules include mechanisms which penalise infantry drawn up in only 2 deep line, and so I was keen to explore whether cavalry might - with these rules at least - expect a more fortunate outcome. The details of the rules I am thinking of are given on page 77 of 'The Wargame'.

Such a test does not require a proper battle and so I chose to lay out the necessary figures and try out the rules by myself. The starting position was a full regiment of dragoons drawn up facing an infantry battalion, also at full strength, deployed in line. I assumed that the infantry had not fired in the previous turn, being content to reserve their fire until just before the moment of impact. I decided, however, not to allow them their first fire bonus.

Starting Position

The Grant rules give the infantry a 50-50 chance of firing at close or medium range, giving -2 or -3 on the dice of each firing group for effect. If this were the sole factor determining losses then casualties would be likely to be heavy at either range, with 8 firing groups resulting in 13 or 8 casualties given average dice rolls. However, in practice there is considerable scope here for multiple hits on the same trooper: each firing group of 6 infantry is only firing at 3 cavalry (note 1). In my refight I scored only 4 casualties firing at medium range (and would have scored 8 casualties if firing at close).

I assumed that front rank losses amongst the cavalry could be filled in from the rear. Thus 12 cavalry charged home. I assumed the average number of breakthroughs (ie. 6) merely throwing for their position. I chose to allow a cavalryman who achieved a breakthrough to remain where he was if he was still in contact with at least one of the enemy (note 2).

After Firing And Breakthroughs

I was now at a moment where the strength of the Grant rules was in evidence: not only had the infantry already suffered casualties that would not have occurred under the Charge! rules, but their formation was sufficiently broken to allow the cavalrymen a far better chance in the subsequent melee. Almost every fight was at 2:1 in the cavalry's favour. In Charge! the cavalry would be facing an unbroken array of bayonets with many more 1:1 combats. This showed in the result, with eight more infantry falling as opposed to only one dragoon.

After The Melee

At the end of the melee, 14 infantry had fallen while the dragoons had lost 5 (or 9). With -3 on their morale due to the number of breakthroughs, as well as a further penalty due to the number of their losses the infantry would have a fair chance of failing their morale throw. Whether the dragoons were in a position to take advantage of this would also be a matter of some doubt: their chances of making a morale throw depending on whether they took losses due to close or medium range musketry.

I have to admit that all of this relies on a very shaky knowledge of the Grant rules. But I do like the mechanisms involved. The importance of steady infantry holding their fire until close range, and the 'feel' of the breakthrough rules seemed to give a flavour of the British infantry's desperate fight against the flower of the French cavalry at Minden.

Note 1: This is based on a very hazy understanding of 'target groups' given the musketry rules given on pages 33-37.

Note 2: In this case I decided the rear rank infantryman would still fall back - he'd probably be more inclined to think of his wife and children at this moment than wish to seek revenge for his fallen comrade.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Afterthoughts on Action! And More Blobs

Our refight of Action has seen me pondering over my choice of rules. When I was fighting battles with my friends as teenagers (some 30 years ago) we always used the Charge rules. There wasn't any real logic to this choice: they simply happened to be the first set of rules that we read and, as we were happy with them, there didn't seem to be any need to explore the issue further. After so many years, using the Grantian rules for the first time has therefore been something of a revelation.

I found that I much preferred the musketry rules from the Grant set. They have slightly more involved mechanics than the Charge ones but give good value for the extra effort. I feel they reflect how range affects the effectiveness of musketry far better than Charge does: our bickering at longish ranges were satisfyingly ineffective.

The Grant morale rules also worked well, although we would attend to proper bookkeeping next time. The Charge method of 49% casualties=no effect, 51%=total loss was never particularly satisfying.

The use of artillery templates as per the Grant rules we avoided and will continue to avoid. I have never found this device usable: often moving a template just a fraction of an inch can radically alter the number of figures within its area. This is not something that works well in a game with any sort of competitive edge. Fortunately a mechanism based on the Charge rules can be substituted here.

We never got a chance to try out the cavalry vs infantry (ie. the breakthrough) rules. In our game, by the time that the infantry columns had been roughed up sufficiently for them to be vulnerable, neither side was in a position to use them. Soubise's Gensdarmes were trying to rally (and failing every kind of dice throw they made), Kornberg's dragoons were better employed as a 'threat in being' to limit Soubise's options. Even so, the existence of these rules had some impact on the game as both sides felt the threat that cavalry posed. Using Charge rules, we were always confident that the casualties suffered to musketry in the charge would make the cavalry regret attempting to charge an infantry battalion.

Cavalry Man and (with luck) Croat

On the sculpting side, progress continues at a pace sufficient to make the average snail look like an olympic athlete. It's still great fun although, with the realisation that it might just result in a usable figure or two, there comes the the daunting prospect of having to try and make a mould. In addition to the cavalry figure, I'm now also working on what I hope might turn into something resembling a Croat.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

A Frivolous Action! Part 2

Turns 4 and 5 saw the musketry duel in the centre develop. Kornberg was struggling to form a better battleline. His grenadiers reformed in four deep line behind the cover of the stone wall, and his gun was moved to fill the gap between them and the fusiliers. The dragoons moved up to the right flank of the fusiliers and deployed into two deep line.

Some poor shooting from his men prompted Soubise to advance slightly to close the range. Meanwhile, his jaeger circled around the left flank of the grenadiers.

The musketry duel was largely ineffective, both sides losing little more than a handful of men. Kornberg was fortunate not to be more severely punished, his forces generally having fewer men able to fire due to the evolutions being asked of them. The Gensdarmes lost two men to enemy fire in these turns: while not severe, this discouraged them from advancing further and they were therefore unable to deploy into line.

Turn 6 saw the critical moment: one squadron of the dragoons charged the Gensdarmes. The resultant melee saw the Gensdarmes lose two men to the dragoon's one and thereby decide to go rather precipitously to the rear. Elsewhere firing continued to take a steady, if small, toll of both sides.

Turn 7 added to Soubise problems. Kornberg's jaeger emerged from the woods to pour fire onto the Gensdarmes, and knock down another 3 cavalrymen. If Soubise's problems were not bad enough, the fire of the fusiliers shot down two officers from the left flank musketeers regiment. As that regiment had already lost one officer earlier it was suddenly looking very fragile despite having the fullest ranks of any regiment on the field.

Turn 8 added to Soubise's misery with another officer falling and, inevitably, the regiment now gave way. Soubise had moved to join the Gensdarmes and was now struggling to reform them while they were being tormented by the fire of Kornberg's jaeger.

Soubise's Left Gives Way

The last four turns saw Kornberg able to gradually mop up. Soubise did finally manage to get the Gensdarmes to charge the jaeger that were tormenting them. However, they lost another four men in the charge and fell below half strength. On the other flank, the second musketeer battalion found itself engaged by the main strength of Kornberg's forces and inevitably gave way, albeit after a splendid resistance. Soubise's Jaeger and gun were left to absent themselves by devious paths.

Monday, 23 February 2009

A Frivolous Action! Part 2

The opening two turns saw both armies advancing at a reckless pace. It seemed that neither General was prepared to hold back and take a defensive position. Soubise was displaying signs of unusual energy (it is possible that some carousing on the previous night had got his blood up) and was enthusiastically talking about 'not letting the enemy take the initiative'. Kornberg was living up to his fiery nature with a headlong advance, with little regard for tactical niceties.

Turn 2 complete: Kornberg's grenadiers wonder if he's trying to get them killed

Turn 2 complete: View from Soubise's left flank

By turn three the range had rapidly closed and a musketry duel could not be long delayed. Kornberg halted the leading grenadiers, while the remaining companies were ordered to seek cover behind the stone wall on their left. His fusiliers, nervous at the sight of the Gensdarmes massing opposite formed a four rank line on the grenadier's flank (note 1). His jaeger, continued their lone advance along the edge of the woods on the extreme right.

Soubise had played his hand well and viewed his position with satisfaction. His jaeger continued pushing around the enemy's left flank, and with plenty of bad terrain to provide safe cover, were happily positioned for an good day's bickering. His gun (note 2) now unlimbered, having an good position from which to play on the grenadiers. His infantry halted and presented their muskets ready to fire, while the Gensdarmes covered their flank, occupying what little space remained before the second stone wall.

At the end of the turn both sides engaged in long range musketry. Kornberg ordered the leading two companies of grenadiers to fire: four enemy musketeers falling. Soubise replied with the leading companies of both his regiments: the grenadiers losing five men and an officer, the fusiliers (to whom only a small proportion of shot was directed) losing a single man.

At this juncture, Kornberg was confronted with the possibility that there was more to generalship than shouting 'Forwards' and waving one's sword around. His army was badly positioned and a good drubbing seemed likely to be the result. As to whether he managed to do anything about this, well, I shall relate this as soon as I may.

Note 1) Neither general had played the Grant rules before, and both were rather fixated by the breakthrough mechanism by which cavalry can punish infantry drawn up in less than four ranks.

Note 2) As both forces were little more than advanced guards we ruled that only light guns were present. We decided to use Charge! rules for firing cannon (I find templates both slow and hard to use) and used 6" range increments (ie 36" max range). This meant that the guns were little more than a minor irritant, something that I much prefer.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

A Frivolous Action

Soubise reined in his horse and cast his penetrating gaze over the field of battle. Summoning his staff with one imperious gesture, he addressed them with the confidence and poise that only centuries of breeding can confer. "Where exactly are we?" he said (note 1).

And so we have finally arrived at our frivolous version of Action! I hope to write it up over the next few days, but for now here's the photo of the starting positions. Orders of battle for both sides were as in the original battle, save that each had only the one company of light infantry, both possessed a single cannon, and we have used the names of our favourite generals.

The Position At Dawn Viewed From Kornberg's Tent

Note 1: What Soubise said was "Là où sommes exactement nous", but Soubise's schoolboy French was always eccentric. It is a sad fact that, long ago, Kornberg and Soubise sat next to each other in the special duffer's class for linguistically challenged boys in their grammar school.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Pale Rider

My experiment with sculpting is continuing: I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun doing something that I am not very good at. Despite my initial cynicism, I am seeing some progress and there does appear to be a chance that something usable will result.

Dobbin the horse is almost complete. I am still struggling with his head, and there is still his tack to put on. The mane is also proving problematic - getting a texture that indicates hair without going over the top is proving harder that I thought.

Dobbin and Master

I decided to try and sculpt a Reichsarmee cuirassier, with cuirass under his coat, for Dobbin's rider. This is a lot easier than doing foot figures. I found that getting a convincing looking gait on a marching infantryman was beyond me at this stage. My efforts all resulted in various knock-knee'd individuals, or unfortunates hunched over with a severe case of piles. While neither of these are particularly inappropriate for the Reichsarmee, well, it would be nice to put on a better show than that. With a rider the legs must conform to the shape of the horse's back, so that's easier as there's one degree of freedom less to worry about.

I have gotten the basic bodyshape, minus arms, complete. There's no details as yet: I am still adjusting the work done so far. Mostly this consists of paring off pieces of milliput to slim down the figure to more elegant proportions.

Progress is horribly slow. If I was trying to do this professionally I'd certainly starve. The difficulty is not merely in getting the shape of something right, but in avoiding damage - mostly in the form of breaking off recently applied milliput. I suspect that much of this is caused by my doing a lot of the work by carving milliput after it has set, whereas the professional does most of his work while the milliput is soft.

Monday, 2 February 2009

A Survivor's Guide To Sculpting A Horse

I noted in my previous blog entry that my first attempts at figure sculpting were a convincing demonstration that I am not able to create a decent wargames figure. At least not using the standard method of wire armature and epoxy putty: this blog will describe a further attempt, using a modified technique.

The problem, as I see it, is that the wire armature method does not provide a sufficient guide for the geometrically challenged. Once the wire is covered by putty it is entirely hidden, so the sculptor is left to compare his figure with whatever reference art he has at hand. I find this horribly difficult, attempting to find the correct position of a surface in 3D space with no adequate reference point. It occurred to me that, with access to a computer, an easier method could be used. I could take a silhouette of the figure I wanted, and create a 2D template of the correct size. This could then be rounded out to create a fully 3D figure, the edges of the 2D silhouette giving me the reference points that I need.

The method is obviously limited in scope, and is likely to produce a quite 'wooden' pose. But there is one common wargames figure, the standing horse, for which the method is entirely suitable. This would be a handy practice piece and the happy coincidence that it would have a fair chance of creating a usable figure encouraged me to give up on human figures for the moment.

The first step was to find an image of a horse in the public domain that could be used for the template. The one I found came from wikipedia, although with a digital camera there would be little difficulty in taking one's own shot. The image was scaled so that it could be printed out at exactly the size of the completed figure.

A layer of milliput about 2mm thick was applied to upper body parts of the image. Some bent wire was pushed into this at the root of the horses tail to add strength at that point. Once the milliput had set, the paper was torn off, and leg armatures made out of bent brass rod were added, more milliput being used to attach them and give the correct spacing. After this, successive layers of millput were added to give the body its 3D shape. I used a different colour milliput for the later stages so that I could easily see the edges of my original template.

Early Stage Horse

This could all be done quite quickly and without any great skill being required. The greater part of the work lies ahead: where I have to shape the detailed contours of the horse, trying to accurately model its musculature. This is where I suspect that Charles Stadden's wartime service in No.1 Mule Pack Transport Company, RASC aided him in creating some of the best wargames horses ever seen. In place of this I shall be using reference images from the web - a search on 'thoroughbred' in Google images has netted be a huge amount of material to use.

Horse With 'Rough Shaping'

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A Man Called Horse

There comes a time in every man's life when he goes a bit mad. He gets married, or he joins the Foreign Legion (or, possibly, having sampled the first he feels impelled to do the second). It seems that it is now my turn. Fortunately, being a wargamer, the forms of madness that are open to me include options that are not quite so hazardous as those available to the mere bulk of humanity. All of which is a painfully long way of saying that I have been having a first few attempts at sculpting my own figures.

There are a number of tutorials on the web on sculpting. While they are useful, I happen to think that they are all in error for one pretty fundamental reason: nobody will be able to create a figure that is up to standard on their first attempt, and they should recognise this before they try. Fortunately it isn't necessary to do this: you can develop your skills by working on less ambitious projects first. In my case I have been using milliput for 18 months now, using it to make a few simple conversions of commercial figures, and making very easy things like trees. What I intended to do next was an evaluation of how far I have gotten along the path to creating my own figures, and the answer was very likely to be somewhere between 'nowhere at all' and 'not very far'.

My first idea was to attempt to sculpt a Grenze infantryman. This did not go very well: two mishappen lumps later I really hadn't anything to show for the effort, although I have to admit it was fun trying. But I had gained a little insight into the problems involved, and my own limitations. Creating an armature and filling that in to create a basic humanoid shape was easy enough. But going beyond that; creating a body correct in all its proportions, and then cladding it realistically was still beyond me.

If I lack artistic ability then I do possess at least sufficient intelligence to look at the processes involved and try to find ways of making things simpler. And I think I have hit on a method that will do this. I'll go into this in a later post, but for now I'll simply show a photo of the progress so far.

'Dobbin' (Right) with Stadden Horse For Comparison

So far I have gotten the basic body shape fairly complete. The legs are still in a very crude state (and parts of the armature are still uncovered) but as they are the most delicate part of the figure I plan on leaving them until last. The hardest part is next: capturing the nuances of a horse's musculature is probably the part where I will fail. But it has been an excellent morale raiser just to get this far.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

A Bit Of A Bore (Part 2)

More than 200 Stadden infantry have passed through the recruiting sergeant's hands since I started this project. While the rest now march proudly in the ranks of the four battalions so far embodied, one unfortunate individual - known locally as the 'The Not So-Good Soldier Švejk' - has been separated from his fellows and left to languish in the spares box.

His problem stems from a little bit of crud that found its way into the mould when he was born into this world. Although it missed all his vital organs it found its way into the musket - the most vulnerable part of the casting. As a result, said musket was found to be fragile and, with a minimum of force, broke in two when tested. At the time I had no ready solution to the problem and so 'Švejk' was put to one side. He does, however, provide an opportunity for some experimentation. In my last post I expressed my reservations about the qualities of the 30mm musket: with the offending article broken on this casting I can try some surgery without risking a perfectly decent figure.

As John Preece noted in his comment on the last post, there was a time when Minifigs spears were noted for being rather more like the trunk of a tree than the bough from which a spear was made. One of their main competitors - Hinchliffe - addressed this problem by providing a length of steel rod with every spearman. I intend to use the same approach: using a piece of brass rod to replace the barrel, and to form the bayonet by beating the end of the rod flat. Having epoxied the rod onto the figure, some milliput can then be used to hide any gaps and replace parts of the wooden stock that were also lost when the musket broke.

Our Eponymous Hero - A Reformed Švejk

The accompanying photo shows Švejk as he now is. The task of fixing his musket turned out to be relatively simple: the one 'trick' of note is to avoid thinning the musket until after attaching the brass rod. The rod acts as a guide that can be used to slide the craft knife along, as well as strengthening the softer cast metal so it doesn't merely bend when attacked by the knife.

With Švejk summoned back from the dead. The final question was into which regiment I should put him. This was an easy one - where else should a soldier with a dodgy musket held together with brass rod and milliput go, but into the Reichsarmee? I have painted him in the uniform of IR Furstenberg, details being copied from Project SYW, except I have given him white gaiters.

Comparison shot of unmodified and 'improved' figures

As a repair for a broken figure, the method is (for me at least) a success. I am not entirely convinced that improvement to an unbroken figure would be sufficient reward for the amount of work involved: the last photo allows comparison with an unmodified figure. The original Stadden musket does not need replacement so urgently as on other, cruder, figures. However, the improvement is not only in original looks but also in durability - something that will only become apparent after the figure has seen some use.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

A Bit Of A Bore

By the standards of modern firearms, 18th century muskets were a crude device. The Prussian musket of the Seven Years War had a bore of roughly three quarters of an inch. The outer diameter of the barrel must have been a little less than an inch. Yet despite all this, if you look at an example of a musket, you will find it is elegantly shaped and is quite slender when compared to its length.

Firing A Brown Bess Musket (Image from Wikipedia)

Elegant and slender are not two adjectives that can be applied to typical wargames figure muskets. I recognise that we are limited by having to work with figures that can cope with rough handling. The best painted battalion in the world would still fail in its looks if its muskets were bent into a myriad of shapes or, worse still, broken off at the shoulder. But does this really force us to equip our metal heroes with weapons that look like ancient medieval arquebuses?

A musket correctly scaled would be no more than 1/60th of an inch in diameter. A certain thickening of the barrel is going to be necessary if we are to have muskets cast of ordinary metal that last for longer than a single campaign. But is it really necessary to decorate the barrel with metal hoops that scale up to a thickness of half an inch? These might be appropriate on a fantasy dwarf, but I find it hard to accept on an 18th century musket.

The Stadden figures that I use have relatively thin muskets compared to the common crowd. So slender that I find it difficult to store the figures: even just laying them flat, the barrels are prone to slight bending. Minden figures (which I do not own, but admire greatly) have slightly thicker muskets. Indeed their muskets do look rather ungainly to me, although I suspect this is partly because they accompany a figure that is otherwise very elegant indeed.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Plot So far

It was my plan to refight Action! this Christmas. This was a bad idea: if ever there is a time of year when it is difficult for two men to both find time to fight a wargame, then I suspect that Christmas is that time. It must be recognised that although this is the season of goodwill, the female half of the species will not extend the principle to wargamers who want to sneak off and play with 'toy soldiers'.

And so the only activity has been to muster all my forces, the product of about 20 months work, and see what exactly I have acheived in that time. As the photos show, there are a number of holes in the units currently enrolled that need to be fixed. The two infantry regiments that I painted first don't have static grass on their bases. This is not the kind of distinction I want for my senior regiments. The junior regiments are frequently missing officers and musicians.

The biggest decision I am struggling with involves a possible change of plan. I had originally intended to use all Prussian units for both sides. But I am now thinking about building the 'Imperial' forces using historical prototypes from the Reichsarmee. I have always been fascinated by this, possibly the worst European army in history.