Saturday, July 24, 2021

Stargrave: The Mostly Harmless

For the past couple of years, I've been getting together with some folks from the HAWKs for monthly skirmish games - 2018 and 2019 were Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago, 2020 was going to be This Is Not A Test (a post-apocalyptic game that ended up getting preempted by an actual apocalypse), and this year we're giving Stargrave a try. Stargrave is set in a pretty vague science fiction setting that reminds me mostly of Firefly with a touch of Star Wars - lots of space pirates and not many responsible adults. In June we played a test game, and since then I have been busily painting up a crew in preparation for this month's game. I probably won't end up keeping a detailed account of the campaign, but I thought it might be fun to introduce the crew of the Mostly Harmless.

Our captain, Martya Mickiewicz, a Robotics Expert. During the Last War, she rescued the Adams-class robofreighter Mostly Harmless, and she and the ship basically ended up adopting each other. Since then, they have put together a "salvage & retrieval" business, and picked up various crew along the way, mostly for their particular skills. (Figure is "Rosie, Chronotechnician").

The first mate, Ken Mori, is a young technolyte from Kanto Station, who fled after the mysterious death of his sensei. He still tends to dress in the Cybertraditionalist garb that echoes the Dawn Age of Computers. However, despite his odd archaic appearance, his computer skills are second to none. (Figure is "Devo Ranks, Cyberist").

EM-1LY (left) and T1D-B1T (right) are Martya and MH's robotic "kids". EM-1LY is the solid, reliable one, while T1D-B1T tends to wander off and get into mischief. (Figures are Medium and Small XairBots)

Ani Hernandez (left) and Zeke Nwamu (right) are old comrades of Martya's from the War. Ani is a biologist and the closest thing to a ship's doctor; Zeke is a mechanic and also the ship's cook. (Figures are "Bonnie", somewhat modified, and "Chit Jubal, Arkos Chopper.")

Sezem ka' Tlon (left) and Gunnush (right) are a bit of an odd pair - their species are traditional enemies (and they fought on opposite sides of the Last War) but ever since the crew of the Mostly Harmless rescued the two of them from the prison of the Black Comet gang, they have started to build a grudging respect for each other. (Figures are Rach and Malvernis soldiers.)

Xander Ras (left) is another recent recruit. He lost both legs as a child during the War, but since he joined the crew, Zeke and Martya have been able to upgrade his prosthetics considerably. Sqwchgy (right) comes from a planet whose inhabitants spend most of their lives in a sessile, tuber-like form. Sqwchgy intends to spend its motile years experiencing as much of the galaxy as it can. (Also, it regards "potato head" as a deeply insulting form of address.) (Figures are "Rand" and "Space Henchman").

Finally, these are two of the ship's drones, Whiskey (left) and Romeo (right) - they function as the eyes and ears of Mostly Harmless itself while the crew is on a mission. (Figures are Sentry Drones with the large guns removed.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Hypothetical Hordes: Shadows of the Apt

Well, the last couple of months have been a sort of betwixt-and-between period for me as far as hobbies go - with restrictions starting to loosen again I've been able to do a bit of in-person gaming, starting with a DBA marathon with my dad over Memorial Day weekend. (We put together a bracket of eight of our various Bronze Age armies and played them off against each other - the Sea Peoples won, beating out the Hittites in the finals. The Aztecs and Maya also got their first outing, with the Aztecs beating the Maya 2-0.) And the weekend before last, I got a chance to try out Stargrave, the science-fictional version of the popular Frostgrave/Ghost Archipelago system. Meanwhile, the driving urge to paint that kept me busy through lockdown seems like it is also starting to ease up. May and June mostly saw me working on some Reaper Bones figures and painting some Mongol cavalry to fill out the options for a DBA 3.0 version of that army.

However, June also saw me plow through the second half of Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt, an epic ten-book fantasy series with rich, unique worldbuilding and tons of battles - perfect material for another "Hypothetical Hordes" post!

If there's one thing you should know about Adrian Tchaikovsky, it's that he loves invertebrates of all sorts. (He's probably most famous for Children of Time, which features intelligent spiders.) In the Shadows of the Apt series, there are none of the typical fantasy races like elves or dwarves - instead, the people or "kinden" take on aspects of their totemic insects or arthropods. Ant-kinden are great at working together, Beetle-kinden are slow and solid folk, Mantids live to fight, Spiders are manipulative, Flies can fly, Wasps can sting, and so forth. The other key element of the setting is the division between the "Apt", who are technological, and the "Inapt," who are magical. At the time the story opens, magic seems to be a spent force in the world, and the fortunes of the Apt are on the rise - particularly the militaristic Wasp Empire.


Our protagonists mostly come from this city of scholars and inventors. Most of the inhabitants are Apt Beetle-kinden, who threw off their Inapt Moth-kinden masters about five hundred years ago, when the powers of the Inapt began to wane. However, it's a very cosmopolitan place, and all sorts of people can be found there - not to mention our protagonists have a tendency to make friends and allies wherever they go. Between that and the ability of some Collegiates to whip up a crazy clockwork inventions pretty much on the spot, there's not much limit to what they could field. However, here are some possibilities:

  • Spears and Shooters - troops of the Merchant Companies, armed with pikes, crossbows, or later "snapbows" (similar to muskets or rifles, but powered by compressed air - gunpowder for personal weapons isn't really a thing in this setting.) The general should probably be among them.
  • Behemoths - "Automotives" either clockwork or steam-powered, and either wheeled or vaguely insectile walkers, armed with ballistae or "leadshotters" (cannon).
  • Artillery - Ballistae, cannon, or an off-the-wall invention - a later book features something that is more or less a railgun.
  • Flyers - Small flying machines. Ornithopters seem to be the most common, but there are also fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
  • Airboats - Larger dirigible-type aircraft.
  • Hordes - Desperate mobs of ordinary people defending the city with whatever they can find.
Stronghold: One of the city gates of Collegium.


The main baddies of the series, like Imperial Rome with a touch of Nazi Germany, the Wasps also fall on the Apt side of the Apt/Inapt divide. Wasp-kinden can fly, and can shoot fire from their hands, but both of these abilities seem to have somewhat limited range. However, like the Romans, they tend to recruit conquered peoples into their armies as auxiliaries. The Empire also has a strong "black and gold" color scheme going on (hence the title of the first book in the series.) A Wasp army might include some of the following:
  • Riders - I was torn on how to consider the Light Airborne, who seem to be the mainstay of the Imperial forces. While they can technically fly, I don't think the Flyers of HotT really reflect their tactics all that well - and besides, the Wasps have flying machines as well. Having them as Riders seems like a good way to represent them as flexible and mobile.
  • Shooters - like other Apt armies, these should be armed with crossbows or snapbows.
  • Blades - the Wasps deploy a limited number of heavy infantry in full plate armor.
  • Warbands - Hornet or Scorpion-kinden Auxillians
  • Spears - Bee or Grasshopper-kinden Auxillians
  • Sneakers - Agents of the Rekef secret police
  • Flyers - early on, the Wasps have a fondness for primitive helicopters; they upgrade to more advanced machines as the series progresses, but in HotT terms these can all be considered as Flyers.
  • Behemoths, Airboats, Artillery - similar to Collegium.
Stronghold: A regimented army camp, or evil-looking ziggurat.


Ant-kinden are Apt, but with an almost telepathic "mindlink" that renders them rather xenophobic and insular. Their city-states tend to deploy a lot of heavy infantry, with their machines being fewer and generally about one step behind everyone else's. Their army should be mostly Spears or Blades, perhaps backed up by a Behemoth, Artillery, or a couple of Flyers. Giant ants (the insect type) could be deployed as Beasts, but this seems to be a tactic of last resort when an Ant city is in peril.


The Spiderlands are vast, and the Spider families tend to be more concerned with internal power struggles than outside threats, at least until the Wasps show up. Spider-kinden are Inapt, but seem to have powers of manipulation and persuasion that let them rule over a variety of other kinden both Apt and Inapt. Spider-kinden often seem to be skilled swordsmen, so actual Spider troops would probablt be Blades, but they are often quite happy to leave the fighting to their satraps or mercenaries. These could include almost any type of infantry, and mercenary aviators from the Exalsee could be deployed as Flyers.


In the Old Days, the Moth-kinden were mighty magicians and the Mantis-kinden were the backbone of their temporal power. These days, the remaining Moths mostly keep to themselves in dark and secret strongholds up in the mountains, while the Mantids keep on doing what they've always done - fighting. (Not winning, necessarily, but fighting oh yes.) Peerless duelists and fighters one-on-one, the Mantids tend to be outnumbered and outgunned whenever it comes to pitched battle. Sometimes they still manage to carry the day. A Mantid army might include the following:
  • Heroes or Sneakers - Mantis Weaponmasters
  • Warbands - Mantis holds are often located deep in the forests, and Mantid troops are generally unhindered by the terrain.
  • Shooters - as Mantids are Inapt, these should be bowmen.
  • Lurkers - giant mantises or other creatures of the deep woods.
Stronghold: A village well-hidden among trees, with an unsettling wooden mantis idol in the center.


When the series begins, the Wasps are just concluding the Twelve-Year War with the Dragonfly realm, in which Dragonfly chivalry and daring came off second-best against Wasp ruthlessness and technology.  
  • Riders - Almost uniquely, the Dragonflies do actually field cavalry in significant quantities, both mounted or horses or giant insects. The general should probably be among these.
  • Heroes or Paladins - The Commonweal has a tradition of wandering heroes known as Mercers who roam the land righting wrongs and keeping the nobility in line.
  • Flyers - Dragonfly-kinden are Inapt, so these would take the form of warriors mounted on actual giant dragonflies.
  • Warbands - From Mantis holds located within Commonweal territory
  • Lurkers - guerrillas or other dangers of the forests.
  • Hordes - conscripted peasant infantry. Some could be classified as Spears instead if you're feeling generous.
  • Cleric - A seer or other mystic.
Stronghold: A large and airy but impractical castle.

I'll stop there, I think - there are a few other potential factions I can think of, but perhaps they should be left as a surprise for the reader. The series reminds me of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom books in how frequently new kinden turn up - you never know when you might run across a strange lost city, and in some places magic is not quite so easy to dismiss...

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Mesoamerican DBA Part 2 - Aztecs

As mentioned in my previous post, for years I have had a stash of Revell Aztecs awaiting the day when my childhood interest in the period would be rekindled. Well, the day has finally come, though the road was a long and winding one. Since the beginning of last year, I have been working on building various armies for DBA 3.0, and the Aztecs were one that I noted as a possibility based on the figures I already had around. I was eventually tempted into buying some of the more recent Caesar Aztec Warriors to supplement what I already had, with the end result that their intended opponents, the Maya, got painted first. However, after a couple of months of painting, the Aztecs are finished at last!

After the trouble I had finding sources on the Maya, I was pleased to find that original sources on the Aztecs are far more detailed and plentiful, in the form of various codices compiled shortly after the Conquest. Some of these are even scanned and freely available online through various academic institutions. Pictures from the Codex Mendoza were especially helpful:

However, the downside of this is that I became more aware of some odd choices made by the figure sculptors. The Aztec military seems to have been fairly well-organized, with rank and accompanying insignia (in the form of colorful suits, pamitl back-banners, hairstyles, etc.) being awarded to warriors based on their prowess in capturing enemy prisoners. Some of these ranks are well-represented in the extant plastic sets, others (particularly the lower ranks) much less so. The older Revell set in particular has some very odd mix-and-match going on - there is at least one figure who seems to be dressed and armed like a common warrior but with the hairstyle of a priest from the nobility! 

The Revell figures also suffer from what I consider to be a flaw in that the shield designs are molded on. I much prefer to paint my own - in fact, it's generally one of the parts I enjoy the most. Some of the Revell shield designs are well-attested; others less so. After painting a few of them as-is, I started carving off the existing designs and painting on some different ones. This resulted in more than one inadvertent blood sacrifice as I jabbed myself in the thumb! The Caesar set has plain shields, but are a much smaller proportion of the army - there's generally about one per stand.

The general, rated as a fast Blade in DBA. The center figure in the crocodile costume is one I was unable to find any source for, though he does look very commanding!

Two more units of fast Blades, representing the Jaguar and Eagle military orders. I was interested to find that the jaguar costumes were probably not made of actual jaguar hide, but rather quilted or hardened cloth covered with colorful feathers for decoration.

The DBA list includes one element of "Ontontin or Cuachic shock troops" as fast Warband. These were warriors who had taken five or more captives. The Ontonin, from what I can tell, wore green suits; the Cuachic wore yellow and had a distinctive hairstyle that I was unable to replicate. These figures are actually conversions; the center figure was a Revell Eagle knight with a head swap; the one on the right was a slinger but I gave him a war club and a shield instead. All three have pamitl banners added. I think the center banner rather resembles a pineapple; I haven't figure out yet if this is just a coincidence or not.

The bulk of the army is six units of ordinary warriors, classed either as fast Hordes or fast Auxilia - I painted both options. The Horde option seems to be what makes the army somewhat unique in DBA terms, though I suspect the Auxilia option might be better in a tactical sense. Most of these are dressed in plain white, though there are a few more colorful fellows scattered in amongst them.

Finally, we have a couple of units of psiloi/skirmishers with slings and bows - not much more to say about them!

A couple more views of the army all together:

In other news, I received my first dose of the Covid vaccine this past week, so these and the other armies I have been working on over the past year might actually see action soon!

Painting-wise, I will probably take a break from 20mm for a little while, and catch up on some of my Reaper Bones, or maybe work on some terrain projects. The next planned DBA army is an expansion to the Bronze Age milieu, but I might get back to Mesoamerica eventually - I realized I might be able to scrape together enough figures for a Tlaxcalan army, with or without Spanish allies...

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Mesoamerican DBA Part 1 - Maya

When I was a kid, I went through a phase of being very interested in the Aztecs - probably sparked by reading Captain Cortes Conquers Mexico, from the World Landmark book series. (I'd credit these books for a good chunk of my interest in history; linking titles to specific gaming projects they've inspired could probably be a topic for another post...) As part of this, I ended up with a whole host of the Revell Aztecs and Conquistadors, some of which I even painted up and played games with. Some of the unpainted ones have hung around ever since, with the notion that maybe I'd have another go at them some day.

Well, that day hasn't arrived yet, but it may be coming!

At the beginning of last year, when I started looking through the DBA army lists and considering what armies I could build, the Aztecs came up as one possibility. But I knew I'd want some historical opponents for them, and the options in 20mm plastic are somewhat limited. However, DBA does list one of the later Maya armies as an Aztec opponent, and Caesar Miniatures put out a nice-looking set of Maya a few years ago, so I decided to order a box of them, just on speculation... and then I decided that I'd also like a set of the newer Caesar Aztecs to supplement my older Revell figures. But since that second order took a while to arrive, I figured I might as well start painting some of the Maya while I waited.

So that's how I ended up with a DBA Maya army but still no Aztecs! And here they are:

This are intended as the Maya III/22c list, nominally for 1283-1461 AD, the late Postclassic era. However, when I went to do a bit of research, I discovered a couple of things:
  • Those fine Caesar Maya are almost certainly all based off a single color plate from an Osprey book.
  • The depictions in that Osprey book are at least partly based on the famous Bonampak murals.
  • The Bonampak murals date to the late Classic Era, which ended around 800 AD, at least four hundred years earlier.
So despite my efforts, these guys may be a little historically suspect as opponents for the eventual Aztecs. But hopefully they will stand on their own merits.

The list includes two units of "noble warriors" including the general, classified as solid Blades. For these I ended up using the poses who were using a spear two-handed, and wearing tunics or other torso-coverings. These are almost certainly based on a picture of a ruler from the Bonampak murals, and I have a sneaking suspicion his outfit is supposed to be unique and distinctive. So this may be the equivalent of having a regiment of Napoleonic French cavalry who all resemble "Napoleon Crossing The Alps."

There are eight units of "Maya warriors", who are classified as fast Auxilia. As is often the case, I had fun with the shield designs for these, though they are mostly fanciful as I did not find much source material.

The next one was a head-scratcher: one unit of "Toltec-Chichimec mercenary archers" as solid Bow. "Chichimec" seems to have been a term applied by the Aztecs to a wide variety of peoples, but I did run across one depiction attributed to the Florentine Codex:

Hmm, bow-armed men dressed in long cloaks and loincloths? Where was I going to find those? The Caesar Maya set certainly did not include anyone like that... but it turns out they are a surprisingly close match for some of their Bronze Age Libyans, with a little conversion work:

Finally, we have one unit of peasant slingers, as Psiloi. Easily done!

So here's the army all together again. Despite all my qualms about historicity, they were fun to paint, and they may see some future service in Hordes of the Things as well, which would make it a moot point. Next up... maybe it will finally be time to paint some of those Aztecs!

Friday, January 29, 2021

The dwarves are for the dwarves!

I mentioned at the end of my last post that I was thinking about what I would need to put on a version of the Battle of Five Armies from The Hobbit. This notion was sparked in part by running across a couple of dozen dwarves in my stash of unpainted miniatures (two sprues of the Light Alliance Dwarves Set 1) and wondering what I could do with those. This month, I decided to go ahead and paint them up, as a little contingent to use in Hordes of the Things or other fantasy rules.

After some consideration, I decided to kit them out in a lot of reds, yellows, and oranges, with browns and grays for some variety. I had a few spare shields leftover from the Assyrians, so I gave these to a couple of the figures that didn't have one. For shield designs I tried a few geological motifs, but others ended up with more general geometric designs or ones based on tools. 

The dwarven contingent all together.

The dwarven commander - or perhaps a Hero for HotT?

A few different views of the dwarven infantry.

I decided to try something a little different with the bases - a lot of my existing 20mm fantasy infantry are based six or eight to a 60x40mm base, but for these I decided to try base them in groups of four on a 60x20 base. This way I can arrange them two ranks deep to match my older units, but it also gives me a little more flexibility to split them up if that would be useful at some point. (Also - I had a whole bunch of spare 60x20 bases and not so many 60x40s...)

Having finished these, I must say I am not inclined to expand them to a whole army. While the figures looked OK on the sprue, I found painting them to be a bit of a chore - many of the poses are kind of flat and the sculpting is a little chunky. Nevertheless, now I have some dwarves finished, and I expect they will be more or less stalwart allies for some of my other armies down the road.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The little things that count - wrapping up 2020

Well, I don't know quite what I expected from 2020, but this wasn't it. I do feel quite fortunate to have come through the past year unscathed, and with my family and friends generally still in good health. And for all that this was a terrible year for other things, it was a great year for me getting painting done - at some point early in January I realized I had finished an average of one figure a day, and I decided to see how long I could keep up that pace. The answer turned out to be all year - I finished yesterday with 400 figures completed. This was the first year I have kept detailed logs, but I am sure this exceeds whatever my previous record was - and it may prove to be a high-water mark for some time to come! For the fun of it, I decided to lay out everything I painted this year, all at once:

The bulk of this is my six DBA armies, but there are a number of Reaper Bones figures and a few other odds and ends for other projects in there as well. A few of the miscellaneous miniatures that rounded out the year for me:

As mentioned at the end of my last post, these are old chariots I had painted some years ago, but rebased on 60x80mm bases for DBA, and with some new chariot runners added. The runners are a couple of spares left over from my Assyrians, and a couple of Robin Hood conversions. The bowmen are more Caesar Mitannian Mariyannu Chariot archers, dismounted to use as 4Bw in DBA. Between them, these will let my Syro-Canaanite army double as list I/19 Mitanni.

The other item mentioned as forthcoming in a previous post - a second piece of artillery for Elabrün. These are Waterloo 1815's Austrian Artillery set - and in this case, Elabrüner uniforms don't diverge too much from historical Austrians...

Moving to the Reaper Bones side - at some point back in August or so, I actually ran out of the 1-inch washers usually I use for basing 28mm figures, so I switched to working on ones which went on either larger or smaller bases. These ones are all on the small side: two kobolds, and two halflings. (Or possibly a gnome and a halfling.) Alas, the kobold's mace remains bent despite repeated attempts at straightening it in boiling water. 

Some other assorted Reaper critters: the packrat had been sitting around primed but unpainted for at least a couple of years, but I finally got around to it this past month. The normal rats went much quicker. One of the things I enjoy painting most is animals (hence my delight at getting to paint some camelry earlier this year), so it was fun to paint up a couple of animal companions as a wolverine and a bald eagle. And as a Marylander, of course I had to paint the dire crab up as a blue crab!

This final one is a bit of an oddball - it's an old Mage Knight figure, carved off its original Clix base, repainted, and rebased onto one of the empty bases that had previously held a chariot. I still have several of these, so I will be on the lookout for more flying creatures or other ways I can put them to good use. And now with a giant eagle to hand, I find myself thinking about how to stage the Battle of the Five Armies, from the end of The Hobbit...

So that's it for 2020! Of course, one of the other silver linings of the past year has been the revival of this blog. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by, and especially those who have taken the time to leave comments. Hopefully this year's posts will include a few more games, but if not, I expect I will at least post pictures of whatever I decide to pain next! Happy New Year, and best wishes for 2021!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Bronze Age DBA Part 6 - Like A Wolf On The Fold

Alright, so these guys are a few centuries earlier than the army in Lord Byron's poem, but they are Assyrians nonetheless. More specifically, this is DBA army I/25a Middle Assyrians, as opponents for my various other Late Bronze Age armies. This was a much simpler matter than my previous army, as the Assyrians don't really have any options to build out.

Assyrians arrayed for battle

Leading the army is a Light Chariot general, backed up by three more Light Chariots. Long-time readers might recognize some of these chariots, as they were painted in a previous age, but the general is a new addition, and all four have been rebased on larger bases with supporting infantry. The chariots themselves are the trusty Caesar Mitannian Mariyannu type, but the crews and the horses are taken from the Caesar Assyrian Chariot set. (Why not just use those chariots? Well, they're a four-horse type not really suitable for this period.) The designs on the chariots are based on Assyrian seal designs from that period, and the runners are HaT Assyrian Allied Infantry

The general and his retinue

The rest of the chariot corps

The infantry portion of the I/25a list has two units of fast Blades, four Auxilia that can be either solid or fast, and two Psiloi. The figures are mostly taken from the Assyrian Allied Infantry set as well, though there are a few Robin Hood men hidden among the spearmen. As with the chariots, I decided to use these rather than the actual Assyrian infantry that are available from a couple of manufacturers, as the armor and shields of those date to a later period. To help differentiate the different troop types, since I was working with a limited number of poses, I gave the Blades red tunics, patterned shields, and helmet plumes, while the Auxilia have white or pale blue tunics, plain blue shields, and no plumes. (Side note - the proportions on some of these HaT figures are a little odd - they have rather squashed heads but very long legs. The standing spearman in particular looks like he could find a career as a ballerina...)

"Ashsharittu or huradu" infantry as fast Blades

"Hupshu or sabe" infantry as Auxilia

Archers as Psiloi

The whole army again, from the commander's perspective

And there we have my sixth DBA army for the year! At this point I won't claim to be done entirely (since I had originally planned to stop after four armies) but I don't have immediate plans to build another whole army. What I may do next is rebase some more of my old chariots on the new larger bases; this might also let me piece together a Mitanni army by borrowing some troops from the Syro-Canaanites and/or Assyrians. But I think that will be a project for 2021.