Friday, September 30, 2011

Good wizard, bad wizard

This was today's little painting project. Both of these guys are Caesar fantasy figures. The good Magician is from the Adventurers box; the evil Magician is a spare from my brother's Undead which he swapped me for some heroic-looking fellow.

I played around a lot with washing and drybrushing this guy, trying to make it look like his staff was glowing. Not sure that I succeeded, but I'm still satisfied with the end result.

And here's his evil counterpart, on a freshly sanded base.

And here they face off.

Trilobite Spears ready to go. Next up, Ammonite Blades!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Odds and ends

You may notice the new title banner; I was playing around with some functions on GIMP and ended up with something that looked a bit like a barren alien landscape, so I figured I'd put it to some use. But it got me to thinking, briefly: despite the name of this blog, there's really not much science fiction content at the moment, despite me being an avid SF reader. So why is that? I have a theory. So far, most content on here is related to miniatures projects, but a lot of science fiction miniatures are tied to well-known and visually distinctive settings: Warhammer 40K or Battletech, for instance. On the whole, I don't tend to play a lot of these--I really like to make up my own settings. (You may note that even my "historical" projects tend to the "imaginary countries" side of things.)

So whereas there are generic "fantasy" figures that I can (and do) co-opt for my projects, I haven't really come across any SF equivalents. An orc is an orc, but a Mad Cat II is not a Leman Russ. And on that note, more Hordes of the Things figures!

Here are those 6mm Airboats, all based up. Haven't played any games with them yet, though.

And on the 20mm side, we have this Hero stand. These guys are "adventurers" from Caesar's 20mm fantasy range. I have a few more on my to-do list: a Magician (who looks suspiciously similar to Gandalf) and an archer who I think I may deploy as a Sneaker.

I was down in Washington DC on Monday, and stopped by the Natural History Museum to have a look at the trilobites. As you can see, I took a bit of inspiration from them for these guys' shield design. These are HaT figures, from a random box of Macedonians I picked up many years ago just on speculation. These four make up half a stand; I hope to get the other four done tomorrow, or maybe this weekend. I'm thinking these guys may be the start to an opponent army for the Dinotopians. (Maybe other units will have different prehistoric sea creatures on their shields? I'm thinking ammonites for the next unit...)

Just a random aside: after poking around the Natural History Museum for a few hours, I walked across the Mall to some of the other Smithsonian buildings--namely, the Freer Gallery and the collections of African and Asian art, which are also excellent inspirational material for painting. The amount of finicky detail that pre-industrial artists put into their work never ceases to amaze me. I think the urge to decorate must be one of those primal things that every culture shares...

Finally, we have this guy. I think he will be classed as a Flyer; he's not big enough to be an Airboat, not draconic enough to be a Dragon, not imposing enough to be a God, and not heroic enough to be an Aerial Hero. I don't know much about his provenance--he was made in Hong Kong, and he and about half a dozen of his variously armed brethren have been among mine and my brother's possessions for as long as I can remember. He's a bit short when facing off against 54mm figures, but more impressive at 20mm.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Many people who know me are aware that I have a long-standing interest in blimps, airships, and zeppelins. So when it comes to Hordes of the Things, I naturally gravitate towards the Airboat unit. As a matter of fact, the very first units I built for HotT were a pair of airboats to supplement my dad's 6mm Elven army. They were kind of blobby things, made of Sculpey and painted green, with big square paper sails on top. For some reason, his elves never seemed to use them much, but they saw service with me from time to time.

Unfortunately, they did not age well, so replacements have been on my vague list of things to do for quite some time now. And, inspired by my recent Hordes games, I finally sat down yesterday and put together some new ones.

These new airboats are built around some wooden egg shapes, which I believe I found at Michael's.

 Here you can see a few more details (such as they are) of the construction. The gondolas are whittled out of some wood scraps left over from the great trench-building project, as are the tail fins. The "ropes" are some sort of thin florist's wire, also from Michael's. When assembling these, it's best to attach the gondola first, then the ropes. (I tried it the other way with the first one, and it was definitely more difficult.)

Shown with some 6mm troops for size comparison. I still have one in the early stages of construction, as you can see. It might be a while before that one gets done up. (Why? Because HotT armies are 24 points, and airboats are 3 points, and most units are 2 points, so three airboats is an awkward number.)

Here's the first two airboats, both painted now. Fun fact: if you play Magic: the Gathering, and are familiar with the card Rishadan Airship, the paint scheme on the left airboat might look familiar. This is not a coincidence.

Also, building these reminded me of a Poul Anderson short story called The Sky People, about post-apocalyptic aero-vikings from Colorado. A HotT army list for them would probably look something like this:

4 Airboats @ 3 AP each (Primitive hydrogen blimps.)
6 Warbands @ 2 AP each (Paratroopers armed with swords, axes, bows, and ceramic-tipped spears.) 
The general could be either one, I guess.

In the meantime, I just need to get some bases put on these guys and maybe I can turn around my current losing streak...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hordes of the Things

The past couple of weeks have been somewhat marred by the fact that a couple of tropical storms decided to drench the Susquehanna River basin--and since we live near the mouth of the river, all that water eventually makes its way down to us. So we had a flood, and were evacuated for the first time in quite a few years. Fortunately, our house is at the high end of town, so no water got in--but it wouldn't have been much fun to stick around with no running water or electricity anyway, so it was probably just as well that we left on Thursday.

Anyway, among the items we took with us were the 6mm Hordes of the Things armies in their highly portable containers, so my brother and my dad and I have been playing a fair bit of Hordes to pass the time.

As a matter of fact, before this unfortunate business with the flood, we actually got in a couple of games with the new 20mm Hordes armies--some of which double as more respectable historicals most of the time. My "Dinotopian" army (mentioned here previously) came off second-best against my dad's re-purposed Robin Hood figures, but my Bronze Age guys managed to hold their own against William's army of the undead and his fearsome Lich King.

Dinotopian Riders and Warband.

The one fantastical addition to my bronze-age Hordes army: a pair of giant scorpion-men, classed as Behemoths.

The more mundane troops line up for battle.

My brother arrays his forces.

The Lich king (A Hero General) and a couple of stands of Blades.

A trio of undead wizards as a Magician stand.

The Lich King is defeated... for now.

Unfortunately, the 6mm guys are not quite as photogenic, but here's a shot of the Fortress of the Chaplain-General, stronghold of the Unstained Brethren. It was an aquarium decoration originally.

The Unstained Brethren are known for their proud record of defeat and their use of Artillery. This is not a coincidence. Artillery units in Hordes of the Things are expensive and unwieldy, and I would probably be better off replacing them with more Spears or something. But it was kind of fun to knock the catapults together out of toothpicks. You can see one of them in the center of the line here. The fellow on the white horse is the Chaplain-General himself, about to oversee yet another defeat.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


It's been a while since I've posted anything, mostly because I haven't been doing much miniatures stuff, which is my normal topic on here. (Well, I played a few rounds of Hordes of the Things with Dad during the recent hurricane--won two out of three, actually. But that barely counts.)

So what have I been doing? The answer, as you might deduce from the title, is maps. Alternate history maps, to be precise. One of the sites I frequent,, is devoted to the discussion of history and how it might have gone differently--across a range of periods and with varying levels of seriousness. Naturally, maps are abundant and important, and I had it in my mind to try my hand at a few of my own. In each case, there's a bit of verbiage to provide some context or some background.

It has been almost three thousand years since a Hittite prince married a Pharaoh's widow and laid the groundwork for one of this world's first and greatest empires--at its height it ran from from the Danube to the Tigris and from the Crimea to the first cataract of the Nile. In this world there was no Bronze Age collapse, although a period of turmoil led to some ethnic reshuffling. Most notably, a number of Achaean Greeks ended up heading west to Italy rather than knuckle under to Hittite rule, and the wandering Habiru herdsmen ended up settling in the Hejaz, rather than fertile Canaan.

The Achaean exiles made themselves at home in Italy, absorbing the ancestors of the Latins and the Etruscans and writing epic poems about the Lost Homeland. For a long time they dominated the western Mediterranean, but they could never entirely overwhelm the Celtic or Hispanic tribes. Meanwhile, the Hittite empire fell into decline; incursions by Phyrigians, Scythians, and Medes became more frequent. Upper Egypt, never entirely assimilated, eventually broke free. A few centuries later, Lower Egypt followed suit.

The final blow came with the irruption of the Habiru from the deep desert that had long been their home. The prophet Yeshua unified the scattered tribes under his spiritual and temporal authority, overrunning much of the southeastern littoral and sacking Hattusas. A fragment of the empire hung on for a few centuries further, clinging to the shores of the Aegean under a dynasty of Scythian kings. At last it became just the westernmost province of the Medean Empire. Eventually the tide of the Habiru receded, although their traders and missionaries kept carrying their religion west, where it mutated and fused with the local polytheisms. 

But east and west, the steppe nomads were on the move. Like the Scythians before them, the Avars swept into Europe, but rather than heading south of the Danube they pushed west across the north German plain. The Germanic tribes were split--some ended up in Scandinavia, with a few invading northern Britain, and the rest piled south into Italy and the Balkans, upsetting the Achaean applecart. The Celtic tribes of France and southern Britain fared better. Far to the east, another band of Scythians carved out an empire along the Indus.

The next several centuries were a period of slow rebuilding and consolidation, as the tiny kingdoms and chiefdoms--Celtic and Achaean, Germanic and Scythian and Avar--began to congeal into larger, feudal nations. Veneti shipbuilding technology spread north and south, and seafarers from Scandinavia to Iberia began to wonder what lay to the west.

No one knows who exactly discovered the Westlands, as the Americas are generally known in this world. But contact was rare and haphazard at first; North America offered little to temp the early Pretanyan and Wenishiyan and Gottiyan explorers. Native states had some time to adapt to the new crops and new technology brought by the easterners. For a long time, the east coast colonies remained a sideshow while a series of wars wracked Europe.

But now things are changing. The uneasy peace has held for a surprisingly long time, and the states of Europe have shifted their attention to colonial rivalries and proxy wars. Many grandiose claims have been made on the Westlands, and on Africa, and on the mysterious southeast country--but many of these claims have proved hard to enforce in the force of more numerous natives. In the east, the ancient land of Hatti has freed itself from the weakening grip of the Medes. The local gentry have cobbled together a political system that most closely resembles the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of our world, but it remains one of very few republics of any sort. The Saka to the north have taken these ideas and radicalized them, much to the dismay of their neighbors--the emergence of the Saka People's Union has thrown a wrench into the diplomatic workings of Europe.

Technology is mostly on par with the 17th century in our world; gunpowder is known, and Vauban-style fortifications are common. Shipbuilding is more advanced, though steam is still unknown. There is not much by way of science, but there is a good deal of rule-of-thumb engineering going on. It is a world where everyday life is still an odd mix of mysticism and pragmatism, where life is cheap, gold is precious, and opportunity and danger are still one and the same.

What if Francisco Solano Lopez hadn't been quite such a headstrong megalomaniac? With a little bit of diplomatic maneuvering (not really his strong suit in OTL) he might have kept Argentina and Uruguay out of the War of the Triple Alliance. Facing just Brazil, Paraguay might have stood a chance, and in OTL they managed to occupy a good bit of Mato Grosso province for much of the war. Brazil was not really in a great position to contest this even with the aid of its two allies, so perhaps without them the war might have been a relatively quick Paraguayan victory. (How long this situation might have lasted is anyone's guess...)
 This one was done for a "create your own -punk" contest, along the lines of steampunk or clockpunk.
An uneasy quiet has settled over the wine-dark seas of the eastern Mediterranean. The last few centuries have seen a blossoming in art and literature, philosophy and science--but now that blossom has come to fruition, and the fruit may be Eris's apple of discord.

It has been centuries since the legendary craftsman Daedalus fled to Sicily, but his descendants in Magna Graecia have not forsaken his heritage. Led by Syracusae, they hold the balance of power between Carthage and the Roman Republic--a balance maintained by the work of Archimedes and his disciples. No hostile ship can pass the defenses of Syracusae harbor--the catapults, the ship-shakers, and most terrifying of all, the deadly burning-glasses.

The wars of the Diadochi have ground to a halt for now. Philip of Macedon faces rebellion in the city-states of the south. Inspired by Plato's Republic, many are led by so-called philosopher-kings, each of whom denounces the others as mere tyrants. But despite war and revolution, your polis will see true Utopia in your lifetime, citizen!

The Seleucids still rule the largest empire, and must face the problems that come with that. Unsatisfied with the war elephants that have been used for generations, a few artisans in the western part of the Empire have begun experimenting with engines to rival the "Helepolis" of old--great armored machines that will be of use in the open field and not just the siege.

In Egypt, the Library of Alexandria has flourished under the Ptolemaic dynasty. Philosophers and scientists of all stripes flock to the city, and generous funding has fed the creative fires. Lately there has been much discussion of the device they call the aeolipile, and its potential applications. Meanwhile, other philosophers transcribing the contents of the Library into a vast "knowledge engine" for easier access. And perhaps similar devices could be used to aid in certain calculations...

However, everyone is disturbed by the silence out of Rhodes. The island has long been famed for its merchant fleet, and for the automata built by its craftsmen. But in recent years, traders have been less frequent, and there are rumors that the Rhodian has been sinking any ships that venture too close to the island. Still wilder rumors speak of the great Colossus that bestrides the harbor, and of metal man Talos, crafted by Hephaestus himself to guard the island of Crete. And only the court of Ptolemy knows the truth about the strange ship without a crew that has lately arrived in Alexandria, or the whirring, clanking figure who stepped ashore claiming to be an ambassador from the Automatic Polis of Rhodes...
And last, just a little map based on H. Beam Piper's alternate history classic Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be back to miniatures at some point. Keep an eye on the new NQSYW blog (coming soon)... and come to think of it, we could probably use a map or two for that...