Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Working in two dimensions

It's not often, but every once in a while I get the urge to do some drawing. This time, the catalyst was a work called Lands of Red and Gold, over at, which imagines a world where Australia developed agriculture and native urbanized civilizations of its own. After reading through all this, I got to imagining what some of the people might look like, particularly the soldiers of the various cultures. (Well, I am a wargamer, after all. (That reminds me, I should look around and see if anyone has sketched out DBA army lists for the Aururian civilizations yet...))

Anyway, this is the resulting product--I drew the people by hand, then scanned the drawings and colored them in using GIMP.

(And now, with that out of my system, I can get back to painting chariots...)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Maps, part VI

Another set of maps today! The usual cautions apply--no, these maps do not depict actual events. Kids, don't cite me in your research papers. (Well, I guess you can cite me if you use proper MLA style or whatever if you really want to. But I don't recommend this as an accurate source for any history your teachers will recognize...)

This first map was a relatively non-serious look at how future archeologists might misinterpret the remains left by our civilization. I realized afterwards that I was probably subconsciously influenced by reading David Macauley's "Motel of the Mysteries" when I was younger, as well as the Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, which was full of maps labeled with mysterious "Baltic battle-axe cultures" and the like.

This next one was the result of a discussion on alternate scientific revolutions. It owes a certain amount of its original inspiration to Michael Flynn's "Quaestiones Super Caelo et Mundo," though I thought his ending was a bit overly optimistic. (And I ran with a different starting point--POD, or "point of departure," as the alternate history slang usually goes.)
1331. Somewhere in the Yunnan province, a medieval Chinese farmer notices a faint tickle on his left leg. He looks down and brushes off the flea before it can bite him.

On the other end of the great Eurasian landmass, the High Middle Ages are in full swing. Universities are springing up like mushrooms after rain, and scholars like Jean Buridan are examining and questioning the Aristotelean worldview that has held sway for centuries. In this world, the budding scientific revolution will not be cut short by the Black Death--instead it will come to full flower, some two centuries before that of our world. By the late 14th century, Buridan and his pupils have compiled the laws of motion, while later thinkers expand the borders of math and science in many directions--building on the works of the Calculators of Merton as well as translations of Arabic works on algebra, the calculus is developed. Others turn their talents to astronomy, chemistry, biology, and their work is shared across the continent by a marvelous new device--the printing press.

To an observer from our world, one of the most extraordinary elements of this "scholastic revolution" is its relationship with the Catholic church, which (without the social upheaval of the Black Death) proves itself (in general) to be willing to foster and adapt to these new ideas. Many of these new scientists are also churchmen and theologians as well. This world sees no Reformation or Counter-Reformation, and while from time to time there is political disunity in the Catholic world, there is no theological disunity--across the continent, thinkers remain connected by the bonds of reason, logic, and faith.

There have been setbacks too, naturally--plagues remained frequent occurrences until sanitation improved and the germ theory of disease was developed. Of course this was too late for the inhabitants of the Americas, but overall they still fared better than in our world. The New World was discovered by powers more interested in trade than conquest--the exception being Mexico, where military orders were established to stamp out human sacrifice. An Incan empire survives to this day, though considerably Christianized, as do a few other native states on both continents.

Despite the head start in science, this world is not outrageously far ahead of us in technology--the industrial revolution did not develop as quickly as the scientific one, and there is a rather Hellenic attitude, especially in Europe, that scientific learning is worthwhile for its own sake and that applying it to the real world is slightly vulgar. (Several rising powers, in Asia and elsewhere, have no such qualms--something that is starting to alarm political leaders.) The continued relationship with the church is rather interesting--an article titled "The implications of quantum superposition for the doctrine of transubstantiation" would raise few eyebrows in this world's academic journals, and this world's equivalent of the Hubble Space Telescope has permanent staff of monks.
These last two are a pair, as should be pretty obvious from looking at them. It all started when I got to wondering what might have prevented the rise of the Assyrian empire. Then I came across the Wikipedia article on the Cimmerians, and having just read Robert E. Howard's Conan stories within the past year or so, one thing led to another...
Know, O prince, that between the years when the darkness swept over Hatti and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Ares, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Urartu, Aram, Phoenicia, Phrygia, Israel with its dark-haired women and temples of holy mystery, Chaldea with its chivalry, Moab that bordered on the pastoral lands of Edom, Egypt with its shadow-guarded tombs, Media whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Assyria, reigning supreme over the dreaming east. Hither came the Cimmerians, black-haired, sullen-eyed, swords in hand, thieves, reavers, slayers, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under their horses' hooves...
The idea here is that Assyria gets caught up in a badly-timed civil war--I'm thinking the turtanu (general) Shamshi-ilu tries to overthrow Shalmaneser IV, but doesn't quite succeed--and in the process, a lot of Assyria's recently conquered territories make the most of a chance to regain independence. And now, with all parties weakened, the barbaric Cimmerians are licking their chops...

The failed rebellion of Shamsi-ilu spelled the end for the Assyrian Empire. The cities of northern Syria and Cilicia reasserted their independence under the loose leadership of the Neo-Hittite city of Carchemish, while the Urartians and Chaldeans both took the opportunity to regain recent losses. Still, the worst was yet to come. The loss of the conquered territories deprived both Shamsi-ilu and his opponent, Assyrian king Shalmaneser IV, of a valuable source of manpower. To compensate, both sides began hiring mercenaries, including many from the Cimmerian tribes of northern Anatolia. Following Shamsi-ilu's defeat, some of them returned home, but others remained in Assyrian service or settled in the northern parts of Assyrian territory. A few rose quickly in the ranks--the war had provided many opportunities for advancement, and foreigners in positions of power were nothing new. (In fact, Shamsi-ilu himself had come from the Aramean city of Til Barsib--though this did not keep the city from joining Carchemish and its other neighbors in rebellion.)

By the time of Shalmaneser's death in 773 BC, one of these Cimmerian mercenaries had risen to become a turtanu of the army, and others seem to have gained positions of power throughout the kingdom, particularly the increasingly volatile north, where presumably they remained in contact with their relatives beyond the frontier. Shalmaneser was succeeded by his brother Ashur-dan III, but Assyria's days were numbered. The Cimmerian turtanu Kanaran seized power in Nimrud, and Ashur-dan was forced to flee the city.

Kanaran's coup was the start of a new era in the Near East. Though much of the administrative structure of the old Assyrian empire was taken over intact, the new dynasty brought new vigor to many of its institutions, including the military. Kanaran carried on with the Assyrian tradition of yearly military campaigns, beginning with a series of expeditions to the north that brought most of the Cimmerian homeland under his sway, pushing west to the borders of the Phyrigian kingdom, and making tributaries of the Greek colonies along the coast of the Black Sea. Subsequent campaigns against Urartu and against some of the eastern members of the League have solidified his position with his Assyrian subjects.

To the west, the situation does not look good for the League of Carchemish--founded in the immediate aftermath of the revolt that threw out the Assyrians, ties between its diverse members had grown slack as Assyrian power waned. Now with a renewed threat from the north and east, the League also faces dissension within--a number of the southern, Aramaic, members have thrown their lot in with the rising star of Aram-Damascus, which has just completed a successful campaign against the unlikely alliance of Israel and Ammon, forcing the former to give ground in the north and reducing the latter to a vassal.

To the east, the Medes bide their time and Urartu licks its wounds. A much-reduced Assyrian successor state based out of Babylon has been forced to seek help from the Chaldeans, who are glad of a buffer state between them and the new northern menace as Kanaran I prepares for this year's campaigns...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A rite of passage (and more chariots)

Every so often, when I gripe about the non-availability of figures for some aspect of history, Dad will remind me of how easy I have it and how back in the "old days," most 1/72 scale figure manufacturers didn't exist yet, and how people had to build entire armies out of Airfix Robin Hood figures, eked out with the occasional elephant.

Well, now I've done it myself--not an entire army, but I have done up one unit's worth of conversions, (with a second in the works) which I think is a reasonable start. As you might have noticed if you've been keeping up with my last couple months' worth of painting, I've been working on expanding my Bronze Age project (in 20mm plastic, of course) using mostly Caesar Miniatures' various sets of chariots and whatnot. One thing they lack, however, are some generic scruffy infantry types suitable for Canaanite, Syrian, and Mitanni armies--and so I turned to the Airfix set. (I'm not the first to do this, by the way--I was inspired by another wargamer-blogger, whose handiwork can be seen here.)

Anyway, I trimmed their weapons, carved away their hoods, drilled out their hands and gave them brass wire spears, equipped them with simple rectangular shields, painted on some headbands, and voilà! Scruffy Bronze Age spearmen!

And of course, more chariots. The first of these is something a little different--between my figures and Dad's, we've got a pretty sizable contingent of Sea Peoples by now, and I figured they deserved a chief. So here he is!

As for what the figures are--well, that's an interesting question. The chariot itself is one of Caesar's Hittite Chariots, but the horses are from the Mitanni chariot set. (They've had their plumes cropped off.) The driver is straight out of the Sea Peoples set, but the warrior in the back is more interesting: his head and arms are Sea Peoples, but the armored torso is from the Mitanni chariot driver.

And lastly, we have the second of my "Assyrian" chariots. Yes, that is an ostrich painted on the sides--it's drawn from this Assyrian seal imprint. The crew and horses are from Caesar's Assyrian chariot set. (Fun fact #2: I realized after painting them that the green and yellow checker pattern on the horse barding is suspiciously similar to the pattern on the curtains in the room where I paint.)

One more stand of scruffy spears, two more Assyrian chariots... and then maybe I'll paint something else for a while. We'll see.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Huzzah! 2012

This past weekend Dad, William, and I made our way up to Portland for Huzzah!, the convention of the Maine Historical Wargamers' Association, where we met up with Ross MacFarlane, of Battle Game of the Month. Quite a drive for us, living in Maryland, but an excellent convention, with lots of great games to see and to play in.

We left Thursday morning, a few hours later than we'd hoped, and got into Portland about 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. that night. The hotel where the convention was held was conveniently located just off the highway, though we still managed to miss a turn on our first attempt to find the place. Upon arriving we found that each guest was given a complementary Whoopie Pie, which definitely is a plus in my book. (For anyone who doesn't know what a Whoopie Pie is, it's a sort of soft round sandwichy chocolate thing filled with fluffy marshmallow stuff, and is nothing at all like a Whoopie Cushion.)

Games were not scheduled to start until Friday evening, so the first part of the day was set aside for some extracurricular gaming and sightseeing. (Actually, sights were a little hard to see given that it was raining, but we did go down to the waterfront and feed William his first lobster.) The first game we set up was a trial of the popular Basic Impetus rules, with figures pulled together from Dad's selection of 6mm armies which we'd brought along. Ross was familiar with the rules already, so after a quick briefing on the mechanics, he and William led an army of late Imperial Romans up against a force of 'Visigoths' (actually Franks, but at 6mm scale who can tell?) led by Dad and myself. We were favorably impressed by the game, and the Visigothic victory was a very near-run thing; one of our double-sized warbands managed to fend off two flank attacks from their heavy cavalry to pull off a win.

Before the game, trying to scrape together two matching Impetus-sized armies.

Sometime in the first few turns. The Romans got to set up second, which seemed like a pretty big advantage--we probably shouldn't have left our cavalry unsupported on the left like that, as they were able to concentrate on them first.

Near the end of the game--our masses of infantry threaten to overwhelm the second Roman legion.

William and his crustacean.

After lunch, we came back to the hotel and set up another pick-up game, this time a playtest of the Renaissance game that Dad and Ross would be running on Saturday. William and I took the English, who were trying to retrieve one of their large guns that had gotten bogged down. Unfortunately, while we were mostly able to hold off their cavalry on the wings, the French pike block reached the center before we could get the gun dragged away, and we really didn't have enough troops left to chase them off.

The cause of all the trouble.

The French commander, considering his options.

Me, possibly wondering what William's up to on the left flank.

The English general.

We got the limber to the gun...

But it wasn't enough.

After a quick dinner at Panera Bread across the street, we came back for the first round of official games. William and I had signed up for a what-if scenario featuring a 17th century Anglo-Dutch conflict in the wilds of New England, using one of the versions of the Gaslight rules, which we're pretty familiar with. The Dutch forces were entering over the bridge on the left end of the table; one English player had a force of cavalry and musketeers positioned on a hill overlooking the bridge, while William and I as the other English players marched up the road to his aid. As it turned out, we needn't have bothered--the other English player sent his cavalry charging straight into the Dutch column the first turn, starting a melee that lasted much of the game and kept the Dutch thoroughly occupied. (I think there may have been an issue with how morale was being done, but the Dutch players were rolling very poorly, so I'm not sure how much it really mattered...) Some of their native allies sniped at us from the woods for a while, but I'm pretty sure I neither suffered nor inflicted a casualty all game. Still, it was a very neat set-up--I wish I'd taken a picture or two of the Indians, who were very well painted, and William and I spent some of the time tossing around the idea of doing a similar game, possibly based on one of the odd little episodes of Maryland history--the Battle of the Severn.

The bridge kerfluffle.

Marching down the road. Unfriendly Natives are visible along the treeline.

Investigating a dead body that had been left in the road.

The next morning, moving forward in history I ended up in the Battle of Brandywine, as the American commander, with Ross on my right (possibly lured in by the 40mm figures) and a rather enthusiastic child on my left. The rules seemed to be based on the Battle Cry/Memoir '44 family of board games, with which I am somewhat familiar, and which made it a bit easier to pick up. I spent much of the game keeping an eye on the situation to the left--the kid was in a tough position, trying to hold off a strong force of British and Hessian regulars with a force that contained a lot of weaker militia units, but he managed to do pretty well. On the right, the British had executed some sort of flanking maneuver--I wasn't paying as close attention to the action, but it seems they were hindered by Ross's sharpshooters, who potted the British commander on that flank. In the center, I was able to spend much of the game sitting on a hill and exchanging artillery fire with William, but I did have to fight off an assault from his troops at one point. This game also went down to the wire, but we squeaked it out--the kid managed to hold off another charge and destroy the attackers to get the last victory point.

Sometime near the middle of the game--William is charging up the hill against me; the British are pressing forward against our left.

Saturday afternoon, I played in a Boxer Rebellion game, leading part of a naval landing force sent to capture a Chinese arsenal. The scenery on this one was great, and the rules were simple and bloody. While we came pretty close to achieving our objective, and even managed to hold the arsenal for a few turns, in the end the Chinese cannons really wore us down, and the handful of survivors had to make their way back to the ships.

A couple of fellows make a quick stop on the way up to the arsenal.

The only survivor from his unit, he spent the rest of the game training with an old kung fu master to one day take revenge against the foreign devils.

Preparing to go over the wall.

The last game I played in was a Punic War naval battle on Saturday night. This was very interesting, as while I'm sort of aware of the basics of galley combat, I don't think I've ever played a game of it before. The scenario involved the Carthaginians trying to get a merchant convoy past a Roman blockade.Both sides ended up basically splitting their forces into two groups--a larger one and a smaller one. I was on the Roman side, commanding the smaller force--two squadrons of quinquiremes, relatively heavier ships, and I ended up facing off against the larger half of the Carthaginian fleet--two squadrons of quinquiremes supported by two more squadrons of the lighter triremes. I knew that my ships would be at the advantage in boarding actions, but I wasn't really able to set many of these up--my bigger, slower ships kept getting rammed by the fast Carthaginian triremes with their veteran crews. (Turns out I'm really bad at noticing when I'm about to be rammed and reacting accordingly.) Still, my first squadron managed to break through their line and make for the merchant ships--and we had just managed to grapple one when we had to call the game. Luckily, the other part of the battle had gone much better for the Roman side, as the Carthaginians had gotten penned in between some smaller islands and the main coast and the main body of our fleet was positioned to wreak havoc on them. So over all it was a victory, as we prevented the convoy from reaching the city. All in all, a very interesting game, though I may look into something with a few less tables if I ever want to do something similar.

Nice, neat Roman lines at the start of the game.

My part of the action towards the end. When you can't see your ship under piles of chits marked "Fouled" or "Grappled" or "Crippled," you may be in trouble...

Overall, Huzzah! was a great experience; I'd definitely do it again if the opportunity presented itself. I got the chance to play in lots of great games, and the whole thing seemed very smoothly run. Just to wrap up, here's a few more pictures, including ones of games I didn't play in...
Ross's Aroostock War game on Friday evening.

A magnificent Peking setup.

'Rough Wooing' Saturday afternoon.

The official sponsor of Huzzah!, apparently.