Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Scottish Interlude

With a couple of SAGA games planned for this week, I needed to finish out my four points of Scots into a proper six point warband. All that was necessary was a warlord and a unit of Mounted Thanes that had been in my unpainted box for far too long. And after finishing about 20 plastic Arabs, I needed a little something different to paint.

Below, a Warlord stand and Standard Bearer.  Minis from Crusader, banner from Little Big Man.

My only complaint about Crusader Miniatures is that their cavalry is sold in threes, making a blister pack one short for a SAGA unit.  I'll probably throw in a Strathclyde Welsh to fill the unit out.  Below, the finished warband - three points of Thanes (one mounted), two Soer-chele and one Doer-chele.

Finally, if anyone is also interested in fantasy miniatures, I will be posting pictures of my efforts in that genre on a new blog Fantastically Small.  My two oldest children (ages five and nine) enjoy pushing fantasy figures around a table to the Song of Blades and Heroes rules, and I have enjoyed putting together and painting random figures that strike our interest. Thanks! 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gripping Beast Plastic Arabs and Old Glory Cavalry

This past week I have continued to assemble and paint my Gripping Beast Arabs like a number of SAGA players waiting for the Crescent and the Cross release.  I also picked up a few Old Glory Arab cavalry from a dealer at a show selling them in packs of two (rather than 10).  It was probably less economical but more convenient than buying OG's large packs.

Shown first are some of the plastic spearmen.  Three of the figures below have shield transfers from Little Big Man and it's probably hard not to guess which. While I have no complaints about the transfers, it would cost over half the box price to buy enough transfers for 32 spearmen, so hopefully the hand painted shields do not seem overly wanting next to the transfers.

Below, a very easy conversion of an Arab turbaned head fixed on a GB Dark Age Warrior body. This would be good to mix into Andalusian or steppe armies.

Archers, which are probably my favorite part of the box, and far more adaptable than one would expect.  

Using the veiled head I created a unit of Black Guard, elite troops used by the Almoravids in their push into Spain in the late eleventh century.  In hindsight, I wish I added more variation to their paint scheme such as a lighter colored veil after my son looked at my finished product and said, "Daddy, I like your ninjas!"  Note: the hide shield are not a part of the Arab box set. I made most of them by sculpting a prototype and casting duplicates in Instant Mold.

Here is a four man unit of cavalry by Old Glory.  I like the sculpting, and the horses seem to be an improvement over the last Old Glory figures I purchased. There was a slight mismatch on the fit between horse and rider on a couple of the figures, but it was easily filled with a dab of green stuff.  

The two camels are Old Glory as well. I know from the Studio Tomahawk blog at least one faction will use camels, but these were more of an impulse buy than anything.  Never painted camels before, and it was quite fun.  I'll probably get some Black Tree Design camels next.  

Finally, a couple of command figures.  While not specifically identified, the figure on the left with the smaller horse and long braided hair would probably be a Seljuk and the figure on the right looks more appropriate for the mid to late twelfth century, with his Saladin like figuring.  

Reading Recommendation:

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf.  Maalouf integrates numerous Arab chronicles into an entertaining narrative history explaining the reaction of the Turks and Arabs to the Crusaders. He writes with a slightly affected period voice - such as calling the Crusaders the Franj - as they would have been referred to at the time.  The epilogue is particularly useful for clearing away numerous misconceptions by both the West and Arabs over the causes and lasting effects of the Crusades.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Thanks, Red Dog!

Red Dog at Dogs of War has been blogging for two months now about two of my favorite games, Saga and Ronin.  He was kind enough to nominate me for a Liebster Award.  I'll need to nominate in turn some of my favorite blogs, although I am a bit behind on my blog reading with the end of the school year rush.  Thanks again, Red Dog.

1. Why did you start blogging? I am not really sure now, but as someone living outside of a metropolitan area, my chances to game are few and far between.  I think I saw blogging as a way to share my ideas and efforts with others, as I had little chance to do that locally.

2. If you could change anything about the wargaming hobby, what would it be?  Not really my place to decide what is best for the hobby, but I would probably wish more success for struggling designers and manufacturers.  Technology is great and information and design technologies are no longer exclusively held. It has never been easier to start a small manufacturing business, but the margins have been squeezed so thin to be almost non-existent.

3. What is best in life? family, faith, rewarding work and time well spent gaming.  A more worldly answer would be Vallejo paints, stout beer and Fender Telecasters.

4. Do you want to live forever? No, but I might like an extended deadline.

5. Fame or fortune? Fortune.

6. What miniatures are you most proud of painting? Usually whatever I painted last.  Like my nominator Red Dog, probably some samurai that I painted for Ronin.  I've put together a Sohei buntai for Ronin, now I am doing a Samurai faction.  Here are some Assault Group samurai with no dachi swords.

I also enjoy painting fantasy miniatures (see next question) and here's some Mithril Miniatures I am working on.  I've had the Gandalf since the early 90s.  I am slowly putting together the Fellowship and a few others.  Mithril's are very nice, but very expensive so it's slow going. Hopefully when finished, it will be the unit I am most proud of.  

7. How do you deal with burnout? Painting is usually my stress reliever, but like any hobby it can be  source of anxiety if you take on too much.  I usually like to work in a fantasy figure to break the monotony.  I buy the Reaper Bones and use it to introduce my children to painting and gaming.

8. Why is a raven like a writing desk?   Because that's the sound of one hand clapping.

9. Star Wars or Star Trek?  My wife was rewatching all the Star Trek movies this past week (she is one of us!) on Amazon Prime and I have to say they aren't holding up with sole exception of Wrath of Khan.  I love the Kirk/Spock and McCoy dynamic but the inconsistent quality of the scripts, effects and universe.  The Abrams reboots leave me cold as well.  I'll take Star Wars Episodes I-III over lens flare and a spoiled brat Kirk any day...which doesn't give me much confidence about Episode VII.

10. If you could only buy one miniature company from now on, which one would it be?  Crusader Miniatures, no doubt.  I would love to have over a hundreds of the Byzantines and Normans each and play the Battle of Dyrrhachium with Hail Caesar rules.

11. What is your favorite takeaway?   Probably a gyro with cucumber sauce from a local diner, Domino's Pizza a close second.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

1066 Part 5: Odo of Bayeux

Companion to William the Conqueror, Bishop of Bayeux, Earl of Kent - Odo certainly collected many titles in his sixty-plus years but he his best remembered for the famous Tapestry housed at his bishopric, which he probably commissioned himself.

Odo was born around 1030, several years after his half brother, William. Their mother Herleva was not, as many claimed an believe, the daughter of a common tanner, but definitely not from high nobility.  After a youthful and unconsecrated relationship with Duke Robert I of Normandy resulted in the birth of William c. 1027, Herleva was married off to Herluin, Vicomte of Conteville. She bore him two sons, Odo and Robert, both of whom later played significant roles in the conquest of England. The date of Odo's birth is unknown, but when he was made bishop of Bayeux in 1049, his age was between 14 and 19. Very young to be sure, but not too surprising for one so well connected.

Being a bishop did little to suppress Odo's worldliness and greed, and in fact probably gave license to his corruption.  His wealth did allow him to patronize a variety of artistic and architectural endeavors. In 1066 William entrusted Odo with the task of raising ships and supplies.  He directed troops in the Battle of Hastings, though he probably did not personally engage in melee. After the conquest, Odo was given numerous estates in England and held the title of Earl of Kent.  Afterwards, William spent most of his time in Normandy, leaving Odo as his regent in England.  

On the Bayeux Tapestry, Odo is depicted wielding a club or mace.  Victorian historians attributed this to a supposed ban on religious leaders carrying swords and shedding blood in battle.  While early Medieval church reforms discouraged bishops from engaging in battle, no such proscription on swords exist.  In truth, Odo's club was a symbol of authority not piety.  Undoubtedly, this image and associated stories served as the inspiration for the requirement in Dungeons and Dragons that the Cleric class could only carry blunt weapons - because braining your enemy to death is much more compassionate that stabbing them!

Odo spent his later years out of favor with his brother. This was largely Odo's fault, for he was imprisoned for a variety of corruptions and plots. On William's deathbed, the king ordered the release of all his prisoners with the single exception of Odo. William's advisers, specifically their brother Robert, pressed for Odo's freedom and succeeded.  even attended Wiliiams funeral.  Later, Odo was forced to leave England for plots and remained an advisor to William's son Robert, who inherited Normandy, but not England. He joined his nephew on the First Crusade, but died en route in Italy in 1097.

Modeling and Playing Odo

Like William the Conqueror, the top Dark Age manufacturers Crusader and Gripping Beast sell figures for Odo. Gripping Beast's mounted Odo is very close to the depiction on the Tapestry with its triangular patterned quilted armor.

Below, Odo from the other side, leading a pair of Conquest Games plastic Normans. 

For an Odo on foot, Crusader makes a figure in padded armor.  I used one of Gripping Beast's Angry Monks, with chainmail and a sword, indicating a higher ranked official than just a lowly monk.  

From Crusader Miniature's website, William and Odo

For SAGA, Odo can only lead a Norman warband and may not employ any swords for hire.

Hero of the Viking Age—As a Norman Lord, Odo generates 3 SAGA dice per turn instead of the usual 2 for most Warlords.

Bishop— As a lord bishop, Odo benefit's from the Lord's protection. During melee, Odo can discard Attack Dice in exchange for an equal number of Defense Dice, rather than half as is normal.

Greedy —On the other hand, Odo was quite rapacious, seeking every advantage possible. At the start of each turn, Odo can roll seven SAGA dice instead of six, assuming his warband can generate that many dice. 

Two of his abilities have been used before for other SAGA heroes, and the Bishop ability was created to emphasize Odo's "lead from the rear" approach.  It makes him hard to kill, but less offensive.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Custom Dice Kickstarter

I am fairly cautious on the Kickstarter craze, having gone in for about 8 projects in two years, with good results on all but one.  This one with a few days remaining caught my attention and I decided to go in for it:

Custom Game Dice on Kickstarter

OK, if you dropped over and came back, you'll see that the creator plans to allow backers to submit image files and share those image files with other users.  Having made a few custom dice sets for SAGA using decals, the plan is to convert those into actual engraved dice.

I do have some concerns about the project.  Having done a small amount of graphics work, inexperienced users will have some problems in designing custom images. This could severely delay the project creator if he has to deal with numerous individual issues. Nonetheless,bringing on demand manufacturing to dice is a great idea and I hope it is successful.

So, if anyone's backing the Custom Game Lab Dice on Kickstarter, I am planning on creating the set of dice below for my planned Tang/Song Dynasty SAGA battleboard.  I've backed enough for multiple sets, so I might do a giveaway through the blog.

The three common symbols (1-3) are "soldier," the less common symbol is "sword" and the rare symbol (6) is "heavenly."

The nomads of the steppes spanned thousands of miles, from Eastern Europe to China, and frequently came into conflict with civilized (as in settled, not moral) society.  Similar problems create similar solutions, and the response of the Byzantines to nomadic incursions mirrored what China had already been doing.  Namely, play nomads against each other, co-opt their tactics (horse archery) and create mobile frontier armies.  My Chinese battleboard will basically be based on my old custom Byzantine board with a few changes to reflect Chinese medieval armies - such as the prevalence of crossbows.

Keep an eye out, and I will get the board out in early summer, as soon as I paint up some Essex and Assault Group figures sitting in my lead mountain.

Monday, May 5, 2014

1066 Part 4: William the Bastard, ahem, the Conqueror

William the Bastard Conqueror

As far as name recognition goes, few historical figures compete with William the Conqueror.  Maybe Alexander the Great, Christopher Columbus surpass him, but in the English speaking world "William the Conqueror" and "1066" are an enduring pair.

Born around 1028 to Duke Robert, second son of Duke Richard II (the Good) of Normandy. Richard's death in 1026 left succession to his eldest son Richard III, who died suspiciously a year later.  Robert's complicity has always been assumed and for that reason and other conflicts with the Church, he was encouraged to take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1034. Knowing that death on such a long journey was highly possible, he named his illegitimate son William as his heir.  He also made his vassals swear an oath of allegiance to the child. After reaching Jerusalem, Robert took ill and died.

Oaths to dead men are hard to enforce, and throughout much of his minority William was frequently the target of powerful Norman lords who wished to control the duchy by controlling him.  Close relatives and advisers died frequently.  

Some solidity to his power was brought by his victory at Val-es-Dunes in 1047, with King Henry of France adding support to William's forces against rebellious Normans.  The relationship between the Norman dukes and French kings was always a contentious one, and in this context, William's desire for the English throne makes sense.  Like all vassals, he wanted a base of power independent of his lord. His claim on the English throne was through his grandfather, Richard II, whose sister was King Edward's mother, Emma. Pro-Norman and Pro-Saxon historians have spent centuries debating Edward's intentions, but he was considered a viable successor by Edward during the period of the exile of the Godwin family.  

Favored or not in 1066, William pursued his claim in a bold crossing of the English channel and met Harold's army on 14 October, 1066.  Victory was not certain, for Norman cavalry had yet to develop into the shock troops that would mark the knights of the later Medieval period.  With the death of Harold later in the day, the English forces collapsed and William pushed on towards London.

Below: In a moment of doubt and confusion at Hastings, William removed his helmet to show his men that he still lived.

Numerous Saxon nobles submitted to William and he was crowned as the King of England on Christmas Day, 1066.  Despite the coronation, resistance to William continued for several years.  His brutal response, particularly the "harrying of the north" laid such waste to the country that even some of his contemporary supporters were disturbed.

While his numerous detractors then and throughout history might disagree, "the Conqueror" is a better epithet than "the Bastard."  Throughout his entire reign, he energetically and enthusiastically expanded his reach.  From Normandy, he made vassals of lords in Brittany and Maine.  Form England, he campaigned against the Welsh and Scots, forcing King Malcolm of Scotland to be his man.

His success against rebellions diminished in his autumn years . His eldest son Robert and brother Odo led one such uprising, even defeating the Conqueror in 1078 at Gerberoi. Supposedly, William was unhorsed and wounded by Robert.

In 1087, a raid by the French on Normandy roused the now obese William to his last campaign. While pillaging the French town of Mantes, his horse reared and William ruptured himself on the pommel of his saddle, and died days later.  One final indignity awaited the King.  As his coffin was being moved, his body tumbled out and the smell from his bloated corpse sickened onlookers.

Modelling and playing William

William is frequently depicted by miniature sculptors and as an in-game character.  Gripping Beast offers two, mounted and unmounted, as does Crusader Miniatures.

Gripping Beast's four pack includes William, his half brother Odo and two support character. William is shown raising his helmet at Hastings.

I am very fond of Black Tree Designs Norman command pack, and it includes a couple of nice miscellaneous figures.

Above, William (center) flanked by a Crusader Miniatures Norman (left) and another BTD Norman (right).  Below, a falconer from the Black Tree Norman command pack.

In rule systems with characters, he is nearly always given top ratings.  Field of Glory rates William as an Inspired Commander. SAGA's depiction is one of the most powerful historical characters.  His abilities include a limited activation of two units per turn, instead of the usual one, and the ability to field non-mounted Hearthguard archers.  

Suggested Reading:

Marc Morris' The Norman Conquest is my preferred history on English politics in the eleventh century and William's invasion of England.  It is clearly written, objective and up to date on recent findings.

For a biography on William, I like David C. Douglas' William the Conqueror.  Published in 1964, a good era for historical writing. It is modern enough to be free from antiquarian language but too early to be afflicted with the social history fads and obsessions of modern scholarship.

I suppose anything can be given a humorous treatment, including the Norman invasion. The Doomsday Book (No Not That One) by Howard of Warwick is set in the days after Hastings, as a small group of men are sent by William to scout the English countryside.  At times, it is laugh-out-loud funny with its characters and Pythonesque wordplay.  Funniest character is easily Le Pedvin, an irritable one eyed Norman whose only response to continual frustration is a desire to kill something.  The Norman with an eye-patch in the photo above is my homage to this character.

Next in my 1066 series is the Conqueror's half brother, Odo, the man perhaps responsible for the tapestry which gives us our most contemporary visual record of the Norman conquest.