Saturday 21 December 2013

Greetings on the Solstice

At the departure of the Holly King,
And on the arrival of the Oak King,
May good fortune and happiness be yours.

Merry meet,
Merry part,
Merry meet again.

Blessed be.

Monday 16 December 2013

Sub-Roman Shock Cavalry

The Dux Brit rules allow for the British player to acquire a unit of heavily armoured shock cavalry as an additonal elite group. These would also (I guess) serve as hearthguard for a Saga Strathcylde force. In military terms these are the ultimate in Dark Ages conspicuous consumption. Only the richest, more powerful, best connected warlord is going to have access to a unit of these. And I don't even want to THINK about the effect of a unit of these hitting the flank of some poor bloody infantry, under the influence of Carpe Diem, A Strong Arm, Aggressive Charge or Artorius and Lancelot leading them with Hero of The Age... Best pray to Woden, boys, because nothing on earth is going to save you!

The presence of Sarmatian heavy cavalry in Britain at the end of the Roman period seems well-supported by evidence both physical and documentary. The idea that it lasted into the Sub-Roman period and was the model for Arthur's knights appears to owe more to plausibility than archaeology. Still, it's only a game...

These are Gripping Beast Late Roman armoured cavalry, that I bought on Ebay for a song. The figures appear to be some of the Beast's older offerings, with shields cast in place. I don't get on well with cast-on shields, as I struggle to paint the details on the rear of the shield and the adjacent bits of figure, but I think I did OK. The figures have a nice variation of poses - four quite different stances, all nice and natural. The faces are characterful and reasonably varied, including a beardy one, and all four show sufficient subtle differences in equipment to make them look like individuals. They required some minor cleanup of joint seams, but carried no flash at all, as is pretty much the norm for GB. Although they came with lances, I replaced the lead ones (which bend when you look at them) with some I made from steel rod. Overall I was as pleased as punch with this buy.

Shields, only slightly derived from the notitia dignitatum...

The minor downside was that they came without horses, but for the price it was still so worth it. A scratch around revealed some possible sources for mounts, but I struck lucky again, and managed to cop some Conquest Games Norman horses from a helpful chap on LAF.

Now, these might not be perfect horses for the job. They represent animals that are frankly a bit too good a quality for Sub-Roman purposes. The standard of post-Roman horse flesh might not have been anything like as well-bred as this, although there are suggestions (again, I'm not sure how much evidence backs them up!) of imports of cavalry mounts from the continent. However, these were readily available and thanks to the seller's fairness, very reasonably priced, so they'll do for me.

Line abreast, the last thing some poor infantry would ever see...

The horse models come as three-piece kits, need very minimal pre-assembly cleanup and go together without difficulty, although mine did need a bit of filler. The two different halves and separate head construction method gives plenty of variation. To anyone used to plastic scale models, these are a doddle.

The bridles, I thought deserve a special mention - moulded accurately (for Normans, of course, but near enough for me) carefully and about as delicately as is possible. One really good thing is that the horses are kitted without saddles, but with blankets. This makes them very suitable for the sort of generic use I've made of them, and probably isn't an accident on the part of the sculptor. Anatomy and posing really is first class, and even if they are a bit good quality for Sub-Roman Britain, these really are nice figures - recommended!

Other side. I LIKE these horses!

Now, unsurprisingly as they weren't sculpted to go together, the horses and riders need a bit of work to make them fit convincingly. The Gripping Beast riders have their four-horn saddles moulded in situ, and by reaming out the bottom of the saddle and the sides of the horse, you can get a nice matchup between the two. A bit of greenstuff here and there makes the fit perfect. I added one strap to the back of horse, under the tail. I'm not sure if Roman saddles of this type had the double girths as cast onto the horses, but I left them in place anyway.

As super-elite fighters (hearthguard AND mounted? They're not going to have much of an attitude are they?) I went with  bright colours (nearly garish, if you like) for clothes, and bright painted shields, with some home-made "monster" decals for good measure.

Here they are, lending tone to a vulgar brawl...

Upon due reflection, I think the Picts leaving the woods to fight these guys might have been misguided. My money's definitely on the cavalry here on the flat!

Merry Meet Again!

Friday 13 December 2013

Sub-Roman Leader - Lancelot

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves 

Of bold Sir Lancelot. 

"The Lady of Shalott", Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This guy is my take on Lancelot.

And as he rode his armour rung, Beside remote Shalott.

He's a Gripping Beast mini, sold as a Strathcylde noble for Saga. The style of the helmet, his scale armour, short trousers and lack of stirrups make him totally suitable for Sub-Roman use too. The Dux Brit reinforcements for the British grant an additional Class II noble to go with the shock cavalry, so this chap will be using his activations there, as well as (eventually) leading my Strathclyde Saga force.

  His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d; On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode; 

He is provided as a two-piece casting: horse and rider as one piece, and a separate sword. This would allow some option for variation should you want it, replacing sword with spear, for example. I built him up "as is". Some bits of the horse needed some fairly brutal (Dremel) cleanup, but the rider had minimal joint lines, and there was no flash anywhere.

From underneath his helmet flow’d His coal-black curls as on he rode,

Note he doesn't come with a shield. I did quite a bit of head-scratching about this. I went through the time-honoured ritual of thinking thrice and measuring twice before getting to the point of cutting once, but even thinking and measuring a lot more times I couldn't come up with a totally convincing solution. There simply isn't room for any "normal" sort of Sub-Roman shield, whether round or oval, never mind the table-top sized ones the rest of the shock cavalry are carrying. The only way to give him a shield is to go to the data in Heinrich Harte and Tania Dickinson's work, and make him a bucker, in the Saxon style. Harte and Dickinson give the smallest archaeologically attested bucker diameter as 34cm (6mm in scale). The space available allows you to go slightly away from the bleeding edge, to something like 8mm (45cm in full size).

I made up some plastic card bucklers that size, and dry fitted them. They just didn't look right. So, I went with the figure as it is. Lancelot is quick and agile enough, fighting on his own, to avoid getting hit.

Take that!

These two Pictish skirmishers might just about live to regret trying to ambush Lancelot as he rode through the trees.

Merry meet again!

Sunday 1 December 2013

Here be dragons...

Underneath a wind torn sky,
Silent as the hunter’s moon I chase.
I am the guardian.
I am the god of this place.

I am the silent death,
Golden eyes and burning breath I take.
While the forest shakes and sighs
In my wake.

Taken down by armored men,
I tore their shields, I bloodied some!
I am war!
But the cowards came in numbers,
All the more...

Sing to me a song of open skies,
Bury me upon a mountain high.

Adapted from "Death of the Tiger", by Danny Vaughn

Danny Vaughn, who is a briliant singer and songwriter, and an all-round top bloke, wrote the above about the plight of tigers in captivity. Check out his work, and also the sentiment behind this. Wild animals, especially those that are so magnificent, have no place being kept for our amusement. As for people who hunt them for so-called "fun" or "medicine", well, I have my own opinions of how they should be dealt with, shall we say.

Despite being written about tigers, this spoke to me about how a dragon might think. Not just some mindless animal, driven by instinct alone, but a powerful entity, clever and wise, with a sublime knowledge of its place in the world. Men might catch a dragon, or even kill a dragon, but no man could ever truly tame a dragon.

If I have mysterious inhuman women, wizards and half-giants (soon!) in my wargame world, then dragons fit perfectly.

"My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords..." Left side.

This was a Grenadier Miniatures Blue Dragon, bought probably twenty years ago and waiting for an excuse to rise again ever since. 

"My claws spears, the shock of my tail is a thunderbolt..." Right side.

I gave it a coat of black primer (to kill the original blue) then a coat of red oxide as an undercoat. Over this went a wash of black ink, then vast numbers of drybrushed coats of different shades of red-brown, red and orange.

 "My wings a hurricane, and my breath death!" You do not want to get on this side!

Individual scales were picked out with bright reds and oranges, and teeth, claws and eyes painted. Do you wonder everyone except Wiglaf decided to not help Beowulf fight the dragon?

Three heroes plus Merlin? My money's on the dragon!

The stones around the base are polymer clay, painted, ink washed and drybrushed, with a scorch mark drybrushed into the grass. Just to remind people there aren't just teeth in that end!

Three heroes, Merlin AND a dragon? This could be bad for someone. Very bad...

Merry Meet Again!

Sunday 24 November 2013

Raiding The Church of Saint Caradoc the Disappointed - Again!

Aelle had run short of money again, so decided to raid Saint Caradoc's again. Well, after all, those peasants must have been fleeced of their money to buy some new valuables for the altar by now! And so, Saint Caradoc's quiet is disturbed again by fighting and killing.

This time around, Jeff took the Britons and I took the Saxons. Aelle's morale was a bit brittle, but Arthorius was nicely confident when he took the table.

Table setup, ready to go

My Saxons got three free moves at the start, and started crossing the very rough terrain  towards the church. I started a precedent for the night by rolling very, VERY low, and so was admiring the view in the hills while Jeff reached the church with Arthorius and the knights.

Where did that extra terrain come from?

Jeff hunkered down in the church, and try as I might I could not force my way in, or winkle him out, despite a couple of rounds of hand, but totally inconclusive fighting! A massive scrap developed on the edge of the hill close to the edge of the swamp. Jeff ground my force of warriors down, with the missile troops on both sides not doing much.

Come out and fight!

Jeff brought the rest of his troops up and threatened my growing force assaulting the church. Arthorius acted more like a general than  a warlord, directing action outside from within the safety of the church. Aelle drove off Bedwyr and the British levy, who withdrew in good order. Appaling low rolls on my part meant several charges just didn't connect! Aelle had sustained some losses, and these became critical, when just after this picture was taken Arthorius sallied out of the church

That's seen off the rabble!

Arthorius drove off both Saxon elite groups (who lost their amphorae), wounded Aelle and elsewhere Cei routed a unit of warriors. Cerdic and Sigebehrt could only look on as the army crumbled! Saxon morale collapsed and Jeff won a victory.

Neither side lost many men, and after adding up victory points, we had an odd situation. All through the game, I had struggled not just with low dice rolls, but also with having almost no attack-based Fate cards. This meant that at the end of the game, I was holding four Retreat cards which didn't do me any good at all! I should have scarpered when I couldn't get Jeff out of that church. Alternative answers on a postcard please... Well, a good night was had by all, and it'll become a regular thing.

Merry Meet Again!

Saturday 23 November 2013

Let There Be Music!

These two stragglers from the last batch of painting should add a bit of flavour, by bringing some music to things. Bards, in one form or another, seem to have been a fixture of most cultures of this era, acting as propagandist, archivist and entertainer all in one. Some also seem to have been accomplished warriors too - think Taliesin in the Arthurian sagas.

The Pictish hornblower is a Gripping Beast sculpt, and a lovely one to work with. He will be equally at home as part of a hearthguard unit in Saga, as a Dux Brit noble or even as the master of any hound pack I build down the line. He can lead and rally, send orders or rouse morale. Smashing!

 But whiles then the horn fell to singing, a song of war eager. (Beowulf)

The harpist is a Black Tree mini. I got him as part of a large pack of Saxons, and frankly couldn't find anything to do with him. Dux Brit has rules for bards, and Saga has an add-on for the same. I added weapons to this fellow, sword and dagger, just to make him look less like a total boho who wandered onto the battlefield by accident. With a beard, bare legs and short cloak, this guy has obviously dipped into the fashions of Saxon, Briton and Pict to come up with his own unique look. Which also means he can be tagged onto any warband - handy!

There was the harp's voice, and clear song of shaper. (Beowulf)

Here's a rear view of both of them, looking out over the hills.

Both of these two have more than their fair share of vanity, with their gold jewellry and fancy decorated clothes, but they can bring a lot to any warband they attach themselves to.

Do you know Achilles' Last Stand? "It was an April morning when they told us we should go. As I turn to you, you smiled at me - how could we say no?"

Merry Meet Again!

Saturday 16 November 2013

Pictish Army for Dux Brit

Long ago, when the world was young, Two Fat Lardies promised a supplement for Dux Brit covering raiders from the Celtic fringes of Britain. This is going to cover Picts and Dalriadan Scots, plus possibly others (North British/Strathclyde Welsh?) hopefully with campaign and advancement rules, and the Game and Fate deck cards that will presumably be needed to capture the specific flavours of these other armies.

Well, the world's a bit older now and after a long period with no sign of the actual printed supplement, Lardie Rich has put a date of early 2014 on the release. I hear pennies being saved up!

However, what is reasonably clear and concrete is the form of the Pictish and Scots armies. So, you can assemble such a force and be ready to go as soon as you have the cards!

I don't suppose it's any great surprise to regular readers that I would LOVE to put a Pictish army into the field. Luckily, I have a bit of a head start with the WAB figures I've painted. Here's what it looks like:

Watch out, Aelle and Arthorius!

According to the TFL Yahoo site a Dux Brit Pictish army comprises:

One Level III noble with a champion and one (or two) Level II nobles

We're in charge!

Four units of six unarmoured/lightly armoured Raiders

The heavy mob!
One unit of four mounted Raiders

Too quick for you lot!

One unit of four missile troops

Yes, we WILL have somone's eye out!

One unit of four skirmishers

Can't catch us!

Things that stand out are that this is a fairly homogeneous army - all the Raiders count as warrior class troops. There are neither levy nor elite troops. It's pretty mobile, with three detached units.

Well, I already had the skirmishers, missile troops and cavalry, and the limited command section was quick enough with some of Gripping Beast's lovely selection. My raiders are assorted Pictish warriors from Gripping Beast, Black Tree Design and Newline Design, as described here.

Reinforcements are as follows:

1 Pack of War Hounds (No clues yet on numbers or how this works - be interesting to see!)

2 One (more) unit of four skirmishers (Got these!)

3 One (more) unit of six unarmoured Raiders

4. One unit of six Noble Raiders in armour (I can scratch these up from my various armoured Picts/Scots already. I guess these are the only elite/companion troops.)

Thus far only four reinforcement units have been designated, so far as I can tell, rather than the five that British or Saxons get.

Until the supplement materialises, there isn't a huge amount I can do with these other than look longingly.

Ready for a fight, anytime you feel like it...

Remember, these people are equally happy robbing, terrifying and brutalising anyone, so it's no good Aelle thinking he can sit back and laugh as they make Arthorius' life miserable, or for Arthorius to ignore them in the hope they will just concentrate on relieving Aelle of his ill-gotten gains.

Of course, the doomsday scenario for these guys is Alle and Arthorius deciding to gang up on them to get a minute of peace to fight one another without interruption from Points North. On the other hand, it's quite possible for either one of those two worthies to make a pact with the Picts to finish the other one off once and for all... Interesting times lie ahead, I would say!

This lot will give perfectly good service as a Scots SAGA force. The Scots are defined in the Northern Fury supplement. The difference between a Pictish army of (say) AD830 and a Scots one of (say) AD850 is really going to be in name only, so bring it on! With the addition of some more missile troops (to get a single point's worth of levy), here they are. First, as a four point warband, cutting down the number of warriors to 16 and adding a single point's worth of armoured hearthguard:

Four point starting point force

Then as a standard six point force (with four extra hearthguard and the rest of the warriors):

Standard six point force

Merry Meet Again!

Friday 15 November 2013

Pictish Raiders - Lock Up Your...

With this lot about, lock up your everything! Then nail it down too!

You do NOT want to mess with this lot!

These are the four groups of Pictish raiders for Dux Brit (also suitable for Dux Bell, WAB and SAGA too!). These are typical non-noble/elite warrior types, so no/limited armour, and hand weapons. These minis are a mixture of Gripping Beast, Newline and Black Tree sculpts. I am still kicking myself for not buying enough Pictish spearmen from Miniature Design Studios before Caliver absorbed them (and the price went up!) to build a WAB army, as this would have given me MORE than enough for this project!

Front L to R: Black Tree, Gripping Beast, GB, Rear L to R Newline (Westwind head), BT, BT

In a few cases, I swapped the heads for new metal ones from West Wind or plastic Saxon Gripping Beast examples. I added additional hand weapons on those that needed them.

Front L to R: Newline (GB plastic Saxon head) GB, GB, Rear L to R  BT, GB, GB

Axes were from metal rod and greenstuff, cut in so that they sit in the belts, and swords (scabbards, really) were lengths of brass strip, and greenstuff for hilts, throats and chapes. I found this quite easy, as you can model the whole thing supported by the body of the mini, rather than trying to sculpt in thin air.

Front L to R: GB, BT (heavily modified), Newline , Rear L to R GB, GB, BT

Tartan, in the modern sense we use the term seems to have been a product of the eighteenth/nineteenth century, but there is a body of archaeological evidence of the use of woven patterned cloth back to the Iron Age in Scotland, so I don't feel there's any problem with a simple check pattern here and there. Since these are not the richest of men, the patterns and colours are generally muted, but a bit of splash here and there seems fine, to show off the wealth they have swiped from other people.

Front L to R: GB, BT, BT (Westwind head), Rear L to R BT, BT, BT

This nasty bunch were designed for a career making life hard for Arthorius and Aelle in Dux Brit, but will be available for Dux Bell, WAB and SAGA in the future. With neighbours like these, no wonder Hadrian built that ruddy great wall!

Run for the hills!
Merry meet again!

Monday 11 November 2013

SAGA Here We Come!

Well, done it! I've got a copy of the SAGA main rules and the Northern Fury Supplement.

This looks great - loads of lovely artwork, plenty of explanation and even humour. I'm so looking forward to playing this.

On a short read-through, I can put Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Danish and Scots forces into the field now. I've got odds and ends that can contribute to Welsh and Norman armies, and to be honest, it isn't a bit lift to finish these and/or put a Viking/Jomsviking mob on the table. I've got plenty of terrain and buildings already and a table big enough.

There's the matter of measuring sticks and SAGA dice, but that's no big deal - the SAGA forum has dice symbols and stick templates to make your own with no problems at all.

Here we go!

Merry Meet Again!

Saturday 2 November 2013

Village Raid - A Dux Brit Game, With a New Player!

I managed to drag my mate Jeff around to have a go at Dux Brit. OK, let’s be brutally honest. We neither of us needed much dragging, but finding a time we could both do was a challenge! Jeff is a former rolegamer/fantasy wargamer, but hadn’t played in donkey’s years. A small army, rules-light knockabout game like Dux Brit sounds ideal as a way back in.

As an aside, the other game that seems to work well for this is Gripping Beast’s SAGA. I’ve watched Darren do numerous games with people who have never played before and it runs like a watch and all involved have a great time. SAGA is on my to-do list!

As Jeff was a new player, we set the table up by randomly rolling for the location of large terrain features and scattering the small ones randomly.

 Table set and ready to go. Let battle commence!

The scenario was the village raid, so the village was set up with five buildings (two houses, barn, granary and pigsty), plus some fence sections. The village we live in is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and is in an area full of evidence of habitation back into the Bronze Age and even the Neolithic, so we could convince ourselves this is actually home turf. Luckily we're both incomers, so neither of us needed to feel they were betraying their direct ancestors with their choice of army!

Jeff took the Saxons, and I took the Britons. Jeff got four initial free moves and was into the village and looting by the time theBritish arrived. The British entry point was right at the edge of the village, so it almost immediately turned into a serious slug-fest, with all the better quality troops from both sides going hammer and tongs while my levy milled about and did nothing useful.

Jeff's eye view of the start...

My elite troops were having the best of it until Jeff pulled a fantastic trick: after a short retreat, he charged full-tilt at my elite troops with two grouped units of Saxon warriors, playing a Carpe Diem card and THREE "Strong Arm" cards in one go. Despite the Saxons being depleted before they started, in one brief turn of combat my elite went from ruling the table to losing their amphora. I don't think they've stopped running yet!

Shortly after this, the Saxon's morale collapsed, having lost several units and a noble.  Although this granted Arthorius a win, Jeff's skilled handling (especially that bit above!) meant Aelle was able to withdraw in good order having inflicted heavy casualties, so game ended in an expensive, hard-won marginal victory the Britons are unlikely to celebrate much.

We were enjoying it so much I didn't take any more pictures though! Oh well!

Merry meet again.

Thursday 31 October 2013


True Gods, they sleep,
Locked in their mountain of dreams.
They wait for the call, for the hunger.
They must be freed,
Drive out the Christian seed.
Lay waste; bring the storm and the thunder!

If I was King for a day,
This land would burn in the mystical flames!
Born through the fire,
The Old Gods would reign!
If I was King for a day!

King For A Day, From "The Once and Future king, Part I" words and music by Gary Hughes

Another slight foray into the mystical side of Arthurian wargames, here is Merlin, or, if you prefer, Myrrdin. Although his advice to Arthur was invaluable, it's well worth remembering Merlin (or Myrrdin!) had an agenda of his own, and only helped Arthur because it suited his ends.

 I hate churches, me...

As such, he's another potential source of randomness or downright anarchy in a game of Dux Brit, along with Nimue, either together or separately.

This is a Harlequin Miniatures model from their Lord of the Rings Legends of the Realm range, designed to represent someone who might look a bit like Radagast the Brown. I bought it through Black Tree Design when they owned these moulds. They are nice figures, but I'm not sure if that part of the Harlequin range is on the market any more. This is unfortunate, as they really were lovely figures.

I altered him a little, changing the leggings and high boots for a long robe, and removed the top of the staff. On Gary Hughes's albums, Bob Catley, formerly of Magnum, takes the vocal role of Merlin. Add a beard and he's even more convincing!

Finally, here are Merlin and Nimue, together. If each one was trouble on their own, just imagine how messy things could get with BOTH of them meddling?

Here's trouble...

Think about the way you feel tonight,
Does the fire inside you still burn bright?
Find a way somehow to believe enough to fight,
Feel the cold caress of steel tonight.
Will you find the strength to face the light?
Did it take `till now to believe enough to fight?

I will return the gods to Britain!
This fire will burn,
I pledge my soul.
I will return the gods to Britain!
This tide will turn,
This ancient land.
Believe Enough To Fight, From "The Once and Future king, Part II" words and music by Gary Hughes

I will return the gods to Britain!

Merry meet again!

Thursday 24 October 2013

Fields of Crops, Quick and Cheap!

Want some very quick terrain? Try this.

Get a coir fibre mat to represent growing crops (cereals, mostly). I bought a short pile (20mm) version from my local “if we don’t sell it, you probably don’t need it” farmers’ stores, for the princely cost of about four quid.

Then you cut it into appropriately sized rectangles with a big knife.

And that’s it.

I suppose I should wipe my feet!

If you want a bit more, a simple variation is to cut out a section in the middle of the piece, so that it looks like any troops in the field are standing in the crops, not floating in mid air. A word of advice. Trim a piece off each side of the inner piece. That way it's easy to get in and out. The off-cuts could be used to make narrow, but (in my opinion) totally unconvincing hedges.

Dense enough to hide in - but is it realistic?

There’s a school of thought that says that coir matting doesn’t look like a cereal crop field, and I can see why, especially if you just do the above - cut off lumps of it and plop it down on the table. So, invest a fraction of the time it would take to make another terrain piece and ginger it up a bit!

The colour tends to be a bit dark, but I’ve seen plenty of old, weathered barley crops that look that colour, and if it’s a big deal there’s always drybrushing.

Another argument is that as it is, it’s too dense. I got around this by carefully setting my table saw to cut less than the depth of the pile of the mat, then running the section through to produce parallel rows of stalks. This took a long time, as the single-kerf blade took several passes to cut each row. Norm Abram’s stack head dado cutter would have done it in no time! Oh, and the mess it creates is breathtaking! Then, trim it short around the edges, and add a bit of flock/static grass/clump foliage there, to represent the weedy bits on the headlands of fields. Lovely!

Miles more authentic, this one!

Here's the same piece, with the centre cut out.

Take a stand in the middle of a field!

Here's a close up. These ruffians are the first btach of Pictish raiders, with an armoured noble to try to keep some semblance of order among them. Good luck with that...

Right lads, here we go...

Merry meet again!