Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Biology of Sepulveda 7: Part 10, the Space Demons (continued)

Note: this article examines the biology of the Space Demon because these at one point infested Sepulveda 7 after the defeat of the Pelagic invasion. Its publication is not meant to imply that the Space Demon is part of Sepulveda 7’s current fauna or that the eradication programme on that planet was not satisfactorily completed. Models of the Space Demon Colossus, and Nymphs, are available now on the Khurasan Miniatures website.

Due to its enormous size, the Space Demon Colossus (top) is an exception to the rule of Space Demon propagation; the Nymph (below left), and the resulting Assault Warrior (below right), are the norm.

The Space Demon breeds parasitically. Even in the heat of battle, the female of the species, the Queen, can within ten minutes create from her essence and give live birth to a Nymph, which resembles a slightly foreshortened version of a fully grown creature’s head with four sharp, articulated scythes for legs. Assuming she is provided with the flesh of enough victims, or hunts them down herself, she can create and give birth to as many as 100 Nymphs in a day.

From the moment they are born Nymphs skitter about seeking a host, preferably a biped like a human, and once one is found the Nymph will repeatedly and strenuously attempt to hop onto the host’s head. Once up on the host’s head, huge jaws on its belly suddenly gape and entirely swallow the host’s head so that the host appears to have the Nymph for a head, which, sadly, from this point on it indeed does. The cerebro-positor of the Nymph will immediately burrow through the victim’s skull and deep into the brain, wresting away the higher functions of the host’s body. The host’s brain is kept alive and fully functioning to control the body’s lower functions. This is a continually agonizing experience and the host can be heard screaming inside the body of the Nymph, leading some human populations to term Space Demon Hosts as “Screamers” or “Howlers.” Removal of the Nymph is absolutely impossible – its scythe legs burrow deep into the chest cavity of the host and quickly bond with its skeleton, and even if these are cut off the removal of the cerebro-positor from the host’s brain kills the host.

Over a period of approximately a week, the host’s genetic system goes into a furious acceleration and its cells are rapidly replaced by space demon cells (called “imperial” cells), branching down from the neck to the arms, chest, and finally legs. During this time the host is far from helpless and, under the complete control of the Nymph, can be quite a dangerous adversary, running and swinging its arms wildly, without the restraint that fear of self-injury usually brings. This puts the human trooper in the unnerving position of being assaulted by what was is effectively a talking human corpse, which begs for help while simultaneously pummelling him. Fortunately the Nymph does not know how to work machinery so Hosts are unable to use weaponry.

Eventually the process of assimilation is over and another fully formed space demon joins the hive, all of the cells of the host being replaced by space demon cells. All Nymphs are born as juvenile Assault Warriors, but, based on the needs of the hive, a queen may inject additional genetic material into a host’s belly to lead to the development of one of the higher sub-species of Space Demons.

It has been observed that Space Demons often populate their hives with Nymphs, the adult demons ranging far and wide looking for hosts which are then brought back to the hive to be infected. Also wandering the tunnels of the hive are often large numbers of wailing Hosts in various stages of transformation.

When a planet is heavily infested with Space Demons, queens will begin periodically laying eggs, a method of breeding associated only with the Colossus. These eggs are extremely large and a queen can only lay one in a day. This egg is laid in a deep chamber in the ground which has been dug by the Tunneller Space Demons, and hatches as a larva, a sort of armoured worm that is two meters long at birth and grows geometrically. The other Space Demons will gather live victims for the larva to eat, which are thrown screaming into the underground chamber to be devoured. Soon the entire chamber is filled with the expanding body of the larva, which cocoons and soon emerges, digging itself from the ground, as a tripodal Colossus, most terrible of all Space Demon creatures.

Striding rapidly across the planet’s surface no matter what the terrain, seemingly always in balance atop its three legs, the agile Colossus has many methods of attack. It can impale smaller prey with great dexterity using its razor-sharp legs, flicking a wounded victim off toward other space demons so that the injured creature’s body can become a host for a Nymph. It also bombards more powerful prey, and especially mechanical weapons systems, with its most potent weapon, the void cannon, from which pulses an extremely powerful blast which few targets can survive. Time and space seem to buckle and warp immediately before the void cannon is discharged. Jutting permanently from the creature’s outer mouth, its extensor jaws serve as the barrel of this terrible weapon, but are tipped with two enormous teeth which can flex open and shut, ripping the thickest armour to pieces. Even Federal L-HACs treat these jaws with great respect and strive to avoid the bite of the Colossus.

But the Colossus has one more weapon in its arsenal. Before a great hunt, the Colossus will lower itself and a dozen nymphs will scurry up its legs, then into the nymph-nodes on either side of the Colossus’s head. The Colossus can shoot these nymphs out of the nymph-nodes to fair distances toward enemy infantry formations, the nymphs hitting the ground running, attempting to swallow the heads of nearby prey. For human defenders, this is usually the most terrifying aspect of the Colossus -- its ability to insert the dreaded Nymphs directly in such close proximity.

The Colossus can walk with its legs extended so that it can attain great height, but is often seen in combat with its three legs bent, which puts it closer to man-sized prey and is a more stable platform from which to fire the void cannon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Molokon Rattler

From Lambda Sagittarii come the Molokons, imperialist synthetic organisms bent of destruction of all organic life. When the great Molokon Spheres materialize in a star system, it is doomed.

The Molokons will not communicate or negotiate, they will simply begin operations to reduce the planets to their constituent silicon, then engineer these silicon globes in a way that is not well understood but results in the planets becoming part of an interstellar "lattice" conducting the Molokon Network.

How the Molokons came to be is unknown; perhaps some civilization constructed a set of forerunner synths and these seized power, or perhaps they took to fending for themselves after the creator race became extinct one way or another.

What is known from monitoring Molokon chatter is that they never discuss their creators. They care only for themselves, and expanding their network until is encompasses all of space. While Molokons speak in a monotonous drone, it is abundantly clear that they possess the synth equivalent of emotions, speaking at great length of the rich enjoyment of causing pain and destruction to organic life.

The rank and file warrior unit of the Molokons is the centaur-like Rattler, a large robot as tall as a human and considerably heavier. Each mounts a photon cannon used to pitilessly eliminate all resistance on the planet so that the great fabricator ships can process the planet. Scrabbling at the feet of the enormous Journeymen and supported from the air by the Mayfly gunships, the Rattlers move methodically across the surface of the planet, mercilessly exterminating all life forms that offer resistance. Their name comes from the unnerving rattling sound that thousands of Molybdenum talons make as they propel the Rattlers onward at speed.

Mike Broadbent has created the 15mm Rattler model, which has six legs which plug into holes along the main chassis of the unit, as well as a gun torso and head, which like the legs is posable. As can be seen from the photo below, there's some flexibility in the models -- for instance, simply remove the hatchet head of the Rattler and its whole look changes to something much more arachnoid. These are also quite suitable as sentry robots or similar for 28mm gaming.

The Molokon Rattlers should be available in a few weeks. They will be followed by their giant land monitor, the Journeyman, as well as the long slender missile craft, the Mayfly.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sir Yes Sir

L-HAC 42R-4 receives orders from his Lieutenant.

The heavy land asset of the Federal Marine Corp. is the Legged Heavy Assault Cyborg, or L-HAC, pronounced "el-hack." An 11-metre tall chassis made of stabilized osmium, the L-HAC has the brain and spinal column of a deceased Marine veteran installed permanently in a life support chamber deep in the citadel of its chassis. To qualify for installation, during his full-body lifetime the marine is required to have given at least 20 years of continuous and meritorious service, to have been cited for outstanding performance at least 10 times, and to have undergone stringent mental examination to establish his emotional stability and eliminate candidates with any tendencies toward megalomania. Marine volunteers who meet all these qualifications and sign a waiver may be installed if they have suffered bodily injury too great to continue to function as a full-body serviceman but possess a sufficiently-intact brain and spinal column for installation, provided of course that an L-HAC chassis is available.

The L-HAC's main armament is a naval rifle usually mounted in the turret of an interstellar battleship

L-HACS are, to the extent possible, deployed in support of the regiment in which they served as a full-body asset; although the identity of the former full-body is supposedly kept a secret, marines who served alongside the installed veteran will admit off the record that they quickly recognize echos of the full-body's personality in the behavior of the titanic machine.

On very rare occasions an L-HAC is temporarily assigned to a regiment from the one in which he served as a full-body, or even another division, but this is generally an expediency dictated by combat losses. The L-HAC is immediately transfered back to his old unit when a replacement is available.

One remarkable exception was L-HAC 42R-4, a Royal Marines L-HAC of 42 Commando posted temporarily with the 1st Battalion ("Timberwolf") of the 2nd Marines during the Third Pelagic War on Sepulveda 7. The 2nd, like most Marine Divisions, was heavily composed of men from the FUSA (Former United States of America), but heavy losses required that a Royal Marines L-HAC (designated with an "R" after their first numeral designation) be posted to the 1st Battalion, which had lost all of its L-HACs in combat. At first received reluctantly (to put it mildly), this L-HAC was eventually held in such esteem by Timberwolf Battalion after the final battles on Sepulveda that a virtual mutiny broke out when its redeployment orders were digi-commed into Division HQ. As a special and one-time exception, L-HAC 42R-4, or "Tommy" as he was called by the Timberwolves, was thereafter permanently attached to the 1st Battalion. When asked why they were so fond of this L-HAC, one lieutenant said, "it's hard to say. There are lots of little differences in this particular unit, of course. But those little peculiarities grew on us, and he is good -- he saved our lives so many times, we figured that he belonged with us. He seems to agree; he's happy to be with Timberwolf Battalion. We went through a lot together, after all."

The main weapons system of the L-HAC is the Weintraub AstroSystems Battlemaster 30cm Naval Rifle, a fleet-grade teleport cannon, so called because such weapons operate by teleporting selected portions of their targets where designated by the gunner. To illustrate, a targeted swarm of space demons can be teleported into the center of a mountain or into the void of space, either of which naturally constitutes a kill. A large target such as a tank or structure will have a targeted portion, such as a turret, teleported away from the remainder, thereby rendering it out of action. The L-HAC has some choice in the matter on the destination of teleportation, L-HAC 42R-4 apparently being fond of teleporting targets 200 metres into the air, or teleporting groups of enemy infantry into other groups of enemy infantry, thereby achieving a KIA on both groups. Battlemaster Naval Rifles are extremely potent weapons most often seen in the turrets of battleships of the Federal Navy, and this armament permits the L-HAC to engage enemy fleet assets in orbit around the planet.

Blurry photo of the business end of the Weintraub Astrosystems Battlemaster Naval Rifle.

The L-HAC also has a large claw hand for manipulation or close assault if necessary, and mounted on this are double 40mm gatling guns. It possesses sophisticated communications arrays and can use the Battlemaster for non-weapons purposes as well, teleporting individual persons or small objects in a non-lethal transport capacity, but this is more time-consuming a task and only rarely done on the battlefield.

In addition to its weaponry, the L-HAC can also serve as a Medevac unit, an extensible antigrav stretcher being mounted on the bottom of its left arm which is capable of lifting an injured person with great care and inserting him into one of three Medevac stasis chambers in the chest of the L-HAC, temporarily halting any deterioration in the medical condition of the patient until he can be transported to a field hospital.

A look at the Medevac stretcher generally tucked under the left arm of the L-HAC.

The L-HAC model was prototyped by Mark Mondragon, printed by Moddler and cast by Valiant Enterprises. It's quite posable and you can put the model into hundreds of different positions, as I've hopefully demonstrated with this model. The legs are however only of limited posability, a choice we made to keep the model stable. The legs and feet are made of white metal for stability -- though leaning far over, this model is standing up by itself. Standing at its full height it is over 10 cm (4") tall so it will make an imposing tabletop presence even for 28mm gamers -- for that matter, even for 40mm gamers!

Apparently having travelled through some time portal, the L-HAC enjoys listening to Minnie Apliss, one of our 1970s pulp 28mm figures.

I thought that, rather than make another tank as the heavy unit for the Federal Marines, I'd make something in human shape, to represent the Federation of Man in his future triumphs and follies in space. He's a tribute to all of those people who, once we've lost them, become somehow even more powerful in our lives. It's wishful thinking, but it's nice to think that they can come back and continue to be there for us, loyally helping us out, after we think they are gone forever. The model is being production cast now by Valiant and should be available in a few weeks, after it gets painted up for display -- though it's huge so I'm a little afraid of what the painting fee will be!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Biology of Sepulveda 7: Part 11, the Chewks

The Chewks are currently being sculpted to recreate the appearance of these desert nomads in the Sepulveda 7 campaign. Wandering the equatorial deserts in their immense underground drillships, they will attack any who enter their domain, seeking tribute for passage, or simply taking what they wish from those who dare upset the great stillness of the desert.

These are the first of two teams of Chewkgunners. (This team is a WIP.) The Chewkgun is the main infantry arm of the Chewks, a machinegun cognate which sprays the enemy with deadly fusion balls at a high rate of fire. This has a particularly lethal effect on armoured targets, who lose their armour advantage to the fusion ammunition of all Chewk weaponry.

Like most indigenous life forms on Sepulveda 7, the chewks are xenocrustaceans. Quite small by human measure, the Chewks have "the heart of the Sponk beating within their bodies," as the saying goes amongst the human population. Standing roughly four feet tall (so 12mm tall in 15mm scale), the Chewks cannot shoulder weapons as large as can humans, but it is of little matter, for they have developed a round of ammo to penetrate the hard shells possessed by so many of the creatures on Sepulveda 7, and this fusion ammunition levels the playing field. Even the rifle of the infantrychewk fires a fusion round, although it must be loaded into the muzzle and then detonated by a bolt-action mechanism in the breech.

The chewk is undeniably at a disadvantge in close combat with a human, but to some extent it makes up for this due to its hard shell and sharp pincers, and irritating failure to be intimidated by any creature or any weapon. Nonetheless, it is in close combat that the Chewks are most often defeated, and when obviously bested they will at times simply leap upon the sand and burrow in, escaping with startling rapidity unless tightly grasped. This same uncanny sandburrowing ability is of enormous assistance to them when they are under bombardment.

We are making 29 unique sculptures to represent the Chewks:

  1. four infantrychewks shooting
  2. four infantrychewks advancing
  3. four infantrychewks prone
  4. four chewkzookas (2 x 2 personal antitank rocket crews)
  5. four chewkgunners (2 x 2 chewkgun crews)
  6. four chewkbombers (2 x 2 chewkbomb (mortar) crews)
  7. three chewkannoneers (1 x 3 chewkannon (field gun) crew, plus one chewkamel beast of burden to haul the chewkannon -- the chewkamel is essentially a huge sandflea)
  8. two chewkommanders

We will, if the Chewks are sufficiently popular, make the mighty drillship itself, at least the portion of it emerging from the sand, the cannonbay doors open, a drill-mounted chewkannon firing from atop its cherrypicker-like arm. Also open will be the exit portals from which the Chewks pour to raid their unsuspecting targets.

Coming, hopefully, in Spring of 2010. Sculpted by "clibinarium."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ox cart preview

For thousands of years armies have moved supplies via oxcart, often thousands of them, hauling much of what the army needed to survive a campaign in the field. To this day, some armies still use oxcarts for supply. Because many games require that the supply and camp elements be depicted on the tabletop, I decided in fall of 2009 to have an oxcart made. It's been sculpted and is now at the casters.

It will join the growing list of camp or equipment-type models I have had made which are now available or soon will be -- a Tibetan tent (now available), a later Medieval commoner's tent (being cast), a Late Imperial Roman "Vienna Genesis" tent (basically done, just need to get it painted and up on the website), for WWII, Modern or Sci Fi a 55 gallon drum and a dumpster (err, I mean "garbage bin" -- both being cast), and a "letzinen" stone wall section (being cast) which was made for the Early Swiss but of course is usable for any time period -- there are stone walls just like it in my neighborhood! I've also had a unit cohesion marker made for the popular wargame rules Field of Glory which is in the same boat as the Vienna Genesis tent -- it's done and I have the castings, just have to get it painted and put on the website!

Back to the oxcart, it is made as it would appear in a camp, with the animal unhitched and the yoke resting on the ground. Some of these used solid wheels, others wheels with spokes, so I have had both made. Carts usually have vertical rails on either side, sometimes being held together with a single top rail running horizontally, other times simply standing up on their own. I've had the side rail made with a top horizontal rail, but it would be a simple matter to remove it.

Since a supply cart is no good without supplies in it, I've had loads made that fit into the cart: two baskets of food -- one bread loaves, the other fruit; a huge barrel for ale or foodstuffs such as dried fish or salted pork (this would be useful in particular for armies from Medieval times on); and finally a pile of grain or fodder.

All of these pieces will be supplied in each set -- the cart, both types of wheel, and all the loads. When it will be available will depend on the caster, it's out of my hands at this point. My guess is that it will be about two months from this posting. As oxcarts in camps don't generally have the animals yoked to the cart, I have not had it made, but if there is enough demand I may have a few oxen made for different regions of the world.

Not glamorous, but useful! Coming soon (I hope).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

End Times, Part 1: the Gunfighter

Little was left of his mind but the desire to better his foes with the pistol, and the ability to do so. On the road gang he had had many opportunities to do just this. Like the gunfighters of the Old West, he covered his face, although whether this was to shield his identity or to cover some hideous wound or deformity, no one could truly say. Some day he would be killed, and perhaps then his mask would be lifted by the victor, but until then, the mystery would linger.

His boss had taken many slaves and had plundered many caches because of his skills. He saw little of this loot except scraps of machine tools which he worked into his latest pistol. Great was his hunger for a better life-taker.

And behind him in the gang was a rogue's gallery of other outlaws, ready to descend on the last civilized settlements and bring to them what the apocalypse had brought to civilization itself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Biology of Sepulveda 7: Part 12, the Sepulvedan Sponk

3Digimage of Sponk that wiped out a squad of Federal Marines outside Ozli. The 3Digimage was created using blurry digifilm from one of the marines' gun cams.

By early in Month 9 of 2654 (Fed. Reckoning) the Federal Marine battalions covertly assisting the Resistance had driven the XIV Control Battalion to the outskirts of the city of Ozli and were already planning to pursue them into the scrubby countryside just south of the Ozli/Hassings mines. Although dressed in typical Resistance outfit and using Resistance weaponry, they clearly demonstrated the training and discipline of the Marines in their operations. Now that they were planning the probable pursuit in the countryside, the Resistance liaison officers working with the Marines increasingly warned them about animals in the countryside around the mines that preyed on humans venturing too close to their burrows. The Marine officers listened politely but paid this little heed, assuming that when the locals referred to “Sponks” (some of the southern Resistance fighters pronounced it “Spunqs”) it was a colourful local term for the Parasachnids that had gone native on the planet and were now a perennial annoyance. The Marines had dealt with Parasachnids before and believed they would not impede operations, even given the relatively crude weapons they were issued for this mission. Nonetheless, an order was issued that the locals were warning of probable Parasachnid hives and that the usual precautionary measures should be employed.

These measures proved entirely inadequate to protect the first patrols from what they found waiting for them in the ground on the northern outskirts of Ozli.

The Sponk is a large invertebrate that is endemic to Sepulveda 7 (a planet in the Jol Freehold). It is a xenocrustacean generally found in all temperate and subtropical environments. An apex predator outside Sepulveda’s famous angravean fields, it usually reaches heights of roughly three meters and weighs more than 3,000kg. The Sponks is primarily an ambush predator. It will dig a burrow with a trapdoor made of area soil and vegetation, which substances are bound together using a gluelike substance which the animal emits from its mandibles. The trapdoor is particularly hard to detect on the ground. Invariably the burrow will include a vertical hunting chamber large enough to hold the animal, these being called “Sponk holes” by the human population of Sepulveda. The trapdoor is draped carefully over the hunting chamber, and a hinge is made to keep it in place. If prey is of sufficient abundance in the area that repeated kills are made from the same hole, the animal will generally settle in, digging horizontal tunnels from the hunting chamber to a central den. There are generally several transit tunnels branching out from the den, leading to multiple hunting chambers.

Once it has dug its hunting chamber and redistributed the excavated matter, which can take as little as two minutes, the animal will position itself in the hunting chamber, affix the trapdoor, and wait. It is not well understood how they sense prey, as it is extremely hard for naturalists to study the Sponk even under the best of political circumstances, but it is believed that the animals can sense the slightest vibrations in the ground. It has further been observed that, if the animal senses multiple prey subjects in a group, it will wait for them to pass over or around the hole before slipping out to apprehend its prey, invariably a straggler, so that the Sponk will not be detected by other members of the herd or pack (or squad).

The Sponk’s carapace has points on either end which flip the oval trapdoor open when the animal emerges so that its claws are free to grasp the prey and pull it down into the hole. This all happens so rapidly and silently that the prey animal seems to simply vanish even when it is being casually observed, the Sponk and the prey seeming but a blur as they disappear together into the Sponk hole.

In describing the Sponk's hunting methods, some naturalists have drawn comparisons to an extant Terran predator, the trapdoor spider:


To silence the struggling prey without it giving away the location of the hole, the creature has evolved an uncanny aptitude for decapitation, seeming to sense the location of a prey animal’s head even if the prey species is not endemic to Sepulveda. This has prompted some naturalists to suggest that the Sponk is an intelligent life form, but it has proven impossible to obtain a living specimen for study.

The primary weapons of the Sponk are its formidable claws, powerful enough, it is said, to pull the treads off armoured fighting vehicles which are mistaken for prey. Once the meal is in the hole, the creature uses these claws to pull it apart into small pieces which are very rapidly fed into its mandibles. Prey is eaten bones and all. The Sponk will often make multiple kills from one herd or group on animals, especially if they return to the area of the Sponk hole to search for the missing member.

To defend itself the Sponk has a remarkably thick and hard shell which covers its entire body, even its eyes being effectively plated. The local population has noted that most calibers of small arms ammunition cannot penetrate the shell of a Sponk, even if an entire clip of it is emptied into the same location on the animal.

Sponks are territorial and only one will occupy a given location, the size of each plot of territory usually depending on the abundance of prey. Sponks attack each other on sight and cannibalism is a normal part of their diet. Sponks that have hunted out an area will move to a new feeding ground, and will at times hunt above ground as they seek a new location. If a Sponk hole is subjected to persistent harassment from an attacker the Sponk will rapidly bound out of the hole and defend it from the ground level, invariably fighting until all attackers are dead or have fled, or the Sponk itself is killed.

The Jol Freehold does not have a method of classifying the conservation status of animals, but the Federal government on Terra considers the Sponk to be a threatened species, due largely to the Parasachnid infestation of Sepulveda (P. Level 2). While Sponks prey on Parasachnids (which have in fact become a staple of the Sponk diet), the primary threat from the hive-dwelling Parasachnids is that they are outcompeting the solitary Sponk species for prey.

No reliable information is available on the lifespan of the Sponk or the manner in which it reproduces.

Several local sports teams on Sepulveda are named the “Sponks” due to the pugnacious nature of the animal.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Orcid Assault Troops

Today's post looks at an upcoming item for 15mm science fiction, another favourite product with me and my customers.

I'm having the heavy power armoured elites on the Pelagic Dominate sculpted now in 15mm scale, the Orcid Assault Warriors. That's just a working title, because, like the Karks are sharkmen, the Orcids are Orca (Killer Whale) men. But "Orcid" sounds too much like a flower, so I think the name will change in the end.

They can either act as heavy assistance to the line troops (especially the Myzontid Rangers, who are raiders and often do not act with vehicle support), but more often fight on their own as strike troops who are teleported into action, destroy their target, and are then teleported out.

As these evolved from Killer Whales they will be large, so they will top out at around 24mm tall even though they are 15mm scale. That makes them around nine or ten feet (3 meters) tall. I didn't want to go too much bigger than that because then they don't look like they belong on the 15mm table at all.

They wear power armour, which has a heavy missile launcher build right into the back of the suit, the Barnacle Missile System, with two pods each holding two missiles. I asked the sculptor to make the details on the suit a little on the soft side, as these are aquatic troopers so I didn't want the power armour to have too hard and machined a look to it. It has to fit the theme of an aquatic making war in an alien environment.

For the arms of their power suits they will have a variety of weapons options, and each assault trooper will come with all the varieties. They will be power harpoons (the main weapon), a power claw, or gatling guns. There will probably be multiple types of power harpoon for some variation. These will plug into spots on the ends of the arms.

The heads are separate as well and two will be provided -- mouth open or mouth closed. Three body poses will be available, probably sold in sets of three and then there will be gobs of hand choices in the pack.

Again the dilemma of humaniod aliens rears its ugly head -- literally! If they are in complete power armour what to do about face covering? Cover the head and their identity as whales disappears, unless you make a face mask that exactly mimics the shape of the whale head, and I don't really like that personally -- humans don't wear face masks that exactly copy their faces so I don't know why aliens would either.

I went with the bubble helmet, and have just the indication of where the bubble fits onto the rest of the suit so that the creature's face can be fully seen. I imagine them having a helmet of an advanced-tech clear armour, and the helmet half filled with water so they can be submerged but also can breathe air -- they are mammals after all.

There are various clear items separately available that some gamers may want to use to put their own helmets on them if they want, and some really talented modelers may actually want to partly fill this with a clear resin to show water sloshing around in the helmet as an Orca warrior may prefer. I would probably just leave it off altogether when I paint some up -- but who knows when I will ever have time for hobbying again!!!

I am also considering asking the sculptor to make a separate helmet piece but am going back and forth on that.

One body, one head, and the power harpoons are already done. The sculptor is making the rest of the stuff now. So I anticipate that the Orca Heavy Assault Troopers -- hey did I just come up with their final name? -- will be available sometime in the early spring. Ever the optimist, heh.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Here come the Early Swiss!

Well, it's 2009 and I've got a bunch of new projects coming up, both historical and sci fi. I got into sci fi on a lark last year but it proved so popular, and was so much fun to do, that it's now effectively a co-equal of my historical projects.

For historical fans, I've got many 15mm projects coming. Today's post highlights one of them:

Early Swiss:
These are finished, and will be suitable for 1291 to around 1420 or so. They are primarily meant for the period between Laupen and Sempach, for instance the knightly commander being in South German style armour from around 1350-70. (He's one of two leaders that were made, the other being a petty noble halberdier in the spirit of Arnold v. Winkelreid.)

The army centers around six halberdier poses, including two throwing rocks. These allow depiction of returning foragers who are pelting the enemy with rocks as represented in some games, although personally I think this is a bit misplaced, as this was not some extraordinary tactic just improvised by foragers! It was a standard tactic of all early Swiss armies, when most men carried halberds, to go into battle with a handful of good stones (mountaineers have their pick of those) and to stone the enemy during the approach. This was no longer practical when the army shifted emphasis to the pike as its weapon to front the main squares, but in the early battles there are many accounts of foes, both men or horses, being stunned or even killed by these stones. I would mix the stone-throwing halberdiers right in with the combat columns.

Also in the army are three crossbow poses, with pavises for these available separately. Most army lists allow only skirmishing crossbowmen due to the fact that in later battles the crossbowmen (and handgunners) would screen the pike columns, but again I'm not sure this is strictly true in the early period, when pavises were more frequently used and letzinen were defended. This is another example of the early, halberd-based army being shaped around the later pike-rush army. Be that as it may, if your game does not allow the crossbowmen to use their pavises these devices will make great adornment of your baggage or camp stands! In the Middle Ages armies often ringed their camp with propped-up pavises.

To supplement the halberdiers we also have two pikemen, for the Swiss always used spears in addition to halberds, right from the start, but it was clearly subordinate to the halberd. Only two poses? Yes, even once the game permits the use of the pike as a formation's armament, the halberd clearly was the predominant weapon in terms of numbers, so your pike elements should probably have one (or even two) halberds mixed in. For instance, I'd suggest that the early pike units in Field of Glory, which I believe are supposed to represent some of the attack columns of the more urbanized cantons, should have front rank elements that are three pikes and a halberd, then rear ranks that have just one pikeman on the outside of the element, with three halberdiers on the element.

The pikemen have the shorter pike used in the early period, about ten to twelve feet long. The huge pikes of the Italian wars were not adopted until the rise of pike-armed rivals such as the landsknechts in the very late 15th century. For the 14th and most of the 15th century, a short pike was still longer than what most enemies used.

Finally we have four command models:

a) a hornblower with the Uri cow horns and ears -- it's easier to shave these off a non-Uri man than it is to add them to an Uri man, if you get my drift!

b) a standardbearer who might at first be mistaken for a pikeman, but his standardpole is a little shorter and much thicker than the pikes

c) a noble commander in knightly armour, the only man in the army with a heater shield!

d) a petty noble halberdier, meant to represent the mythical Arnold v. Winkelried but perfectly appropriate as a veteran commander of lower aristocratic origin -- he's in a slightly better armour than the other halberdiers, but not knightly panoply

What, no drummer? Yes a good question, but it's not been determined exactly when the drum became a key element of Swiss warfare. I personally believe that it took its special role when the pike became the predominant tactical arm, as it was very difficult to maneuver the big pike squares, and so the drum was used as a way to coordinate the movements of each indvidual pikeman. I believe the big horn, which has a huge and terrifying boom (think the horn at Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings), is better representative as the instrument of the early Swiss.

Another dilemma was how to represent the models' appearance, as even amongst the modestly equipped peasant Swiss, fashions did change a bit as the 14th century wore on. Not so much in dress, but definitely in helmets. In the earliest armies most men would have simple skull caps, either cloth, leather or metal, and of course the ubiquitous war hat, the open-faced brimmed metal helmet that the Swiss wore right up to the beginning of the 16th century. But as the 14th century wore on, the bascinet came increasingly into use by the Swiss, as it became fashionable in Europe by about the middle 14th century. So how to depict the models?

We decided in the end to make the models with the universal skull caps and "war hats," and these are what are in the basic packs. Then, we chose five of the models, more or less at random, and had them converted to wear the bascinet. We will be selling this as a separate "booster" pack with a mix of halberdiers, pikemen, crossbow and command in the bascinet, which gamers who want to do mid-late 14th century armies can mix in with the standard packs. It resulted in a slightly greater expense but hopefully this will allow all gamers to make the army as it should look -- armies from 1291 to 1340 or so with just the standard packs, and for later armies with the standard packs plus a mixture of the bascinet men from the booster pack.

You may notice in the photo above that some of the men are depicted with their hose rolled down -- this was apparently a common practice in the Middle Ages, to allow more motion of the legs and to cool off. At least one description of the battle of Agincourt describes the English as having done just this. (See, for instance, WB Kerr's article "The English Soldier in the Campaign of Agincourt," in The Journal of the American Military Institute, Vol 4, No. 4, 1940.) In fact it was such a common practice that the French word avalez was used specifically to describe it.

These will be released in the second week of January, if all goes well. Look for them on the website! And coming a bit later (perhaps a month later or so) will be two additional pieces -- a 40mm length of stone wall for the Letzinen, and a generic later medieval tent for commoners. Letzinen were an important part of Swiss battlefield tactics before they began expanding at the expense of their neighbors. The tent is made based on depictions of the small tents that commoners usually lived when they went to war during the later Middle Ages and Renaissance (1300-1550 or so).