28 July 2011

(Relatively) Easy Thatched Roof Huts

I needed some thatched roof huts so I can playtest my homebrew modern squad-level game, Atomic Africa, so I made some.

First, I made the walls of the huts using a toilet paper roll.  I cut it into thirds and slathered each with a layer of Durham's water-putty, then set them aside.

 Next, using simple geometry and scrap food packaging I made a polystyrene cone.  I filled this cone with water-putty and let it set as well.

Polystyrene cone and a block of Sculpey polymer clay
I removed the hardened water-putty cone from the polystyrene sleeve, and then glued a bunch of angel hair pasta to it, using CA glue.  When the pasta-covered putty cone was dry, I set it aside and got a block of Sculpey polymer clay.  I took the original polystyrene cone and pressed it into the clay, leaving a conical depression.  I then took an old paint brush and made a bunch of thatch-like impressions in the clay.  I grabbed the angel hair pasta cone and gently but firmly pressed it into the clay.  I repeated this step, rotating the block of clay each time I pressed down.

Water-putty cone with pasta glued to it, used to make impressions

When I was satisfied with the press-mold, I poured water-putty into the depression.  After 5 minutes I set one of the hut main bodies upside down into the setting putty.

Wet water-putty LOVES to stick to dry water-putty

After 100 minutes I peeled the polymer clay away from the hut and, using my hobby knife, cut notches in the hut's circumference to ensure an irregular appearance.

Cost pennies to make

I like the roof enough to make a rough one-sided mold using silicone caulk.  I may explore alternate methods of making these roofs however.  For example, it took a little time and a lot of CA glue to secure the pasta to the water-putty cone.  Can I just skip that step, throwing some pasta at random into the cone depression?  Should I instead cut the bristles off the old brush and press those into the cone.  Can I skip all these steps and just texture the clay with a stiff bristled brush?  I'll figure it out and let you know.

Hut with Rebel Minis' Modern African militia (15mm)... next time I'll make the walls shorter

27 July 2011

A Disappointing Drop-Cast

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was creating a new mold in order to drop-cast a new spaceship miniature in metal.  Well, I finished the mold a week ago and it was a total failure.  I tried conserving expensive silicone by bulking out the majority of the mold with chopped up pieces of old molds.  Unfortunately this made the finished mold too flexible and therefore the inner cavity collapsed when I put the clamps on to make the casts.  Oh well, lesson learned.  These cheaper molds would work fine however for one-sided molds.

I returned to the tried and true method of mold-making and made a second attempt.  I de-molded tonight and made four casts.  Overall I'm satisfied enough to keep the ships and paint them up, but they will require a lot of work.  I had far more flash on these miniatures compared to my previous designs, and the port wing structure turned out all wonky and deformed.  I think I was too ambitious and had too many thin protruding surfaces on this ship design.  I think once the flash is cleaned off and I add some wing-like radiators to hide some of the blemishes the miniatures will look OK.

Lots of flash, but lots of detail to exploit with dry-brush and wash

Side view highlighting underside detail

26 July 2011

Missile Counters

My homebrew game War In Space features missiles, as do many other table-top space games.  I created some quick and easy missile counters that look pretty decent and cost fractions of a penny.  I pressed the top of a glue stick container into a block of Sculpey polymer clay in order to make the disc shape.  I then used my various shaping tools to press the missile shape into the bottom of the resulting depression.  I filled this depression with water-putty.  That's it.  After 100 minutes of curing you have yourself a missile counter.  I primed these three black which was a mistake; the paint job turned out poor.  Instead I will prime future counters gray, paint the missile some simple colors, then paint the remainder of the counter black.

Missile counters next to a rough scratchbuild for scale


Drybrush only

14 July 2011

Back to Scratchbuilding

At the beginning of June some of the fellas over on the TMP boards suggested a scratchbuild/kitbash build off.  I plan on being done with the kitbash entry by 1 August, but have yet to get the key ingredients (a ping-pong ball, disposable lighter and 9 volt battery).  I plan on using all three as press-shapes to make a space station/alien derelict.  Until I go pick these items up I'll be scratchbuilding another ship, with the intent to cast in metal.  I used my standard press-mold method yesterday to make the upper hull master.  I poured the top half of the silicone mold around this master tonight.  I'm experimenting with using slivers of old molds to bulk out the mold, allowing me to save expensive rubber for more molds.  We'll see if it works.

Press mold of top hull
Master "sculpt" of top hull
Top half of two-part mold for metal drop-cast


12 July 2011

My Muse: the Dictionary

For those of you lucky enough to have a role playing game group, here's a tip I thought I'd share regarding breaking "writer's block", whether you're a GM making up campaign details or a player coming up with your PC's backstory.

My career keeps me trapped in rural USA, so I haven't been a part of a RPG group in over 15 years and find myself pining for the old days often.  I keep my gaming-self sane by making up homebrew rules systems; recently I ironed out the kinks in a comic book superhero RPG.  In order to test out character generation and basic resolution rules, I wanted to make up a sample PC.  Since it's been over a decade and a half since I've made up a character, I naturally had a little creative block.  I've heard of creative writing workshops where folk try to write stories around a word or phrase suggested at random by another person.  I decided to try a similar idea with the dictionary.  Using my trusty polyhedral dice I randomly selected first a page, and then a word from that page.  Four words would probably be enough I figured, and I was determined to use the words the dice gave me, regardless of how weird it turned out.

My first word was "millihenry".  Well, I guess since it has to do with electricity, that could indicate electrical or magnetic powers for my superhero.  My second word was "Mother's Day".  Ah, OK, this was a good one.  His mother plays a key role in his origin, or perhaps something tragic happened on Mother's Day?  Lots of possibilities there.  Third word: "Seneca (the Younger)".  What?  OK, so an ancient Roman playwright and philosopher.  Well, I had no idea what to do with that, but I decided I'd look Seneca up on Wikipedia and perhaps I could find something useful.  Final word: "Haplont".  Perfect!  An organism like a fungus or algae... I could easily make the leap to some sort of pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo that makes comic books so fun.  It started out slow, but with that last word the ideas flowed into my head.

Using this initial inspiration I filled up two pages of notes and had a complete origin story, and a clear enough idea of my character's powers, flaws, and motivations to make up game stats.  The story was detailed enough that one could use it as a campaign starter, a way to draw all the PCs in a game group together.  I'll spare you the scene-by-scene breakdown of my character's origin story, but here's a quick summary that demonstrates the use of the four random words.

Henry Prisock thought he was a normal college kid, but he was actually created 21 years ago in a lab.  Unfortunately for Henry, every eight years or so he buds(!), splitting off a clone of himself with the mental development of an infant. [Inspired by the word Haplont].  The budding leaves Henry in a state of panicked confusion, causing him to forget both his escape from the lab during the first incident, and fleeing from his foster family after the second.  With only vague recollections of his past, he drifts, eventually spending a short stint in the Army then ending up in college.  Everything comes to a head while he's at a multi-school thespian workshop.  While trying out for a part in the play Phaedra [written by Seneca the Younger], he meets a girl whose familiarity he can't explain.  Unknown to him, Millicent is his forgotten foster sister [Milli-Henry; I used this word to generate their names].  Her odd behavior makes him wonder about recent strange events, like the man he saw driving the get-away car at a bank robbery, the man who looks identical to him.  Tracking the man and his bank robber associates down, he's shot in the arm for his effort, but makes off in his doppelganger's car.  Bloodied and in shock, his latent memories lead him to Milli's house, the house of his foster parents.  Large sums of money hidden in the car guarantee that the violent gang won't stop until they find him, which they do.  To Henry's surprise, another identical version of himself is there, living with Milli's family.  When the gang arrives, the three identical "brothers" by instinct defend each other and, touching, eerily melt together.  Forming a man three times the size of a normal person, with three times the strength, they defeat the robbers.  Thus begins the career of Henry and his "brothers".  As time goes on, he will find as a fused being they are capable of other abilities, such as growing two extra pairs of eyes around the head, giving 360 degree vision.  He/they will also discover that having three fused but separate minds provides great protection from psychic probing and attacks.  Of course, he will also have to deal with explaining his own existence, to himself and to his foster family.  He will have to deal with two brothers, one raised by a vicious gang and another with the mind of a 5 year old.  And who is the mother always in his dreams [Use of the word Mother's Day]?

I cut that entirely from the whole cloth of my imagination.  It's weird, yeah, but that's why I like it.  Its not the standard "I'm a laconic, ninja mercenary who's bent on avenging my significant others'/parents' deaths" PC origin.  And I could never have made it this strange without a little random nudging from the dictionary.  Try it out.

Front of Character Sheet for my homebrew super-hero RPG

Back of Character Sheet


10 July 2011

Meanwhile... MARVEL NOW!

I just returned from a business trip and will finally get back to scratchbuilding this week.  Until then however, I figured I'd get back to posting by typing up some ruminations about Marvel Comics. 

When I was younger comics books ruled my life, more than role playing games or miniature wargames or any other diversion.  I was a Marvel Comics fan and kept collecting and reading until completing my undergrad degree.  It's been 10 years since I've bought a comic and I may never again.  I've thought long about why I stopped reading and despite the obvious reasons (growing up, responsibilities demanding my time, etc.) I feel the stories themselves share some of the blame for me losing my fascination.  The last few years of my comics-reading experience I became extremely dissatisfied with the constant ret-conning of classic characters and established continuity.  The beauty of the Marvel Universe was indeed the continuity.  So what caused the poor storylines and redundant reboots?  Is it just me preferring a certain style of the late 70s early 80s; perhaps it's all nostalgia?  Perhaps the stories today are actually better?  I don't think that's the case.  It's simple economics: why get rid of an iconic character if he's still making money for you.  After all, when one generation stops reading (as I did) a younger generation will be there to buy more issues.  And to the younger generation unfamiliar with the continuity, a ret-con is inconsequential.  And so the reboots continue and the continuity becomes more confused and the thing that made Stan Lee's vision so impressive, a linked universe, falls apart.

As cynical as all that sounds I don't think that some executive's greed is what made comic book stories start to suck in the 90s.  I think that the whole linked universe concept was doomed from the start because the characters do not age with normal time.  If Reed Richards and company blasted off to space in November of 1961, they'd be in their 70s and 80s today.  Peter Parker would be a few years from 70!  Professor X would probably be long dead, along with Steve Rogers, super-soldier serum or not.  The problem stems from the fact that comics are published monthly but issues are separated in-story by seconds, minutes, or days at most, leading to a huge time dilation over the last 50 years. 

If I were a comics publisher inaugurating a new line of linked titles, I would allow the characters to age with my readers.  How?  I would publish a single "timeline" book monthly that catches up all the titles to the current date by presenting behind-the-scenes stories that have happened.  I'd call it "Meanwhile...", and the summaries would take maybe two to four pages max, per character.   For example, let's say a multi-issue story-arc (Origin Revealed!) links issues #1 through #3 of The Amazing Superlative Man.  Issue #1 was published in January.  In the April issue of "Meanwhile...", it is revealed that after the events of the first three issues of The Amazing Superlative Man (which took place over two nights in January) our hero has faced two minor villains and a relationship problem in the interim three months.  The April issue of The Amazing Superlative Man (#4) picks up after these events.  Perhaps "Meanwhile..." would be published two weeks earlier than all the character titles.

A few years ago I decided to extend this idea to the Marvel Universe and asked "what would the Marvel Universe look like if the characters aged normally"?  I know this question has been addressed in an issue of "What If...?", but I thought it needed to be asked again, because basically "all the stories have been done" with the current characters.  Why not let them grow old, die off gloriously, retire into mentorship of a new generation, disappear mysteriously and return for cameo appearances later?  I asked myself the question, what if the Fantastic Four blasted off into space in November, 1961 and all their adventures, as well as those of all other Marvel characters, were tied to a real timeline, with no monthly lag?  The result would be that that first 50 or so years of Marvel publishing history would be compressed into perhaps 15-20 years.  The Secret Wars would have happened in the late 60s for example.  So if one were to consider a title set today, in 2011, the question would have to be asked, what happened in the interim?  Most of the iconic heroes would be gone.  It's this setting that I call Marvel Now, which I am fleshing out for a super-hero RPG campaign setting using my homebrew rules.  I will try to avoid stupid "future" tropes, such as teen-aged versions of classic characters, children of classic characters, etc.  Most of the setting is quite gelatinous as it covers two or three decades.  One thing I have established: Rick Jones features prominently!