27 January 2012

New Cover Art (sort of...)

I purchased the right to use some artwork by Mr. Colin Hay, one of the artists featured in the Terran Trade Authority books, to use as cover art for one free rules set.  Originally I used the art for my game War In Space, but I am no longer developing those rules.  Many of the concepts in that rule set seemed so cool on paper: multiple dice types that shift based on damage, three dice that could be assigned to different actions and thus model energy allocation, non-linear range bands, etc.  Playtest revealed however that many of those "cool" rules were clunky.  Not terrible mind you, just slow.  The game also required paper record-keeping, something I try to avoid.

My simpler homebrew Greater Space Battles has given me nothing but fun times however.  Since this is the game I play and want to offer for others' enjoyment, I'm transferring the artwork.  My downloads page features the new cover.  The Greater Space Battles rules set is also updated on the downloads page, as I have incorporated the errata I posted recently into the main body of the game.

And to celebrate my 100th post, I made a new spaceship miniature.  I'm going to experiment with this one and make one-sided molds of the top and bottom hulls of the ship (shown here) separately, using Alumilite HS3 10:1 RTV silicone.
Incandescent bulb: great for heat, bad for photos

25 January 2012

Spaceship Scratchbuild Tutorial

A couple of posts ago Matgc, owner of the great My Ever Growing Fleets blog, asked me for a step-by-step explanation on how I make my little putty spaceship miniatures.  So without further ado, here's a tutorial.  Expect this one to be long...

A little over a year ago I was messing around with some Durham's Rock-Hard Water Putty (pictured below) and noted that when it cures the putty doesn't stick to plastic.  Since polymer clay is essentially microscopic pieces of poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) suspended in a plasticizer, the clay is really just mallable plastic.  I reasoned that I could therefore press things into polymer clay and then fill the impressions with water-putty.  Thus my first starships were born.  Before we can start making impressions in the clay, we need a basic shape to press into it.

The first step is therefore to model a shape to make impressions with.  I call this the initial master and I personally use spaghetti, along with other small cylinders like coffee stirrers and plastic sprue.  I spend as much time as necessary gluing the spaghetti together with CA glue so that it indeed looks like a spaceship.  Take a look at the picture below.  It might be just a mass of glued pasta, but I think that if I painted it gray and mounted it on a flight stand it would pass as a spaceship.

Once you have created a master press-shape, then get two fist-sized chunks of polymer clay.  I use Sculpey; I'm not sure but I think other polymer clays will work.  Knead the clay and use a roller to flatten each chunk out on a piece of paper, forming two pancakes of clay.  Ensure these pieces of clay are flat and larger than your spaghetti master.  My clay pancakes end up being at least 10mm thick.

Press the spaghetti into the clay until it's buried half-way.  Take the other clay slab and mash it onto the spaghetti, sandwiching the model.  This leaves impressions on the second slab of clay.  Pull out the spaghetti model, flip it over and push it halfway into the other slab, using the impressions as guides.  You'll now have two impressions, one of the top hull of the spaceship, one of the bottom hull.

Now comes the real "sculpting".  Take various shapes and press them into the impressions, forming suggestions of panels, turrets, fuel tanks, etc.  In addition to interestingly shaped junk like pieces of ink pens and scrap plastic, I have a number of custom tools.  I spend more time making tools than miniatures actually.  The picture below shows some of my most useful tools.  Plastic beads are great for big globular tanks.  My secret weapon is the ball-burnisher, which makes perfect tiny domes.  Another useful tool is a wooden chopstick with the end carved into a regular shape.  I have half a dozen chopsticks with various rectangles and squares carved into the end; these make great impressions of panels.

The following picture shows an example of the spaghetti master, the top hull impression and part of a bottom hull impression; the bottom clay slab was torn apart during demolding.  You can see the detailing in the impressions.

After you've pressed in enough shapes to make it look like a spaceship, it's time to pour putty.  Mix up one teaspoon of water to 2.5 teaspoons of Durham's Rock-Hard Water Putty.  Pour enough putty to fill one impression.  Pour enough putty into the other impression to fill it only 2/3 to 3/4 of the way.  Tap each clay slab vigorously for a full minute to dislodge any air bubbles.  I use a drumstick and hit the slab very violently, but not enough to distort the mold.  Cut a small piece of plastic window screen and place it in the putty in the impression which has been filled.  The window screen will keep the cast together in case it breaks during demolding. 

After 100 minutes very carefully remove the cured putty cast from the impression that was filled completely; the one with the screen reinforcement.  Since this is only half of a very small miniature, expect this cast to be very fragile.  I therefore cut the clay away in small chunks from the cast with a hobby knife.  Mix up some more putty and fill the rest of the remaining impression.  Press the cast you just removed from the mold into the wet putty you just poured.  You're bonding the two hulls, top and bottom, to each other.  Make sure there are no gaps; don't worry if it gets messy.  Use a cotton-swab to soak up extra putty overflowing at the seam.

Let the cast cure another 100 minutes, then remove the rest of the clay.  You will have a complete putty spaceship, albeit with a great deal of flash at the seam of the two hulls.  Water-putty can be carved easily in the first 6-8 hours, so just gently carve off all the flash.  The picture below shows my latest destroyer design for my homebrew game Greater Space Battles.  Take note of the large concave shape in the middle of the ship.  It was supposed to be a globular tank, but I didn't tap the mold.  Air bubble.  Oh well, at least it's symmetrical; maybe I can pretend it's a vent or shuttle bay.

That's it; you now have all my secrets.  This is how I make putty spaceships.  I didn't go into how I make molds and cast these ships in metal, but there are tons of drop-casting tutorials on the web.  That's how I learned. 

Enjoy!  What are your questions?

23 January 2012

Scratchbuilding a Quadrillion Ships

I'll explain the title of this post in a second, but first I want to announce that the first (and hopefully last) errata sheet for my miniatures game Greater Space Battles is available on the downloads page.

The errata sheet includes a new way to determine the number of maneuvers a ship gets.  My rules as originally written tried to reflect the massive amounts of energy the largest ships have to spend in order to turn their huge bulk.  Unfortunately those rules involved rolling the number of maneuvers and then subtracting the ship's size.  For large ships this often resulted in vessels with 0 maneuvers, drifting around the table unable to change their vectors.  The errata features a change which eliminates this issue, while still allowing small ships superior maneuverability for a given amount of energy.  The errata also gives missiles more teeth, something I found in playtesting made the game more enjoyable.

Each ship in Greater Space Battles has five design parameters, also called energy allocation schemes.  Each scheme consists of six letters, representing the tokens assigned to movement, attacks, and defense if that energy pathway is available and chosen.  Since each letter can be either a "M", "A", or "D" there are 3 to the 6th power = 729 discrete design parameters.  And each ship is defined by five of any of these parameters, thus there are 729 to the 5th power = over 205 trillion ship types.  And a size 1 ship with the same design parameters as a size 5 ship is still not the same ship.  Thus there are actually 5 times 205 trillion, or over 1 quadrillion discrete ship designs possible in my simple beer-and-pretzel game.

I guess have a lot of scratchbuilding to do... 

21 January 2012

Spaceship Factory Gone Berserk

My very first foray into mold-making involved attempting to use automotive gasket-making RTV silicone as a cheap alternative to dedicated 10:1 silicone.  The logic was that since this gasket-making silicone (pictured below), also known as "red RTV", resists the heat of a car engine it would be perfect for casting with hot metal.  Unfortunately my first attempt showed me how unmanageable that silicone is to work with.

I've made quite a few silicone molds since then utilizing Alumilite's HS3 10:1 silicone, with some successes and some failures.  Regardless of the outcome the fundamental take-away each time is that mold design, with regard to air-flow, dictates success and failure.  Armed with my new knowledge, I decided to try some more experiments with the red RTV.

My attempt at making a two-part mold using this RTV failed.  Even with a mother-mold around the two rubber mold-halves the casts just didn't come out right.  Most of the time the halves didn't line up right and the metal leaked out, but the few times I got the mold to fill resulted in massive amounts of flash.

I abandoned that dream and decided to attempt a one-sided mold.  This is where this RTV shines!  I laid down a bead of rubber in a container (scrap plastic from a milk jug) and gently but firmly pressed a spaceship miniature I sculpted into the RTV silicone.  I then put it under my 34 watt lamp to accelerate the curing.  This rubber is terribly sticky and impossible to brush or spread on, but is very easy to press objects into.  Unlike window caulk silicone, this rubber comes out of the tube with very few if any air bubbles.

I pulled the spaceship miniature out of the rubber 24 hours later (versus 48 hours with the 10:1 silicone) and the mold captured every detail.  Whenever I mix up water-putty for a new spaceship design, I use 2.5 teaspoons of putty and 1 teaspoon of water.  This may sound like a miniscule amount, but out of that amount I actually only use a thimble-full of putty mix for a 60mm to 80mm long spaceship.  I therefore always have extra putty I need to get rid of that I'm loathe to waste.  I can use these one-sided molds to make casts using this extra putty and increase the size of my fleets geometrically.

The two pictures below show an example of this.  I mixed some putty for a new destroyer design twice, once for the upper hull and once for the lower.  I also mixed some putty up for a mother-mold for a separate mold experiment.  Each time I poured the excess putty in the red RTV mold pictured below.  Now I have three new ships!  Since this mold was an experiment I only made a mold of the top half of the ship, but in the future I will mold both the top and bottoms separately and then pour excess in each mold, finally joining the putty halves with a few drops of CA glue.

The advantage of this silicone is its cheapness, $5.00 or so, and availability.  If I want to go grab a tube of red RTV at 2AM, I only need to drive to Walmart.  Since I don't plan on casting in hot metal using this rubber, perhaps I'll try one of the other colored automotive RTVs from the same manufacturer.  I'm off to buy another tube; I plan on making molds of my missile counters.

Good view of mold

Better shot of ships, crappy shot of mold

12 January 2012

The Absorbed Worlds RPG Setting

I played a lot of great RPGs in the 80's and 90's and one of my first and all time favorites was TSR's Gamma World.  The rules might not have been so hot, but the setting was what really made the game.  Post-apocalyptic is cool in itself, but with the fantastic mutations and lost super-science it almost qualified as a multi-genre setting without the lameness of Rifts or TORG.  Oh yeah, and it was a refreshingly zombie-less apocalypse I might add.  Anyways, playing Gamma World always made me think of my favorite post-apocalyptic setting, the subterranean worlds of the cartoon Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea.

I would force myself to wake up at 0430 when I was in grade-school, just to catch Spartakus on Nickelodeon.  The cartoon was like nothing I'd ever seen before, with its surreal imagery and sophisticated story.  The show featured an artificial woman with telekinetic and matter manipulation powers traveling in an intelligent spaceship through the crust of the earth, searching for a way to prevent her people's artificial underground sun from exploding.  Her travel companions were the titular gladiator Spartakus, as well as two surface children and two weird animal-creatures who may have been artificial themselves.  The best part of the show was the fact that the group traveled through different "strata" in the crust of the earth, and in each encountered people and creatures from different times. The laws of physics also sometimes seemed to be altered in this underground nexus of realities.  The show therefore had no limits; one week the heroes were in an ancient China analog, and the next they were in space.  The show was set after a Great Cataclysm, and for decades now I've thought that it would make the ultimate RPG setting.  Player characters would have but to step through a cavern and they could face anything, yet there was still an underlying if tenuous back-story, so an RPG set in Spartakus' world wouldn't feel like a generic multi-genre campaign.

The cartoon was originally released in France, under the title Les Mondes Engloutis.  I've found translations of this title listed as "The Absorbed Worlds" and "The Engulfed Worlds".  I don't speak french but my research leads me to believe the most literal translation of the original title is: "The Swallowed Worlds".  I prefer the first translation, even if it might be technically incorrect, so I'm using that to describe the setting.  I'm currently using this setting for a solo RPG campaign using the Mythic GM Emulator.  So far I've completed one adventure, which I plan to share in a future post.  I really hope I can sit down and summarize the adventure so I can highlight the Mythic GM Emulator; I love this tool!  After literally decades I can again enjoy the fun of seeing a story unfold like only a RPG can provide.