Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pirate Profile - William "Billy" Bullard

William "Billy" Bullard was born in Dover sometime around the early 1670's.  His exact birth date is unknown but according to Bullard himself, he signed on his first ship when he was a "lad of twelve years."  According to papers found in London, William signed aboard the sloop Deliverance as cabin boy on the 8th of March, 1683.  If his memory served him correctly, that would make his birth date 1671.

 Little is known of his childhood save what he has told this author during our last voyage together.  Many a night was spent listening to his tales of adventure as a lad on the docks of Dover but I have been unable to verify any of the information.  He told me his father was a sailor but was lost at sea when Billy was very young and he remembered little of the man.  His mother however, is another story.  To provide for the young Bullard she apparently turned to less than noble ways of earning money.  She became a favorite at The George and Dragon for many a sailor and it was no doubt here that William first felt a call of the sea.

As he grew older, William spent less time around The George and Dragon and the promiscuous ways of his mother.  His days were spent on the Dover merchant docks where he dreamed of a life at sea when not begging or stealing food.  It was on these docks that a chance meeting changed his life.  The young urchin was caught stealing hard tack by none other than the good Captain William Hastings, master of the Queen's Fancy.  For some odd reason that even Billy can not explain to this day, instead of beating the young rascal or worse, the captain pitied his lot in life and took him for his own.

In time Billy grew to love the old captain, yet in the beginning the relationship was strained.  Young Billy, as the captain began to call him to differentiate the junior from the senior, wanted to take to the sea on the Queen's Fancy with Captain Hastings, but instead the lad was made to stay at home with Abagail Hastings and was schooled as best as could be afforded.  Though Billy longed for the sea, he proved himself a capable student and excelled in his studies...a trait that would serve him well in his later years.

Finally in 1683, William "Billy" Bullard was allowed to go to sea with Captain Hastings, now master of the Deliverance.  It was during this first voyage to the West Indies that the young Bullard showcased his uncanny ability for navigation.  He would routinely match or best the navigator's plotting and seemed to intimately understand the currents, tides, and winds of both the wide open sea and areas closer to land, even though this was his first ocean voyage.  This gift did not go unnoticed by Captain Hastings or the ship's crew.  In fact, on one particular stormy evening after the ship's cable parted, Billy was able to help guide the Deliverance through a gap in the reef line and out to the comparative safety of the open sea despite poor visibility and challenging sea conditions.  This heroic feat earned the boy gratitude and a respected position among both the officers and crew.

William Bullard continued on his first voyage as cabin boy in name only.  Even as a young lad, the superstitious crew began to trust Bullard's instincts and adopted him as their good luck charm.  Before navigation decisions were made, the officers and crew would insist that Captain Hastings have a word with "young Billy".  In this manner, William gained rank rapidly and became a fixture upon the Deliverance for the next eight years.  As a side note, the Deliverance was lost with all hands on the very first voyage undertaken after Billy left.  (Author's note:  Captain Hastings was not on board the voyage either).

Great love and respect grew between the elder William and the younger.  But in 1691 their ways parted.  At this point in his career, Captain Hastings was more than happy to continue the routine crossing of the Atlantic from Bristol to the West Indies but Billy Bullard felt the call of the great unknown.  He served as sailing master and navigator aboard both merchant vessels and Royal Navy ships of war with great distinction until 1699.  It was in this year that his navigational abilities brought him to the attention of William Dampier.  Having already circumnavigated the world one time, Dampier was about to attempt the feat once again.  He was given command of the 26-gun ship St. George and signed on William "Billy" Bullard as navigator.  For the next two years Bullard gained invaluable experience and returned as one of the foremost sailors of his time.

But Bullard was not one to rest upon his laurels.  When Dampier was hired by Woodes Rogers in 1708 as sailing master aboard the Duke, Dampier in turned insisted that William Bullard accompany him.  Once again Billy rounded the world in a very profitable voyage, capturing three Spanish vessels in the process. But the trip would prove costly on a personal level.  A bullet from a Spanish sharpshooter found its mark during the last ship to ship action of the voyage and Billy would have perished if not for the valiant efforts of Stancil Jones, the ship's surgeon.

It was on this fateful voyage that Alexander Selkirk was rescued from the Juan Fernandez islands off the coast of Chile.  Selkirk had been the sailing master on board the ship Cinque Ports which had accompanied the St. George on Bullard's first circumnavigation.  Selkirk was marooned when he complained of the ship's seaworthiness and left on the island with little more than a musket, gunpowder, a few tools, and rope.  Bullard and Selkirk were on friendly terms and Billy did not take well to the marooning and it may have been from the urging of William that the Duke rescued Selkirk more than four years later.

William "Billy" Bullard returned from his second circumnavigation both well off financially and quite experienced.  Rather than settle down to an easy life on land however, Bullard continued to serve as sailing master aboard both merchant and privateer vessels.  It was as navigator on the latter that he achieved his greatest fame.  With his unmatched knowledge of the West Indies and the east coast of the Americas, few foes could out sail or hide from him.  Many a captain has credited Bullard's navigational ability as the deciding factor in the success of a voyage.  And though he is getting on in age, it is in this capacity that he continues to make a name for himself today.

Profile:   S     F     St    D    A   W    C    Fa   Ft                   Recruitment Fee:  16 doubloons
              6+   2     3     3     1     1     3    2     1                     Retainer:  7 doubloons

* Once per game, William may reroll both dice when using the Master of the Wind ability and choose the highest single result from both attempts.

* William "Billy" Bullard acts as a hero in game terms but must be hired like other hired hands.  He is a bit more expensive due to his added point of Fate and ability enhancement.

(This is the first of a series where I will profile characters created for my Legend's of the High Seas game.  Though the background will include elements of historical people, places, and/or events, any resemblance to actual history is purely coincidental.  Readers may use the profiles for their own games as long as I am given proper credit.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February Hobby Matrix - Hobby ADD

Last month about this time I wrote a post about my hobby A.D.D.  I thought it might be a fun project (or frightening) to track my flights of fancy as the various games, projects, and obsessions that preoccupy my free time wax and wane - seemingly without reason.  Though I still have not had time to decide on a proper format for tracking the changes (OK, I admit it.  I did not even think about it in the last month) I did not want to miss the opportunity to enter this month's data. it goes:

Current Obsession - Scenery and Terrain
Past Obsession - Legends of the High Seas
Looming Obsession - Ambush Alley*

Lord of the Rings SBG = 7+
Warhammer Fantasy = 5*
Warhammer 40K = 6+
Pathfinder RPG = 4+
A Song of Ice and Fire RPG = 6*
Flames of War = 4-
Wings of War = 7-
D&D 4ed = 2+
D&D 3.5 = 5+
D&D old school = 7+
Axis and Allies War at Sea = 6-
Legends of the High Seas =9-
Terrain and Scenery Design = 8+
Miniature Painting (general) = 8+
Lord of the Rings Online = 5-
Pirates of the Burning Sea = 4*
Pirates of the Spanish Main = 5-
Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG = 6+
Ambush Alley = 5+

(The scale is 1-10 with one being the lowest on the current interest scale and ten being the highest.  "-" indicates a negative trend and "+" indicates a positive while "*" signifies no change from the previous month.)

Looking at the data above I do not see any real surprises.  My Legends of the High Seas project is still moving along nicely and the only reason for the decline is probably due to over-saturation.  I've been quite busy with general miniature painting, as well as making scenery for LotHS and LotR SBG so those respective categories saw an increase.  Several different flavors of D&D also witnessed gains.  I attribute the rise in ranking to three factors.  One, I've added several new items to my classic D&D collection through wins on Ebay.  Next, I finally got around to adding blog feeds of my favorite D&D/RPG sites to my iPad and now I can read them every night before bed.  Finally, there have been several web series dealing with D&D-ish themes that I have been watching on YouTube.  Who knows, maybe I will actually want to run a game before long if this trend continues.

There are two new additions to the list this month.  Ambush Alley I mentioned last month as a looming obsession.  Fortunately for my bank account, I have been unable to get a copy of the rules.  It seems that the company will be publishing a new ruleset in cooperation with Osprey Publishing in April and the licensing agreement specified that the old copies be suspended.  Needless to say, I will be eagerly awaiting the April release date and I have no doubt the ranking assigned to Ambush Alley will skyrocket.

The second addition is the Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG.  I have had a copy of the rules since last year but have only recently spent time familiarizing myself with the mechanics.  Based on the Savage Worlds model, the game seems like it would be rather interesting to play or GM.  I plan in a rereading soon and possibly playtesting thereafter.  I could see this taking up a large portion of my time given my love of pirates and tropical settings.  As if I needed more persuasion, my huge fleet of PotSM ships could be put back into use with this game system as well.  I see trouble on the horizon.....

If any of you have had experience with either Ambush Alley or the PotSM RPG, I would love to hear your comments regarding the games.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wargaming Table

Since my initial "effort" to produce a wargaming table, I've had much better luck.  Though the first edition was strictly for Wings of War, and more of an experiment than a true attempt, I still have to admit that I've come a long way in table design since then.  Now, several years after I painted that plywood nightmare and propped it on sawhorses, a table truly worthy of wargaming is near completion.

The initial WoW table about a year after it was painted.

When I moved to a new house in July 2009, I suddenly found myself with quite a bit of extra space out in the Florida room.  Somehow my pitiful table (pictured to the right) just didn't look right sitting all alone in the middle of the floor.  Now that I had the room, it was time to build the table I truly wanted.

My first stop was the local hardware store where I purchased a 8x4 foot sheet of 1/2" plywood for the top and a few runners to strengthen the playing surface.  I sanded the the plywood then added the braces by countersinking screws through the runner and into the top itself.  I now had a fairly stable gaming table, but it was unpainted and without legs.

The next step was to get a few coats of paint on the surface.  Fortunately, I had several gallons of paint left over from a Halloween project I started the year before that needed to be used before it dried up.  I did not realize at the time that the gray I chose looked great but was not very good at hiding scuff, spills, and dust.  Had I known, I would have chosen a darker color or a paint that was not so flat.  It's odd that I write that now because, as you will see, I made the same mistake again a year later.

Although they can barely be seen in the photo to the left, the plywood was set upon the very same sawhorses from the first table during the painting process.   While this made for a convenient work station, the use of the sawhorses would lead to a long delay in the completion of the table.  The photo on the left was taken in November of 2009.  Over a year would pass before the next step was completed.

The work hiatus was not because I was lazy or lacked the drive to finish the project.  The opposite was actually the case.  I was so excited and buzzed that I finally had a gaming table that I simply did not leave time to complete it.  I jumped right into gaming on it as soon as the paint was dry.  Although the sawhorses certainly created an eyesore when looking into the Florida room from the living room, the adhoc legs proved to be stable and capable of the job they were given.

I have to admit that I was more than happy with the arrangement.  Many games were played on that table while it was ingloriously propped on the sawhorses.  Pirates of the Spanish Main, Wings of War, War at Sea, and Lord of the Rings are just a few of the titles to see action on its storied surface.  The table even served other functions such as a very large work bench and on several occasions, a serving table during parties and holiday gatherings (properly covered of course).
A section of the table being used for PotSM.

Eventually, the fact that I never finished the table began to weigh heavily upon me and with the passing of 2010, I knew the time had come.  The resolution to finish the table was somewhat sparked by a post on another blog.  After reading the article and seeing the finished product, I had the inspiration I needed to continue.

The initial frame.
After purchasing the required materials and an afternoon of cutting my pieces to length, it was time to start building.  The frame basically took two afternoons to complete.  The main problem encountered was getting all the angles squared when the wood itself was not quite up to the task.  If funding was not an issue, I would have chosen boards of some exotic hardwood.  However, to save money and keep the entire project under $50, I went with yellow pine.  It's beautiful stuff and paints/stains well, but warping is an issue...especially in high humidity environments such as the Florida Keys.

After the initial frame was assembled, I had to go back and make a few adjustments to account for the variances of the wood.  The end product became quite stable but there were a few unsightly gaps at the corners.  I would simply have to live with the gaps however.  Since I want to be able to disassemble the table, wood filler was not an option.  Plus, the way my top effectively forms a cap over the frame, the defects would be mostly hidden.

The author with the slats installed.
To add additional stability and allow for modular game boards to be used, I decided to follow the example of the Drunken Dwarves and add slats through the center frame.  I have loads of 1/2 inch pink insulation foam that will be used for upcoming game boards so I decided to utilize the same measurement for the lip/drop.  Unlike the table that gave me the initial inspiration, an additional lip to keep dice on the table was not added.  I wanted the modular boards to sit flush with the frame itself.

As you can see from the photo above, the frame itself is rather tall.  The legs were cut to 38 1/4 inches to allow for a standing position for an average sized player (I am 5'11" and the lip comes to my waist).  While standing may not sound comfortable, I wanted a table that would allow players to move around and reach without bending over excessively.  For seating, I will be using bar stools with backs so viewing or watching will be at the appropriate level.

Now that the frame was completed, it was time to turn my attention to the table top.  As mentioned above, the paint I originally chose did not do well at hiding marks and wear.  After a year of use, the surface was more than ready for another coat.  Fortunately, or unfortunately...depending on how you look at it, I still had some of the original gray paint left over.  Rather than spend more money I decided to use it again for the base coat.  My reasoning was that since most of it would be painted over with the water effects I planned to apply, it wouldn't matter that the paint wasn't the best choice.  Well, I traded one problem for another.  Two years had not been kind to the consistency and after applying a coat, I realized it was rather clumpy.  In retrospect, I should have sanded the table and started over with a different paint but I was ready to finish the project.  I kept the coat as is and continued to the next step.

Since many of my games are based on or near the water, I decided to paint the main top in an ocean pattern.  This would allow for my Pirates of the Spanish Main, War at Sea, and Legends of the High Seas games to take place with little change to the board between sessions.  This would also allow me to use the board as is for my Port Antigua project.

To create the illusion of the high seas, I used a method I developed when I created a game board for Axis and Allies: War at Sea.  Starting with a light background (in this case a light gray similar to Games Workshop Fortress Gray) I applied blue spray paint in random horizontal strips.  This effect resembles the view one would get when flying over open water.  By varying the amount of gray showing between the blue, different sea states can be depicted.  For calm water, very little of the base color would be showing while rough seas could be created by allowing more of the gray to show.

By adding other shades of blue, an entirely different ocean can be created.  I went with royal blue to reflect deeper water but simply applying strips of aqua blue or possibly a nice shade of blue-green would yield an effect not unlike the shallows found around reefs in the Caribbean.  Whatever colors are used, it is vital to keep the passes of paint both randomly spaced and somewhat muted (I spray a bit further away than normal to allow for the paint to disperse over a wider area).

The table is now mostly finished and ready for gaming.  The last two steps I plan to do are 1) adding slats and a fitted sheet of plywood to the bottom frame to allow for storage and 2) staining the frame and legs a nice dark brown.  Hopefully I will not let another year pass before completion.  However, since I have been away from my paints and games for several days while working on the project, I do not expect to finish in the next few days.  This could mean trouble.....

I love looking at photos of other game tables and gaming rooms.  Where do you play and what do you play on?

Friday, February 11, 2011

History of the Waywatchers of Cardolan - part 1

Though it has been an important part of my life since late 2006 when I was invited to the closed beta, I have not given much love or attention to The Lord of the Rings Online.  An even more distressing fact is that except in passing, I have not even mentioned the kinship I founded...the Waywatchers of Cardolan.

Back in 2006 during the closed beta, I started thinking about what kind of kinship (the LotRO name for guilds) I wanted to join.  As a huge fan of the books and the Professor, I knew I wanted it to be tied as closely as possible to the lore.  Though I have many issues with player-created back stories that integrate too closely with the written word, I still wanted a kinship that fit with the theme and could have easily been part of the story.  It was also important that the group be comprised of mature players who did NOT spend hours upon hours glued to the keyboard and had no real lives to speak of.  That is a warning signal to me and I have had poor luck with those types of individuals in the past.  Finally, I wanted a kinship that I did not have to lead.  Having run a roleplaying guild in Everquest II, I was more than ready to be a "player" and not the "DM" for once.

I searched and searched for such a group of folks both in-game during beta play testing and on the official LotRO forums, which were quite active at the time with other fans eagerly awaiting a beta invite or the game to go live.  Unfortunately, my quest to find a appropriate fit to the guidelines I set out above proved fruitless.  A few possibilities came close but there was always something lacking.  I began to despair that I would play the game without like-minded individuals in which to share my love of the setting.

Fortunately, another frequent visitor to the forums noticed my many posts in which I touted my love of Middle-earth and my desire to live a "virtual life" there.  He sent me a message basically stating the same, and voiced many of the same concerns about finding a kinship.  After several more conversations, we decided to form a partnership and create our own kinship based on the guidelines I mentioned above.  With my extensive knowledge (and love) of the setting, the plan was that I would create the kinship, furnish it with appropriate background and lore, and guide the direction of the roleplayers in the group.  Since he worked from home, he would help run the day to day activities and be the online presence when I was unavailable.  Though I still had reservations about running another guild and the feasibility of two people trying to lead a group in tandem, I decided to give the project a chance.

I immediately went to work on the background.  Much of my inspiration came while hiking through the woods in the afternoons after work.  It was during these jaunts that I formed the building blocks of the kinship:  1) The kinship must operate under the philosophy that real life (RL) comes first.  2)  Our background should tie into the novels and the game without affecting the written story or Turbine's mechanics.  3)  The theme of the kinship should fit the books.  4)  We should strive to create an immersive atmosphere so that member RPers, and those that associated with us, would get a sense of a persistent world.  5)  And finally, we should provide a vehicle and resource to mentor players of the game who wanted to learn about the world of Middle-earth.

 It was also while walking through the woods that I developed the theme and actual history of the Waywatchers.  Perhaps it was due to the environment and the beautiful pine forests in which I did much of my thinking, but I knew I wanted a secretive military-type group that was more at home in the wilds than in civilized lands and loosely based along the lines of the iconic rangers in the books.  As I walked along the tree-lined trails, a vision of a shadowy company of a once noble lineage began to emerge.  In my mind, the Waywatchers were part of stories told in hushed voices to children or memories of long forgotten realms that a chance meeting in the wilds would prove to be real.  We would be known to the wise and those that often traveled the roads of Eriador but nothing more than a whisper or ghost story to the average man or hobbit.  In short, the Waywatchers were to be legends from the past come to life.

It was important to me to avoid emulating the rangers too closely however.  For one, I was sure the rangers would be an important aspect of the game and I did not want player activities to interfere with Turbine's story.  Also, there was bound to be numerous ranger-type kinships around and thousands of Aragorns, Araagorns, Elllezars or some other derivative of Tolkien's favorite hero.  Most importantly, the rangers were fairly well documented by Tolkien and much of their story during the years in which the game takes place is set in stone.  I needed something different and room to be creative without deviating from the Professor's themes.

It was then that I started thinking about the land of Cardolan.  Tolkien wrote very little about it except a few tales of sadness and loss.  It was once part of the lands of the Dunedain but it was written that the people dwindled and passed into legend.  This gave me an entire region that was mostly unknown in the lore and sparsely populated in which to build my background.  It also allowed me to tie into the history of the rangers without tainting the tale as written by Tolkien.  Now that I had a home and a theme, the rest of the story fell into place.

Cardolan after the division of Arnor.

When the background was unveiled, the story was an immediate hit.  I posted a recruitment announcement in early March 2007 and even though the game had not gone live, the response was incredible.  It turned out that there were indeed others who wanted many of the same components that I considered important in a kinship.  Though only a few of us had access to beta, our membership soared because of the forums and on launch day, the kinship entered Middle-earth with a virtual legion in the ranks.

Of the Founding of the Waywatchers of Cardolan.

Things went well for the first few months.  Membership was high and everyone enjoyed our kinship roleplay, story arcs, questing and social gatherings.  At one point, the Waywatchers neared the fifty member mark and it was decided to halt recruiting for a while to keep our numbers in check.  Some of the more prominent players of this period include:  Whaylen Blackwarden (that's me!), Periago Took, Dorin Oathkeeper, Kennit, Linnuial, Marawen, Annagil Stargift (still a member), Aralt, Branwald, Drachmar, Gamlet, Hagall, Jaiden, Kedlandir, Kimiel, Paskal, Peregrim, and Ciraran.

The Waywatchers gather at Weathertop.

The first kinship story arcs appeared during this period.  These were basically RP events where one, or several of the members created a story and acted as the "dungeon master" for the remained of the kinship, guiding them through the events that usually culminated in some large battle or confrontation.  The story arcs were an important attraction but it was soon apparent that two particular types of events were the most popular with the Waywatchers and would become the hallmark of our kinship:  patrols and campfires.

One of the first marches of the Waywatchers.  This one originated in Archet and concluded in Bree.

Our patrols consisted of an organized march along the roads and wilds the Waywatchers were oathbound to patrol.  At times we would encounter brigands and other ne'er-do-wells that we quickly dispatched or we ended our march at some quest location that members needed to complete.  But mostly our marches were a show of force and an opportunity for the entire kinship to "strut their stuff".  I can still recall seeing other players clear the road as we passed and feel the pride when many would emote a salute or other appropriate gesture.  Frequently, by the end of our march, we would have several tag-a-longs who just wanted to be part of the spectacle or find out more about us.  The campfire events were similar except that we would choose a tactical location to camp and observe the activity on the roads for signs of trouble.  While at these "waystations", we would exchange stories, music, and news with one another as well as plan sorties on unsuspecting bad guys.

The Waywatchers gather to exchange news from our travels and patrols.

All was not well, though, and I knew the halcyon days were coming to an end.  Over several months it became apparent that some of our members were less interested in roleplaying than leveling.  I became alarmed when those players rapidly outdistanced others and cliques and factions began to develop.  The Waywatchers were founded as an immersive RP group and it was made clear in the charter that leveling was secondary to RP.  Unfortunately, some players became unsatisfied with this arrangement and began to drift away.  To my regret, and perhaps relief due to the deteriorating relationship, my co-founder was one of them.  I sensed his slide from roleplayer to end-gamer early on but hoped for the best.

Then it happened.  One day in late July of 2007, the Great RP Split occurred.  About half of the membership defected and decided to found their own kinship.  Some left with honor and good grace while others chose the opportunity to burn bridges with great fanfare.  Of those who remained, morale was severely shaken and what was left of the High Council held several emergency meetings over the next week to discuss our options and chances of survival. The odds were against the now struggling Waywatchers and a fateful decision was finally made.

But that is another story....

(To be continued)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Pirate Port Construction

The construction of my pirate port (cunningly dubbed Port Largo) continues and it's nice to see some real progress.  Though the buildings were lacking roofs, siding, and details of any kind, just placing them together in an orderly fashion allowed me to see the plan coming together and give me direction for future structures and buildings. 

Bird's eye view of what will be the docks and main square.

In the photo above you can see the general layout of the town.  The buildings will not necessarily be in the same locations but the the distance between the individual structures is fairly accurate.  To facilitate large numbers of miniatures in action, I wanted to have a broad avenue leading from the docks towards what will be a hill in the distance.  Conversely, what seedy pirate town would be complete without dark alleys and narrow passages for swashbuckling and parleys?

The square will be wide enough for a fountain and traffic.

All of the buildings will feature numerous windows and balconies to allow for dynamic interaction and conflict amongst the players.  Each roof will be removable so that miniatures can be positioned at the various openings and possibly allow for fights to occur inside as well as outside.  Though there are no true upper stories except for the large balcony on the Government House (under construction), each window above ground level will have platforms attached so that miniatures can be positioned to shoot from the upper openings.

Another view of the first few buildings.

As far as the game board goes, I am in the process of shaping several large sections of one inch thick pink insulation sheets.  One end will terminate at the dock and will feature a stone quay and several wooden piers.  The Custom's House will be placed here as well as several warehouses and of course, a large inn and tavern.  I also plan to allow room for stacked goods, barrels, and crates.  If the tales be true, pirates love fighting in these areas.

The Custom's House and a ship at "dock".

The other end of the board will end with a low hill where many of the more prominent buildings in the area will be located.  This too will be shaped from pink insulation and filled out with plaster.  I don't think I'll have room to build a proper hill like those common in the Caribbean but the illusion will be there.  A backdrop with iconic island scenery may help with the endeavor.

A large wealthy merchant's house on the "hill".

A large merchant's house will be on or near the bottom of the hill.  Perhaps this will be the residence of a wealthy ship captain.  Sitting within sight of the seedier part of town, the large home is bound to tempt several of the less than savory characters.  Another possibility would be to make it the home of a shifty privateer captain.  He would have the money and standing to live near the hill but no doubt the more law abiding residents of Port Largo would whisper their suspicions about him when in polite company.

The beginnings of Government House.

Finally, on top of the hill will be Government House.  This building is shaping up to be a fairly large structure.  The main section is as large as the merchant's house but will feature larger windows on the upper flow along with a balcony that faces the sea and overlooks Port Largo.  Sprawling behind the main portion will be two lower levels that will feature a flat roof.  An opening from the second story will allow access to the roof and will certainly provide for some interesting action if the place is ever attacked when the pirates attack. Finally, a large courtyard will feature a bit of privacy for the guests of Government House and create cover and obstacles for both attacking and defending forces.  Most of the buildings will be white washed (except the inn which will be darker) but I think this home needs to stand out.  Perhaps a a faded rose/pink, not unlike that of a flamingo.  Hmmm....

I am enjoying this project immensely and look forward to designing a few more buildings.  I must caution myself not to go overboard however, by creating structure after structure and never finishing.  After all, the purpose of this project is to actually play a Legends of the High Seas game.

That is the purpose...right?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Any Port In The Storm

Warning: This will be my first attempt at posting from my iPad. I want to try blogging from alternate locations besides my desk or couch. Though I have a wireless keyboard I am not quite used to it yet. No doubt, I am bound to make many mistakes as my fingers stumble around on the tiny keyboard. If I fail to correct all of the mistakes, please forgive me in advance.

Now back to the regularly scheduled program.....

I spent last night and part of today cutting out frames for my pirate port project and putting them together (don't you just love alliteration?). So far I have two single story houses along with two "government" buildings. One of the buildings is destined to be the governor's mansion while the other may find duty as a customs house. They are just bare foamboard and without roofs right now. I'm afraid they will remain so until I have enough for a small port town. Since I plan on using spackle to cover the exterior of all the buildings, I'd rather make a big mess one time rather than on multiple occasions for multiple buildings. The tile for the roofs will have to wait as well. Though I have a few sheets of plastic tiles, I plan on trying a method I read about online. Someone suggested that corduroy could be used to simulate tile if stiffened with PVA glue. Considering the cost of the prefab sheets, I hope the corduroy trick works....I have many buildings to cover.

I was also able to finally finish my navigator. He has been on the workbench longer than any other pirate miniature. The reason for the delay was mainly his jacket. I envisioned him as an old weatherbeaten sailor with a few pieces of finery left to him but mainly dressed in threadbare garb. I gave him a nice waistcoat but wanted to make his jacket a dark burgandy color that looked stained and faded. Unfortunately, no matter what color or mix I tried, I just could not get the color to match my vision. I must have painted the jacket ten different times and on each occasion the resulting color varied from pink to purple to bright red. Finally I gave up and decided to accept whatever color appeared on my last attempt.

I'm still not happy with the jacket but he stays as least for now. I am quite satisfied with the parrot however. Feeling rather defeated due to the jacket fiasco, I decided to really spend some time on his pet and work on blending the blues, greens, and yellows into a seamless transition. For the most part, I feel like I succeeded. More importantly, I think the parrot creates a nice strong contrast with the rest of the figure and acts as a focal point for the eye.

I would have posted a photo of him tonight but troubles with the base caused yet another delay. The miniature is standing on wooden planks or flooring but at the edge of the base, the wood ends and sculpted sand begins. I'm not very happy with this arrangement but I was too lazy to re-base the figure after all the delays I've encountered with him so far. So I decided to apply glue and sand around the edge of the base in hopes that I would cover the sculpted sand and maybe match the bases of my other pirates a bit more closely. Well, that plan failed miserably. The sand grains, though they look great as basing material, are the wrong scale to match the wooden planks. The result looked terrible. So now I have to clean off the glue and sand tomorrow and either paint the sculpted sand or rebase the mini on a standard base.

As a quick and humorous aside, this is also the miniature that I knocked off my painting desk last week. I was lifting another figure out of my stand when its sword caught the navigator under the arm and pulled him out as well. Unfortunately, I was unable to catch him before he tumbled several feet to the floor. If he had landed on carpet, perhaps the damage would have been minor or nonexistent. However the vast majority of floors in the Florida Keys are covered in hard tile in case of hurricane flooding. My house is no exception and I can't begin to describe what a three foot fall onto tile does to acrylic painting on a miniature. More delays....

I hope this navigator has better luck in-game than he did on the painting table. Otherwise his ship may end up on a well-charted reef or worse.

What miniature has given you the most trouble and why?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

On The Horizon for February

January has come to an end and a new month is upon us.  Despite being sick with the flu for the first two weeks of the year I was able to accomplish quite a bit on the hobby front.  No less than nine pirates were completed with several others started and in various stages of completion.  Had I not been sick for the first part of the month I would have almost doubled my output.  As it stands now however, I'm still well on track to meet my goal of 100 miniatures by the end of the year.  With work picking up as the weather warms and  tourist season drawing ever closer, I can only hope to keep up the pace.

With my well-documented Hobby ADD, I try to plan ahead to help me focus on my goals.  My plan for February is to continue with the Legends of the High Seas project.  Getting more pirates and some scenery on the table is my priority for the month.  But as usual, I have quite a few side projects going on at the same time.  As you can see below, more than pirates are occupying my time.  A few LotR figures along with several Reaper models are in the slow process of coming to life.  There is even one Cadian miniature in the queue.  He is to be the test model for a paint scheme I have in mind for next month's project - March of the Cadians!

Mixed with the pirates are 5 Reaper, 2 LotR, and 1 Cadian.

Several of the models are already nearing completion and I hope to finish at least eight of them in the next week.  In doing so, I will have met the monthly average I need to complete to meet my year end goal.  Having more painted faces on my hobby desk smiling at me while I work will relieve some of the pressure and allow me to divert a bit of time towards a few other projects I would like to start this month.

Several models nearing completion.

One of those projects will be ship building.  Back in November and December, I went on an Ebay quest to find suitable ship models for Legends of the High Seas.  Through several lucky bids, I was able to score three sets of the Weapons and Warriors pirate game for very little investment.  Most of the items included in the boxed sets can be easily converted for 28mm play for much less than purchasing the resin purpose-built ships several companies are offering.  The ships in the set are eight inches long and qualify as a "small" ship according to the LotHS rules.  I find them quite suitable for play as far as realistic looks and miniature egress on the decks go.

Weapons and Warriors pirate ship under conversion.

To get the ships ready for play, several plastic moldings have to be carefully removed though.  With all the plastic chunks missing the deck will then have to be repaired.  One could use greenstuff to fill in the holes then re-sculpt the "wood grain" pattern to hide the evidence or completely resurface the deck with balsa wood.  At this point, I plan on pursuing the second course.  Sculpting is not one of my strong points and I do not want to spend loads of time blending patterns on the putty to match the original decking.  Plus, once I make a template for the first ship it will be easy to replicate the decks and outfit the other five vessels.

Painting should be fairly simple.  Black primer then lots of drybrushing with browns and grays is the plan.  I am unsure of what I'm going to do about the masts however.  The plastic masts, spars, and sails could be repainted and weathered to look more realistic or I could simply build my own from wooden dowels and cloth.  I'll do a bit of surfing on the web and see if any other modelers have come up with a good solution.

Playmobile pirate ship hull.

I was also able to find a beautiful hull by Playmobile for a quite a steal.  I think I paid less than ten dollars, including the shipping.  I'm not sure of the price if purchased new and with all the accessories, but from what I've seen in the stores, ten dollars was a great price.

To get this ship ready for the high seas I don't think I will need to remove anything.  Monstly I will be adding details such as decking and superstructure.  Balsa decks, dowels for masts, and maybe a balsa sterncastle and she will be looking quite fearsome indeed.  Her larger size will contrast nicely with the smaller ships and allow for more pirates on board.  She is quite beamy and is 12 1/2 inches long, qualifying her as a "medium" sized vessel according to the rules.

Six of the eight ships comprising the fleet.

I've also been working an another medium sized ship made of balsa, foamboard, and pink insulation.  I started the project before I decided to convert the toys I found online.  Although the purchased products look better and are stronger/more sturdy, I really have an issue with not completing what I started.  I think I will continue building her and see what happens.  Who knows, maybe the ship will surprise me and become my favorite of the fleet.

Toy palm trees that came with the Weapons and Warriors set.

In addition to the miniatures and ships, February will be focused on making the necessary terrain for Legends of the High Seas.  I have several buildings under construction (I'll post pictures soon) as well as various other bits of scenery like the palm trees above.  The palms by the way, are some of the ones included in the Weapons and Warriors set.  In their original form the trees look rather bland and well....plastic.  To bring them to life, I cut off the fat bases (and in some cases separated the trees from one another) and glued them to wooden platforms.  Rather than repainting each tree, I decided to leave the color as is but added shading with paint washes.  Dark Green (from GW) was used liberally on the fronds providing an acceptable amount of shading with little effort.

After I shade the trucks with Delvan Mud (GW), I'll finish off the bases with some sand and low foliage.  I'd also like to make a few coconuts but I have not thought of a quick and easy process to replicate them yet.

A pirate seeks relief from the tropical sun.

 Though these particular palms were based and partially shaded as a test, I think I will be quite happy with them once completed.  I purchased the Weapons and Warriors sets for the ships and consider the palms, along with the rowboats and block houses that come with the game (photos coming soon), a huge bonus.  To be honest, I did not even know they were included in the game.  Now that I see a glimpse of the outcome once fully painted, I'm even happier with the purchases.  The scale is almost perfect for this type of palm tree (they look like the palms right outside my front door) and once I combine them with other types of tropical plants and trees, I think I will have a fairly convincing pirate port or tropical island.

So that's my game plan for this month.  What are your gaming/hobby plans for February?