dispatches from terra incognita

Month: October 2012

The Square Pegs

The time has come for me to unveil my most recent Enthusiasm;— viz.:

The Square Pegs

The Square Pegs are a motley collection of 54mm Toy Soldiers constructed from clothespins, pipe cleaners, and other accoutrements.

Why 54mm Craftees?

In the summer of 2012, I found myself assessing my increasing pile of unpainted lead; simultaneously reflecting upon my diminishing space for storing my soldiers and scratch-built terrain; and finally, lamenting the little time I have to devote to hobbying. In a flash came the perfect solution;— why not embark upon a project in a new, larger scale, which would entail constructing (and storing) all new buildings and terrain, and which would require me to create all of my own figures from scratch? Thus began the madness!

But First, the Back Story

The Anglo-Zulu War, rendered in clothespins

Examining the history of my browser would reveal the following artifacts;—

For years I have been ogling (in a good way) the clothespin creations of Mr. Kenneth Van Pelt one might find at The Penny Whistle (website of the Secondhand Lions Wargame Club) — 54mm Zulu war Brits and 1:72-ish biplanes, all constructed of parts plundered from the laundry;

Though I have a well-thumbed copy of Wells’ Little Wars, I was strangely compelled to purchase a modern update — Funny Little Wars by Padre Paul Wright — published by the Virtual Armchair General; and finally,

Really shoots!

How could one not be captivated by the Toy Making Dad’s tutorial for constructing a little wooden cannon that really shoots?

One horrid day these Ætheric contagions took hold of my feverish mind. I realized that I possessed the necessary skills and modest pecuniary means to construct 54mm soldiers and the artillery with which to shoot them dead.

Looks of grim determination, astride stoic steeds

Thus was born the Square Pegs!

Creating little clothespin people did have several qualities to recommend it. One of my other (too numerous) hobbies is carpentry, so the concept of combining woodworking with miniature wargaming was appealing. I embrace any opportunity to employ my costly collection of tools, and better yet, welcome any excuse to purchase new ones! This may seem strange, but by creating craftee warriors, a certain pressure was off. I am not at all a skillful painter, and I frequently “psych myself out” (as a Victorian gentleman might remark) by admiring the Olympian Heights of painting technique displayed on the interweb. When I compare the Picasso-like results of my brush strokes (and not in a good way), I admit I become Discouraged, to say the least. The main reason I originally took up 15mm figures (for example) was so that I wouldn’t have to paint eyes!

Officers and a Lady

Working in the “laundry appurtenance” medium, however, equaled Freedom. There were few ultra-skilled craftee-devotees to outshine one, and, in the end, as I often remind myself, “Self, it’s only a clothespin.” Occasionally, when I catch a glimpse of those furry blue arms, they afford a Muppetational quality, which plunges me into to the depths of Despair …  Perhaps my time has been wasted? I suppose that one could say that about any of one’s pursuits when examined with excessive scrutiny and cabernet sauvignon.

Men and supplies

In the end, I think I’m decidedly Pleased, and I harbor Grand Plans for the Square Pegs. As the cooler months are descending, I have time to amass forces for an epic spring Garden Battle, … and then I could double the size of the plans for the Gary Chalk river steamer and repurpose my figures for pulp/penny dreadful VSF in Darkest Africa  … and then I could make “proof of concept” models of fantasy figures for a truly expansive garden hexcrawl… and then if I made pirates, I could construct 1:32 ships armed with those shooting cannons, spread out so blue canvas on the lawn … and then …

Three infantryman from Army Black, before being issued arms (You may, in fact, regret having found this site…)

Funny Little Wars

My current Enthusiasm involves a return to the origins of another hobby — miniature wargaming. H.G. Wells’s Little Wars an Floor Games were the foundational texts for adults to engage in warfare employing tiny metal models.

One can have for himself the text of both books via Project Gutenberg, should he desire an authentic return to roots.

For a modern day re-imaginging of Wells’ rules, along with a plethora of ancillary accoutrements, Padre Paul Wright’s Funny Little Wars is highly recommended. The rules for battle are all there, both for using little Wellsian cannons (that really shoot) and modern day dice-rolling. There’s a points system for assembling balanced opposing forces in a rainbow of hues (Red=Britain, Black=Germany, &c.).

I particularly enjoy the little touches — aircraft for reconnaissance (never combat)… rules for caring for wounded in field hospitals… sartorial suggestions and culinary guidance for players new to a more civilized style of gaming.

The soldiers themselves — old fashioned 54mm tin soldiers — are breathtakingly dear (in two senses — cute, as well as, you could never afford them) but Padre Wright provides Ætheric addresses to purveyors of plastique proxies. I, myself, have chosen a Different Path, about which more anon.

Even if you never make it outside to gaming in the garden, Funny Little Wars is a delightful read and contains a bit of history about the origins of wargaming. I’ll keep Readers up to date as my Enthusiasm unfolds….

Dwarfstar Games

If you harbor a hankering to interact physically with the past greatness I mentioned yesterday, you could begin by visiting Dwarfstar Games.

In ’81 and ’82 you could ride your Schwinn to the FLGS (J&S Hobbies, Bloomington, MN in my case) and find these little boxed gems ready to be traded for currency. Through the wonder of the internet and the generosity of Reaper Miniatures, you can download, print, and play these beauties, thirty years on down the road.

Barbarian Prince, Demonlord, Dragon Rage, Goblin, Grav Armor, Outpost Gamma, Star Smuggler, Star Viking… they’re (nearly) all there — Lewis Pulsipher’s Dragon Rage has been re-done and is back in print (though, I will say, I prefer the look of the original map; oh, well…).

Still, that’s seven classic microgames available to download freely and recreate for the cost of your ink, paper, and time.

World in a Box

Following is a bit of my rambling from about 2002, salvaged from my old site.

World in a Box

The Classic Microgames Museum

I just discovered a reliable means of travelling backwards in time. That is, as long as your destination of choice is a cramped and cluttered hobby shop circa 1982. My temporal conveyance — the Maverick’s Classic Microgames Museum — is an online homage to long-forgotten game format: the bagged or boxed microgame.

Subtitled “A visual perspective of a decade of small box and ziplock games from 1977 to 1987,” the Museum is a minimalist affair, comprising scanned images of the game covers accompanied by a few explanatory jottings. All your favorites are here, from Metagaming’s Microgame #1, Ogre, Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games, the TSR offerings such as Revolt on Antares and They Invaded Pleasantville, and many more. Some I vividly recall holding, some were advertised in Dragon magazine, and a few were completely new to me.

Clicking through the Museum catapulted me backward twenty years into my adolescent Adidas, when I stood standing enraptured before the originals that hung in neat rows on pegboard. Discretionary income in those days was hard won and competition from the latest D&D module was fierce, so each purchase required careful deliberation. I became a careful critic of cover art, a serious scholar of the back blurb. Graphic presentation was crucial as the games were shrink-wrapped or otherwise hermetically secured against pre-purchased consumption. The Museum shows about as much as I ever saw of most of them.

I’ll disclose straightaway that these little gems did not often win the competition. The only one I ever bought was Car Wars and its supplements, though I read and played others belonging to friends. For this reason, perhaps, pocket games retain an allure more profound than that I feel for contemporaneous games I played and still possess.

Microgames promised a whole world in a box. They resembled a paperback novel — proscribed and yet infinite. They fit in your pocket (unlike the ponderous AD&D tomes that required a double brown shopping bag for transport). And those little plastic bags and boxes contained more than just rules. Most of the games were transitional, hybrid descendants of wargames, utilizing folded game boards, cutout pieces, and other exciting accoutrements. The twenty-year-old claps and hinges of my Car Wars box strain to accommodate the rulebook, supplemental addenda, maps, and innumerable car counters I have stuffed inside.

Microgames represent an early stage in the evolution of roleplaying games, or perhaps a dead-end branch of the family tree. As such, their fossilized remains make an interesting study. In light of modern RPGs, I suppose they seem primitive, possibly comical. The hobby has come a long way, adding layers of complexity as it has matured. Game books are now divided into substantial sections for player and game master; ambitious games devote a separate volume to each. Character creation and the setting are described with encyclopedic detail. None of this is wrong or a bad thing, of course. Many gamers expect prolix rulebooks in order to justify the rising cost of games. But verbosity does not necessarily equal vision. One can agree that the force of imagination was just as potent in microgame writers, and perhaps more concentrated.

Best of all, pocket games and even the old 64-page saddle stapled RPGs required active creative participation from players. Unpolished presentation and spare rules engaged a gamer’s imagination, inviting him to fill in the gaps. The cabala of house rules and gentlemen’s agreements that arose through play did not indicate deficiency in the games; rather, it confirmed the crystallization of a small community, a cell of companionship that had the personalized fit of faded jeans. When you are forced to rely upon your own wits instead of a canonical rules codex, you can’t help but know a bit of the alchemy of the game developer.

Microgames will never make a comeback New technologies such the internet, desktop publishing, and affordable book printing have changed the look of the roleplaying hobby. Plaid Rabbit Productions (now known as Microtactix Games) offered the Pocket Fantasy series in 1997, packaged in a CD jewel box. It was a neat idea, but the tiny text was difficult to read and they was easily confused with computer RPGs on CD. On a deeper level, however, it seems that retailers and consumers like 8×11 pegs in 8×11 holes; even digest sized books are less popular. By 2002, Microtactix has evolved into a premier retailer of today’s most popular means of inexpensive publishing: the downloadable pdf. Companies such as Jared Sorensen’s Memento-Mori.com, Invisible City Productions, and Darn Fun Games now fill the microgame niche, providing fast and fun entertainment for little or no cost.

I don’t wish for the return of pocket games and I acknowledge that much of their charm is most likely attributable to nostalgia. It is refreshing, however, in this day of multi-volume, 256 page hardback RPG tomes, to look back those little games that beckoned you to the table but didn’tt dictate how you should play.

Scott Larson

Sometime in 2002

Hello, World (Again)

As one can see, I have resumed blogging. Or, rather, I have plans to begin updating more regularly a blog which has thus far suffered a shadowy existence alongside a website (Circa Games) which was itself a shadow.

In 2001, I published with Grey Ghost Press a roleplaying game entitled Terra Incognita. I began blogging in 2001 (though no one I encountered called it that then) on Terra Incognita: The NAGS Society Website until September of 2009. The halt was due mostly to the fact that I bought a new computer which would no longer run my ancient web-site-creation software.

I agonized for years as to whether I should buy Dreamweaver and resume my Daily Dispatches. I eventually concluded that the benefits of the blog platform — the ability to post remotely and automated organizational niceties such as categories and tags — overcame my desire to spend hundreds of dollars on an application. And, unless I’m missing something, in order to post daily, I’d have to fire up the program on my computer, edit and then upload the home page;— such quotidian drudgery was not something I’d been missing since ’09.

Circa Games and its attendant Ætheric entity dates back to the last century — 1998, to be exact — and is the company I would work for and make millions pursuing my hobbying interests, if the Real World resembled in any way that in my imagination. I assembled a collection of online resources regarding some of my Enthusiasms — wargaming the Old West and Victorian Science Fiction, predominantly — as well as a couple of pieces of writing that would be considered “blog posts” today. Otherwise, the site sat largely neglected since ’98.

For reasons which I don’t understand, I’ve been Possessed to make another attempt at a semi-regular online presence. The impediments are legion — I have little time; I don’t enjoy typing At All (hence, no Google+), and I don’t see myself as creative like those chaps who dish out wisdom on a daily basis. I’ll make an honest assay, however, to share thoughts which are somewhat coherent.


Hexographer is the thoroughly wonderful program I used to create the map in my header. It comes from the mind of Joe Wetzel at Inkwell Ideas, who also has programs for mapping dungeons (Dungeonographer) and, thanks to one of those successful Kickstarters, entire cities (Cityographer). The programs are Java-based, therefore platform agnostic, free for a basic version, and reasonably priced for an upgrade.


Microtactix was on the leading edge of creating terrain for wargames and RPGs that you could download immediately and print on cardstock. The company has been quiet for some time (viz. the moribund Microtactix website), but a plethora of products remain for sale at RPGNow.

The early buildings, such as Vulture Gulch, are primitive by today’s standards — they’re just line-drawn and you have to color them in yourself(!) Yet, they’re not correspondingly inexpensive…

“Newer” sets such as Twilight Street (added 10 years ago) are fully colored and useful. I have many, many of these sets and retain a fondness for carefully assembling cardstock buildings.


Whitewash City

In addition to all of the wonderful products that Eric Hotz has offered to the gaming community, his Whitewash City: Links page is the sine qua non of online Old West gaming resources. If you’re looking for miniatures, scenery, rules — Eric has sought them out and provides you with a link. Many Thanks!


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