dispatches from terra incognita

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A chance mention on The Miniatures Page led me to a new (to me) Australian manufacturer of mdf terrain: Knights of Dice. The sci-fi stuff — which is what was referenced in the TMP post — is fabulous. The pulp/modern stuff is what hooked me, though.

Chinatown? An amusement park? I hadn’t even realized my absolute ache to have this stuff!

A little digging uncovered the delight that Noble Knight Games carries a bunch of the stuff in the US. I ordered last Wednesday morning and by noon on Friday I had my first three bits of Sentry City. I decided to start small, with Chinatown.

IMG_6395First up, a simple plaza. This one reminded me of street plazas on the Lower East Side / Chinatown in New York City. The only ding I’ll give the kit (and my sole criticism of Knights of Dice thus far) is that the website photo shows a table and chairs in the plaza — which are sold separately — but not included with this kit. I fully realize that when they pose miniatures in photos they won’t come with the terrain; I just kinda thought they might include the tables to dress up the plaza. In NYC, I recall they had chessboards, so I may scratch build some of those instead.

IMG_6396Next up, we have a lovely brace of street food Hawker’s Stands. Check out the details on the image on the KoD website — stove grates, cutting board, pan, cleaver. Amazing!


Finally, a smallish restaurant / food stand — Little Ramen. The detail inside the kitchen rivals the street carts. I haven’t begun to search for suitable miniatures to staff them…

I’ve just begun to dry fit some of this together, and everything fits neatly and tight — they should be a joy to build. Noble Knight has a lot, but not everything, that KoD sells, so I will likely be doing some direct ordering from Down Under.

At any rate, I foresee many, many more purchases from Knights of Dice.

Ruined Gothic Tower

While trolling in the Hirst Arts forums for inspiration awhile back, I ran across an interesting post. Someone was wishing for new plans of things to build with Hirst Arts blocks and someone else suggested taking existing projects and building them with blocks from different molds — using “gothic” blocks for a “fieldstone” project, for example.

Well, financial reality being what it is, I’d been stopping myself from purchasing the molds necessary to build the Ruined Fieldstone Tower. But, I had a plethora of gothic molds. I studied the tower plans and decided to try a new take on this project.

Laying blocks out on the plans, I began to see the challenges. Some of the fieldstone pieces — the arches in particular — did not have gothic analogues; at least not on any of the molds I owned. And I would have to make the “ruined” bits myself. Because of the random nature of the fieldstone pieces, Bruce used a lot of butt joints between walls that would look funny with regular gothic blocks.

I used Bruce’s plans as a starting point and made up the rest as I progressed. All of the corners had to be joined like a regular building so that the blocks would be properly staggered. Some of the arches could be replicated, but others had to be fabricated with extra “little” bricks glued on. One final vexation was the bit I chose as the top and bottom of the columns. It was a piece from the Gothic Church that, too bad for me, was only on the mold once. So, I had to cast that little piece about 2,000,000 times to finish the project.

The part I thought would be fun (but wasn’t so much) was ruining blocks for the top edge. They were carved up easily enough with an Exacto knife or box cutter, but I fussed endlessly to get it to look like “natural” destruction.

Bruce added a tree to the little well/pool in the courtyard, which looked suitably dramatic and spooky, but I thought it might make it hard to maneuver figures in an already cramped space. I opted for some stones and murky water.

When I set to work on the base, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could’t really do the “gothic” gray paint job, as that was how I had painted the tower. So, I used his “earth tones” — the colors he uses for fieldstone buildings. I don’t love it for stone, but I needed some contrast. I also wasn’t convinced by his tutorial on how to carve foam to look like rocks. I did a bit under the tower itself, but the rest in my usual, hurried manner. In the photographs, I don’t mind his method, though, so I may try it again in the future.

I did finally get the fieldstone mold for Christmas (but not the one with the ruined bits, so I still can’t do the original tower), so you might notice I added the skulls. I’m not sure if they are quite the thing, but… One might spy a gargoyle perched upon the column to the right of them. Him, I like.

All it needs for completion is some drab greenery. I’ve got suitable flock; Bruce used “coarse turf,” which I have too, but mine is bright and cheery and would ruin the mood. I’ll get the right stuff and then decide.

In the final shots, it appears that the tower has been garrisoned by the self-same jaundiced goblins who debuted on this blog a few weeks ago.


Goblins of the Old School

I submit this little vignette as confirmation that I completed another dozen Bones — “Dungeon Attack” goblins, this time; compadres of the kobolds I knocked out last week.

IMG_0425Following Chris Palmer’s lead, I eschewed green and sought guidance from my venerable 1/e AD&D Monster Manual: “Goblins range from yellow through dull orange to brick red in their skin color.” Chris chose orange, so I bit for yellow.

I used a limited palette of midnight blue for the clothes, yellow skin, brick red for the Hittite hats, and gold for the weaponry. (For some reason, all my bad guys wield gold, while the good guys prefer silver…). So, when they all showed up for a skirmish in my gothic dungeon, they were particularly irascible because they had all worn the same dress. Oh, well… at least one can see they’re all on the same team.

I’ll also make mention that I’ve gone almost entirely over to craft paints now. I have a post percolating concerning my evolution as a mediocre painter. The short version is that I used to be a so-so painter using expensive paints, now I’m a comme ci comme painter using paint I buy at Walmart.

Loitering Kobolds

Though a week late in appearing, here you see here the culmination of my winter break’s industry. Another set of Reaper Bones painted — a dozen kobolds up to no good, no doubt.

Ernest Glitch & His Lateral Science

I first discovered Roger Curry’s Lateral Science website (now blog) a decade ago. He would seem to be in the process of distilling it into a “novel” — The Ernest Glitch Chronicles. I have to let Roger Curry describe this one for you himself:

During the mid-eighteen hundreds, the Weardale savant Ernest Glitch performed scientific and technological investigations, little known to the present student of the history of science. An eccentric and volatile person, his pursuit of knowledge was accompanied by the sort of hedonism only the very rich can enjoy. The results of experiments he and his assistant Hodges undertook were never published. As he kept no log-book, the main record of the discoveries they made are the letters he wrote to Michael Faraday.

In this book, the letters to Faraday are presented, together with contemporary reports, a journal Glitch made of his expedition to Africa, and several narratives of his life. Also, reference is made to both his ancestors and, in detail, his descendants.

Contains very strong language. The letters and accounts of the work of Ernest Glitch are of an appalling nature in parts, containing references to animal and human experimentation, extreme violence, Victorian drug abuse, and complete disregard for the dignity of native peoples. 381 pages. 135 thousand words.

I don’t yet find evidence that an e-bookified version is available, but one can read it all online by foraging through the blog. Ripping inspiration for VSF technology and adventure.

From the Archives (Originally posted December 20, 2002)

Prufrock in Peril!

The Colonial Angle is a website devoted to miniature wargames (my new passion). It contains a photographic battle report of The Demise of Professor Prufrock, a tale of supernatural mystery and desert intrigue.

I didn’t realize in 2002 that the creator of the Colonial Angle was Steve Winter, a long time TSR employee. While the Colonial Angle no longer seems to be updated, Steve has added a link to the Alliterates homepage, a writing group of noted souls in the rpg community.

N.B.: The links are now curtesy of the Wayback Machine.

From the Archives (Originally posted on March 7, 2002)

Perry-Castañada Library Map Collection

The Perry-Castañada Library Map Collection is an invaluable resource for cartographers, this online map collection comprises numerous modern and historical maps, most in the public domain, as well as copious links to other cartographic resources. Two examples:

The Distribution of the Principal European Languages in 1914

Notable High Buildings of the World, 1896

From the Archives (Originally Posted on March 5, 2002)

Into the Archives

As I mentioned previously, I “blogged” (though people didn’t much call it that) from 2001 to 2009 in support of the roleplaying game I wrote, Terra Incognita. Aside from bookkeeping stuff (the game was reviewed here, blah, blah, blah, there’s a new supporting download, blah, blah, blah), the main goal of the blog was to explore the then-newish creation called the Interweb for material that Terra Incognita players might find interesting.

I’ve decided to trek into those days of yore and “rebroadcast” the Dispatches. This is partly an exercise in curiosity about what’s still available (I have no doubt that the Wayback Machine will occasionally be involved), partly a wish to remind myself of eight-odd years of daily research into weird stuff, and and partly a desire to utilize all the modern day tags and categories and such so that readers might actually be able to find what they’re looking for without having to scroll through everything chronologically (which you can still do, if you go in for that sort of thing).

Henceforward you can expect periodic forays into the mists of ætheric terra incognita

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

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