Sunday, January 15, 2017

3-2-1 in 1, 2, 3: Basing for The Pikeman's Lament

When word came to me that Bill Stewart was undertaking a massive rebasing project for his single-mounted Napoleonic, Colonial, and English Civil War figures, I recalled the lines from Yeats' The Second Coming,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned. 
For more than 20 years, the one immutable constant in an ever-changing world was the Wm. Stewart Standard Rectangular Base™ of 20mm by 25mm (that's ¾ inch by 1 inch to the metrically challenged). Something momentous must have happened, something ominous,
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
Indeed, the release (or imminent release) of Osprey's latest batch of skirmish rules, The Men Who Would Be Kings, Chosen Men, and The Pikeman's Lament, shifted the universe, caused a tremor in The Force, and compelled Bill to undertake the most odious task imaginable: rebasing figures—lots of 'em. Had this been one of his twelve labors, even Heracles would blanch.

So I was intrigued.

Michael Leck, co-author of The Pikeman's Lament, featured a unique basing scheme on his blog Dalauppror. This was visible in posts going back a while, but recently he laid out the dimensions he used.

The basic scheme is to mount figures on round bases in clumps of 3 or 2 with single figures as "spare change" to accommodate casualty removal. Since units in The Pikeman's Lament are 12 or 6 figures, a 6-figure unit (horse, dragoons, forlorn hope, commanded shot) would have clumps of 3-2-1; a 12-figure unit (pikemen, shot, clansmen) would have clumps of 3-3-2-2-1-1. Michael's recommended base sizes for foot are,
  • 1 figure: 25mm round
  • 2 figures: 30mm round
  • 3 figures: 40mm round
For mounted figures,
  • 1 figure: 40mm round
  • 2 figures: 50mm round
  • 3 figures: 60mm round
Michael uses perfectly round bases (as Bill is doing), which posed a dilemma for me. I liked the idea, but I was loath to go out and buy buckets of round Litko bases and magnetic bottoms in six sizes. I can (and did) buy a whole slug of minis for less than all that basing would cost. Also, even though I've purchased a lot of Litko bases, most of which sit unused in boxes, more recently I've gone back to plastic sheet for my Lion Rampant, Quetzalcoatl Rampant, and Bolt Action figures.

Ken Kissling, one of my fellow Kampfgruppe Commander gamers, taught me the trick of making bases using "sidewalk" plastic sheet that you can get at most hobby or model railroad stores (until those stores cease to exist). The "sidewalk" plastic comes with various square sizes; I use the ⅛ inch squares because it's more versatile in creating different size bases.

I just score along one of the lines and snap to get the base sizes I want. This works exceedingly well for making square/rectangular bases. For round bases, I bought a punch set that goes up to 30mm diameter. I made round bases that way for my Bolt Action officers/NCOs so they'd stand out from the rectangular bases of the standard figures. But there's no way to punch out anything bigger.

Then inspiration struck!

Years (and years) ago, my first joint project with other NHMGS people was gaming the AWI battle of Guilford Courthouse using Andy Callan's Loose Files and American Scramble rules (which he'd published in Wargames Illustrated). Our basing for that was also irregular clumps of 4-5 figures on irregularly cut bases. I figured that although I couldn't punch or cut perfect circles in plastic, I could cut crude, irregular circles—which suddenly struck me as preferable to perfectly round bases anyway.

My ECW figures are Renegade and Bicorne. These are BIG figures. Michael's recommended sizes wouldn't work, but he did mention in his blog that you could tweak up the diameters as needed to accommodate the figures. So for the foot, I went with,
  • 1 figure: 30mm round (or 1 ¼ inches)
  • 2 figures: 40mm round (or 1 ⅝ inched)
  • 3 figures: 50mm round (or 2 inches)
For horse, I plan to go with,
  • 1 figure: 50mm round (or 2 inches)
  • 2 figures: 60mm round (or 2 ⅜ inches)
  • 3 figures: 70mm round (or 2 ⅞ inches)
To get these sizes from the "sidewalk" plastic sheet, I started by cutting squares, then cutting the squares into octagons (it's easy to score along the diagonal—and I don't need to be precise). I apply these to the sticky side of a Litko magnetic sheet, then trim them out.

I then go along trimming the octagon into a hexadecagon, then an icosidodecagon, etc. (it's kind of like applying "flatness" to a B├ęzier curve in a Postscript.)

As I rough-cut the circle, I start to add nicks 'n' such to make the perimeter even rougher.

Finally, I use medium-fine grit sandpaper to complete blunting any pointy spots. The idea is to better blend the figure base into the surface of the game table by making the demarcation fuzzier. 3mm thick Litko bases have an admirable heft, but they do stick out.

So far, I've rebased every ECW figure that I'd finished and based, which wasn't many. There's a kind of serendipity to being dilatory: rebasing is a snap if you didn't base in the first place.

I'm kind of excited. I have lots of figures to work on, though so far I'm just basing/rebasing figures for The Pikeman's Lament. I'm keeping my Lion Rampant and Quetzalcoatl Rampant figures on the Wm. Stewart Standard Rectangular Base™ (actually, I've gone with ⅞ inch by 1 ⅛ inch). There's just too much work to do rebasing 'em all. However, for ECW it feels like the project has met the moment. It's languished for some time and now I have the enthusiasm to get cracking, especially since the rules are coming soon.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


  1. Currently doing the same job but went for 3mm thick bases. Yours look great as do the figures. By the way have you tried using Lion Rampant with the Northern European Bronze age figures- do think it might work?

  2. Will be interesting to see these chaps in action. Looking forward to peoples reation to the new rules.

  3. Alan: I think Lion Rampant could be adapted to the Northern European Bronze Age, which I'd love to do, but it's a lot more figures than I currently have and the 40mm guys are expen$ive. I could do it in 28mm using the Foundry range.

  4. I am SO steali...., er, BORROWING this idea!! Thanks!

  5. Steve Jobs once said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." I've stolen every good idea I have.

  6. Very nice blog post indeed! I really like you uneven edges, looks very good!!!

    I hope you Will like the Pikeman's Lament rules :)

    Best regards Michael