Thursday, February 23, 2012

Serendipities and felicitations

O frabjous day! I quite unexpectedly came across a treasure trove of Piedmontese-Savoyard regimental flags that I thought I would never find. I was minding my own business when I started following a link to a defunct web site that had a cache of archived pages. In French. Spelunking down into the sub-pages, I found a listing of these flags. This is meaningful to me because back when we started our aborted pseudo-historical ate 17th c. project, we modeled our armies on historical ones. Feeling an Italianate urge, I picked Piedmont-Savoy. The one fly in the ointment was that I had no source for flags. I made up my own (very fanciful) using Adobe Illustrator.

These flags are not ready to roll, I have to fiddle with them in Photoshop and Illustrator to make them useful. Also, the flags are stated to be for the War of the Spanish Succession (WSS) and later. I can deal with that degree of anachronism (if, indeed, there is one. French flags devised circa 1630s remained unchanged in many cases until the end of l'Ancien Régime). I have to do some surgery to my completed ensign figures to remove the old flags and add the new, but it's nice to know that I'll have something arguably more accurate than my home-brewed flags.

I found Nec Pluribus Impar!
I assumed that the WSS rules I started writing 22 years ago (Nec Plubius Impar) were lost or buried too deeply in the clutter to be found in this lifetime. I was wrong. After burrowing through some boxes in the garage and not finding them (although I did find other buried treasures), I looked in my closet and there they were: a thick ream of papers wrapped in a folding file holder.

After browsing through the pages, I was pretty pleased to see how much my thinking then is similar to my thinking now as I develop my Pike & Periwig rules. I wrote NPI for 15mm and I had some unique ideas for modeling firing systems, battalion organizations, morale, and combat. I regret that I left off developing them. I started them when I lived in Chicago and continued writing after I moved to Seattle. My first development tool was a 1988-vintage Mac Plus using MS Word for Mac and Super Paint. It was a dot matrix world back then and the earliest printed sheets I have are crude glyphs and images on the old-style computer paper.

Cutting edge pixel art circa 1990
Now that I have my old NPI notes, I'll try to adapt some of the ideas to the system I'm using for P&P.

In addition to this happy find, I discovered a copy of my friend Rick's Seven Years' War rules Battlefire. These were one of the inspirations for NPI and I was recently asking Rick if he still had a copy, which he didn't. It turns out that now I'm supply a copy to him.

I also found some initial notes on a system that I was writing for the American Revolution in the early '90s. I was experimenting with the idea of a "cadence" for turns where the number of "beats" required to perform a certain action, such as moving X inches, shooting/reloading, changing formation, varied between troops of different qualities. I like the idea (again), but I have another command/control idea for P&P.

I've been acquiring sources for my P&P rules—re-acquiring in several cases. I have a bad habit of clearing my library from time to time. In the last 20 years, I've probably cycled through several hundred volumes that came and went. Shelf space is limited chez Dave, so to avoid boxing up books for storage (storage space is even more limited) or stacking up books on the floor (I've done it, it's not pretty), I take them to Half Price Books and sell them for pennies on the dollar. Many books I don't miss, several I miss only slightly (the faint nostalgia of saying, "I had that book once..."), others I find myself wanting again and I ask myself, "What were you thinking when you got rid of that?" Among the latter are:

  • Brent Nosworthy, The Anatomy of Victory: Battle Tactics 1689-1763
  • B. P. Hughes, Firepower: Weapons Effectiveness On The Battlefield, 1630- 1850
  • B.P. Hughes, Open Fire: Artillery Tactics from Marlborough to Wellington
These were all invaluable sources when I wrote NPI, but I sold them after that project languished and died. I have re-acquired them all (or will have as soon as the postman brings them to me). I have also acquired a copy of James Turner's Pallas armata, Military essayes of the ancient Grecian, Roman, and modern art of war written in the years 1670 and 1671 and Carl Ekberg's The Failure of Louis Xiv's Dutch War, which is really background analysis of the political aspect of the era, there is little of actual military history in it (this, too, is a re-acquisition).

I make a bit of progress every day on both my rules Pike & Periwig and my first unit, Régiment Vivarais. I have learned that I was too trusting of Susane's uniform plates. The uniform is clearly a shade of blue in my source, but probably a mid-gray since that or brown were the common colors for French uniforms in this period. I'm unfazed. I like the blue (Vallejo 902 Azure, actually) and as one of my friends used to say when someone pointed out a uniform inconsistency, "Well, today they wore that."

I see that North Star Figures has released flintlock musketeers for the North Star 1672 range. They don't really fit in my period, being integrated more in the 1680s through 1700 or so. However, the French Régiment des Fusiliers du Roi was the first European unit equipped entirely with flintlocks in 1671. I see some fusiliers in my near future.

I have primed up two sakers from The Assault Group to use as my first guns for l'Armée Français. These are very nice models and I've ordered some of their falconets as well to use as battalion guns. North Star has artillerymen in the works, but I don't know when we'll see them. Hopefully soon, lest my guns remain unmanned.

Meanwhile, I have a French cavalry squadron ready to paint. The recently-added figures were the command group, which are among the new figures for the range done by Steve Saleh. They are beautifully done and I'm a little intimidated in painting them. I'll start slapping on paint soon. 

Vivarais has only details (weapons, buttons, etc.) to go until they're finished, but I find that details are the slowest going.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Works in Progress

The recent post about my rule-writing adventure wouldn't be complete without more information about the miniatures that go along with the project. As I mentioned, the project started a few years back and petered out. At the time, we were painting armies for fictional countries, which were based on real ones. I chose Piedmont-Savoy because it was different (and because France, The Netherlands, and England had already been claimed). My uniform information was spotty and I relied on the information found in Charles Grant's From Pike to Shot: 1685 to 1720, which is for uniforms circa 1700, not 25 years earlier.

I've always been a bit of a Francophile when it comes to des choses militaries. I also have a certain appreciation for Le Roi Soleil. He was a nasty bastard, of course, but he did it with such Gallic pomp and pomposity that you just have to admire his style. So, when I resumed the project, I bought a batch of French infantry and some cavalry as my first units.

I'm starting with Regiment Vivarais, for which I have a nice uniform source, although it's dated 1689, which is a bit later than my period:

I'm painting the uniform on the right
So far I'm making decent progress. The units are 18 figures, so it's not a huge burden to paint one color on all the figures in one sitting. However, now that I'm getting into the detail, like the musketeers' bandoliers and other fiddly bits, I'll focus on smaller groups of figures at one time.

I have a nice GMB Designs flag to use for it. The nice thing about French infantry colors is that they remained the same from the Thirty Years War until the French Revolution. I'm not sure what I'll do when I branch into painting units for other armies. So far, a lot of the available flags I've seen are for later periods.

My next infantry unit, I think, will be a generic Swiss regiment (another GMB flag), but first I'll finish the cavalry I have primed for painting. I just got the command pack for them today, so once they're primed, I'll start the lot. After that, I think one of les Vieux Corps, like Regiment Normandie.

The North Star 1672 range is beautiful. Painting them gives me even more appreciation of how well they're sculpted. The first batch was done by Mark Copplestone before he went barbarian. (Mark, btw, also sculpted the now 30-year old Grand Alliance range from Dixon.) The rest of the line is being sculpted by Steve Saleh. From what I've seen of the one pack that's been released of Saleh's work, the styles match very well. The most notable exception is in the fineness of Saleh's work versus the exaggeration that Copplestone uses. For example, Copplestone's buttons are about the size of golf-balls in scale, but it works to bring out the detail better.

I'm plugging away at Pike & Periwig a little bit every night as I am watched (or haunted) by my faithful cat Grendel who likes to sit on my printer next to me to glower and kibitz.

Heavy-pawed editor and strict grammarian
It's a little off-putting, but from time to time he makes useful suggestions and you can't fault his copyedit skills. Then, of course, he walks across the keyboard and upsets all my careful typography.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Regularm virumque cano

Of rules and the man I sing (with apologies to Virgil and that great Irishman George Bernard Shaw, just in case).

It seems that any time a fellow war gamer embarks on a new project, he is inevitably asked, "What rules are you using?" When I'm asked that question, I usually have a ready answer, the rejoinder to which is often, "Well, good luck with that." I'm something of an outcast with my predilection for the more classical rules systems (such as WRG rules or similar from the 70s or 80s). I cut my wargaming teeth on them and have fond memories of the games I played. Others of my generation have less than fond memories of playing these rules, usually because they bred acrimony, discord, and decades-long grudges. I tend to view acrimony and discord as human failings and blame the players, not the rules, but mine is a minority opinion.

Preferences for war-games rules are nearly the most idiosyncratic thing about a war gamer—ranking just below his preferences for pizza toppings. There is probably a pseudoscience, such as phrenology and physiognomy, in the study of the rules a war gamer prefers and how that preference may speak volumes about his moral and intellectual character—or even his emotional state. I am fairly certain, myself, that devotees of certain rules systems are inherently untrustworthy, given to drooling, and often wet their beds.

Yet somehow two or more people frequently come together and play war games. Any agreement  between players on the rules used is due to considerable compromise by all participants (even among solo gamers). Once adopted, the rules become subject to numerous house rules, each of which is itself an item of contention. He who hosts the game is usually the arbiter of which rules variants, corruptions, and heresies will be used to the delight, dismay, or indifference of the other players.

Enter now the prospect of abandoning the task of revising someone else's rules and writing your own. There was a time when "home-brewed" rules were very common. Even many of the slick, full-color, glossy, eye-candy, hard-bound variety of rules that are available for a considerable portion of your paycheck were once someone's scribblings on the back of a beer mat at a convention. (Often they play just like it, too.)

Some few years back, some of us decided to get together and start a joint project using Copplestone Castings new Glory of the Sun range of figures. Among four gamers there were a dozen ideas for how to base figures and organize them in units, which lead in turn to the question of rules. For various reasons the project fizzled—not least of which was the uncertain future of the Glory of the Sun range. Mark Copplestone has poured all his talent and enthusiasm of late into his 15mm barbarian fantasy range (How are the mighty fallen...) and left off continuing the Glory of the Sun range indefinitely. Thanks to Nick Eyre at North Star Figures and Steve Saleh, the line has a new lease on life and a future as the North Star 1672 range. I recently ordered figures for several units and have begun painting Les Français. I corresponded briefly with Nick and the range definitely has plans for expansion.

This brought me back to the question of rules. Warlord Games is supposed to be releasing its Pike & Shotte variant of the Black Powder rules, but this has been anticipated for several years now without satisfaction. Also, while I enjoy the Black Powder rules very much, I'm not sure that I want to use an adaptation of them for this period. I'm a bit of a pike and shot geek, so I want something that really captures the sense of the period. I finally decided to go rogue and write my own.

My past rules writing experience has been adapting board games to miniatures and fussing with variants (or fixes) to existing rules. I've also attempted to create full rules sets on two past occasions. Back in the late 80s I started developing a set of rules for 15mm Marlburian that I called Nec Pluribus Impar. The idea came to me from reading David Chandler's excellent The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough. After reading Chandler's analysis of how armies of that era fought, I was struck by how generic the commercially available rules for the period were. This genericness was due to lumping the War of the Spanish Succession into the "horse and musket" period that covered all of 18th century warfare with little to differentiate the start of the period from its end or between how various nations practiced the art of war. I wanted something that contrasted the various military systems in use circa 1700 to 1720 and I came up with, in my humble opinion, some pretty good ideas. Sadly, I never pursued them to the end and I fear I have lost all my notes.

Over the last week, I've started writing out a new system to use with the North Star 1672 range, which I call Pike & Periwig. I have a lot of inspirations, since no one really writes new rules any more. I have stolen, plundered, and bastardized some of the best ideas I've come across in 30+ years of war gaming. I have also tried to add as much color as I can. It's a very baroque period that saw a huge amount of transition from the 30 Years War to the linear warfare of the 18th century and I want to capture that.

The ideas come pretty fast and I find myself jotting down notes as they pop into my head (before they pop out again) and every night I spend some time at the computer typing away. As an affectation, I wanted to style them after the 17th century military manuals I read on microfiche in the seminary library 25 years ago. I found a nice Open Type font and in Adobe InDesign I'm writing and designing at the same time. The font, 1589 Humane Bordeaux, has the antique style of printed characters from that period and includes all the historical styles and ligatures that were commonplace for the 17th century. I also have a couple reams of parchment paper to print it on.

I can save the work in progress as a PDF and upload it to my iPad, so I can review it and jot notes for revisions and new ideas while sitting in a coffee shop or on the bus. I hope to get the rules in a first draft and get it to some people for review and feedback this month. Of course, having just started painting the figures, it may be some time before I can play the rules. However, it's a nice feeling to be immersed in the project this way.