Model Review: 1:288 (6mm) Eastern Express Antonov AN-71 “Madcap” AWACS

Summary:
The EE Antonov AN-71 is a fun, quick little build that will look fine as a gaming piece. Probably not the best overall choice for a “serious” micro-mini modeler, who will be screaming and flinging it out the window within minutes. 1:288/6mm scale makes it compatible with quite a few wargames, including Micro Armor, Fistful of TOWs, Battletech, and Robotech RPG Tactics. The limited historical deployment of this particular aircraft will hurt its utility for historical gamers, but other models in the series would likely serve them much better.
For Robotech Tactics modelers, the AN-71 is also an excellent base for an alternate version of the ES-11D “Cat’s Eye” recon – one of the guys on the Robotech Tactics Facebook group did up a conversion you can see here if you’re a group member.

Background:
First off – a little history. In 1984-ish, the Antonov company put together a bid for a new AWACS version of the AN-72 light transport airframe (NATO callsign “COALER”). It was intended to vector in ground-attack forces at the tactical level (taking the load off of the larger “MAINSTAY” and “MOSS”, which were busy handling strategic responses and combat air patrol), while taking advantage of the AN-72 airframe’s ability to make use of short, poor-quality runways and improvised airfields. While loosely equivalent to the role of an E2-C Hawkeye in USN service, the AN-71 was supposed to be a land-based design (the naval role was supposed to be taken by the Yakolev YAK-44, which never surfaced).  NATO assigned the bird the reporting name “MADCAP” after its first flight in 1985. Unfortunately, the USSR only ever made three AN-71 airframes before the economic collapses of 1986-88 killed the program. One of those three prototypes was shipped off to the Ukraine for their new Air and Space museum while they were in the process of seceding from the SSSR, which is why this particular model was originally Ukraininan.The Eastern Express company put out a series of models based on the Museum’s holdings, all nominally in 1:288 scale. Toko seems to have put out a version of the series as well, and you can find a box in the US from Imex (I got mine on the ‘bay for $4, so always check your supplier..)

The AN-71 herself is pretty unique – a STOL design that uses engine exhaust to increase lift over the wings. Unfortunately this design, while efficient, tends to be damned noisy for the poor saps inside the cargo bay, but hey. Whatcha gonna do? *(cancel it if you’re Boeing, of course. Keep using it for fifty-plus years if you’re a Russkie..)

Surviving AN-71 on display in the Ukraine

The Good: Simple, clean instructions. Good decals, although I have no need for them. Generally decent fit and polish on the kit.
The Bad: Lots and lots of flash on frame “A”. It cleaned up well after a quick pass with an emery board. Some gates on detail elements distorted the radome and tail. Shallow detail cuts had to be sharpened.
The Ugly: Does not include any parts to make closed landing gear bays. The engine mounting surfaces were poorly-designed, and the wing overall required a lot of work to mount.
Full model build/review under the cut. My apologies for the poor quality of a couple of the images -I plead being sick as hell and having a shit phone.

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Making 28mm Asphalt Roads [Modern/Post-Apoc]

Following on from a post over at Tabletop-Terrain about making roads with self-adhesive floor-tiles, I swung by the Home Depot (gotta love that 10% veteran’s discount) and picked up a sample of this shit – TrafficMaster “light brown travertine” SA vinyl. Given that it’s running less than $1/square foot, and each square foot makes two 12″x6″ road sections, this is going to be a about half the price of my previous favorite option – Ikea “Avskild” cork placemats.

Before I break down the advantages of each, I figured I’d put up a quick shot to show you the texture of the vinyl tiles versus the cork.
• Ikea Cork sheeting, painted as concrete (from the Airbase Toblerone project).
IMG_20160605_213622_431
As you can see, it’s got a pretty fine texture, even on the smaller bunker. Good for concrete, but it’s not really my favorite on the asphalt front. The surface tearing is nice and chunky, and the edges wear pretty well.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pics of the commissioned road set I did a few years ago, but we’ll go over my experience with them below.

•Trafficmaster tile, inked and uncut (I just slapped some India ink on with a wet rag and took a photo here without cleaning the tile first: the pale spots appear to be greasy areas from previous handling..).

img_20161030_151202_887Here we’ve got a much more irregular surface, and it’s already very reminiscent of weathered asphalt even with the pale spots and brown undertone. It is, however, a thin sheet of plastic – less than .25mm – laid over a ~1.5mm rubber sheet. That may make larger areas of surface damage look less realistic unless I cut out the undersurface and hammer the surface plastic down into the “damage” pattern, or fill them with basing ballast.

So, what’s my take so far?

Cork sheeting

Advantages –
Realistic surface damage (for both asphalt and concrete). It’s easy to sink in some paper clip wire to simulate rebar on a broken section, or a small piece of low-gauge copper cable/plastic pipe for other conduits, which dresses up the edges nicely.

Multi-purpose. Crumbled scrap bits make great rubble. You can face a chunk of foamcore or stiff card with the cork and get a plastered concrete surface in minutes – one that’s also easy to trash and make look good.

Super-easy to work. Cutting, fitting, and weathering the cork bits for both of the pieces in the pic above took me about two minutes.

Cheap. Granted, both of the materials have that going for them, but it bears repeating; this stuff costs about 75c/ft^2.  In other formats, unfortunately, that’s not so true – a straight-up roll of cork from a craft or art store can be more along the lines of $5/ft^2.  And there’s a certain amount of wasted material because of the rounded edges of the Ikea stuff and the weird size.

Disadvantages –
Poor surface sealing coupled with moisture sensitivity. You have to paint PVA or another sealant onto cork, or it has a nasty tendency to swell. That flakes off paint. It also behaves oddly when painted unless you seal it – soaking in some colors, repelling others, and generally being a pain in the ass. Plus, again, it can swell or crumble without sealant while you’re painting it, screwing up your effects or damaging the piece.

Fragility – the same thing that makes it easy to work makes it hard to store. Cork works best as a facing on top of another material, like heavy card or styrofoam. In storage, dropping or bumping the container can shatter off a large chunk of cork, and the pieces frotting against each other in the box will not just wear the paint but tear chunks out. That means you need padded storage and rigid containment, which reduces the amount of stuff you can store in a given space. With roads it’s less of a problem – you can wrap them in cheap felt and glue a sheet of craft foam to the edges of the box – but storing a large building is a >massive< pain in the ass

It just doesn’t look like asphalt at larger scales. With a good paintjob, you can pass it off pretty well at 6-10mm, and I’ve seen some guys make 15mm look decent, but at 28+ it looks like shit unless you work it as concrete. How many cities or highways do you know of that use concrete for the roads? Yeah. It’s fine for sidewalks and warehouse floors, but not roads.

Vinyl Tile

Advantages –
Tough as hell. I did a few experiments with a painted chunk, slapping it edge-on against a desk and flapping the piece back and forth. Paint held well, and even the section I stripped the vinyl from seemed to be doing okay. Unfortunately, rubbing the painted sides together did do some paint damage, so I’ll still need surface protection, but rubbing gently with stiff, sealed card didn’t do too much damage. I think I may be able to get away with just peeling and sticking the flooring sheets onto posterboard and using that as layer protection; for more on that, see “conclusions” below.

Great surface texture. I mean, look at that pic again. That’s literally a thirty-second swipe of india ink – not a damn lick of paint – and it already looks like a road.

The sheets are a better shape and size than the Ikea mats I’ve been using, which means there’s less waste. Basically with cork I got two 6″x16″ chunks of straight road, or two 12″x8″ sections. Lots of room for a shoulder, but the roads also wound up looking unrealistically wide compared to 1:43 or 1:48 cars (let alone the figs). Of course, I could trim off that extra couple inches on each side and use to make sidewalks and curbs or building parts, which was pretty cool. With the vinyl I get four 6″x12″ straights, nearly quadrupling the yield per dollar spent.

On that note, the sheets are even cheaper than cork, especially in bulk; I can get ten 1’x2′ sheets for under twenty bucks. So for the same $20 I can get either ten sections of road with sidewalks/shoulders, plus 2 intersections per road section I drop, or forty sections without sidewalks. Sections that require less reinforcement and storage area.

Properly painted, it also looks like facing stones. With a little work, it’d be great for adding a “sandstone” texture to the lower floors of Foamcore ruins, which means I still have an outlet for scraps. Cork does have an advantage, though, in that crumbled bits of cork will look great just tossed on a rubble pile, where this will require trimmed and (roughly) squared sections of the scrap rather than “whatever’s left”

Disadvantages –
Heavier, by a substantial margin. Each sheet weighs about half again as much as one of the placemats, making it harder to transport on foot/bus.

Harder to weather and simulate surface damage – as I mentioned above, just picking the surface off reveals a chunk of rubber, which has a terrible texture. So you have to backfill the holes with basing ballast, or find some other way of getting an interesting texture instead of smooth cuts. That adds working time as well, which seems to be compensating for not needing to seal each individual piece.

Harder to work – This shit is dulling the HELL out of my boxcutter, and straight-up snapped a #11 Exacto blade within 5 cuts. It’s also tearing the shit out of my leatherworking swivel knife, which is why the boxcutter is getting an outing. I also can’t slap it up on the deck of my paper-cutter to just slice off straight sections, which means breaking out the rulers, square, and compass.

Floppy – A disadvantage both share, but the higher weight of the sheeting makes it more noticeable. I’m gonna need to give these a stiffer backing to keep the paint on, even if it held reasonably well in the basic tests.

Surprise contestant:
EVA (Craft) Foam
Advantages:
Easy to work, soft, multi-purpose.

Disadvantages:
Poor surface texture, floppy, fragile, and more expensive than either. Worse, it’s sensitive to heat and to spraypaint, so it’ll need sealing.

ConclusionsI’ll definitely keep using cork for my own street/postapoc projects, but I’m about to add a lot more vinyl to my toolbox. Given the properties of both, I’m thinking of using an 8″ wide strip of black posterboard, with the vinyl laid on top (using its own adhesive) as a road bed and either cork sidewalks or ballast to simulate gravel shoulders. I could also take strips of foamcore and cut out roadbeds from the center ( just leaving the bottom layer of card), and mark up curbs/sidewalks onto the raised edge sections. The foamcore method is almost certainly going to be the way to go if I’m making bridges/overpasses, unless I can convince that guy in the Makerspace to let me use his laser cutter on some MDF or hork up for the Hirst Arts bridge mold..

Reversing the Apocalypse: “Un-ruining” the Mantic 28mm Brick terrain set

I picked up the Mars Attacks! brick ruin terrain boxed set a year or so ago, while I was on my last Fallout kick. The sci-fi kits they put out were pretty cool, and I liked the way those fit together, so I snagged a couple of the MA! ruins boxes on sale from the LGS, hoping they’d fit the good old zeerusty Fallout aesthetic. They were.. not the most impressive. A couple of connectors snapped off while I was doing test fitting, and there were a huge number of “samey” pieces of ruin. That tends to make everything look a little too planned for a crumbling town (in particular, the three identical un-shattered glass doors, and all the identically-busted windows). The clip-together system also leaves huge unsightly gaps between pieces, and glaring holes in the models’ texture that would require filling. Plus they were a garish salmon-orange-pink. So I knew that if I put these together I’d either hate them or have to give up on the modularity that was supposed to be the kit’s selling point.

Instead of doing either, I got annoyed with it in the planning stage and stashed it in the back of my closet with the rest of my unloved but usable gaming crap.

Today I’ve been inspired by the work of the gent over on Tabletop Terrain to give my 20th-C brick a second look (he’s got a couple of really cool posts through that link showing his own work on it). He fixed the gapping problems and the clip-holes quite handily. As I said, however, the biggest thing that bugged me personally was the uniformity of the busted bits, along with how small most of the pieces are. Some are barely big enough to make a blasted corner sticking up out of the rubble, and only have 1-2 clip holes. That makes building walls and linear terrain much harder. Plus, I want a couple of vaguely intact buildings to fuck about in. The best part about Necromunda and Mordheim was always the massive, multi-level terrainscape; I want to get some of that feel with my own This is Not a Test tables. I know Mantic offers actual un-ruined sets, but most of them don’t actually give me anything over what I already have. In particular, the roof tiles look shit and they have no models with plain, open windows – everything’s a thin layer of tough, orange plastic I’d have to saw out anyway. I might pick up their Convenience Store for the windows, but really their setup is pretty janky and this is more about salvaging and getting the most out of what I have. Kinda appropriate for a post-apocalyptic project, if you think about it..

So I set about restoring what bits I have and planning out new ones – the roofs are going to have to wait for a bit.

One of the first things I noticed was that the “Accessories” sprue has some pretty cool bits on it that aren’t actually on any of the buildings Mantic offers – a different dustbin, beer kegs, a better-looking paneled door – so I plan to might wind up separating a few of those off and repairing/recasting them for scatter terrain. That door is >definitely< going under rubber, although I’m going to have to make it as a “face” mold since the other side is covered by crates and reinforcements.

accessories-linear-terrain-annotated

Annotated to show some of the nifty salvageable bits here

accessories-cool-door-in-barricade

Almost the same size, and you can’t tell me this isn’t cooler…

The park benches are too difficult to cast, and I can make my own, better-looking ones more quickly and cheaply with coffee stirrers and wire anyway, but the road signs and 50s-style lamps are badass.

I also did a basic repair on the main panel.

I had the sneaking suspicion that one of the smaller “ruin” pieces would match up fairly closely to the missing chunks of the largest panel. None of them did exactly, but a couple were pretty close. This was the best fit.
main-panel-tracing
I traced the outline of the larger wall on it with a sharpie and got to work with the ol’ razor saw (this stuff is a little too stiff to cut with the X-acto, although my heavy boxcutter is decent for trimming), and an emery board.
main-panel-traced

These things are the shit, kids. $1.50 for fifteen, and they're wide, straight, flat, and flexible.

These things are the shit, kids. $1.50 for fifteen, and they’re wide, straight, flat, and flexible.

Anyway, I sanded until the model hit a decent temporary fit, then clamped it into a pair of other walls as an alignment jig and sanded until it fit cleanly and without real effort before I glued it. I also lightly sanded the surface of the piece – like a lot of these hard-plastic wargaming models, it warped slightly while cooling and I want the recasts to be as clean as possible.

main-panel-fit-and-glueNext up is making a quick-and-dirty epoxy mold to transfer and repair the brick texture from the other side and replace the two bricks in the middle.

After that I have a couple of ideas, but given how shitty this plastic is to work with I think I may just cast up quick-and-shitty molds of the main unique wall sections instead of building off of what I have.

Said larger bits of ruin

Said larger bits of ruin

One of the cooler things is that the door piece aligns in a couple of different ways with the window-walls. With proper castings and a little elbow grease these ought to break up a lot of the monotony of the set.

Side alignment with two full-height windows

Side alignment with two full-height windows

Side alignment with the paneled door

Side alignment with the paneled door

Center alignment with two small windows above the door.

Center alignment with two small windows above the door.

The bay window will be kind of a bitch, but at least I can get my brownstone on in a reasonably attractive manner. Floors will be super easy, just joisted coffee stirrers with a little filler on top, and I think can get away with using the floor separators as a frame to hold on upper levels since I’m not going to be using the Mantic clips to hold the structures together.  Given my ongoing mold hold-out rates, this ought to give me enough casts for a couple reasonably-sized buildings to play in and beat the shit out of in a slightly less-regular manner than they probably intended.

Robotech RPG Tactics, Wave I – Part III (It’s Destroid Time, With Your Friend, the Defender)

Finally, we get into the home stretch of my Wave I reviews. The Destroids are the models I bought the most of, for various battletech reasons.

Edit: Palladium Books has released updated assembly instructions for the Defender (and other units), which you can find on DrivethruRPG (here) for free.
Previous Posts: Part I, Part II
Next Posts:
I started a great photo-set with my sprues of Defenders months ago. I just burned out on dealing with the damned things when I started my first Phalanx. Wound up throwing the entire mess of Destroids into a box for a couple of months in sheer frustration. To be frank, I was getting pissed just looking at the models. That’s a very bad place to be as a reviewer, and a worse one as a hobbyist. So, yeah.

That’s really about half the review right there.
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Generally speaking, the Destroid models are more poseable than the Valkyries or Glaug. There’s also no less Procrustean modeling, so you aren’t specifically forced to keep half the weapons in a fixed position. The joint layout makes magnetizing the arms and weapons very easy, which means you can even repose during a game if you want.
Unfortunately, they’ve also got insanely high part counts, with unsightly seams everywhere on most of the models. And, though the feet on the Defender, Tomahawk, and Phalanx are essentially identical, each sprue uses a slightly different and incompatible connection method for the ankle joint, reducing your posing options.

We’ll start off with the Defenders, because I actually have a full photoshoot prepped and ready to go (and I don’t want to keep this series on hold for the week (good Lord I was naive there) or more that prepping the other three will take)


Defender:


 

Defender Sprue obverse

Click to embiggen for assembly notes

Reverse of sprue, showing arm keying.

Reverse of sprue, showing arm keying.

Issues:
Three of the four legs are missing at least one detail. Only one is complete. In addition, two of the legs have gates on top of surface detail. You’d think, with the amount of copy-pasting going on elsewhere, that the legs would at least be identical..

Note that the leg on the right has only two strips, while the left side has four. Another is completely missing this detail, and a third has it damaged by a gate AND is missing the vent details on the side

Note that the leg on the right has only two strips, while the left side has four.
Another is completely missing this detail, and a third has it damaged by a gate AND is missing the vent details on the side

The body is a five-part model. It has several ugly, prominent seams that must be cleaned or filled, and leave noticeable gaps in the finished model. The searchlights on my models were also miscast, with mold lines and underflow on all four side torsos.

Gapping in the torso, hips, and arms

Gapping in the torso, hips, and arms. Torso searchlight miscasts.

The guns have extremely thin barrels, making extracting them without damage very difficult. Cut the bases of the gun first with clippers, then slowly cut off the barrels with a very sharp knife or saw. Preferably, add some padding behind them.
The connecting peg on the hips is wider than the hole in the torso, and must be carefully filed down to allow the model to mate properly.
The hip joint mounts on the legs force them into very specific angles, but can be easily (if carefully) modified to allow other positions.
There is no mounting point for a Command Destroid modification on the Defender, and the only position in which it “fits” interferes with both the arm placement and the radar sail. I have a functioning conversion that involves cutting down the piece into three parts and re-mounting them in the radar sail area.

Conversion prep instructions and diagram

Conversion prep instructions and diagram

Once the parts are cut, you can mount the search radar on the side of one of the ammo bins, or up over the shoulder/gun area. I cut off the top of the right-hand bin and hard-mounted it to the torso, however, and I think it came out pretty well.
Flip around the comms package, and cut it to fit the normal radar sail mount. It won’t take too much effort, and it looks pretty good up there.

The finished product

The finished product

Good Points:
The hard, flexible plastic makes the slender guns and radar blade surprisingly resilient once they’re off the sprue. The Defender’s posing is much more flexible than most of the other models in the line. There are points of articulation at the arms, legs, radar, and torso angle – all tweakable with minimum effort.

Number of Components
:

Twenty. Body is six parts alone, the legs and arms are three each, and the hips are two-parters.

Assembly Time:
Prep cutting took 15 minutes, not counting the time required to pin and re-glue an o.7mm gun barrel. Torso and hips took about 8 minutes to green-stuff and align, including filing and prefits. Overall, the two models took about 40 minutes to assemble, plus 8 hours of Green Stuff drying time. With a sharp, very slender pair of diagonal cutters the pair would probably take ~30 minutes.

 

Vigilante One, reporting for duty!

Vigilante One, reporting for duty!

Lusus Naturae (Review, LotFP)

Three years ago today, I opened this nerdy little candy stand, averaging a post every five days. Cool.
Let’s celebrate by getting into Lusus Naturae, the first explicit (and boy is it..) Lamentations of the Flame Princess “monster manual”. It’s written by Rafael Chandler, best known in my circles for the Teratic Tome (a universal monster book that just leans heavily on LotFP). It’s serviceably, and occasionally beautifully, illustrated by Gennifer Bone. You can find the pdf here (link) for fifteen bucks. Print version’s expected soonish, but it needs to get shipped from Finland.

So, first, some pontificating, so you know where I’m coming from.
I define “Horror” as “The fear of impending, but uncertain violation”. The violation can be of your body, mind, or assumptions about the structure of the world (psyche?). The uncertainty isn’t just if it will happen, but also when, how, and in what manner. An important part of horror is that you feel, on some level, deprived of agency – usually by biological reactions or simply the apparent futility of action. To defeat it, you must reassert your ability not just to act, but act meaningfully.
Roleplaying games are celebrations of agency; therefore, you’ve got to balance seeming helplessness with the possibility of success. Mystery helps (adding uncertainty), as does things that screw with the rules of the game (see: assumptions about the structure of the world). Players should know that the characters can die, or be horribly affected. On the other hand, only shitty authors coughFatalcough see “violation” and think “RAPE ALL DAY EVERYDAY”. Parasites, mutation, loss of control over personal space, having secrets wrested from you.. all are unpleasant and (properly played) horrifying outcomes.
Lusus Naturae is one of the better horror gaming aids I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t need a Sanity mechanic to make the players start screaming and setting each other on fire..

Synopsis:
What it ain’t: This isn’t meant to be “all the monsters” for a campaign. It’s not really a source for wandering monsters, either – though a couple things would certainly be appropriate.
What it does: Adds/adapts a treasure system to Lamentations. Contains an assortment of horrifying, modular mini-Mythosoi with accompanying additions to to your campaign world. Fucks with players.

What’s it about?
Lusus Naturae is basically a dozen metal album covers made into a book. There are some truly Lovecraftian enemies that will alter your campaign world if they show up. The treasure and magic items are highly-portable, and several are quite interesting. You can use at least a couple things in the book at almost any level of play, and you can challenge a low-level party without instantly reducing them to a fine red mist (the main problem with the critters from the MMII, the Fiend Folio, and the assorted “Deities” books in 1e).
It’s also deliberately, sometimes extremely, offensive – and on pretty much every possible level. There was shit in there that skeeved me out, and I used to work as a search engine tester. Many things in the book alter or rewrite the rules; you have to pay attention while using it.

What’s new about it?:
There are several innovations I like, and some I’ve already incorporated into my own campaign. Specifically, several of the summoned monsters have ill omens or Harbingers associated with their appearance. I’m adding them onto the “Omens” section of my random encounter tables.
I’ve also spoken about Death Curses and Desecration penalties elsewhere. I think they’re an excellent, thematic way of adding a little unpredictability to the game. I’ll post more on my current mechanics later. That said, Chandler has expanded on the classic idea to include boons/banes/weird magical things that happen to the person who strikes a killing blow against some of the monsters. These range from small mechanical bonuses or maluses, to extremely specific magical abilities or information and tools. Not every monster has them, but they have an appropriate fairy-tale feel to them.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10
If you’re into horror, the book is almost certainly worth it. If you or your players are easily squicked, or you demand “SUPER SRS, ALL THE TIME” games, it’s not for you. It’s not quite as pretty as the usual Lamentations release, but it’s just as usable as any other.

Detailed breakdown after the jump.
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Robotech RPG Tactics, Wave I – Part II (Problematic Models and their assembly, and Component Quality)

This is part 2 of a multi-part series
#1: Compatibility and Scaling
#3: Destroid Defender

In addition, Palladium addressed some of the concerns expressed in this post, including making some of the excluded cards and assembly instructions available on-line (though they’re still partially incorrect)
See the post here.

By way of preface, this was supposed to be a fluff post, and take maybe a couple hours to write while I worked up test models for the game, took pics of the sprues, and noted down the hard spots for a new modeller.

It’s been a sodding week, and I’m only covering the worst offenders so far; the Destroids are on hold until I can get some magnets.

The mini quality has been, hands-down, the most controversial part of the entire game to date. Is everything shit? No, not by any means.
But all three armies (Zentraedi, Malcontent, and UEDF) get the shaft on something. The Quel-Regult is by far the worst offender, with multiple parts that don’t fit, and a missing component (see below). The UEDF player, meanwhile, gets a bit screwed by having even more models to build than the Zen player – models which take almost three times as long to build out, and have significant problems of their own. The Malcontents? The boxed set doesn’t even contain any legal units for them.
And while some of the models are a bargain, the Zentraedi get hosed on a critical component of their army.

Full breakdown after the jump.
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Review: Robotech RPG Tactics, Wave 1 Part I (Compatibility, Scaling)

This is the first post in a multi-part series
#2: Valks and Zentradi
#3: The Destroid Defender

So, I’ve mentioned my kickstarting in the past. The Robotech RPG Tactics (neé Robotech Tactics..) kickstarter was one of my first. I’ve been following this glorious clusterfuck since it was a guy on BlogSpot with a dream and a good sculpting hand. Well, a year and a half after funding (and almost three years since it’s inception) I have my models. Was it worth the wait?
The Short version:
The Good: Holy shit the detail on the models. Extra Valkyrie parts galore. A well-polished book with a tight and portable rules system I’ve already been hacking for a few months.
The Bad: The model sprues are un-labeled, and there are warped parts and missing assembly information. The partially-incomplete rulebook makes it difficult to build a force without shuffling through a massive brick of differently-sized cards, and several rules are ambiguous.
The Ugly: Deliberately bad poseability. Poorly thought-out gates on the sprues damage detail on some models, and require extremely careful prep work. Then there’s Palladium Books’ behavior.

This is the first part of a series; a quick preview, concerned with model scaling – since its the question I get most often, from every quarter. I’m also writing specific reviews of the rules and the model components; this will include build-ups of the Wave I mecha models, and a discussion of the quality and fit issues – of which I’m sure you’ve already heard.

The question everyone wants to know:
What’s that? “Doc, will the models work in [the major mecha game..]?”
Yes and no, it depends on what you want out of them. First:

The Bugs:
A properly built-up Super VF-1A or -1S will definitely pass as a PHX-1 or a Pixie LAM. Modding an extra gun-pod will make you a PHX-3-series, though it will require green-stuffing. A straight-up VF-1A or -1S without the FAST-pack will make a pretty good PHX-1K.  Based on the scale shots I’ve seen so far, Crusaders shouldn’t be an issue either once the Armored Valkyrie boxes come out sometime next year.
What they won’t do is get you the shorty Bugs – Wasps, Valkyries, or Stingers.

Family Tree

Clockwise from the top: Unseen Pewter CRD-3R, WizKids PHX-5L, 3e Plastic WSP-1A, 3e Plastic STG-3R, 3e Plastic PHX-1, and a RRPGT VF-1J in the center.

Hark - A Grognard

Gervalk VF-1J, with a dismasted Pixie. Arms taken from the Battloid-mode sprue. The pegs are mounted in different areas on each model, but can be used in either mode with a bit of time and green stuff.

The Heavies: (What everyone wanted anyway)
In general, the Destroids are more compact and detailed than the Unseen metals, and much better than the plastics. While mine are still on the sprues, CampaignAnon from /btg/ was kind enough to give me permission to post these pictures of his initial work. Phalanx and Spartan photos to follow once I’ve had the time for a build-up. I also have a lead Unseen Longbow coming in in a few weeks, which will help comparisons considerably. Notably, the Spartan box includes the parts necessary to make an ARC-3K (the variant with a pair of Large Lasers), while the Phalanx box has both the standard “Barrel” arms and the nuclear “Derringer” arms seen in the last few episodes of Macross/Robotech, perfect for representing an Arrow IV system – or Thunderbolts.

Left: RRPGT models. Right: Metal Unseen. Images by CampaignAnon

Left: RRPGT models. Right: Metal Unseen. Images by CampaignAnon

The Glaug is far too large for Z-scale. I’d call it a trifle small for N-scale, if WizKids had ever actually attempted anything like a consistent scale in their efforts. It almost fits in with that weird half-scale the HQ Loki and Thor from the 25th anniversary box had, but even then is in its own little niche. The Glaug sprue also contains a Quel-Regult (a scout/EWACS variant of the standard Battlepod) and a Quel-Gulnau (salvage/recovery unit), which means that the boxed set will be pointless for a BT player unless you want an N-Scale Ostscout for some reason.

"L-

The Breakdown
If you’re primarily interested in buying the models to represent otherwise un-obtainable units, the Destroid and Super Valkyrie “add-on” packs will likely be your best bet. The current MSRP is $33/box for either a box with 2 Defenders and 2 Tomahawks, or a box of 2 Spartans and 2 Phalanxes.
This is about half the price of the 3e Plastic Unseen on auction sites, and the added detail and friendlier material make them very much worth it – especially for the Phalanx/Longbow (which is very hard to find, and never saw a plastic release) and the Rifleman/Defender (the Plastech model is especially ugly and intractable). Before you cough up, however, I recommend reading the modelling review. These are still, effectively, 1:144 models shrunk to 1:285 scale, and require a great deal of effort and build time.

Legal note: all images and trademarks not owned by me are used without permission, for the Fair Use purposes of review and discussion. No challenge is intended by their use. I neither represent nor have personal ties to Harmony Gold, Palladium Books, FASA, or Catalyst Games, nor any other interested party. I am not a party to FASA vs. Harmony Gold. Thank you for your time.

LotFP Crowdfunding Review #4: “Forgive Us”

As promised, here’s the full review for Kelvin Green’s adventure Forgive Us. Since this is one I’ve actually played, I’m going to include commentary from my players as well as my own; since I had to adapt it directly to my campaign, I’ll also add in notes on the conversions and the tools I used. This will be relatively spoiler-free: if you want more details, check the session reports (here and here). Note that I haven’t run the secondary adventures yet.

The full module is available here.

Overall Rating: 8/10
In essence, this is a One-Page Dungeon (or rather, a series of them) writ large, by a master of the form. Mr. Green’s expertise shines through in the tight and easy-reading/playing prose. On the opposite side of that equation, some elements (mostly information about secondary NPCs and magic items) were neglected in that focus on clarity and simplicity. There are a few minor playability issues; a map error, a mystery with one vague clue which can stone-wall the party. The flavor and mood, however, more than make up for them.
The main adventure in Forgive Us (formerly Horror Among Thieves) is fun, fast, and brutal. The location is flavorful, with an evocative and consistent theme. The treasures are engaging, the traps make sense, and the final moments will likely make your players brown their collective trou.
On that note, my parties are careful and heavily-armed – but this is a seriously threatening adventure. If you run it as-written, it will definitely give a 4th-level party a hard run for their money – as long as you can keep the PCs from leaving the location. Fortunately, it’s almost certainly going to pull them in tight until they hit the bitter end.

But don’t just take my word for it, listen to my players:
(The Doctor): “That.. was the most Metal game of D&D I’ve ever played”, “Silver makes a man rich. Nice furniture makes him feel wealthy.”, “At first, when I found out what that d20 was for, I was miffed I hadn’t rolled a second. About 30 seconds later, I was really glad”.
(The Archaeologist): “The details were wonderfully consistent.. and the maps were just detailed enough but not too detailed”
(The Fighter): “Murderous”.
(The hireling Henchman): “I got class levels!”

The next two adventures are shorter (or much longer, depending on how the PCs react). Both can be used to great effect when the party returns to one of their old haunts. Indeed, it seems almost like both were written for a DM who’s saying, “Well, they’ve gone back to that first town from 3 levels ago.. now what?”
In Heaven, Everything is Fine is well-suited as a hex-crawl element or special encounter; a contained area with a simple but cleverly-disguised problem the PCs can fix. To use it, however, you will need either to generate a large number of NPCs, or cannibalize an existing “village” adventure or NPC portfolio supplement. It has a fantastically set-up series of Weird encounters that should keep your players skittish but interested.
Death and Taxes is more of an encounter or political scheme than an “adventure” per se. It resolves an NPC’s story arc and adds a Nemesis to the party’s roster of enemies. Treasure per se is limited, but the loot is excellent. To engage the PCs, it depends entirely on the players’ fondness for an NPC (which it kills off-screen). It’s not exactly an appropriate module to run early on, or for the seriously hacky-slashy crowd.

All three adventures also contain many nods to Hammer Horror or its descendents, and a few tributes to other classic films or roleplaying products.

Detailed breakdown under the jump.

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Review: Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess (LotFP Crowdfunding products #3)

Purchase link – PDF onry.

Overall: 7/10
A quote from one of the item descriptions  sums up this module’s theme nicely:

“There are so very many sparkles, and it is pink. It has tassels. Really this is just the most obnoxious looking sparkly [thing] you can picture a 6 year old ballerina wanting… [it] require[s] uttering black tongues of ancient days. This would be more imposing if all the dots and umlauts were not drawn as little pink hearts.”

Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess is kind of ugly and a little unpleasant to read – but short, tight, and mechanically solid. Inside you’ll find a Gonzo fairy-tale hellscape tailor-made to fuck with your players for a few days. It’s also usable as a Hallowe’en-themed short-shot, or a tournament module. Is it too gonzo? Without getting into Big Spoilers, if you’d seriously consider running a module with a My Little Pony character as a BBEG, your campaign can handle it.

He will fuck you up

He will fuck you up

Value? If you like to occasionally feed the /b/tard in you and/or screw with your players, it’s definitely worth it. Otherwise.. well, it runs under $5 US, and it’s a remarkably unsettling little piece of work. What have you got to lose?
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Review: Tales of the Scarecrow (LoTFP Crowdfunding products #2)

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, hoping to run the modules first. Sadly, my ad at the LGS isn’t getting the response I’d hoped for (I.E., “any”), and most of the modules are inappropriate for what I’m about to do to my campaign characters.

Tales of the Scarecrow: (link to goes to the store page)
Cover painting (clean) on Jason Rainville’s blog
Overall: 9/10 if you’re looking for a one-night-stand or a drop-in location. It’s a little short for making into a full-on tentpole location; on the other hand, it could be a hilarious part of, say, a wizard’s demesne. It does start to break down after about level 5-7 but is otherwise level-insensitive.  Since it’s so short, this will also be a short-form review.

This is, basically, a single overworld hex in 8 pages.  It’s cheap, good-looking, and the work of about thirty seconds to add to your campaign. Well, as long as you’re lacking in wizards, and/or yours doesn’t know Fly. Granted, it’s only going to last you a night, but  – like most of Jim’s work – there’s campaign-screwing repurcussions. If you don’t like having your party Mage accidentally starting the Apocalypse with a game of Chinese Whispers, it’s probably not for you. There’s also a humorous contest that makes the players work their asses off to screw each other over – but potentially offers an escape route..

It’s got a few minor utility problems; the page with the rapier image on it crashes my e-reader, and the pretty background does make some of the text a little hard to read. Otherwise, this is completely pick-up-and-go. Maps are clear and exactly where they need to be, and the small size makes it instantly accessible. Important NPCs and text are set off clearly with boldface type. The Modularity is perfect, with everything generic enough to not intrude, while keeping enough flavor to let you run the damned thing. On an aesthetic note, the illustrations are very nice – blocky, claustrophobic, and ’30s-silent-horror unpleasant woodcuts. Plant-decorated capitols and a repeating corn-field background tie each page to the theme of the module, and the front cover is an excellent painting by Jason Rainville. The back is a fairly ugly white-on-red affair, but it also has the publishing details somewhere they’re not intruding on actual text, so I’ll take it.

It engages the characters by entrapping them. The Trap itself isn’t bullshit, but it’s the kind you can’t simply defuse and move on from. It offers a simple and highly immoral way to escape – as well as several less-simple, less-compromising, and probably extremely unwise methods. Trying to get out with blunt force is.. inadvisable. Just the way I like ’em. The trap itself is useless against anyone who flies, so keep that in mind.
As far as Treasure – well, there’s plenty for any level of characters. There’s difficult but rewarding stuff, hidden items, treasures that require unpleasant moral choices to find, and at least two things with the potential to make Incredibly Bad Shit happen to your players/world. Or, y’know, nothing at all. Because Magic.

Review: The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions (LotFP)

I recently got my copy of The Seclusium of Orphone* of the Three Visions as part of the reward package from the Lamentations Rules and Magic reprint kickstarter. Now that I’ve got more than a couple hours to rub together, it’s time for that review I’ve been promising..
(*I see what you did there)

You can go here to look at my rating criteria. Remember, these ratings are for my needs and tastes, not necessarily yours, but I try to explain my reasoning as best I can.

Overall: 7/10
Every Wizard’s story is.. Max and Where the Wild Things Are”. – Pg. 20.
This book is a useful and inspiring toolbox, appropriate for virtually any universe with magic innit. Elements of its presentation are gorgeous, the writing is excellent, and the art evocative. The essays within will likely change the way you run your games, and for the better. Poor layout choices and redundant content, however, make it feel rushed; at once padded and incomplete. For something so chart-heavy, there are some basic elements missing that would have been helpful. Still, the framework it provides for both magic and Magi – which are explained just well enough to use without treading on most campaign worlds – is delightful and the book itself quite good for a GM looking to add some proper “fucked-up” to his wizard’s homes.

Make no mistake, this may not be the best of Lamentations’ products, but it’s still well above-average for the industry. I probably wouldn’t have bought the print edition based on my first impressions, but after reading and using it the inspiration value alone is worth the price of admission.

You can pick up the print & pdf here for ~22 Euros, order it from your LGS, or go for just the pdf at just shy of 8 Euros.

Detailed breakdown after the jump.
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Review: Better Than Any Man (LotFP)

Before we start, here you’ll find a post listing my criteria for the review.  More Free RPG Day module reviews incoming, but this one I paid for. It’s also the one that, no two ways about it, made the most impact in my FLGS. There’s a more detailed breakdown after the jump, of course.

He's here for your bit- uh, witches

The BBEG.

Summary/ Overall impression: 8.5/10
As usual, it’s a B5 saddle-stitched booklet. In what’s rapidly becoming an LotFP tradition (one I like), the covers are detachable and have useful information inside. It clocks in at 96 pages of sandbox adventure, with very little space wasted. Within: Social upheaval, Swedes, Bad People (Note: Largely, not the Swedes!), good art, and very odd wizards/witches.
The crap you hear on the intertubes about how horrid it is? My ass. It just refuses to fade to shadows on the wall for a couple scenes. Unlike most adventures, you’re going to be forced to address the shit you do, and fight, much more intimately than some people are comfortable with. Also, confront the fact that people are dumb, panicky, violent and delusional animals who frequently refuse to act in their own interest.
I’d pay $25 for this (oh wait, I already did, and Jim threw in some more stuff!). That’s ~5 pounds of decent steak or indifferent bacon. With 10,000+ copies out there, it should be easy to find one if you want it.
Edit: The PDF is now available here. You should probably get it.
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Bad Resin! No Biscuit!

As you may remember, I’ve been fiddling around with resin casting, working up to sculpting and casting my own wargaming minis. I ran out of the white resin I’d been using previously, and broke out the Smooth-cast 325 I bought a month ago. It’s “clear” and, in theory, tintable, although I haven’t sprung for any of the colors they sell for it.  Allegedly, it’s got the same work and demold time as 300, which I’m now quite comfortable with.
I tried to run up some quick-and-dirty armature casts for the torso and arms of a Destroid Phalanx/Longbow LGB-0W that I’m sculpting.
Short story? It did not go well.

Longer story:
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Review: Bluholme: The Maze of Neuromen

Picked up this module for free from RPGNow; you can get it here. Been flipping through it all day.

The short and vicious:
Gorgeous art, good ideas, inspiring – but many parts seem badly uninspired. You get far more than you pay for. I’m a cheapass and I’d probably drop $15 on a print version.
More after the jump (and, of course, spoilers)
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Mold experiments, day 4

I saw The Hobbit on Saturday. I was extremely disappointed. Further details in another post.

Mold 2, Side 1:
Material: DAP Silicone caulk, catalyzed with Delta Ceramcoat Mediterranean Blue (10 drops), approx. 1/4th cup
Matrix: Van Aken oil-based non-drying clay
Cure time: 12 hours
Size: 2″x3″
Mold frame: 3 legos high

This was the first mold attempt with Van Aken, and also the first using legos as key pieces.
Outcome: Botched application of silicone.Parts of the side, bottom edge, and areas around the master did not receive enough silicone – I didn’t press it down hard or well enough – and the silicone became lumpy and missed areas. Key blocks turned out very nicely, however, and the Van Aken made a good and pliable surface with which to work.
This mold was also slightly shallower than the master required.

Mold 2, side 1 redux:
Material: DAP, catalyzed with 8 drops of Med. Blue, approx 1/3 cup (previous mold too thin)
Matrix: Identical
Cure Time: 14 hours
Size 2″x3″
Frame: 4 legos high

On demold, discovered that the clay had picked up a pretty hefty amount of acetic acid, and had a surface consistency change. Airing it out on the back porch; this gives me concerns about future plastic molding, however, as having that much acetic acid right against the curing surface will likely slow the exchange reaction even with a catalyst – possibly ruining surface detail. Silicone partially rejected the catalyst; pockets and chunks of paint are visible, and the mold is more transparent than normal. Increasing paint amount for next cast.

Mold 2, side 2:
Material: DAP caulk catalyzed with 15 drops (better safe than sorry..) of Med. Blue. I’m also using almost a half-cup for this cast.
Matrix: Mold side 1(bis)
Mold release: Mann ease-release 200
M.R. Application: heavy spray, brief brush over master, second lighter spray
Cure time: intended 11-12 hours.
Frame: flipped previous frame and poured into bottom
Size remains the same. Final mold will be just over 1-3/4″ deep.

My master is vinyl, so I’m worried about possible damage to it from the M.R. We’ll see in a few hours.
Edit: no visible damage to master on demold.
Mold release failed; the mold halves were stuck together, and once again only the differing densities and shear line allowed me to get them apart. Will first try a heavier application and letting it sit longer, before switching release agents.
The silicone also had some foaming and detail loss, as with last time. The key blocks were filled incorrectly, and there were some potentially really nasty flash areas around parts of the master.
This is by far the thickest area/mold I’ve tried to cast: I suspect I may have to build the next mold half in separate sections instead of in one go, further complicating the mold release issue. It also looks like the thicker (viscosity) silicone may be complicating the casting process.

Further testing suspended until after Christmas. Will try a cast to see how buggered Mold 2, Side 2 really is..

Molding experiments, day not-a-day

Experiments suspended for today, after dealing with Christmas shopping and the government all of it.
Picked up a pound of Van Aken modeling clay, which was specifically recommended to me as silicone-resistant, for less than $4.
Also got some professional mold release (Mann Ease-Release 200, which is some toxic-ass shit) for $13.
They don’t have tin-cure 10:1 (only the “oomoo” 1:1, which has slightly worse work life, detail, and mold life – and costs $4 more) at the local Blick. It’s still cheaper than it is from Smooth-On. That’ll have to wait until after Christmas. Total cost to date is about $50 (not counting the legos from my collection I’ve sacrificed to the mold frame gods), so I’m still running pretty cheap.

Mold experimentation, day 2

Mold 1, side 3 cont:
Demold @ 10h. Mold firm and clean. Part corroded by acetic acid release from RTV.
Mold release failed. If it weren’t for a slight difference in texture and hardness between the molds and the amount of time I spent cleaning up mold side 2 last night, this would be a total loss. As it is, I had to carve apart the mold sides with an exacto.
Detail looks sharp, if dirty,and I think I’ll go for a test run tonight. SDC10017Edit: cast part. Two air bubbles have wrecked it, but the detail is top-notch.

Smackdown and run.

Had a fun game of Battletech  – first actual tabletop fight in about 4 years – last night.
My opponent’s busy working up a play-by-play right now, but here’s the basics:
Gaussapult (based on the infamous K2 rebuild from MW:O, but with the Gauss Rifles in the arms where a sane person would put’em..) versus a virtually even-matched by points Marauder MAD-5S. The Catapult is lighter, but runs cold as fuck and (with his build) had excellent armor. The Marauder, by contrast, runs a little hot, though not as badly as some of the other models,and is a very thin-skinned beast. Both have identical movement profiles, and a nearly-identical selection and power of armament. The K2A mounts 2 Gauss Rifles, with 16 shots for each, and a pair of middleweight lasers.

Don't blame me, I didn't make it..

Don’t blame me, I didn’t make it..

The Marauder has a pair of long-ranged Particle Projection Cannon, a single Gauss with only 8 shots (I used six of them in the fight) and a pair of slightly more accurate/damaging lasers with a very short range.
The first several turns were a war of maneuver, with me pushing my machine a little harder than he his, and a lot of duck and cover. By the time he managed to close, I’d put several sharp hits on him in exchange for only one on myself. The dice, however, were not exactly on my side. I won initiative only twice out of more than 10 rounds of combat, and flubbed two entire rounds of exceedingly easy shots.
I eventually retreated from the field after losing the right arm and all of my right torso and leg armor to Gauss shots (basically, I was carrying a time bomb around with no armor on top – the Gauss Rifle in the torso will explode if hit, and blow up the fusion engine inside the ‘Mech). After my initiative rolls up to that point, I didn’t feel like pushing my luck. Gave as good as I got, though, and tore up my more heavily-armed opponent; his damage was more spread around, but he was on the verge of having one of his own rifles blow, not to mention his engine.

Spent part of today working on my dropship models and cleaning house, as well as working out paint schemes and various con business.

Current projects:
2 “Pard” class dropships (sawed-off Leopards, with capacity for 2 Medium ‘Mechs or 4 light vehicles and a platoon of power-armored infantry). These are using an ERTL Space shuttle as an armature, but are primarily sculpted from cheap Japanese poly-foam air drying clay and a hard external layer of JB Weld KwikWood. I’ve fallen in love with the stuff recently. It’s $3 for several ounces; similar properties to Green Stuff, but it sets in only about half an hour, and is much easier – if more toxic – to sand and carve. Holds detail remarkably well, too.
1 “Confederate” class dropship, with a modified, lower-power engine replacing the temperamental original. Carrying capacity is only 4 ‘Mechs, leaving me in need of transport assets for the other, oh, hundred and forty I own :b It’s based on a 12″ plastic Christmas ornament from Target’s bargain bin, sanded and stripped of the horrible fuschia foil that once covered it.
Repairing and refitting a wrecked Unseen Marauder II. Currently casting my master for the replacement feet and autocannon, we’ll see how she do in a couple of days. Trying the “Scriptarius” method of mold-making, until I can afford some actual tin-cure silicone and a gram scale.
Painting a converted Atlas, refitted for pitfighting. It’s about 90% done, and I’m out of sealant. Waiting on replacement matte varnish at this point.
Remounting several Mekton/Jovian Chronicles hardsuits for Battletech use. The EAL-04A Pathfinder suit will be taking the field as a “Super Wasp” experimental ‘Mech from XTRO: Succession Wars. The heavily-damaged JC Hector I had was combined with a Cerberus exo-armor’s legs to make another EAL-04/Super Wasp, and the Cerberus torso was rebuilt with a Marauder II Reseen’s Gauss rifle, Assassin legs, and a handmade missile pack to become a Super Griffin.  (Why yes, I DO plan to run some Tales of the Black Widow scenarios later, thank you for asking).
Hopefully I can get Gabe back out here for a campaign game or two, I really need to feed the Battletech itch.

Pictures forthcoming as I can be arsed.