Category Archives: 54mm Scale

Chosen Men. Maybe just the thing for all those 54mm Nappys

A long, long time ago, I used to keep a little notebook I’d take on work travel.  I’d just sketch things down in it, some fiction, and the occasional idea for a game.   Big Danged Boats came out of that notebook.  So did a bunch of other things that eventually saw the light of day.  One of them was an often visited, often alluded to project I called Voltigeurs and Riflemen.  This was a skirmish game I envisioned taking place during the Napoleonic era.  The units were single figures or small groups of up to four figures.

54mm British Riflemen, Peninsular War and Waterloo, Italieri, my collection

54mm British Light Company, Victrix, my collection

For my own reasons, I wanted the scale to be 54mm a figure.  I love this size for Skirmish games; they are easy to see and easy to handle, and the size forces the battlefield to be manageable on one table.  My original inspiration was an old book by Paddy Griffith called NAPOLEONIC WARGAMING FOR FUN.  It’s a fun book about several versions of napoleonic games that Mr. Griffith designed over the years.  Nothing I’d try these days, but one design I did really like was his version of a man to man Napoleonic game.  This really doesn’t happen very much in this niche of miniature wargaming.  Napleonics is for big battles, right?  Lovely uniforms, massed infantry formations, artillery batteries, cavalry charges with hussars ranked knee to knee, resplendent down to their pink piping and pigtails.

Well, sure it is.

Still, I often imagine what it’s like in that space in between where the big battalions meet and crash into each other.  There has to be a No-Man’s land where small groups of deployed skirmishers meet each other, for just a moment in time, before the big formations crash into each other.  For that glorious 15 minutes to half an hour, there should be a place on a Napoleonic battlefield where individuals continue to make a difference, where Skirmishers can attempt to pick off officers and sergeants, disrupting the enemy advance.   Such a game would have to move fast, represent individual soldiers by preference, possess command and control tracing back to individual leaders, and somehow represent the impact of that larger battlefield entering their little skirmish bubble during the course of the game.  Skirmishers, after all, were detached from larger companies.  Designated Light formations certainly could skirmish AND form formations.  British Rifle Companies lived in the skirmish zone, their entire purpose in life was to leap nimbly about, find cover and load their slow but accurate Baker rifles to harass, impede and otherwise disrupt enemy attacks by killing the chain of command from a distance.  Napoleon was not as firm of a believer in the rifle, but the Voltigeurs were also trained to screen an advance and act as elite marksmen for the French side of the field.  It’s when these two types of soldiers– the nimble, slow-firing Britons and the nimble, faster-firing but more inaccurate French, intersected as screens for the big attacks, THERE is where a man to man game of Napoleonic warfare makes sense.

The V&R rules (* Voltigeur and Rifleman) I came up with featured breaking a turn down into segments.  Again, this was heavily influenced by the Paddy Griffith book I mentioned above.  You rolled for characteristics of the soldiers in your company, just like a roleplaying game.  STR came in handy for giving more hit points and in melee, DEX allowed you to reload and aim faster and better, MOVE may allow a few more inches of movement more or less a turn, AIM was for firing, LDR was for Sergeants, Corporals, Lieutenants and Captains, and was great for Rallying, Moving men into and out of formation, and giving orders.  As Paddy G. had envisioned it, every action took a segment.  Where he and I parted ways was I thought he got a little too microscopic with his approach to actions and segments.  Picking up a ramrod was a segment.  Cocking a musket was a segment, attaching a bayonet a segment etc.

The “Action Chart” from Paddy Griffith’s ancient Napoleonic Man to Man Skirmish Game. This really impressed me when I was 15.

Every portion of the British Musket drill was broken down into segments.  I thought that was fascinating when I was 15 and read Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun for the first time, but as an adult, now I can see that that would make for a miserable game for modern tastes.  I didn’t have 30 years of experience back then.  I don’t think any player these days, especially convention wargame players, have the patience for such micro management of actions.  So, in fact, would V&R be miserable, as first I imagined it to be.  I streamlined the actions to six for muskets and eight for rifles, seven if taploading– and it still doesn’t play fast enough for me.

Detail from a rogues gallery spreadsheet with many V&R characters rolled up.

I have looked for smaller scale miniature games that might work– I have high hopes for Sharpe Practice by Two Fat Lardies (and purchased it!), but it appears to be maybe one scale size too large, and maybe a little too much for 54mm figures.  Great rules, though.. if I get a whole passle of 28mm Nappy figures, I’m going to be all in for this rules set.

 For 54mm scale, though, I needed a rule set that emphasizes individual actions, not group actions.  That’s why I started on Voltigeur & Rifleman– I still need something that’s relatively fast moving, and the V&R approach won’ t hack it without a lot of re-work and playtesting.

Enter CHOSEN MEN, by Osprey Games.

As I’ve covered in past blog posts, I tend to pick up most of Osprey’s “blue line” of wargame rules in a semi-desultory fashion.  Some of them are great, some of them are bad, and some of them are mediocre.  Since they are relatively inexpensive (for modern wargames, most of which tend to be hardbound and full of illustrations to drive the price point up), and even more inexpensive as Kindle publications, I usually put most of them on pre-order as Kindle publications and hardcover if it REALLY catches my eye.  Since this book came out nearly simultaneously with the release of ROGUE STARS*, I said “what the heck” and pre-ordered both in paper.  There’s always something entertaining in a Napoleonic skirmish rules set.  Wow, I’m glad I did.  Immediately, I can see there are many, many elements of what I am looking for in Chosen Men.  The average force size is 3 to 6 units of maneuver of 5 to 20 models each.  I would be reducing that.  The average gaming area will be 4 x 4 feet, I will be attenuating that and rifle/musket range or the riflemen will become ridiculously powerful.  Models have stat lines very similar to the ones I posted about in the illustration above, only it’s Melee (M), Resilience (R), Command (C), Wounds (W), Tactics (TAC) and Stratgy (STG).  Melee is personal fighting skill, with sword or bayonet, Resilience works like Constitution or “Toughness”.  Command is more like Morale in classic game design, as in being “In command, or capable of accepting commands”.  Wounds is self explanatory, Tactics is like “Action Points”, and Strategy is only used by Officers or Sergeants– used to get their units to do special actions, and there is a finite number of STG points.  Dice are all six-sided (I like this, but I don’t require it).  Actions are determined to be successful by performing checks against skills, and two models opposing each other would determine outcome by roll-offs.  There’s a lot more to it, but there is the gist.  I love some of the extra chrome to give it exactly the setting I’m proposing– the skirmish events that take place in the grey area between the big battalions, where they start to encounter each other.  One chrome element that lends “that big battle right over there” flavor is the “Cauldron of War Strategies” table.

The “Cauldron of War” is similar to a random events table that I came up with in V&R that provided that crucial “meta event” that I think has to be there for a game like this, set in this time period.  You KNOW there’s a big event happening just to your flank or behind you– but that may or may not intrude into your personal little bubble of battle space.  The Cauldron of War abstracts this element out nicely.

Chosen Men isn’t perfect for what I want to do with it.  It’s not an exact fit for 54mm scale.  For one thing, formations are still kind of sort of a thing in Chosen Men (though not the focus of combat or movement).  I don’t know how that would fit in a man to man skirmish game– except maybe I do.  Chosen Men measures fire combat and movement from the unit leader– the Sergeant or Lieutenant, etc.  Formations form on him, and ranges also are measured from him.  I’ll have to seriously tinker with ranges, scale and ground scale to make it work with 54s.  I may have to write some conversion rules to make it fit.  For instance, the standard units are like 6 figures for Chosen Men, and I was thinking 3 figure at most for 54mm.  With that said, I like Chosen Men, it has the right feel for me and I’m willing to test this conversion here as soon as my tin soldiers get out of the warehouse.


Riflemen and Voltigeurs, 54mm scale

For my as yet unnamed single figure Napoleonic skirmish game, I have been painting/having painted several 54mm scale figures.  I’m focusing on light troops, so Riflemen and Light Troops on the English side and Voltigeurs on the French side.  More figures as they become available.  Here’s the latest developments:

54mm Voltigeurs

A group of six Voltigeurs from the ALL THE KINGS MEN line. The figures are somewhat more slender and a teeny bit shorter than other figures I am using, either from ERTL or VICTRIX. I think they’ll be fine. Voltigeurs were French light skirmisher infantry and I think the poses show are just perfect for them.

French Voltigeur COMMAND GROUP of an officer and a bugler. This will be roughly the same function as the British officer and drummer on the other side. Leaders and order transmission are part of the design.

British high commander 54mm

British overall (high) commander. Used for morale recovery mostly. There will be a related French figure as soon as I find a suitable figure.

Rifles Officer 54mm

Rifles Officer 95th Rifles, 54mm. Officers on the field are important to organize troops into a firing line and order volleys. They also transmit higher orders and improve morale. This solitary Rifles officer almost looks uncomfortable among all the the Froggy light infantry.

That’s everything. I’ll try to add a few more pictures of these new troops matched against the existing ERTL and VICTRIX figures to give you an idea of how the new ATKM figures match against them. I now have about 11 voltigeur figures, one mounted officer that will do for a higher command figure for the French, about ten light infantry (British) and 8 rifles (British). I have enough to start testing the design now.

More to come on this project, stay tuned!

54mm Troll Shaman painted up for the Magi

54mm Wizard figures are few and far between, and usually cost a lot. A happy exception is the Iron Wind Metal’s Spellcaster line, which has about ten good figures in a useful scale for my game of THE MAGI. I’ve collected most of the entire run of SPELLCASTER line of 54mm Wizard figures over the years, from a variety of sources.  I’ve found extras of a couple of them– the Barbary Mage and the Human Mage are both figures I’ve found as extras in “buckets of stuff” in flea markets.  The only one I don’t have is the Elf Mage that comes with the Spellcaster game, and that probably isn’t worth buying a thirty dollar game (still! and it didn’t sell!) to get one figure and a repeat of a figure I already have (Moon Witch) to get.

In any event I was recently lucky enough to pick up two that I had not had any luck with in a long time, the LizardMan Shaman and the Troll Shaman.  It’s my intention to paint up at least these two– of what I have left in my “big Wizards” queue, I have the Lizard Man, the Lich, the extra Human Wizard, and a Tom Meier 54mm Wizard guy.

I got the Troll Shaman done over the weekend.  Here we go:

Ain’t he a handsome feller?

Top View

Full on

I painted him basic Greenskin with some green ink shadowing. Brown Skins with a tattered dark red cloak. All over wash in a brown tint to get the shadows and warts, with some highlighting and sprayed with Dull-Coate.

I like him. There’s a lot of detail here and he even has an interesting expression on his face. He’ll fit right in!

Camp Day One: 54mm Fantasy Gladiators okay, The Magi kicks butt

Well, we’re in the midst of running game camp for kids in Alexandria, VA. Day One was “Fantasy Gladiators” in the AM using a simple gladiator rule set adapted a little bit to play with fantasy creatures. One thing I didn’t expect was how UN-bloodthirsty this crowd was.. I had to manufacture more creatures to get the chicken hearts engaged on the sides of the battle. I work with MUNERA SINE MISSIONE by Alan Saunders, a great, easy rule set for gladiator fights that has been out there forever.


The big unexpected HIT of the day was running THE MAGI in the afternoon. This is a previously mentioned experiment to get a version of WAVING HANDS by Richard Bartle converted to miniatures format. The result was splendiferous! Even the shy kids got into the animated spell casting aspect of the game. To play you have to actually cast the spells using somatic (hand) gestures as part of the conflict. When you add miniatures, line of sight and visuals become very important. I made some big changes to bring it to a kid crowd but it really went over well. Everyone said they loved it and now we’re running it again tomorrow.

Here’s a Youtube depiction of the first day’s action:


54mm French Voltigeurs from Victrix progress shot..

English: French voltigeurs from a Line regimen...

English: French voltigeurs from a Line regiment crossing the arm of the Danube before the battle of Wagram. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Too tired to further the convention shenanigans but I do have some shots of the progress made twoards the 54mm skirmish program I’ve been working on.  Here is the squad of 54mm Frenchies, notably Voltigeurs from Victrix.

By Jove! THat’s striking!

95th Riflemen and a Light company due soon. I went over the design with Del at Historicon Friday night. It really comes together when you describe to someone else…

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Review — British Napoleonic Peninsular War Flank Company [VX5401]

See previous review of Victrix Napoleonic Voltigeurs 1805-1812

This is a follow up purchase to the Victrix Voltigeurs I picked up last month.  I have been acquiring and painting up 54mm Skirmisher figures for an ancient game I idea I had about man to man skirmishing in the Napoleonic era.   For the game to see fruition I’m going to need a relatively small group of figures from each side (8-10 maximum).  I want to ultimately pit Riflemen versus Voltigeurs from the late war era.  I own and have painted up about 10 of the Italieri 95th Rifles but they are a little largish compared to the Victrix Voltigeurs.  So I picked the British Peninsular Infantry Flank Company box as well.  This makes sense.  The flank company is sculpted and detailed to be a set of light infantry troops, which are sufficiently animated that they would make great skirmish troops.  I would have liked at least a couple of crouching/firing poses but these are probably sculpted to be deployed in formations, not as skirmishers.   No matter.  There’s enough variation in the basic body types that they look pretty animated to me.

Box Cover from Victrix Site

Box Cover

As before there are five or so sprues of various body parts and bodies to create customization with. From what I’m seeing here you can create a maximum of 16 figures from the sprues included. There are two officer figures and a drummer boy as well as several infantry in action or marching.


Group of 5 sample figs: Drummer, Officer, and 3 Infantrymen

Closer: Drummer, Officer, Infantryman

3 infantry poses

I’m going to use the basic redcoat/grey trousers/black shako paint scheme for these guys, as generic late war period infantry British infantry types. Here’s a picture of the Victrix site’s suggested paint scheme:

Suggested paint scheme

Suggested Paint Scheme

The figures out of the box are made of a durable hard style plastic that assembles very quickly with styrene glue (Testors, in this case), which bonds quickly and holds well. Out of the box they are slightly oily, which is probably mold release spray residue. Recommend an overnight soak before painting. Flashing is minimal. There were some mold lines on the sides of the shakos that needed trimming but I found nothing else that required a lot of work– some poses require a little attention while the plastic cement welds are curing.

Though they aren’t exactly cheap (say, compared to Italieri’s molded plastic figures, at about 15 dollars more on average, US retail prices), they are wondrously flexible in their approach to customization. I really like these releases and I certainly plan on buying and building more. I won’t be fielding large armies of these, ever, but they are great value for the money and I enjoy the detail, sculpting and utility of Victrix 54mm scale figures. If this is a scale and period you are interested in, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Small Wars — Victrix 54mm French Napoleonic Voltigeurs 1805 – 1812 [VX5403]

I have wanted a small group of reasonably detailed looking French Voltigeur figures in 54mm for a while now, and last posted on the subject in 2010.   I tried picking up HaT Voltigeurs but didn’t like either the detailing, the busby, or the style of plastic HaT uses.  It’s too soft.  The sculpts are also small and too thin compared to the figures I’m using for British Riflemen.

Victrix Ltd. has been active in expanding their line greatly in the last few years, and have been primarily producing 28mm hard plastic figures in the Napoleonic era.  In recent years, their 54mm line has increased swiftly.  They still haven’t made a pack of purpose built 95th Riflemen yet, but they have made British Peninsular Flank Infantry Companies which I might find useful.

Victrix also recently released a package of Napoleonic Voltigeurs good for conflicts from 1805 to 1812.  This is essentially a set of pieces– bodies without arms or heads, but molded with jackets and trousers.  A selection of arms in a multitude of poses.  Usually a left arm holding a musket.  Separate backpacks and bayonet frogs.    A variety of right hand poses, allowing an extensive level of customization for the finished figures.   Each box has 16 possible figures, with the possibility of 10 figure groups– there are two shako types– one with the tall pom pom, the other with the short, and two bare heads.  There are two “officer” bodies with a nicer uniform and a coat over one shoulder at a jaunty angle.

Voltigeurs were Imperial light skirmishing style troops, and I am painting up the high-pom pom variant shakos for individual bases for the skirmish game I’ve been planning in a desultory fashion over the years.   So I have created the 2 bare headed chaps as leaders (a veteran sergeant and an officer) and all the high pompom Voltigeurs into a 8 figure skirmishing band, which should match my rifleman figures nicely.

As for quality, I’m very much impressed..  each Victrix figure I construct is significantly different from the other.  My only complaint being that I could only make TWO firing positions from this package!  However, there are many other possibilities from the arms and musket poses that are left, and since the loading of a musket is a series of steps, it actually works to have multiple custom poses of the Voltigeurs fiddling with their muskets.  Indeed, the game design I’m working with will be focusing on the firing and loading process as a multistep action, so it’s all entirely appropriate.

Last night, I assembled what I had left, which was six extra figures with the smaller pompom shako types.  I like these so much, I’m going to paint them up too, just with a slightly different Voltigeur uniform.

54mm Voltigeurs from Victrix.

Officer figure and two Voltigeur figures Closeup

More Voltigeurs, Closeup

I’m VERY pleased with Victrix 54mm figures, and I expect I’m going to buy some English and other nationalities as they become available. Keep up the good work, Victrix!

The Waving Hands in Three Dimensions project

For a very long time now, I’ve wanted to play WAVING HANDS with miniatures.   What’s Waving Hands, you ask?  A mostly pen and pencil (and online PBW) game about spellcasting and wizardry.  Why is it interesting to me?  Because the “combat system” is quite unique and magic oriented.  In fact, it’s entirely about magic– the foundation of the game is a system of gestures the wizard makes with left hand, right hand, or both.   Waving Hands began life as a postal game by one Richard Bartle, published in his gaming Zine SAUCE OF THE NILE.  Richard designed the game as a teenager, and lacking the resources to publish, he decided to go the zine route.  Kind of a pity, that.  It would have made an excellent commercial game, I think.

In any event, the game rules are written with pen and paper in mind.. much action and reaction is abstracted to make game play more intense.  Waving Hands has jumped over the cyber barrier and is now a game playable via a website ( or mailing list (firetop mountain).  In both instances, the game, which uses simple text codes for magic gestures, adapts perfectly to the media being used to present it.   I’ve played it many times on ravenblack, but I keep visualizing the game as something I could, and should, put on as a miniatures based game.  And if I’m going to miniaturize it, I really should go large scale, neh?

I envision: a game played using a slightly modified version of the core WAVING HANDS RULES with edits to allow for movement and one more layer of physical attack and defense.   Each player would run one large wizard figure (54mm for the visuals), representing himself casting spells and depicting where that wizard is in relation to other wizards in the playing area.

Barbary Mage: Spellcaster

Spellcaster Figure: Barbary Mage, copyright Iron Wind Metals

Now, there’s the rub.  There are enough 54mm scale wizardy-looking single figures in existence that I could pull this off without trying to convert green plastic army men into wizards or something silly like that.   That’s almost the easy part.  Iron Wind miniatures, in its Ral Partha incarnation back in 2004, created a very decent wizard duel game called SPELLCASTER that had a line of 54mm wizard figures to go along with it.   The problem I have with Spellcaster is that it is far too linear and narrow of focus to work for a game of miniatures, in my opinion.   Spells pretty much seem to do the same things.   The miniatures seem to be nothing but tokens moving on a board in this game.  No matter.. the figures will adapt nicely for Waving Hands.  I have a few of them now, namely Dark Elf Sorceress, Elf Half-Demon Sorcerer, Barbary Mage , Gnome Conjurer w/”pet” dragon , Human Necromancer , Litch,and Sorceress .  In addition I have the Eldash Nasdra Evil Sorceror and Wizard figures (somewhere) and the Good and Evil wizards from Valiant.  So quite a few of the principle characters in this game, namely, Wizards.  But that’s not the only figure being represented in this game.

Painting 54mm figures always has been a bit of a challenge for me, as the expectations for this scale are always higher than my workmanlike paint jobs can deliver.  Usually I don’t have the time to lovingly lavish detail on several 54mm figures that need to be painted at once (see my long-standing gladiator games for visual examples of rush jobs on several 54m gladiator figures).   Fortunately I know of a few decent resources online to assist painting in  large scale.

The bigger issue for me was finding 54mm scale summoned fantasy creatures and spell effects to run the game with.  Spells are not just fun words to say in this game; they create things.  Something external to the wizard that can be “seen” in game terms, is usually the result of a spell.  Often, they create critters.  How to simulate this?  For instance, in the original Waving Hands by Bartle, there is a whole category of Summoning Spells that create a single creature that can attack other wizards physically.  This is the element of the game that turned it into a miniatures game in my mind– implicit to the assumption of summoned creatures are design elements like movement, combat, protection, facing, lethality..  these are straightforward in the pencil game, but in three dimensions, they will require a little more conversion.  And critters.  Where will these come from?

Here is the section on Summoning from the original text (text in italics, my comments not italicized):

Summon Goblin

gestures S-F-W. (Note for the reader– S-F-W is shorthand for the magic spell gestures.  In this case, the spell would require “Snap” “Fingers” “Wave” to summon a goblin) This spell creates a goblin under the control of the subject upon whom the spell is cast (or if cast on a monster, the subject monster’s controller, even if the monster later dies or changes loyalty). The goblin can attack immediately and its victim can be any any wizard or other monster the controller desires, stating which at the time he writes his gestures. It does one point of damage to its victim per turn and is destroyed after one point of damage is inflicted upon it.

The summoning spell cannot be cast at an elemental, and if cast at something which doesn’t exist, the spell has no effect.

(…)  (condensing this quoted text, Ogres are like Goblins with two hit points.  Trolls are like Goblins with three hit points.  Giants are like Goblins with four hit points.  Elementals are unlike goblins and have some special rules attached:

Summon Elemental

gestures C-S-W-W-S.  (for those following along, that’s “Clap”, “Snap”, “Wave”, “Wave” , “Snap” to summon an Elemental) This spell creates either a fire elemental or an ice elemental at the discretion of the person upon whom the spell is cast after he has seen all the gestures made that turn. Elementals must be cast at someone and cannot be “shot off” harmlessly at some inanimate object.

The elemental will, for that turn and until destroyed, attack everyone who is not resistant to its type (heat or cold), causing three points of damage per turn. The elemental takes three points of damage to be killed but may be destroyed by spells of the opposite type (e.g. fire storm, resist cold or fireball will kill an ice elemental), and will also neutralize the canceling spell. Elementals will not attack on the turn they are destroyed by such a spell. An elemental will also be engulfed and destroyed by a storm of its own type but, in such an event, the storm is not neutralized although the elemental still does not attack in that turn. Two elementals of the opposite type will also destroy each other before attacking, and two of the same type will join together to form a single elemental of normal strength. Note that only wizards or monsters resistant to the type of elemental, or who are casting a spell which has the effect of a shield do not get attacked by the elemental. Casting a fireball upon yourself when being attacked by an ice elemental is no defence! (Cast it at the elemental…)

Now that’s a neat visual.. I’m already seeing panicky wizards running from summoned goblins, trolls, ogres and giants in my mind’s eye.  The problem is, there aren’t a lot of named fantasy figures of the “cheap cannon fodder” style in 54mm.  I had hoped that I could find some plastic dollar store game sets with 54mm fantasy creatures, but surprisingly this is just not a niche that never seems to have caught on in the States.  Plastic green army men, yes, but no orcs and trolls and goblins.  Bummer.  However, I did manage to find some dandy bargain plastic skellies on Amazon for pennies a figure (yay!).

Cheap Plastic Skellies, all painted up, like.  Size is perfect.

As something like 20 or so come in the bag, I immediately have made Skeletons my easiest to cast critter in the miniatures version of Waving Hands.  I wasn’t going to use single figure metal 54mm collector style miniatures for Orcs or “Goblins” (there are a few, here and there) as the cost would incredibly prohibitive for a game that uses summoned critters as a disposable commodity.  Again, I lucked out!  On ebay, doing a search on 54mm Orcs, I found a Russian company that makes 54mm figures of a distinctively cartoon like quality.

Russian Plastic Orcs

Russian Plastic Orcs. No idea who makes these.

Who makes these things??? I don’t read Cyrillic very well so I’m at a loss for what company actually manufactures this in Russia.  As my standard authority for researching foreign plastic manufacturers seems to be a little distracted right now (that’s another story), I hope someone reading this can come to my assistance with a website for the manufacturer.  Just for my own curiosity really.    In any event, I ordered a box– they are pricier than the skellies but still pretty cheap at about 8.99 for five figs with a nice level of detail.   So they will be my next-highest figure in terms of cheapness and availability (and the spell will be “Summon Orc”.. for two points each).

(late breaking note: the company appears to be TECHNOLOG (link is to a translation of the Russian website).  They are the same folks who make interesting plastic kits for cyberpunk settings.  I like this stuff, might get more… Thanks and a tip o’ the chapeau to the folks on TMP for finding this.)

My plan is to use the D&D miniatures (new plastic ones) HILL GIANT figures to represent OGREs, who will be a three point figure, and last and greatest cost, the “LARGE FIRE ELEMENTAL” from the same line to represent elemental creatures– there are two in the game, Ice and Fire, and I will just have to shop around until I find a decent collectible miniature game figure of the appropriate size and look.  Elementals from the D&D Line are largeish but not 54mm.. I can get away with using them because..well, what’s the “right size” for an elemental anyway?

So, in sum, figures are going to be problematic here and there.. but not impossible.  I’ll have fewer than in the core rules but I can compensate by maybe summoning TWO skellies, which I have a ton of, in the “Summon Skeletons” spell.  That would make it tactically more appealing than “Summon Orc”, and a lot cheaper than “Summon Troll”, which is just an Orc with another point but at the cost of two more gestures.   Elementals seem quirky enough to keep in the game.. sufficiently different than any other summoned monster that I’ll keep them in.  Four summoned monster types should be enough.

With figures accounted for, how to represent the actual spell effects in the game?  How would the spell effects translate into three dimensions?  Should I build Ice storms and Fire walls and walls of thorns and such?  Well, maybe some day if this catches on.. i love visuals.  But right now?  I think I can make some simple templates that could fit the gaming surface.   I’ve resolved that the action will transpire on a two or three inch hex grid– fairly easy to make templates for, easy to regulate turning and movement.   So a simple Games Workshop Cone and Circle template should handle a lot of spell effects for me.. as well as range.  Range isn’t a factor in the pen and pencil game.  I will have to retro edit the spells to work in a three D universe.

The most challenging part of the pen and pencil game was keeping track of spells YOU are casting, while planning on and avoiding the spells your OPPONENT is casting.  In this sense, Waving Hands is a giant memory game.  “Was that S-P- (aha! he’s staring a summon Skeletons!) on his left hand or S-W (Yikes!  It’s a Summon Fear coming.. i have to get a counterspell ready!)?” This game has some devious angles.  So I’m preparing a series of Spell Counters in Inkscape using Public Domain clipart resources.  The counters will have an icon representing the spell, title and a number of stars to indicate the number of gestures each spell requires.  I plan on printing these out and gluing them to the bottom of large flat decorative  glass beads, the kind you see in aquariums sometimes.  This way you can keep the token face down near you and your opponent can’t see what you are on about.   They will also make a nice token for persistent effects like Confusion, Blindness, etc, but turning them upside down behind the Wizard figure.   Here’s a sampling of the counters so far:

Spell Tokens
Spell tokens (in work) using Inkscape

I’ve put them in distinctive color groups, as well, to aid in the visual sorting.

Mechanics are going to need a little work.  No less a person than Richard Bartle himself has suggested (on this blog in fact, read the comments here) that his plans were always to have the game feature spatial movement and combat, but he had to tighten it up for publication.  Bartle suggests a game sequence like so:

Actions (1 spell gesture per hand, combat, defense)

From the horse’s mouth, as it were: Hmm, I’m not sure I kept a copy of the original rules anywhere, but it’s possible they could be mouldering in the attic somewhere. As far as I recall, I tried both a movement phase and a move-as-an-action phase. I think I went with the former, but I don’t remember whether I had it before or after the gestures phase. I also tried integrating the two, but not entirely successfully…

Mister Nizz asks: How far did the wizard move in a turn?

It was on a hexagon-shaped battleground with hexes to move over. There’d be about 15 or so hexes from one side to the other, and I think wizards moved 4 spaces, less if they were injured or slowed, more if they were hasted.

That sounds like a good place to start to me.   Wizards all start as movement 4 unless modified during the game.  Half movement at half hit points (they all get 15 at start).  I’m thinking I’m not going to make facing particularly complicated.. allow a Wiz to orient him/herself to a hexside for free at the end of movement.

Should I roll for actual combat?  I’m still pondering that one– it’s almost automatic unless a Shield is cast in the paper game.   I hate to mess with the elegance of the original system in any way, but I also hate the notion of automatic damage.  Oh well, there may be enough checks with the gesture-magic subsystem that rolling may not be needed.

There is much to work out– paralysis, invisibility movement on the board, the proper hex size, spell templates, the perfect game sequence.  I plan on having the players actually MAKE THE GESTURE with their own (human) physical hands and that will be the sum total of visual clues the opposing players get for indication of intentions– so I won’t have to make “spell cards” up, just a cheat sheet for every player, and maybe a dry erase status sheet that will hold a spell token for each hand and indication hit point status.

So that’s where I am with this project, which is looking to see the light of day not at Cold Wars (good Lord, no!) but certainly at HISTORICON 11.  As Dr. Bartle suggests:

What I’d suggest is that you play it, tinker, play it, tinker, play it, tinker, and so on until you reach a point where you get something that works.

… which is what I plan to do for a few months before this project debuts.

54mm Man to Man Napoleonic Skirmish Project

I’ve wanted to create an individual man-to-man Napoleonic game for a while now.  I recall writing a preliminary set of rules called “Rifleman and Voltigeur” in one of my many little project books several years ago.  Looking back on it, I don’t much care for the combat resolution of that early system, but I like the activation and “segmented turn” approach– everyone is moving in the same ten second blobs of time, just some figures are trying to accomplish more sophisticated tasks than others.   So my approach was to create a segment and weapon track for every figure on the table and give each player a little card with task costs– 3 segments to move, 1 segment to duck and cover, 2 segments to prime musket, 1 segment to load ball, 2 segments to ram, 1 segment to present, 1 segment to fire– that sort of thing.

I’m using 54mm figures because they are my favorite for man to man games.  Easy to see, easy to paint, easy to resolve problems with.

Mixed Napoleonic Skirmish Figures

Mixed French Volitgeurs (HaT figures) and British Riflemen (Italieri) with the basic paint jobs done.  More detail to be added later– eyes, rifle details, badges, etc.

If anyone has any ideas about how to properly seal this kind of plastic figure, please contact me.

(note: Bluemelon hosted links are dead)

Gaming Camp Report

I ran the first day of game camp today, and am working feverishly on finishing up the painting on the event two days from now, Uncharted Seas. This is a lovely fantasy sail game.. I’m giving it a crash painting job as there’s just too much fiddly stuff. I’ll go back and get the details later– too many boats to paint.

Today, we have Steve’s Circus Magicus. This is an award winning game he runs to standing room crowds at GENCON. I’ve played it and helped him trim it down for many years now. A recent innovation is using all his Heroscape track to run races on instead of the old handmade track templates. I like the Heroscape because it sets up relatively fast and is very durable and solid stuff, and you can do a lot with it.

Anyway, more pictures today.. I forgot a camera yesterday. We ran REALLY BIG GLADIATORS using Alan Saunders Munera Su Malone system, somewhat modified for big figures. Worked like a charm.

Turning a playset into a Coliseum.

I’ve been dabbling in 54mm Gladiators for a long time, almost two years. I really like the scale of 54mm– it’s easy to paint and easy to play with. For as long as I’ve been involved in this scale, I’ve enjoyed the spectacle of big figures, but there’s never really been a decent solution for a coliseum.

Sure, I could have gone with the Ben Hur Coliseum playset. You can still get this in recast plastic– but it doesn’t look like a Coliseum to me, and it costs an arm and a leg to find one in any decent shape.

Then I noticed the following “Roman Coliseum Playset” on MichToy.

The figures are kind of playmobil like, but I gave them to Gar (with the chariot), keeping the shields and weapons for gladiator games as missing weapon tokens. The coliseum itself is made of a semi-soft plastic (not rigid), with lots of fine detailing in the statuary and tiling and mosaics. The scale is just perfect for 54mm. At this moment, I have primed it with Kryolan Fusion plastic paint, and I’m tempted to leave it be, or give it another coat– the kryolan gives it a sort of marble finish. I’ll have to paint the door and fixture details, of course, to give it some contrasts. I am pleased with the investment, which was fairly minimal compared to picking up an entire Ben Hur playset, and frankly I think this looks better.

Gladiator Fightin’ at TriaDCon

Gladiator Fighting with Curt and Grant Daniels

I ran RUDIS: THE WOODEN SWORD at TriaDCon a couple weekends back. I got three players initially, but the fourth player wimped on us when his buddies set up a boardgame two tables away (and I was happy to see him go!). So I took the third slot.

The rules were MUNERA SINE MISSIONE rules for gladiatorial combat, by Mr. Alan Saunders. These are very simple rules to run, easy to classify gladiators and easy to conduct combat. I will use them again.

The scale was 54mm, the miniatures were Italieri, Alpha Miniatures, and a few Outland Minis.

Curt managed to wipe us all out and he had the obligatory gloating moment. Fun times!

ave, Caesar, morituri te salutamus

bullet rocket

Gladiator Fight Club at TriaDCon

Of the three events I wanted to run at TriaDCon I ended up running postponing one until Fall-IN! and cancelling another because the “tempo of operations” got a little heavy at TriaDCon.


The event I DID run, 54mm Gladiators (“The Wooden Sword”) was a lot of fun. Somewhat whimsically, a movie parallel came to mind.

Mitch Osborne, George Callanan from Baltimore, and myself sat down for a quick Free For All set that featured deadly dwarven tag teams, 2 retiarri, two hoplomachus, 2 secutors, 1 thracian, one horribly outmatched pugile, and TWO barely trained savage fighting bears. You can see where this is going, already, can’t you?

Some disreputable character

Our game end condition was at second blood. Mostly because we were all hungry and wanted to go get dinner.

That’s Mitch’s Hoplo at the top of the page… We used 54mm mixed Italeria and Alpha miniatures. We used highly modified BLOOD AND SWASH rules with a very detailed variant written for gladiators by Steve Gibson, a friend of mine. I modified it somewhat further for 54mm and the grid pattern terrain map.

Early on in the game, Mitch’s bear, Smokey, is under control. We made a saving throw for bears– if they get wounded, the roll versus SAVE to see if they stay controlled. Alas, Smokey went berserk pretty quickly. Fortuntely for Mitch, they were pointed at George’s dwarven tag team at the time!

Surprisingly, the dwarf did open up a minor can of whup-ass on the bear. Then he left in a big, big hurry the next time his initiative card was drawn.

Over at my end of the table, things are hotting up quick as the two closer forces smash together. That’s MY Retiarus up top and George’s Retiarus 2 below, his Secutor, my Pugile, and his Tracian. Nobody, but NOBODY could net anything in this game. The Retiarii were easy meat!!

Bill Frye, former Atlanticon Director, Former HMGS East Cold Wars director, dropped by and puts a dollar down on first kill. Now that we’re playing for the big money, things get ugly…

MY bear, “Not Very Gentle Ben”, mauls George’s Thracian, and he cuts Ben in the vitals. Meanwhile, my hapless Pugile maneuvers around him for a Kidney Punch. There is no honor at Gladiator Fight Club.

Meanwhile, I add my own simoleon into the pot, but my colleagues wuss out. Since my Samnite is hammering his Retiarus into meat goo, it looks as if that sweet, sweet two dollars will soon be MINE!!!!

At this point George’s Retiarus is down to something like 5 points remaining.

Over on the other side of the Arena, Mitch is having his own difficulties. The dwarves, who had enraged Smokey, had made him all berserk so he could no longer be controlled. That means he went after the nearest living thing, which was Mitch’s big barbarian berserker. Alas, Smokey could run as fast as the fighter could!

It’s looking like curtains for George’s Retiarus as I get in a couple more hits.

Mitch tries to lead Smokey over to us to share the loving… he finally turns on Smokey and engages him. Anything beats getting clawed to death from behind…


George’s Thracian downs Not So Gentle Ben and kills him. Then he turns on my hapless, totally outmatched Pugile and chops him into chutney!!! All in about as much time as it takes to tell!!!!!!

And here’s the result.

I had a great time at TriaDCon, which was in its first year out. I am really looking forward to next year!!!

(Attribution: Photos by Kaarin Englemann and Mitch Osborne, which is why Mitch isn’t in any of the photos above)

Slowing down on the Gladiator Project

All Done, just about!

I’m slowing down on the 54mm gladiators… why? Simple. I’ve painted everything I own, almost. There’s a couple of the pseudo-African gladiator figures left in plastic that I might get around to, might not. In any event, as the photo shows,I have enough to get started.

Where to go next? Well, the idea of using 54mm Fantasy figures mixed in with historicals sounds amusing to me. A pity that some of the figures are so expensive in 54mm. I recently started a thread about the availbility of fantasy figures in 54 mm scale on TMP, and got some decent leads. The DFC (Dimensions for Children) 54mm plastics looks like its an interesting avenue to pursue for very little investment.

Conversely, I had planned on getting some more 54mm historicals from Irregular’s 54mm Gladiator line (not all of them, but a few figures I don’t have). I also plan on getting a couple of 54mm tigers and maybe a few accessories like swords and shields.

I have also found a company called “furuta” which makes 54mm gladiators, but they are incredibly expensive (70 dollars for 6, sold as a set, clearly for display only).. so unless I find ’em in a garage sale, that’s a pipe dream. Sure are pretty, though!

I also had completely zoned on Chris Van Fahenstock’s line of 54mm gladiators from Outland Games. It’s a crapshoot if he’s in country at the moment (with Iraq going on), but I will follow up on it. He has a Samnite, a Thracian, two really good Retiarii and another Diomachian.

I’m still pretty much stuck on a simple set of gladiator rules that a friend of mine, Steve Gibson, wrote. They don’t concentrate on classes so much as generic mechanics (it doesn’t matter what class the gladiator is, he has an armor belt HERE and a small shield THERE and leg armor THERE, you see). Most gladiator or man to man games work this way, but I like Steve’s approach– 3-4 pages of pertinent material and two pages of charts. He also writes rules for fantasy monsters and such. The only thing I might add to it would be magical combat of some sort.

Help! What are these called?

bullet rocketQuestions about Italeri 54mm gladiators..

I’ve been painting up 54mm gladiators lately, and just finished a box of Italeri 1/32 plastic gladiators last night. In general, I’m very pleased with how well these figures match my Alpha Miniature figures. They are just about perfect. However, I am puzzled as to what kind of gladiators these are supposed to be.

Italeri must have relied on movies for inspiration, because these casts look “kinda, almost” right, but not “exactly right” for certain gladiator classes.

I am by no means a historical authority on gladiators– I have a general idea of what class did what and what they looked like. I realize there were some variations that “kinda sorta” look right and are perfectly acceptable. I’m just interested in other opinions.

Take figure 1. He’s got the shoulder armor of a retiarus, the helmet of a thracian. And he’s modeled to throw a spear. What would this be, a Hoplomochus?

In this picture, a Hoplomochus is on the left, standing by as if in a pose of victory. A Thracian (Thraex) gives the sign of submission to the referee (not the blood pouring out of his shoulder!)

So if I add a circular shield to Figure 1, he’s a bona fide Hoplomachus (with slightly non-standard helmet.. it’s very similar to the Myrmillo).

Figure 2. I’m going to say Secutor, maybe, because of the way he’s running about, but the helmet doesn’t look right, and I thought they had curved swords. I might have him mixed up with another class.

I’m going to call this guy a Secutor, what the heck. According to this mosaic he’s the figure on the right. The shield is right and the helmet pretty close although not exactly right. In the mosaic graphic below a Secutor takes on a Retiarus.

(that’s a Retiarus on the left, and he’s in trouble. He’s lost his net and trident on the ground, and only has his knife left– note the graphic leg wound!)

Figure 3. What do you call a giant goonish looking axeman? He looks kind of Persian to me.

Figures 4 and 6 have obvious African facial features, which I like a lot, because it adds a little diversity to the mix. On the other hand, neither one of them looks like a standard “gladiator type”. Number 4 has a leather (or fabric) sleeve on his left arm. Not banded leather like the other figures. He has metallic greaves and a big belt like a Murmillo. And no helmet. And a small axe. What kind of gladiator is that? Number 6 has chain mail (maybe??) on his legs and right arm– perhaps Persian? A big broad belt, a standard round shield and gladius style sword. And some shoulder armor and leg armor like a Murmillo. A strange mix. What category would he fall into? I’ve heard Thracian– the round shield and sword look right. The leg armor is strange but not totally inappropriate.

In this mosaic a Thracian battles a Myrmillo. The real point of difference seems to be the shields– the helmets and swords are not that different.

Figure 5 is no great stretch, being a netless Retiarus. I remedied this with a bit of cotton hair netting.

Helmet types:


Myrmillo (note the crest)

List of types
Gladiators were typically picked from prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals. Different gladiators specialized in different weapons, and it was popular to pair off combatants with widely different, but more or less equivalent equipment. Some of the first gladiators had been prisoners-of-war, and so some of the first types of gladiators, Gauls, Samnites, and Thraces (Thracians) used their native weapons and armor. Gladiator types and their weaponry included:

Andabatae: Fought with visored helmet and possibly blindfolded and on horseback. They were called andabatae, from άναβαται, ascensores, because they fought on horseback, or out of chariots.

Bestiarii: Not really a kind of gladiator, but a specially trained kind of fighter who fought against beasts, usually with spears.

Bustuarii: fought around the remains of a deceased person, as part of his funeral rites.

Dimachaeri (“fighters with two shorts or daggers”): Little more than what their name suggests is known about this type of gladiator.

Equites (“knights”): In early depictions, these lightly-armed gladiators wear scale armour, a medium-sized round cavalry shield (parma equestris), and a brimmed helmet without a crest, but two decorative feathers. In imperial times, they sport an arm-guard (manica) on their right arm and sleeveless, belted tunics, in contrast to other gladiators who usually fought bare-chested, and no greaves.

Essedari (“war-chariot fighters”): The name of these fighters derives from the Latin word for a Celtic war-chariot, esseda. These chariots were still used by the Celts in Britain when Caesar tried to invade the island in 55 B.C. Essedarii appear as arena-fighters in many inscriptions after the first century A.D. Yet since no pictorial representations exist, we do not know anything about their equipment and manner of fighting.

Hoplomachi: Like the Thraces, these heavily armoured fighters may have developed out of the earlier Samnites. They wore quilted, trouser-like leg wrappings, maybe made from linen, a loincloth, a belt, a pair of long shin-guards or greaves, a manica (arm-guard) on the right arm, and a brimmed helmet, not unlike that of the Thraces, with a crescent-shaped crest that could be adorned with a plume of feathers on top and a single feather on each side. Equipped with a gladius and a very small, round shield made of one sheet of thick bronze (an example from Pompeii survives), they were paired with murmillones or Thraces.

Laquerarii (‘lasso fighters”): These may be a kind of retiarius who tried to catch their adversaries with a lasso (laqueus) instead of a net.

Murmillones: Named after the stylized fish (Greek mormylos) on the crest of his helmet, a murmillo wore a manica (arm-guard), a loincloth and belt, a gaiter on his right leg, thick wrappings covering the tops of his feet, and a very short greave with an indentation for the padding at the top of the feet. Murmillones carried a gladius (40-50 cm long) and a tall, oblong shield in the legionary style. They were paired with Thraces, occasionally also with the similar hoplomachi.

Provocatores: This type of middle-weight fighter wore a loincloth, a belt, a long greave on the left leg, a manica on the lower right arm, and a visored helmet without brim or crest, but with a feather on each side. They were the only gladiators protected by a breastplate (cardiophylax) which is usually rectangular, later often crescent-shaped. They fought with a tall, rectangular shield and the gladius and were usually paired with another provocator.

Retiarii: Developed in the early Augustan era, the retiarius (net-fighter) carried a trident, a dagger, a net, and no helmet. Except for a loincloth, a manica on his left arm, and a metal shoulder-guard (galerus) above the manica, the retiarius fought naked and was always paired with a secutor.

Samnites: The Samnites, an early type of heavily-armed fighter that disappears in the early imperial period, point to the Campanian origins of gladiatorial contests because the Samnites were a powerful league of Italian tribes in the region of Campania south of Rome against which the Romans fought three major wars between 326 and 291 BC. A Samnis was armed with a long rectangular shield (scutum), a plumed helmet, a short sword, and probably a greave on his left leg,

Secutores: This kind of fighter, specifically developed to fight the retiarius, was a variant of the murmillo and wore the same armour and weapons, including the tall rectangular shield and the gladius. His helmet, however, covered the entire face with the exception of two small eye-holes in order to protect his face from the thin prongs of the trident of his opponent. The helmet was almost round and smooth so that the retiarius’ net could not get a grip on it.

Thraces: The Thracians wore the same protective armour as the hoplomachi and a similar helmet, except that theirs was distinguished by a stylized griffin on the protome or front of the crest (the griffin was the companion of the avenging goddess Nemesis). In contrast to the hoplomachi, Thraces were equipped with a small, rectangular (almost square) shield (parmula) and short sword (ca. 34 cm long) with a curved or bent blade (sica). The Thraces may originally have been prisoners-of-war from Thrace. They commonly fought murmillones or hoplomachi.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.