Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Clifford the First

This is the first of several castles I will build and where better to start than in Normal England. Tending to like to make as big an impact as I can, I determined to build the orgininal Clifford's Tower at York in 28mm. The original wooden keep and castle was built under direction of King William in 1068 and one of the few royal castles erected in the period. The scene of a great revolt and combined Danish invasion in 1089, the garrison was massacred and York turned into a battle ground as William stormed north to re-take and re-garrison this northern stronghold.

I based my model on the drawings of Terry Ball and Peter Dunn, both reconstructions of this extensive motte and bailey castle as found in English Heritage's handbook publication Clifford's Tower (1997). Incidentally, the keep and castle I am modelling would not have been referred to at the time as Clifford's Tower but was situated on the motte upon which the surviving stone tower rests today.

Thus far I have completed the motte itself which reflects the height it would have been at the time - the current motte was rasied since the days of the original castle. I have completed the keep, the curtain and the covered way. I have yet to construct the bailey and it's works but several of the buildings have been done such as stables, chapel and two living quarters.

For me I seem to adhere to scale models for all of my efforts to date so this is a proportional model where no compromises have been made to make what would have been a more practical wargaming/table-top feature. As you can see it is also a far cry from the pre-fabricated and more standard motte and bailey castles which can be bought and are generally built.

The motte is layered foam board sandwiched between ply sheet at the base and 3mm MDF on the top. It comes in two halves (semi-circular sections) which were butted together before the gradient was cut with a home rigged hot-wire cutter. By having already fixed the circular top and base before cutting, the hot-wire cutter was made with an adjustable throat wide enough to encompass the breadth required to cut the complete from the outer edge of the top to the bottom. The top and base also ensured an even cut as the wood guided the wire. It was then just a matter of sanding it before my usual practice of plastering it with soaked newspaper squares and diluted PVA wood glue which, when dry, provided a hard crust which takes my sand and house paint mixtures for the textured and coloured finish.

The keep was constructed from foam core with cladding in balsa and craft sticks, all cut to measure. This took a lot of time and effort but I am pleased enough with the result to have warranted the effort. The keep is built in three levels which separate. In hind sight I thinks this was probably unnecessary as how I am supposed to separate them with figures in all the levels without making a mess is beyond me - now. Still, it was an interesting model making exercise all the same. The inside is not detailed - something which I will do for my next castle project.

The keep sits on top of a stone foundation and for this I tried something new. I hand drew all of the stone details with a pencil, making sure to press deep into the paper of the foam core. For this, I recommend using something harder than a HB pencil. I then painted with a diluted white wash with a view to dry brushing over the cobbled surface, hoping the white wash would show through as lime mortar - I think it worked. All the wooden features were done in shades of grey and grey-brown with repeated back washes and lighter shades of grey to build a perception of depth an weathering - I still think it could be lighter.

The roof house was my usual wattle a daub effort with a tiled roof. I use corrugated cardboard cut into long strips and glued along the line of the roof from the outer edge and working up toward the ridge-capping - each slightly overlapping the one beneath it. The texturing for the daub walls is achieved by dabbing roughly a diluted pre-mixed putty with a large craft brush. The gargoyles were a rude sculpting effort with a two-part epoxy putty but then, being gargoyles, crudeness is all that's required.

The curtain wall included operating doors which pivot on steel rods cut from a wire clothes hanger. Otherwise it's all craft sticks and balsa. Craft sticks are not the right width for this model so quite a lot of time was spent trimming them and this model just would not have been at all tolerable to build if it wasn't for my garage band saw. The covered way is one piece with integral poles (wooden skewers) which slot into holes pierced into the motte. I fixed the position of the holes prior to texturing. This enables rigid positioning of the covered way with no risk of movement during play.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Baptism of Fire and Water

A long time between postings I know; however, I just got back from my first wargame using the wonderful Langton Miniatures Dutch Wars models and the equally wonderful naval warfare rules, Form Line of Battle by David Manley.

My good friend Matt and I adopted most of the optional rules for smaller actions and I created adapted game record cards for each ship complete with graphics taken from across the internet. On this point I feel it important to capture as much of the feel for the period as possible through the use of line drawings or even naval paintings from the period. We found the limitations in the cards and will try a couple more adaptions before transferring my cards to peg boards to track the ship records without pencil and paper. We suspect we mis-played the damage rule but kept consistency which evened everything out.


The first time you play these rules you need to make a few markers and tools from the rules - printing out and basing on card stock: that sort of thing. Whilst turning my thoughts to broadside markers (important for tracking gunnery) I thought of rolling pre-sprayed synthetic wadding into tiny balls, threading them along needle and cotton with a dab of white glue to hold each ball. As you can see, it's not unlike making a bead necklace. I made five ball sections for my 4th and 5th rates and three balls lenghts for my smaller, unrated vessels.

We played two games in under five hours, taking a 40 minute lunch break. We both agree they are great rules and makes for an enjoyable naval skirmish game. We played with two vessels each both times, varying our ships each time. Whilst we also believe we mis-played the weather changes, it made for a chaotic and fun struggle and best of all, we had a win each - you can't say fairer than that.

A few thoughts on our depictions. I have green sea boards as you can see - a preference taken from some paintings of the period and also from a desire to be a little different - this is the Channel - not the Med. I nevertheless based my models on glass with superglue, paining the foaming wake with Humbrol gloss white. This way I can play on any coloured surface. Matt's ships are on more traditional blue but you know, it didn't make that much of a difference. I had some toothpicks (cocktail sticks) for fallen masts but none were lost. I don't think I'll go for anything more decorative than that for the masts because whilst you can buy fallen masts, the models will still have their masts upright as part of the model so what's the point?