Sunday, December 20, 2015

Lemax Large Pebble Mats

It's that time of the year! The air has turned from crisp to cool to cold. The leaves fell long enough ago for the neighbors to wonder when they are going to get raked up. And the mainstream stores keep lowering their prices in a bid to attract Christmas shoppers. It's a good time to find some deals.

Two Lemax Large Pebble Mats - one still in the packaging and the other unrolled. American quarter coin provided for scale.

These Lemax Large Pebble Mats are a good example. Lemax markets them for use in Halloween or Christmas village dioramas. They are available at locations like Micheal's as a seasonal item starting in Autumn and are frequently marked down after Halloween.

Each mat measures roughly 18 x 36 inches. Two mats provide a 3 x 3 feet play area. This works fine for 28mm scale skirmish games such as Frostgrave, but is small for games like Warhammer 40K and Warmachine/Hordes. The 3 x 3 feet area also works for 15mm scale games, but the stone pattern looks a little big with smaller scales.

Close up of the detail. The "stones" and the "surface" are clearly discernible.

The detail on the Pebble Mats easily passes for cobblestone. The stone pattern does repeat over the surface of the mat, but the pattern is a little over 3 inches wide. This is big enough not to be obvious after terrain and models are placed on the mat. Some drybrushing and a wash would bring out the pattern, but is not necessary.

The Lemax website does display other patterns for their mats. However, the “Brick” pattern is the only one that I have seen in person. I choose the “Pebble” pattern over the “Brick” for its versatility. Stone has been used for roads over a longer historical period and over a wider area than brick. It fits right into fantasy settings and even looks fine for lower-tech science fiction settings.

Side on view of a rolled up mat. Note the thickness of the plastic mat.

The mats are made of a thick and heavy plastic. Scuffing the surface may be a long term issue, but the material should hold up to regular use. The plastic is thicker than comparable felt mats, so simply folding them up is not an option for storage or transport. The mats do roll up well, but the edges do need to be smoothed out before use.

Full price for a Lemax Pebble Mat this size is 24.99 USD. This is comparable to felt or cloth mats of similar size. However, I took advantage of the Micheal's post-Halloween sale price to get them for a significant mark down. A word of warning! They are harder to find as the holiday season goes on. Good hunting!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Spartan Scenics Warehouse Accessories

Painted pieces and packaging. I decided against painting them all gray and grimdark.

These are from a set of 28mm scale resin terrain pieces. I'm guessing from their appearance that Spartan Scenics had Infinity in mind when they put these on the market. However, they look generic enough to work as scatter terrain for most science fiction skirmish wargames and RPGs. Not all of the pieces that come in the box are pictured - I lost some due to gremlins between purchase and painting.

The pieces are solid resin and most do not require assembly. The detailing is good. There are handles, security keypads, and other greebles that suggest a functional (but scaled down) object. The casing is excellent. There are no mold lines marring the details of the pieces. There are a few bubbles on the underside of a couple of pieces, but no one will notice once the pieces are placed on the table.

After reviewing my long list of projects, I decided on a quick and basic approach using spray paints for the majority of the work. The first layer is a gray auto body primer. The base coat is a dark brown (Krylon Brown Camouflage Paint Made with Fusion – Ultra Flat). I divided up the pieces into four groups and picked out a color for each group (Krylon ColorMaster Paint+Primer in Aluminum, Iris, Rich Plum, and Pumpkin Orange). In each case, I sprayed at a high angle to leave a little of the brown base coat under the raised areas. This created a shading effect and an overall dirty, worn look for most of the pieces. The biohazard symbols were picked out with red (Reaper MSP 09279 Fresh Blood). The keypads and display panels got a dark green base (Reaper MSP 09011 Leaf Green), followed by a bright green layer (Reaper MSP 09294 Alien Goo), and highlighted in a bright yellow (Reaper MSP 09287 Neon Yellow) to simulate self-lighting. The pieces painted in non-metallic paint were then sealed (Testors Dullcote) to bring down the shine from the satin and gloss finishes of the spray paint.

Sarah Blitzer looking for a clear line of fire through all these cargo containers. She's a little concerned about all the biohazard warning signs.

Functionally, the pieces work well at blocking lines of sight and for models to use as cover. The pieces can be stacked on each other with varying levels of stability. The appearance of the pieces convey a science fiction feel that works well for just about any space opera game. I was most strongly reminded of firefights in the Mass Effect games, but diving behind cargo containers is a staple of Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction settings to numerous to list here.

The back of the box has some interesting suggestions that I couldn't resist expanding on. Using the pressurized tanks as cover may not be the best idea, especially if they contain explosive gases. Using biohazard containers as cover is an even worse idea without protective clothing. Coming up with a chart to determine the effects of shooting these containers with a couple of die rolls should be easy enough in any game system. The pallets could be remotely controlled anti-gravity platforms designed to make forklifts unnecessary. Anti-grav pallets would move around during a fight and complicate planning - a model could find itself without cover as the pallet and its cargo floats away from it. Alternately, some quick hacking into the pallet's software could move them at one player's command. Getting rammed by an anti-grav pallet loaded with heavy cargo containers is bad news even for someone in power armor.

Overall, these pieces look like they will be a staple of my science fiction games for some time to come.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Nazis in Stargate: SG-1

Status Update: I'm working on some new content for this poor, neglected blog as my limited free time permits. In the meantime, I happened on some content from my even older and long defunct gaming site from back in the day. I'll be dusting off some of it from time to time.

This post features the idea of using the descendants of a lost Nazi expedition in the Stargate: SG-1 setting. It predates my purchase of Alderac Entertainment Groups' licensed Stargate: SG-1 game and the last few seasons of the TV series. It also predates the Stargate: Atlantis antagonists known as the Genii, who loosely resemble the concept.


Nazis in Stargate: SG1


The premise of Stargate: SG1 is steeped in weirdness. It establishes that the pyramids were landing pads for alien starships, that there is a factual basis for many of Earth’s myths, that at least one crystal skull does have strange powers, and other Fortean goodness. Most of the time, ideas like these are presented as background material and the story moves on. None of the characters seem to dwell too much on the fact that basic assumptions about the history of their world are routinely destroyed.

Putting some of the ideas from the series together and mixing in some weirdness from other sources can lead to even more interesting results. Here is an example. The Stargate unearthed at Giza in 1928 lacked a DHD. The episode "Watergate" establishes that the Soviets captured the missing DHD from the Germans after WWII. "Solitudes" reveals that existence of a second Stargate and DHD in Antarctica. Add the notion that the Nazis possessed secret underground bases in Antarctica.

Stir carefully.

The result? Nazis in Antarctica, who use the Stargate there to escape Earth after WWII.

The Giza DHD
"The Tomb" establishes that the DHD at Giza was removed by German archaeologists in 1906. They would have been able to determine its age from other clues at the dig site. That the DHD is a product of advanced technology would be self evident. However, it is not likely that they were able to determine its function, since they lacked a Stargate.

Some of the higher ranking Nazis had an interest in archeology and the occult. For example, they sponsored expeditions to locate the Holy Grail in France. If word about the discovery at Giza leaked out, someone working for the Nazis may have made the connection between the DHD and whatever was found in 1928. This may have sparked more research into the DHD.

The Soviets may have captured any German research along with the DHD after WWII. The Russians already had detailed information on the SGC when they started their own Stargate program. The German researches may have given them an additional edge over the Americans. The Russian government could still have the notes from these researches.

Antarctica in WWII

There was no fighting in Antarctica during WWII, but a few interesting events did occur in the area before, during, and immediately after the war. Here are some of the highlights from real world history.

January 1939: Alfred Ritscher leads an expedition from the Kriegsmarine catapult-ship Schwabenland. The ship operates two Dornier-Wal flying boats which are used to survey over 200,000 square miles. Six-foot metal spears with swastika fins are dropped from the aircraft to stake a claim on the surveyed territory. Ritscher names this area Neuschwabenland ("New Swabia").

During WWII: The German commerce-raider Pinguin sinks or captures thousands of tons of Allied shipping in southern waters.

After WWII: Several high-ranking Nazis elude capture and disappear.

August 1945: U-530 and U-977 surface off the coast of Argentina three months after V-E Day. U-977 is undermanned. 55 German U-boats are unaccounted for.

Late 1946: Operation High Jump. A US Navy task force of 13 ships, including an aircraft carrier, spends several weeks surveying the Antarctic continent. The expedition is commanded by Admiral Richard Byrd.

The idea of Nazi bases in Antarctica dates back to speculation during WWII. The story of how the Nazis established themselves in Antarctica usually starts with Ritscher. His expedition discovers hot springs and ice caverns that would be suitable for the creation of secret underground facilities. Over the next few years, U-boats transport the personnel and supplies necessary for the construction of these bases. More technology and materials are sent as the war turns against the Nazis. The bases become a bolthole for some of the high-ranking Nazis would went missing after the war. Operation High Jump was an attempt to locate and possibly destroy any Nazi bases in Antarctica. Speculation on how the bases remained hidden over the decades range from secret deals with other governments to moving the bases to the Hollow Earth. Although these are interesting notions, they are outside the scope of this document.

The Implications of a Nazi Base in Antarctica
In the Stargate: SG-1 setting, it is assumed that one of these bases was near the Stargate and the scientific personnel there learned how to use the DHD. This would create the ultimate escape route for the Nazis. This would be especially tempting after months of living in the cold of an Antarctic base.

One problem is that the abandoned Nazi bases would have to be hidden even after they were abandoned. The SGC built a base near the location of the Antarctic Stargate ("Frozen"). The function of the base was to see if there was anything else of interest at the site after the Stargate and DHD were shipped off to the United States. The SGC personnel would have found any signs of a Nazi presence near the Stargate.

The best solution is that the Nazis, who were paranoid to begin with, eliminated all traces of their bases to throw off pursuit. Explosives would have collapsed any caverns. Teams of men could have carefully picked up any trash near the Stargate that would betray their use of it. The last team to go through the Stargate may have triggered a partial collapse of the cavern it was in as a final security measure.

Destination Scenarios

Stargate: SG-1 establishes that dialing random coordinates takes a great deal of luck. Even then, it might take hundreds or thousands of tries before a wormhole connection is made to another Stargate. And not every Stargate is on a world capable of supporting life.

The scenarios below assume that the Nazis got lucky. After all, finding the long dead bodies of Nazis on some airless world is not a very interesting adventure (although it might be used as the start of one). The scenarios also assume that any bases in Antarctica were stripped and abandoned. The Nazis committed all available resources to escaping Earth and colonizing the world they discovered.

Destination: An Uninhabited World

Most of the worlds capable of supporting life seem to be inhabited by a human or alien culture. The exceptions tend to be uninhabited for a reason. They might be geologically unstable, lack enough water, be too close to a black hole, or pose some other danger to anyone on the surface. Again, it is assumed that the Nazis got lucky. Their world is safe for long term human habitation.

The main difficulty faced by the Nazi colonists is a lack of numbers and technological resources. A more realistic Antarctic Nazi base (as much as such a notion can be realistic) holds no more than several hundred personnel. A few hundred is more likely. Many of those people would be needed for fairly mundane tasks, such as growing food. Even with equipment from Germany or captured from Allied shipping, they may not be able to immediately establish an industrial base. This would make it difficult for the Nazis to maintain the equipment they brought with them. Keeping up with technological developments on Earth would be impossible. Of course, a cinematic campaign featuring the Nazis as evil masterminds can feature thousands of personnel and whatever equipment that Nazi Germany was even remotely capable of manufacturing.

Destination: An Unclaimed Primitive World

This describes a world with a pre-industrial human culture that has no contact with any of the various alien races. The native population would number in the thousands. Most of them make a living by growing crops, but there are a few specialists such as blacksmiths.

How the Nazis would treat the natives would depend on their ethnic background. Anything other than an Aryan population would be subjugated. Such a population would be a good resource of aid for the player characters, especially if they can set up some kind of resistance movement.

It should be noted that the Nazi definition of "Aryan" changed considerably over the course of WWII. Their Imperial Japanese allies were embraced as Aryans of a sort. Even the fanatical Waffen SS units were recruiting non-Germans by 1943, including Russian POWs. This decision was spurred by personnel shortages. The Nazis were not above redefining their beliefs for pragmatic reasons. The realities of a small population supporting a growing industrial base might force them to do so. On the other hand, a die-hard SS commander might order the native population worked to death regardless of other factors.

Assuming that the native population survives, the Nazis will benefit from not having to devote personnel to growing food and mining raw materials. This will increase the growth of their industrial base. Their level of technology would be comparable or superior to that of Kelowna. While this still lags behind that of Earth, it is enough to work with nuclear power and develop a basic understanding of any Earth or Goa’uld technology that they capture.

Destination: A Goa’uld World

It is assumed that the Nazis somehow survive their first encounters with Jaffa and establish some kind of base. Otherwise, their presence will be nothing more than a footnote.

A Goa’uld would only tolerate Nazis on his planet if he got some kind of advantage out of it. The Nazis may have convinced him that they can offer him technology or other services in exchange for limited freedom. They may also agree to become enforcers on the world that they are on, freeing Jaffa for duty on other worlds. This would involve an unusually open-minded Goa’uld, however.

Another possibility is that the Nazis went underground and are fighting the System Lord or minor Goa’uld ruling the planet. The Nazis are unlikely to have a large base or other resources. This makes maintaining their weapons and equipment a problem. They may have small manufacturing sites hidden underground, but they would not have the means to research more advanced technologies. An irony of this approach would be that the SGC could find itself on the same side as the Nazi descendants while fighting for the freedom of this planet. Afterwards, the Nazis might be regarded as heroes by the population and end up ruling them. This poses obvious issues for the player characters and their chain of command back on Earth. This is especially true if the Stargate program ever goes public.

Destination: An Asgard-Protected World

There is a degree of irony in this concept. The Nazis attempted to revive worship of the Norse gods, going so far as to depict WWII as Ragnarok. The pre-industrial humans under the protection of the Asgard generally give them a great deal of reverence. It is possible that the Nazis will incorporate the Asgard into their belief system after contacting such a culture. Such beliefs would be reinforced by the recorded projections that the Asgard use while interacting with those under their protection.

The Asgard themselves might be unaware of the arrival of Nazis on a protected planet. "Thor’s Hammer," "Thor’s Chariot," and "Red Sky" imply that the Asgard do not regularly monitor conditions on worlds covered by the Protected Planets Treaty. The Asgard have provided the means for the populations of protected worlds to contact them, but this requires knowledge that a pre-industrial culture would not possess.

On the other hand, the Asgard could know of the Nazis, but not be concerned about their presence on a protected planet. The Asgard may have been more active in the 1940s than they were during the 1990s and early 2000s. The Replicator threat may have been smaller or even non-existent at the time the Nazis made their escape through the Antarctic Stargate. This makes it more practical for the Asgard to check on the worlds under their protect ever now and again. A group of more technologically advanced humans would be obvious. Why not tell the SGC about the Nazis? The Asgard have been known not to volunteer information to the SGC for a variety of reasons. They not regard it as important or may not wish to see fighting break out between the SGC, the Nazis, and the native population.

How the Asgard react to the Nazis depends on their behavior. Nazis who abuse the population of a protected planet may be treated the same as a Goa’uld invasion force. A group of Nazis who treat the population as long-lost Aryan brothers and try to raise their technology level might be regarded as a useful loophole in the Protected Planets Treaty. However, the Asgard may try to change the Nazis into something less aggressive and bigoted. In any event, the Asgard will know exactly who they are dealing with due to their knowledge of Earth history.

It is likely that the Nazis will fare about as well on an Asgard-protected world as they would on an unclaimed planet with a pre-industrial civilization. They will be able to trade for food with the native population, but developing an industrial base will still take time. The Nazis are not likely to benefit from any Asgard technology they examine. The relative technology levels are too far apart for any useful reverse engineering to take place.


How the SGC discovers the Nazis is mostly left as an exercise for the GM, but here are a few guidelines. Stepping out of the Stargate and into the middle of a Nazi-held planet is less than sporting, but will certainly be exciting for the players for as long as the adventure lasts.

The Nazis may have buried their Stargate after they arrived on their new home. This would prevent the SGC from discovering them and allows the GM to introduce them at a time of his choosing.

It is also possible that the Nazis will launch an exploration program once they have created a secure base of operations. Their explorations will be slow unless they find a source of valid Stargate coordinates. Random dialing would only turn up a valid set of coordinates after months or years of trying.

A Nazi equivalent to a SGC team would be quite capable. Nazi Germany developed weapons and other gear that still holds up fairly well in the early 21st Century. Their SG-44 assault rifle and MG-42 light machine gun are comparable to the AK-47 and M-60. Their main weakness would be the lack of advanced electronics. It is highly unlikely that the small industrial base available to the Nazis would be able to keep up with Earth in this regard. Any electronics that they do have would either be reverse-engineered from other sources or would be very crude by SGC standards. This will give the SGC advantages in nightvision, communications, and computing, but both sides will be a rough match in firepower. These advantages will degrade with time as the Nazis adapt and improvise improvements to their doctrine and gear.

Giving the Nazis a larger industrial base or access to advanced technology would produce a serious threat to SGC. The Nazis may end up using the equivalent of modern firearms and electronics supplemented by alien equipment. This makes them an even match for an SG team. The balance may tip towards the Nazis if they manage to develop hardware from experimental programs begun in Germany. The more advanced gear the Nazis have access to, the bigger their advantage.

Suppose they capture a SG team. They will interrogate them to determine the defenses around the SGC’s Stargate and develop a plan of attack. Such a plan would like revolve around using a captured GDO to get the SGC to open the iris. The next step is to toss a few dozen grenades through the Stargate into the SGC. This would be followed by sappers who would kill off the remaining USAF Security teams in the Gate Room. The sappers would then use explosives to destroy the Gate Room doors. Meanwhile, SS troops would be coming in through the Stargate and preparing to rush into the base. Their first objective would be to secure control of the Stargate dialing computer. Once that is secure, they can attack the rest of Cheyenne Mountain and establish a secure base of operations on Earth.

And you thought Anubis was scary.


Dirty Little Secrets of World War II by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi (Quill, ISBN 0-688-12288-4). Filled with little known information about WWII. ( Reviews, episode guides, and various facts about Stargate.

GURPS: WWII: Weird War II by Kenneth Hite with William Stoddard (Steve Jackson Games, ISBN 1-55634-661-1). The most unusual aspects of WWII in a format useful for gaming.

Suppressed Transmission the First Broadcast by Kenneth Hite (Steve Jackson Games, ISBN 1-55634-423-6). Plenty of campaign ideas, adventure seeds, and other gaming weirdness.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Painting By Numbers - Reaper Bones Well of Chaos

Just an innocent looking well.

This is the Well of Chaos (77136), one of many miniatures I received as a reward for backing the first Reaper Bones Kickstarter. The Well of Chaos represents some kind of font holding holy or unholy water from some god, goddess, or weird alien thing worshiped by hooded cultists. Any resemblance to an ornate toilet belonging to somebody with more money than sense is purely in the eye of the viewer.

As with my previous attempts to work with Reaper Bones plastic, I decided to experiment with an alternate technique for priming and painting this piece. A post on the Reaper forums titled "The First Coat is the Difference" recommended using FolkArt's Glass and Tile Medium as a primer after cleaning the miniature. The main issue with Glass and Tile Medium is that it is completely clear. It is very hard to tell if the miniature is completely coated while applying the Medium. The solution is to mix the Medium with acrylic paint to make it opaque. Any color will do, but I used black paint to allow the mix to act as both primer and a base coat.

Over the black base coat went a layer of dark gray on the stone parts of the well. I was careful not to completely cover the base coat to bring out the cracks in the stone. A layer of brown went on the parts of the well I was planning on painting gold. Brown works well under gold - it adds a little depth since metallic paints are sometimes translucent and the two colors do not contrast or "fight" with each other.

Light gray was used to highlight the stone parts. A layer of metallic gold went on the metal parts.

A purple wash was applied to the stone parts to convey an otherworldly aspect to the well. Descriptions of strange statues in fantasy sometimes note an odd hue to the material used to make them.

Totally not suspicious. Just walk right up and get a drink!

The inside of the font was painted blue to convey depth. A small amount of Woodland Scenics Realistic Water was used to produce a shiny surface. I was originally going to use a thinner layer of Realistic Water, but the process of poring it proved a little trickier than I expected. Using Realistic Water was also an experiment on my part. I had no previous experience with the stuff and I have a future project that may need it.

Overall, I am pleased with how the Well and how it turned out. Some of the detail on the miniature could be sharper, especially in the areas depicting metal pieces. Using FolkArt's Glass and Tile Medium resulted in a durable surface that holds paint well. Mixing the Medium with a little paint allowed me to combine the priming and base coating steps. This is definitely the way I'm planning on preparing the vast numbers of Reaper Bones miniatures remaining in my collection.