Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Dr Who: The Apetopus Experiment

Tonight the long-awaited new Dr Who series begins...
Eee-ooo, eee-ooo…

oo-ee-oo oo-ee-oo ooooo... oo-e-oo...
Cue eery, familiar synthesised BBC special effects music. On a black background, futuristic-ish red and orange lines form shifting Rorschach test images as the genial, smiling face of Jon Pertwee forms in the centre, and then fades away to reveal the intriguing, yet familiar-styled title of this new series:

Episode 1

The music fades, to reveal the Doctor, struggling over an apparently unpredictable TARDIS control centre, as Jo Grant, in an improbably-fashionable red tartan/white leather boots combination, enthusiastically panics. They both lean to the left as the camera jolts abruptly in the opposite direction and the set wobbles unconvincingly in the background.

"What's happening, Doctor!" she panics.

"Don't worry, Jo, I'm sure it's nothing serious" the Doctor reassures, "Something is trying to direct the TARDIS, and I'm doing my best to put us back on course, that's all."

Jo does not find this reassuring.

"You have to do something about it, Doctor!" Jo cries, as the cameraman lurches to the left and she is thrown unconvincingly to the right, despite her high heels, somehow still remaining standing.

"I'm doing my best, Jo," the Doctor calmly replies, "Now, that should do the trick!"
Without explanation, the cameraman rights himself, the set stops wobbling, and the scene becomes unexpectedly calm.

"Well done, Doctor," Jo says, relieved. "I knew you could do it!"

"I shouldn't get too excited," the Doctor replies. "I just stopped trying to override the controls. Now I wonder where we will materialise..."

It is a grey day somewhere in rural Britain. With its in the background sound effect, the TARDIS fades into existence on a tarmacked surface beside some white, single-storey buildings. The door opens a crack and the Doctor and Jo peer out. The wind is picking up, and above them, grey clouds are swirling abnormally...

Inside a Laboratory, the camera zooms in behind two scientists, who stand in front of a gigantic container, its transparent walls revealing it to be a sort of aquarium, half-filled with liquid. In the centre, a large tree trunk emerges from the water, its branches devoid of leaves. A bizarre pulsating mass, tentacled and hairy, clings precariously below one of the lower branches, dripping and writhing strangely, occasionally picking at fleas. The scientists observe this weird creature, a huge half-monkey-half-octopus, as it bares its teeth and drools at them, the angry stare from its glazed eyes betraying its psychotic self-loathing.

The Apetopus, safely caged
"I don't think it's very happy," the short, bald man in the stained lab coat says between bites, as he fussily adjusts his wire-rimmed glasses.

"Neither am I, professor," the taller man with ruffled hair and the kipper tie asserts. "I do so wish the canteen wouldn't experiment so much with sandwich fillings. I thought this was cheese and tomato but it tastes more like squid and marmalade."

The professor had been so preoccupied observing the Apetopus that he hadn't thought about what he was eating. He reviews the evidence, grimaces, swallows the mouthful of fishy citrus as quickly as possible, and tries not to think about what might have happened to the surplus cephalopods they hadn't used in the Apetopus experiment and which had mysteriously vanished this morning. As if it can read his thoughts, the Apetopus raises two of its tentacles, gives what may be a rude gesture, and starts beating its chest.

"No really, Professor, it is quite cross," he reiterates. "You don't suppose it suspects we're eating its relations, do you?"

"On the contrary, Doctor,"  his companion asserts. "Doubtless both the ape and the octopus preferred their appearance before the experiment, and that is surely sufficient cause for ire."

The scientists confer
"Although it should consider itself lucky. It could have ended up with the head of an octopus on the body of a monkey, after all. Alas, but such is the price of science! I'm pleased it is securely contained, though. The extra-toughened titani-glass of the aquarium walls will see to that."

"I concur," his companion agreed. "Those aquarium walls are strong enough to withstand anything!"

As if on cue, there is a loud rumble from somewhere outside. The room shakes alarmingly, plaster falls from the ceiling, and a crack begins to form in the  extra-toughened aquarium titani-glass. The scientists stare, shocked, as loud alarms sound, the crack in the glass slowly expands, and the Apetopus writhes, smirking malevolently.

An alien flying saucer appears overhead, lights flashing. As they do.
Just outside the laboratory facility, between its electric fence and the woodland beyond, groups of laboratory staff stand around the buildings and watch as a hole has appears in the swirling clouds through which a silver flying saucer, which can clearly be seen to be made from two paper bowls, slowly descends. Lights flashing, it lands in a cloud of vaporising dry ice.

The alien ship lands
As the weird tones of BBC sound effects build, strange green tentacled alien beings, their spherical bodies dominated by a single huge eye, appear through the mist, and descend a ramp to the ground.  Some of the onlookers panic. Others remain fixed, in shock, unable to move away.

Aliens gather beside the security fence

As the Doctor and Jo assess the situation, a Land Rover speeds to a halt opposite the TARDIS and uniformed men run out, directed by their NCO to head towards the fence at the edge of the compound, where a film cameraman is getting some good close-ups of the action. A moustached senior officer walks swiftly towards them, reaching out his hand with a surprised smile.

The Doctor and Jo recognise a familiar face
"Doctor, and Miss Grant," Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart acknowledges. "Very good to see you. I have no idea how you manage to always turn up at the right time, but I'm very pleased you do."

"Always good to see you, too, Brigadier," the Doctor replies. "Whatever the circumstances. So tell me, where are we, and what's going on?"

"Alien invasion, Doctor," the Brigadier clarifies, in a matter-of-fact way that might normally be considered inappropriate in such circumstances. "UNIT got the call less than an hour ago and as luck would have it we were in the area so we're first on the scene. Silver flying saucer, landed just the other side of the main building."

UNIT troops run into position

Behind the building, the aliens are briefly delayed by the perimeter fence. Several attempt to cross meet with electrical discharges that fling them back, stunned, to the ground where they struggle to right themselves.

Some of the aliens are thrown back, stunned by the electric fence
"Brigadier," the Doctor took a sterner tone. "Where exactly are we?"

"Sorry, Doctor," the Brigadier apologised, "I thought you would recognise it from last time. DSTL, Doctor. Porton Down. Now come on, time is of the essence!" And with that, the Brigadier turns away, and instructs two soldiers manhandling a bazooka and its ammunition to find a more sensible firing position. Jo, keen to follow the Brigadier, realises the Doctor isn't moving, but is deep in thought, muttering to himself.

"The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory," the Doctor muses, wondering whether the last time the Brigadier referred to is in his past or future. "What are they up to, I wonder?"

"Come on, Doctor," Jo panics, pulling at his sleeve. "We must follow the Brigadier!"

"No, Jo, not yet," the Doctor asserts. "First we need to know what's going on here. Follow me!" And ignoring the Brigadier, who is waiting for them to follow, the Doctor walks steadily towards the main door of the Laboratory. Jo, flustered, reluctantly follows.

Meanwhile, close to the fence...
Close to the fence, one innocent onlooker stares as alien eyes and tentacles appear through the mist. One such eye is larger, more malevolent, and faces the onlooker with its compelling gaze.

The camera slowly zooms in on this larger alien eye, which pulsates in brightness as the sound of static builds and the weird, electronically enhanced voice of the alien commander speaks in his mind: YOU WILL OBEY. YOU WILL OBEY. YOU ARE ONE OF US NOW… The onlooker's shoulders drop and like an automaton, he turns slowly, his expression vacant and gaze unfocussed. YES, MASTER. I OBEY…

With a crash of glass the Apetopus bursts out of its prison. As the scientists turn to flee, it squeezes itself adeptly through a doorway to trap them against furniture in the foyer of the building. Try as they might to make use of the many items to hand in the laboratory, their futile resistance is all too brief and they scream as they succumb to the creature's tentacled simian attack and are crushed.

The Apetopus attacks
Quickly, the aliens realise they must break the fence, and attack it with resolve. In moments, a section of the sparking fence is broken down and the creatures advance through the gap.

Aliens stream through the broken fence
The possessed laboratory worker, under the control of the alien commander, walks steadily toward the rear of the laboratory. His view of the world, transferred telepathically to the alien commander, and represented by the BBC special effects department as a fish-eye lens accompanied by heavy breathing, shows him searching amongst the piles of discarded chemical waste containers behind the laboratory. He sniffs the air. YES, the alien commander's electronic voice whispers, THE CREATURE IS HERE, AND IT HEARS OUR CALL…

UNIT troops open fire on the invaders
Soldiers advancing towards the alien enemy open fire, killing at least one of them in a burst of machine gun fire as a bystander, caught in the middle, frantically dodges bullets and somehow escapes. The aliens respond, concentrating their fire on the soldiers, who all fall, leaving their corporal facing the alien assault on his own.

The dying screams of the crushed scientists are heard by those outside the laboratory.

"Wait, Doctor!" the Brigadier shouts. "Whatever it is, it's going to have to come out through those doors!" The Doctor and Jo stop as the Brigadier takes charge.

"You men!" he shouts at the bazooka team, "Get ready. You'll only get one chance at a clear shot so better make it a good one!"

The Brigadier organises everyone, despite facing the wrong direction
Just as the Brigadier predicted, the main laboratory doors burst open and the Apetopus reveals itself. In one oily movement it squeezes through the opening and expands, stretching its hairy, writhing tentacles and snarls dramatically in the way that only special effects monsters can. The camera focuses in on the Apetopus as all around stand watching in awe. Too late, the bazooka team respond, but are unable to load the weapon before the Apetopus slides swiftly away, attempting to slip behind the cover of the building.

While this is happening, the main group of aliens gather behind the laboratory, and the alien ship starts to lift off, preparing to move to a position where it can be more easily boarded by them and the escaping Apetopus. The corporal, seeing no other option, jumps into one of the Land Rovers to pursue them.

The Corporal goes it alone in the Land Rover
Meanwhile, the bazooka team runs forward to take position for a clear shot at the escaping Apetopus, but before they are able to fire, the Apetopus turns and opens its maw toward them. Its ear-piercing shriek hits them as a sonic shock wave, and they and their weapon are instantly disintegrated. The Apetopus smugly slips behind the laboratory to comparative safety.

Our heroes follow in the Jeep
"Follow me!" the Doctor orders, seeing the Corporal starting up the lead Land Rover. He jumps into the driver's seat of the Jeep behind as Jo and the Brigadier hurriedly bundle into the back. Pistol at the ready, the Brigadier gets prepared as the Doctor accelerates the Jeep away with a jolt. 

Ahead of them, the Corporal rounds the end of the building. Seeing a group of aliens ahead, he smashes the front window of the Land Rover with his submachine-gun and, weapon in one hand and steering wheel in the other, opens fire. One alien falls, and as he sees the others move to raise their weapons in his direction, he jars the vehicle into reverse and backs off rapidly into cover behind the building.

Aliens board their ship in an attempt to escape earth, while the Apetopus tries to keep up
The alien ship lands, ramp lowered, as the alien troops scuttle aboard. The Apetopus, slower, shambles toward the landed craft. Watching through the broken windscreen of the Land Rover, the Corporal sees his moment. Slamming his right foot to the floor, he accelerates the Land Rover towards the landing gear of the alien craft, colliding with it dramatically.

There is a very big explosion.

The fragile alien ship totters, falls, and smashes against the ground, destroyed, as a box of nerve gas canisters in the Land Rover explode unnecessarily. Wounded, stunned, and weakened, the Corporal sees the alien commander rise, the only survivor of the blast.

Through smoke from burning spaceship, cloud of nerve gas, and broken windscreen, The Corporal has only a moment to appreciate his success. Then his eyes meet the alien's unflinching gaze and his shoulders relax. YES, MASTER, I OBEY…

Through the windows of the Jeep, rushing towards the conflagration, our heroes take in this scene of carnage. The alien ship lies on its side, in a pile of debris, destroyed. The Land Rover, battered but not yet broken, beside. The passenger door opens and one man - the bystander under the control of the alien leader - enters, and the alien commander jumps into the back. The Apetopus, nearby, may have been about to somehow squeeze into the Land Rover too, but as the Jeep approaches, it advances to face it and opens its maw to shriek.

The camera closes in on the faces of those in the Jeep. All are in pain, screaming, (even the Brigadier), with their hands over their ears. The only sound is the piercing shriek of the Apetopus, which builds as the camera moves closer,until Jo's screaming face is all that can be seen, and the noise abruptly resolves into the Dr Who theme music and the end credits roll.

Until next time…


The Doctor (Unearthly Traveller, Star, 9)
Jo Grant (Plucky Assistant, Co-Star, 5)
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Dependable Deputy, Co-Star, 6)
2 x Scientists (Scientist, Extra, 2 each = 4)
1 x UNIT NCO (Army Corporal, Extra, 3)
4 x UNIT Privates (Army Private, Extra, 2 each = 8)
1 x UNIT Heavy Weapons Team (bazooka) (Army Heavy Weapon, Extra, 7)
2 x Land Rover/Jeep (Vehicle, 4 each = 8)
1 x Cameraman (Extra, 1)
TOTAL 51 points

Aliens from Planet X
Alien Commander (Otherworldly Invader, Star, 10)
2 x Alien War Leaders (Extras, 3 each = 6)
10 x Small Aliens (Extras, 2 each = 20)
The Apetopus (Marauding Monster, Co-Star, 5)
Alien Flying Saucer (Helicopter, Vehicle, 10)
TOTAL 51 points

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Carolingian Franks

The two versions of my Carolingian Warlord

It's taken me far too long to get my Franks painted but now they are finally done I can put them on show here in pictures. Some of the figures have been done for the best part of a year already and I have played quite a lot of games with them. 

The Franks have changed fairly substantially with Saga 2. Whereas previously they were an army that mostly operated in the opponent's turn with tricky (and often considered underhand) tactics, the (renamed as) Carolingians are now a lot more straightforward to use and have some more practical and effective combat oriented abilities on their battle board. They are I believe the only faction to effectively be able to make repeat use of some of the Saga abilities that would normally only apply once per turn - by virtue of Domine - though because of the need to set dice aside on the Proelium they can be slow to get going and will often find themselves a little short of dice generally. And you can occasionally get in the rather bizarre position of having too many rare symbols at hand to use. This battle board is all about Saga dice management. Once you get the hang of it I believe the Carolingians are an excellent faction to use, and they are currently my favourite.

Mounted Warlord
Warlord on foot
The faction allows your Warlord to be either mounted or on foot, and very helpfully Gripping Beast make two versions of the same Frankish Warlord to suit. Both are in identical garb and the same pose, so mine are painted identically as seems appropriate.

Mounted Hearthguard #1
Mounted Hearthguard #2
Two points worth of mounted Hearthguard. These are Gripping Beast figures, with spears made from 1mm brass rod (as for all the figures with spears in the Warband).

Hearthguard on foot #1

Hearthguard on foot #2

Hearthguard on foot #3
Some rather static poses for Gripping Beast's foot Hearthguard, but these are crisp castings and easy to paint. 

Warrior bowmen #1

Warrior bowmen #2

Warrior bowmen #3
I decided that my Frankish warriors would be bowmen, and they have served me very well in games to date. These lovely figures are medieval archers in aketon-gambeson from 1st Corps (Curtey's Miniatures), and they mix well with those from Gripping Beast. The standard is printed from paper stuck to a length of 1mm brass rod, and the design overpainted when attached to the figure.

Levy spearmen #1

Levy spearmen #2
I appreciate that I don't have enough of these for two points of Levy but these are the Frankish Warrior figures that came with the original starter Warband from Gripping Beast that I got for the faction. If I am ever inclined to field two units of Levy I will need to buy another eight figures, but that can wait for the time being. I could of course always field them as Warriors instead.

Half of these figures have had their hands replaced with ones from a set of plastic figures and all have had their weapons replaced with spears made from 1mm brass rod. I didn't want to have eight figures with hand weapons.

All figures are based on Renedra plastic bases and shields are hand painted designs.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Terrain for Gaslands

We've been planning to try out Osprey's Gaslands for some time, so a few of us combined our imaginations, scoured our bit boxes, and found a handful of old hot wheels cars and made some vehicles. With a week to go after Colours before we were due to play we realised we were going to need some terrain - so here's what I put together in seven days, along with a few pictures of the game we played at the end.

I bought a 4 x 4 wasteland mat from Deep Cut Studios at Colours. To be honest it wasn't the mat I was originally looking for but they didn't have that one in the right size so I settled on this. In the end I have no regrets as this was definitely the better choice - the base cloth looks fantastic with the terrain on it. The only issue for me was to colour match the terrain pieces. As you will see I didn't get it perfectly right, but the end result I think looks OK.

The scenario we planned was Death Race. That meant all we really needed was a few race gates and some obstacles of various types. I added some sections of road, some concrete barriers and a couple of areas of hazardous terrain into the mix as well.

Race Gates

I ended up building six gates, though we're probably only going to ever need four. Each was a strip of 3mm MDF with two cylinders made from rolled corrugated card on each side. The start and finish gates had poles (cut from a set of black and white striped pencils bought from Poundland) and the other gates flags made from kebab sticks and masking tape. The card rolls in which these were set were filled with Milliput for strength and topped with sand. The base was textured around the cylinders with filler and sand mix, with the central section just textured with Chinchilla dust.

The general colour for the terrain was a bespoke mix of chocolate brown and a little dark red cheap emulsion paint (tester pots), dry brushed first with a light sand colour and then with a lighter cream colour (again, cheap emulsion testers). The cylinders were painted black and dry-brushed with gunmetal to give the effect of concrete-filled bollards made from corrugated metal. Flags were painted in bright colours with numbers.

I tried various approaches to make the start and finish banners with numerous failures because of the lack of strength of materials or the inability of the glue to stick to them. Finally, I settled on the simpler but less effective solution of printed paper banners with string glued to the top and bottom edges, connected and held firmly between the (pencil) poles by glue and a few blobs of green stuff. They're very solid, and they look OK from a distance. If I get the time I might replace them with something better, but they will do for the moment.

I realised (as some of you will have already, probably) that my design wasn't directional, so I needed some way of indicating the way to enter each gate. The easy solution was to add some signs so I printed out some yellow and black chevrons of the type used to indicate sharp corners an stuck these to sections of wide lolly stick (readily available at very low cost in The Works and other such shops) and glued them to the sides of the gates.

Start and finish gates
Gates #1 - #4
Solid Obstacles

Basically, these are piles of rocks. I cut bases from 3mm MDF, put some PVA-soaked newspaper on top and pushed some stones into it. This sets extremely solidly. When dry these were textured with the base mix and finally painted in the general terrain colours above. Very simple.

Rock piles
Destructible Obstacles

These are road signs and billboards. 3mm MDF bases with signs and boards made from lolly sticks, coffee stirrers and kebab sticks, with some spare tyres added at the edges of some of the bases for effect. Bases painted as above, wood given a thin coat of the sand colour used as the first highlight.

I appreciate that there are signs and billboard posters that are available from the Gaslands web site or Facebook group but I wanted something different so the signs and posters I used were either taken and modified from images available on the Internet or made up by myself. The exception is the advert for the forthcoming 7TV2 Post-Apocalypse Kickstarter from Crooked Dice, which is a reduced sized copy of their flyer. Next month, chaps. I am not the only one to be very excited about this. 

If you want to make your own billboards using these designs, they are available to download as a jpg file here.

Various signs and billboards
Volatile Obstacles

Two of the signs indicate flammable and explosive items, so I made a couple of small bases with 20mm oil drums (from Debris of War) as well.

Danger - explosives

The roads are two straight sections of 3mm MDF, each 24" long so that they will fit perfectly across the base cloth. I made a couple of smaller sections with angled edges so that the road could also run diagonally across the board as well.

I glued a narrower strip of roofing felt to these to be the road surface. This works very well but needs to be weighted down while it dries so that the edges don't curl up. I used a normal household glue to stick this. I made the mistake a year ago of trying to stick roofing felt to MDF using epoxy glue. Do not try this - it melts the felt and makes a horrible mess.

When dry, I carefully added base texture to the edges of the road. These edges were carefully painted so as not to paint the road surface. I was a little less careful with the dry brushing as a little of this on the road surface is fine and just gives the impression of a dusty landscape.

Highway across the wasteland
Concrete Barriers

I'm not quite sure about these, to be honest. I think they would be improved by some graffiti, posters or signs so will probably add to them in due course. However, here they are for the time being. Based as usual on 3mm MDF, these are made from cardboard coated with paper mache and textured. I was going for a sort of concrete wall look and I think they work fine. They could be used as solid obstacles as well as the rock piles, though in the event we didn't use these in our first game.

Concrete barriers
Hazardous Terrain

The easiest of the lot. This is just made from 3mm MFD textured (with an extra sprinkle of small stones) and painted.

Areas of hazardous terrain
More Signs

I made a lot more of the directional indicators than I needed for the gates, so I kept these to use as items of scatter terrain around the circuit. They don't necessarily mean drivers have to follow those directions, of course, but are just there for effect.

Yet more signs
And now that I have all the basic terrain I will add to this slowly as I am inspired!

Our First Game of Gaslands

This was a lot of fun and I was very pleased that my effort in putting the terrain together was not wasted. We were slow, true, and the game was not finished, but that's because there were five of us with two cars each and we were all unfamiliar with the rules. We also probably put the gates too far apart. But we got faster as we played and will doubtlessly continue to do so as we play more.

Some images of our game follow for your entertainment!