A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Hooptedoodle #65b - Hadrian's Wall - Days 3 to 6


Day 3 – Saturday – Banks to Twice Brewed Inn – 14 miles

After the ritual Full English breakfast (death by Cumberland Sausage) we set off in a beautiful morning. Early morning ground frost disappeared quickly, and we had almost perfect walking weather, though we still had to watch out for mud patches.

The track passes through many fields, mostly with a stile in the corner. For some reason (perverse humour?) the cattle like to congregate in the corners, so that an attractive green field will have areas of deep gloop in front of the stile where it has been trampled.

After Greenhead, the track swings round towards the first of the crags – a jaw-dropping sight, with just a small thrill of trepidation about how near the edge the track goes. In fact it is strenuous – more so than I expected, though not as severe as some of the Austrian walks or the Pentlands Hills hike I did recently. The trail goes up and down a series of steep cliff-top paths, with stone steps inserted to protect the trail and make the climbing safer. Having said which, I would hate to attempt these steps in the wet.

One of my colleagues was having problems with blisters, and our speed of walking slowed right down. At one point I was concerned that at our current rate we would not get off the hills before it became too dark for safety. However, after a pretty hard day we reached the Twice Brewed Inn, which served up its very fine eponymous beer and magnificent slow-roast pork belly with mashed spuds and black pudding (apologies to any vegans, especially teetotal vegans).

Cumbrian countryside

Birdoswald

What became a familiar view - the path runs straight ahead

Yet another milecastle



The history walks along with you

Medieval rip-off - Thirlwall Castle - "Excuse me, sir, I don't suppose
you would know anything about the whereabouts of a large quantity of
very old masonry?"

First glimpse of the crags after Greenhead

Up and down...

...and up again

One of my colleagues, feet badly blistered, delighted to reach the Twice
Brewed Inn as the sun sets behind him

Day 4 – Sunday – Twice Brewed Inn to Greencarts Farm (Humshaugh) – 15 miles

Another fantastic day’s walking. The Twice Brewed is a little off the hill trail, so we had to climb back up to the top of the crags, and then once again we had the switchback path and amazing views, along past the lake of Craig Lough, Housesteads fort, and eventually the path dropped down to run alongside the road. This was a rather boring section after the wonders of the earlier part of the day, and the weather began to deteriorate – wet and increasingly cold.

We arrived, tired and a bit grumpy, at Greencarts, to learn that there was an amber weather warning for the next two days. I had no idea what an amber warning signified, but it didn’t sound like good news.

Due mention must be made here of Mrs Maughan at Greencarts, who, since it was Sunday, produced roast gammon, complete with Yorkshire pudding, stuffing and home grown root vegetables. Raspberry sponge to follow – what a good job we were on a walking trip!

Turret on the crags

Craig Lough far below - complete with swans

The remains of an arch at Housesteads

And if you thought you were getting to walk on the actual Wall, forget it.
COH.II.SAG.HAM. would have found this funny, I think

The north wall of Housesteads from the barbarian side

Near Greencarts

Day 5 – Monday – Greencarts to Heddon-on-the-Wall – 18 miles

It turns out that an amber warning is definitely not what you are looking for on a walk like this. The wind was now in our faces, the temperature dropped and the rain was horizontal. The last two days of this walk are not very interesting anyway – there is very little actual wall to see, so it is mostly an act of faith. After you leave Chesters fort behind you, for all the visual evidence you might as well be walking the Great Wall of China at this stage.

We did give serious thought to getting a bus into Hexham and abandoning the full walk, but – though we were wet and cold and thoroughly miserable – we stuck with it and got through a hard slog. I am delighted to say that my gear stood up well to the test – my old Brasher boots were terrific, and my cheapo Regatta waterproof over-trousers were a life-saver.

We stayed at a ranch-style hostel on a farm, dried our kit and listened to news of serious flooding in Morpeth, plus forecasts of more of the same for the next day. At night it was hard to sleep for the wind roaring. It occurred to me that if someone had been employing me to do this trip I would have resigned at that moment.

I’m sorry there are no pictures of the last two days – it was just too wet to get my camera out.

Day 6 – Tuesday – Heddon-on-the-Wall to Wallsend – 14 miles

We were now sufficiently cynical to make some policy decisions.

First point to note is that we were tired and cold and keen to complete our walk from coast to coast with or without reference to Roman walls or anything else. Second point to note – which may justify our attitude a little – is that the official Hadrian’s Wall Path walk is a thing of compromise anyway. The site of the wall is known, and the original scheme was for a walk to follow it, but concerns about erosion, disagreements with individual farmers about access to their land and – more significantly – involvement of the National Trails people have fudged the routing of the eastern-most section of the walk. The HWP through Newcastle is now a scenic trek along the northern bank of the Tyne, which has nothing to do with Hadrian except that it ends at the site of Segedunum, the coastal fort at the end of the wall.

We decided to cut out the detour and walk straight through central Newcastle to Wallsend, which was probably a smart move.

Done it. Tired and cold, but unbloodied and in good shape.

Afterthoughts

Am I glad I did it? Definitely. Was it as I expected? More or less – some of the climbing was harder work than I thought it would be, and on some of the sections – especially in the bad weather – the tedium is a killer, but overall it is not nearly so arduous as the West Highland Way in Scotland. In the direction we did the walk – apart from the separate objective of crossing England on foot – days 1, 5 and 6 were not very stimulating.

I think I might revisit Hadrian some time in the future (if I’m spared....), but I would approach it differently – I would book a few nights at the Twice Brewed and do day walks over defined stages of the crags in the central section. That really is the very best of the wall, and an unforgettable experience.

Last little moan – the signposting on the walk is generally good, but from time to time there are no clues which way to go, and some of the pointers are inaccurate, which is not helpful if the conditions are difficult. Compared with my recent experience of the excellent signposting of walkways in the Tyrol, I think the HWP could do rather better in this respect.

However – mustn’t grumble. I met a lot of interesting people and was grateful for a lot of hospitality and kindness, and I had an excellent time.

The museum at Segedunum, on a much sunnier day. We couldn't find the place at first, failing to realise that the large building that looks like a modern colliery was what we were looking for. I had hoped to see the big cranes at Swan Hunter's shipyard, but sadly they have been
sent to China.




Friday, 21 September 2012

Hooptedoodle #65a - Hadrian's Wall - Days 1 & 2

First glimpse of actual Roman wall, between Walton and Banks

Day 1 – Thursday – Bowness-on-Solway to Stanwick (Carlisle) – 12 miles

No pictures today. Incessant rain and deep mud (I sank almost to my knees in a harmless looking field – Cumbrian mud is special) made this day rather heavy going – not helped by the fact that we made an ill-judged detour of about 3 miles to get a distant view of a monument to Edward I on the marshes – he died there, of dysentery. No visible trace of Roman walls thus far – at one point we travelled along an interestingly straight road which we thought might well follow the line of the wall, but in fact it was built on an old railway! A few herons on the tidal flats of the Solway, but mostly the day was a bit grim.

Bright spots in the evening were an excellent Indian meal in a Tandoori restaurant in Carlisle, catching part of a rare Liverpool FC win on TV in the pub and – best of all – heroic efforts by our host at the B&B to help us clean and dry our boots and wash some very dirty clothes. Most kind and much appreciated.

Day 2 – Friday – Stanwick to Banks (near Walton) – 14 miles

Much better day – little or no rain, but still a lot of slow progress through muddy areas. We got our first sighting of a recognisable piece of wall near the end of the day. This is a very rural area – villages well spaced out, and most of the pubs have shut down, apparently. The recession is here.

Despite the lack of authentic wall thus far, there is an abundance of rectangular blocks of dressed stone in the dry-stone dykes and the barns, and it’s pretty obvious where it came from…

Because refreshment sites are thin on the ground, there are a number of honesty bars along the way offering cold drinks and snacks – something I’ve not seen on other walking trails. Tomorrow we should get into the sections where the wall is much more continuous – with luck the mud should be better, though there will be more climbing to do. Beautiful countryside - as we climbed up towards Banks, there were fine views to the South West to Skiddaw and the Lake District.

Main problem to date - the mud seems almost bottomless at times

Hadrian's personal honesty bar service - a classy touch - a
Coke or a Mars bar from the Emperor's personal stocks

Monday, 17 September 2012

Hooptedoodle #65 - Hadrian's Wall - Intro




On Wednesday I'm heading off to meet up with a couple of well-seasoned hikers, and we shall do the Hadrian's Wall Walk - the whole thing - West-to-East (i.e. in the "wrong" direction). Our starting point is Bowness-on-Solway, and we'll set off on Thursday morning. We have 6 days' walking, with overnight stops in the vicinity of Carlisle, Walton, Steel Rigg, Chollerford, Heddon-on-the-Wall and Wallsend. On paper it looks reasonable - but there again, on paper you don't have flies, mud and old legs to contend with!

The Wall ends at Wallsend (the Romans probably felt that the name made it an obvious place to stop), and then we'll head into Newcastle to get our various transports home. I am comparatively local, being based in South East Scotland, but my colleagues will be coming up from London and Dorset respectively. I have explained to them that they will not find ATM's or Starbuck's or branches of Waitrose on the Wall, and I think they understand.

The pictures here are not mine - just stuff I liked and borrowed to get myself in the mood. These are all views of the more remote part, between Greenhead and Chollerford. I intend to record some thoughts and some pictures on the way - how closely this will correspond to live reporting will depend on a few things - weather, fatigue, wi-fi availability in the overnight stops and (possibly) beer. However it works out, you should hear more of this trip. If my netbook or my brain should malfunction, I may write up the whole thing when I get back.

Or perhaps we might just spend the whole week in the Twice-Brewed Inn, and I'll make up some kind of a cover story.


Boye


Here's a very dramatic and convincing contemporary ECW illustration of Prince Rupert's poodle, "Boye", who, sadly, was killed at the battle of Marston Moor. You will see some dastardly (left handed?) Parliamentarian musketeer shooting him at very close range. The bullets are thick and fast. Don't know who the odd-bod is on the left - maybe a witch, obviously a dog lover. There were dark Puritan tales of Boye being protected by evil magic - I hope he had some form of money-back guarantee clause in there.

Like every ECW newbie ever, I have been pondering the idea of adding a suitably sized Boye lookalike to my Prince Rupert figure (one of the few celebs who made it to Lancashire), but am now thinking that the idea, while cute, is likely to pall after about two weeks. I think Lord Byron made it to Lancs as well, so I could give him a parrot - no, on balance that might be a tad controversial. Most of the high-profile Royalist generals gave Lancashire a miss, apparently, because they didn't care for black pudding and couldn't play the ukulele.

My second picture, below, suggests that it is likely that Boye met his end through being trampled on, which is less glorious than stopping a bullet but still unforgivingly terminal.


My few days in Liverpool went well - a good balance of the familiar and the new, with some good food and beer. By a complete coincidence, my visit coincided with the announcement of the Hillsborough findings. I refuse to say anything at all about Hillsborough, apart from the fact that the findings - while still deeply upsetting - are exactly in line with what has been common knowledge on Merseyside for 23 years.

Now I am getting my kit and my knees ready for the assault on Hadrian's Wall - we assemble at base camp on Wednesday. Because this is only incidentally a sightseeing tour, it seems likely at the moment that we won't have the time or energy to get to Vindolanda, which is a bit out of our way (off the wall?...), which would be a shame - I'm working on it. This is the time at which I suddenly realise that my back-pack is in a very bad state and may need to be replaced. And then there's my socks...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Hooptedoodle #64 - A Little Holiday


On the whole, I much prefer the conflict in my life to be restricted to the wargames table.

Although I enjoy my occasional Hooptedoodle rants on this humble blog, they are normally intended to deflate through humour, and as often as not – when it comes down to it – it is me or my own inability to cope with the changing times that is the real butt of that humour.

Outside of the blog, my recent saga of attempting to do business with Falcata Miniatures has been a disappointment. Not a big deal – really not a matter of any importance at all, in the overall scheme of things, but it has made me more fed up than I would have expected. I like my toy soldiers and my little wars to be a happy place, not another source of stress, and not a reason to fall out with anyone. The episode is closed now, but it will take a little while to get the sunshine back up to full brightness – wargaming and soldier collecting are rather touchy areas for me, it seems.

I’ve also been getting a few strange, hostile emails again and the odd torpedo in my blog comments. I would rather not think of myself as thin-skinned – my self-indulgent way of expressing myself probably means that I deserve to have people shoot back occasionally, and normally I would enjoy the exchange. Some of this stuff is disturbing, though. Since my blog writings are not fired by any dark intent, and (especially) since they are of no real consequence at all, I would have hoped that anyone who came across them and was irritated would simply move on and read something else. It comes as a surprise when someone takes the trouble to explain to me, in detail, what an asshole I am.

Must keep the thing in proportion. I have made some very good friends through blogging, and I’ve learned a great deal and received a lot of real help. It has all been overwhelmingly positive, but I think I – and the world at large – could maybe do with a bit of a holiday from Prometheus. Next week I shall be away on a short trip to visit the city of my childhood, and the week after that will be my walk along Hadrian’s Wall. I expect I’ll put something here about The Wall, but in the meantime this station will close down to give the transmitter a rest. I’ll still check incoming comments, and if anyone else wants copies of the pdf files for the C&C-style ECW game please do get in touch – it might take me a few days to get back to you, but I will.


On a completely different theme, I’ve been asked a couple of times why Prometheus in Aspic anyway? – does it mean something? Is it simply the most pretentious name I could come up with?

Not sure, to be honest. I’ve always had a very soft spot for the Promethean legend – the idea of someone who did his best and was tortured for it is an easy one to be moved by. The portrayal of Napoleon as Prometheus is something of a cliché, but there may be a trace of that association in there. It is also possible – though I would rather not think about it too much – to identify with Prometheus at a personal level. The truth of the matter, as I remember it, comes from when I was trying to set the blog up in the first place. I had so little success finding available names that were anything like what I had in mind that in the end I went for something that was so unlikely and so stupid that it hadn’t been used before!


Thursday, 6 September 2012

Spanish Uniforms on Alfons Canovas' Blog

Cazadores of the 1st Bn Voluntarios de Valencia, Oct 1811

It's a bit feeble to produce a blog post which merely points to someone else's blog, but Alfons Canovas, on what must be the finest military uniform blog in the entire cosmos, has produced more marvels for us. For fans of the Peninsular War, like me, there are some wonderful plates of Spanish troops in his last 3 posts, and the series appears to be continuing. If you are not a regular visitor to Alfons' blog, then do yourself a favour and go and have a look at this latest post and start working backwards - make sure you have a comfortable chair, some coffee and plenty of time...

Without any apology, I reproduce the illustration of Valencian light troops - a rare enough sight - as a taster, if only to share with Mr Kinch one authoritative solution for how to dress their officers!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

ECW - C&C Based Rules


Over on his lovely ECW blog, Lee has published the first working version of the ECW rules which we have developed, based on Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. These have still to be properly playtested, so are likely to change a bit over coming weeks. My ECW armies are not big enough to playtest anything at all yet, so such testing as I have done has been attempted with counters on the original C&CN board.

These are the rules which came from the sketches and preliminary posts I did while on holiday (here, here, here and here), and it is only correct to thank Ross, Martin, Ludovico, Pjotr, John C, Allen De Vries and - most of all - Lee himself for suggestions and discussion which helped to shape them and make sense of them. The biggest debt of all, of course, is to Richard Borg and the guys at GMT for the original C&CN game. The extra Chaunce Cards pack also shows the influence of Tony Bath, Doc Monaghan and The Perfect Captain among a host of others - if anyone detects some of their own intellectual property in there anywhere then thanks very much - you have always been a hero of mine...

Once again, bear in mind this game is just an amateur-produced freebie - I intend to use Victory without Quarter rules as well as these, but I strongly fancied the logical feel and quick cycle time of a Richard Borg-style game for the ECW, so am pleased to have been able to get a prototype game together. If and when Mr Borg produces his mooted 30YW period C&C game, I shall be happy to see our little effort blown without trace into the undergrowth.

The Command and Chaunce cards exist as pdf sheets which can be printed and cut out, and they are designed (when the playtesting suggests that they are pretty stable) to be laminated in 95mm x 65mm laminating pouches.

This is really only a fun game intended for Lee and myself, but if anyone would like pdfs for the extensions to the C&CN rule set and for the two packs of cards, please send me a comment with your email address (mention if you don't want it published) or email me through my Blogger profile. What you will get will be the latest version - there won't be any ongoing customer support (!), though naturally I'll be very pleased to get feedback or suggestions if anyone wishes to contribute them. Please, though, don't bother to take the trouble to tell me that it is not as good as Forlorn Hope, or that I am an idiot - I already know these things.

Late edit: I hope the following links to Google Docs work for you - if not, please let me know - you should be able to download the extension to the basic C&CN rules, the Command Cards and the Chaunce Cards - if you do not have the C&CN rules they are available for download from GMT Games' website.    

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Klutz’s Guide to Flag Texturing

Plain, untextured, “flat” flag

I’ve been drawing and printing my own wargaming flags for a few years now. It’s fun, it’s cheap, you can print them whatever size you want, and it doesn’t matter if you mess one up during the fiddly job of gluing them onto 20mm scale flagpoles – just print another!

Recently I’ve started doing some ECW flags, which – again – is fun, but the flags tend to be more plain than the Napoleonic ones I’ve done before, and the commercial stuff you can buy (and the best of the freebie downloads that are available) look all the better for a bit of texturing. Three personal observations about texturing:

(1) A mixture of textured and untextured flags on the battlefield doesn’t look good

(2) ECW flags were taffeta (which is sort of silk), so it is not going to be possible to get that effect by curling the paper flags a bit at the corners

(3) Although I’ve played around with graphics tools for years, I’ve never found out how to do textured flags. There are tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere which I’ve sat through, but they are always presented by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, and mostly I don’t even understand the jargon they use. If someone mentions “layered objects” or “the feathering tool” I find my attention starts to wander.

So I’ve produced some pleasing, but plain, flat flags, and I’d really like to be able to use some ready made ones as well, so I set myself I little objective – I have Photoshop 7, why not learn how to do texturing? Then I would be able to mix my own flags and other people’s with cheerful abandon. First big help here was that one of my grown-up sons does a lot of graphic design as part of his job, so I commissioned him to come up with a short tutorial which even I could understand.

And he delivered. I felt it might be a nice idea to share my new knowledge here – if you wish to have a go then you will need Photoshop or some graphic editor of similar functionality – what follows explains the job in terms of Photoshop. I will mention some types of graphic files, but only because I need to, not because I’m an enthusiast. OK?

The first picture, at the top of this post, is a flat flag called YellowTest. My flags are 1270 pixels wide by 600 pixels high, as it happens, which – as you will see – gives me a wraparound flag with a bit of sleeve in the middle (to go around the pole). If you want to try this out, right click on the flag picture, choose “open in a new window”, then – when the big version opens up – right click on it again and select “save image as”. That will give you a full size copy of my flat YellowTest flag, called YellowTest.jpg


Texture Samples

Now you need a texture sample – you can easily find good examples on the internet. You need one that has the right sort of look, isn’t too violently textured (if it looks like it has come out of the washing machine spin cycle, don’t use it). You also need one that isn’t watermarked, and is large enough to have decent resolution. At this stage, it doesn’t matter much what file format it uses, either, though it will have to be in Photoshop psd format before we finish with it. Oh – and it doesn’t matter what colour it is, as long as it is only a single colour.

You need to download your texture sample, and you will need to crop out a piece which is about the shape of one half of your flag – try to get a fairly calm side edge where the pole will be. I’ve supplied one here – it is the texture for the right hand side (or obverse) of my flag, and I’ve chosen a calm side for my left hand (pole) edge. I’ve resized it (that’s “Resample” in Paintshop Pro) so that it is 635 pixels by 600 (half-flag sized), made it grayscale, and darkened it a lot more than you would expect – it’s important that there is no white at all left in the texture sample, or you get some very strange highlighting effects in the final flag.

Right (obverse)

Righto – first really nerdy bit. Because Blogger does not allow me to put a psd-type image file on here for download, I’ve had to upload it as a bog standard jpg, but otherwise it is correct. If you download it (same way as for the flag image), you will have to open it up in Photoshop and then save it again as a psd file – keep the name the same, just choose psd as the file type when you save it. My file is called Flagtexture1_R.jpg (for Right).

[By the way, the small versions of the images on this blog post will not be to a constant scale – Blogger makes the images the same size – but the big versions you download will be fine. That is why the half-flag texture samples on this screen are not half as big as the full-flag one.]

Left (reverse)

The next thing I had to do was to produce a mirror image of my texture for the other side of the flag – here it is. It is Flagtexture1_L.jpg (L for Left), but you’ll have to resave it as Flagtexture_L.psd using Photoshop. Keep both the Left and Right versions. Next step is to make a big new blank image, say 2000 pixels square and white, and carefully copy and paste the right-hand texture and the left-hand one next to each other, so that the left one is on the left (duh!) and the join is the calm edge. I cropped it and resized it back to 1270 x 600, and I’ve now got the full flag texture file. The downloadable one is called Flagtexture1.jpg, but again you need to re-save it from Photoshop as Flagtexture1.psd. Here is my version.

Full texture pattern


Textured Version of the Flag

My flag – just textured

In Photoshop open up both YellowTest.jpg (the flat, basic flag) and Flagtexture1.psd and click on the Flagtexture window – from the menus at the top, choose Select > All and a dotted rectangle will appear around the edge of the texture image. Now choose Edit > Copy.

Click on the flag image, and then choose Edit > Paste, and your yellow flag will suddenly look exactly like the texture sample.

Now the clever bit – on the right hand side of the Photoshop screen you will see a series of little editing screens, and the bottom one should have a tab with the word Layers displayed on it.


There is a little pull down menu on that bit, which will probably say Normal. Click on that pull-down and select Hard Light. And you will get a nasty mix of the two images. There are two slider controls in that same area of the screen for Opacity and Fill – adjust them to 50 and 50 and things will look much better. Try 80 and 40. When you are happy with the textured flag, save it under a new name as a jpg file.


Displaced and Textured Version of the Flag

Displaced and Textured

The textured flag is fine – that is what most of the downloadable stuff is. There is an additional step you can take to distort the pattern a little, so that the ripples on the flag show both in the lighting and in a slight stretching of the pattern.

We have to do the distortion before we do the texturing. Now it would be nice if you could do this for the whole flag in one go, but unfortunately the distortion will probably cause the middle of the flag to shift a bit, which will give odd results when you try to fold it around the pole. So we have to do it as two halves – which is why it is good we kept the Right and Left halves of the texture files.

Open up the original YellowTest.jpg in Photoshop, choose the pointer tool (you should get a little cross for your cursor), and draw a rectangle to select the right hand side of the flag – doesn’t matter too much if the middle is not quite exact, as long as you get the whole of the right hand side.

Now if you choose Filters > Distort > Displace a little menu appears. Keep the settings at 10 and 10 with 'stretch to fit' and 'repeat end pixels' highlighted.

Photoshop will then open a new window looking for a file to use for the displacement. Select the Flagtexture1_R.psd file you saved, and something a bit nasty will happen to the right half of the flag.

Now choose Select > Inverse and the other half will be highlighted. Go through the Filters > Distort > Displace bit again – just the same, but select Flagtexture1_L.psd this time. Your flag is now definitely looking a bit distressed.

Now choose Select > Deselect (so that the next job is done to the whole flag), and open up the full texture file Flagtexture1.psd. The rest of the job is the texturing, exactly as I described it above – copying and pasting the texture pattern on top of the (distressed) flag, then working with the Hard Light option in the Layers window and adjusting the sliders to 50/50 (or whatever you prefer). Job done – save your finished flag as a jpg under whatever name you like. You can lighten/darken it or alter the contrast to taste, and you can even use a Blur filter to soften the wrinkles a bit if you want – that is getting into the realms of playing with it.

I do not want to get into online support here, but if anything really doesn’t work get back to me.