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

Friday, 17 February 2017

Scenery Scales - Quick Sanity Check...

Different period, same problem - the troops look OK with buildings in a slightly
compressed vertical scale, but the greatly compressed horizontal scale means that
they are always crammed into far too little space. 
While I was constructing my representation of Newcastle, on Wednesday, I observed that the number of towers on the contemporary map is far higher than in my simplified model. Of course, I would expect this, but my attention was caught by a comment in one of my books - it refers to the medieval walls being built in accordance with "best practice of the pre-gunpowder age" - in particular, adjacent towers should be within bowshot of each other, to provide adequate cover.

This reminded me that I had previously run a ruler over my "15mm" Vauban defensive pieces (different period, same idea, similar logic) and been delighted to observe that the lengths of the bastion faces, the straight walls and all that matched up well with the official best-practice numbers out of Chris Duffy's Fire & Stone, which is most convenient, yet a little puzzling in view of the fact that my wargames, like most people's, are a mish-mash of different scales. In short, I'm pleased it works out, but by rights it probably shouldn't, so I had another think about it. There is something conceptually different about grouping representative clusters of buildings into a given area (the area is correct, but the number of houses is not) and placing a wall or a gate (the wall, or the gate - there was only one) in its correct place.

Let's see now - my soldiers are roughly 1/72 scale - what in a more innocent age we used to refer to as "true 25mm" (a phrase as smug as it was meaningless). To help a little with the look of the thing, I use 15mm scale buildings - 15mm is about 1/100 scale, which is the old TT model railway gauge, so the buildings are deliberately undersized compared with the men, but the distortion in the vertical scale is not too bad, and the saving in footprint size (and cost of the buildings!) more than compensates. As I've said before, a small cluster of small houses, to me, looks more convincingly like a village than a single 1/72 scale building. Whatever, I am comfortable with it, though it doesn't suit everyone.

When we speak of scale distortions, of course, all this fades into insignificance against the appalling liberties we take with horizontal distances. My ground scale - the one against which my Vauban bits and my medieval fortifications all fit tolerably well - is one 7-inch hex represents 200 paces. A bit of finger-in-the-air rounding gets us to something like 1/900 scale. So I use 1/72 men, 1/100 buildings and a 1/900 ground scale. Hmmm.

I was looking at the PaperTerrain website, and they offer pdf files of groundplan templates for (for example) a Vauban fort. Scaled appropriately to make the heights fit with 15mm, these templates are massive compared with my little fortification models. This is not a surprise, really, but it always takes me aback when I see it. It's OK - I understand it - the models of town walls and bastions and so on are not the sort of objects you "cluster" to represent a more numerous group. There was a wall, and there was a bastion, and they were here, and they are expected to fit the map and the tabletop - the matter of how many towers, of course, is not quite the same thing, but to get some version of the town of Newcastle to sit sensibly in a realistic footprint requires some cheating. The walls are the right height for 15mm (1/100 - which is not too unreasonable for 1/72 scale toy soldiers), but they are the right length for 1/900 - and yet it looks all right. I am forced to assume that, by luck or accident, the manufacturers have used the same numbers as I do, and their compromise works for me. If I used proper, proportional 1/900 scale walls then the soldiers would be in danger of tripping over them, and that really would be laughable.

So I've thought about it, yet again, and it works out all right - yet again. I knew it would, yet it is reassuring. I'll have to remember to check it all again in a few weeks. We all need all the reassurance we can get.


Late Edit, following Archduke Piccolo's comment:

This is an alternative map, an extract from a sketch plan prepared by Sir Jacob Astley in 1639. I have reproduced this by photographing it from Charles Sanford Terry's The Life and Campaigns of Alexander Leslie - a book which I have enjoyed immensely and which I was terrified I would wreck if I opened it wide enough to put it on the scanner! It shows the suburbs outside the Newgate and Pilgrim Street Gate, and also at Sandgate on the river, and gives a fascinating key to how it was proposed to place the artillery to defend the place. Note that Astley's 1000 foot scale is a bit different from the 200 pace scale shown in the William Mathew map I included in my previous post. I do not claim that one map is more accurate than the other - Mathew's is derived from John Speed's map, while Astley was the man who had to prepare Newcastle for defence against the Scots during the Bishop's War(s).


  1. Checking back to the map of Newcastle, it seems that the whole 'footprint' of the town and its walls would fit into an area roughly two hexes by three according to 1 hex to 200 paces. You would certainly have to cut down on the number of wall-towers! The street plan (if one is required) would have to be simplified - cartooned almost - as well.

    1. Agreed - based on Mathew's map in my previous post, the northern bit of Newcastle, the part I have put on the table, should be about 4 hexes wide by about 3 deep, so I have introduced yet another distortion by measuring it inaccurately! I have now added an extra map - it's in the red Late Edit section above - this is a sketch produced by Sir Jacob Astley in 1639 - his town is already a slightly different shape from Mathew's, but it's a sketch, so no matter(!) - his 1000 foot scale (and I'll take 1000 feet as being about 400 paces, or 2 hexes) makes the upper bit of the town 4 hexes wide. To give myself a little more room I've set the walls into the next hex beyond the built-up area, so my Newcastle is a bit big - it ends up at about 6 hexes wide, overall. So you're correct. I think I would struggle to conduct the game with less space, so I'll settle for that, I think.

      Interesting - do we believe these measurements? This was a town of about 11,000 people - maybe a little less when you deduct the folk who lived in the suburbs or elsewhere in the parish. This was the town which challenged Bristol at this time for the status of being regarded as the second city of England - the area on the maps seems astonishingly small! The reality must have been the same - the walled town, which comprised all of the defensible entity of Newcastle, now represents a small part of the modern city centre - these towns were very compact, even allowing for the elegant residences erected by the successful merchants.

      My cartoon is a bit oversized, then, but it still seems astonishing that we can consider representing most of England's second or third greatest town in such a small space!

    2. You are probably right to expand the size of the ground footprint to accommodate the size of your models. In a sense you create a kind of 'inbetween' scale between ground and figure scale.

      Years ago a friend laid out the Tarawa Atoll for a Command decision game. To make the thing work, he blew up the size of Betio Island, particularly its width. Seemed to work.

  2. I don't think your sanity is in danger. Well, any more than the rest of us, anyway.
    Look at any contemporary image of a mediaeval or renaissance siege - how in proportion are the figures, walls and buildings? I'm just looking at a picture of Henry VIIIs capture of Boulogne in 1544 and I reckon the soldiers are as tall as the walls. We are just keeping a style of renaissance art going into a later period.


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