I think my first and only trip to GenCon was in 1994 or something. It was still in Milwaukee. West End Games was there, and I got to see Timothy Zahn and the WEG designers talk about Star Wars. Was cool.

Now, many (too many) years later, I’m GenCon bound again. I am kinda losin’ my mind about it.

First, the good: I’m playing in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG first-game experience with Sean Punch. That was a Kickstarter reward, and I expect it to be a hoot.

Next, the freakout. And while normally I’m good with crowds and pressure, this feels different.

  1. I’m a member of the IGDN and working the booth. I’m hoping that goes well, although there are things about it that are not optimal, it’ll be a good way to interact with a ton of folks coming by the booth, pitch my and others’ stuff, and see how things go.
  2. I’m running two games, the Grappling Smackdowns.
  3. The adventure I will run isn’t quite done yet. And I realized how much stuff I’d IDEALLY like to have to run a game (maps, tokens, lots of dice, all sorts of stuff) and how much I rely on my computer to run games these days.
  4. It’s been a while since I’ve GM’d at all; it’s been a while since I’ve GM’d 5e or Dragon Heresy in playtest, and that was with a very well-trusted group.
  5. I’m on a panel for the first time ever. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience yadda yadda yadda. But my demo session isn’t nearly as complete as I want it to be (of course, I would have ideally finished it a month ago an playtested it eight times with eight groups), and my not-GenCon/not-writing schedule is packed today and tomorrow.

So . . . feelin’ queasy.

In my search for a method of making training swords that have the right feel, I’ve tried a bunch of things. Laminating wood together, drilling out for rods, and a few different woods (oak, ash, hard maple). I have, perhaps, finally found a method that hits the right notes.

This is a second crafting-and-weapons related post for the day. Figured I’d get ’em out of my system.

The first cool thing was making weapons out of purely hard maple. This is a remarkable wood, with a hardness of 1450 on the Janka scale – nearly twice as hard as its softer relatives. It’s 10-30% more dense, depending on what particular variety of maple you’re dealing with, as well, as the soft maple. Relative to common red oak, it’s the same density (44 lbs per cubic foot) and 20% harder. Relative to (white) ash, used in baseball bats: white ash is 42 lbs per cubic foot, and 1320 on the Janka scale. Hickory? Yeah, while there are a bunch of woods mixed together and sold as generic “hickory,” the true hickory woods like shagbark hickory are 50 lbs per cubic foot and 1,880 Janka.

As a by-the-way, the Janka rating is how many pounds of force it takes to drive a spherical ball .444″ in diameter into wood to half it’s depth (full diameter, then). Why .444″? No idea.

Anyway, that’s why hickory is king of the axe handles.

But two weapons are in discussion now. The first is my Training Sword Mk 5.

That one’s simply cut out of hard maple as a blank, rounded with a 3/8″ roundover bit, and sanded. The trick here was to see if I could carve a curved crossguard, for embellishment. Turns out I can. This sword masses about 550g, and has a 3.25″ grip for the pinch. I also cut the blade down from the model from about 30.5 inches down to 29″, which made it work better for my height. This one is now my personal training sword, mostly because of aesthetics.

The second was Training Sword Mk 6. This one was another laminate construction: 1/2″ ash core, with 1/8″ ash top and bottom pieces. I also embedded a 1/2 x 1 x 4″ piece of C360 brass near the base of the blade. That moved the center of balance about halfway between pure wood and an actual steel sword. The weight of the complete weapon is pushing 725g at the moment, and will increase a bit when I add a simple square cross-guard. The pommel could use more rounding; it cuts into the hand a bit. This particular sword is too big for me; it’s really designed for folks who are 6’2″ to 6’6″ in height. But the balance and pivot points are much closer to steel, while being roughly 75% the mass of an actual steel blade of the same dimensions.

Of course, I tried to get clever and carve a fuller into the second blade using a cove bit on my router. That . . . did not go well. I have an up-cut bit that went better (opposite side) and I know what I’ll do if I feel the need to embellish in that way in the future. In the meantime, it lets me show off the embedded brass.

This makes it an excellent training tool to build grip strength and correct motion dynamics without having to worry about 1,000 custom swords. There are many Viking-style, or rather, Frankish-style swords; most are not built to historical weight and dimension, as their grips are too long and the weight is too high, or the balance isn’t quite right. My instructor is an expert weaponsmith, and makes his own; I’m sure there are some out there that are right . . . but their creators rightfully know that they are and charge accordingly.

Thus for both reasons of economy and safety, I want to make wooden swords of various sizes.

I have a couple ideas for Mk 7 and maybe Mk 8, but that’s going to involve a spreadsheet. In particular, I want to break a hypothetical sword down into “weight from balance point to blade tip,” which will also account for the size of the blade, and give a “weight per inch” in that region. Then the same for the blade from balance point to crossguard, then the crossguard and pommel, which are typically solid chunks of steel, and a bit for the handle (which will be done by subtraction, as the composition is tang+wood handle).

That will let me scale the weight down by 25%, figure out how much metal I need to add in each segment, and balance accordingly. This will allow me to custom-craft swords of different sizes, from a short blade that might be a child’s weapon, to the beefy blades I make above. I might also see if I can find a nice model for a long seax that might be fun.

This is more than just aesthetics. A properly balanced blade proxy will teach the right motions and muscle memory for casting blows and casting thrusts. It will have enough mass to build strength while not allowing motions that you can do with a 200-250g “magic wand” that is too thin and too light and can be used inappropriately during training.

So, once I get past GenCon, I will sit down and create my crafting spreadsheet, and having found a good method for building these things, I will start the process of making enough for the instructor cadre to work the hell out of. Once we all find them worthy . . . I’ll probably set about replacing the rest of the training wands with something that looks like a real sword. It’s both more useful and more satisfying to train with a weapon that looks like a weapon.

My instructor brought a new authentic shield he’d finished to the pre-game show (so to speak) for Circus Juventas. The summer show, Nordrsaga (or more precisely, Norðrsaga) is strongly Viking and Old Norse themed, so the Circus reached out to Asfolk so we could provide a bit of pre-show entertainment. We teach brief lessons in sword and shield, and let folks throw axes.

Anyway, his shield is thin (historically thin) basswood, with an oak handle. It’s made of 4″ butted planks affixed with hide glue, has a spectacular hand-forged iron boss, and is faced on one side with parchment, as well as having non-stitched edge wrapping of the same parchment material. It’s very light.

But I want to focus on the handle. It was a D-shape, and for all the carving and special “ergonomic” handles I’ve been creating, well, our ancestors knew what they were doing. 

I should have figured this. I’ve used that line rather more than once myself. But that D-shaped grip, with the flat base and the rounded top (flat goes to the inside of the boss) really helps you keep the shield on line, and is much more comfortable than I’d have thought.

So I’ll re-cut my new shield with the D-shaped handle, and keep in mind as I re-create the equipment, once again: when it comes to blood and death, our ancestors were not stupid.

Based on a long-standing “I should probably see this, because I enjoyed the Sly movie well enough, played the RPG once, and love Karl Urban in just about anything” desire to watch this one, I was finally nudged over the edge by a recommendation on G+.

So I watched it last night.

Dredd as played by Karl Urban was a bit more multidimensional than I’d have thought. I was surprised a bit by his “be gone when I get back” line to the beggar. I also didn’t get quite the level of fear of the Judges that was conveyed to me in the RPG.

I played this once in High School, and our GM told us after a long, drawn-out shootout that had we just shouted out “OK, SKEGS! WE ARE THE LAW!! PUT YOUR FACES ON THE FLOOR OR FACE SUMMARY EXECUTION” that we could have likely bypassed the entire shootout due to pure primal fear. That was my only real exposure to the source material.

Otherwise, impressions:

I did not find any completely egregious, oh-my-god-no mistakes with firearms handling or technology. Most weapons other than the (um) LawGiver pistols were conventional. The tactics used by the Judges weren’t completely idiotic, though they could have paid more attention to Apone from Aliens (“Watch those corners!”) in the Peach Trees maze.

The basic plot – escape from a sealed deathtrap – was entertainingly simple, and gave the actors a chance to work with a known environment and explore it well. When the doors came down in the beginning, I found myself thinking – OK. That’s one way to go. But it worked for the movie, and was an important part for avoiding the usual pitfalls: why didn’t they call for backup? They tried. Why didn’t they just leave? They couldn’t. Why couldn’t they just turn off the building? It was actively under control by the Enemy. Why didn’t the bad guy magic users use their own spells against the PCs? They did. Constantly.

I found Mega City One utterly believable, in that it was not wall-to-wall dystopia and dark, and many scenes could have been (and clearly were) set in any modern-day cityscape.

There were giant buildings 2x the height of the old World Trade Center (which was 110 floors, IIRC from memory) but many times larger in cross-section. Note that the quoted population of Peach Trees was 75,000 folks. Unbelievable? Not at all. It’s only 375 folks per floor, and if the average dwelling is 3.75 occupants (for easy math), that’s only 100 units per floor, or 100,000 square feet if each unit was, on the average, a two-bedroom place similar to a NYC apartment. Seem huge? It’s only 100 yards on a side. The World Trade Center was about 70 yards on a side and was half the height.

The buildings of Mega City One seem to basically be three cubes stacked on top of each other. If a story is 10′, more or less, and Peach Trees was 200 floors high (plus some superstructure which we’ll ignore for now), that means that the sideways dimension is on the order of 665′, or 200m on a side and 600m tall. It’s hollow-core, but even allowing for that, we’re likely looking at 30,000 square meters per floor, or about six million square meters, or 65 million square feet. That’s 865 square feet per occupant, suggesting that someone did their homework here. That’s either very, very large apartments (unlikely), or a density artificially lowered by it being taken over by a horrid criminal gang.

Loved the part of rookie Judge Anderson, though there were one or two moments where I thought her powers were conveniently forgotten (but then again, distractions happen). Her plot arc was much more evolutionary than Dredd’s, of course – he’s the established character, and she’s the newbie. She gets the most room to prove herself and change, which – spoilers – she does.

Lena Heady was credibly bonkers as the primary bad guy. She showed evidence of not being stupid, which was good, and combined at least some sense of long-term planning with a “social compact” score in the negative range. Utterly amoral and vicious, and reminiscent of a female joker without the makeup (though with the bloodstained smile).

All in all, it was an enjoyable film, though not one to watch with the squeamish. There’s a lot of blood and slow-motion (or perhaps Slo-Mo?) scenes of bullet impacts and spouting squibs. I’d enjoy watching Urban and Olivia Thirlby reprise their respective roles.

I’ve been building a lot of shields recently.

Part of this is just because I like working with wood. The crafting aspect of it is very satisfying, and is more visceral than blogging, obviously. But it started with me doing research for Dragon Heresy. I’ve always been skeptical of the bonuses from shields in D&D, and the AC bonus from 5e is nothing to write home about. You carry a shield and get a bit of a boost . . . and maybe you can do some fun things, but mostly not.

GURPS gives more versatility, and a nice defense bonus that +2 takes a defense roll of 8-, or 25% chance of success, to 10-, which is 50%, which doubles the odds of a successful defense. Of course, the benefit changes with the skill and equipment of both combatants, but basically, the 3d6 curve makes a +2 bonus a reasonably big deal, the equivalent of about +5 in the flat-curved d20 distribution, or the equivalent of giving disadvantage on attack rolls when attacking into the shield.

Huh. That’s not bad, actually.

But I digress.

Actually, I don’t digress. While the martial arts classes are cool (and that’s one of the reasons I keep doing them), the reason I did it in the first place was to get a personal feel on what a shield does for you, how you use it, and how much protection they can actually provide.

Viking Shields

The first thing to clarify here is that this discussion is only about shields modeled after those that were said to have been in use from about 700AD through 1000AD. These are fairly interesting in their construction and dimensions . . . but “these” has an issue, and that issue is that there is substantial dearth of evidence on what these things actually were. Continue reading “Vikings, Shields, and Game Rules”

I finished thinning down the shield in Viking Shield, part 2, and then it was time to see if I could get the handle carved and attached.

I had started with a basic design intent – a tapered handle that would lift up a bit to accommodate my hand, and be slightly offset from the center so that the shield would rotate around my wrist rather than the center of the grip. My instructor provided me with a 2″ x 2″ x 36″ piece of basswood (which I cannot for the life of me find online or elsewhere; I think he conjured it), and started fiddling with concepts, and then just took the plunge and attacked it with a jigsaw.

I tapered the thing from left to right, making the roughly trapezoidal top-down look. Then I again cut a tapered profile from end to middle.

For the handle, I decided that I wanted to try something: I would leave the spine centered on the thickest part of the circle, but offset the handle by a bit by carving. It wouldn’t be quite as offset as above, but it would give maximum reinforcement of the shield while accommodating the grip.

Then, I designed an ergonomic handgrip that would be friendly to grasp, and be symmetric so that when the shield gets reversed in my hand (which happens constantly), it would still be a friendly grip. It’s got a large radius where it fits into my palm, and a short one where my fingers wrap around it, and then it’s mirrored on the other side.

At my instructor’s suggestion, I carved this into a piece of scrap first. It felt great. So, mission accomplished there, and it was time to finish up the handle. I used a hand-held drawknife for the rough shaping, and an orbital sander for finish.

Continue reading “Viking Shield – Part 3 (handle and assembly)”

Made a bunch of progress on the viking shield.

I thinned down the entire thing – it was far, far too much work with a router, but all the drawknives I have access to are flat rather than curved, and I’d need one with some curve to it in order to shave off of a flat piece. I’ll need some specialized carving tools if I’m going to do this by hand in the future. Also, start with 3/8″ basswood sheets, which are less expensive: a shield for me would be $57 in materials for this one, rather than the $73 with the half-inch stock. And much, much less to remove – taper from full-thickness in the middle by 1/8″ to the edge ought to do it.

I did make a fairly collossal mistake, though – a “measure twice, cut once” fail. I used my string-radius technique to mark the hole in the shield but really should have measured the absolute radius with a tape measure. As it is, the shield boss I have is a bit too small for the hole. Arthur tells me it should be possible to flatten the boss and widen the flange a bit, both, of which will get me the extra maybe spread I need. I can also look around for wider bosses. The ideal hole would have been 6″ in diameter; I got 7.25″, so I need to spread the thing by quite a bit.

Still: rookie mistake. Continue reading “Viking Shield, part 2”

As part of my research and interest in Viking culture and fighting that I developed when researching Dragon Heresy, I got involved with Asfolk, a Viking re-creationist martial arts and crafting group (mostly martial arts, but the instructor Arthur is also a traditional weaponsmith and has done some pretty cool experimentation).

They’ve got lots of equipment, but one of the things that’s encouraged is to make your own. I finally got a good start on that this weekend, as some of the pieces of what will become a viking shield came in, and I finally have/took the time to get going.


I ordered a basic shield boss from Viking Shield: the semi-conical Shield boss, for $20.

I also procured 6 half-inch thick, 6″ (true) x 36″ basswood planks. This cost basically $75.

Note that a plywood shield with this boss costs $100 or so. The only shield made of actual planks on that site is poplar, not basswood, and costs over $600. A 4′ x 4′ plywood sheet made of alder (which will be large enough to make yourself a shield if you’re over 6′ tall) costs $45 or so, so if you want a plywood shield, just get a boss, a handle, and save $30-40 and it’ll be sized for just you.

Anyway, I still need a handle; the handle on the Danish two-handed axe from Arms and Armor seems like a nice fit, but I will likely see if I can procure a nice hardwood (hickory or ash) piece of lumber about (true) 1″ x 1.5-2″, and cut it down to provide the required stiffening, as well as a handle more tailored to my needs. I’m going to maybe make a bit of a D-section oval, with a few flats for my fingers and thumb, and oriented a bit more like the weapon it is. Continue reading “Making a Viking Shield”

As always, my family hit Comic Con in Minneapolis. We have, for the last two or three years, made it kind of a thing, where we go all three days. That wasn’t in the cards this year, since my wife was in Chicago having a meet-up with an old friend, and for a while it very much looked like few folks of interest were coming.

But . . . that changed a bit, and we made plans to pick up Alina from the airport, and go directly to the con. My daughter picked an unusual hero this time – Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire, probably since she’s been watching the Green Lantern animated series, but she’s got very good breadth of knowledge for a 7yo in both Marvel and DC, so even without that, perhaps she’d have landed there.

The costume was fairly simple – purple leotard and tights, and iron-on inkjet heat transfers. I put too much heat on the first attempt at the blaze , and so my details washed out. She didn’t care. The embellishment I did for her abdomen was modeled from a champion female fitness model with great abs, used as a mask to outline a purple nebula image taken at high resolution from Hubble. With more time, I’d have put armor places on her thighs, knees, and gloves (which we had but she left at school, alas).

Go-Go’s Wonder Woman costume is off-the-shelf.

Anyway, we went, and the kids got to knock around for a few hours. They always love it, but the convention had been laid out differently this year . . . in order to (seemingly to me) hide the fact that it was freakin’ tiny. Far fewer artists and crafters there, so you could walk the floor for a half-hour or an hour, at most, and see everything. Especially since there were some repeats – three booths selling the same “sword-like object” video game replica weapons.

Anyway, while hopefully next year all four of us will have a theme for costumes, this year we went autograph hunting. Continue reading “Brief Visit to ComicCon Minneapolis (Wizard World)”

Not too much going on.

It’s ComicCon (technically Wizard World Minneapolis) this weekend, and unlike most times when we spend the entire weekend there, my family was helter-skelter this weekend, with my wife in Chicago, me needing to attend a few Viking planning sessions to build curriculum for classes, and generally playing single-dad with young kids in activities. Plus the toddler/preschooler being . . . her charming self when balked.

This phase really can’t end soon enough.

Anyway, I did see minor progress on the game building front. Venture Beyond saw some discussion, and Michael continues to work art for the covers in the background. His prelim sketch and coloring work is very much in the Dungeon Grappling style of brushing, but obviously different subject material. My feedback to him was very brief, ’cause he’s on point with nearly everything. One comment about how to hold an axe (and I need to get him a reference picture) for fighting, one more about foot position when using a viking shield, and a suggestion but not a correction on a dwarf spear-tip. One comment about overall coloration. But it’s going to look good, and I can’t wait to see how the final covers turn out.

Still waiting for writing and editing on both projects.

Otherwise, it’s about time to go swoon and blush and act like a complete fanboy in front of Charisma Carpenter, and introduce my daughter(s) to Nichelle Nichols. My wife will probably have palpitations over John Barrowman (fortunately for me, he’s not his character).