Prelude

 

I’d been looking for a long time to find a source of very thin hide to try and face-and-back a shield. I had been told by my instructor at Asfolk Viking Martial Arts school that the evidence for a hide-faced shield was hit and miss; some were most likely raw wood, some were rimmed with hide and stitched, some may have been faced, etc. As with most things Viking, the relative paucity of physical artifacts means that every new find brings new and exciting information.

Nonetheless, if you’ve been following this blog at all, you’ve seen my learning the craft of making shields bit by bit, and that I also offer them for sale. One thing that always eluded me – mostly due to a lack of a good source for the hide – was the “parchment-thick” hide that my instructor says would have been used. I use goat hide claimed at 1 oz thickness (about 0.5mm thick) for the edges, but those hides are not large enough to cover a full-sized shield.

My existing “red” shield has been in use for quite a while now, and the edging, though one of my earlier trials, has held up well. I also made a pair of “three fox” shields, one as light as I could make it (less than 5 lbs!) of aspen, with a very light stainless steel boss (5 oz) so that the jarl of the Viking Encampment at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival could march with it, and a much more robust one of poplar, edged in deer hide, with a too-thick robust boss. Even so, that one came in at 7 lbs, which was several pounds lighter than her prior shield, which was too heavy for both performance and parade use.

Nonetheless, I wanted to try one of my own.

Continue reading “Crafting: Hide-faced Viking Shield Experiment”

Bit by bit, I’ve been working out how to improve my viking shields. My poplar edged shield that I made for myself is 5.75 lbs and about 34-34.5″ in diameter, and is still holding up strong after probably a year. Even so, there are issues with it that later commissions have fixed, but not for this one. It was my first attempt using goat hide for edging, and I hadn’t gotten the trick of keeping the edging flat and flush with the edges. The stitching is far too wide per stitch, and of course I re-used a boss that I had with a terribly wide flange, probably making the thing 1/2 lb heavier than it should be.

For all that, it’s a good shield. Still: I want to try a new one. Why? Read on. Continue reading “Viking Shield Upgrade Experiment”

I was on a lot of podcasts this week. All different. Our discussion with Eric F on “martial arts in old-school games” was a different type of discussion than the “get deep into the mechanical weeds” with Chris S. Matt and David were both very interested in specifics on shields, while the second part of my discussion with Derek was about getting into, and staying into, the game design space.

A friend of mine told me that he was impressed I managed to cover substantially the same general territory with enough differences to make each podcast worth listening to without being repetitive.

Of course, that has a lot to do with my hosts . . .

Podcast Palooza

Each of these is pretty worth listening to, even if I say so myself.

First, I was on The Established Facts with Derek Knutsen-Frey, whom I’ve gotten to know through the IGDN. We had a long chat divided in two parts: a bunch on Dragon Heresy, and then 45 minutes on game publishing as a business.

The always-awesome James Introcaso hosted me for a while on Table Top Babble, and we mostly talked about Dragon Heresy

Chris Sniezak and I got deep into the depths of the game mechanics

Jason Hobbs had me and Eric Farmer on at the same time, and our take was more broad. Can you do “martial arts” in Old-School systems? What does that even mean?

Matt Finch and I had a great chat, and he was absolutely enthusiastic about the materials, construction, and use of period weaponry, and egged me on effectively.

Finally, I was on with Nerdarchy Dave for a live discussion and chat, and I had a great time talking with him and taking questions

Derek Knutsen-Frey and I chatted a lot about Dragon Heresy in a prior interview. It was a great chat. We also spent another hour (ish) talking about the business of game design. Even if I do say so myself, it’s a very good discussion.

EPISODE 171 – DOUGLAS COLE DRAGON HERESY PART 2

Other links:

RPG Development Costs

Economizing on RPG Development Costs

An update: turns out I had more wood than I thought.

1x Poplar experiment. Could be up to 36″ in diameter, good for someone up to 6’4″ tall. 
2x 33.5″ aspen. Good for 5’5″ to 5’11”
4x 35.5″ aspen. Good for 5’9 to 6’3″ tall

The smaller shields are going to be donated to the Cyprus Classical Academy silent auction. I will paint one with the Cyprus Logo, and the other in purple, white, and gold, and call it Vikings Squared.

Leave a comment or drop me an email if you’re interested. Tons of pictures of prior examples below the break, as well as a few details on materials.

Continue reading “Shield Blanks waiting to be built”

You have seen a slowdown in the blog recently. This has been related to game production activity for Gaming Ballistic, LLC as a company, rather than as a blog.

Dragon Heresy

I’ve been furiously editing Dragon Heresy. I am determined to get this into shape this year, and by “in shape” I mean “into gamer’s hands.”

This will take two forms. The first is a product that will cover level 1-5, with limited selection of race (humans, dwarves, dragonborn, half-elves), and class (the classic four, limited clerical domains). Basic monster selection, plus humanoid foes of various persuasions. No new art to speak of, though I do have two or three dozen images from Dungeon Grappling, Lost Hall of Tyr, and some pre-purchased art for Dragon Heresy itself. The editing will be done by me. The rules will be stripped to the minimum needed to play the game.

This “ashcan” or “Basic” project will use the layout that Michael Clarke has developed, which is freakin’ gorgeous. It will likely use one of the covers for the book – probably the Book of Heroes – though I might take a GURPSy approach to it and make a cover with excerpts from the covers I’ve already got.

This will get things in front of people, and finally put Dragon Heresy in the public square for consumption. I think it’s a great SRD5.1 modification and playtesting went very well. The “ashcan” will not be a small book, but I’ll be shooting for maybe 128-160 pages. I’ll hopefully use the funds from that product to offset and accelerate the Big Set, mostly things I like to have done in advance, like professional editing, layout, and indexing.

From there, I will look to Kickstart the full three-volume set for art, and stuff as much as possible into the book.

I have big plans for Dragon Heresy and the core engine for the game, but none of that can start until it’s out there.

The Hunted Lands

The hunted lands will be a starter adventure that will support the Dragon Heresy game, and especially the Basic rules. I’ve got some great ideas in mind here, and the adventure will be geared towards starting adventurers.

I’ve got something like six to eight major concept axes that I’m working with, involving challenges from various factions within the game. Some involve internal politics in Torengar, most are external threats. The adventure is more a mini-setting or setting slice than anything else. Adventure seeds in a mapped-out locale, in the manner of the Midderlands or other books like it. Based on what I have in mind, this volume could easily be as large as the Basic rules themselves.

Lost Hall of Tyr

As of this writing, the last I heard from Publisher’s Graphics, the remaining physical books were at the bindery. This means both the covers and the interior have been successfully printed, and so “any day now” I expect to get notice that the books are shipping to me. I have already prepped the mailing boxes, and will print out the shipping content pages. I expect to have a fairly short “packing party” and then get the books to the backers. The European backers’ copies are already starting to arrive. The book is on sale on DriveThruRPG and has even made a few sales (I’ve not promoted it heavily yet; I want my print inventory in hand before I do that).

The only unfulfilled promises in the Kickstarter have to do with my two high-level backers that are getting character portraits done. Those are “due” by April, so there’s still plenty of time, and I’ll be getting that started quickly as we run into January.

Other Games, Other Authors, Other Products

I’ve mentioned David Pulver’s Venture Beyond before in these updates, and that is still being worked. I’ve also been in contact with two other game designers who have shown an interest in publishing through me, though it’s at the “hey, that’s interesting!” rather than “here’s a contract stage.”

I’m also going to be selling shields – hand-crafted by me – through my website to domestic customers. I’ve been pretty happy with the ones I’ve made recently, and they’re better than most of the others out there. Not all of them, but most of them.

Finally, you might start seeing some non-game reference works on the site, though I’m not sure if that’ll happen this year or not.

Blogging

There are only so many hours in the day, and editing a 400,000 word manuscript takes up most of them. I do have a few things in my noggin on GURPS that I want to write down, and it’s always fun to do reviews and whatnot. But right now, the push to get my own work out there really eats up “let’s write for fun” time.

Even so, GURPSDay needs a shot in the arm. We’ve got nearly 100 bloggers, but most of them don’t write each week, or even at all. I’m hoping to work with Christopher Rice to throw down some challenges and topics to encourage the group to get more out there. Some of that will be regular GURPS, some will be the various sub-lines of GURPS, and some will support the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Some of the more-regular features I used to do, though, will probably return. Monster Monday and GunDay are both things I can spend focused time on, and were quite popular.

Playing Games

I want to try and get into a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game – and right now there’s one brewing under Christopher’s helm. I’m slated to play in it, and we’ll see how that goes. With my schedule, I need something with a low out-of-game burden, and the last two games were not that.

I also would really like to get into a DnD5e or Swords and Wizardry game that plays regularly.

Ahead to 2018

My year-in-review for 2017 showed me that I did more last year than, by the end of the year, it felt like. My goals for this year are to increase the number of products I put out under my publishing imprint. In 2016 and 2017, I put out one each. This year, I wish to do at least two, and “one per quarter” would be a good goal. Eventually, I really need some sort of new release each month, but I don’t think that’s a 2018 goal. One thing that I have in mind is a gear catalog with an Etera flavor to it. Loadouts and equipment that make sense for the game, with the right theme and inspiration.

The blog needs a shot in the arm, and a regular “every other day or so” schedule is the best way to do that. So I’ll work there.

The “alternate projects” like creating shields will be interesting, and if I can move some of those, will be a huge boost to my ability to create games due to the revenue influx, which for hand-crafted physical items like this can be non-trivial. I also love making them, so that’s good stuff for me.

I really need to consider a Patreon or other method to let folks help me move projects forward other than Kickstarter, and if the Big Dragon Heresy Book is to be as successful as I’d like, I need to grow my mailing list by roughly 10x. That is quite a bit. That’s a bit of Catch-22, also. I have a few ideas on how that might work, and one or two low-probability irons in the fire that would help.

Time to get to it.

If you’ve followed these pages, you’ve seen me working up to this.

I’m now taking commissions for these shields. Eventually, I’ll have these available for orders on the web store. For now, contact me directly and we’ll work out specs and final pricing.

Each shield is hand crafted, and “historical-ish.” Each shield is based on information gained from some folks I know at Asfolk, Hurstwic, and Dimicator doing extensive research into the subject. Any errors in historicity are mine, of course!

Each shield will feature:

  • Aspen planks butted together with hide glue
  • Hand-carved oak handles
  • Rose-head iron and/or copper fixation for the handle; copper nails and rivets for the boss
  • Diameter to user’s specification (pricing range is “up to 24 inches,” “24-36 inches,” and “36-48 inches”)
  • Optional distal taper on the outer edge; historical shields could be as little as 2.5mm of wood on the edge; I tend to make them to 4-6.5mm depending)

Optional Features include

  • Stitching with 12/3 linen thread around the circumference of the shield
  • Rawhide edging
  • Very basic painting (I’m a craftsman, not an artist)
  • Boss upgrades

Each Shield is Custom-Made

These are basically bespoke items, each one made to order. The user will specify the diameter (half your height tends to work out well), and we’ll talk about the shield profile. I can easily support “root” thicknesses (the thickness at the boss) of up to 7/16″ or so (11mm) and have created shields down to about 1/4″ (6.3mm) at the root. Because each is hand-made, these thickness guidelines are exactly that – guidelines.

We’ll work out what you want, and then I’ll get busy on it.

Pricing

The basic pricing structure is as follows:

Shield Blank

  • Child’s Shield (up to 24″ diameter, 1/4″ thick): $100
  • Standard Shield (24-36″ diameter, 1/4-7/16″ thick): $250
  • Giant Shield (36-48″ diameter, 3/8″ to 7/16″ thick): $275

There are up-charges for stitching ($50), rawhide edging ($100), or different shield bosses. If you have an existing boss, I can probably work with it as well.

Shipping

There’s no way around it: this is a big product and it will cost a lot to ship. The 36x36x4″ mailer that will likely be the shipping container will likely cost $80-100 to ship. I’m working on this.

If you order a bunch of shields – 10 to 12 – the FedEx flat rate shipping container becomes a very good option, bringing shipping down to a net of about $10-20 per shield.

Sample Images

These represent some of my earlier efforts. The unpainted shields on the left are blanks with full taper, ready for the boss. The rawhide-edged one is tapered with hide and stitching, 34″ in diameter, with a 22-gauge boss. A shield like that would be $450.

 

I wanted to draw attention to a project a friend and co-enthusiast of mine, Dale Utt, is working on.

Attached to the historical weapons and armor manufacturerer Arms and Armor is the Oakeshott Institute. They’ve just launched a 3D sword modeling project, which will allow artists, enthusiasts, and scholars have detailed imagery of real weapons to see and be inspired by.

It’s a worthy project, and I encourage checking it out and perhaps supporting their efforts via their newly-launched Patreon.

(Shameless Plug: if you’re looking for RPG projects where realistic weaponry and tactics are a goal of the works, perhaps consider checking out my current Kickstarter Lost Hall of Tyr?)

 

I made my fourth or so kid’s shield today, and as far as efficiency and quality, I think it was my best yet. I figured I’d share how I did it.

Note: historical viking shields for adults were maybe 28-36″ in diameter, but were ridiculously lightweight, at 6-8 lbs. Maybe 7mm of wood on the core near the boss, tapering to maybe 2.5mm of wood on the rim, maybe give or take a mm or so. Added on top of that was 1mm of parchment-thick skin, and the edge was wrapped with similar material. So under the boss, where it fastens to the shield, it was maybe 8mm thick. At the rim, you’ve got 4.5 to 5.5mm of material, roughly half of which was wood. The shield clamps found in archaeological sites back this up – these things were very, very thin and light. Measurements of shields that are closer to 1″ thick tend to include the handle, according to my instructors.

Thus, what you won’t find here is advice to take a piece of plywood of any thickness (though if you were going to do it, use 1/4″ stuff) and then fix a boss to it. That’ll cost you about $7 for the wood, and then a few bucks more for the handle and boss. It’ll weigh about 2.75 lbs when you’re done for a kid-sized version. The ones I make are closer to historical methods and materials, ’cause that’s how we do it in the school I train at. If I wanted to go full-on historical, I’d have to be much more selective in the woods I use, and make the transition to hide glue. Plus get and stretch parchment.

So what I’m doing is a bit of a half-way shield. Not even close to full-historical (and those can be had from old-growth lumber with 100% as good as we know how to do for $600-1000 if you want the true real thing), but better than “cut it out of plywood.” There are reasons for that having to do with training with sharps where the grain orientation matters. And since most kid-training had best be done with blunt weapons, you want something more robust.

Still, I digress.

What You Need

I’m going to go with materials sufficient to make four shields, mostly because some of the bits really can be spread among several.

Wood: 2′ long, 1/4″ thick basswood. Plank width can be 3-6″, and 8 3″ wide x 24″ long basswood planks can be had for about $55 for four shields worth ($13.60 per shield). The grip is (for kids) also made from basswood, but you can use just about anything. I recommend 1/2″ x 1″ x 24″ pieces, found here, but you can find them other places too. $8.00 ($2.00 per shield)

Fasteners: I use 1.5″ copper nails, because they are soft and will “clinch” better. I even do this on my adult shields, though annealed wrought iron (well, faux wrought iron, ’cause real ones are very, very expensive) looks better. The annealed (heated very hot for a while to make them less hard) is important for the iron, and is why I used copper, since I don’t have an annealing furnace on hand). $20 for about 60 nails. (you might shop around; you’ll want one nail per board, more or less, and so might be able to get these cheaper). $3.50 per shield.

More fasteners: Brass split pins. The 1/4″ wood and the particular boss used won’t stand up to a properly clinched copper nail very well; these split pins, glued in place on the back side, make a nice alternative. $2.50 per 100.

Shield boss: Heh. Stainless steel salad bowl, baby. Scuff it up with sandpaper and paint it. Winco MXB-75Q 3/4 quart bowl. $5.30 each at amazon, but I swear I found ’em for 4 for $10, and restaurant supply stores have them for under a buck, but I’m not sure if you need to order 100 of them. I’m going to call this $5 each, but PLEASE shop around, because it really looks like you can do rather well here.

Spray paint: I really, *really* like the Krylon black hammered finish paint for the boss. Other colors are up to you, but I’m going to recommend two additional colors. I use burgandy and dark bronze hammered finish for my shields because it’s our school colors (red and grey), but they can be anything. Michaels sells this for about $11 per can; again, shop around. Call it $30 in spray paint, but you can assuredly do better.

Carpenter’s glue: $3

Bar clamps: I recommend 36″ clamps x 3, because you might want to make adult shields one day. $7 each if you shop around. These are durable. Call it $25, and you want some like I’ve linked that will lay flat, on their sides.

Total cost: $160 for four shields; $40 each, and you will have nails and spray paint left over, plus glue and your permanent bar clamps.

You will also very much want a jigsaw or thin-bladed wood saw, a compass of some sort (you can do this with a piece of string and a pencil), and I use a hand-held belt sander and cordless drill to make my life easier.

Making the blanks

The first step is the most tedious, which is making the 24″ x 24″ square “blanks” out of which you’ll make shields.

Take 8 boards (assuming 3″; you can do this with four 6″ boards, six 4″ boards, etc). Set two aside and line up the other six so the 1/4″ side is up.

Lay out two clamps on their sides, so that the outside edges are maybe 22″ apart. The third will be ready. Put a piece of waxed paper on each bar, which will prevent glue from bonding to the clamps.

Put glue on one 1/4″ side of two of the boards. These are your end pieces. Lay them flat on either side of your clamp base. But glue on both sides of the other six boards. Lay those into the base so you make a 24″ square, with no glue touching your clamps, and glue-to-glue bonding everywhere else. I always, always spread the glue with my finger. I can feel the tackiness of it that way. Personal preference.

Do a light tighten of both clamps so that the boards are compressed together, but don’t yet go nuts. Take the third clamp and lay it in the middle of the other two, and again, put a piece of waxed paper between wood and bar clamp. You’ll thank me. Light-tighten this too. The top bar pressing on the boards will prevent them from buckling upwards.

Then tighten each of the clamps a bit at a time. Don’t tighten so much you ruin your wood, of course. Just a nice, firm compression.

What I do is let it stand for an hour under clamps (minimum is about 30min), then take the board out and let it lean on something, grain oriented vertically, for the next day. Then I will make all my blanks at once, so I can just start with pre-glued 2′ x 2′ boards.

Cutting the Round

First, you’ll take the waxed paper off the boards if they’re stuck, and you’ll note the glue drips from the joins. My favorite tool for this is what’s called a curved scorp. But a sharp chisel can work, or a hand plane. In a pinch, you can sand it off; just use very coarse paper to blast it away. This will also serve to smooth any non-planarities in the joints.

Then you’ll mark the center. Just take a long ruler or T-square (or a piece of string) and go from corner to corner, marking where the string or ruler crosses the line between the middle boards (that kind of divides the blank in half, right?) for both corners. That’s the middle of your blank.

Draw a circle using a compass or string-and-marker (use a thumbtack to secure the line to the middle) to make a circle defining the outside of the shield.

Then measure the INSIDE diameter of the bowl. INSIDE. Can I say that again? INSIDE. Back off maybe 1/8 or 1/4″ from this just to be sure, and draw your inner circle from the same center point. For the bowls I’ve been using and the 24″ blank, my outer circle is usually just shy of 24″ (good for a child up to about 4-4.5 feet tall, more or less), and my inner circle is usually 2.5″ in radius, or 5″ in diameter. Way better to cut it small and then widen if you choose than cut it big and . . . oh, crap.

You’ve got your circles. Cut ’em out. The outer circle is easy. Inner one, just use a drill to make a hole, then finish it up. Try not to cut up your workbench.

This will give you a flat annulus; basically a circle with a hole cut out. A thin donut. Whatever. If you wanted to go nuts, you could plane down the shield from full thickness in the center to taper to quite thin on the edge, but for a child’s costume or training shield, I’d not do it. It’s very, very likely that they’ll be working exclusively with blunts, and for that, you want a more robust edge.

From there, you will want to carve your handle into a D-shape. I have experimented with many different styles of grip; the D-curve (flat towards the boss, curved away from the shield) is what has been found on period shields, and our ancestors knew what they were doing. Lots of ways to round it down; I use a draw knife and a belt sander. You could also use a router to round the edges. When you’ve got the D-shape on the entire back, in the 6″ that will be the center of the grip, smooth the corners a bit, and maybe make a gentle rounding where the hand will go. Sharp edges will make it no fun for small, young hands to grab.

Now take your mixing bowl, and use a hammer to pound the edge/rim flat if you like, to make a more-true flange. Don’t hit your fingers. It sucks.

Then remove the price tag, and scuff it up with sandpaper. Then paint it whatever color you want – I think the hammered black is gorgeous. But any metal – shiny or dull – would work. You needn’t even paint it. Scuffed steel is just fine.

Punch four holes in it 90-degrees apart with nails; I use roughly 1/8″ nails, but the hole needs to be big enough to push the split-pins through.

Almost done. Put the grip on the back of the shield-torus, so that it’s perpendicular to the direction the boards go. Use carpenter’s tape or something to fix the handle in place just enough that it’s not sliding around. Drill a hole slightly smaller than the copper nail through each board (so 8 boards is 8 holes; you’ll note I used only six boards in the shield pictured below, but used 10 nails. Too few nails might have issues if the top of the shield gets hooked with an axe; it might pull apart along the grain. Too many gets silly.).

Then push nails through the shield into the handle, so the nail head is on the shield face. Clinch the nails by pounding them over and ensuring you strike firmly enough to embed the sharp nail tip just into the wood, so no one gets scratched. Do this on a very flat, very hard surface, like a concrete floor. That will also serve to sink the nail heads into the shield face as you do it. Handy.

That basically fixes the handle to the shield.

Now paint the shield. You can find common patterns online, some are more historical than others. Our school’s symbol is the Ansuz rune (A), Odin’s rune (the school’s name is Asfolk, As, the ancestral people, the same As from Asgard, I believe), and that appears on every shield. The other side is more free-form. I used a dragon done in nordic/celtic knotwork. My eldest daughter got a reclining norse cat. My youngest daughter wanted a cat too, but I’d thrown away the stencil I used, so I made a new one, and then used that same stencil on the example shield.

Now set the boss so that it completely covers the hole, centered on the middle of the opening. I put my holes 45 degrees from the handle, so they’re well away from everything. Drill holes through the pre-punched holes in the boss right through the shield face.

Push the split-pins through the boss and face, then open them up on the back side. Pull them as hard as you can; I secure them in place after opening them up with hot glue. If you’re a costumer and you don’t have a hot-glue gun lying around, you are clearly a freaking wizard, because I hot glue everything, so it seems.

And that’s it. While doing the square shield blank takes a day, I did all of the steps above in about an hour, including painting, for the shield below. This example was 955 grams (2.1 lbs).

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.