Monday 31 January 2022

WeaselTech - 3D printing swarm mecha

I have lots of old metal BattleMechs for my heroes to pilot but WeaselTech also requires swarms of less powerful enemy mecha.  There are lots of great BattleMechs on Thingiverse and Cults 3D and I thought I could print some of these at a reduced size.  This also seems like a good opportunity to run through the process I use for 3d printing, just in case there's anyone out there curious about the process who hasn't read up on it elsewhere yet.

My first task was to trawl through the scores of mechs available to select suitable candidates.  I wanted some of the ones with less obvious cockpits and a slightly less "human" appearance.  I reduced them all to between 45% and 60% of their original size.  Given that they were a range of sizes to start, this brought them all down to 20-25mm in height.  At this size, they will also be able to double up as combat droids for my 15mm games.  A couple of different pieces of software were used in preparing them for printing.  Models were resized and supports added using Chitubox.  I angled the models to try and reduce the print lines to some extent, and so the supports attach to the rear and underneath where they'll be less noticeable.  The supports ensure that there are no "islands" where the printer tries to print something in thin air with no attachment to the main body, for instance the bottom of a crooked elbow, the toes on a slightly lifted foot etc.  The supports hold the part in place until the layers above can connect it to the main body, avoiding melted-looking lower limbs or bits of hardened resin floating around the resin vat and sticking to a different part of the model. 

Thanatos 'Mech at 55% with supports.

I've angled the 'mechs slightly and printed them 3mm off the build plate.  This helps avoid "elephant's foot", a thickening and loss of detail in the bottom layers. This is because the printer will over-expose the bottom few layers (in my case by 10x the normal exposure length) to give a really firm base layer that is bonded tightly to the build plate.  This ensures that the print doesn't fall off into the resin vat part way through printing due to the suction as the printer lifts the model between each layer.  There tends to be some light bleed around the edges, resulting in a thin rim of additional cured resin around the base layers.  It doesn't matter with some things, I often print scenery flat on the build plate because it's easy to just sand off the rim on something like a crate, or hide it in the ground cover. Epic scale vehicles often work well flat on the build plate too, slight loss of detail on the tracks isn't noticeable on the tabletop.

Archer 'Mech at 45% with supports.
Once prepared, the 'Mechs were grouped together onto the build plate and "sliced" for printing using the Anycubic software that came with the printer.  Slicing is the process of the computer taking the 3D model and cutting it into the individual slices or layers that the printer will cure.  This is the point at which you can specify how thick each layer is.  Thicker layers = less detail, more obvious print lines, but faster print time.  Thinner layers = more detail, less obvious print lines but longer print times.  You also set the exposure time for the resin, too short and the resin captures detail better but is softer and may come apart during printing (the suction as the print lifts from the vat can cause the model to break off).  Too long an exposure and the UV bleed through the resin can cause additional curing that obscures detail.  This all sounds very complicated but fortunately printers can use a "RERF" (Resin Exposure Range Finder) file that usually comes pre-loaded on a USB stick.  The RERF prints 8 different exposure times on a test object with lots of different textures, angles and sizes.  Examining this makes it easy to see the best exposure time for your particular resin.

I managed to fit 10 'Mechs onto the build plate, so 2 print runs gave me a good sized enemy force.  You can enter the price of your resin into the slicer and it will estimate amount of resin used and the cost.  These 10 'Mechs used about 14ml or resin and will have cost about 50 pence - or 5p each. You always lose a bit more resin during the washing process, but they still work out incredibly cheap and you can see why companies like Games Workshop are worried about people printing a fan-sculpted model for only a few pence when they want to charge you £10 for the official version. But that's a whole different topic that I won't get into here.

Starting to print - just the supports so far.

The printer works by lowering the build plate into the resin vat until the thickness of resin between it and the UV screen is the desired thickness.  I've chosen 50 microns (1/20th of a millimetre) in this instance, though I could print at 20 microns if I wanted really fine detail. The UV LED exposes the first layer, an LCD screen blocking out areas that won't be cured. The build plate lifts, allowing more resin to flow underneath.  Temperature can affect this - too cold and the resin thickens and flows more sluggishly, potentially leading to failed prints because it hasn't completely refilled the void. Down comes the build plate for the next layer, and so on until it's finished.


Stirring the resin.

I usually give the resin a stir with a silicone spatula before I start printing.  The pigments can settle, so a gentle stir with a soft, flexible implement ensures it's well mixed.  The transparent FEP film on the bottom of the resin vat is easily scratched, even a paper towel can damage it, so a spatula from Poundland is an ideal solution.  Waste resin is easily cured with a small UV LED torch after which it is safe to put in normal waste.

Curing waste resin.

The speed at which the build plates lifts and descends can also be adjusted, too fast a lift and the suction can cause the model to break or detach from the build plate but so far I haven't had any problems with this.  Printing took under 3 hours, then the models were rinsed in isopropyl alcohol to clean off the uncured resin left on the surface.


Printing complete!  Ready for rinsing.

I have a wash and cure machine for cleaning the models, I simply remove the build plate from the printer by means of a single nut and hook it onto a bracket that suspends it in the tub of isopropanol.  Appropriate safety equipment should be worn at all times when handling resin or anything that has been used for washing resin.  Safety specs and a mask protect your mouth, nose and eyes from resin splashes and nitrile gloves protect your hands.  Latex gloves shouldn't be used because they are sometimes permeable to some of the chemicals involved.  The risk of ingesting or absorbing through the skin is not something to be taken lightly but a few seconds putting on the appropriate PPE reduces the risk enormously.

Mask and safety specs for face protection from splashes.

Nitrile gloves (not latex, which is permeable to the resin).

The washing tub has a magnetic stirrer built into the bottom, I just set the timer for 2, 4 or 6 minutes and it stirs one way half the time, then reverses for the remainder.  You don't have to buy a wash & cure machine, simply dunking the build plate into a tub or isopropanol or other suitable cleaning medium and shaking it around can be enough. You can also remove the models from the build plate and drop them into a mesh basket for washing but I rarely do this because most of the things I print are too small and fall through the mesh! 

Cleaned models ready for support removal.

After washing, I remove the models from the build plate using a razor blade.  Most printers come with a steel spatula but I'm a bit nervous about using something like that for suck delicate models.  A razor blade held almost flat against the surface of the build plate can get under the edge and pop them off without too much difficulty, especially if the supports have a tapered edge.  The models are left to air dry on a square of plastic breakfast cereal bag.  I've found this is ideal, it's waterproof, free and easy to peel cured resin off afterwards.  The resin is still slightly soft and bendy at this stage, with an almost waxy feel.  This is the best time to remove the supports.  Dunking the model in very hot water for a few seconds softens the resin still further, making it easy to peel off most of the supports.  A little bit of clean up with a sharp craft knife completed the first stage.  It's best to keep a pair of nitrile gloves on at this stage, as much to protect the soft resin from your fingerprints as to keep you safe from the resin.

Archer with and without supports.

Archer with and without supports.

It's worth saving the supports, when given a suitably rusty paint scheme they make excellent industrial wreckage and can easily be mixed in with building rubble.

Removed supports.

With the supports removed, the models were ready for their final cure.  I water cure my models, this simply involves dropping them in jar of warm water and curing for about half the normal amount of time. In this instance, it means 4 minutes in the machine, which rotates the jar slowly to ensure even curing.

UV curing the models.

Oxygen retards the curing process, which can leave the surface of a 3d printed model feeling sticky or slimy and causes problems with paint failing to adhere to the surface. Water contains less than 1% the amount of free oxygen than air and also acts to refract the UV light around the model.  These two factors result in a much better finish, giving crisp, hard surfaces. Warm water contains even less oxygen - but I mainly use warm because it's more pleasant to put your fingers in!

Curing the models.

 After curing, the models are left on a paper towel to air dry.

Drying mecha.

Once dried, any remaining support stubs were sanded smooth. They were superglued onto bases and a smear of Wilko wood filler used to add some texture to the base.

Glued to bases.

PVA and a sprinkle of sand/brown tile grout finished the preparation work and left the models ready for painting.  A few drops of watered down PVA on the bases ensured everything was fixed firmly in place.

Base texture completed.

When painting figures, I tend to attach them to a long wooden batten using a strip of double sided tape. This makes it easy to manoeuvre them whilst spraying, and I used my usual Wilko grey primer which gives a nice fine finish and has excellent coverage.

Primed and ready for painting.

Next time I'll cover the painting and show a few of the finished models.


Friday 21 January 2022

Oil drum stacks

Every modern or sci-fi wargaming table needs some metal barrels/oil drums, they can make a useful objective to destroy or steal, or just act as another piece of scatter terrain that provides something to hide behind.


These little stacks were 3d printed at 50% of their original (28mm) size and painted in a variety of colours.

More barrels.

 I painted on a few labels in various colours, and the odd bit of grafitti. A black ink wash added a few shadows, followed by burnt umber & burnt sienna to create some little patches of rust.  HB pencil was rubbed on edges for a worn/rubbed metal look.

Even more barrels.

I printed a few more individual barrels, these are not exactly the same as the ones in the stacks but the're close enough and once painted, they all look fine together on the board.

Single barrels too.

I sliced some at an angle and printed the partial barrels to give me a few that can be added to scenery for that part buried abandoned / postapocalyptic look, or glued into a pool of toxic waste to look part-submerged.


Partial barrels.

Sunday 16 January 2022

Five Parsecs from Home: Campaign turn 2

With their first mission under their belt (and a good stack of credits in their pockets), the crew of the Misfortune are ready to leave Falgan for pastures new - and hopefully less expensive!  The notebook they retrieved from Corvash Drock's IMEC companion during the previous mission mentions the planet Caligo, and that sounds as good a destination as any.

As they return to the ship, an alien merchant offers them a strange device but the crew decline to purchase.  They want to pay off the debt on the ship and get off-world as quickly as they can.

Because the Misfortune is a fuel-efficient former scout ship, space travel from Falgan to Caligo costs 4 credits instead of the usual 5.

In hyperspace, the Misfortune intercepts a distress call.  A short detour leads them to the damaged light transport Starlight Courier, the single crew member Braticca Chenta is unharmed but the ship's engines are damaged and completely inoperable.  The crew bring Braticca aboard and continue on their way, carefully logging the Starlight Courier's location before they go.

The Misfortune arrives at the planet Caligo, landing at the spacefield outside the only major settlement, the somewhat optimistically named "Caligo City".  City is stretching the description somewhat, and the spacefield is just a set of concrete aprons and taxiways next to some very basic port facilities.  Braticca rewards the crew with 3 credits plus a couple of doses of Rage Out.  She bids them a fond farewell and sets about arranging replacement parts for the Starlight Courier's engines.

Mist-shrouded (fog, all shots over 8" are at -1 to hit) and sparseley populated, Caligo is a failing colony on the verge of collapse.  Caligans tend to bear a grudge (Vendetta - opponents become rivals on a 1-2) and the locals all seem rather surly, but at least there is minimal bureaucracy and no need to fork out for a freelancer's licence before they undertake any missions. 

Chotaar Tonn checks in at the local finance office and pays off another 6 credits of debt on the ship but the interest adds up to 1 credit.

While the rest of the crew split up and head out, Torv Galliash exercises back at the ship (+2 XP)

C-4RG0 trades in the local market for a worthless trinket.  The others are unimpressed but the droid is pleased with his purchase.

Corvash Drock is rather more focussed with his attempt at trading and secures 3 grenades from a slightly shady character.

C-2P6 is offered a reward from one of the locals to retrieve some belongings he has left in an abandoned settlement a few miles away (random terrain feature - spend a combat action to retrieve package and earn 2 credits).  Misty hills' water supply failed a couple of months ago and the remaining settlers have abandoned the village until a replacement can be rigged up.

C-2P6 meets a local in the misty outskirts of Caligo City.

By coincidence, TRM-9 is also offered a reward from another former resident of Misty Hills to retrieve some items.  She offers a similar retrieval fee and TRM-9 is pleased to accept.

TRM-9 accepts the task of retrieving an item from Misty Hills.

On his way back from the finance office, Chotaar Tonn checks out the bar near the spacefield and finds a patron.  The "Caligo Regeneration Trust" wish to hire the crew.  They are offering 2 credits danger pay in addition to their standard rates of pay, but the mission must be completed as soon as possible.  The CRT is busy (if the crew succeed in their mission, the patron offers a new job next turn), having recently secured funding from the Commonwealth Infrastructure Development Directorate, an arm of government that provides grants to local organisations to improve facilities in the immediate area.  The funding will pay for a new water supply for Misty Hills.

The crew must deliver a condensate still to the centre of the settlement.  This new water supply will allow the residents to return to their homes.  Surround
ed by dense forest, Misty Hills is gloomy (max visibility 9" but anyone who fires can be fired on at any range). Being little more than a small collection of buildings in a clearing in the woods, there is nothing else of interest in the settlement.

The crew arrive in Misty Hills.

Unluckily for our crew, a group of vigilantes are lurking in wait - 7 in total, they object to off-world interference in their affairs.  Perhaps this explains the danger-pay offered by the CRT and also why 2 former residents were willing to pay the crew to retrieve items rather than coming themselves!  The vigilantes are well equipped.  There is a boss with military rifle & blade; specialist with handgun and ripper sword; specialist with autorifle; 4 with military rifles.  One of the vigilantes is a VIP (random enemy has +1 toughness and +2 combat skill).

Misty Hills is patrolled by a gang of vigilantes.

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Welcome to WeaselTech

WeaselTech is the newest release from Nordic Weasel Games.

Players take command of a unit of mecha pilots fighting swarms of smaller enemy mecha with the occasional elite enemy unit thrown in.  Drawing inspiration from BattleTech, RoboTech/Macross and a host of other anime, it's not just another mech combat game.  What sets it apart is the solo play campaign system which progresses the plot whilst simultaneously fleshing out the character interaction, providing the intra-unit rivalries, romances, love triangles and more that tend to wind their way through so many anime series.  As the campaign develops, your research more powerful mecha and improve the skills of your pilots and support staff.

After lots of dice-rolling, may I present Rampage Squadron.  This group of mercenaries are being deployed behind enemy lines in the midst of an interstellar war between opposing superpowers.  Hired by the Sentient Worlds Aliance as a "deniable asset", Rampage Squadron could be the key to ending their current shooting war with the Gentian Protectorates.  En-route to the Protectorates homeworld they are travelling on a modified combat transport loaded with their mecha and operating under false transponder codes that should get them past enemy defences.  A large scale assault on the enemy capital would be impossible to pull off but a small unit insertion might just be possible.

The core of the unit are the 6 mech pilots:

Rampage 1 - Gurda Losfol

Rampage 2 - Maria Travis

Rampage 3 - Roderick "Hot Rod" Davies

Rampage 4 - Avni Ahuje

Rampage 5 - Sagaritas Boops

Rampage 6 - Imani Oyinola

Aiding our pilots in their endeavours, we have their technical and suporting staff, headed up by 6 key personnel:

Commanding Officer - Kobar Fez

Communications Officer - Jesus Lopez

Intelligence Officer - Irene Dahl

Chief Mechanic - Adrik Volkov

Medical Officer - Sanjit Takawa

Head Researcher - Chastity Guliwe

Soem more die rolling and the links between characters start to appear:

  • Comms officer Jesus and researcher Chastity attended the same military school.
  • Rampage 3 "Hot Rod" and medic Sanjit served together prior to the current mission.
  • Hot Rod and Chastity were previously romantically linked.

Some of the team rub each other up the wrong way.  As he passes her in the corridor, Rampage 3 Hot Rod's insensitive greeting to intel officer Irene as "green slime"* annoys her and she comments on his arrogance. His retort on how military intelligence is an oxymoron results in a fierce argument and the two become rivals.

Others get on better.  Meeting in the park before the transport leaves, Rampage 3 Maria and Rampage 6 Imani swap mecha tactics and stories and become good friends.  Meanwhile back on the ship whilst supervising the loading of their respective supplies, mechanic Adrik and medic Sanjit compare notes fixing mecha to fixing people and also become firm friends.

With their initial landing on Gentia, capital of the Gentian Protectorates now only hours away, who knows how our mercenaries will fare in their adventures...

Character portraits created with HeroForge.

*"Green slime" is British Army slang for military intelligence.

Sunday 9 January 2022

There's something out there in the mist...

I've fancied the idea of using mist or smoke effects in some of my photographs for a while.  Experiments with candles and smoke pellets have generally been unsuccessful and rather smelly but technology has finally delivered what I need.  I ordered an ultrasonic mist maker a couple of months ago for under £5 including delivery.  Events have conspired to prevent me playing with it until today when no. 1 son decided he "wanted a go" with it, so we set up some scenery.  After a while playing with trees and reindeer lichen, we got a few photographs in...

Saturday 1 January 2022

Mage Knight Crypt Worm repaint

I got a job lot of Mage Knight figures super cheap a while back to repaint as statues for scenery.  There were also a few that I thought would work well repainted as either 15mm monsters or as HeroQuest monsters.

It's behind you!

This Crypt Worm was a dull greeny black colour to start but I removed it from the base, glued to a 2p piece, textured with soil/tile grout and resprayed it with Wilkinson's grey primer.

"Don't come any closer or I'll shoot!"

The creature was repainted with various bone, tan and khaki colours, then washed with sepia and flesh inks.  The teeth were repainted with bonewhite and highlighted with a touch of white on the tips. The mouth was painted purple, then the tongue red, with a glaze of red ink to unify the colours.

Eyes in the back of it's... er... back. Hmm.

Some details not particularly visible until I repainted were the eye-like protuberances all over the back of the creature.  These were all painted bright white with a black pupil and a yellow ink glaze.  They didn't turn out quite as bright as I'd hoped, even with a black ink line around them, but they look OK.

It will be a suitably disturbing creature to appear unexpectedly during a game to terrorise both sides when they least expect it...