Well as a late Easter Egg I want to introduce you to the works of Joel May. He lives in Oregon, USA and is 37 years old. He has build two fully rigged models of Earthdawn Airships at 28mm scale. To give you a small background on Joel I cite his words about his beginnings in RPG’s:
“I have been gaming since I was 14. I started with Battletech moved onto Gammaworld. Then I discovered Shadowrun and later Earthdawn. (I own every Shadowrun book first edition through third edition and I own every Earthdawn book first and Second edition.) I was a huge Exalted fan for quite a while and ran several groups at the local game store. Later I played some D&D and got into D20 Modern/Future as well as BESM/Mecha D20. The last major gaming activity I was involved in was running tournaments for click based table top games a few years ago.
I have been building models since I was old enough to snap parts together. I spend most of my hobby time now building Maschinen Krieger/Ma.K zbv3000 model kits from Wave and Hasagawa and when I can get them the original Nitto kits. I also build Tamiya cars and planes pretty regularly.”
This hobby brings us back to his work. Joel was so kind to write a complete article about the process of building an airship and takes us on an excursion to learn how to build a model of anything you can imagine. But I have to admit that I am very happy that Joel chose to build Earthdawn Airships and is willing to share his thoughts and experiences of the working progress with us in the following guest entry. I pass the words to Joel May, enjoy:
The very first thing that attracted me to Earthdawn was the Airships. I was in my local game store and next to the Shadowrun stand was a newish game called Earthdawn. I picked it up and thumbed through it looking at the art and reading the basic system. Then across from page 112 was a picture of Mayan style ruins and in the sky three flying ships. I was hooked, right then and there. I have always loved the idea of flying ships. I started my first Earthdawn group about a month later.
Module after module I loved the story and art, but I always kept my eyes open for the airships. My group kept asking me when they would get to set sail in the skies and when ‘Terror in the Skies’ came out I knew it was time. Thus began the Merchant Drakkar I call ‘The Griffins Claw’.
If you are lucky enough to have a copy on this book, #6302, you will see on page 61 the basic layout for the Drakkar. It is a pretty simple design but very fluid and elegant as well.
It took me about two and a half months actual work time, and before I began I picked up a few model building books. These proved invaluable in my planning of the builds. They are:
Ship Modeling Simplified by Frank Mastini ISBN 0-07-155867-5 McGraw Hill
Modern Boat Building by Edwin Monk SBN 684-13020-3 Scribners
The first step is to draw out what you are building in as much detail as possible. You then use this to make a working drawing. This is a scale drawing of your airship or whatever you are building. Draw a profile, a top down, a front and back view, and a detail of anything you feel you need. I dug through about 15 years of role playing papers and scanned some design drawings which Mordom uploaded HERE (Mirror), please read the txt file.
I built the merchant Drakkar in the Plank on Bulkhead style. In this technique you draw out an outline of the ships hull and then every ¾ inch/2 cm or so you make a flat cross section of the hull. You then use spars, long straight pieces, to hold them together so they form a rough hull shape. The first spar in always the keel, it can be very challenging to layout the keel properly. In this case I laid sticks of bass wood over my working drawing so it covered the keel completely. I then glued those pieces together and cut off everything that was not part of the keel. It worked pretty well. This is a very fast and easy method for making complex shapes.
Next I cut lengths of thin balsa wood stripping to an appropriate width for the scale I was working in. I then simply glue the planking to the bulkheads starting at the bow of the ship and moving backwards. This allowed me to make complex curves quickly and easily. Then I covered the hull section with a thin layer of wood putty and sanded it to a smooth finish. I then sealed it with sanding sealer.
Now comes the part that takes skill. Look closely at the deck of the Drakkar. All of that in hand cut and carved. The bow is a single piece of balsa wood cut and shaped buy hand and by Dremel tool. The Ramming points are hand carved bass wood. The oar rails are cut and carved as is the area around the captains’ chair in the stern.
Setting the masts is simple, cut a hole, inset glue, insert mast, and slide on hardware, easy. The yardarms/sails are another matter. They are a sandwich of the center lifting body and the arms. The arms are made of 3/32 inch / 2 mm bass wood sheets cut with the wood grain for strength. The center section is carved bass wood in two sections glued around the arms. This makes the whole assembly very strong and resilient.
All of the fittings and hardware are for model ships and to the proper scale. The rigging was an aesthetic choice but also guided by my experience on my Uncle Philips’ boat when I was a kid. All of the rigging is correctly hand tied and adjustable. I did it with tweezers and some homemade tools.
The rowing deck in simple cut blocks and planking painted and glued. It is very simple but looks good.
Then I did a general assembly of the parts. This was an area of concern for me as it took a lot of cutting and reshaping to get everything together. However, it does not need to be a perfect fit in this build style! This is because I covered the outside of the joints with a thin coat of wood putty. This fills gaps, gives a clean finish and once you sand and seal; it is a great surface to paint.
The interior is lined with the same type of material I used to plank the hull. That gave me a clean wooden surface on the inside and made the model look finished. Once it was lined I started putting in all the various items in the crew areas that you would find in a ship.
Now comes the fun part, finishing. Paint jobs will depend entirely on your skill level, but I have a few tips to help you out. I took the pattern from the cover of “Creatures of Barsaive”. It’s loosely base on the griffins back on the cover. That is also where I came up with the name for the airship.
My airship is completely hand painted with acrylic and has a fair level of detail. That detail is actually drawn on with art pens. All the actual detail is there, but the art pens bring it out so you can see it. It is the same concept as using a paint wash on a model or miniature. All of the detail on the mast head, ramming prows, and wing tips is hand drawn over the purple paint to give the look of feathers. This is a great way to get good detail quickly. It also made getting detail out of the ‘claws’ on the ramming prows possible. You can also use Filters and Washes to bring out detail. Also helpful, to get your acrylic paints to flow better mix one ½ once of water an one or two drops of dish soap together and wet your brush in it before you pick up your paint. This significantly helps with paint flow problems.
On this model the last thing I made was the rudder. I took a flat piece of bass wood and simply sanded it to shape. The canards were done the same way. The tiller is hand carved and the whole thing is articulated. It is attached with a simple rounded block on wood. Then I put together a simple stand, which I later improved.
All that was left was the rigging and that was just a matter of learning the proper technique from ‘Ship Modeling Simplified’ and practicing until it looked right.
That was the birth of my first airship. It was an immediate hit with my group and it wasn’t long before they wanted more.
It took me about a month to finish the working drawings for the Stoneclaw Troll Moot Drakkar. The reason for this was I decided to build it as if it were a real ship, complete with cargo areas and internal living space. I also wanted it to be armed. This meant having to draw out things like all the ribs and internal supports. My design allowed for the removal of the main decks to provide access to the inner areas for playing.
I decided to use the airship pictured above the Trolls’ head in the first edition rule book from the racial description that follow page 64. I really liked it from the first time I saw it and my group like it too.
I began in the same place a real ship begins, the keel. I cut and laid out the keel on the working drawing and then cut and shaped all the ribs. I glued these up and let them sit for three days to ensure curing. While that was setting up I laid out and glued up all the basic deck elements as well as the internal elements, i.e. storage area, sleeping hammocks etc.
After three days of finishing the basic inside detail and interior paint, I began to assemble these basic pieces starting with the internal elements and then capping the ribs with the deck frame. Now with the frame complete I could begin to plank the hull.
I started planking the hull at this point because I could lay it flat on the deck without trouble. The process begins with about 10 sheets of 5 inch by 36 inch/ 12.5 cm by 93 cm balsa wood about 1/32 inch / 1 mm thick. I have a tool called a Balsa Stripper made by X-ACTO tm. It allows you to cut uniform strips from sheets of wood quickly. I cut all ten sheets into ¼ inch / 7 mm strips and then began decking.
Decking is putting the strips on the frame. This is not as simple as it sounds. Each strip is laid out one at a time and pinned, with two pins, at each rib. You do this with the entire ship hull one side at a time. Then you glue the planks in place from the inside of the hull. This allows you to glue the planks to both sides of the ribs. It is one of the finest exercises in patience I have ever come across.
Now this being a combat vessel I was not content to have a single layer of balsa between Theran fire cannons and my Troll’s. I felt it would insult their katorr, kat’ral, and katera to say the least. So I did two more hull layer…that right its triple hulled. I accidently dropped the ship once and it bounced. Not a mark on it.
Once the decking was finished I sealed the wood and moved on to the ‘figurehead’. The curled tail is carved from a single piece of wood in the same fashion as the head of a violin would be carved. I saw a “making of” video on public television once and copied the technique. I then attached it to the hull with dowels and glue.
With the shape done and ready for paint I moved on the decks. The interior deck is very simple. I did it in much the same way an 18th century merchant ship would be done but rougher to reflect the Trolls that dwell there. Now I was ready to tackle the main deck and oars.
Each oar is made for its specific position and is fully articulated. They can also be removed. Each oar is made from 7 individual pieces and then wrapped in two layers of heavy twist nylon kite string. I choose this string because it looked the best with the paint filter I used. The benches are simple bass wood blocks with a bass wood top.
The floor of the main deck is four pieces of 3/16 inch / 3mm bass wood sheeting cut to fit. I would have decked it like the hull but the soft wood kept getting damaged by the miniature bases. The foredeck is decked similarly to the hull because it looks better that way and most of the surface is covered by the weapons.
The gold railing that runs the length of the airship is simple wood dowel glued in place except at the bow where it is cut into smaller pieces and filled to give it the right curvature. The upper foredeck railing is made from a single strip of bass wood steamed and bent to shape. The spoke railing is made from store bought ship detail parts as is the crows nest on the mast head. All the other details, stairs, capstans, etc. are made from bass wood.
The mast, sails and rigging were a bit of a challenge. The basics are included in the book illustration but seemed a little flimsy. I solved this in my head by making the entire rigging spider silk from the Liaj jungle. Not really necessary but I’m kind of a purist. The sails are held in pace with hand made brass rings and all three yardarms are rigged to move up and down. The rigging lines terminate in the stern of the airship with belaying pins after going through turning points. I will improve these turning points one day as they are rather plain looking.
I went through several materials for the sails before I found one that would hold its shape and the gold leaf paint I used to make the Stoneclaw Troll Moot symbol. I settled upon a high end fabric used to make horizontal binds. It came in a 9 foot / 3m strip and I cut it to fit. This unfortunately meant that I would not be able to raise and lower the sails like I had planned. That is why one of the capstans sits empty. I drew out the Troll Moot symbol on graph paper and cut it out. I then placed it on the sail material and outlined it with gold paint, then removed the pattern and filled in the gaps.
As for finishing I had all the hard work done. I simply used the book illustration as my guide. The four arbalests and the single catapult are all Warhammer TM miniatures. I built simple frames for them and set them in place with dowels so they moved. One of these days I will repaint them as the current paint job is quite plain and does not do the over all build justice. I used art pens to bring out some of the details but people who look carefully at the illustration in the book will see I’m not finished yet.
This brings up an interesting point. If I took the time to build a detailed interior where is it? Why aren’t there photos? Well one of my player who shall remain brainless, I mean nameless was messing around with the airship and thought he broke two of the arbalests, one fore and one aft. So rather then tell me about it and get kicked out of the group, he was on thin ice as it was. He took it upon himself to fix them. He took my thin set fast dry glue and glued them in place, slopping glue everywhere. He glued both removable deck sections in place. I have tried several times to free them but can’t do it without doing serious damage to the airship.
Such is life. It did mean I didn’t have to ask him to leave the group as he was almost physically ejected by my players who were livid. It all worked out in the end.
The minis are from various places. Two Trolls on deck for flavor and two Throalic dwarves in the crows nest complete with spyglass and sextant. I have a small collection of Earthdawn miniatures but none that fit the over all theme of the airship.
I hope you have enjoyed seeing and reading about my airships as much as I enjoyed building them and writing this article. If you have any questions please fell free to contact me at son_of_upandal[at]yahoo.com.
I have done the working drawing for a Theran Vedette. It is a hybrid Military/Mining ship for RPG purposes. I started building it about five years ago. When I abandoned the project it stood chest high to me with the bow on the floor. I still had about 10 inches of hull to build. It had four decks including the main deck, gun deck, slave deck and hold. It also has a stern castle and fore castle (two more decks); mounts ten lead pewter dragon mouthed flame cannons and could hold about seventy-five miniatures.
I stopped working on it because by the time I neared hull competition there were so many things I wanted to do over I knew I was never going to be happy with it.
I still have all the cannon as well as the drawings and I will come back to it at some point in the future. As for anything bigger than that airship wise…probably not. It would be just too big. A Kila at 28mm scale would be about the size of a large dinner table for a small one and a Behemoth about the size of a van.
I have always wanted to build a T’skrang river boat and I have the Serpent River source book so who knows. A year from now you could be looking at photos of a river pirate boat.
(Look here for info on filters and washes http://www.maschinenkrueger.com)
Well I hope most of you made it until here…… Joel has written an informative article. What do you think? Please show Joel your respect or share your thoughts in the comments.
I say: “Me want, me want that Theran Vedette”. :-)
I thank Joel for sharing his experience and give us an insight in his projects. Please visit his Flickr photostream to see more of his projects.