Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A foray into VSF

Inspiration - it's a dangerous thing!

Within the last year, I have become properly aquainted with a certain Mr Joe Harrison Esq., aka 'The Colonel O'Truth', here on the Kapiti Coast.

It was some months ago that I was invited to partake in a cowboy skirmish game, and having been presented with Joe's 'Leadwood' - I have to say it inspired me to do likewise, although with a differing genre that I had a previous interest in: Pirates! So that was the source of inspiration for all my recent piratical goings on.

Joe also has an infectious enthusiasm for all things of a VSF nature, or to give it it's full title, Victorian Science Fiction. For those of the uninitated, this is a period which draws heavily on the ideas and works of Jules Verne and HG Wells to name a couple.

It is a period that the GASLIGHT rules have been designed for use with, and these rules appear to nicely cover all the troops, heroes, machines and beasties admirably well.


Well I have to say, it's happened to me again - inspiration!

And so, after a bit of chatting things through, 3 locals have decided to give the whole VSF thing a bash; Joe, myself and Roly Hermans.

Now being a Brit myself, I would have been the first to jump at the chance of fielding some colonial British in their iconic pith helms and red jackets. I first saw these troops as a kid, watching that classic movie; Zulu. Stirring stuff, and what red blooded British male wouldn't find this movie inspiring and invigorating!?

However I have obviously already been pipped to the post by Joe, with his previously commenced project; HMSW Gargantua - his incarnation of a British steam powered quadruped walker, crewed by such stalwarts as Seargent Boddington et al.

HMSW Gargantua

And so with the British already in the field, a suitable colonial adversary would be required, and what better than the dastardly Hun!? Thinking on Germanic imigery of the proposed period (1880-90s-ish), I remembered another somewhat iconic image, that of Karl Gerhart Fröbe, better known as Gert Fröbe, from the movie; 'Those Magnificent men in the flying machines', wearing that characteristic pickelhaube helmet.

Gert Fröbe

With this image in mind I set about searching the web. I found that the Germans of the period had been involved in the Franco-Prussian war, and a quick look at more images confirmed the sort of figures I was after.

More web browsing found a range of models I was happy with, available from Brigadegames, from their Paroom range.

Some great figures available there. I am sure an order will be placed forthwith!

Now one thing that characterizes the VSF period are its machines. So my troops were going to need some kind of 'tank' for the battlefield, especially after viewing at long range the looming form of HMSW Gargantua!

Obviously tanks didn't come into service until late WWI, some years after our proposed period of time. Plus these early machines would have been powered by the internal combustion engine and not steam power, which is one of the hallmarks of VSF fun!

I did find the wonderful looking german A7V tank. The temptation was to build one of these and stick a large chimney / funnel on the back, but that seemed too easy, and 'cheating', and not especially tailored to our period.


One of the things I have found with researching this project is that lots of folks have come up with a great many ideas for vehicles, but a great many are 'seriously fictional', if I can put it that way? What I want from a vehicle is the idea it could actually work. So I did a fair bit of web search reading up on steam power, hydraulic power, steam tractors or tractor engines, and caterpillar tracks, and importantly their inception dates and rough abilities.

Consequently, what I am thinking, and propose here, is to make a fighting vehicle based on the steam tractor engine. However, rather than the large heavy wheels, which by all accounts made the vehicle unuseable over difficult boggy ground, due to its weight, I would swap these out for caterpiller tracks.

To armour the vehicle, I decided to build an enclosed cab at rear of machine and, using a later german idea; adding schurzen plates to the sides and also to the front, but in a large 'cow-catcher' shape.

Stugs, with schurzen side armour plates

"Cow Catcher"

I also need to arm this vehicle and propose mounting a gatling-gun team or cannon artillery team, in an armoured enclosure upon the tractors roof.

The only thing to do would then be to route the funnel, down and backwards, so as not to interfere with the Gun teams line of sight.

Another touch I need to think about is a fuel supply. Now I have seen these machines trundling around the place back in Britain at summer farm festivals and the like, but what I am unsure about is how long could one run for, before it needed more coal to refuel it? So I am therefore considering having the machine drag a similar looking coal tender behind it, either wheeled or tracked and with side schurzen plates again.

So thats where all my thinking with this has got me so far!

Roly, our third player in the group, currently seems to be pondering between a French themed army perhaps using French Foreign Legion figures, or perhaps Austro-Hungarians of the period... we shall wait and see what he comes up with.


  1. Good Lord! A blasted Prussian What!

    I hope the Honourable Colonel and his Steam Leviathan Thingy gives you a jolly good pasting.

  2. I know, I know, but he beat me to it. Couldn't have Brits vs Brits now could we! ;-)
    I guess I must have succumbed to the inner German trying to get out...
    Being originally from the North East, my neck of the woods would most definitely have been occupied by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, so you could say, its in my blood?
    Did I mention I am fond of sausage??? ;-)
    And you know how it is, its always more fun playing the bad guy :-)

  3. Roly just HAS to take the French/FFL . . . after all, they traditionally fought the Germans as much as they fought the English . . . and what sort of background do the Austrians have with England.

    No! The French with FFL kepis and Zouaves are the right choice for Roly.

    By the way, have you considered a steam-powered Zeppelin?

    -- Jeff

  4. Scott,

    I've never played any VSF, but I have heard that "Space 1889" has a very good background set-up.

    Now whether this is in the basic rulebook or a supplement, I don't know . . . but I believe that I've read somewhere that they do a good job with available technology (as well as invented). It might be worth checking out.

    -- Jeff

  5. Hi Jeff, thanks for your encouragement! Yes I too thought Roly should go with FFL and Zoaves, but I think he feels they are a little 'too familiar' already... Hence his consideration of the Austro-Hungarians... I suppose being Prussians myself I may have to explore steam powered zeppelin technology!
    I have indeed heard of the 1889 rules, and people do rate them. However I felt I may like to slowly get to grips with the VSF period first, getting used to interesting contraptions or discovering lost-world type islands/continents, where dinosaurs may roam, before I blast my poor troops off into outer space!
    Although Paroom also do Prussians wearing gasmasks, I am not terribly keen on 'the look'... I may take a bit of convincing on stretching myself fully into the deepest reaches of VSF!
    I can certainly go with defending earth against Martian invasion, as per HG Wells - War of the Worlds , I'm just not sure I can condone sending our Victorians up through the atmosphere just yet!

  6. Scott,

    I wasn't suggesting that you PLAY in the Space 1889 milieu; what I'd heard was that they did a great job with documenting the historical setting and technology . . . for your use as background.

    -- Jeff

  7. Hi again Jeff, I see what you mean now, I hadn't realized it was also an RPG type setting with such detailing.
    I've ordered my Prussians from Brigadegames now, just looking forward to their arrival.


  8. Scott,

    If you want some variety in your uniforms, take a look at the following website:

    It has a lot of nice information on the German Colonial uniforms.

    -- Jeff

  9. Thanks Jeff, I'll check them out

  10. I say, Old Chap! What a devilishly fiendish device you are concocting! How dare you, Sir? Don't you know that the British Empire is developing it's Walking Navy purely for reasons of peace-keeping? Your Teutonic Terror is a step too far! Cease this aggressive posturing at once!

  11. Victorian 'steampunk' definitely has a great look. I'm just about to take a foray into 'Dystopian Wars' for the same reason. I'm eager to see how you progress with this project.

  12. Don't worry Colonel, this is all still very much 'On the drawing board' stage, and no political boundaries have as yet been violated.

    But I felt best to put ideas down, so I (ze fine Prussian enginneering corps!) remember them later, once I get painting table clear of present projects!

    The beastie will rise, but it make take a little while!

    I figure I can make the boiler and chimney relatively easily, I'm just in two minds about the caterpillar tracks; whether to scratch build these or see if I can scrounge them from a suitable looking discarded childs toy...

    My mind is positively fizzing with ideas...

  13. Hey Curt, thanks for the encouragement. I was down at Wellington Warlords Call to Arms gathering at the weekend and there was a Dystopian Wars game on there. Looked very interesting and several inspiring looking craft. I just couldnt help thinking how cool it would have looked in 28mm scale!

  14. Hiya, just wanted to let you know tha you can buy pdf.'s of all the Space 1889 stuff from the RPGNow site:

    I'm getting sucked into the oddly exciting world of Steam Punk now - I think it's the freedom to mash-up history and sci-fi with complete abandon... ;)
    Captain Johnny Napalm

  15. Hi Cap'n Napalm, Thanks for that, I'll have a look. Yes I am looking forward to making a start with this project for the reasons you cite :-) Its also the chance to have a go making some interesting vehicles and contraptions!

  16. I love the idea of the FFL. Taking on the Prussians. Throw in a couple of fiendish contraptions and man it could be a blast!

  17. Yeah I know what you mean.
    I think Roly has chosen the Foundry FFL in mexico range - basically they look like FFL but wearing sombreros, with a very on-campaign look to them !

    However due to cost of Foudry stuff, I think he's waiting till they have a sale before buying...


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