Saturday 31 December 2022

The Samurai, the Servant and the Demon: A Folklore adversary for "When the Last Sword is Drawn"

"The smoke curled slowly in the still air of the woodland clearing. There was the scent of freshly-caught fish, cooking on an open fire. The samurai’s servant, Akira, turned the freshwater fish on the wooden spit, the fire occasionally crackling and sending a shower of sparks into the evening sky.

Across the clearing, the demon eyed the fire, enviously. The demon drew its grey tongue over its lips, salivating at the thought of the feast it might be able to enjoy in just a few minutes. Akira was sure that if his master, Kazuko, lost the duel, the demon would be consuming more than just the huge river-fish which Akira had caught that afternoon.

Kazuko levelled his sword at the demon’s throat. His hand was steady and he bent slightly bent forward in a stance long-practised in his family dojo. Despite his skill at sword fighting, Kazuko’s heart was racing. Kazuko watched the demon draw an over-sized, enormous sword with a single, crimson-red, muscled hand. In the demon’s other hand was an immaculately wrought katana - a trophy from another, older duel - but wielded as easily as if the sword was made of fly-wood, like a child’s toy.

As Kazuko circled around the clearing, the dust rose from his bare feet. He was quick on his feet. But was the demon faster?"

As I mentioned in my last Blog post, I’ve spent much of my wargaming time this year building up Japanese terrain and painting miniatures for a skirmish ruleset, set in 17th Century Japan.

We’ve now played about a dozen or more games set in a Japanese historical background, but I wanted to expand the scope to create some games based on historical ukiyo-e prints and the rich tapestry of Japanese myths, folklore and legends. 

The Christmas break has given me the chance to do some painting for the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, and this has been the first submission I've entered in the Challenge so far.

In a woodland clearing one evening, a samurai and his servant prepare for a duel against an Oni, a Japanese demon...  

Oni are depicted in Japanese folklore as being a supernatural form of ogre or demon, known for their fierce and bloodthirsty nature. They have a propensity for murder and brutal behaviour, frequently terrifying the heroes of folk tales and serving as a villain in kabuki drama. Japanese demons even have an appetite for human flesh, although we can guess that the Oni in this blog post might have first been attracted by the scent of cooking fish.

I wanted to equip the Oni with two swords, one a huge (normally two-handed) no-dachi and the other a katana. The Oni and the swords are from the wonderful Dixon Miniatures range of 28mm “Legends of Japan”, sculpted by Mark Copplestone in the late 1980s. Adding the swords into the Oni’s sculpted hands required a bit of brass-rod pinning, really to try and ensure that the swords could be 'held' steady and would not come adrift in hours of gaming.

The samurai is from the former Games Workshop range of Samurai, now sold by Wargames Foundry. I love these sculpts - created by Aly Morrison in 1984. They have, to my mind, stood the test of time very well.  I had the great pleasure of chatting to Aly about the figures a few years back.  I remember that one of his guides in sculpting the range were the ukiyo-e woodblock prints of artists such as Utamaro, Kunichika, Utagawa and Yoshitoshi. Which makes the range perfectly suited for the ‘feel’ of the game I’m looking to try and create.

I didn’t make any changes to the samurai, or his trusty servant (from Perry Miniatures). But I did scratch-build a small campfire on which a large freshwater fish could be cooking. I used a few scraps of wood, and a selection of 3D printed fish, one of which I could skewer on a brass-wire spit over the camp fire. I also added a few spare fish to base of verdant, broad leaves - cut from the meal foil from a wine bottle.  A small sprinkle of fiery-painted sand and foam completed the embers and small flames of the smoky fire.

My time is a bit restricted for painting at the moment.  So wargames which have a low figure count are definitely something which I'm enjoying at the present time.  With this in mind, our games of "When the Last Sword is Drawn" have featured duels, smaller engagements, and companies of half a dozen figures or so on each side.   Combined with a smaller wargaming table, the emphasis has been on opposing forces which are very easy to assemble and paint.  

The larger trees in the photos for this blog post were plastic bonsai, bought from an aquarium supplier in the 1990s and brushed-up this year to serve in our skirmish games.  The smaller trees are some very useful 3d prints - certainly something which we didn't have access to in the 1990s!

And, to follow the character cards I prepared for the "Characters of Laarden" a few years back, here some cards themed around the characters in this blog post but tailored for the rules in "When the Last Sword is Drawn".  Hope you enjoy the cards - they're very frivolous, but have proved to be fun in the games we've played.  

And I hope you can join me for more about Japanese skirmish wargames in another blog post in about a week's time.


Thursday 29 December 2022

"When the Last Sword is Drawn": a Japanese-themed skirmish wargame


Over the past ten months, I’ve been continuing to work on our rules for “...with Flashing Blades”, and also have been exploring a quite different version of those rules which is set in Tokugawa Japan. The rules are tentatively called “When the Last Sword is Drawn” - maybe a bit of a mouthful, but based on a wonderful Japanese movie from 2002.

Whatever the rules end up finally being called, the core theme of the skirmish wargame is gaining honour by faithfully serving a Daimyo, Lord or Lady through a series of skirmishes and other conflicts.  Other themes have also appeared during the games we have played: deceptive appearances, family obligations, imagined slights and vicious revenge.  

I’ve really enjoyed the journey so far of creating another small-scale game which is a really interesting counterpoint to “...with Flashing Blades”. Certain common rules mechanisms appear in both sets of rules, but the themes are quite distinct and the two games play differently. For example, the swordplay in the Japanese version game is deadlier than “...with Flashing Blades”, which I feel fits the environment in which protagonists are fighting with razor-sharp katanas at close quarters.

I’ve also enjoyed rekindling a fascination and love for wargames with a historical and legendary Japanese background. It’s been fifteen years since I last painted up figures for this theme, and returning to paint noble samurai, disgraced ronin and wandering rikishi has been a sheer delight.

I hope to share more images of “When the Last Sword is Drawn” here, on the Blog, in the next few weeks. This blog has been neglected for the last year and a half, mainly as I’ve been been working on “...with Flashing Blades” and “When the Last Sword is Drawn” - painting figures, creating terrain, and also taking the games around to friends’ houses, various games days and smaller wargames shows. However, I have very much missed blogging and sharing ideas here. Although I think Twitter is a useful social media for keeping in touch with wargaming (and other) friends, I do struggle to keep track of older postings.  Blogging seems a lot easier in that regard.

So, with the New Year around the corner, I’ll leave you all with some images of the figures I've painted and games of “When the Last Sword is Drawn” we enjoyed in 2022.


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