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Converting Toy Ships for 50 Fathoms, Pirates, etc.

 
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Jordan Peacock
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2011 5:21 pm    Post subject: Converting Toy Ships for 50 Fathoms, Pirates, etc. Reply with quote

For anyone who's been looking at options for sailing vessels for use in miniatures combat for 50 Fathoms, Pirates of the Spanish Main, or other sea-faring sessions of Savage Worlds, I thought I'd share some photos and notes on one of my latest toy ship conversion projects.

This weekend, I worked on a conversion of a Mega Bloks "Dread Eye's Phantom" toy (originally #3660; re-released as #95524) for use with miniatures gaming. Many of the Mega Bloks toys work fairly well for my purposes, since they're sturdier than model kits, have limited customizing options (since this is at least nominally a construction toy set), and are already scaled pretty closely to the 25mm-32mm range.



Unlike the newer Mega Bloks "Pirates of the Caribbean" toys (and the revamps of those after Mega Bloks lost the POTC license to Lego), the older Pyrates ships have hulls that are mostly in one piece, so they hold together well in storage and when transporting - and the masts pop off easily for easier access to the miniatures on the decks (or, again, for transport and storage). The masts used for the Pyrates, Dragons, and Pirates of the Caribbean lines are pretty much interchangeable, save for slight design changes (and different plastic colors - but they can be repainted). I've also made custom masts using 5/8" diameter wooden dowels.

The Dread Eye's Phantom, Top View, with Extra Masts:


Unlike certain other ships from Mega Bloks, which have lots of "ups and downs" to the deck areas, most of the Phantom's deck is fairly flat, save for the ubiquitous "pegs" used to add blocks or position "mini-figs" in place. The main conversion task is to grind down all those pegs; I used a small hobby Dremel tool with the round disc cutter to cut off the pegs, then grind them down and in some cases to try to re-cut the texture of plank gaps and wood grain in places. Unfortunately, due to the way the plastic is molded, this means that little holes will be in the center of each cut-off peg, so the next step would be to use some putty (I used Magic Sculpt, as it's much cheaper than the "green stuff" and takes paint better) and put it into each of those holes. I basically kneaded some putty, rolled it into a long string, then pressed the tip of it into each hole and used a tool to smooth it out. Depending upon the size of the resulting hole, it might require more than one pass - once to apply a bit of putty, and then again to smooth it out a bit and fill in any leftover gaps.

It's important NOT to cut off any pegs you'll actually be using. On this particular ship, that would include a rectangle of pegs used to affix the captain's wheel in place, and the pegs where the mast bases attach. You might get away with leaving the pegs on the two central "grating" pieces, or at least in portions thereof, since they read visually like overly-large "bolts." (For similar reasons, I didn't bother puttying-in the holes I made when I ground the pegs off the bronze-colored grate areas, since the holes didn't look entirely out of character.) For the steps, rather than puttying-in the holes, I just glued on planks made from craft sticks that happened to be about the right width.



Although it's of minimal importance (since it's too narrow to put a mini there anyway), there's also a "breakaway" section of railing (visible on the lower deck, toward the stern of the ship, facing the viewer) that can get a bit annoying if you keep knocking it loose. I fixed this by putting a bit on the Dremel and drilling holes through the surfaces that would be facing when the piece was in its proper position, then fitting a bit of wire through the holes to glue and secure it into place.

The "sacrificial pit" seems to be a magnet for miniatures to fall into, so for my example, I planked the area underneath it. (The stern deck section can be slid off so you can access the underside.) Alternatively, this could be a good place to affix a new mast base (with a piece of plastic PVC with a 5/8" interior diameter) in case you want to add another mast to the ship, or relocate one of its current masts. I left the decorative "circle of bones," since I figure that could be a spot of importance in an encounter; it might be a ritual circle used by a necromancer animating the ship's crew, or to control a sea monster in service to the undead captain.

I repainted the planks in dark grey, leaving the "bone" details as-is, then dry-brushed in lighter grey, to hide the sawn-off pegs and putty holes somewhat. It's still evident where the pegs used to be, but far less obvious than when the pegs were still there. For the translucent blue "membrane" areas, I dry-brushed with a lighter blue, to bring out the details in greater relief. Since the cannons are grossly oversized for anything I plan to use for my game, I made custom cannon covers from craft sticks and used Tacky Glue to affix those over the holes in the sides where the spring-loaded cannons once fired out.

That's one nice thing about this toy: Since it has cannon ports represented below-decks, I don't have to have models to represent cannons of appropriate scale top-side. (For other ships, such as Captain Cutlass's Stormstalker, where cannons are more appropriate up on deck, I've used plastic cannon markers from the "Weapons & Warriors Pirate Battle Game" from Pressman, as they're a perfect scale for it - and much cheaper than buying 25-28mm scale miniature cannons for such a purpose.)




As shown in the picture, the sails can be fairly easily removed. The "Dread Eye's Phantom" technically only has two masts, though for purposes of Pirates of the Spanish Main it might pass for a 3- or 4-masted ship, owing to the front jib sail attached to the bowsprit, and the rear "throne" piece that effectively acts as an extra mast (supporting the rear sail), or which could be easily replaced with one.

I have an extra mast base piece straddling the two grill pieces in the center, showing a possible way to add another one, if you make a custom mast with dowels, or get an extra one from another set.

The "throne" in the back was originally a spot for positioning one of the mini-digs, and it's technically possible to perch a figure there (as I did in the photo) ... but I wouldn't recommend it. The slightest jostle, and any miniature is going to fall out. (Ouch!)



In the above photo, the cabin section is removed. You can do this by sliding the back deck piece off, then finding the tab connectors and using a screwdriver to push the tab catches to release them; a bit harder is the matter of popping out a "bone" support piece (made of a softer, almost rubbery plastic) that connects the top and base decks. Once I did that, I used the Dremel to file down the catches so that while it could still be inserted into the lower deck, I could pop it back out again without having to resort to tools. This not only made it easier to access the basic deck to get rid of all those pegs and repaint the texture, but now it's easier to access the cabin interior area (in case of miniatures combat breaking out inside).




I've also considered replacing the cabin with another structure, to accomplish a slight ship redesign (so I can get more use out of this ship for multiple encounters without it looking like a complete rehash).

In the above picture, I put a couple of older pieces of terrain (a Grendel "barbarian hut" and a couple of mammoth-skull gateways) on the open deck area, for some sort of barge made partially from the bones of gargantuan sea monsters.

Last I checked, the newer version of the "Dread Eye" is still available in toy stores, though I've occasionally found the older one on Ebay. (If you go hunting there, patience is in order; some will go for ridiculously high prices, while others might go for $20-30. I managed to get both a Dread Eye and a Stormstalker in a single box deal for about $25, including shipping, used, but missing a few minor pieces. Don't forget to keep an eye on shipping and handling! What otherwise looks like a bargain might not actually be, once you figure in the shipping and handling charges.)

I've also been looking at the Chap Mei / Pirates Expeditions / Toys-R-Us True Heroes "Captain's Ship" (currently about $29.99 at Toys 'R' Us), just in case I can ever get that on clearance. Although it's a toy meant for larger-scale action figures, it's about the size of the Mega Bloks Stormstalker, and individual details (such as steps) are passable for miniatures scale. It'd just require a bit of work to repaint, and to replace the captain's wheel with something more scale-appropriate. (Plus, your mileage may vary on the details, since the ship's anchor is represented in relief as a detail on the hull, rather than a distinct piece.)
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Ranger Dave
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2011 6:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very nice!
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LordTentacle
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 9:44 pm    Post subject: You Kick Ass!!! Reply with quote

Thanks for sharing this, Jordan. I wish I was a player in your group - they are very lucky to have you.

I can't believe there hasn't been more acclaim and notice of your exquisite work and advice. I love the pics and would love to see more, for example what you've done with the other model and how you got there (more detailed pics than in the action pic from your table).

I've looked at Lego boxes in the store, but was always put off by the cost, the pegs, the cutesy looks, and lacking any idea of what the scale might be.

Do you have any close up photos with minis?

I've been looking on eBay, and I see what you mean about prices. I'm going to look more carefully at the toy section in thrift stores. Maybe I'll start carrying minis in my car (that'll get the chicks!!).

Anyway, I've bookmarked this page and doing searches on eBay. I can't wait to do 50 Fathoms or Pirates -- maybe I'll send my current Deadlands group to the Maze, back in time, or even run"The Forbidden God.".

Thank you so much for posting this information. Smile
Shannon
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Jordan Peacock
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've gotten a better camera more recently -- one that has a macro focus range of less than an inch, for starters -- so I suppose I could try going back and taking some more pictures in hopes that they'll turn out better.

Regards EBay and pricing: Shopping Ebay is something where I've just had to check in over a period of time, and occasionally I get lucky. It's probably NOT worth the amount of time spent checking my searches, and a significant portion of the time there's some complication (e.g., an item that was IN THE PICTURE is not actually included in the box, or a "totally complete" set is missing 1/3 of the original components) that needs to be sorted out. Fortunately, I've gotten the ships I "need," so I'm not worried about sharing my "secrets" with potential rival bidders Wink ... but I haven't really figured out anything other than just to check in now and again and MAYBE you'll get lucky. Thrift stores are probably the better bet if they're not far out of the way, because you can look it over right then and there and figure out if it's worth your while ... and you're not paying to have it shipped.

I'll see if I can find a chance to take some more close-up pictures to give a better idea of what can be done.
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VonDan
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can never say this enough. Keep checking your local thrift stores. I see pirate ships of many brands from almost complete to hulks for under $10

and check your local craig's List toy section at leas then you can look at the toy set first hand before getting it


Von "If i know it is just gonna sit in storage and never get played with i don't spend a lot" Dan
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Jordan Peacock
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 7:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

LordTentacle wrote:
I've looked at Lego boxes in the store, but was always put off by the cost, the pegs, the cutesy looks, and lacking any idea of what the scale might be.


Scale is pretty subjective when it comes to toys. For instance, I often hear that "Hot Wheels" are in 1:72 or maybe 1:64 scale, but it's pretty clear that's only a rough estimate at best if you realize that whether it's a dune buggy, a motorcycle, a street car, or a BUS, the toy is about the same size.

Similarly, scale is pretty messy with Mega Bloks toys. The "Stormstalker" 1-masted ship is about the same length as the "Phantom" 2-masted ship. The important thing for my purposes is that visually-identifiable checkpoints such as the height of the ship's wheel, the height of the railing, the approximate size of doorways, etc., are close enough when put next to 28mm-30mm miniatures. They're a bit on the large side if I were to use these toys with true 25mm miniatures.

I would have a harder time getting a pass on scale if we were dealing with modern vehicles (as in the Hot Wheels example). If you have a semi truck parked next to a convertible, and they are the same size, you've obviously got a scale problem. Or, if you've got a street car next to your hero miniature, and the street car's roof is TALLER than the mini, there's something definitely wrong. Now, if it were some sort of futuristic space ship or an ancient sailing ship, I can get away with more on the scale because I and my players really don't have much personal experience with things to have expectations to be violated with a mere glance at the comparative scale.

(Your mileage may vary, of course. I look at a Warhammer 40K Rhino APC and think, "How in the WORLD can all those armored Space Marines fit in there?")

As an example in the department of "differences in scale I can get away with," a while back I got a Fisher Price "pirate ship" toy at a thrift store for $3. It was grossly out of scale on the familiar touch-points: the aft deck railing was as tall as a miniature, the ship's wheel was way too large and high, and so forth. However, the squashed, cartoony proportions of the toy made it comparable in length to my Mega Bloks ships.

The original toy looked something like this (although missing all the accessories, the yard arms, the cannon, part of the deck, and generally looking very beat-up):



However, with a bit of foam-core, craft wood, and paint, the ship looks more like this:




Basically, I lowered the side railing on the aft deck to about 1/2 inch high, I created a new mid-deck with some foam-core board and lots of craft-stick planking, and made a new ship's wheel (from a spare Mega Bloks ship's wheel -- not pictured in this photo). The result still looks a bit on the goofy side, but it's a sturdy ship for $3 and a bit of work, and the masts can be fairly easily popped out for storage and transport.

I've also seen some fantastic work done with toy GI Joe craft intended for 3.5" figures transformed into amazing gaming miniatures. In fact, here's a handy link to one such project where someone converted a GI Joe Sigma 6 "Dragonhawk" drop ship into a miniatures-scale sci-fi craft. If only I could find a Dragonhawk on the cheap, I'd try to do likewise even though I'm not running any sci-fi campaigns right now. Smile

The point just being that even if a toy is in the "wrong" scale, there's a certain amount of leeway on what you can get away with for miniatures purposes.
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LordTentacle
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 9:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Again, fantastic work.
I think you photos were fine in terms of quality, I'd just like to see some shots with miniatures in action Smile
What paint do you use? Regular craft-store water-washable paint, or plastic model paint in the tiny bottles?
Thanks again for sharing your work.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 9:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is pretty frickin' amazing. Surprised
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Jordan Peacock
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 11:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

LordTentacle wrote:
Again, fantastic work.
I think you photos were fine in terms of quality, I'd just like to see some shots with miniatures in action Smile


Oh! Sure, I've got a bunch of those. I misunderstood. I'll include some of those below.

LordTentacle wrote:
What paint do you use? Regular craft-store water-washable paint, or plastic model paint in the tiny bottles?


I'm a cheapskate with far too many minis to paint. I only use the pricey model paint when I'm painting someone else's army for tournament use.

For base coating, I use white, grey or black cheap spray-paint primer -- white if I want something bright and colorful, black if it's going to be darker, and grey if it's somewhere in between and it doesn't really matter what the base coat is because I'm going to have to go through several iterations of painting layers anyway.

It's important to do a test spray on materials I'm unfamiliar with, especially when toys are concerned; some toys DO NOT take spray paint well at all. For instance, there were these Digimon toys that came out a while ago, practically perfect for standard miniatures scale, and I could paint them with craft acrylics ... but they were a softer plastic, and for some reason softer plastics tend to react badly whenever subjected to spray paint. The spray paint ends up leaving the surface perpetually tacky, and any attempts at a paint job end up with cracks in the surface. Definitely skip base-coating with spray paint if you're painting on anything with foam (insulation board, foam-core, etc.), or it'll eat into the foam.

For paints, I tend to go with the cheaper acrylic craft paints that I can get at craft stores or in the craft section of a department store, such as Apple Barrel or Folk Art paints. They're inferior in terms of color vibrance and consistency in opacity and viscosity compared to more "serious" paints such as those put out by Games Workshop or Reaper, but they're cheap and they get the job done for my purposes most of the time. If you want bright colors, be sure to paint a layer of white first, since most of the "bright-color" paints in these sets tend to be only semi-opaque, so you need that white underneath.

Finally, once I've finished painting a miniature with high detail, I protect it with a clear coat of non-yellowing matte acrylic -- usually Krylon. I don't usually bother with that on my toy pirate ships, etc., except on fine-detail points such as a painted figurehead.
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Jordan Peacock
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 11:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Doomed Ship - "Dead Men Tell No Tales"


This was another "Captain Cutlass Stormstalker" (original type) that I painted up, this time to represent the doomed ship from "Dead Men Tell No Tales". I base-coated the plastic hull grey, removed the cylindrical "transformation chamber" from the deck, and made a raised, flat deck with some mat board and planks made of craft sticks. The original toy had a "cabin" that was open to the air, so I made a wall and representation of a door with more mat board and craft sticks, and I raised the mounting for the deck grills and the mast up to the level of the new deck. Everything got some uneven drybrushing with lighter greys and white (and daubing of moss-green at the waterline) and I used a piece of scrap dowel instead of the normal mast piece, to suggest a derelict with a broken mast (as per the adventure description).

Off to port is one of the longships from "Weapons & Warriors Pirate Battle," a great source of plastic pirates, treasure chests, boats, a tower, and, best of all, CANNONS that are the perfect scale for use with these toy ships. (The firing cannons that actually come with Mega Bloks pirate ships are ridiculously over-sized.)

Battle with the Cursed Captain:


Here's an "action scene" of the battle between the heroes and the cursed ship's captain. The cannons on deck are from the aforementioned "Pirate Battle" board game. The cabin interior was only roughly represented with spare bits of "furnishings" I had put together, but still has the original deck surface (with the pegs). At some other point, I'll either Dremel down the pegs, or re-plank the floor in there, so I can properly furnish the cabin.

(Pre-Conversion) Phantom Ship & Crew:


Here's a picture of the "Dread Eye's Phantom" toy, before grinding down all those pegs and refurbishing the ship, but with a few miniatures on it to give a sense of scale. The undead pirates in the middle are Reaper skeletal pirates from the "Razig" faction, and a couple of Reaper pirates are up near the ship's wheel on the aft deck.

I have some more photographs of pirate-themed Savage Worlds battles and adventures in a photo gallery, with a few notes.
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VonDan
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jordan Peacock wrote:


As an example in the department of "differences in scale I can get away with," a while back I got a Fisher Price "pirate ship" toy at a thrift store for $3. It was grossly out of scale on the familiar touch-points: the aft deck railing was as tall as a miniature, the ship's wheel was way too large and high, and so forth. However, the squashed, cartoony proportions of the toy made it comparable in length to my Mega Bloks ships.


finely some one took my thrift store advice
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Jordan Peacock
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I figured I'd post a few more examples of toys-turned-pirate-ships from my renewed Pirates RPG campaign:

Mega Bloks "Dread Eye's Phantom" - Alternate Paint


The Mega Bloks "Dread Eye's Phantom" is a little more versatile than I might have initially supposed. I managed to land another one as part of a lot deal, and applied the same "conversion" technique (making the rear cabin removable, covering up the "sacrificial pit," and cutting off "plugs" on the deck and filling in any holes with putty), but then I went a step further and repainted the ship black, and all the previously "spirit/membrane" areas I first painted a base of white, then a fiery yellow-orange-red scheme, dry-brushing where appropriate with black in order to give the impression of a ship barely containing a supernatural conflagration inside. A lot can also be done by using craft sticks to build up the cabin area (as the original has a lot of gaps open to the air).


The outer railing (used in the above picture to pose a figure) provides some room for conventional RPG figures, but not on wide bases such as those used for the newer Savage Worlds minis (30mm). The figure pictured above is on a 20mm square base. (And the mysterious fin in the water is a model from Dreamblade, removed from its original base. The ship on the right is the Mega Bloks "Black Pearl" with a little bit of dry-brushing and texturing so it wouldn't be shiny black.)



Converted "Brigs:


The (sadly discontinued) Pressman miniatures game, "Weapons & Warriors Pirate Battle" (AKA "Pirate Siege") is a valuable resource for several relatively cheap props for use with Pirates RPG games ... if you can find it. Originally it was a target game where you shoot spring-loaded "cannonballs" at your opponent's plastic pirates and ships. Well, it happens to include a bunch of palm trees, several plastic pirates, treasure chests, a tower, and several "target" cannons just begging to be painted up and used for games. It also has a couple of "brigs" and some smaller boats that are potentially useful, but you'll have to take a Dremel (or similar tool) to them to get rid of some of the purely game-focused aspects.

The "brigs" in the game might be in scale for 15mm, but they're laughably small for 25mm, let alone "28mm heroic" or 32mm. Still, I've found a place for them in my games, converting one to a Barbary Coast dhow, and the rest I've just called "caravels," treating them as 1-masted ships a step down from a sloop (lower Toughness, lower Cargo, and having room for just 2 4-pdr cannons and half a load of gunpowder for armament ... but making up for this with Shallow Draft, low Crew requirements, and great Handling), used occasionally by pirates trying to launch stealthy attacks on moored ships in port.


Caravel Figureheads:


The figureheads originally mounted on these ships are rather cartoonish, but they're fairly easily removed and replaced with others. In this case, I used some spare HeroClix and Mage Knight minis for replacement figureheads.
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