Line6 FBV: Part 2

I’ve started looking into the Line6 FBV protocol again, after letting it sit for a year. This time, I had another Line6 pedal that is compatible with the Amplifi. By observing serial traffic between the pedal and amp, I was able to emulate the basic functionality of the pedal using an Arduino.

Hardware

I am vague in this section, because I do not know if the circuits I built are truly safe for the Amplifi hardware. I didn’t have any problems with the amp, but I did generate enough electrical problems via USB to cause my laptop to spontaneously reboot several times… that can’t be good, right? Any attempts to mess with your hardware will probably void your warranty, and a mistake could blow up your amp or burn your house down. You have been warned.

I used the same input/output circuit found on the FBV2 pedal. Sending data to the Amplifi did not work without both of the balanced signals on the cable. I believe this may be using RS-422 signaling, which requires that differential input. If so, a proper RS-422 chip might work better than the Schmitt triggers, but I haven’t tested it.

The serial specifications are the same as I used on the FBV2, and the same as MIDI uses: 31250 baud, 8N1. I used a higher serial speed for USB debugging channels, to reduce the chance of interrupting an incoming byte.

I assumed the connector wiring was the same as on the FBV2 pedal, and verified this is the case. However, the amp supplies far more than 5v, and the voltage will need to be regulated to be compatible with a 5v or 3.3v Arduino.

On the Arduino side, listening to both sides of an amp/pedal conversation, USB debugging, and controlling an LCD and buttons all at the same time was much easier using an Arduino Mega, which has multiple hardware serial ports. I wasn’t able to get SoftwareSerial or AltSoftSerial to do what I needed here.

I used an Adafruit character display I2C backpack with four on-board buttons to mock up a user interface. I can’t find this board for sale anymore on adafruit.com, so I’m glad I got an extra.

Protocol

The data sent between amp and pedal is sent in packets of the same basic format, and it matches what I found on the FBV2: “F0” followed by a length byte, and that many bytes of data.  The interesting parts are the messages those packets can contain.

By recording the traffic between the amp and pedal while interacting with the pedal, I was able to identify many of the features of the communication protocol. However, there are also spontaneous handshake packets sent between the devices, and I have no clue what they’re for.

The messages themselves start with one byte that identifies the type of message, followed by message-specific data. Messages sent from Amp to Pedal had message IDs with the high bit off (0x00-0x7F), and messages from Pedal to Amp had IDs with the high bit on (0x80-0xFF).

Here are the message IDs I have identified, with my hypothesis as to what each one is used for. I made up all the message names based on what I think they’re for.

01 00

Every ~100ms, the amp emits this Heartbeat message, and the pedal emits a standard response (80, see below).  I don’t know what this is for, but I assume it’s a heartbeat so the amp knows the pedal is still connected.

04 NN BB

I call this the LED message, because when it is sent, the pedal turns an LED on or off.  NN specifies which LED is changing state, and BB is 00 for “off” or 01 for “on.” Values of NN I have observed:

  • 61: Tempo. The amp flashes an LED on and off to mark the current “tap” tempo for effects.
  • 20, 30, 40, 50: Patch LED A, B, C, D
  • 21, 31, 41, 51: Unknown.
  • 02, 03: Unknown; Wah/Vol LED, maybe?

When patches are changed by the pedal, the amp responds with a set of messages to update the pedal state for the new patch. Included are an LED message for each Patch LED, configuring its state, as well as some of the other unknown LED numbers.

08 C1 C2 C3 C4

The Small Display message sends 4 ASCII characters. When the amp is in Play mode, a message is sent whenever the patch changes, with the characters representing the bank and patch, such as ” 01A”. When the amp is in Tuning mode, this displays the note the amp thinks you’re playing, whenever it changes.

10 NN DD C1..C16

The Large Display message sends a longer text message to be displayed on the pedal. In practice, I have only observed messages with NN=00 and DD=10, followed by 16 (0x10) bytes of ASCII data. I am guessing DD is a byte count. NN might be a line number if the target device has a multi-line display, but I don’t know of any such device.

In Play mode, the amp sends the patch name in this message whenever the patch is changed. In tuning mode, the amp sends a string of characters that visually depicts how far off-pitch you are from the note sent in the Small Display message.

For example, when the note is perfectly tuned, it displays:

I---- ** ----I

When the note is off-pitch, it uses > < arrows to point which way to tune the string.

80 00 02 00 01 01 00

Message 80 with this specific byte sequence is sent by the pedal in response to each Heartbeat message it receives. I don’t know what the byte sequence represents, and it doesn’t seem to change depending on the state of the pedal’s buttons or LEDs. It may be a device-specific ID or some other kind of identifying information.

If I remember correctly, I found the amp starts to spam packets at the pedal when the pedal stops responding to heartbeats. It was easy enough to add a response handler for this, so I did.

81 NN BB

The pedal sends this Button Press message whenever a button on the pedal is pressed or released. NN represents the button number, and matches the NN sent in the LED message response: 20, 30, 40, and 50 are used for buttons A, B, C, and D. BB is 01 when the button is pressed and 00 when it is released.

The “tap for tempo” and “tune” features are implemented in the amp, not in the pedal. The pedal tells the amp when buttons are being pressed, and the amp tells the pedal what to display; it’s up to the amp to interpret the button presses as a patch change, tempo change, or tuning request. This makes development of the pedal software much simpler, and allows the amp to change its features in firmware without requiring a new pedal.

82 NN VV

The Expression message is sent whenever the pedal’s expression pedal changes position. NN has always been 0 in the messages I observed, but it probably denotes which expression pedal is being adjusted, in cases where more than one expression pedal is supported. VV is the value of the expression pedal: 0-127.

Startup, Patch Change, Mode Change

The pedal powers up when it is connected to the amp, and after a brief pause sends a few startup packets. In full packet form, the pedal sends:

f0 02 90 00 
f0 02 30 08

Each line is one packet containing a message of length 2. The first one is message 90, value 0; the second one is message 30, value 08. This is the only case I’ve seen when the pedal sent a message without the high bit set. Either my interpretation of the message ID high bit isn’t correct, or I did not read the packet data correctly. I have no idea what these messages mean.

In response, the amp sends these two packets:

f0 01 40
f0 03 31 01 16

I don’t know if this startup sequence varies depending on the hardware involved, but it doesn’t seem to change depending on the device state.

Then, the amp sends packets containing a complete set of state to the pedal: Small Display, Large Display, and an LED message for each LED. The pedal only needs to remember these values and only change its LED and display when new settings are received from the amp.

Whenever the pedal sends button presses that are interpreted as a patch change by the amp, the amp replies with a complete state set, just as when the pedal starts up.

If the pedal user presses the button corresponding to the currently selected patch, the amp interprets this as a tempo change.  Shortly after, the tempo LED messages will start arriving at the updated rate.

If the pedal user presses the “tuning” button combination, the amp enters Tuning mode. In Tuning mode, the amp sends Small Display and Large Display messages in real time as the user tunes their guitar. Further button presses reset to Play mode.

The future…

Before I left for vacation in August, I made plans for a few devices. These plans are on hold until I get another flash of inspiration, unfortunately.

First, I plan to replace the microcontroller in my FBV2 pedal with an ATTiny85 running emulation software that implements the two FBV2 buttons as “next patch” and “previous patch.” It listens to the incoming packets to determine the current patch, and calculates the button value to send for the left and right buttons based on the current patch. I got as far as emulating this behavior on the Arduino Mega, but didn’t successfully emit messages from the ATTiny.

The ATTiny is inexpensive and small, but unfortunately its limited feature set makes debugging very challenging. I may have to build an amp emulator with the Arduino Mega, just to debug the pedal emulator running on ATTiny…

My second project was a full 4-button pedal with expression. I mocked up all of the required functionality on the Arduino Mega, using the Adafruit LCD character/button shield. I will replace the on-board buttons with beefy pedal switches. Tempo will be marked by changing the LCD backlight color, and all tuning and patch names are displayed.

When I was working on this more actively, I thought I might be missing a large chunk of the FBV Mkii controller’s functionality: MIDI over USB. Thinking about it again, I’m not so sure. It feels like it would be a lot easier to implement MIDI in the device driver rather than in the pedal hardware. Maybe the USB port is connected to the same internal serial lines as the RJ-45 connector, and the device’s drivers convert the simple button press messages into MIDI messages before they make it to userspace?

This is a fun project… sometimes. The rest of the time, I don’t work on it, because I’m doing something I need to do, or something fun, instead.

 

Reverse Engineering: Line 6 FBV2

The Line 6 FBV2 is a control pedal for use with older Line 6 amplifiers and effects processors. I bought it to use with our Line 6 Amplifi 75 guitar amplifier.  Unfortunately, it isn’t compatible with this newer amplifier, so it’s been sitting on the shelf for over a year.

After starting to play with an Arduino development kit recently, I decided it was time to revisit the FBV2 pedal to see if I could make it do what I wanted.

A quick disassembly revealed a single small circuit board with only 2 ICs and a handful of other components.  This looked like it might be easy to reverse engineer and see how it worked.

Line 6 FBV2 circuit diagram, approximately.

I followed the traces from the 8-pin RJ45 connector to the ICs and switches on the board, and drew a rough circuit diagram. Looking up the part numbers, I found an inverter and a microcontroller. The pinout from these parts let me identify the transmit, receive, and power pins on the connector.

The microcontroller is branded NXP, made by Phillips: P87LPC760. This doesn’t seem to be made anymore, so it seems not worth getting a replacement and programmer for it.  My first idea for making this usable was to read the output from this device and convert it into something my Amplifi 75 can understand.

I hacked apart a spare ethernet cable to use its RJ-45 connector, and connected the FBV2’s transmit, receive, and power pins to my Arduino’s breadboard.

FBV2 disassembled and attached to the Arduino

I had heard the Line 6 devices used MIDI, so I approached this as if it were a MIDI device. I didn’t bother building an electrically correct MIDI interface, which requires an optoisolator, because this device was being powered by the Arduino board (via my laptop), so there was no danger of a ground loop.  Besides, this device should already have an optoisolator if it needed one, but it didn’t; so how important could it be?

I wrote a sketch using the SoftwareSerial library to interpret the output of the FBV2 as a MIDI stream: 31250 baud, with the default start/stop bit options. I mirrored the bytes over the USB serial port to the serial debugger in the Arduino IDE to inspect the byte sequences emitted by the FBV2 when the left and right buttons were pressed.

After a bit of fiddling, I was able to read the output. There were 2 basic data sequences:

  • Left button: F0 03 81 67 01 F0 03 81 67 00
  • Right button: F0 03 81 20 01 F0 03 81 20 00

These certainly seemed like MIDI sequences, but they weren’t quite right:

  • F0: System Exclusive. This is typically followed by a byte sequence terminated by F7. I don’t see that, so I though perhaps the byte stream was automatically terminated by a control byte (<= 128 decimal).
  • 03: At first I assumed this was the only data associated with the System Exclusive event; but, see below.
  • 81 67 01: This is a Note Off event on channel 2; note 67, velocity 1. 
  • 81 67 00: Note Off, channel 2; note 67, velocity 0.
  • 81 20 01: Note Off, channel 2; note 20, velocity 1.
  • 81 20 00: Note Off, channel 2; note 20, velocity 0.

This was all very hopeful, but eventually I realized it may not be important what this device outputs. Instead of converting this output to whatever the Amplifi 75 needs, maybe it would be better to replace the microcontroller with something a bit more accessible, and just program it to output what I needed instead.

My next few lines of inquiry weren’t fruitful, but I have a plan for what to try next.

I decided to pop out the microcontroller, which was helpfully mounted in a socket, and attach a few Arduino IO pins directly to the microcontroller outputs. This effectively replaces the FBV2’s brain with my Arduino, allowing me to program it to output whatever I want.

I wrote scripts to test a huge variety of MIDI control sequences: Control Change and Program Change events on all different channels with different controls and values, and the original MIDI-like sequences produced by the FBV2 pedal. Nothing seemed to be recognized by the Amplifi 75.

What I really need is a pedal compatible with the Amplifi that I can reverse engineer and see how it works. But if I had that, I wouldn’t need to make the FBV2 work, and there would be no point to completing the project.

It got late enough that I tore everything down and put it away. 

Then, after a bit more searching online, I found some information that will give me a new start. A company called VLoTech created a github project that reads and writes FBV pedal board data, for the larger FBV pedal boards that are compatible with the Amplifi 75.

This project showed me that the F0 03 sequence is more likely to be a byte count for the subsequent commands.

I also realized that I didn’t measure any timing information from the FBV2 when I read its data sequences.  It may be that the F0 03 81 67 01 and F0 03 81 67 01
sequences are “on” and “off” events that need a time delay between them in order to have an effect on the target device.

Next time I pick this up, hopefully later this week, I plan to try some of the other byte sequences documented in the fbv_tools project. 

To be continued…

    A Dream: Google PRIME

    I had a pretty intense dream last night.  I’m sharing it here with the hope that someone will steal my ideas and make them into a short story, novel, or movie. I don’t have the skills for this, but I’d like to read the rest of the story…

    I was running through the downtown streets of a big city during some apocalyptic catastrophe. Buildings were crumbling and falling around me as I looked for shelter. I found a small but ornate black stone building in the style of a 19th century bank, with a Cold War era “Bomb Shelter” sign, and a Google logo.

    I entered the building, and found stairs leading down, where I expected the bomb shelter to be.  At the end of my descent I found myself in a huge, dark room with a low ceiling.  The underground space stretched farther than I could see in all directions.  Groups of people were sitting on foam mats, so I joined them.

    I knew that this place was only for Primes, and I knew that I wasn’t a Prime even though I didn’t know what a Prime was; but I stayed anyway. I found another man who was also not a Prime, but they let us stay.

    Some time passed and our group found ourselves in a different room: smaller, friendlier, and a lot more like I’d picture a postapocalyptic refuge to look like. We hung out on couches and survived, basically. There wasn’t really enough water, and there was a radiation danger.  Eventually I figured out we were on a space ship.  There was an action scene where we fought off the bad guy space ships, which were all shaped like giant tanks.

    At some point I learned or knew what a Prime was, and my dream became lucid, or transitioned into waking thoughts about the ideas the dream contained.

    The synopsis is: Google is secretly using its data mining and search technology to identify the best candidates for repopulating the earth after an apocalypse-scale catastrophe. It looks for the best combination of health, longevity, genetic diversity, and compatible personality to ensure the survival of the species from a very small population.

    The people identified by this process are known as PRIMEs, or Primary Repopulation Individuals for Mother Earth. In the event of a catastrophe, Google collects these individuals and brings them to its “ark” for want of a better word: a survival bunker of some sort, supplied with the technology and supplies to allow humanity to survive whatever has happened.

    At this point my mind was concentrating on how this concept might be turned into a short story, and the implications of someone like Google using their massive data collection for this kind of purpose.

    I imagined a man running through the downtown streets of a big city during some apocalyptic catastrophe.  This time, Men in Black (or equivalent) asked him “Are you so-and-so?” and told him to come with them when he confirmed his identity.  He protested: he needed to find his wife and child and help them.  The Men collected him, and brought him to the Google vault.  He was a PRIME.

    Like many things the real Google actually does in real life, dream-Google’s PRIME program is a double-edged sword. On one hand, PRIME has a noble goal: to save humanity in case of an apocalyptic catastrophe. On the other hand, dream-Google’s algorithms entirely define what that surviving humanity will look like.  They choose who lives, who dies, and the genetic shape of the future human race.

    What happens next?

    Fall-In 2013

    Another year, another Fall-In convention.  The more conventions I go to, the less new and different I have to say about them, so I’m going to go over some of the “big picture” items that I usually ignore, and only briefly cover the events themselves.

    Walter White helps me with my
    convention registration issue.

    Gaming conventions are great fun, and they’re a wonderful way to get a big dose of gaming in over the course of the weekend.  I learn more in a weekend at the convention than the entire time between conventions. My room for Cold Wars 2014 is already reserved, and I should probably go book for Fall-In as well.

    As usual in recent years, I played nothing but DBx games: DBA and HotT.  Fall-In is the smallest of the HMGS-East conventions, but there are enough players and GMs to field a full schedule of DBA and HotT games, from Thursday evening to Sunday morning with minimal breaks.  All the DBA games were run using 2.2+. Nobody plays 2.2 anymore, and 3.0 isn’t released yet.

    Ancient and Medieval wargaming is in a bit of a funk at the conventions these days.  Although we have enough players to fill DBA tournaments, there is very little support in the vendor hall. The space where Wargames Minis used to be is still a huge hole in the back of the hall, and many other vendors seem not to bring their 15mm ancient and medieval figures in recent years.

    If you’re interested in buying painted armies, there seems to be a big selection of DBA armies in the flea market; so there’s that, at least.

    Luckily, Gale Force 9 have their bulk MDF bases back in stock, hopefully permanently.  I stocked up on 25mm scale HotT bases on Friday before they ran out.

    As I paint more armies, each army I paint becomes less and less useful to my overall collection.  When I had 2 armies, painting a third was a huge benefit: on average it would see use 1/3 of the time.  Now that I have over 30 armies, each new army I paint provides only a minuscule benefit over the ones I have.  I play DBA so infrequently outside of conventions that the only way I can guarantee I’ll play an army is if I paint it for a specific themed event.

    With that in mind, I built 3 armies in preparation for Fall-In 2013.  I painted Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid for BBDBA, but didn’t end up using it.  The Two Davids campaign event always provides a good motivation to paint a new army, so I painted Georgians.  There wasn’t any other event at the same time as the 25mm DBA event, so I rebased a 25mm Early Polish army, though I didn’t paint the figures.

    Mark Bumala is annoyed that Rich forgot the terrain mats.

    Every convention, The Stooges from Pittsburgh run a Prologue event: an element-themed tournament on Thursday night.  This time around the theme was “Long Pointy Things.” Eligible armies required at least 4 elements of Pike. These aren’t historical formats, and don’t tend to produce historical matchups. They often result in fairly balanced army matchups, but some metagamers try to turn it into an “armies that beat the element theme” event.

    After winning 3 rounds undefeated, John Manning’s nearly naked Sumerians carried their Long Pointy double entendres to victory. I brought Seleucids.  Although I tend to consider Alexander and his Successors as the main source of DBA Pike armies, I didn’t face any other Classical pikes. John Manning beat me with his Sumerians; I beat Mark Bumala’s Low Countries; and Roland Fricke beat me 5-3G in a very close battle with his Low Countries army.

    I really like the later Sumerian army, but it’s only because their heavy chariots are donkey-pulled 4-wheel carts.  At this point, the army composition is so similar to a Successor army that I just can’t justify painting the army without a themed event to play it in.

    They did that?  Their C-in-C hanging out on our left
    flank should be easy to pick off…

    The first Bookend event is Big Battle Doubles, held all day on Friday.  Typically this event is run in two separate player pools, using either round-robin or swiss pair matchups in each group depending on the player count.  After three preliminary rounds, the winners of each pool are supposed to play a final to determine the overall winner.

    In recent conventions they’ve been using a historical theme, and this time around it was chariot-era biblical armies.

    Team Two Davids won their pool as they usually do. Spencer Ginder and his wife, team Comedy and Tragedy, won the other pool.  Since both teams live in the DC area, they decided to finish the final outside the convention.  I haven’t heard the final results yet.

    Team Comedy and Tragedy: Christine and Spencer Ginder

    I partnered with Jack Sheriff, making him the second player I’ve partnered with more than once. We formed The Team With No Name, despite Dave Schlanger’s attempt to retcon us into The Team Who Shall Not be Named. I’d be happy to join forces with him again; we both have the right combination of laid back but competitive.

    We decided to take Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid with a Saitic Egyptian ally. I planned to paint a Sargonid army with an ally for BBDBA before I partnered with Jack, but he had the army so I didn’t need to finish painting it.

    In the first round, we faced Mark Burton and John Svensson, whose team name I forget, and their Lydian army. They defended and tried a bold, daring deployment that put most of their forces on our weaker right flank, but exposed their commander in chief on the end of their line.  Truthfully, they put up a good fight and lasted several turns longer than I anticipated; but they lost in the end.  We won 78-22.

    In the second round, we faced team Comedy and Tragedy and their New Kingdom Egyptians.  We lost 2-98.

    Versus The Stooges. Before: Deployment.

    We were determined to take our lessons learned into the third round, where we also faced New Kingdom Egyptians with the same composition.  This time, they were piloted by the Stooges: Larry Chaban and “Diceman” Rich Baier from Pittsburgh.  I came all this way to fight you?

    Jack Sheriff is known as “the butcher,” and in this game we all helped him earn his title.  In the end we lost 41-59, but it was one of the closest BBDBA matches I’ve seen. We were close to testing whether it was possible to gain more points as a loser than as a winner.

    Versus The Stooges. After: Carnage.

    The victory conditions for BBDBA say that you win if you have broken the enemy’s C-in-C command, or have killed more than half the enemy’s elements and also have more elements killed than they do.  Big Battles uses a triple army, 36 elements, so half the elements are 18.

    Near the end of this game, we were tied 17 elements to 17. They broke one of our commands early on, but we broke two of theirs shortly after.  It was their turn, which meant that it was their turn for their elements to flee off the board, but also their turn to attack us and kill more elements.  Unfortunately they were able to kill 18 elements before we could catch up, securing their victory. They won 19G-17G/CinC: a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one.

    After this battle of epic proportions, the four of us decided to go to dinner rather than participate in the Friday evening event.  On Roland’s advice, we drove a few miles away to a “Mexican” restaurant. This turned out to be a high quality Latin-American restaurant that was an absolutely amazing find for Lancaster, PA: El Serrano.  After the loss of the Thai restaurant, and Tony Wang’s going down hill, it was great to find another place to eat good food.  I had the Lomito and two excellent Margaritas, and didn’t regret missing a DBA event for the experience.

    Pyramid event, final round.

    On Saturday, I ran a Pyramid event.  In this format, the loser of the each round joins forces with the winner in a multi-army battle in the next round.  The 8-player pyramid results in 3 rounds culminating in an 8 player 4-on-4 battle.

    This time around, I chose an Alexandrian Successor theme. In the final round, Larry Chaban as C-in-C of the Athenian Empire defeated Dan Loych, C-in-C of the Ptolemaic Empire, to secure Greek dominance over their Macedonian underlings.

    A new target! I mean, Otto.

    Saturday afternoon, there was only one event: a 25mm book II/III tournament.  I usually don’t play 25mm, but 2.2+ normalized the rules across 15mm and 25mm, so I decided to take an army rather than do nothing. I could have taken my Early Spartans, but a wall of spears with a single Psiloi is fairly boring.  I decided to rebase some painted Medieval figures I had into an Early Polish army, instead.

    In the first round, I beat John Svensson’s Normans 4-0. Next I faced Jeff Franz and his Skythians; he didn’t roll enough 6’s for PIPs, so I beat him 3G-1.  Finally, I faced John Manning’s Hsia-Hsia and won 4-2 to end in an undefeated victory. And so, I qualified for the NICT again even though I am unable to attend Historicon.

    Saturday Night is the other Bookend event: the Two Davids Campaign Theme.  This convention, the theme was God Wills It!, a Crusader theme. I played the Georgians, alone in the corner as usual.  I’m not very good at parties.

    I never took a vassal, but I won 2 rounds out of 5 (“Beat up on kids” according to Larry), killed a general, and ended the game independent, netting me 7 points and a solid middle-of-the-pack position.

    Sunday Morning, instead of going to Perkins for their extreme bowel cleansing service, I decided to play the Hordes of the Things open.  I brought Professor Hans’ Metal Minions.  I won one round and lost 2.  Scott Kastler’s magician army was a very interesting opponent.

    It was another great convention, and I look forward to Cold Wars in March.  In the mean time I have at least 3 DBA armies to paint, and I plan to field a new HotT army for the Sunday open as well.

    You should join us! It’s fun, and there’s beer.

    DBA Army III/70b: Georgians

    Here is my recently completed Georgian army for DBA 2.2+.

    DBA Army III/70b: Georgians. Essex miniatures.
    Georgian 3Kn General and 3x3Kn.  Essex Miniatures.

    I painted this army for the God Wills It! First Crusade Campaign Theme, which will be run on Saturday night at Fall-In 2013.

    The primary factor for me choosing this army was that the slot was still available in the campaign.  However, I also had a number of the figures on hand, as leftovers from other projects.  I chose the rest of the figures based on what Jack Sheriff used in his Georgian army.

    Unlike Jack’s figures, most of mine are stock, unmodified Essex miniatures.  The exceptions are four Light Horse models, which were Bulgar archers.  They had large toggles on the front of their coats, which I removed to make them look almost identical to the Essex Kipchak/Cuman figures.

    III/70b: 4x2LH. Essex Miniatures.
    III/70b: 2x4Sp. Essex Miniatures.

    The Knights are a mix of Essex Georgian knights and other similar knights.  The general and his supporting figures are a generic Eastern European command set.

    I had a hard time finding any definitive information on colors and shield patterns for this army. I would not use this army as an example of what Georgians are supposed to look like.  I was inspired by a few other painted Georgian armies online, and pictures of

    As usual, these are painted primarily with Vallejo acrylics. I use a combination of painted highlights and several colors of ink washes for shading.  Shields are hand painted.

    III/70b: 2x3Bw. Essex Miniatures.

    III/70b: 2x2Ps. Essex Miniatures.

    25mm DBA Army III/62b: Early Polish

    DBA army III/62b: Early Polish; 25mm figures.

    “Since when do you play 25’s?”
    “Why are you playing 25mm?”

    I’ve gotten a lot of heckling from my friends, but the explanation is simple: at Fall-In 2013, there is nothing else going on during the 25mm tournament, and I’m not going to use up my whole Saturday without playing anything before the campaign event.  If I did that, I’d only go buy things.

    So, I built a 25mm army from figures I had on hand.  I didn’t paint this army, I bought the figures already painted.  I only touched them up, applied some ink, and based them.  They’re brighter than they’d be if I painted them, but I didn’t have to put the effort in, which is fine with me.  I’ll save my limited 25mm painting for HotT armies.

    DBA Army I/51: Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid

    In preparation for the Assyrian campaign event at Fall-In 2012, JM and I ordered Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid armies from Magister Militum.  JM planned to paint his for the campaign event, and I’d paint mine so we could build a BBDBA army out of them.  Yeah, that was a year ago.

    DBA army I/51: Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid; Magister Militum figures
    Assyrian Chariots; Magister Militum miniatures.

    As with many plans, this one failed to survive contact with the enemy.  JM didn’t go to Fall-In, and I didn’t have an occasion to paint the Assyrians for BBDBA until this year.  I planned to go to Fall-In 2013 with Mike Kaizar (there’s that “plan” thing again), and wanted to play Assyrians in Big Battles. I got as far as painting this army in September before Mike cancelled, and I found another Big Battle partner who already has Assyrians painted.

    Assyrian Spearmen; Magister Militum miniatures.

    I didn’t do much research for color selections with this army.  Essentially, I had a vague memory of seeing Assyrians in light blue-grey and red, and did that.  The army painted up fairly quickly due to the few number of colors used, and I’m happy with the way they turned out.

    Biblical armies are my “dump stat,” so I don’t usually spend much time on them despite tending to enjoy the fast pace of Biblical battles. Luckily it’s often fairly easy to get a good look for them since they typically have simple clothing.

    Assyrian Spearmen; Magister Militum miniatures.

    I like the Magister Militum figures. I believe these were originally Chariot miniatures before Magister Militum purchased the line.  They’re sculpted well, and have a “toy soldier” feel, with very limited and static poses.  The overall effect is good, though it has a bit of a “retro” feel compared to more modern figures.

    The figures they provided for the Horde elements are interesting. They sent an even mix of archers and lightly armed spearmen. I decided to base them up similarly to Pavisers, since it doesn’t make much sense to put the spearmen behind the bows.

    Assyrian Auxilia; Magister Militum miniatures.

    Assyrian Cavalry; Magister Militum miniatures.

    Assyrian Psiloi and Horde; Magister Militum miniature.

    HoTT Army: Professor Hans’ Metal Minions

    Here is my latest Hordes of the Things army: Professor Hans’ Metal Minions.  I just made that up.  I finished this army before Cold Wars, but didn’t get a chance to post about it yet.

    Professor Hans’ Metal Minions
    Professor Hans and his Avatar: Magician General.

    Professor Hans was afflicted with Polio at a young age.  For years he studied Science, Technology, and the dark arts of Alchemy to try to find a solution to his frustrated confinement. After receiving a small mechanical assistant robot from his uncle, he began experimenting with building ever more complex mechanical bodies.

    Eventually he invented a mind-machine interface that allowed him to give his creations the autonomy they deserved. This army is the result of years of experimentation with transplanting insect and animal brains into mechanical bodies.

    His work must continue until he feels he can successfully transplant his own brain into a suitable host body.  In the mean time, his army gives him the tools he needs to find human subjects for further experimentation.

    Professor Hans’ Brass Spiders: 4x Beast

    This army is built primarily out of Mage Knight figures, but there are a few from other prepainted sets: Dungeons and Dragons and Dreamblade.  I repainted, touched up, and/or converted all of the figures in one way or another.

    Professor Hans is a figure called “Gent” from the Dreamblade series of prepainted miniatures.  I repainted him with a brass colored integrated wheelchair.  In his hand he holds the Aetheric Impulse Controller for his Avatar, who can shoot its Aetheric Wave Gun at enemies that Hans has a particularly strong interest in.  Hans’ Avatar is a repainted Mage Knight figure.

    Professor Hans’ Camel Backs: 2x Shooter

    His brass spiders are early creations that use a spider’s brain to control their steam powered bodies.  They are Mage Knight figures that originally had riders.  I removed the riders, filled in the seats, added smoke stacks, and repainted them all.  These are Beast elements.

    The Camel Backs are an early success with Hans’ use of the mammalian brain.  They carry steam boilers on their back and shoot cannons instead of spitting. These are Mage Knight figures repainted silver with brass highlights.  They are Shooter elements.

    Professor Hans’ Turtle Men: 4x Blades

    The Turtle Men use brass bodies controlled with the brain of a snapping turtle.  They are mixed Mage Knight figures, also repainted in a better brass color with matching color highlights.  They’re Blade elements.

    Papa Bear is a giant steel mech controlled with the brain of a bear.  It’s a Dungeons and Dragons prepainted figure. Most of the paint is original, but I changed the highlights from copper colored to brass so they’d match the rest of the army.  This is a Behemoth element.

    The Dragonfly combines Hans’ insect brain interface with a flying mech that uses his newer, smaller power sources.  It’s a flyer. This is also a Mage Knight figure that had a seat and a rider. I filled it in and repainted portions of the figure.

    Now all I need is a stronghold!

    Professor Hans’ Papa Bear: 1x Behemoth

    Professor Hans’ Dragonfly: 1x Flyer

    Cold Wars 2013

    JM decided not to go to Cold Wars this year, but luckily Mike Kaizar did.  It’s always more fun to go to a convention with a friend, even when there are more friends waiting for you when you get there. He drove from Columbus to Pittsburgh, and we left late enough that we got to Lancaster at 8 or 9pm.

    BBDBA Doubles

    First thing on Friday Morning, as usual, was BBDBA Doubles. This was the first time Mike and I have partnered for BBDBA, and it went quite well overall.  I hope Mike keeps coming out to more conventions in the future; I’d happily partner with him again.

    This was the first BBDBA event I’ve played in that had a historical theme: Medieval Europe. We took my recently finished Early Hungarian army. I filled out the third army by building a morph army out of my Germans, Early Russians, and other random figures. Many of the figures were identical except for the paint job, so they matched well.

    I’ve wanted this army for a long time, and was very interested to try it in BBDBA.  For the Ax/Bw option, I would ordinarily have chosen all Auxilia.  However, since this was BBDBA with a Medieval Europe theme, I expected to see relatively little bad going (except when playing against The Davids), and a substantial number of bows in our enemies’ armies.  I decided to take 3x3Ax, 3x3Bw.  In retrospect, I’m not sure if that was the best choice or not.  3 bows wasn’t as many as bow-heavy armies had, so it may have been better to take all bows or all auxilia.

    Early Hungarians vs. Two Davids playing Feudal English with Welsh ally.

    In the first round, we faced Two Davids: David Kuijt and David Schlanger.  They were playing Feudal English with a Welsh ally. We ended up as the attackers, and as I expected, we saw a good amount of terrain.

    In this game, our command structure used three combined arms commands, with elements shifted around to get good break points and PIP management.

    • High PIP, 13 el, BP 5: 2xKn(Gen), 2xCv, 5xLH, 3xSp, 1xPs.
    • Mid PIP, 13 el, BP 5: 2xKn(CinC), 1xCv, 3xLH, 3xSp, 3xAx, 1xPs.
    • Low PIP, 10 el, BP 4: 2xKn(Gen), 1xLH, 3xSp,  3xBw, 1xPs.

    The Davids had one large English command and one tiny one: their C-in-C had 3xKn, 1xCv, and 4xHd, which they taped in place around their camp.  This meant that they could attack with their C-in-C command’s mounted, and they’d have to lose 3/4 of its elements in order to break.  It made it easy for them to combine two or 3 commands against one of ours, and its small size made it hard to reach and even harder to gang up on.

    Our commands worked quite well, but unfortunately our attack didn’t succeed quickly enough to win. It ended up fairly close: we lost 25-75. It was a good matchup and a fun game; a great way to start the convention.

    Early Hungarians vs. Comedy and Tragedy playing Low Countries.

    In the second game, we faced Comedy and Tragedy: Spencer and Christina Ginder.  They were playing Low Countries: a pike army (with knights).  Their forces were less mobile than ours, so they had terrain on the board again.  That was satisfying, but also made me question whether this army composition for Hungarians actually wants very much terrain.

    In deciding what command structure to use here, I considered how Spencer might use his pikes.  Many players combine their pikes into a single huge block, give it the low PIP die, and sit it on defense.  Some build a single large pike block but spread it across two commands so they can attack with it. Others maintain several separate combined arms commands.

    Large blocks of pike are hard to break but easy to avoid, and they’re easier to use effectively.  Combined arms is more flexible, but more difficult to use and easier to break by killing things other than the pike.  We decided to build a very mobile force that would be able to quickly and easily outflank a large block of pike, if they brought one to the field.  Our main force would follow up to pin their line in place, preventing them from effectively turning to face our flank attack.  Our approximate command breakdown:

    • High PIP, 10 el, BP 4: 3xCv (Gen), 7xLH.
    • Medium PIP, 16 el, BP 6: 4xKn (CinC), 1xLH, 6xSp, 2xPs, 3xAx.
    • Low PIP, 10 el, BP 4: 3xSp (Gen), 3xBw, 1xPs, 2xKn, 1xLH.

    It turned out the Ginders decided to use multiple combined arms commands, but we maintained our plan: a fast flank attack where we intended to win, and a slower frontal press where we hoped not to lose.  They deployed with a gap in their line for flexibility, but unfortunately couldn’t use their third command to both fill the gap and protect their flank effectively.  This stretched their command radius to its maximum.  Their combined arms commands had pike and knights interleaved, making it difficult to get optimal local matchups.

    Our left flank attack arrived quickly, but took a long time to become effective.  We tied up a larger number of the enemy’s troops with my smaller mobile command, but unfortunately our high PIP die was committed to that use alone. In the mean time, we started winning more quickly elsewhere.  In the end, the battle didn’t go as we had planned, but we did win 92-8, so I have no complaints.

    The lesson we learned here is that you really don’t need a very large flanking force to be effective, if you can truly get around the enemy’s flank; but you do need a lot of time if you’re using resilient weak forces (LH) versus a stronger enemy who can’t kill you (Pk).   The terrain made it difficult to support our flank attack effectively, since we didn’t have any bad going troops in the attacking command.

    Early Hungarians vs. Doug Austin’s Condotta with Swiss ally.

    The third game was the first time we rolled low enough to defend and place terrain.  Early Hungarians are Steppe, not arable, so we placed a bunch of small bits of rough and a few hills.

    Our command split was the same as in the first game. We placed our Mid and Low PIP commands first, with a gap between them so we could wheel them both to the right or left depending on our needs.  Unfortunately, our terrain was offset to the left a bit farther than we’d prefer, leaving little space to deploy our third command on that side.  This made our third deployment possibly a bit too obvious.

    Doug deployed to overlap our line on both ends, as expected; and we deployed our third command on our right flank, also as expected.  This left us with a lot of room to outflank him on our right, but he overlapped us on our left.

    Doug quickly second-guessed his deployment, and decided he needed more troops on his left (our right) flank.  He started spending PIPs to redeploy knights from his right to his left behind his line, as he advanced slowly and we tried to press on as quickly as possible.

    We had the early game advantage due to the PIPs he was spending on redeployment and having his troops out of command. I broke his command on our right flank, but unfortunately I was too aggressive with my CinC command, and ended up suffering losses where I should have just been holding the line and waiting for my right flank to keep winning.  We started losing elements on our left flank, and eventually lost enough elements in our CinC for it to break.  It was a good game, but we lost 16-84.

    My first goal for BBDBA was to win a game, and I accomplished that with JM several conventions ago.  After that game, my second goal was to finish with at least 100 points.  We achieved that in this tournament, after a strong win and two losses that actually gave us points.  BBDBA Doubles is one of the highlights of every convention, now that I’m competent enough to feel like I have a chance of succeeding in most of the games.

    Quad Themes

    Friday night was Roland Fricke’s Quad Themes event.  There were 4 rounds, each played with a different army from a different historical theme.  At this point I was fairly fried, so I’ll just give a rundown of the results.
    In round 1, I played Early Egyptians (I/2a) and beat Mark Pozniak’s Nubians, 6-5.  Next, I played Later Achaemenid Persians, and beat Dick Pagano’s Macedonian Successors 4-1. In the third round, Rich “Diceman” Baier’s Later Imperial Romans (East) beat my Ancient Brits 4-2.  I got to play Mike Kaizar in the last round, but it was a poor matchup for him: my knight-heavy Feudal Spanish faced his blade and raider Vikings. He won anyway, with a 1g-0 victory in one of the first rounds of combat.

    Alexander the Great Theme

    On Saturday morning, we were forced to get up way too early, for Mark Pozniak’s 8am event: an Alexander the Great theme.  I brought Later Achaemenid Persians, and lost all my games.  I didn’t write down my opponents’ armies, unfortunately.  Mike Guth beat me 2C-0.  Bill Fisher beat me 4-2.  Kristy Faux beat me 4-3.

    Unification War: Rise of the Son of Heaven

    On Saturday afternoon, I ran a Pyramid format event with a Warring States Chinese theme.  We used Limited Attrition rules as described on the Buttocks of Death Wiki.  

    Warring States Pyramid, final round of 4-on-4.

    We had two new, young DBA players: Otto, Dave Schlanger’s son, and his friend BJ.  They had a lot of fun, and I expect to see them playing DBA at more events in the future.

    The Commanders in Chief in the final round were Otto leading his Chu empire against David Kuijt’s Qin empire.

    These 4-on-4 games usually end up being more like several 1-on-1 games next to each other, rather than having as much interaction between commands as you have in BBDBA, but they are still quite fun; and that’s the real point in the end anyway.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the Pyramid format, and the limited attrition rules worked very well, as they did at last year’s Cold Wars.  I think I prefer running Pyramid events rather than Matched Pairs.  I like having fixed signups and a tighter historical theme, and it’s easier to handle the matchups when the pyramid is constructed before the event starts.

    Two Davids Campaign: Recovering Byzantium

    The real reason I had to paint Early Hungarians before this convention was the Two Davids campaign event: Recovering Byzantium.  The campaign was centered around Byzantine states in 1230AD, and Hungary was on the outskirts.
    In the first round, John Manning attacked me with his Byzantine army, and I lost 3-4.  Not a great start, but that’s okay.  In the second round, Jack Sheriff’s Syrians attacked me and I beat them.  Next, I attacked Mark Burton and failed to capture a vassal.  
    In the final round, I had a high number, and I was surprised to be allowed to attack someone again.  When my number came up there were 4 of us left. I attacked Dave Schlanger, and beat him; acquiring a vassal.
    After the fourth round there was a bit of an incident… I won’t go over the details, but you’ll never fail to  remember it if you were there. It pretty much put an end to peoples’ enthusiasm for a fifth round.
    I still enjoy the campaign events.  I think overall, I enjoy events with a very strict army list best, because they provide me with the most motivation to paint more interesting armies.

    Hordes of the Things Open

    Hordes of the Things: Fire vs. Ice played by BJ.
    On Sunday morning, Mike met his parents for breakfast and I played Hordes of the Things.  I brought my Die in a Fire army.
    For this event, my composition was: Mg (gen), Beh, Drg, 3xBd, 2xFly, 2xLrk.

    In the first round, I faced BJ’s Ice elemental army.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to use the pretty elemental terrain board.  I lost 8-12g.

    Next I faced Otto’s Slaad demon army: basically giant lizard demons. I beat him 6g-2.

    Hordes of the Things: Fire vs. Rick Wynn’s Wild Hunt of Faerie.

    In the final round, my fire elementals faced Rick Wynn’s Wild Hunt of Faerie (Oberon, Titania Elves) army. Rick’s army was beautiful, built mostly out of Games Workshop plastics.  He did a wonderful job of building an exactly 24 point army with a very specific theme.

    After a bit of posturing, our magicians made it into range of each other.  I decided to try to ensorcel his general with mine on the first turn I had a chance, because he had two magicians and could get a better shot against me if I waited.  This turned out to be a tied roll, the only result that didn’t end up with one of us losing instantly.

    In the next round Oberon returned the favor, with Titania’s help, instead of ensorcelling with Titania and having Oberon help.  Despite his better combat factors, I rolled high enough to beat him and pull the instant win: 4g-0.

    This was the first time I had used a Dragon in HOTT.  I have mixed opinions about it at this point; it’s powerful and looks cool, but it’s also easy to lose and you don’t get any overlap support from friendly elements.  I think the key might be to use it with fliers who can provide flank and rear support more easily.

    It turns out that after my two wins and favorable loss, I ended up tied for first place with BJ.  Since he beat me, he won the event overall.  Congratulations, and I hope to see you back for more games!

    It was another great convention, and I’m glad I went. I won’t be making it to Historicon, but I look forward to more great conventions in the future.

    DBA Army III/67b: Early Hungarian

    Soon after I started playing DBA again in about 2009, I decided that I wanted an Early Hungarian (III/67b) army.  It’s been a long journey since then, but finally my quest is complete!  I finished a double army just before Cold Wars.

    Double DBA army III/67b; mixed manufacturers.
    Early Hungarian knights by Essex and Black Hat (Gladiator).

    I was attracted to this army for several reasons.  I am 1/4 Hungarian, and identify most closely with that part of my heritage. The composition of the army itself seems almost perfect for my tastes: 2x3Kn, 1x3Cv, 3x2LH, 3xSp, 2x3Ax or 3Bw, 1x2Ps. It’s one of the few Medieval combined arms armies I’ve seen with more than one Auxilia.  It also fits well with other armies I have from the same period: German, Leidang, Polish, Russian, and Mongol Conquest… even though I bought most of those armies only because they were good enemies of the Hungarians I didn’t have yet.

    Cuman and Hungarian Light Horse by Black Hat (Gladiator)

    My first attempt at building this army was purchasing a “not for the squeamish general” army pack from another gamer on the Fanaticus forums.  It had the proper composition, but as I should have expected, I didn’t like the figure selection very much. It was mixed manufacturers, but chosen based on whatever he had lying around and not based on what he thought the army should look like.  After not painting it for quite some time, I donated it to Mike Kaizar, who is still working on it.

    Hungarian spearmen by Black Hat (Gladiator).

    My second attempt came when Wargames Minis had a clearance sale on their Essex Miniatures packs. After long research discovered no good solution for Early Hungarians, I settled on buying a bunch of Essex later Hungarian figures that might work. They were so cheap, I bought two armies worth! But when it came time to actually paint them… I hated them. Closer inspection showed me that they were far too late for any part of the Early Hungarian list.

    Early Hungarian bowmen by Black Hat (Gladiator)

    By this time it was late 2012, and I needed this army for Cold Wars 2013.  After talking to David Kuijt, I settled on the figures shown here.  The General stands and a few of the other knights are Essex figures from my previous order.  The remaining knights, light horse, spears, bows, auxilia and psiloi are all Black Hat figures from their Gladiator range.  The Cavalry are a mix of Essex figures, Black Hat, and a few whose manufacturer I do not know but I happened to have on hand.

    Early Hungarian cavalry by Black Hat, Essex, and others (unknown).

    The Black Hat figures are not specifically sold as Hungarians, other than the knights with round helms. Many of them are from their general Feudal range, and some are from slightly inappropriate areas, but look good enough that I wanted to paint more of them.

    Early Hungarian Psiloi by Black Hat (Gladiator).

    I knew the primary heraldry I wanted to use was red and white, but I didn’t want another red and white army since it’s the most common color combination I have.  David told me that repeated heraldry wouldn’t be common in this period, but I am also not a fan of a widely varied, garish palette.  I decided to use a lot more yellow and yellow browns, and rounded out the palette with green. It’s definitely not red and white army I feared it would be.

    Hungarian Auxilia by Black Hat (Gladiator).

    I’m not sure if I prefer the green and the brighter reds I used here, but otherwise I’m quite happy with the color scheme. For the white on the shields, I used an “extremely off-white.”  It’s closer to beige than white, but in contrast with the surrounding colors it’s bright enough, and doesn’t add too much contrast. Looking at the shields, I’m reminded of Hoplite shield patterns more than garish Medieval heraldry.

    I’m very happy with the way this army turned out.  After playing it in BBDBA and the campaign at Cold Wars, I also enjoy the way the army plays.

    Now I just need to figure out what to do with all those Later Hungarian figures, since that army has so few spears compared to this one.