Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on Great Walking Things

"Death and famine stalk the land like . . . two great stalking things."
-Edmund Blackadder

Ever since the appearance of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, walking machines -- quite often tripods --have been a feature of Victorian science fiction (as often as not stalking the land like great stalking things). My earliest exposure to Victorian science fiction was the Classics Illustrated comic book of that same novel, and the distinctive look of those Martian tripods has remained with me from that day to this. Naturally, a comment on walkers in Victorian science fiction, particularly in miniatures games, has to begin there.

The photo above is the Reveresco model of the Martian walker, patterned after the images in the Classics Illustrated comic. The legs are not quite 100% faithful to the original, but the model as built works very well on the gaming table, being able to tower over most terrain types and nestle its legs into village streets, forest clearings, etc. Nicely done.

This rather spider-like model is H.G.Walls' interpretation of the Martian tripod. It looks more sinister to me, and also perhaps more practical, with a lower more stable center of gravity. That's an advantage on the gaming table as well.

Here's a nice effort from Monolith -- with much more elaborately articulated legs. I'm not as crazy about the crew compartment, but the legs are interesting.

Now here is a very nice effort from Paroom Station miniatures. It has an alien feel to its architecture but remains somehow evocative of the Classics Illustrated source material. It is a smaller model (in scale), but represents a smaller scouting version of the massive tripods used to invade Earth. (In the Paroom Station alternate history, following the unsuccessful Martian invasion of Earth, Earth invaded Mars in retaliation, and this is one of the machines the Martians used in that war.)

One difficulty I always had was envisioning how a tripod would actually manage to walk, and I never found any of the stool-like arrangements of legs very persuasive. My willing suspension of disbelief is not completely crippled, of course, but I do wonder how things work. With the Martian tripods, the product of an obviously advanced technology (including heat rays, after all), I simply assumed the vehicle included a compact and very powerful gyroscope for balance. For more primitive machines, the sort Victorian inventors would cook up, it remains (for me) more of an open question.

That said, they are simply too cool to dispense with, and if you give me a good-looking model to put on the table, I'm on board.

Now here's a great strapping steam-powered walker from Armorcast. Rockets, a sponson-mounted gun, exposed gears, massive structural elements -- everything you need to evoke the period.

Here's a good effort from London War Room. Not as massive as the Armorcast model, and rather lightly armed, it seems to me, but an excellent basic model to start with and with lots of customization possibilities.

Now here is a wonderful model from Merrimac Miniatures! Big girder-like legs, big rivets, prominent smokestack, and a turret that could be right off the Monitor. In fact, as I recall it's armed with a Civil War smoothbore naval gun. (The top of the turret lifts off to expose the detailed interior.) You might want to rearm it, but the basic chassis is terrific (in my opinion). This is a walker that screams Steampunk. Some have reported that it is not in production, but as near as I can tell that is not the case. Merrimac merged with Old Glory a while back, and if you go to the Old Glory product page, look under Science Fiction Vehicles (instead of the Shipyard) and you can find this beauty.

Willing suspension of disbelief in a miniatures game is, for me, easier than in fiction. In fiction I have to envision the machine, and to envision it I have to believe in its existence. On a miniatures table, it's already there -- and a detailed, fully-painted miniature vehicle has a great deal of existential presumption. I'll have more on addressing the reality of walkers in fiction in a later post. For now, enjoy the toys.


  1. I always liked the Gyroscope idea, a quicke peruse of wikipedia indicates the concept goes back to 1817/1832 but the first functional ones were in the early 1900's thanks to electric power.

    Personally I wouldn't have a problem with some mad scientist coming up with the steam gyroscope if he's smart enough to invent a walker. Also it might have been reverse engineered from the remains of those pesky Martian tripods :)

    Or if a gyro dosn't seem to fit, put an I beam horizontally above the leg mechanism extending out past the legs and use a pair of steam pistons to move a weight back and forth so the centre of gravity of the machine is over the planted leg while the other leg lifts - crude and slow but it satifies the "how to do it" criteria for bipeds

    Finally a tripod could be stable if each leg can cross under the body (which lets out a couple of those models from the look of them).

    Oh well, lovely pics and a thought provoking article - thanks

  2. Andrew,

    Glad you like the assortment of pictures. I have my own engineering explanation of how a tripod can work, but I like your idea of a steam piston counterweight a lot!

  3. As I mistakenly commented on another post, I did a few 15mm scale walkers for Rebel Minis. Might be worth checking out, if you're so inclined.


  4. I've got 4 of the HG Walls Jeff Wayne Tripods but the Texas heat caused the legs to buckle. Does anyone know where to get these models anymore? I thought that I bought them from London War Room but they're apparently out of business. I'd like to get parts to repair them and/.or buy more. Anyone have any of these cool models they've got laying around and would want to part with? Please drop me a line at:
    Thanks in Advance!
    Steve Miller
    DFW Irregulars