For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Michael, one of the Press Gangers at Games and Stuff. I’ve been playing Warmachine/Hordes for about two years, and Games Workshop games off and on since my misspent youth. I play Menoth and Legion and have just enough Cygnar to be dangerous. In fact, the only Cygnar I own are the Storm-nouns, I just love the idea of an electric army, all dangerous and sparky.
And what could be MORE dangerous and sparky than a 20-foot-tall-lightning-shooting-steampunk-spider-legged-attack-bot thing! As soon as I saw the Storm Strider model I knew I had to have one, it’s easily my favorite-looking of the new Battle Engines, and it fits perfectly with my army.
Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone, and I also knew I wanted to, shall we say, enhance the model. The opportunity to really take the model to the next level was too hard to pass up, but I didn’t know what to do. That is, until I saw a PP Insider post, with the throw-away line, “and then I’ll add the plasma ball to my Storm Strider.” Now we’re talking. Now just the hard part, getting from this:
I’ve had the opportunity to do two of these conversions now, so I’m providing a write-up of the process and pitfalls to look for. Because I did two and have pictures of each from various stages of completion you’ll see two different looking models through-out the article. Each was built essentially the same, using the same process; the only real difference was some improvements made after learning lessons on the first model (primarily related to the design of the base).
Step One– Parts
You’ll need a Storm Strider…obviously. The ones I’ve bought have needed only minor clean-up of the resin and metal parts. it really is a beautiful kit, and if you’re just doing it stock, it’s very simple to assemble. One thing that you’ll need to know for this conversion though is if you bought the kit very early (I think it was only the pre-release convention sales version) there is a chance you have the resin catwalk piece. I’ve only ever gotten the metal catwalk, and it makes a difference for the electrical wiring later in the project.
You’ll need the plasma ball itself. I picked up this one from Amazon. At 23 bucks it’s not the cheapest conversion, but this was the only plasma ball I could find at this very small size (about 1.5” diameter).
Additionally, because it’s meant to run off a cigarette lighter I knew I’d be able to replace the adapter with 12v batteries, which ended up being pretty important. Here’s a picture comparing it to the stock part:
You’ll also need a bunch of other electrical doo-dads. I have a selection of switches, wires, battery holders, all available at Radio Shack. The only thing to be aware of is that the 12v batteries I was using, called A23 type, are not widely available (though you might get lucky). They’re used primarily for wireless entry systems for cars, but you can often get them on Amazon, and they’re not too expensive. I used three the first time I did this conversion and four of them the second time. The A23 is nearly the same size as another battery called an N-Cell, but the N-Cell is only 1.5v, and that’s not nearly enough for this project, so be careful which you buy. On the plus side, because they’re so close in size you can use N-cell battery holders in your project, which I was able to find at Radio Shack, though A23 specific holders are available, you need to special order them. I got mine on Ebay.
You’ll also need whatever other basing materials you normally use. Ghool has a phenomenal Storm Strider here and others I’ve seen take excellent advantage of the huge base real estate the Battle Engines give you. The Storm Strider in particular, because of the legs, allows you to really go hog wild with basing details. With this conversion project you’ll need a pretty tall base, or at least a base that’s tall in places, because the transformer for the plasma ball is about 1.5 inches tall, and just small enough to fit under the Storm Strider’s legs.
My Cygnar army is based on industrial-factory bases I made using plasti-card and various wires, etc. This was a natural fit for the Storm Strider and also meant I could be pretty casual about having to hide all the switches and wires and batteries, since everybody knows factories are just wiry electric death traps. For my second conversion I made the base even bigger and more elaborate, because bigger is always better.
Step Two – Assembly
There are other guides for assembling the Storm Strider available online, and I’d take a look at those for specific guidance, while I’ll just highlight what I did differently and show some pictures of the process.
Clean the plastic parts of mold lines, wash them to get rid of the release compounds, and file the metal parts; basic model prep stuff at this point. I elected to mount the two riders to separate painting rigs, since I knew they’d be going on last. I also just about fully assembled the model before painting and putting it on the base. There are only a few places that are hard to reach when the model is fully assembled, primarily the inside of the legs, but those would be easy to prepaint .
For the most part the Storm Strider goes together easily; everything fits snugly, but with enough play that you have some flexibility in posing the model. You’ll see that I’ve pinned every joint, that’s because I really like pinning and it makes the model totally bomb-proof. In order to hide the wire for the plasma ball you will have to drill out one of the legs for a wire channel. I elected not to drill out the metal leg in the first model, since exposed wires fit with my basing scheme and also because I wanted to get the model on the table. In the second conversion I have taken the time to drill out the whole leg, but that was also because I reposed the leg anyway, so I had it already pretty cut up.
In terms of prepping the model for the plasma ball, you only need to make sure that you drill out a wire channel through the metal gantry part and the resin leg-hub piece. Depending on how you decide to hide the wires you might need to drill a lot of material out of the hub. For my first attempt I drilled straight through, for the second it was a more complex path for the wire.
I also found that the plasma ball sits better on the model if you clean out most of the material in the center of the gantry piece. If you don’t the ball sits higher in the model than the resin part would and you have to adjust the arching arm’s position by tilting it back slightly (very slightly). If you lower the ball in the gantry ‘cradle’ you can leave the arm in its stock position.
I elected not to add anything to the ball. I tried recreating the little button-nubbins that are on the resin piece with some success, but when I put them on the ball it just didn’t look right. The one thing I did do was try to cover the plastic seam that runs around the equator of the ball with some plasti-card, this wasn’t too hard to do and gave me a place to add some color to the otherwise pretty plain (when it’s off) clear globe.
Step Three – Electrics
Depending on how comfortable you are with electricity, wiring and soldering this might be the hardest part of the project, but the reality is we’re dealing with very safe levels of current and relatively simple wiring circuitry.
Here is a diagram for the circuit we’ll be building:
A plasma ball is a pretty cool piece of tech, invented by none other than Nicola Tesla and perfected by Bill Parker at MIT. It operates by running a high voltage at very low current through a near vacuum of gas, usually helium or neon. The Wikipedia article for how they work is here.
Because the ball functions as an open-nded capacitor there is only one wire leading to it, simplifying construction of the circuit. The transformer runs off the battery pack and there’s an on-off switch. I’ve elected not to open up the transformer package, in the interest of, “leaving well enough alone”. But I did rip one up as a test, and if you were looking to save space in the base you could take off the plastic shielding, but you’d have to be much more careful about not shorting any of the components.
Depending on how your base is designed you may leave the batteries exposed (I have for ease of access) or you might have them accessible from the underside of the model. You can see the two approaches I took to the wiring in the following photos:
Both work fine; both were easy to assemble, but the more space you can give yourself for the better off you will be. The batteries in the first are wired in parallel, keeping the voltage at 12v for the transformer. On the second conversion I wired 4 batteries in a bank that doubled the voltage (pairs in series wired to each other in parallel). The effect of this is to overdrive the transformer, greatly increasing the lightning effect’s intensity. Since the model isn’t on permanently and the batteries are easily replaced I’m not too worried about longevity or heat.
I’m using a toggle switch in these conversions, though any switch, even a push button will work, and it’s just a matter of finding space for it. If I could find a mini-Frankenstein switch (properly called a ‘knife switch’) I’d be using that instead.
If you don’t have any experience with wiring and soldering I would recommend you check out your local library for resources or the internet, there’s lots of good stuff online, or try the book Make: Electronics which is what I used to teach myself.
Unless you want to solder at the base of the plasma ball (which I wouldn’t recommend) you’ll need to at least string the wire for the ball through the leg of the Storm Strider before completing the electric assembly. This really should take place as you’re doing the rest of the assembly, since it’s the only wire that needs to be ‘in’ the model.
Remember earlier how I mentioned the metal gantry versus the plastic gantry was an issue? Here’s why (so far as I can tell, let me know in the comments if I’ve got it wrong). The ball is a capacitor that’s pretty much constantly discharging into the air. Essentially the air acts as a ground, which works because the electrode for the ball (the center ball) is in a near vacuum and there’s very low resistance to the high voltage current. When you touch the ball your hand provides a much better ground, which is why the arcs will follow your finger.
The metal gantry, since it doesn’t touch the ball, doesn’t act as a ground, but does act as the second plate of a capacitor, charging and storing energy with no place to go. If you have a metal gantry, but don’t give the energy anywhere to go (i.e. ground) then the plasma ball won’t arc. Essentially it ‘fills up’ like a regular capacitor. Again, this is what I think is happening, and this theory was good enough to fix the problem.
There is an additional wrinkle (which I learned by experimenting, so let my pain be your gain). Namely, the gantry is a large enough capacitor to store enough power, and has enough voltage, that if you let it charge up you can get an arc in regular air, and those arcs will be strong enough (even though they’re only 1/16-1/8 of an inch) to burn the tips of your fingers and make your hand feel funny for a day or two. This interaction is really the only “dangerous” part of the whole build, but even then, what’s a little danger when you’re doing SCIENCE?!?
The solution I came up with, (and it’s by no means the best), was to ground the gantry to the positive terminal of the batteries I’m using. The transformer is already dumping half its load back to batteries, so I’m not too concerned about the effect of doing this. You can see the way this looks on the model here. The wire on the right with the triple connection to the batteries is this ‘ground’ off the gantry. You can see how I’ve disguised it as part of the model by having the helpful gobber plugging the Strider in.
I’ve improved this on my second model by hiding this “grounding wire” in a second leg of the model. This just doubled the amount of drilling I had to do, and made the sequence of assembly a little harder. Essentially you have all the components strung out with the wires running through them then you assemble and pull the wire tight as you go. The wiring diagram again, with this gantry element added:
Step Four – Final Assembly and Painting
Once you’ve gotten everything wired up, you can test your construction. It may take a second to light up, but if you’ve followed the diagram it should work. Make sure you’ve accounted for the gantry issue; that took me a long time to figure out. Click this link to see a video of the model running after I first put it together:
Here is the model assembled, ready for painting.
For this model I did my highlighting with
an airbrush for the first time, and it was a really interesting experience, but probably material for another article at some point. Suffice to say that the Storm Strider is a delight to paint. It’s an opportunity to try metallic techniques, and has some very nice areas for shading and Object-Source Lighting. I really enjoyed the painting the model, and there was not anything particularly difficult about it, though you should look out for the inside of the legs, as they will need to be prepainted. Also, the sphere itself should be covered in tape to keep it paint free.
Here are final pics for the two conversions I’ve done. If you have questions or comments please let me know.
Michael Pokorny is an avid miniatures and board gamer, and a fan of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. His he currently experimenting with a double-headed paintbrush and is actually looking into getting them manufactured. Next up for him is the Vessel of Judgment! (and building a photo booth).