Sunday, 10 June 2012

'Plain Terrain' Features: Work in progress

So as discussed in my previous blog post '"Plain Terrain" Features: The Concept', the idea behind a 'Plain Terrain' feature is to be a 'half-way house' between just using a plain cloth and a full set of terrain boards to game on, hopefully getting at least some of the visual appeal that comes with using terrain boards, but at only a fraction of the requirement for storage space. Even if they don't work out I should at least have some nice boards to photo my figures on for this blog.
First up I've marked up my board, some 3mm MDF from Wickes. I've gone for one large rectangular field with rounded off corners, one smaller field (initially started marking up two, but changed my mind), and several irregular areas. I wanted to make sure they would all go in a large storage box, so used the lid to make sure none would be too big.
I popped on a unit of 28mm figures to check size/scale. I could have made them a bit bigger, but then I couldn't get them in a storage box, so not a bad compromise.
Changed my mind on some of the smaller sizes, when I saw this. Some I'll have to go with because they are the result of what's left, but I'll consolidate those two they are sitting on into one.
This is a 36 figure 20mm Napoleonic unit for scale. Looks the sort of size I wanted...
...10 minutes later and I've whipped my jigsaw out and cut them up. Some of the smaller scraps I'll use for actual terrain features - eg. jungle stands or for bases to mount 'rock piles' on...
...incidently this is the sand I use for basing and would recommend it. In fact, it took me a little bit of scouting out to find the 'right' sand. It's actually called 'builders ballast' and has lots of small stones in it. Its cheap (about a quid a bag) and I've been using this bag to base my figures and make terrain for about four years - it fact it's being carted through 3 house moves! The big advantage is that you get 'rough' sand. If you want finer sand you can sieve it, or just use the stuff at the bottom. Fine sand bought in DIY shops doesn't look as good on bases and is often a funny colour (eg. bright orange) so you have to paint it. You can paint this stuff, but it is an 'earthy' colour so you don't have to. It is generally 'wet' in the bag, so you have to dry batches out to use. I just do this by spreading out on a tray to dry in the sun on a warm sunny day. This is a large batch I dried out a couple of weeks ago:
You can see all the small stones in it. Some are a bit big but you just push them to one side.
Next on with the trusty PVC glue. The funny thing about PVA is the more you buy the cheaper it gets in a dramatic way. DIY shops and stationers like WH Smith charge ridiculous amounts of money for tiny amounts of this stuff, eg. £3.50 for 150ml (ie. close to £30 a litre). If you buy a 1 litre tub it could cost you £7-8. This 2 litre tub cost a tenner (ie. £5 a litre), but you can also get 4 litre plastic containers for only £14 (ie. about £2.50 a litre). As far as I can tell its all the same stuff!   Madness! Just running out of this one. Next time, I think I'll go for the 4 litre size as I might be making some more terrain.
Once well plastered, I pour handfuls of sand over it. If I wanted a 'desert board' this would probably be all I had to do. I've got some different Gale Force 9 flocks and static grasses, so I might test out one of the more exotic ones on this one, such as 'Moorland' after maybe painting it a darker brown.
These are a sample of different ones I've knocked up so far. The small rectangular field at the back I've gone over and used a stick to put some 'plough-marks' on it. I'll see what it looks like when its dried. If it looks good I'll leave it, or maybe just paint it. If they end up looking a bit indistinct, I'll maybe sprinkle some lines of scatter on it to look like growing crops and make it more obvious. The big irregular board I'm going to try turning into 'rough pasture'. One of the things you find basing minitures is that with static grass in terms of effect, 'less is more', with small patches of scatter put on tiny blobs of glue looking much better than dense areas glued and covered. So I'll be testing out if that look will make a good-looking piece of 'plain terrain' on a larger scale. I also want to try out some as meadows, but I'm not sure that static grass is worthwhile, and might use try some green paint with a light green dry brushed over, leaving some patches of bare sand here and there.

The small scraps have been turned into 'rock stands', which use up the larger stones in the builders ballast. You can, of course, just scatter rocks on the table, but they are a pain to pick up at the end, so I find 'rock stands' more effective. I've done some on card, but they can look scruffy if the card curls, so I'm trying these on the more solid MDF. As well as 'dressing' a table, the rock stands can be useful terrain features in skirmish games, eg. Wild West or Colonial eg. North West Frontier, and also can be useful in marking 'crests' on hills, and improving the look of 'flat' hills, while like model trees being easy to move around if they get 'in the way' of moving a unit.

Unfortunately started to run out of PVA before I finished, but I'll see how the five boards I've done so far turn out, before buying some more and doing the rest.

The PVA can take up to a couple of days to really dry out, so I've put them in my workshop attic to dry before applying static. You can do this at the same time as sticking on the sand, but I've generally got better results applying it after, as it's easy to spill some and it is too much and looks messy, compared to the nice small 'clumps' you can get with tiny amounts of glue if you're patient.

I had thought that one board would give me enough pieces, but realise I might want to get a few different 'looks' for different games. I wiill get some of this by changing cloths - the boards like 'field' or the 'rough pasture' should have quite a different on a 'green' cloth to putting them on my 'desert' cloth. But also I think I'll probably want some more fields, maybe some 'desert' sand boards, a bit more meadow, maybe some 'moorland', maybe some paddy fields for Far Eastern games, and maybe something a bit more exotic ('Martian orange' or 'Lunar concrete grey'?) for Sci-Fi games. As long as they are fairly flat, I should get quite a few packed away in one large storage box.


Today proved quite a good 'drying' day so was able to move to applying 'static grass' faster than expected. Here are the results, including a shot of the 'rough pasture' with (20mm) Napoleonic Skirmishers and (28mm) LotR Gondor Knights. The piece should look like a 'dry' piece of terrain on a green cloth, and a 'fertile' piece of ground on a sand desert cloth. Perfect for a bit of urban 'waste ground', 'worn' or 'over-grazed' clearing or Spanish hillside or Western chaparral. I think I might change my mind on experimenting with different effects on the other irregular boards. Three or four of these boards to throw down on a plain cloth should make the whole table look really goooodddd!!! If nothing else I should be able to take nicer looking pics of my figures with it!

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