Raised Hill With Barricades

one thing I wanted to see more of in play at my local game store was varied height terrain. The shop where I play has a few buildings with accessible roof or top levels, but outside sniper deployments there is little to keep units off the ground. 

After playing just a single game on one of the tabletop simulator maps I knew I wanted to play more games with varied terrain. I liked the hills and raised platforms troops could move around and over, and use for height advantage (or in some cases, disadvantage).

i did some reading and watching (as usual) of people’s  tutorials for building wargamming terrain. One of the first things I had to work out was the line between ‘realistic’ terrain and what I would refer to as ‘utilitarian’. Model builders make amazing looking terrain, often for model railroad sets or dioramas. They looked great, but would be impractical on the tabletop. Rounded hills, natural looking shapes and irregular heights don’t lend themselves to troop cohesion.

When I talk about terrain being utilitarian I mean that it sacrifices some degree of realism for usability in a game. Hills are tiered with each tier having a flat top, and the sides usually have a sleep slope rather than irregular or gentle ones. This makes it easier to line troops up for cover, and climb up tier by tier while maintaining room for the bases to sit.

Knowing what I wanted it to generally look like I set out to get supplies. I was hoping to make the first level of my piece 2” high, with a second 1” tier. However I had trouble tracking down the correct foam board in 2” height. People online talked about pink extruded foam like it was lining the wall of your local hardware store, but all I could find was the 1” sheets. I blame LA and our year round warm weather, but either way I picked up the 1” and opted to start there. 

The first step was to sketch out roughly what I wanted. I cut a sheet of 1/4” MDF board into a rounded shape, sanded down the edges with a Dremel sander, then with a pencil sketched out where I wanted the “hills” to sit.  As you can see below, this was super sketchy, and included lines I decided I dd not like. The basic idea here was to know what shapes I wanted to cut before I started cutting, so that both the hills and the flat would be usable space. I also needed the top of the hill to have enough space for the tower itself.

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Next I used these outlines to mark up and cut the foam. Clearly trying to mark a cut line on the foam board based on lines on a base was not ideal, but even without an exact match this helped me get something close to what I had in mind.

I originally wanted two hills side by side, but decided against it after seeing the first hill placed. The hills in these shots have little to no bevel or slant t the cut, as I wanted to use a knife to cut the “rock” shape into the foam, and give it a more natural edge that way.

I originally wanted two hills side by side, but decided against it after seeing the first hill placed. The hills in these shots have little to no bevel or slant t the cut, as I wanted to use a knife to cut the “rock” shape into the foam, and give it a more natural edge that way.

I marked up the foam to match the markings on the board, but cut way wide of the marks. This allowed me to cut down as needed without risking cutting too much an ruining the foam for use. The arrow is where I want a step placed.

I marked up the foam to match the markings on the board, but cut way wide of the marks. This allowed me to cut down as needed without risking cutting too much an ruining the foam for use. The arrow is where I want a step placed.

You can see that on this two tier version, the top layer of foam overlaps the lower one. I did this on purpose so I could cut them flush after the glue dried.

You can see that on this two tier version, the top layer of foam overlaps the lower one. I did this on purpose so I could cut them flush after the glue dried.

Before I cut and formed the edges on the hills, I needed to glue my two tier hill together. I smeared a good coating of PVA glue all over the bottom of the upper hill and set it on the lower. It did not sit flush - the foam was so light the glue would push it up off the board - so I needed to weigh it down. Don’t tell my wife, but Le Creuset cookware is perfect.

The second problem was that the surface I was letting it dry on was not perfectly flat, and the glue started to slide. This happens really slowing, so you might not see it happening, walk away, then come back later to find the alignment ruined. I luckily caught it right away, and was able to fix the issue. I ended up setting the bases on a towel, and that seemed to help level it out.

I have also since read that if you put a little hot glue in the middle, then the PVA around the got glue to cover the rest of the surface, that you will get a better initial hold. The hot glue, while not strong enough for the final product, will dry faster and hold it in place while the PVA does the real work over a slower dry period.

Once the two parts were solidly glued together, I started to cutting the edges. I wanted to create a look like rock face along the sides, and followed some tutorials I found online. For the first hill, I took a bread knife (the kind with the serrated edge) and scraped along the sides of the foam. This left a rough, pebbled surface, but it was uniform in its texture across all the sides. For the second one, I used a knife to cut then tear chunks out. Once I had pulled some large chunks our around the whole hill, I did a second pass to tear and cut smaller bits in the gaps between the larger removals.

While I was at it, I also cut some rough ‘stairs’ onto each level. I wanted once point where troops could ascend without it being difficult terrain. This was a messy process of cutting away with an exacto knife. The cuts were messy and the process was stupidly dangerous, so I would say next time I would be better off to cut stairs from leftover foam and place them in front of the tiers, rather than trying to cut into said tiers.

In the end I was not thrilled with either option. The smaller, roughed edge was too little and the larger torn version was too much. This is something I’ll need to work on versioning for future projects.

With these cut, I could glue these hills to the base. This is a repeat of the steps above, with the PVA glue on the foam to secure it to the base. I weighed them down and left them for another 24 hours.

The next step was some light texture. I used playground sand, which I already had on hand, spread lightly across the base, with a little on the tops of the foam hills. Playground sand was grittier than I should have used - a fine beach sand or fine grit from a hobby shop would have been best. Once the sand was dried on, I primed everything in Uniform Grey.

Primped with scatter attached.

Primped with scatter attached.

Before I started the detail painting, I glued some scatter onto the pieces. I have previously built some distressed barricades, so I glues those down for the troops to use. I also tore some small round bits of foam and glued those down around the base to look like rock debris. I also had some larger plaster rocks I had picked up from the local train store which I glued down. This was a less good idea as it added a lot of weight, and did not match the foam hills at all, even after painting. If I could do it over, I would have used cut foam here as well.

The first step of painting was the base. I used Rhinox Hide over the gray primer to give it a dark, muddy base coat. On top of that I used a liberal amount of Stirland Mud. This is lighter than the Rhinox Hide and has a muddy texture, so the ground had a more natural look. I did one last pass with Vallejo European Mud, used more sporadically in the open areas, to give an even thicker, dirtier look.

Base brown plus Stirland Mud

Base brown plus Stirland Mud

The Vallejo European Mud added for more texture and color variance.

The Vallejo European Mud added for more texture and color variance.

I wanted to let the base texture and paint dry, so I moved next to brushing coloring onto the hill sides, to make it appear like a rocky wall. My fist pass was with a mixture of Uniform Gray and a little white to lighten it up. The difference between this mixture and the Uniform Gray primer base was subtle enough hat I would apply it liberally on the sides to provide some contrast without changing the look too drastically. I then started mixing more of the white in and brushing it on in lighter and lighter patches. Last I used Citadel’s Terminus Stone dry to start brushing a white highlight on the top most ridges.

The hill sides painted and the added colors on the base.

The hill sides painted and the added colors on the base.

I then went back to add some final colors to the base. I wanted a green / yellow look on top to better match the playmat these were meant to go on. I used mixtures of Army Painter Hemp Rope and Commando Green to get a color that matched like I wanted.

The final step on this was flocking. I used Woodland Scenics Burnt Grass from a shaker to get the look I wanted. I sprayed some PVA on the base, spread it out evenly with an old brush, then shook the flock onto the whole base. I then blew the excess off. Be careful to only blow out — this stuff in insanely fine and if you breath in first, you will hate life.

I did some final touchups where the pain was uneven or the the flocking was too thick, but more of less this left me with a final product I was happy with.

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Learning to drybrush

Dry brushing is a quick way to apply texture and layering to your models quickly. After priming or painting in a solid color, you get a model which looks flat - depth is not visually present due to the uniformity in color. Dry brushing is a way to bring out raised edges on a model without a bunch of fine detail highlighting manually - something I have never been able to do with my unsteady hands.

The basic idea is to add layers of brighter versions of a color to the model over time. This could be reversed, or you could use different colors to add effects, but in the most basic use case you are using brighter colors as you go a simulate light catching the edges of an object. In a few minutes you cant take a previously flat loxoking object and make it look contoured.

I don’t have much experience using this on figure models (e.g. Legion unit models), but I have started using it a lot on my terrain pieces. This is especially true when painting rocks or cut foamboard which is meant to look like rock. Components which would have taken me hours to prep I could make look good in 5 minutes with this method.

I did take some work to get good enough at this process to have it look passable. I had to screw up a few items before asking for some help. I found an employee at NextGen Games in LA who was good at scene and mini painting, and asked for some advice. He was kind enough to give me a demo of the process, including some tips to make it easier. I took what he showed me and tried it out on a set of rock terrain pieces I had just received in the mail, and sure enough the final product came out 100% better than my previous attempts.

In case this advice helps anyone else. I wanted to document what I learned by walking through the steps I took to paint these models. The models I used were these two items from PrinTerrain on Etsy. This shop has a few premade rock designs I liked.

The first step was a prime the models. Following suggestions I had seen online, I used a flat black automotive primer. It goes on thicker and covers the model better. I needed three passes to get all the recesses filled in, which meant being careful how close I got the spray nozzle to the model - too close and the primer would pool in the models’ cracks, obscuring detail. After the three coats though the model looks well covered. I let that dry for about a hour.

This was my second attempt to drybrush “rock” over a black primed model. My last attempt had not gone well - I had misunderstood how to handle the first coat and has used far too little paint when applying the initial layer of gray. This left the model mostly black, with only gray-white highlights, resulting in something which looked more like an ash covered volcanic stone.

Example shows one primed and one with just the first coat in place.

Example shows one primed and one with just the first coat in place.

This time I did a much thicker pass as my initial. Normally with drybrushing you need to leave the brush dry (hence the name of the technique), but for the first pass I wanted the paint to go on more evenly between the creases and outcroppings so I used a large brush that was just a little damp. Using Army Painter Uniform Gray I painted this layer on heavily, but with no detail - meaning I was not trying to fill in any of the recessed, just get a coat over the majority of the piece. This left the deeper recesses still black, or with black showing through, to help those areas look darker.

Now I start drybrushing in earnest. I got a large drybrush for which the brush was completely dry. I also set up a stack of brown paper towels. This is one of the things which was suggested to me. After you dip the brush int he paint, you need to remove most of it before you start brushing it onto the model. I was using standard household white paper towels before, but I could not see the light / white paint on the white paper towel, and could often not realize I still had too much paint on my brush. Moving to the brown paper towels made it easier to see.

I started with the Army Painter Ash Gray. It was just a little lighter and warmer than the uniform gray, which not only would help pick put the raised areas, but also shifted the feel of the model, like the rock was mottled in coloring. For this round I would dip the brush lightly in the paint, then dap it on the paper towel until it was leaving light marks - so maybe 70% of the paint gone from the brush. This meant that then brush left a fair amount of paint behind, but that paint was still mostly on the top most ridges and raised areas.

The second layer brushed on. You can see how much more the detail pops on the model in the foreground, vs the one in the back with just the primer and base coat.

The second layer brushed on. You can see how much more the detail pops on the model in the foreground, vs the one in the back with just the primer and base coat.

Speaking of brushing! I am still working on this part, but I from what I have seen in online tutorials, and what is working best for me, is quick flicks across the model. No dabbing the brush or careful strokes, just quick swipes with the flat side across the model’s surface. Drybrushing works because the paint being light on just the very end of the brush only comes off on the model as the tips move across, which if you are brushing like this will only be on the top most raised edges. To that end, you want to make sure you are not getting paint onto the sides or edges of the brush - just the very tips.

From there I went back to the original Uniform Gray and started mixing white paint into it. It was not an exact science - I would mix in some white, stir it up, dab a little on the brush and apply it lightly somewhere out of direct sight. If it looked too dark, I added a small amount more white. Too light, some more gray. Once I liked it, I did another pass of brushing, then lightened the gray up more, and repeated the process. Each time I tried to get even more of the paint off the brush before I started to paint, so less was appearing on the model with each pass. The last coat of almost pure white went on so thin it really only showed on the top most raised edges.

Ugh.

Ugh.

It was the last few coats though which really showed me a major mistake in my process. I had not sanded down the models before I started painting, and while the primer does a good job of filling in the print lines for a standard paint job, drybrushing will bring them back out again. If you plan to use heavy drybrushing, be sure to sand down the model - at least the largest flat areas. Its worth 10 minutes of working at it with a fine grain sandpaper to avoid ruining the final product.

The final product came out looking pretty good regardless, and only took me about 15 minutes to complete! There is still more practice to be had, but I had a lot more confidence in the process after working on this project!

The final product, sans any flocking or base.

The final product, sans any flocking or base.

MDF vs 3D Printed Terrain

If you have not purchased wargaming terrain before, there is a lot of learn about what options are out there. For the true artists and professionals, the best option is building your own custom work - hand cutting buildings and painting fine detail on models about the size of your fingernail. This is the stuff you see posted on Reddit or featured in a YouTube video which makes you realize how terrible every table you have every played on looks. It’s a good ceiling to strive for, as long I personally keep some perspective about my actual ability. For those of us with shaky hands and the artistic sense of a seasoned tax accountant, the best option is usually to purchase and paint pre-made terrain from online vendors to use on our tables.

I made my first purchases knowing next to nothing. If it looked cool in the pictures, and fit the theme I wanted to build around, I ordered it. As you can imagine, I learned quickly that not all terrain is going to be equal. Three months later I settled on two basic categories for the terrain I find for sale - MDF terrain and 3d printed terrain. In the interest of helping future would-be architects of Star Wars battlefields I wanted to go over the differences between these two options (as I see them), and what I see as the pros and cons of each (again, according to no one else but me.)

3D printed terrain, which itself has subsets based on materials used in the printing, is pretty self explanatory. Someone uses 3D modeling software to build a object, then uses a 3D printer to create a physical representation of that object from plastics. This is the majority of what I see being used in my local games, likely due to the rise in 3D printers priced for consumers as well as the numerous amazing online vendors. Imperial Terrain is a great example of 3D printed terrain (and also just awesome in general for the Legion community!)

MDF stands for medium-density fiberboard. It’s basically a sheet of wood from which parts are cut with a laser. You pop these parts out the sheet and assemble them into your terrain piece, usually following a set of directions provided by the vendor. Most of what I found is geared to 28mm wargaming (ie Warhammer), but there are a number a vendors providing MDF terrain designed for Legion - Battle Kiwi is a company making MDF terrain specifically made for Star Wars Legion.

So when you are looking into buying terrain for your table, is there a reason to choose one over the other? When I started buying I was not aware there were options, much less what each would entail. It’s not something immediately obvious - or at least it wasn’t to me. Having now purchased, assembled and painted some of each, I have formulated opinions on each.

3D Printed Terrain

Pros

3D printed sniper tower. No amount of terrible painting can completely ruin this piece. It looks pretty good on the table no matter what!

3D printed sniper tower. No amount of terrible painting can completely ruin this piece. It looks pretty good on the table no matter what!

  • It can be used straight out of the box. It might not look as good as it will once painted, but it works just as well either way.

  • Everything looks better once painted, but a good paint job on 3D printed terrain makes for an amazing set piece

  • Has a good “weight” on the table - by which I mean it fills space in a usable way, and it feels sturdy when you interact with it

  • Capable of producing complex shapes, patterns and designs with depth.

Cons

  • Often more expensive. The materials and time are more than is needed for MDF, so you spent 20-60 dollars for single piece or set.

  • Single blocks of printed plastic can be bulky and harder to store than MDF terrain which can often be broken down.

  • Ridge lines. When the plastic is laid down by the 3D printer, it leaves concentric ridges across the object. You will want to sand these down (lightly!) before priming to keep the ridges from showing on your final product.

Don’t drybrush if you didn’t sand down the print lines…

Don’t drybrush if you didn’t sand down the print lines…

MDF Terrain

Pros

  • Cheap! Once the designer has engineered the parts and set a template, it cost very little cut into the wood. I was shocked when I first started looking at MDF how inexpensive it was (admittedly, not knowing anything else about it vs 3D printed)

  • Easier to store. The MDF pieces I own all break down fairly well and can be stored in much less space than the 3D printed counterparts. This is likely not always true but seems to be more often  true than their counter.

Cons

A ‘sprue’ of MDF terrain.

A ‘sprue’ of MDF terrain.

  • Arrives as a sheet of wood. Before you can do anything with it, you have to at the very least glue it into shape. And in my experience, if it needs paint you will want to paint it before you start gluing. All this means a lot more time before you can start using it on your table.

  • Speaking of assembly - MDF terrain is often a puzzle. A well engineered puzzle, but a puzzle non the less. You get 2-3 sheets of wood with flat parts of various sizes that pop out. Its almost never immediately obvious how it goes together, so expect to spent some time on the vendors website pouring over building instructions, trying to confirm if that little part in your hands is in fact the part it’s asking you to glue down.

  • Harder to prime and paint. I’m sure there could be debate on this, but the MDF I have painted so far has been way more work for a much less impressive final product. The wood soaked up the primer I was using, so I ended up needing to spay three coats to get it fully primed. With drying between those coats, I needed a whole day to prime before I could do anything else. Once I started the painting I found that it usually took a lot more artistic ability to make the MDF terrain look “good” than I felt I need with my 3D printed parts.

  • Lack of options for shape and form. As mentioned. Everything comes from a sheet of medium density fiberboard. That means no part exists which was not produced out of this board. While I have seen some amazing feats of engineering, it usually (not always) results in something less “real” looking, and often lacking in weight or dimension.  

Despite the poor paint job, this MDF crashed ship airlock looks pretty good from the front.

Despite the poor paint job, this MDF crashed ship airlock looks pretty good from the front.

From the back it looks less impressive.

From the back it looks less impressive.

In choosing terrain for your table you should of course always pick the things you like and would want to see played in your games. Those with more time, skill and patience than me can also discount many of my concerns. But for those of you who are new (and honestly, that’s all this is really geared towards) it is worth considering the above before making a decision.

For the purpose of supplying an opinion based on my experience, I would say to avoid MDF terrain until you know more what you want and can deal with. To a beginner collector, the 3D printed items will be much clearer in terms of what you see on a website being what you will be receiving to use.  And when considering MDF terrain look now just at the promotional photo of the item as given, but what the item would look like from all sides. Will the sides and back have the same apparent depth and weight of the front? Will you like it as much if your ability to paint is not the same as the professional job done in the photo? 

I’ll wrap by adding some additional links to a few MDF and 3D printed terrain vendors -— both because it can help see the difference between the types and because I like their stuff.

MDF 

3D Printed

 

Legion Terrain Crashed Fighters

Legion Terrain on Etsy makes some amazing scenery specifically for Star Wars Legion. It’s sized well, designed well and as a bonus for lazy people like me, can be ordered pre-painted. The selection now includes some really killer looking set pieces, and more keep getting added.

What caught my eye initially was a series of crashed fighters spotlighted on the Etsy page. After finishing my first crashed x-wing terrain project, I wanted to try something tighter and with more useable cover options. I ordered all three options, painted. They arrived in about a week, packed well and looking really good right out of the box.I honestly could have used them with no more work and would have been super happy, but I wanted to try to push myself to try something new with these pieces.

I started by taking a 1.5’ x 3’ sheet of 1/8” plywood as my base. All the tutorials I had read suggesting using MDF boards for bases, but I had found a few sheets of this plywood cheap at the Orchard Hardware near my work and liked how light and firm it was. In the end it worked out really well without adding a lot of weight to the final product.

I laid all three out on the plywood sheet in a rough semblance on what I wanted them to look like when mounted, then drew a rough oval around each ship, allowing enough space around for the minis to stand and move through. I spent a fair amount of time on this layout before marking the boards up as I wanted to know that the final product could serve as more than just an impediment to forward movement. I wanted the troops to be about to move through the broken parts of the ship, as well as use it for cover from multiple sides.

A cut and sanded base, with the pencil markings for where the ship would be placed.

A cut and sanded base, with the pencil markings for where the ship would be placed.

Once I had marked where the ships should glue down and the outline of base, I cut each out with a jigsaw. I then followed up with a sanding bit on a dremel to round the edges of each board down. This helped the base look more naturally sloped up, rather than having just a hard edge all around.

The next step was priming the wood. I primed one coat in black automotive primer, which goes on heavy and thick. When I primed wood in the past using the Citadel or Army Painter primer, the wood soaked up the paint and needing three or four coats to look even. With a coat of automative paint its well covered in one go. I let that dry for a few hours, then primed a second coat of Army Painter leather brown primer on top of that. This did take two coats, with an hour or so of drying between. In the end it was an uneven dark brown, with mottled darker patched here and there.

And before you ask, yes this did obscure the pencil markings for where I wanted to place the ships. Lesson learned.

I opted next to glue the models down on their respective bases. I smeared an ample amount of PVA glue on all parts of the model which would touch the base, set the individual parts on the base, and held them in place for a minute or so to let it begin to set. PVA dries really slow and will slide with gravity, so I had to be careful to leave each base on a flat service undisturbed for about 24 hours while it dried completely. One of the ships was on towel which was bunched on one side just slightly, and when I checked back 30 minutes later the ship had slipped about half an inch off its mark. Oops.

Once all the ships had dried onto the base, I added a few assorted rocks to each base. I used Woodland Scenics river rocks because they were mostly flat. This would give the base some variant terrain without blocking movement. A mini could stand on one these rocks with no problem. It offered the option to impose some optional difficult terrain on the base, and most importantly would help the base blend with the battlemat I planed to use it on. These rocks were glued down with the same PVA glue as the ships and allowed to dry almost the same amount of time.

NextI took the PVA glue and an old drybrush (one I had already ruined) to brush a thin layer of glue across the surface of the board, careful to get glue close to but not on the ships. I then drizzled a very small amount of playground sand on top, turning it over as soon as I was done dropping the sand to in turn knock sand off. This had the effect of losing about 70% of the sand I had dropped, keeping just the stuff which was in the thickest glue, or which was in the most direct contact with the base. I had learned on a previous project that if you dumped the sand and let it dry, ALL the sand would stick and it would look way too thick on the model for anything but a desert base. The sand needed another 24 hours before I felt it was dry enough to continue work.

I now had a ship on a brown-black base with a thin layer of light tan sand grit. The sand good OK, but my board was going to be more of a dusty battlefield, not a dry desert. So I opted to do one more texture layer before I started painting the base. I used Stirland Battlemire to give all the bases a more rough dirt look. This not only made the texture for natural and uneven, but also ensured the sand I had glued down was colored to match the rest of the base. I let the mud texture dry a day before doing anything else. I was worried it would come right off when I painted over it, but most of it held really well without the need for any overcoat.

All three ships on their base, with rocks, sand and mud texture.

All three ships on their base, with rocks, sand and mud texture.

A closer look at the X-Wing on its base, with the sand and Stirland Battlemire mud texture present.

A closer look at the X-Wing on its base, with the sand and Stirland Battlemire mud texture present.

The next steps were to get the final colors on the base. Re-examing all the ships, I opted at this point split the look. For one of the crashed tie fighters I decided to do a thick, wet mud look, This would match the crashed X-wing I had created previously, and I could use both on a swamp table I had plans for. The remaining tie fighter and x-wing would be prepped to match the battlefield mat I already owned.

I painted the muddy tie fighter first since it would be fast, and I already basically knew what to do. I started by painting yet another texture layer on the base. This time I used Vallejo Black Mud, which goes on thick and dark, and looks slightly wet even when it dries. This still kills your brushes, but looks amazing.

While I let that layer dry, I re-painted the rocks. They were a dusty khaki-tan out of the box, so I re-painted them in Army Painter uniform gray, then drybrushed increasingly lighter shades of gray (created by mixing in small but increasing amounts of white) on top of that to bring out the ridges and contours of the rocks. I finished with a very light brushed on pass of Commando Green to make the rock look slightly moss tinged.

That done I did a few more spots of the black mud to thicken it up in placed, then let all that dry.

Next was the flocking and turf. I used Woodland Scenics scenery cement in a spray bottle to splritz uneven patches of glue on each base, then sprinkled some green fine turf over the glue. Like with the sand, I shook and blew off ALL excess immediately. Some of the glue had hit the ship models - i was careful wipe off most of what had landed on the models, but I did leave the turf which was attached low on the ships where they met the base. This I thought looked pretty natural. I let that dry for a few minutes then did a second pass of the same thing with coarse turf. This pass I used less glue and sprayed it more sparingly. The coarse turf looks thicker and I did not want this to overwhelm the base. I let both of these dry about an hour, then did a second pass over everything with the scenic cement spray. This glue dries hard and clear, so the grass is set firmly on the board while looking its usual color.

Once the grass was all dry, I started pouring and painting on liberal amounts of Vallejo Still Water. This stuff is amazing. It dries on hard and smooth, but looks wet. Pools of it will dry to look like pools of water, and painted onto an object the object will appear wet. I painted this onto all of the rocks and on all of the base where there was no grass. I then poured it out into the spaces between the winds and the rocks to make it look like muddy water had set into a puddle.

Final of the Tie crashed in the mud.

Final of the Tie crashed in the mud.

With this last coat also dry, I was happy with how the Tie Fighter crashed in the mud looked, and went back to my other ships. The remaining tie and the x-wing were meant to go on a battlefield mat which had a more rocky arid look. The first thing I did was a light layer of additional texture using the Vallejo European Mud. This was a lighter brown than the black mud I used on the previous tie, and looked less wet when dry.

Like with the mud tie, I drybrushed the rocks while the mud texture dried a bit. I used the same paints with the exception that I did not add the light green as a final layer. Once the that was done, I did some drubrushing of a few light tan and pale green colors on top of the textured base to lighten it up and vary the coloring. I chose the colors based on how they looked compared to the colors on my game mat.

The step at this point was the flocking. I used spray on scenic cement and a fine burnt grass turf in a shaker to layer the grass on with a semi-random pattern, like patchy grass with dirt or rock showing through underneath. Like with the muddy tie, I poured then immediately blew off all excess.

That was it for these two. I might take a second look later with more experienced eyes, but the models look good on the game mat, and provide a look I am pretty happy with.

X-wing final.

X-wing final.

Alternate Tie Fighter final.

Alternate Tie Fighter final.

Fisher-Price® My First Terrain Project

I’m going to start with a quick write up of my first two terrain projects. I worked on both in parallel and was doing both before I had any idea I should be taking pictures or documenting the process. All to say that my memory of the work is imperfect so this will be an incomplete picture,

X-Wing Crashed in the Mud

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When I first got the itch to build Legion terrain, I started doing research on stuff I liked, and very quickly found my eyes outpacing my watch - meaning getting big ideas and moving on them without properly allocating time and planning on any one given project. I ended up with a lot of parts and no roadmap. One such part was a Poe Dameron X-wing toy I found which was of good scale and size for Legion, and honestly just looked really cool.

I had this vision of a crashed x-wing on the table, its nose buried in the ground and broken parts scattered around. I opted to start on this project as soon as the model arrived, and without any real sketching or planning. Herein lies my first a biggest mistake. Good terrain is thought out and planned. You dont start cutting a glueing based on a vague idea of an end product. As such, it took three iterations to get this piece usable, and even after all that it is unlikely it will come out too often.

The first step was distressing the ship. This should have been done after I knew better how it would sit, but kitbashing sounded like too much fun to wait. I cut off one wing, burned and bent anything that stuck out too far, then melted and sanded down the paint all over the model so it looked battle and crash scarred. Despite the poor planning I was really happy with how this processed ended up. The toy came with a little pilot. I wanted to keep him as a dead pilot in the ship, so I cut his back with an x-acto knife and melted his legs so I could position him slumped over in the cockpit.

Next I picked up some 2” styrofoam to rest the ship in. Here is where I started to go wrong with the build. 2” was WAY too tall for what I wanted, and required I cut a massive amount off the top. Moreover, I did not yet know the difference between styrofoam and extruded/insulation foam, and the styrofoam I picked up was not idea for using in terrain. The little beads broke off in unappealing patterns, and left the surface looking pocked in an unnatural way.

I wanted the ship to sit in the foam, like it had crashed and stuck into the ground. Again, without much planning, I started cutting and melting the foam block so that it had a ship-shaped depression. This was largely done by laying a hot soldering iron down on the foam so that it melted down. This smelled terrible, ruined the (admittedly cheap) soldering iron and probably gave me cancer, but it did leave a fairly good impression that the ship could rest in. The long streaks left by the iron also looked like the ground being rent as the ship skidded to a stop, so that came out better than it could have. I finished this step by using a foam cutting wire to slice the block around the ship impression into a rounded hill.

I primed the foam block with Army Painter leather brown primer. Just as I was warned would happen, the the primer melted the foam a little when sprayed on. THis meant there was always some amount of white showing through. I had read suggestions of primers which could be used on foam without melting it, but I have yet to find any of these primers for sale anywhere. Two heavy coats and one light spray got enough of it to pass muster.

I thought at this point I was pretty well done, so I got a hot glue gun, and glued the ship into the foam base. The hot glue made a huge mess and was hard to control, which left big globs of glue on the ship, the base, and piled out of the impression the ship sat in. It did dry firm - too firm as it turned out. The ship’s wings pulled the sides of the foam base up slightly, meaning the piece would not sit flat on the table.

So the next step was to cut a base out of MDF board and glue the ship and foam onto that. This required a log of messy weighting to get the bent foam to sit on the board flat while the glue dried for ~24 hours. I piled bricks all over it like a real artist.

Once that dried it would once again sit flat. Now I needed to make it look like mud, not a brown styrofoam and wood. The first trick I tried was texture. Sand glued onto the base was a popular option I had seen online, so I walked down to the local playground and picked up a cup of sand. Next mistake: I sprayed glue all over the base and the foam, and got some on the model as well. I poured the sand across all of, then left it to dry without knocking any of the sand off. I assume that some of the sand would dry and some would not, and a fair amount would fall off when it was dry. I was wrong. Almost all of the sand dried onto the piece, making it look buried in sand.

Next came painting. At this point the piece was coming into its final form, but still looked terrible. I started with a dark brown paint over all of the base, foam and sand to get it uniform. I then painted a little bit of Stirland Mud over the largest flat areas. to give it some texture. I let that dry, then went back over almost all of the base with Vallejo Thick Black Mud. This make a huge difference in the look. Before the overabundance of sand made the model look too gritty for what I wanted, but once the mud pain was mixed in it looked more natural, like a muddy hill. I went back after it had dried a little and pushed big globs of the mud texture down into the foam recession, where it did not line up with the ship model. This made it look much more grounded (even if it did waste a lot of the paint texture). I was sloppy with this process on purpose so that splatters of the mud would get onto the ship.

This mud paint took about a day to dry well enough. Once it was dry, I did a thin coat of still water over all the base and foam to make it look wet. That dried for another day, then I added my flocking. I painted PVA glue on the wood base very thick, and pressed a fair amount of coarse burnt grass into that area. I then sprayed a lighter coat of glue on the foam and sprinkled more of the burnt grass texture onto there. In hindsight I should have used a richer, more verdant color for the flocking, but this worked pretty well.

Once the glue had dried I shook / brushed off any which was loose, then did my last coat of still water. This round mostly consisted of pouring, not brushing. I poured thick pools of it into the rivets where the ship had ripped up the earth, like water had settled into these divots. I did some extra as well on the foam in ridges where water could have settled.

With this done, I was pretty happy with it. My concerns with the piece are largely with how useful it will be, not with how it was created. Units can’t really stand on it firmly, so it will mostly be a blocking piece rather than something the units can use or interact with.

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High Ground

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My next piece was basic terrain with no model or 3D printed items on it. All of the games I had played up until that point had been pretty flat - buildings or scatter terrain but nothing taller than height 1. I liked the idea of variable height terrain to switch the game up. I wanted introduce items which needed climb/clamber to get on top of, but which would then provide a height benefit to the units.

I watched a number of tutorials online and found a few which seemed to show terrain I liked the idea of. I built an idea in my head of what I wanted - a two tiered hill units could use to get varied height as needed for line of sight, which would also provide some extra cover options. I had planned to put some sort of emplacement at the highest point that units who took the hill could use as heavy cover for an added benefit, forcing the opponent to flank around behind the hill to take them out efficiently.

What I ended up with was a piece I call “Stupid Hill”. My plans never got sketched out, and I just build things as I went along without thinking about the final product, so I ended up with something mostly useless.

My first mistake was material. I did not yet know the different between styrofoam and extruded insulation foam. I’ll do a better write up of the difference later, but for now I’ll say this was the wrong choice. It cut cleanly, but as soon as I started trying to give it texture by cutting into it, it feel apart. It also absorbed the paint in weird ways, which meant I could never quite get all the original white painted over.

I drew out roughly want I wanted (again, without thinking it all the way through) and cut out three pieces - a larger bottom and two smaller tops. I then re-cut all around the bottom part to make it more angled, like a hill sloping up. This means the top two parts to the hill also needed to be cut with the same angle so it would like up with the lower block. The back and forth cutting to get the top and bottom to line up correctly ate a lot of foam off the blocks. When it was done I had a nice match on the slope, but the tops of the hill were way too small anymore for a full trooper unit to stand on, much less a full unit and a barricade emplacement.

I glued the top two blocks to the lower block with PVA glue (twice, as the first pass I used household elmer’s school glue, and it never stuck firmly). Once they were glues firmly together I attempted to go all round the hill with a knife and scrape away chunks to give it a more rocky, uneven surface. As I mentioned above, the little foam pebbled just tore out in uneven chunks, so I abandoned this process quickly.

The base it sat on was 1/8” plywood, cut with a jigsaw and sanded down all around the edges with a Dremel sanding bit. I glued the hill to the base (with the correct glue this time) and let that dry for about 24 hours.

The next pass was a base primer. As I mentioned above, I could not find any primer recommended for foam, so I just used flat black Army Painter primer. As before, it melted the styrofoam. Worse this time in fact, due to the primer getting into the areas I had tried to roughen up. It would go on thick, then melt the foam as it dried. After 4 coats the wood base was too thick and the hill still had white spots showing all over. I opted to give up on that and just try to fill in the worst of the white spots while doing the drybrushing.

The tutorial I found online recommended a black primer undercoat, then drybrushing on lighter grays over time to make it look like rock. It looked really good in the pictures on that site, but never quite worked for me here. First off, it really needed a heavier first coat of gray. That tutorial made it sound like all the coats were just lightly applied. Without a good gray base, the black undercoat never went away. In the end, I had what looked like a volcanic hill covered in ash. No way was this going to match my table.

So I scrapped it and went back to the primer. This time I sprayed the whole thing Army Painter Leather Brown. I did the same drybrushing as before with lighter tans and browns. This time, because the undercoat was already a color in line with what I wanted my final to look like, it came out closer to what I had in mind color wise. Texture wise it was still a mess - the drybrushing only added highlights to the weird styrofoam holes to accentuate the mistake.

The next step was to add some texture to the hill. I first glued Woodland Scenics river rocks down on the part of the base which extended past the hill, to provide difficult terrain for units approaching this way. These went on well, but never looked like what I though it should look like. The more realistic looking plaster rocks only served to make the crappy styrofoam rock look faker.

Next I wanted to add sand to the hill tops and between the rocks on the base. Rather than use playground sand, I took a handful of gritty sand from my neighbors front lawn. It was full of little rocks and debris, which made the hill look rougher. I spread a heavy coat of PVA on the flat parts of the hill and between the rocks on the base, and spread this stuff on there liberally. I looked cool, but when I went back to paint this it knocked a lot of it off.

With the texture all glued in place and painted to match the rest of the base and hill, I did the flocking. I sprayed Scenic Cement onto the flat tops of the hill and in between the rocks on the base (basically the same places I had put the sand) and pressed a good amount of the coarse burnt grass flock into the glue. Once this was dry it was done.

The coloring and texture were not terrible. Had I build this from the correct foam it would possibly have looked really cool. The biggest issue here is use. The tops of the hills were just too small in the final product to field full units, and it was not tall enough to merit climbing or clambering up. Like the x-wing, it seems all this would server as would be a blocker to LOS or movement rather than something the units would really use.

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Why am I writing about something I knows nothing about?

Legion is my first (and will likely be my only) foray into wargaming. As such it was the first time I ever needed to purchase or build any terrain for little plastic men (or women, or aliens, or space orcs or whatever) to fight over. As a life long consumer of goods geared towards those who are terrible at sports, I had of course seen wargaming played before, usually peripherally as a pitched battle of Warhammer being run on the table next to where Haral the Dwarven Cleric was casting Cure Light Wounds and swinging his mace around like there was piñata in need of busting. It never appealed to me, and in my 20s the investment looked too daunting to consider regardless.

As for terrain - DnD growing up never amounted to more than a sheet of vinyl and an erasable marker, where dungeons and castles were scrawled crudely along predefined grid lines. If we were feeling fancy we broke out the good terrain - flat cardboard tiles with real pictures on them. That’s when you knew your DnD game had arrived.

I got into playing Legion late. My local shop, The Perky Nerd, had a good number of people who went in at launch, but burdened by previous assumptions of what wargaming was I passed. Assemble AND paint? Having played and enjoyed X-Wing and Armada, I wanted pre-painted miniatures or nothing. So I played other things, or often nothing all, until early July. Stopping by TPN on a Saturday, there was a game going on in the back. I watched for a while. I asked some questions. I got interested.

I didn’t pick the game up that day. Somehow, I waited a whole week. I had a 2 year old and a busy job, so I still had trouble seeing myself as someone who would every have the time to sit down at night at paint faces on a 2” plastic rebel trooper. Each day that week I found myself watching learn to play videos on YouTube, or browsing the current releases on Fantasy Flight’s website. Each day I caught myself wanting to stop by TPN after work to pick the game up. The following Saturday I stopped by again. I watched another game. I asked more questions. And when the game was over my willpower shattered. I picked up a core set, an extra AT-RT and speederbike expansion, a Citadel base paint set, an assortment of recommended brushes and some glue.

After that, I pretty much lost my mind.

Starting from zero, I dove in head first. I am middle age with more disposable income than common sense, so I had the luxury to get into the game seriously straight away. Once I had played a handful of Legion games and had the basic rules worked out, I decided I wanted to try my hand at building a themed table. Painting stormtroopers for two weeks had been educational, but not really what I would call fun. I have almost no artistic ability, but I have always been decent with craft work, and so working on tabletop terrain seemed way more entertaining that figure painting would ever be.

Like any obsessive, I spent a lot of the first week in google searches, facebook posts, blogs and forums collecting things I liked. I knew I wanted a battlefield table - crashed ships, wrecked walls, and blasted apart barricades. TPN already had a pretty good Tatooine and Endor setup, so I wanted to try something new. As an obsessive player of Star Wars Galaxies from 2003-2005, I had always fancied the non canonical elements of Star Wars over what was featured directly in the movies.

So I gathered pictures of other people’s work which I liked, details about scale and sizing, the basics of materials and what sorts of tools I would need (most of which I already owned, which helped). Armed with all this knowledge and no practical experience, I of course starting making wild and unregulated purchases of anything I found which struck me. I’ll go more into specifics of what I purchases, what I learned and what I regret in later postings, but suffice to say I learned a good amount quickly about what was going to work and what was not - both due to the items themselves and my own limitations.

So to the title of this post. Why would anyone want to ready an occasional write up about sloppy terrain construction from a non-artist who is doing this for the first time? Well, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. And, in the process, figures some useful things out. I have seen lots of blogs and tutorials online offering terrain advice and tutorials which make everything look easy while being low in detail — In five easy steps you too can build a perfect rock outcropping! Just draw the rest of the fucking owl! I wanted to post pictures of broken, splotchy mountains, and crudely rendered buildings to as a learning exercise - to take a step back, look at what worked and what did not, and make it better next time. Is this helps no one else, that fine. Writing it down will help me if nothing else. And if the lessons learned do help other people, then all the better.

Now let’s go make a mess!