Sunday, 11 October 2009

Planning a terrain set

Since the glue is taking a long time to dry on Ishoo Nin (curse this unseasonably cold weather!), Ive decided to take time out to knock together an article on planning your first terrain set (most of this is modified from 'Terrain Crusade'; the book I am sort of writing on and off about making terrain)

When you build terrain, it might as well all match right? A terrain set is a great way to make sure everything works together. A terrain set can be as simple as having all of your items based with green static grass or as complex as building several tables worth of terrain which match your army! One thing you need to do, of course, is plan things out a little.

Alright, how do you come up with a plan? Let's go through some considerations.
  • How big is your table? This is the first thing to ask – if you are playing small games on a small table, you don't need as much terrain.
  • What scale am I playin in? Obviously this will have an effect on your terrain; in 28mm a castle will takeup most of the table, in 6mm it will be considerably smaller and there will be plenty of room around it for troops to manouver.
  • How dense do I want the terrain? Some games need a lot of terrain on the table – urban combat scenarios especially, some work better on a more sparse layout.As a rule, if your game focuses on regiments moving in formation (Like Warhammer), it's best to have a low density so they can get around. If the game uses skirmish order (Like Warhammer 40,000), then you can have dense terrain as the units can change shape to fit.
  • Where will I store the terrain? A VERY important, although often over looked question. You will damage terrain by storing it poorly, so you need to find someplace safe. Don't make more terrain than you can store, because this will lead to trouble.
  • How confident do I feel? (aka: Am I a nutter or not?) If this is going to be your first foray into terrain making, start with something simple to get used to it. If you are a seasoned veteran, then you might want to tackle something totally insane (like a life size replica of Amon-Hen or something)
  • What will the ground be like? Do you want to go for rolling grassy fields, rolling muddy fields, ice, snow, lava? This is important because getting all the bases to match is a great way to tie the terrain together. Also, you might want to make the table match the terrain or vica-versa.
  • What features do I want? Do you want hills and lakes, or do you want a man-made area?
  • What buildings do I want? You may not want any buildings at all, or you may want an entire table load of them, but you need to make a decision.
  • What style of terrain? Will the trees be pines, or ball-on-a-stick type trees? Will the water be clear or murky? Will there be rocky outcrops, or craters ripped into the ground by powerful engines of destruction?
  • What style of architecture? If you are playing a classic fantasy game set in a medieval world, there's not much point building a super market in concrete and glass, is there? Try to have the architecture match the world, or even better, match your army. Nothing gives home team advantage like personalized terrain!
  • What'll it cost? Okay, so you have decided on building a six-foot cube representing the interior of the Dreaded Dungeons of Doom, Death, Destruction, Doom and Death (a firm of demonic attorneys). It's going to have incredible details, be completely carved from high-density foam, adorned with about three hundred miniatures to represent bits of furniture, daemon office workers, prisoners etc, and it'll have central heating. Oh, and you have $7.25 and a used bus ticket as a budget. Some times, you need to work to a budget, and this sounds like one of them.
  • Is it practical? Yeah, see above really. Will you have time to make it? Will it be easy to use anyway?
  • Is it versatile? Can it be used in more than one way, or will it always be exactly the same? It's okay for a building to always be the same, because you can put it anywhere on the table, but when the whole table is always the same, you quickly learn the best tactics and always use them. It's also good to make terrain that can be used in more than one game system (although this is not always possible if you play both Fantasy and Sci Fi games the buildings will not match!)
  • Is it useful? Terrain needs to add something to the game. You can make an awesome piece of terrain representing the face of the Arch Nasty Man Grak'Grafnugik carved into the very living countryside like a crop-circle, but since it's basically just open ground there doesn’t seem much point, does there? Unless is offers cover, breaks up lines of advance or lines of sight, or offers an objective, it's not that much use, is it?
  • Are people gonna camp in it? Sometimes a piece of terrain offers such great cover and such a fantastic arc of fire without exposing your troops that you just stuff it full and turn it into an impregnable fortress. Okay, so you're happy, but since your opponent didn’t sign up for a siege game, he’s not having much fun. Sometimes terrain unbalances play and you have to think about that.
Now you can start drawing up a plan!

Let's assume you're working in 28mm scale and you have a 6' by 4' table (well, it's a popular scale and table size so it seems reasonable). You'll probably want about six items of terrain for something this size, one item per two square feet of table. Let's have a look at two terrain set plans, which fit into this scenario. First a fairly generic set, and the second somewhat more... interesting.

Generic Fantasy Terrain set:
Ground cover: Green static grass.
  • Two medium sized hills, about 40cm by 30cm each.
  • Two woods, about 30cm by 20cm each with removable trees.
  • One small lake, about 20cm by 20cm.
  • One small ruin, about 20cm by 20cm.

Okay, this is all fairly simple. You have two hills, which will add some elevation to the field of battle allowing you to get good fields of fire for artillery. You have a pair of woods to slow troops down and provide cover (the trees are removable so that you can place units in the woods easily). You have a small lake, which can either be imposable or difficult to cross depending on your taste, and you have a ruin which can function in a similar way to the lake, but can also provide cover. Many a gamer has started playing on a setup like this, and many a happy gamer has continued to play on just such a battlefield.

Sorcerous Wastes terrain set.
Ground cover: Dark brown dirt.
  • Two floating hills – chunks of rock ripped from the earth and floating in the high magic fields in the area. 30Cm by 40cm.
  • River of blood, consisting of six 30cm long straight sections including two crossing points and four 45 degree curves, each 15cm long.
  • Arcane monument about 20cm by 20cm.
  • Two mutated woods about 20cm by 30cm each with removable trees.
Okay, this is actually very similar to the previous entry, you still have two woods and two hills, but they look a lot different. This is obviously an area of terrific evil and unholy magics, what with the floating hills and rivers of blood. The river is long enough to cross the table lengthwise and is provided with two crossing points so troops can get over it easily. You can play it as impassable except at these points, or merely difficult to cross except at these points, it's up to you. The arcane monument is a small building, which would block lines of site and advance. This terrain set would really look the business and would not be much harder to build than the generic set above.

Now that you have a plan, it might be an idea to draw up some sketches of the various items involved or look for pictures of similar things online. There are plenty of great sites, which have inspirational terrain on them, but don’t forget to check out real world examples as well (where you can!) I find that model railway magazines and site can be very inspirational; some of those guys make awesome terrain for thier railways!

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