Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Detailing: adding some texture

The second stage of making the terrain boards is well under way.  With nine boards now crafted and glued down to the MDF bases, its time to start adding some texture and work out a paint scheme.  I thought that rather than putting paint down on all of them at the same time, I'd work on just two, using them as a sort of test run for the techniques I'd employ for the entire collection of terrain squares.  In this way, if the color turned out to be a disaster, at least I wouldn't need to go and repaint the entire series.  I chose the two simplest boards - ones without prominent features like trenches.
Last week I spent some time thinking about the sorts of colors I wanted to use and the overall impression I want to make.  These boards will represent the mid-to-late war period.  The more reading I've done on the Great War, the greater my appreciation for the evolution of the battlefields, strategies, and tactics from 1914 to 1918.  As the centenary approaches, I think we will see a renewed interest in the period heralded by publications, rule sets, miniatures, and conventions.

General perceptions of this period tend to revolve around the stark images of trench warfare produced by the photographic and narrative records that have been handed down to us. Understandably, the generation of enormous casualties through the mechanization of conflict, has become an abiding memory that tends to mask the actions and fates of individuals and small groups.

While we are not gaming the vast sweeping tank battles of the Second World War, or the masses of colorful infantry fielded in the Seven Years' War, this period does have something to offer, particularly I think on the level of skirmish encounters and smaller actions.  Recently published rule sets have grappled with the challenge of illustrating the impact of technological innovations like the tank, poison gas, and the machine gun, in the context of small group actions.  In the process they have produced some engaging gaming mechanisms.

How does all this play out in my terrain project?  To sum up my reflections, I want to produce terrain pieces that have both a realistic feel to them, and that can fit in with a variety of scenarios and rules sets.  For some scenarios based on Through the Mud and the Blood, by Two Fat Lardies, six squares giving a total area of 6 ft x 4 ft might well be enough for a game with 30 - 40 figures per side .  For larger actions out of the pages of Warhammer Historical's Great War, the game designers recommend a playing surface of about 6 ft x 9 ft to generate a sweeping battle involving many more figures.  The beauty of well-planned modular terrain is that it can fit with both these gaming paradigms.

So on to painting the terrain squares.  Once the first coat of Elastomeric roof coating was dry, I added a lighter second coat to the surface.  Then I spread a thin layer of sand (play sand from my kids' sandbox) and gravel (from our old aquarium) over the area.  I also embedded some twigs to represent the shattered remains of copses of trees (cf. the black and white photographs above).  I put more gravel mix around the rims of the craters to simulate the earth torn up by the explosive force of bursting shells.  Then I gently pressed the texture down with a folded piece to paper towel, to ensure it would settle into the contours I'd already crafted.

Terrain making is a slow process if you want to do it right.  You have to be patient to allow things to cure and dry before proceeding to the next stage.  So it was that I waited 24 hours before starting to color the landscape.  More about that in my next blog.

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