TERRAIN - Mixed Residential / Commercial

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To begin with, I'd note that this is the first serious terrain piece I've done in years. It isn't my first terrain piece, though. I did a bit of work with my Foleran desert scheme (crushed limestone, small shrubs, etc.) over the past several years. You can see them show up in my 5th and 6th edition battle reports from time to time. These earlier works were little projects mostly designed just to build my skill set. A few small rock pieces for layering terrain, a corrugated steel shed and a watchtower for building construction, etc. Most of that was a few years ago - I'd spent most of my time building up my guard army from a semi-painted 1000 point force to a more or less completed army. I did have a brief stint in terrain building more recently when I made this number. For that terrain piece, I decided to make it look like my berzerkers' bases. After that, though, I worked on my CSM army some more, including a new, better way of doing basing. Having taken a break from playing 40k since a couple of months ago, I decided to work on some terrain. Rather than being the desert pattern, it would be my new grey-brown static grass motif of my chaos army.

But I didn't want to make yet more tiny pieces. This time, I wanted to do something real. I wanted it to be big, and I wanted to use my knowledge of 40k to make a terrain piece specifically for 40k.

A fair bit of design work went into this project. The first thing I didn't want was to have yet more tiny ruins nubs scattered around the table. I didn't want yet more terrain that heavily favored gunlines - like aforementioned GW ruins nubs that allow a squad to spread out across a couple of levels to avoid blast templates and barrage weapons, while also getting a cover save and slowing down potential assaulters while also giving them a height advantage allowing them to shoot over terrain and thus negate cover saves. None of that at all.

I decided that, for pity's sake, I'd do this ruined building (as I knew I wanted it) with a tiny bit of that kind of usual ruins nonsense, but with a few things to mollify it. Firstly, I would have some windows, but I'd keep them to a small, reasonable number. A few models could shoot down from a good vantage point, but not an entire unit, if possible. There would also be some more hide-in-ruins-cover places to shoot from, but they would be on the ground floor, and I'm anticipating creating more terrain that blocks line of sight at that level. Finally, the best of this kind of "traditional" ruins benefits would come with a secret cost. The base of this ruins would be 14" x 20" and the choice shooting gallery setup would be on one of the short sides. This means that, in a 12" deployment zone situation, that you can deploy in the ruins, but you have to spend at least a turn moving forward to take up positions in the windows, rather than just starting the game guns blazing. Likewise, in a 24" deployment, nobody would be able to put gunline units deep in their backfield and still use the best part of the terrain.

I also went back and forth about a roof and decided in favor of it. The idea being that you get to shoot over terrain, but, being a flat roof, you don't get the benefit of cover while you're using it. Plus, there's a chance you can get in underneath their line of sight, which is especially easy with a roof in the middle of a big terrain piece.

But beyond this basic consideration, there were other things I planned as well to make the terrain more dynamic. More terrain that you actually use, and likely don't use the same way twice in a row. To this end, I designed it to have the bombed out roof and a bombed out second floor that have various bits of nested line of sight blocking and revealing. I also made it so that from one diagonal direction lines of sight are blocked along the entire terrain piece, while on a different axis, you get to "cut" through the corners. Basically the idea was to create a bunch of different places in a single piece that have a mix of different types. You know, something interesting.

But there was also something else I wanted. Before I started this project I did a little math and found out something absurd. Assuming you take 1/28th scale to be a 1:60 ratio (which is what I used for this project, more or less), then a standard 4x6 foot table represents a very, very small area being fought over. We're talking about an area smaller than your average Wallmart parking lot (as in roughly HALF the size). It's about as big as the parking lot in front of the strip mall where my FLGS is. That's very, very small. As such, I wanted to bring some sense of correct scale to my terrain, to get people to see what they're actually shooting over, rather than the ruins nubs loosely sprinkled here and there.

I started by going out with the tape measure and getting the size of the tiny house that I rent and was shocked to see how big it was (like 6" on a side, or something, for a seriously tiny house). After that, I started walking around and, as best I could, approximating the size of buildings downtown in the small city where I live. Eventually I decided to make the Wagner Coal Transfer building the base around which I'd build my model, at least for approximate size (I wanted a building that was a little more square, though). Like many buildings where I live, the piece would be a mixed commercial/residential, where it has a small shop or two on the ground floor and then a few apartments up above it.

For the end design I decided on something akin to a showroom floor with big windows in front with a little bit of office space in back. As the second floor would be mostly bombed out, I'd more or less just need the floorboards and not so much of a floor plan.

While the designing was going on, construction was started. I cut out a big piece of .050 sheet styrene for the base, and decided that for the concrete walls (didn't want to futz with brick), they'd be a laminate of two pieces of .050 glued together.

Immediately, though, I ran into a problem: windows. Most of this terrain piece wouldn't be just straight walls, but would be a combination of bottom, below-window pieces, top above-window pieces, and then full-height sections of walls between the windows. When people do this correctly, they go and use a laser cutter to just cut out the windows from solid pieces of plasticard. I know absolutely nothing about that, so I'd have to do things by hand with my trusty x-acto knife. This, of course, led to problems because .050 plasticard is really hard to cut, much less accurately. As I paneled everything together, there were the invariable seams and as things got glued together getting the alignment of the pieces correct was virtually impossible. I tried to use greenstuff to fill in the gaps, but the end result were seams everywhere.

After some work, I had the basic footprint of the building laid out and the first floor completed.

Once this was done, I finalized the floor plan. I'd have a big front room, a hallway leading back to a set of stairs and to a small office space. All of this, though, meant interior walls. Not knowing exactly how the floorboards were going to go down, I just assumed that they'd all be seen, and so built them "right". In this case, I broke out the .030 plasticard and made the walls with some .050 beams between them.

Here it is half-constructed:

You can see the door there. Anyways, once that was done, I put some more .030 on the other side to create the appearance of drywall nailed to studs. This was done for the stairwell, and for the hallway with a half-collapsed piece in the office space to show where there was once a division, but it got bombed out.

The last thing for the bottom floor was the stairs. These were done by making a pair of "stair jigs" so to speak - two stepped pieces of .030 plastic in a triangle shape. To this I cut out more .030 for the stairs and then glued the stairs into their frame. This allowed me to have the stairs as a cohesive unit that I could then glue down on to the terrain.

With this complete, I ran into my first of several paint vs. construction problems. I wanted to glue in the stairs and the walls, but this was invariably going to be impossible to prime, let along paint once everything got glued down. There would be just too many nooks and crannies. After deliberating, I decided I could probably get a paint brush in there, but the pieces would have to be primed before they were glued in place.

After this, it was a matter of throwing around some sand on the ground floor and calling the construction complete. Time to move on to the upper floor. This meant more .050, and more not laser cutting, and more seams that I continued to struggle with.

When this was done I wound up in a real jam. The next step was putting down floorboards. If I put them in now, though, then there was no possible way that I'd be able to prime the underside of them, and painting the floor and walls through floorboards was going to be likewise nearly impossible. The only way for it was to assemble and paint the floor boards, then paint the walls and floor of the main terrain piece, and then glue the floorboards in. This was going to be risky (that the floorboards wouldn't be assembled right and wouldn't fit, or that the connection between the boards and the wall would be weak, or that I could glue things in wrong and leave glue marks on completed wall, among other possible problems). Plus, I really, really don't like the idea of doing separate things in separate ways at separate times. I'm a big fan of assemble then paint...

But there was nothing for it, and so I started painting.

First came the walls. For this I pulled out a secret weapon - a spray can of black texture spraypaint. The texture was really subtle on purpose. All I wanted was to roughen things up a bit to look more like concrete and less like a smooth surface. With careful use of masking that went down and in the end produced a completely perfect (if extremely subtle) effect. Meanwhile, everything else on the ground floor was hit with regular primer (including a coat over the stipple paint as it came out kind of shiny).

While all of this was going on, I was having to deal with a nagging design problem. Namely, just how "fresh" did I want these ruins to be? On the one hand, fresher meant more detail. I could put up motivational posters in the office ("breaks longer than 10 minutes are HERESY", "work smarter AND harder", and the like), I could paint on some details in the showroom ("our prices are great (technically the same mandated prices as everyone else)", or "Shoplifters will be purged with fire", etc.). I could have fun with things and screw around.

Every time I tried to do this, though, it just wasn't quite coming out the way I wanted. Baby blue walls in the office looked bad, and they looked better when they became faded, and they became best when I gave up and just painted them light grey. These same kinds of problems continued, as adding more stuff tended to make things just look more cluttered, not more better. Especially once I put down a bit of static grass inside the building, the aesthetic finally gelled.

This wouldn't be a thriving city recently shelled and evacuated. No, this would be the ruined husk of civilization ruined long, long ago. The only purpose this building has had in living memory has been being fought over, and the only reason its being fought over is because it's there. Half of the second floor would be caved in, but below it it wouldn't be full of concrete and floorboard debris - no, all of that had been cleared off long ago. Everything not nailed down had been looted, and re-looted and eventually broken down and forgotten.

There would be a new aesthetic for this - the austere beauty of total desolation. I was now on a mission to make everything look as depressing as I possibly could.

This also had an added side-benefit. My work on this project, as it was already becoming plainly clear, was very, very sloppy. I'm still not that great at working with plasticard, and I was doing this in a bit of a hurry to get enough done before my morale broke as it tends to to on over-ambitious projects like this one. With this choice though, the unending pile of mistakes and shoddy work started to look like features. As the grey-streakiness of the concrete started to develop, the seams in the .050 started to look less like I made a mistake and more like the concrete of the building just wasn't laid out very well in the first place. The warped walls looked like maybe they were once at a 90-degree angle, but have since been wrecked out of place. The fence I would build at the end would particularly benefit from this (as you'll see later - no, it wasn't warped on purpose).

Once I'd painted everything to be painted, I spray sealed it and threw in a bit of static grass. The idea being that it's been desolate long enough that nature has started to pathetically attempt to reclaim it (but even this is being done in a half-assed, depressing, desolate way with anemic splotches of dried tufts long desiccated and dead).

This left only two things for the main building, the floorboards and the ceiling. The floorboards were put together by making some .050 beams and then making a LOT of small .030 planks. The process was surprisingly straightforward, sort of like weaving a basket, except it was only over-over bits.

Once again, this was rife with cutting errors and other problems. There are all of these gaps in here not because I was trying to make it look desolate, but because I just couldn't do it any better with the time, tools, and skills that I had at my disposal. The one benefit I can claim is that by using this method the end result, while looking gossamer thin is actually very strong, for much the same reasons that spaghetti bridges are. Lots and lots of surface area and contact points with lots of flexible strips and lots of glue.

And while the weave was strong, after I'd painted it, my fears came to roost. Gluing them down into the ruins was very tricky especially as, as feared, things weren't constructed quite flush (walls or floorboards), which left tiny gaps everywhere. On every floorboard set I could get one wall glued down nicely, but then had to slightly twist everything into place for imperfect seams, yet again. By this point, though, I was starting to get burned out. I did the best I could (and I might come back on one spot that really doesn't want to stay anchored and put a little reinforcement in) with my dwindling patience and, seeing that it could hold up big, heavy metal models with a little bit of vigor in their placement, I was happy enough with the structural integrity.

Believe it or not, I got to this point, roughly 2/3-3/4 done in just a week and a half. Burned out, though, I put this project on hiatus for a bit over a month. Slowly but surely I started to pick at it again, this time taking about three weeks to finish it completely off while also working on other stuff.

When I came back to it, the only thing that was needed on the main building was the roof. For this, it was time to go back to my nearly exhausted .050 stash (yes, I used just a little bit over an entire 4x6 foot sheet of .050 plasticard in the making of this terrain piece. Thank goodness for bulk rates). With a little work, I had the two pieces I wanted cut out. The small piece would go on the corner, while the large piece would cover nearly half of the terrain piece as completed so far. The only problem this left was that it created a huge blank space over detail.

To fix this I drilled in some holes and put in two small bits of tubing as exhaust ports from something in the closed-off part of the terrain piece. I put down several layers of backing, knowing that they would be the two things sticking off of the top, and had a risk of being pushed into the model to be lost forever. It's probably the strongest part of the piece now. Anyways, this still left a big space that I wanted to do something with. I had plans for doing an air conditioning unit or something on the top when I reminded myself of the aesthetic I was going for - instead there would be just the bent, rusted lugs that USED to hold what was once an air conditioning unit or something until desperate civilians had scrambled up off the roof and removed it for scrap.

These pieces were then painted, sprayed and glued down. The end result was pretty beefy. A bit of overlap along most of the seams meant a lot of surface area, and I could (and do) regularly pick the piece up by its roof overhangs without problems.

When this was done, I had a finished building, but not a finished terrain piece. As you can see from previous pictures, there was a extra blank spot. This was designed to be the rear lot. After flirting with it being a parking lot briefly I decided that no, this would just have been a grassy patch out back that would have been used for the rear entrance and for storage.

I had ideas of making it a combination of wooden fence and chain-link, but in the end decided to go with just the wood, and have it be damaged to open up some line of sight. Unlike in my last terrain piece, though, everything was smaller, as it was to scale. Instead of big .050 supports, it used small, thin .030 supports. This meant that after I made the frame the very act of gluing the boards of the fence down caused it to warp. As I put down the layering for elevation with more plasticard, that caused more warping. Then the sand - more warping. The desolation look made this not so bad, but it certainly presented me with some challenges for next time I want to do fencing.

The only other things were a bit of detail on the large, blank rear side of the building. I started by putting a door in by just adding the frame and painting it a different color. I also added in a tiny peephole (which the pictures below don't show well, but it's completely perfect), and threw on a handle from the guard vehicle sprue to create the effect of an impenetrable steel door.

I also, just to make it look more depressing, created some sort of chemical storage tank out of two bits of spare PVC joiners and more plasticard with some rivets, along the lines of how I made the tanks for my hellhounds. After more masking and priming, it was into the final stretch.

Now, while I was working on this, Games workshop came out with its new "technical" paints, and, on impulse, I bought the cracked earth stuff. I did some experiments with it and then decided that perhaps it would help with the rust effects I wanted on the tank. The idea would be that it would make the cracks, I'd paint white over it, and then I'd wash a rust color into the crevasses. It turned out, though, that the cracks were too fine for this, and so it didn't really go as planned. The underlying extra paint at least made it so that the rust coloring didn't look merely painted on, but sort of like it was bulging up from underneath paint.

I also, when doing the sand, decided to leave a big patch open into which I gooped half the paint pot. The idea was that there would be a low spot that water (or perhaps that leaky old chemical tank) would drain into (how... depressing?). In the end, once again, the cracked effect was too slight to be properly seen, and so I just sort of had to deal with it. More static grass and I was done. All I had to do was a bit of repair-work (while static grassing, the piece started falling off the table, and I grabbed it just by the fence. With the exception of the floorboards, my work is usually pretty darn durable, which this event showed).

After that, all I did was some detail-work (well, before the static grass), like adding in some bullet holes to two of the corners, and throwing on some graffiti (with some splotches where the owner of the building tried unsuccessfully to paint over them), and rusting things up a bit.

Then it was just a matter of taking some pictures.[/spoiler]

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It's hard to see with a camera, but if you look at it flush, you will notice that there are bullet holes around the window ledge and then, from a front-on angle, bullet holes in the back walls in the gaps where the windows are.

To view a larger copy of this picture, click here.

Probably one of the things that I'm most proud of is that, because everything was built more or less to scale, and because everything was painted, etc. This terrain piece even looks great and, more importantly, realistic-ish, even from usually less-flattering angles, like this one looking in through the side big window.

To view a larger copy of this picture, click here.

Right? that could be a real building... sort of?

And then, to give a better sense of it, I threw in some of my minis to show off the scale of everything a bit better:

And there you have it.

So, talking about the pros. Firstly, this is a huge terrain piece. While it looks like it's only big enough to hold a guard infantry platoon and some extras in it, don't be fooled - this piece is just a little bit smaller than 1.5 x 2 feet. That's nearly 1/6th of the board. Put another way, when you roll for the amount of terrain in a 2x2 foot square, this piece takes up the whole square. Really I just need a couple more of these and a few smaller pieces and I have myself an entire game board. Secondly, I really like how complicated the piece is. Some models get cover of one kind here, but of a different kind there, and sometimes there's line of sight blocking, but sometimes no, etc. etc. Also, of course, this terrain piece is a heckuva lot better than the usually small, often broken, nearly always unpainted little terrain runts that you usually see, at least where I live. I have to say, I'm over all rather impressed. Also, this piece weighs surprisingly little, and is mostly laminated plasticard, which means it's practically indestructible.

For the cons, I'm not actually that sold on the static grass. It looks good when you're in there in model's eye view... but not so great otherwise. I especially am having problems getting a ground color light enough to make it so that the little clusters don't distract you from looking at the rest of the piece because of how cluttered it makes stuff. Also, of course, there's the irritating floorboards. And the huge pile of mistakes everywhere... everywhere.

In a way, though, this was a good piece to make mostly because I got a LOT of experience from it. I'd never tried doing concrete walls, and now I know the kinds of problems they create. I'd never worked at scale with the correct, thin-gauge plastic card. I'd never done anything properly multi-leveled before. I feel like I've done everything I'm going to do for some time in this piece, and so I got all of my little baptisms of fire out of the way in preparation for my next piece. My next piece which, I can say with a great deal of certainty, will be less ambitious than this one.

Anyways, I hope you like it, and that those who read the top part found it somewhat informative. Time for a short break over the holidays before it's time to buy some more static grass and sheet styrene and have another go, hopefully a little wiser...