Inspired by a recent chat with a friend of mine (thanks, Teras!), I wanted to quickly get together a set of terrain to play some Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago. I developed some criteria I wanted to follow for the project, whilst being able to meet scenario requirements, namely:
- No new tools required (but left open everything I have, such as my airbrush, 3D printer, etc)
- Relatively inexpensive
- Quick to complete
- Looks “good enough”
I listed out all the unique scenario elements required for the core rulebook scenarios, although then realised as I was effectively at a standing start, I’d need to create a ‘generic’ table first and backfill scenario elements as required. That being said, I realised that one scenario called for a set of islands (as you can cruise around in longboats in the game), which would also do double duty as hills.
Looking through my terrain making supplies, I realised I had a few chunks of chipboard and MDF which would work for bases and polystyrene sheets (salvaged packaging) which I could use for hills, as well as gap filler (or spackle), some Geek Gaming Scenics modelling compound I’d acquired for no particular reason and a bunch of sand and rocks. This left me needing some sort of basing material to represent more verdant ground, as I picture jungles moreso than barren wastelands and some smaller scatter terrain.
Inspiration and Ideas
Inspiration came from several sources, mostly various YouTube videos on making jungle terrain, however some of them required tools and materials that conflicted with my desire to do it more inexpensively and without acquiring more gear. However, I did recall Jeremy from Black Magic Craft mentioning “Scan The World” which scans historical artifacts and architecture as STL files which are available for free on MyMiniFactory. I spent a good deal of time perusing what was available there and across MMF, and eventually settled on some ruined archways and “Atlante of Tula” from Mexico as a start. That being said, there are plenty of cool totem poles, ruins and other nifty bits available, so I don’t think I’ll run out of ideas anytime soon. Interestingly, whilst my first statue printed great, the second one failed for some reason, however given the way it failed I just shrugged and decided it looked like it had broken off or sunk a bit so wasn’t a disaster.
In addition to these couple of pieces, I also ordered a bunch of plastic aquarium plants off a pet supply website which I figured were effectively readymade jungle scatter I could plonk down on the table. This wasn’t quite the case, as when I got them and saw the bases, I decided I wanted to both make each piece a little smaller, as well as put them on bases which were more cohesive with the other pieces I was making. I haven’t used hot glue much in my model building time, however it seemed the perfect glue for this, and so I learnt a bit about it (it doesn’t set as quickly when you’ve got the heating on inside as when you’re working in the cold outside – I’m sure you’re facepalming at my obvious lesson here as I was when I realised what was wrong!)and it did prove to be relatively well suited for locking down some pieces of plastic plant to the bases I’d made.
With the bases and hill/island pieces, I eventually came across the idea of using “pizza herbs” or “mixed herbs” as the ground cover, which seemed like a great idea, as there’s plenty of organic and irregular shapes straight out of the packet and it’s relatively inexpensive to buy. Whilst I was at the grocery store, I also thought I’d get some dried rosemary and thyme to mix with the “mixed herbs” to add even more variety. Having experimented, I wouldn’t recommend this necessarily, as the rosemary and thyme didn’t stick down as well as the mixed herbs and so when I painted it I had lots of bits come off, making the final look less good than my later pieces which just used mixed herbs. Another thing to bear in mind is that herbs are aromatic, which is fine, however after my unit smelling like oregano and basil for three days I was a little put off by the smell.
Another item I decided to try out was making some swamps, having made a small swamp piece for the Frostgrave Immersion Tour last year and also needing a swamp board for one of the Stargrave scenarios, I though it would also be a good way to fill out a table. I experimented with several different materials, modelling compound seemed to work best, although I note that making the depressions involved me first ‘building up’ the base before carving into it, so they are a little raised which ruins the effect a little. Later I stumbled upon an old Terrain Tutor video where Mel uses a Dremel to carve into MDF, which I think gives a better finished product, something for next time. I also found the head of an old straw broom (I think I’d used some of it to make a thatched roof at one point), so I cut a few fronds from it and snipped them down, before gluing them in place as reeds. I think they look pretty good, but they were hard to paint, impede storage and are likely to snap off with regular use so think I’ll reserve that idea for more display piece or where there are taller items on the piece (under a tree or overhang for example).
Other random bits
To the extent I needed any more line of sight blocking items, I also have a selection of carved trinkets and aquarium pieces I can utilise to ‘fill out’ the board. These range from more serious pieces (Ganesha and Buddha statues) to the ridiculous (SpongeBob’s pineapple house). There’s some more specific scenario pieces still to be made, but I figured I’d tackle those as and when I ever need them, given this game isn’t high on my local group’s list to play.
In addition, I was at the museum recently and poking around in the gift shop I found some dinosaurs which will fit to fill out parts of the bestiary, but even better I found this excellent dead dino which will make a great piece of scatter terrain.
Painting and Finishing
For painting, the first major batch I sprayed everything with black spray paint to prime it, and then hit it with brown and green paint through my airbrush to bring some colour across it, with details picked out in yellow (sand) and grey (stone). The black primer left the colours a little muted and so on the four later pieces I painted I actually primed black, but then gave each piece a light zenithal of white spray paint, which gives a much richer final colour which I prefer. To finish off the ground, I gave it a drybrush of different browns and yellow to blend together the mix of colours a bit, I had thought I might use oil paint washes to as well, but given how dark the colours already are, I’m not sure that the effort to outcome equation will be favourable.
As a last touch for the swamp, I thought I’d try using some water effects I had in one of my boxes, again another hobby acquisition whose purpose is now long forgotten. I remembered having issues with it on my last piece, so was careful to: (a) not use PVA where I was going to be pouring it (as I thought that it had reactivated the PVA on my last piece); and, (b) pour it thinner than last time to ensure it cured properly. Of course it didn’t work, and another lesson re-learned – don’t rush, do a test pour first and let it cure. So now my swamps have murky white patches instead of little pools of muddy water… oh well, they don’t look that bad I guess.
Setting my intention to get it done quickly and cheaply was a sanity saver on this project, as I was focussed on the pieces being more functional and being ‘done than on producing the best quality I could do. This allowed me to cut some corners, experiment a bit and not stress too much about any mistakes and challenges I came up against. Using the 3D printer to print a few pieces of scatter was great for me, as I could find stuff that suited the aesthetic I wanted and get high quality versions without lots of “hands on” making time. I’ve also been working on getting together stuff for Stargrave (one day I may actually play a game!), so will talk a bit about my “upcycling” of an old table of terrain in a future post, but next time, to play GA you of course need a crew and whilst I recall Joe saying ‘there’s no pirates in the archipelago’ at one point, I just couldn’t resist….