Meanwhile, on the Bench: Celestine Wharf game board

The Celestine Wharf of Syracuse Magna (courtesy of FFG)

It is 1pm in the afternoon on the Celestine Wharf. It is raining, and the river carries the strong sense of mould. This man-made dead end of foul-filmed water is shadowed by the close press of warehouses from which loading spars spill their rusting chains to water at high tide.

The docks here are long unused and its bays are crammed with rusted cargo barges, while its warehouses are reputedly the haunts of dregs and gangs.

You had spotted some scum unloading cargo from an armoured motor-skiff on the corner of one of the docks. Questions turned to threats, and when the team’s face draws a hold-out dueling pistol worth more Thrones than the entire cargo of the ship, avarice overcomes the thugs.

At the boiling point of the exchange, you hear a deep guttural roar from around the corner of a warehouse.

“WHO’S ASKING QUESTIONS ON MY WHARF?”

Finished product first!
an investigation on the wharf

Alongside the adventures of the Orthesian Dynasty, I also have a long-running game of Dark Heresy that meets up once every 6 weeks or so to continue a five-year-long campaign that has spanned multiple planets, systems and characters in an investigation into the cursed Samarra bloodline.

They are currently in the province of Syracuse Magna, a rotten, sodden place where the criminals act like nobles and the nobles act like criminals. You might have seen a previous session on the Canals of Syracuse Magna.

I have used scenery in Dark Heresy before, but this was the first time I’ve used a full-blown game board to represent our scraps. They probably taken an extra hour so to resolve (2-3 hours per fight), but as we get together for an 8-hour session every month or so, we think this is an acceptable use of the time. It’s a great scene-setter and we get to have wild fun swinging off the scenery and lobbing firebombs around.

The previous session ended on a “Roll for initiative!”, so we were launching straight into a combat. It gave me time to set up the board before people arrived, so I could get everything just so. It meant, however, I needed some more watery terrain tiles to better represent a wharf rather than the canals from the previous game.

The tiles in progress. Also a few other tiles for future brawls…
Building the wharf

Luckily a lot of my work was already done for the canals fight, so this would just be set dressing. I still had a lot of tiles from TTcombat left over, so I upon them with a coping saw to make some different levels of tile. I had lots of ‘plain’ boards, now I wanted some fancy piers, loading spars, rickety wooden structures, that sort of thing.

I cut a large U-shape out of the centre of this one so it would still tessellate with the other tiles, but would still be obviously a loading dock.

I picked up a bumper pack of balsa wood from ebay for a tenner a while back, and pressed a lot of it into service to make the docks. I really, really like working with balsa wood, and will likely find some more excuses in future to use them…

Less practical was my cobblestones. In a moment of panic before the first session I bought some foam and hand-carved the cobblestones with a bunch of broken biros. This had some pretty awful effects on my hands as I whinge about here, but I didn’t really have any alternative to continue the style for these new tiles.

Luckily there was way less coverage required as most of the tile were covered with loading bays or wooden decking, so I only had to do one A4 sheet rather than the five I did for the first project. I had also picked up some pricey textured plastic A4 sheets with cobblestones on, that I had originally planned on covering the entire boards with.

This, unsurprisingly, turned out woefully impractical and hella expensive, so it was used whenever I couldn’t be bothered to cover another small section of hand-drawn cobblestones and to add a bit of variety.

I also had a fewer smaller tiles that I had planned on using as risers, placing them on top of existing tiles to create height variance and all sorts. They weren’t appropriate for the dock, but I figured I might as well sort them out alongside everything else, as future Rob will inevitably have other bullshit to sort out at the last minute.

Then it was on to building docky bits!

I really enjoyed this part. There is/was a potential for combat to occur in the Sinks, a section of District 13 that is several metres underwater from flooding and mudslips, so the Sinks residents have rebuilt their shanties on top of the old town. I had a million and one large-scale projects I wanted to do for those, but I couldn’t justify it just yet as I wasn’t sure if the investigation would even go there at all.

As with everything I make, versatility is a must. I have too many large scale project ideas to allow myself to run away with something that will only get used once.

These dock parts were assembled entirely from PVA, balsa wood and wooden cocktail sticks for pinning. They needed to be both docks (for the Wharf fight I knew I had planned) and usable as other things in a pinch – rotten scaffolding around a large church or walkways on the submerged parts of town were just a few ideas I came up with.

These were painted in the same way as my other wooden sections to keep some semblance of uniformity. They were undercoated Black first, then given a dusting with a reddy-brown rattlecan. Everything was then given a drybrush with a light brown – I often forget what I used previously so this time it was Zandri Dust. The final highlight was a light edge drybrush with Rotting Flesh (which I’m not sure of the modern equivalent) – a very light brown with a greenish tinge.

Both the stone sections and wood sections were given a final light drybrush with Rotting Flesh instead of a light brown or white. The themes for Syracuse Magna are entropy and decay, so it was only fitting that everything was painted to look like it was dying.

All together I’ve got quite a haul! My favourite part is how compact it all becomes once its disassembled – way easier to store and with so many more permutations than a regular solid board.

Showdown on the wharf

It would be mean to not have some kind of battle report on this lovely set of scenery, wouldn’t it?

Although highly inaccurate, and based off more what I can remember from the pictures taken, here’s more or less how it went down.

Pictures vary in quality and subject matter because I asked my players to take photos too, as I always forget to do so about halfway through the game.

The scene is set, including some Blood Bowl goblins one of the players was dropping round for me.

The players will enter from the right. The Undertow thugs are already present on the Wharf, unloading their cargo from a motor-skiff. The players don’t know (or care) what’s in the cargo currently. Probably criminal stuff. Didn’t matter – it wasn’t pertinent to the investigation. It was time for beef.

Had some pretty harsh light streaming in through the one window. There were five thugs present on the Wharf already, and the roar came from the Wharf Boss who was coming in from the left top corner of the board (from around the warehouse) with another two thugs.

The party is investigating some brutal inhuman murders caused by some strange undead killers in bird masks, and a few leads pointed to there being some answers around Celestine Wharf.

The party had just stepped off a boat from further up river, where they had had to make a hasty retreat from a bar fight that went sour. The Cleric drowned someone under a table, the Adept got off her face drunk on mudder’s milk and the Arbitrator killed their only witness with a throwing axe.

The previous session ended with the scum spotting some criminal activity down the wharf – just some crims doing crim stuff. The Cleric was draped in the passed-out Adept and was till picking chunks of her vomit out of his beard when the Scum strolled straight up to the criminals and demanded to speak to the person in charge.

“Hello fellow criminals, what a good day for crime”

Being criminals, they were more than happy to roll on their boss in exchange for cash. The Scum was upset at that concept so drew his duelling pistol and repeated his question. The sound of players rolling eyes was audible.

Initiative was rolled. The Scum went first and, as a man of his own flexible word, plugged the first criminal clean in the head.

As the Wharf Boss took his turn, the gravity of the situation sunk in. He’s a Named Character with a big-ass axe. Better not let him… axe me a question.

The thugs here weren’t prepared for a brawl, so only had what they were carrying on them. A handful of autopistols and shotguns, one of them carrying firebombs as backup. Their plan was to pin and disrupt everyone until their Boss could get round to axing them to kindly leave.

The rest of the team were following up the rear. In the picture below, we have the Guardsman, the Arbitrator, the Techpriest (who was the Cell’s Primus – their elected leader), the Cleric (represented by fabulous cardboard cutout) and the Adept.

Take cover! Shots ripple across the Wharf as everyone takes their bearings. There was a lot of cover further up the board, but brings you closer to the Wharf Boss. The thugs closer to the water’s edge were squishier, but there was less cover.

The team fan out, taking shots with their lovingly-cared-for weapons and pinning/wounding in equal measure.

After the Scum plugged the first thug he was having a chinwag with, the other thug returned the favour. The Scum took a grazing hit and dived behind the nearby crates for cover.

The Arbitrator battles with his low Willpower and being constantly pinned, while trying to lay down covering fire of his own.

The battle lines are drawn, and nobody seems willing to break cover to close the gap. The Wharf Boss realises going across open ground would invite every single player who knows how Bosses work to concentrate fire and bring him down before he can get the opportunity to burn a few players’ Fate Points.

He doubles back behind the warehouse and heads up the ramp to go across the roof. His minions lay down covering fire.

Dice are used to represent people who are wounded. I don’t bother tracking anyone unless they’re hit, at which point they’re assigned a numbered dice and a number on my sheet.

I found this was a good compromise of personal book-keeping, ensuring some information was guarded from players to avoid metagaming, but also so players could see at a glance who had been hit. They might not know the severity of the hit unless they ask specifically (with suitable Awareness/Medicae checks), but they definitely know which baddies are bleeding.

The Boss’s minions take the high ground.

These guys aren’t stupid. Cover is their friend, and laying down suppressing fire helps out their mates on the front line.

The Guardsman had spotted something like a trench, so dived into it and pretty much stayed there for the remainder of the game, slotting fools with his Sollex-Pattern Deathlight Lasgun (tips for pros: this shit does 1d10+5 damage. It’s every las-weapon-lover’s wet dream).

The squishy Techpriest stayed back to administer military-grade combat drugs to get the Adept up and running again, and the Scum took up a position on the stairs to keep the pressure on any Undertow who got any funny ideas about melee combat.

The Arbitrator was spending much of his time pinned or behind cover (Willpower as a dump stat will keep you alive, but not contributing). She was still technically blackout drunk, but the cocktail of Adeptus Mechanicus combat drugs was keeping her coherent for about 20 rounds.

She then launched her coherent plan:

“I draw and throw as many firebombs as I’m allowed to”

We then discovered the exciting combination of having lots of grenades and having a Strength Bonus of only 2. We have an enthusiastic pyromaniac who can’t throw very far.

Cue one long-range missed firebomb later, and the first of the Undertow’s shipments has gone up in flames. Let’s hope there isn’t anything flammable in there…

Using the commotion as cover, the Wharf Boss uses the patented Gears of War roadie-run to cross the platform and make his way over the warehouse, hopefully getting a jump on someone.

The Adept, high on life, sprints across the board (now bottom right behind the cotton wool) to join the Guardsman in his new cover. Naturally, this meant it was time to lob more firebombs.

The poor Undertow thug who had been shot in the face in the first exchange was now on fire. He screams and rolls around for a bit, but ultimately decides to take a dip in the scum-lined waters.

The no-man’s land was now empty, and barring the efforts of the mad Adept, it had become a long-range shooting match which the Undertow were not convinced they would win. Time to cheat.

The Wharf Boss, “Massive” Masslow, injects his combat drugs and becomes subject to Frenzy. With a mighty bellow, he screams down the warehouse firing his massive revolver.

The revolver pings off some nearby cover, but the Arbitrator still decides that discretion is the better part of valour, and hopes that hiding behind the container will make the big bad guy go away.

The Wharf Boss charges down the ramp and takes a couple of huge swings with his Great Weapon. Everyone knew this could hurt, but when the dice came up as near maximum damage, the Arbitrator started sweating when 26 damage knocked him down to -3 health. Medic!

Now it was the Undertow’s time to respond. As all their assets were up in flames now anyway, collateral damage was not something that bothered them any more. They have firebombs of their own, and started blindly hurling them wherever they heard gunshots.

It was at this point that the crates were revealed to be packed with high-grade Obscura, and as the highly-illegal narcotic was wafting across the dock, several members of the party were succumbing to feelings of light headedness and pink elephants.

In a shockingly accurate toss, the firebomb lands between the Guardsman and the Adept, catching them both ablaze. The Guardsman prefers his chances in the toxic soup than with the flames, so goes for a paddle.

Not pictured, but entirely relevant, was the Adept also leaping into the water and clambering back out on a nearby dock, face to face with poor headshot-burning-guy from the first turn, who had taken a dip to cool off as well.

Both dripping with stagnant water, they face down. He grins. His pair of punch-daggers glinting in the half-light. The Adept grins. She draws her fishing wire (?!?) and shouts “I see you’ve played knifey-fish wire before!”.

I’m sure it would have been epic if it had been pulled off, but the Adept’s attempts to parry the pair of punch daggers with a length of wire Jackie Chan-style ended with her in negative hitpoints, just as the comedown of the combat drugs was hitting her and the effects of the Obscura were taking hold.

It was in everyone’s best interests, including hers, that she passes out for a bit.

At this point the Arbitrator is panicking as Masslow looks to take another swipe and finish the job. Luckily for our brave law-maker, our friendly neighbourhood criminal was on hand to make a placed shot into combat and literally explode the Wharf Boss’s head like a grape, pushing him into -12 damage.

As most of the remaining Undertow see their boss explode, they recognised it was time to make a move. The rest of them fleed, apart from one on the stairs who was looking for an opportunity to get some wholesome stabbing in before he had to run. Unfortunately the Guardsman snuck up behind him and critically bayonetted him in the butt, killing him instantly.

All in all a fantastic game which will no doubt be reminisced about in drinking halls for years to come. Here’s to the next one!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Canals of Syracuse Magna

“As you near the water’s edge, the corpse-coloured province of Syracuse Magna looms in the distance. A thick, dark cloud hangs above it, and the iron-black sea reeks of stagnation and raw sewage. The omnipresent drizzle turns into thick gobbets of oily water falling from the sky. The sound of the heavy rain patters loudly off your driver’s metal hat.

You hug the coastline tightly, giving enough berth to the multi-storey hab blocks that loom uncomfortably outwards over the waters.  She picks an entrance to the maze of waterways and crumbling tenements that make up the district and the motor-skiff ambles lazily into a sluggish canal. A thick film of oil and offal covers the surface of the canal, and everything here reeks of rot

Despite the dilapidation and flooded tenement blocks, there is a semblance of life here. Citizens and labourers shuffle around in the shadows and under the cover of overhanging buildings. You catch the glint of every pair of eyes following you as your motor-skiff chugs down the canal.”

”Welcome to Syracuse Magna. May the light of the golden throne shine on you! Now get off my boat!”
making plans

With a brand new chapter of our Dark Heresy campaign about to begin, set in the decaying province of Syracuse Magna, it was the perfect opportunity to pursue a dream I’d had since I had been flicking through old issues of White Dwarf as a kid – having an awesome game board.

The idea of building a modular board grew organically from the premise. Syracuse Magna needed introducing in a bang – a three-way brawl between the players, some noble House Guard and some local scum.

The campaign book I’m basing the plot off has an interesting map in the beginning – something that looked like it would be really fun to set aside most of a session for a proper honest-to-Emperor dice-fest. It had at least a dozen guys on each side, with the implication of more ‘further away’, multiple levels, heavy weapons, firebombs and boats.

The map from the book, courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games. The names have been obscured in a vain attempt to not tip off my players too much

What started out as something that could be sketched on my wipe-clean hex map evolved as I started to plan the multiple levels. There needed to be guys shooting down from above, so I’d need to build walkways (obviously). Walkways would need something to connect to, so there would have to be buildings (obviously). Heck, the canal needs to be at a lower level from the rest.

At this point, it was becoming increasingly apparent that I was deluding myself into thinking I wasn’t going to build a game board. I had recently had a clear out of my old Elysian drop troopers, and that had freed up a dangerous amount of capital in the hobby fund.

The best laid plans…

The original plan was stuck to as closely as I could with the time I had given myself. Some parts fell by the wayside due to time constraints, such as the inlet board.

Originally I had wanted to go all-out and create full resin canals, but I couldn’t figure out how best to make those modular – I have no use for single-purpose terrain.

That sweet, sweet smell of freshly-lasered MDF

The game board from TTcombat would fit the bill – cheap and lightweight, it would be easy to store and I could get a lot of different configurations out of it.  They should be stackable too, so I picked up some of the TTcombat venice plaza sections of different sizes to add a bit of height variance where appropriate.

I would pick up a bunch of different bits of scenery too, that way I’d have a tool kit of stuff that I could draw upon wherever and whenever my players decide to get into a fight. It could be an open dockside, a drowned slum or abandoned city block.

Just the right height – not impassably tall, but still an obstacle
world building

Assembly began in earnest. I love the TTCombat range for its detail and ease of assembly, and everything in this pack was no different. The broken factory and shipyard went together like a dream, and the containers would be to swell my container collection to a more healthy 9 in total.

I had also assembled some silos from pringles cans which would serve to boost the height significantly and provide more things to drape walkways off.

The crates were a bit fiddly to assemble but they came together in the end, and I made the conscious decision to glue them together in lumps rather than have dozens of loose crates scattered about my board. Where I would lose a tiny amount of customisation, I would gain massively in convenience. I’ve had loose bits of terrain floating around on boards before and the novelty wears off immediately after the first accidental nudge of the table.

Dry fitting the pieces. It’s looking like a board!

As I was doing more research into scenery options, I naturally gravitated towards various Malifaux resources, including the sewers walkway and downtown walkway sets by Plascraft. I can knock rickety wooden walkways together with some PVA and balsa wood easy peasy, but I can’t knock together something that looks like it wasn’t, uh, knocked together. I picked them up off ebay for cheap, favouring the un-coloured plastic sets over the pre-painted ones.

They were an absolute pain in the ass to assemble – they were made of the kind of plastic that mocks every kind of adhesive except superglue. I went through four tubes of superglue and seventeen fingertips before everything was finally assembled, and it was only when it came to basecoating I realised I should have bathed the whole set in acid and set it on fire before starting, as it took three coats of base coat before the paint would stop pooling on the oils left on the plastic. Not cool.

When they were done they looked great – they fit in to the theme beautifully, they’re lightweight, sturdy and flexible enough so they can be knocked around a bit without any paint chipping or structural damage.

I was, however, putting off the longest, hardest (and as it turned out, most damaging to me personally) part of the project – the boards themselves.

foaming at the mouth

I had looked at dozens of different game boards, trying to decide how to design the ones I now had taking up space on my bed. There were plenty of Mordheim and Malifaux game boards on Pinterest and Google Images that tickled my fancy, but none that I could realistically achieve by myself in the time frame I had allotted.

My first attempts with glue and sand were pretty abysmal and not what I wanted at all. I wanted a cobbled/tiled/flagstone look, but the only textured plasticard I could find was expensive and sold by the A4 sheet, I needed something that could cover large areas for not very much money.

I came across some enterprising individual on a Mordheim forum who had used a biro on some thin polystyrene (the kind your supermarket pizza comes on) to draw on flagstones and cobbles. Perfect! All I need to do is find some in my local area and draw some on, right?

My finger hurts just looking at this

Turns out, nowhere sells such a thing, and I wasn’t about to buy and unwrap a dozen pizzas. I finally found some sheets of kids’ craft foam in my local book store and picked up two packs just to be sure. It was the perfect material – much tougher than polystyrene but that just meant I had to push a bit harder. Should take the strain of gaming more, right?

Each one of these sheets took about two hours

You have to press really really hard with a biro to get the indentation. I broke the ball out of four pens making these, and the ones that didn’t lose their ball will never write again due to weird internal rupturing of the ink cartridge.

By the end of the ordeal I couldn’t hold a pen for a few days afterwards. I had lost feeling in the end of my thumb from gripping the pen so tightly and I had a huge blister on my middle finger from where the pen rested. Over a month later I still don’t have very much feeling in my thumb any more, and the blister has turned into a huge callous. Yay hobbying!

Aside from that though, the sheets came out great. For what was essentially 25p a sheet, they were great value for money if you don’t value physical hand health that much. Time to stick them to things!

This was a pleasingly messy project

The sheets were carved up in accordance to the random scribbles I had made on the wooden boards. Harking back to my brief, I wanted them to be usable in pretty much any arrangement, so they needed to be (relatively) even all the way round.

I also wanted to have a conscious divide between cobbled areas and muddy paths where the roads have worn away decades ago. Making these tiled areas variable shapes and sizes meant depending on the arrangement of boards, you could get wide streets, tiny claustrophobic alleyways or snaking dog-legs between buildings.

Two thicknesses of plasticard were used for the edging (black and white)

A few of the boards went against the brief and I edged them with lollipop sticks as a boardwalk or dockside. I needed a dock in the first fight, and I didn’t have the time to figure out how to carve up one of these tiles and make an inlet. Perhaps a project for another time.

The mud was made with a nice big pot of polyfilla I had lying around in powder form at home. When mixed up in some old Chinese tupperware, you can apply it liberally with finger and spoon to create some weird shapes. Some tiles and sand pushed into it for texture helped finish it off.

Dry faster, damn you!

With all the boards in strange primary colours,  things were beginning to look a bit Legoland. I was happy that I had got this far and I was apprehensive about applying colour to them. If the paint didn’t take, I was out of options.

Duncan be praised

Well bugger me, they came out better than I’d ever dreamed they would. I killed off quite a few brain cells applying the black undercoat – I lost count of how many rattle cans I went through over the course of this project.

A light dusting of grey over the black helped break up the big chunks and would make painting easier down the line.

I’ve been painting for 20 years and the power of an undercoat still amazes me

The wood sections would get a light dusting of brown spray and painted up the same way as the other wood sections of the map. The cobblestones were highlighted with a slightly lighter grey, and splodged liberally with brown and green washes applied with a spongy bit snipped out of a miniatures case.

A final highlight was drybrushed with Rotting Flesh. In all the descriptions of Magna it would be described as a decaying, unhealthy place, and everything from the wood to the stone to the metal would have a slightly unhealthy tinge to it.

The path sections would get a thick’n’heavy coat of brown. It was time to get muddy.

Hahahaha holy shit I really hope this dries clear ahahahaha

I picked up some water effect stuff to make bases for the Undertow and this was a great opportunity to use some more of it up. It is very thick, and used for creating water effects like splashing water, so it would be perfect for giving me an unpleasant moistness to my mud. It would also double as a sealant for the polyfilla, as I discovered very quickly that despite it looking great and being super easy to work with, it chips like a bitch.

I applied it liberally and smooshed it into the surface of my board. trying to let it pool in the crevices and get wiped off the raised areas so it would look more like standing water.

I had my concerns at this point that it would look more like a river or literal standing water rather than mud, then realised it didn’t matter. It could be used for either depending on what I might need!

The stuff was touch-dry in less than an hour, but I let it dry overnight just to be safe.

The test fit

When everything was dry, next day I pushed the boards together, sprinkled some terrain on it and set up my antagonists for a photo shoot. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Yeah, I was pretty fuckin’ chuffed with how these came out. Everything just worked. I was utterly impressed by my ability to paint all the wood in the same dead fleshy colours, despite many of these projects being painted months apart and in some cases, very drunk. The multiple layers worked really well too, something I was going to revisit later on and finish off more of. Everything looked swell, and with only one night to go before the big day, it couldn’t have worked out better.

It was time to assemble the board ready for the final fight.

The board was set up before the players arrived, I just needed to bring it in when the fight started
Some close-ups of the interior. The players will enter at the far end.
It was difficult to contain my excitement at this point. It had turned from random bits of wood and garbage plastic into a living, breathing dockside
Death in magna

I stuck as close as I could to the original map, and made concessions for the areas that didn’t work. I didn’t have the time (or inclination) to make ANOTHER boat, so we used the nose section from a previous TTcombat purchase  which actually turned out great.

The core structures were shuffled around too – the warehouse in the far corner didn’t fit on the tile I had put there and was better suited to being more central so it could be interacted with more. I commandeered some of my old 40k scatter terrain that was most fitting to the scene too – a few bits of ruined building that would stand in for, well, anything really. The one in the bottom left of the map would house a cheeky chappy with a hunting rifle that would just be a massive dick for the whole fight.

The rest of this post is just images, vaguely structured in the order they were taken. I lament not taking more pictures or documenting it better, but luckily many of my players took plenty of snaps on their phones.

So, for your pleasure, I present one of my life-long dreams achieved;

The acolytes approach, wary that they have entered an area with a fully 3D map and models
The noise of the manufactorum to their right drowned out the sound of gunfire until they were practically in the middle of the firefight
An armoured barge had been forced down a dead-end canal by raider boats, and the criminal crews spot a new ship entering, assume it’s enemy reinforcements and open fire
Keenly aware they are under fire, the Acolyte Primus jumps to shore and commands the others to do the same
A raider approaches, manned by an Undertow heavy gunner with a crank cannon. One of the Acolytes pops smoke to try and save them from becoming Swiss cheese
The Techpriest ices the first sniper on the silo, despite the rain imposing a -20 to hit
A lot of things happen except people leaving the boat. A mixture of poor Climb tests, failed Pinning tests and decisive inaction leads to them being rammed by the raider
The tiny Techpriest scampers up a silo to blast an Undertow sniper with her hellgun. Also pictured: the elusive Dreadquill GM
The mad Adept dives for cover and returns fire with any grenades she has to hand
Pop pop pop watching heretics drop
Things started to get a little capsizey

Our brave naval Acolytes eventually all managed to get off their sinking ship (hopefully not too heavy-handed a metaphor for future endeavours…) and brutally murder some starving poor people trying to feed their families see off the criminals and protect the shipment.

The day was won by the Acolytes, and they even won grudging thanks from the House Guard protecting the shipment. It sounded like everyone had as much fun playing as I had building, and we all learned some valuable lessons about the importance of having Willpower as your dump stat, why shotguns with the Scatter trait are so deadly, and just how long you can stay on a sinking ship before your team-mates start to try and bounce grenades off your head.

I’ll get you next time, Acolytes!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Pringle Silos

Finished articles first!

We had just finished our first proper session of the Orthesian Dynasty Rogue Trader game, and one thing I’m keen to encourage is the bringing of food and snacks to the table in exchange for bonus XP.

After said session, during the tallying of corpses and clearup operation, I discovered we had managed to get through two and a half tubes of Pringles. As I was idly finishing the remaining point five of a tube of Pringles, the thought struck me – I owned NO terrain that used Pringles tubes as a base.

Scandalous! I had used them in the past for various projects as a nipper, but never brought any of them with me or kept around after house moves or purges. I knew what had to be done. I had a spare weekend, some lollipop sticks and a whole box of paint.

It begins
Once you pop

Construction began with the core concept – Some tall structures that (probably) once had a purpose, perhaps grain silos or fuel depots, that have now fallen into disuse and now their only function is as watchtowers or vantage points. Verticality was the name of the game.

The original concept was to build some kind of ladder arrangement with lollipop sticks. That concept went up in a puff of smoke when I got to grips with each tube and realised there was a perfect spiral seam where the packaging was glued on that runs from top to bottom of each tube.

No mini-milks were harmed in the production of this terrain

This acted as a pre-drawn guideline for my new spiral staircase idea: snip the ends off a bunch of lollipop sticks, stab a hole into the tube with a craft knife and shove the stick through. Apply PVA glue liberally to both sides – I needed to dribble it from on high like a master chocolatier to reach the lower sticks inside the tube. I wanted to make sure it was well-stuck to avoid any accidental wobbly stairs later on.

Detailing

I didn’t want them fancy, but I also recognise the importance for a few key details to tell the story of a piece. It would also serve to break up the large flat surfaces of the Pringles tubes when it came to painting.

Starting to look like towers now

Platforms were constructed at the top of each staircase to give it a landing instead of a sheer drop off the tower. A big circle of balsa wood was cut out and glued into the ‘bottom’ of the tubes. I wanted to keep the ‘tops’ of the tubes (now the bottom of the towers) open in case I needed to perform emergency repairs or add weights to it at a later date.

Banana-coloured man for scale

Some long strips of balsa wood helped give it more of a ‘container’ vibe and I added some steel mesh around half of each rim, supported by three wooden pillars. Holy hell, that steel mesh cut my hands up something awful.

They look kinda like giant metal daisies from directly above/below

Some final details were added in the form of plastic pipework and a bit of plastic support strut for the larger of the three silos, all from the ubiquitous chemical plant terrain set.

By this point I was damn happy with how they were looking. It had been a very, very long time since I’d created scenery from junk, and following my 2018 hobby mantra of “finished, not perfect” I figured they were good enough to hit the rattlecans and get a lovely undercoat on them to start painting.

Ready salted

A quick blast of own-brand black car primer spray later and they look a much more coherent whole. Unfortunately, the busyness of the Pringles packaging distracted me from what it really was – a big, flat smooth surface on every side.

That’s a whole lot of flat surface to cover

I wasn’t mad, just a little annoyed at the oversight. Given more time I might have added some panels or more pipes and tubes to help break up those big featureless expanses.

No matter, the deed was done, and they just needed to be finished. Onwards to dusting!

They’ve got a great silo-huette AHAHA

I can’t remember when or why I started using this technique but it has a been a flipping life-saver. I’m sure I’ll use it more once I have consistent access to an airbrush, but for now cheapo rattlecans serve my purposes just fine.

It’s pretty simple – over a hard black undercoat, give it a light dusting from one angle with a colour of choice. It’ll retain much of the black underneath, but provide a time-friendly alternative to blocking out all the colours by hand and following up with a million drybrushes.

The metal was painted on with a thick, stiff brush – I found an old metallic acrylic paint that had a super weird consistency, but once I mixed it with the dregs of a Dwarf Bronze I had lying about in my paint box, it produced this neat off-silver colour that was great for slapping onto flat surfaces.

I was going to weather it a LOT later on to help break up the shapes too, so it didn’t need to be perfect. A second drybrush of a lighter metallic colour (horizontally rather than vertically this time) helped produce a pleasing brushed metal look.

Flat colours are not pretty to look at

I wanted some signage on them too – large identifying marks that would help players differentiate them on the table top and give the models a spot colour to again, help break up those big flat shapes.

I liked the idea of something really simple, A B and C stencilled onto opposite sides of the silos. I set about making a stencil for them, hand cut from heavyweight cartridge paper.

It was at this point after an hour of stencil-making I realised I didn’t have a white rattlecan to spray through the stencil, so I opted to just apply paint over the stencil with a brush. What could go wrong?

Lots, apparently. The paint was great at getting under the stencil edges and made a big horrendous mess, like someone had tried to paint it on with their bumcheeks with surprisingly little success.

I ended up using the stencil to trace a stencil shape onto the silos with a pencil, then painting each stencil design on by hand. Ah well, it’s the time-saving thoughts that count, right?

Breaking them in

I really enjoy weathering techniques – they’re always really easy to do and add so much character to a model, especially scenery. They give it a really lived-in feel, and as I’m super lazy time-efficient I have a number of weathering tricks that make this part fly by.

90% done, just needs another final edge highlight on the wood to make it pop

The technique couldn’t be easier – stipple some brown paint onto your metal in random patches with a big flat brush. The cheaper your brush, the better the effect.

After that, bust out a nice vibrant orange colour. With a slightly smaller brush, stipple on some equally random patches of orange, but try to concentrate them in the middle of large brown areas. You’ll get this great two-tone effect that looks like the outer layer of metal has flaked away to reveal different layers of rust underneath. Neato.

I use only high-quality paints for my projects, such as this budget brown acrylic paint picked up from my local bric-a-brac store for about a quid. Only the finest for Dreadquill.

Pop!

For a very final detail I did a fine highlight on the edges of the wood sections with a pale skin tone to really make them stand out.

from snacks to stacks

And with that, they were all finished! It took two evenings to finish these off, and I have to be honest and say I admired them for a very long time after i finished them. They came out way better than I had anticipated, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had such a feeling of accomplishment after completing such a relatively simple project.

I pulled out some of the antagonists from our upcoming Syracuse Magna campaign and set them up for a mini photoshoot. The colours worked just wonderfully.

I’ll be putting together some walkways out of long bits of balsa wood so I can string these guys together over long distances, but for now I’m just super stoked to play with them!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: The Wobbly Goblin Tavern

We’ve been working with the lovely chaps at Hobgoblin 3D for quite some time now, it’s been a joy and a privilege to watch them grow and paint their stuff.

They currently have a Tavern Kickstarter finishing on Friday 12 January at 23:00 UTC, and after getting my hands on it (and one or two late nights and sticky fingers assembling it) I can say it is absolutely worth the cash. You can get the deets on their kickstarter and drop them a few dollarydoos here.

Come, stay a while…

As part of their Kickstarter, they asked me if I wouldn’t mind splashing some paint around on a corner diorama to indicate what it might be like when it was finished and painted. I can never resist an invitation to a bar, even if it’s a tiny one.

The prints are surprisingly robust. I say surprisingly, because every piece has been dropped at least once, and if it was any other material it would be showing some wear and tear by now.

After getting to grips with the whole tavern when I helped the guys out with a photo shoot before Christmas, it struck me how bleedin’ big it was inside. The actual render was still very much a prototype, one of my main criticisms was that it didn’t have enough character – too many right angles and straight edges. They showed me the 3D render of what the finished article would look like and all my concerns were quashed.

It’s even bigger than the temple!

The sections inside are a nice grid, so it’s clear the whole thing was designed from the ground up with bar brawls in mind. With so many campaigns starting off in a local tavern, it’s a wonder there aren’t more tavern scenics built with the malicious intent of players in mind…

Taking interior photos of the assembled tavern

I used to have concerns with 3D printed terrain with the layering effect potentially making drybrushing a lot harder, but on the few sections the striations are noticeable, it only adds to the effect. An injection moulded flat surface would have no texture to pick up the paint, and this makes it quick and easy to add colour to a big model.

This project has definitely confirmed in my mind that I need to invest in a decent airbrush. Tools and techniques used for painting figures only scale up so far, and when I inevitably paint the whole tavern, I don’t want to be sitting there for hours drybrushing tiny bricks across a million different wall sections.

I also realised mere minutes before I was about to start taking photos that the picture frame hanging above the fireplace was still blank. I despise freehanding at the best of times, and when I’m on a tight deadline and just about to start shooting I despise it the most. Luckily my trusty PC Gamer was to hand, and we now have a very attractive portrait hanging above the mantlepiece of the Wobbly Goblin. Can you tell what it is?

Necessity is the mother of invention

Finally, no MOTB would be complete without a picture of my overly-expensive professional setup. I know, try not to feel too shamed in this opulent display of wealth and arrogance.

A £4 chef’s hat from ebay, a Bic biro and some bluetack formed the perfect diffuser for my bedside lamp, a 5 year old camera and some sheets of A3 paper masking taped to some cans of deoderant is all you need to get started!

I am stoked to see what they’re going to do with the range next, and once I get my hands on an airbrush you bet I’ll be attacking the next tavern they print out.

Check out the Hobgoblin 3d Raghaven Hamlet here.

 

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Graveyard scenery

This week I’ve been cracking out some seasonal terrain for my good chums over at Hobgoblin 3D, namely a combination of their Graveyard of Grizliness bundle and the Abandoned Mausoleum kit.

Hobgoblin produce some great models for you to 3D print at home, and although they started out as pure fantasy terrain, they’re starting to branch out into more genre-neutral sets. This is very bad for a sci-fi nerd like myself, as I no longer can continue to make excuses as to why I can’t pick up their sets for myself.

Nyaaa!

Spooky ghoul from Mantic games for scale here, as these pieces are the largest single-piece 3D printed models I’ve painted to date. I’ve no idea how long these would have taken to print, I just get the luxury of painting them without the headache of operating a 3D printer!

The archway in the middle was supplied in four parts admittedly, but they went together very easily and they form a single solid unit when assembled.

Nyaaa!

I’ve painted quite a few bits for Hobgoblin over the past year, but their most recent sets have been the closest thing to tempting me to getting a 3D printer for myself. This set in particular is perfect for the grimdark setting most of our games are set in.

I can just imagine an entire graveyard board scattered with ornate railings and broken gravestones and a big shootout between cultists (up to no good in a graveyard, obviously) and some Acolytes.

Nyaaa!

It wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkins! I particularly liked the ‘carved’ pumpkin base, there’s lots of nice details on it, and the candles inside the jack o’ lanterns are particularly pleasing.

Nyaaa!

You couldn’t have a graveyard without gravestones could you? There’s a nice variety here, and the nice part about owning the kit is you can print off as many of each as you need, rather than being limited to the ones you buy. Although they look quite nice I wasn’t a fan of the broken headstone pieces, they were a bit too fiddly to paint (and I’m about 70% sure I lost a piece in the painting process).

I can see the appeal, but for me they’d be better off as part of a diorama or scatter piece, such as the pumpkins above or the open graves below.

Nyaaa!

Open graves! I think I had the most fun painting these. They tell a great story and wouldn’t look out of place in just about any different setting. If I had given myself a bit more time, I would want to experiment with some water effects pooling in the open grave and making the mounds of earth around it all soggy. I mean, when else is the best time to go gravedigging if not in the rain?

Oh yes, and it has another adorable feature;

Let there be light! There’s a hollow inside the lantern for an LED and button cell for extra spoopiness, or if you’re cheap like me, a phone light concealed under a sheet of A4.

Nyaaa!

And finally the Mausoleum kit. What a piece! Any doubts I’ve had in the past about 3D printing vs injection/cast moulded pieces have been dashed apart. This is a rather excellent construction that really lends itself to the 3d printing process.

It comes six parts – an upper and lower section of the building so you can remove the top to access minis inside without disturbing your scene, two doors and two hinge pieces (not pictured because I’m a doofus and lost them). The two hinge pieces are glued to the bottom of the door when it is assembled in the building so it doesn’t fall out of its socket.

I hear tell rumours in the tavern that the team might be building an insert for this building with a hex/square grid on it for proper roleplaying compatability, so watch this space for more!

I thoroughly enjoyed painting this kit, and outside of drying times took me far less time than other kits to get tabletop ready. A few choice washes and different coloured drybrushing can go a long way into getting your spooky quota up for your games.