Wargaming terrain plastic kits: How to get great results

Incredible tabletop gaming scenery can turn a lazy Sunday afternoon of rolling dice into an epic narrative struggle between heroes and villains. Imagine being able to pique both new and veteran gamers interest by immersing them in playing out a scenario on a table full of purpose built terrain from home. This not only sounds great, it most certainly is. So, are you ready to achieve The Immersive World Crafter standard? If so, great, because after this short intro we’re diving in.

The World Crafter’s 10 commandments for thoroughly immersive terrain

  1. I am the master of thy creation! Thou shalt not follow the flock blindly
  2. Thou shalt always remove mould lines and sprue debris
  3. Thou shalt read the assembly manual and then cast it aside
  4. Thou shalt always study the plastic terrain details and use them wisely
  5. Thou shalt add mixed media to thy terrain tiles to further increase realism
  6. Thou shalt use glues and adhesives suitable for sustained gameplay
  7. Thou shalt respect thine own scale and never use drinking straws or toilet rolls in thy raw form
  8. Thou shalt break from tradition without fear
  9. Do not let thy self lust too longingly at Pinterest or Instagram. Get down dirty and create
  10. Thou shalt covet parts from other kits, acquiring and kit-bashing to thine own terrain

Be the master of your own creation

Certainly, the availability of plastic kits offer a great guide for how to assemble the items into structures envisaged by their producers. You can however modulate and extend most plastic kits by design. Before you begin assembly, decide first for yourself the size and shape of the structure you want to build. Before I began assembling the Necromunda House Cawdor Church, I decided what I wanted to recreate. Mine was a hive city example of a Romanesque gothic Latin Cross layout containing piers either side of a central nave, facing transepts and an apse to overlook an altar, pulpit and font. With this architectural pattern finally set, I could dry fit the assembly and get as close to my plan as possible.

Atypical Romanesque Latin Cross Church layout

Remove all visible mould lines and sprue debris

Oft times modellers overlook the cleanup of plastics, even though it is scale modelling 101. For the reason that you need to cut-away from the sprue and assemble a vast amount of components to build a large structure or tables worth of scenery, I understand. I feel your pain and empathise with the time it takes to carry through on a thorough job. That is why I have titled this section with the keyword ‘visible’. Why exhaust effort on cleaning plastic burring hidden by a join in a wall, floor or ceiling tile? It seems like folly to me. Given you have adequately planned the layout and performed a dry fit, it will be clear where tidy up effort should be spent.

Dry fit of the Necromunda House Cawdor Latin Cross Church layout

Read the assembly instructions, but don’t live by them

It is not uncommon to receive obscure little greeblies and detail parts without an obvious home when assembling a plastic kit. By studying the instructions we get a sense of where these pieces belong and take an opportune moment to step inside the mind of the original creator. With purpose we can break the mould when armed with this knowledge. Just because a component is expectant of a particular home, doesn’t mean we can’t repurpose it for another.

Look at the details on the plastic kits and use them carefully

“It almost certainly doesn’t take much to scrutinise the components you are placing and how details interact with the environment.”

Modular terrain builds carelessly not taking into account the detail presented are ten a penny across social media. For prime examples, look no further than the Sector Mechanicus (2017) and Sector Imperialis (2018) kits from Games Workshop. Imagine the payout for every inaccessible second floor door leading nowhere; a radiator failing to heat the outside of a building; the controls to a Ferratonic Furnace presented sideways or upside down hindering even the most mutated of Adepts — I would be filthy rich!

Nothing will take you out of the immersive experience quicker than a misplaced feature or detail. It almost certainly doesn’t take much to scrutinise the components you are placing and how details interact with the environment. Above all it is these small details with a little care and attention that take your scenery from zero to hero.

On the First Floor at the left of the image, an Aquila door leading to nowhere…

Combine basing materials to vastly improve plastic kits

You can’t get away from it. There is no disguising it. War is a dirty business full of the remnants of hard-fought battle and strife. The blood, sweat, tears and millennia of grime should be omnipresent across the dusty and scorched remains of your battlefield. With this in mind, consider it true that you have a canvas in front of you in the form of plastic terrain kits. Etched precisely upon the canvas are sketches of the building features. These are a guide for a masterful work of art. Rather than simply painting between the lines to complete the details, the filth that accumulates across a battlefield needs to be built up onto and around the plastic kits.

Take an example of a ruined building section. Where there is a ruin there will be rubble, dust and probably broken off but largely intact sections of the wall, floor or ceiling embedded amongst the debris. The deep-seated gunpowder residue and scorching will be thick black and soot-like where munitions have been spent and exploded against the masonry constructs.

A short guide to modelling realistic rubble and ruins

  1. Firstly, after assembling the ruined section, firmly secure it to a suitable base that won’t warp from glues and liquids. Foam PVC sheets used in signage are perfect for this job.
  2. With the terrain securely based, mix up some modelling compound. This is a 1/1 ratio of fine casting plaster and cellulose fibres mixed with 1/3 water. The resulting formulation is a sticky workable pulp to push and sculpt on the base and around the plastic kits. It will become firmer after 7 minutes. After this time, take a wet finger to blend and smooth any sections of compound into the scenery details and base.
  3. Brush PVA glue over the dried modelling compound before sprinkling a blended mix of tile grout (grey, brown, praline, jasmine or your choice), sand, grit and inert mud/dirt on top.
  4. Spray a mist of 99.9% Isopropanol Alcohol over the work followed by a watered down PVA basing solution. The alcohol reduces surface tension. This prevents the PVA solution from beading and sitting on the surface.
  5. You can leave unpainted with the natural colours of the tiling adhesive, grit and sand showing through. Alternatively, paint and dry brush to your taste.

Use suitable adhesives to make certain scenery has both realism and longevity

I hope this point is common sense. When you’re building terrain that will be gamed upon it is important to pay heed to the longevity of the final product. In short, it has to be durable. Across its surfaces, movement of miniatures with different weights will trample all over it. Not to mention the wayward clatter of rolling dice as the action really begins to heats up. It is important therefore that strong bonds adhere all scenic features firmly in place.

The mention of both modelling compound and tiling grout under the previous subsection that described how to model realistic rubble is for good reason. Once set, you would need to take a chisel to them to remove from the base. They set like concrete and will withstand even the rowdiest of tabletop war gamers — especially the ones who lose their shit as a carefully planned strategem turns to dust before their very eyes. Cue pounding fists on tabletops and even the odd table flip!

Be true to scale worked upon, and if you must use drinking straws and toilet rolls make sure they are disguised!

I used to use toilet rolls and drinking straws extensively when I first started out in the terrain making game. That was back in 1989 at the grand age of 7 gathering information from Rogue Trader and White Dwarf. They have their place, and I am not so much of a terrain snob that I won’t make use of them today. My techniques have thankfully come a long way since those early days though, and I take care to disguise their true identity.

Spot the cardboard rolls and drinking straws

Wall filler (spackle to our friends across the pond) will add strength and texture to cardboard and plastic tubes alike. For a smoother finish, add water or substitute acrylic decorators caulk for filler. Ta da! Household items become purposeful with little effort and next to no time. And in addition you may now paint these items without worrying that they will soak up or chip off the paint.

Use your creativity to make something unique and original

Think back to the subsection about reading the assembly instructions but not living by them. I always find things get really interesting when you come up against some adversity. It could perhaps show its ugly face in the form of a lack of pieces needed to fulfil a design. On the other hand, it might be preferable to break out of the given modular grid. For instance, striking out at an angle to offer a more interesting architectural space. I came up against both of these decisions in the Necromunda House Cawdor Church build.

I primarily built the church from Sector Imperialis (2018) kits. Games Workshop make no suggestion that walls may be angled at 45 degree angles from the pillars, but they do seem to be designed to accommodate it with ease. It’s when you seek to use the floor tiles with the angles hardship ensues. This is where creativity comes to the fore to create pieces that will fit. I recommend some deep breaths and a long hard sip of bravery before cutting up your expensive kits. Luckily the plastics are fairly soft and can be cut with ease. Choose your weapon, whether it be razor saw, jewellers saw or rotary multitool.

Maintain a bits box and make good use of parts for kit-bashing terrain

Greater possibilities for making immersive unique tabletop terrain comes from maintaining a variety of unique bits. A little bit of organisation of your bits box goes a long way. I use some of these compartment tool cases to arrange mine. The advantage of this is being able to find a particular part from a kit quickly. It also means if you are simply on a recce for something interesting, you will have smaller pots of bits to sift through.

Keep a well organised bits box to help your terrain builds

Veteran gamers with a seriously embedded so called ‘plastic crack habit’ will have a home and hobby space overrun by spare bits and piles of sprues. If you’re green to the hobby, all is not lost. Plenty of deals are out there from these veterans losing functional space from all the bits hanging around. Scour eBay, Gumtree, Facebook seller groups and Reddit to bag some bargins.

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