Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Foamcore Chronicles

  I picked up a few sheets of foamcore at a department store last night, with the intention of trying to build a few ruined buildings out of it - but when I got home with it and sat down at the table, another idea occurred to me. A sweet painted battlemat.
  Our group has been using Chessex erasable mats for years now, and they work great - especially for dungeon crawls and the like, where I need to reveal the interior room by room. For outdoor encounters, I have a box of terrain crap that I like to use, various rocks and the like, and I scatter them around for visual interest and to complicate combat. But, there they are... lying like little islands on a gridded tan plain, devoid of thematic consistency. This makes my eye twitch. Christ knows why.
  I've seen folks use different things for their battlemats, painted sheets and whatnot - but haven't attempted one of my own until now. Here goes...

  First I dug out a ruler and a Curious George mechanical pencil, and started gridding out the entire sheet. I wanted the grid to remain clear, and attempt not to muddy the function of a battlemat with my perverse need to make things prettier.

  A standard sheet of foamcore is 20x30, or at least this brand was. That leaves me a grid of 18x28, with an inch border - sacrificing a little in width from the standard mat, but our gaming table is rectangular anyhow. That's a hundred careful cuts with an X-acto knife. Regret begins to sink in.

That's somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 little strips of paper to pick out between the lines. There is surely a smarter way to do this, but I was committed. I think of Sisyphus.

  Somewhere around a third of the way completed I begin to curse myself. An hour of careful paper-scraping later, I have moved on to cursing at the foamcore itself, investing the inanimate object with malevolent purpose, spiteful reticence. It has become my hated enemy. It will not win.

  I am victorious. I have bent the hated foamwich to my will. I thin PVA glue with water and apply it liberally in loops and whorls, smiling with smug satisfaction. I dust it with fine sand.

Once the PVA dries, the board gets a liberal coat of black primer - Krylon H2O, a marvel of modern science. It doesn't melt foam and has such a low odor that you could almost use it indoors. Almost.

  I pull a housepainting brush from the shed and begin drybrushing the board with my current game's most common outdoor color scheme. MSP Rust Brown, 50/50 Rust and White, and a light finish of almost pure White.

  I repaint the borders black, to cover my sloppy drybrushing, and then I notice that the foamcore has started to warp slightly. Nice try, foamcore. Nice try. I mount the finished board atop one of it's fellows to increase it's sturdiness. Warping allayed.

  And, finished. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the result, but less than thrilled with the 'carving' process. My original intent was to make several of these, of varying schemes to match all of my little terrain bits, but unless I can think of a less soul-sucking methodology - I don't see it happening soon. At any rate - here it is. Not too shabby for a night's work.


  1. I feel foolish for even suggesting this given how well your end product turned out, but just thought I'd share this custom foam board printing thing I found. This is their website. Basically you just give them the design and they print it for you, no hassle. Regardless it looks awesome!

  2. This sounds utterly brilliant. Unfortunately - the link seems a bit wonky, and my google-fu is failing me. Mind dropping that link again in the comments here? Regardless - thanks for the read and the kind words,