Sunday, August 18, 2013

Organic Terrain Board - Belly of the Beast




  So! I finally managed to get the party swallowed by the Leviathan, pursuing notorious wereshark pirate captain Kieran the Blackfin across a storm-wracked forbidden sea. This is the segment of the current campaign that I have been looking forward to the most. Also, it presents me with opportunity to gin up some
really fun terrain pieces and models, not to mention new environmental hazards, NPC factions, monsters, and setting specific quest ideas. Happy DM. Anyhow, first things first, I needed a good base terrain board. I thought I could do better than the Chessex mat for this new, alien landscape. I wracked my brain for a few weeks as to how best balance playability with the look I was going for. I couldn't figure out how to preserve the grid on these pieces like I have on others, but that doesn't present much of an obstacle for play, really. Having played on the Red Grace for the past few months, the players are pretty accustomed to measuring movement by base width, and paying more attention to facing and whatnot. Anyhow, on to the board.


I started with and old piece of masonite, some vestige of a failed or abandoned past project. It was spattered with random paint and swirls of old dried pva glue. No matter. First order of business, since I
decided to make a bottom 'bile' board to lay the meat islands on top of, I ran a bead of hot glue along the edges, to build a retaining wall for the Water Effects I planned to pour all over it. Then I spray primed the whole thing black.




Next up, I started painting the board itself, trying to give it the illusion of depth. I'm not the best painter, I'll be the first to admit.




I used a limited palette of three or four cheap Apple Barrel acrylic paints for the entirety of this project. I think the paint for everything I made here cost somewhere around 5 bucks. Black, White, Tuscan Red, and
Linen. After putting down the basic sub-surface shapes, I went back with a scrap of dish sponge to try and work in some bubbles and ripples. The finished paint job looked pretty passable to me, though if I have opportunity, I might give it another shot with more of a blue/green color scheme, to give the 'water' more visual distinction from the 'land'.


Now the fun part! I had bought this bottle of Water Effects a few years ago, and never used it. Maybe because it is so ridiculously expensive - $22 for that little bottle of clear resin. I'm sure there is a cheaper
alternative, but I dont know about it. Regardless, I had decided that now was the time to give it a shot. I dumped 3/4 of the bottle into the center of the board, and pushed it to the edges of my hot glue retaining wall, and then walked away for about two hours. NAILED IT.

Don't ever do that. Water Effects spreads like crazy. Apparently the key is several very thin layers. When I walked back through the dining room a few hours later, it had breached the retaining wall, run across the table, and through the leaf in the middle to pool on the hardwood beneath. My wife was not amused by this result. Thankfully I managed to scrub it up before it finished setting, but it did somehow manage to bleach the table and floor in the process. So... whoops. Don't do that.


Crisis averted, I started work on the meat islands. I don't have a jigsaw, so I couldn't cut masonite to the shapes I needed, so I based them all on foamcore. Foamcore presents it's own problems in the form of

warping, but other than that, it works great. I pulled out a sheet and a few scraps from another project and started cutting. I tried to bear in mind the modular intent, and cut into shapes that could work independently from one another.




Then I used and X-acto knife to bevel the edges towards the 'water-line' a bit, to try to make them blend a little better, cutting at roughly a 45 degree slope around every exposed edge.






I plugged in my foam cutter and started whittling down a few pieces of blue polystyrene to give the pieces some height variation, and then adhering them to the foamcore bases with pva glue.






This step took a while, as I kept going back to it, trying to keep my cuts smooth and 'organic' rather than jagged. Here they are all finished up.






Next up, I used a can of expanding foam filler to blend the edges of the polystyrene into the foamcore base and to add larger polyp-like growths here and there. This stuff expands like nuts, so err on the side of too
little. Also, wearing gloves is a good idea. It's nasty stuff, and is ridiculously difficult to get off of your hands. Acetone seemed to help with the latter.




Then I used PVA glue to kinda drool long, ropey veins all across the surface of the pieces. It helped to integrate the expanding foam into the foam a little.



To add a little more texture variation to the large, blank areas, I used one of my favorite 'gross texture' techniques, super glue dripped into wet yellow wood glue. I saw this a long time ago on
some Nurgle-themed Chaos Marines, and I take every opportunity I can to use it. It just looks awesome. And by awesome, I mean grotesque. It smells terrible while the chemicals are reacting, so it is probably best to do outside.



While all of that glue dried, I made a few clusters of giant fungi - the main light source in the Leviathan. I used some of the drips of expanding foam from my work-board, carved down a little with and X-acto and the edges burned a bit with a lighter to smooth them out. I mounted them on
the same twisted and burnt pipe-cleaner trunks that I like to use for trees. The weird texture of the trunks works fine, and it lent itself really well to making the small, branching clusters of mushrooms. I only made a few, but I was really happy with them. I will likely make more free-standing clusters to use with the larger terrain pieces, so that I can control the light level of certain areas better during play. I cemented them into the larger terrain pieces with PVA.



I also went to my bits box and found a few sprues of bone and skull festooned wooden poles from a LOTR goblin terrain set, and jammed a few of them into the polystyrene here and there for a
little added detail. Then I went about painting all of the exposed foam (including the edges of the foamcore) with black acrylic to protect it from the imminent spray primer. Once that dried, I blacked the whole thing and started with a base-coat of 50/50 black and red.



I then put down another three layers of color, working up from black/red, through red, red/linen, to a pink/white highlight on the veins and harder edges. It looks really pink in the picture here, but not quite so much with unaided eyeballs.





I went back and started painting in the details, like the 'shrooms and bone sticks. After that, I hit the whole piece with a high gloss finish coat to make it look slimy and wet. I also dripped tiny amounts of my remaining Water Effects into low lying areas to create puddles and pools. The gloss is a bit lost in the following pics, but trust me, it looks wet and unpleasant. All in all, I think it came out great. The players seemed to really enjoy the big reveal as well. Now to start populating it with horrific, eyeless albino mutants!





Thanks for the look.
-JM

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