Thursday, July 9, 2009

In the Interim...

This is going to be a long one so get ready!

Though Jason and I are in the midst of creating and documenting the CR Tech project this is by no means the first piece he or I have ever built. As we document CR Tech I would like to begin including some posts on previous projects. Now, none of these were ever documented during the building stages so what you will see are the actual finished terrain pieces in the midst of play.

In a previous blog I mentioned the Inquisitor game I had written. Living by our motto (see below), I didn't want to just write out a set of rules. That would have been much to boring (and would have allowed me to get more than my customary 4 hours of sleep a night) .

I believe, to keep your players interested you must give them tangible things, things that make them go WOW! That being said, I spent close to two months building an entire 125 page supplement book (The same concept that Jason is in the midst of right now with his own game), I printed it and had a bound copy ready for each of my players. The cover you can see to the left.

For the benefit of the Games Workshop lawyers***
Please let me stress that many of the images and concepts I used were a
ll of original Games Workshop production. I simply took their fluff and art, combined it with the OGL D20 system and created a game. This was a fan based item produced for the players in my gaming group only for our private use and never sold or promoted as an official gaming supplement!

Of course to compliment the game I needed over the top set pieces, terrain that would stretch my abilities and take my players experience a step beyond what they were used to. Thus was born ATOLL 10.

This piece, baring a few items, was made completely of junk and scrounged items. Here is a list of the things I used (see if you can locate them, and don't cheat by looking below at some of my explanations): Various foam pieces from box packing, V8 cans, bendy straws, water bottles, super glue caps, old AAA batteries, an old Computer CPU, a Pringles can, various pieces from a destroyed blender, granny grating, various PVC pieces, metal grid fencing, tooth picks, cardboard, and Games Workshop 'City's of Death' bits

Here is what I bought:
1. An old Fisher Price parking garage set from a flea market [$5]
2. An old truck toy from the flea market [$1]
2. Transformers Jedi fighter toy [$10]
3. Transformers Truck toy [$10]
4. 2 GI Joe zodiac boats with big guns on the front - which I promptly ripped off [$5 each]
5. A pack of self contained LED lights from the Wedding section at Walmart [don't remember the $ amount but it wasn't much]

I use alot of superglue and super glue accelerant - these two things are probably the items I use most in my projects. They are absolutely invaluable and can save you ALOT of time!!

One of the first steps in creating a project like this is, of course, planning. I am a huge proponent of planning. And once you've got it planned out, plan some more. I literally measure everything. The last thing you want is to spend a large of amount of time on a project only to have it look sloppy because your walls don't meet or things aren't lined up and square. One of my rules to live by: "Pay attention to detail". Believe me, people will notice.

For instance, the picture below shows the top of the parking garage set. The placement of the four fuel tanks(V8 cans) you see were each measured out so they were symmetrical and evenly spaced. PVC caps were then placed atop each one then connected by bendy straws. Between each pair you will also see batteries. Using three batteries, I taped them together added random wiring and some gears on the front, painted them and had a very easy to make industrial piece. The more small interesting items you can place around your terrain the better. Just be sure you still have enough playable area.

Just to point out a few more features: To the left, a radar tower made from half a water bottle, its cap and two pieces from an old toy I found (a shield which I used for the dish and a gun which I used for its shaft).To the right you can see my landing pad with the Jedi fighter perched atop(I wish I had a better pic of this because it was my favorite feature of the piece). The 2 guns from the GI Joe toys you can see in the lower center and near the top placed on a tower made from a Pringles can, (banded with poster board strips at the top, middle and bottom) a foam core walkway topped with granny grating and the gun base made with parts of a blender lid.

Here is a closer pic:
More features you will notice: The ladder and railings are made from metal grid fencing you can find at Lowe's or Home Depot. In the top right you can see the old CPU power source I used for Atoll 10's main power generator, along with another half water bottle and some granny grating. The antenna on the water bottle is the advancer I cut out of the interior of a deodorant bottle. In the next picture you can see a PVC piece and the use of alot of super glue caps.

Also pictured is the Transformers truck toy I purchased and two small mining bins. (Atoll 10 was a mining station infested with the nasty green 40k Tyranid species you can see running around in a few of the pics). All of the items I bought had to succumb to a special paint job (along with everything else) so they would fit in with the setting. As you can see, a good paint job goes a long way in creating the realism of a piece. For this I used various coats and shades of brown along with a dry-brushed antique white for highlights. Also, my special ingredient: Wood stain. This stuff was a fantastic way to weather the terrain. I brushed it all over the walls, the vehicles, the ground, everything, to give it an oily, industrial look.

For the main structure of Atoll 10's walls I used the pre-formed foam made for electrical and appliance packing. Some pieces I cut to size, others were fine as-is. These I augmented with pieces of card board topped with granny grating for use as various defense platforms. All of this was glued onto a large piece of foam core. A few parts were modular: the Gun tower, the rear parking garage piece and the CPU generator. With those items remove the whole piece weighed about 5 pounds and could be leaned against a wall.

Below you will see a better pic of the 3 level parking garage. This was a great toy I found at a flea market for $5. The first thing I did was take it completely apart and remove all of the stickers and washed it(originally it was bright yellow and blue). One of the cooler features is it has a working elevator in the tower structure on the right . This I pulled completely apart as well and glued granny grating in the interior of all the windows ( and removed an annoying bell that would ring every time you raised the elevator). Along the front, bottom level I added a highly detailed wall made from GW's 'City's of Death" parts. Again, you can see the GI Joe gun mounted on the top level. This was glued down to a rotating platform set into the floor that you could turn with a small handle.

In the picture you will also see a map I made in Photoshop and mounted to foam core. I set it across the walls when the players actually entered the main structure of the parking garage. It was easy for them to play on and reach and if we moved back to any action outside all I had to do was lift it off.

Finally, no Inquisitor game would be complete without alot of gore. Remember my statement above, that you should add cool little items to your terrain whenever possible? This was one of those ideas. The players were basically entering a slaughter house, the workers of the mining station having been ripped apart by the Tyranid. Now these creatures are not the most hygienic of species. In fact, they are just downright slovenly! So they have a tendency not to clean up after dinner. So I of course had to make sure this was represented:

The body part are pieces of space marines with hot glue daubed between the truncated limbs and painted red. Pretty simple but cool effect.

Anyway, that's it for Atoll 10. I hope you enjoyed your tour and got some good ideas for your own piece. Stay tuned when we delve into the lower levels of the doomed mining station. Now those were a real @#$*!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

CR Tech Base | Building the Foundations [Part 2]

So Darren and I have planned and plotted, done our research. We head to to Lowes to get supplies and spend about $75 total on PVC, wood and other plastic boxes from the electrical department. Most electric boxes look outstanding as transformers or large human sized or larger electric equipment. I also have some other pieces from other landscapes that are going to get the recycle in this project, a large crane from a fire engine and the 4 car launcher for a Hot Wheels race car set, makes a fantastic looking metal factory assembly piece.

We place these over the Masonite to figure out the best locations for them. Also, part of placing items involves playability. We take extra time to make sure that all the characters that will be on the landscape can move around and not get stuck in one area. Another thing we look is giving everything placed a purpose, is it interactive, does it do anything..? I don't want anything that will never be used or seen. Over the course of placing elements, Darren realized that it would be impossible to play if there were elements right on the edge of all 4 sides of the map, so we decided to leave one side completely open, allowing players to reach and move their characters. Duh..!

The placed elements get the white wax pencil treatment which looks like a caulk outline. That helps in placing items, moving things around without everything on the table. Keeps us from breaking fragile big things and gives a overall view of the landscape. This can be seen in the part 1 post.

Next, we decide to start from the center then work our way out. First is to dig around in the pile of foam and finding a good candidate for the wall around the steam pipes. I decided on one that allowed for plenty of cover for the characters, alcoves for computers and control stations.

We placed the piece, pipes and some take some measurements to get it placed perfectly in the center. Darren also gets the size of the center and we begin working on the grating. We use grating used in knitting, common called "Granny" grating. You can get a pack of this at Wal-Mart for a few dollars.

The quick and dirty thing we could do is cut and place the grating. But that would look like crap. Taking a few measurements and the fact that the grating is a grid makes it easy to cut it square. Then adding a piece of foam core with a groove makes it fit flush when placed over the grating and hides its unsightly edge, giving it a polished look.

Finally, adding in the 3 holes for the vent pipes. Finding the center of the grating is easy, place a ruler from corner to corner and draw a line across the center. Do that process again with the oppisite corners and you should end up with an "X" in the center. That is where I placed the large 3in pipe. The 2 other pipes I roughly placed evenly from the edge of the big pipe and the edge of the grating, then measured it to presicely place them. Using a black marker I traced out the pipes and used scissors to cut the holes in the grating.

Lastly, using white PVA or Elmers glue, liberally coat the inside of the groove on the foam core and place the grating inside. It will take overnight to dry, but should be a strong hold. There still needs to be some beams placed across the grating to prevent warping and make it stronger for character placed on top, but that will have to wait until its dry.

The final product can be seen below with the vents, grating, edge and foam, all place next to a miniature to show the scale. Pretty good so far. We will return to this later to place beams and coat it for painting. Time to work on a few other items.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

...there was War

As Jason has already said, we do have an obsessive fascination with all things related to war gaming. But, after years of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, we found that we needed something more. The plain old paper maps and "use your Imagination" efforts just weren't cutting it any more. We weren't just GM's were were entertainers by God and as entertainers we were always looking for ways to amaze our crowd, our ever loyal players.

I still remember the day, years ago, Jason revealed the giant pillar he had built for one of the games he was running. I remember thinking "oooh, shiny!" and I was hooked. I immediately went home and began designing an entire RPG campaign around the use of table top miniatures and landscapes. Using Privateer Press' Iron Kingdoms supplement, I bastardized the rules and took enormous liberties with the setting, lovingly customizing it and folding it into the new and improved version of my own D&D fantasy setting called Greymeer, a place of grim darkness and horror. Now, 5 years latter, it has grown into a monster. In that time, a second game has developed out this creative process: 'Inquisitor' a RPG I wrote myself and completely stole from Games Workshop while waiting for years for them to finish and release their own version. Together these two games have spawned some truly epic landscapes, projects Jason and I have slaved over for weeks at a time, slowly gluing our finger tips together and eroding our brains by inhaling toxic clouds of spray paint vapor. Anything for our art and our friends...

Now, Jason has gone on to write his own RPG as well and even as Greymeer and Inqusitor continues we are setting upon the long road of creating terrain for this new RPG of awesomeness. This first piece will be our initial endeavor into documenting the creation of a landscape. We hope you will enjoy this journey and the many yet to come. And never forget the credo by which we both live by - a phrase, a motto, a mission statement, a life plan if you will, coined in the heady environment of super glue, paint, and plaster:


Monday, June 29, 2009

CR Tech Base | Building the Foundations

The first major project Darren and I are documenting is the construction of a large futuristic factory for a D20 Modern/Future game. Built into a fictional dormant volcano located off the coast of Alaska, the final project will have 4 main levels. On the surface of the volcano sits the ground level, an exhaust port that belches poisonous, toxic smoke. It is heavily guarded by ground troops and automated defense system. This section of the landscape is complete, but needs to be dressed up with snow, rust, piping, ladders, etc. We will show this later in the tutorial. Right now, Darren and I are concentrating on the main floor, which houses admin rooms, vent pipes, control systems, landing pad and staging area for troops and equipment.

Our initial step is planning -- plan, plan and then plan some more. I had actually been working on this layout for quite sometime and never been happy with it. The beginning of the base started with a child's play kitchen I found at a thrift store for $3. It was the center piece I was going to use as the main factory with levels extending and radiating out made of foam from computer hardware [which are good for creating rooms and walls]. I felt this design left weird negative spaces between the rooms that took away from the overall believability. I just happened to come across a second play kitchen at a different thrift store. This forced me to think in some new directions. Another inspiring moment was watching the new Star Trek film, in which JJ Abrams redesigned the Enterprise to look and function like a real ship, a massive engine room with many warp cores, a huge communications bay filled with people. This place was alive with hundreds of people, not just a few, on a 500 meter ship.

I took sometime to stop and look over floor plans for factories and refineries and also showed my ideas to Darren. And in one evening we went from a misshapen blob of plastic and foam to a real 8ft by 4ft cavern filled with pipes, rooms, catwalks and the main attribute, purpose. Helluva a lot better..!

Before we begin working [as seen in the pictures] or matter of fact purchasing materials, we made a drawing of the cavern and factory floor. Nothing to grand, just a sketch in the notebook, which you can see laying close by in the photos. A simple drawing to work out the kinks can save you a ton of time and heart ache. Once we had a rough idea of what we wanted, it was time to inventory what was needed and what we had on hand. For this project, tons of white PVC piping is needed [approx $50 of 3/4 in pipes, elbows, T's and other random bits from the PVC isle], 3/8 Masonite board [$12 for an 8ft x 4ft piece, cut in half], lots of free foam from dumpster diving. People that purchase computer equipment make this easy to find.

The next steps to follow soon.

In the beginning...

Welcome to Terra Bellum. This is Darren and myself first attempt at documentation of our obsession landscaping for miniatures. Granted there are many excellent sites out on the web for how-tos and ideas. But how many small, 3 sided buildings made of foam core can you stand to look at?

We want to take this hobby of ours to the next level. Make it abit more epic. Now we realize there are professionals that do this for a living -- and we wish we could do [Games Workshop we love you..!] it too, but we live on a shoe string budget. So we will show you how to create with found foam, scrap PVC, cheap components and parts from the big box stores and more.