Reasons why you should build your own terrain, pt.3

In this series, I outline the five main reasons why building your own wargaming terrain is great. According to…well, me actually. I already stated that building your own terrain is 1.) fun and 2.) cheap. But there’s more. For instance…

3.) Terrain you built yourself is truly your own

I can almost hear you: Yeah, Captain Obvious, terrain I built myself is my own. DUH! Granted, this one seems like a no-brainer, but hear me out on this! There’s more:

First of all, building your own terrain will give you a profound sense of achievement: It’s something that YOU came up with, YOU built, YOU painted – you get the picture. I had been wary of trying my hand at terrain for years, since I am not a very crafty person. But when I built my first set of cityfight ruins from foamcore, using a simple template I had drawn on an A4 sheet, I felt like the king of the world! Granted, depending on your personality, it might take more than some rickety foamcore buildings to make you feel awesome about yourself, but my point still stands: It’s great if you’re building some terrain out of the box and it checks out alright. To build something completely from scratch (or even better: from things found around the house and in your waste paper bin) just feels that much more gratifying! The sense of achievement also gets stronger once your projects start scaling up. In the beginning, small buildings and structures will feel like huge projects, but before long you will try your hands at cathedrals, spaceports or large fortresses. And you’ll succeed! The feeling of creating something from nothing is one of the greatest rewards for building your own terrain, and it’s something that is truly your own!

The second reason DIY terrain is truly your own is that your creativity is really the only limit here. Let’s face it, even the most fantastic readymade terrain is restricted in some way, either because the parts only allow for so much freedom or because you’ll have to buy lots and lots of kits in order to truly build what you have envisioned. Not so with DIY terrain: It’s your project, so you’re calling the shots! Of course it helps that most of the materials are readily available, but here’s the important thing: Instead of saying “Wow, that’s a great kit! Let’s see how I can put it together!” you can say “I have a fantastic idea. Let’s see how I can make it work!”

And finally, terrain you built yourself can be perfectly adapted to your gaming needs or to that of your group. Need an awesome setpiece for your next narrative battle? You can build it! Need a huge cathedral as a stage for your campaign finale? Go for it! Just need a couple of buildings and smaller barricades to block the line of sight and make battles more interesting? You can do that too! So it’s really easy to sit down with a couple of buddies, think about what you want your table to be like and then get going. And all of it will fit your needs and conform to your ideas.

All of it will truly be yours.

Now that was an awful lot of theory, wasn’t it? So let’s apply all of it to a real project, shall we? Our case study will be a small piece of terrain cousin Andy and I recently built . There’s a bit of terrain-building frenzy going on that the FLGS right now, and one of the projects is a set of Ork terrain. So we decided to build a small Ork outpost to teach ourselves how to built suitably orky terrain as well as to have a proof of concept for what we wanted the terrain for the table to look like. The look of Ork terrain has been suitably defined by many, many people, so to mockup a couple of ideas is really no rocket science at this point.

Here’s an initial sketch I did:

Sice we really couldn’t be sure whether anyone would actually like our piece, we decided to build it with materials as readily (and cheaply) available as possible to keep the cost low. So I gathered together lots and lots of leftovers and junk I had carefully collected and we got going. Here’s what we came up with:





The part making up the center of the piece is a package that came with a stack of CDRs. It makes for a nice basic structure. It could be some kind of Imperial fuel tank taken over and modified by the Orks. We put it on a base cut from foamcore. Then we added all kinds of orky “modifications”: Armour plates shaped like teeth (cut from plasticard), sheets of corrugated metal (cut from, well, corrugated cardboard), a rickety watch tower (constructed from leftover sprue and balsa) and a couple of sharpened stakes (again made from leftover sprue). In the end, we added a generous helping of cork to the base in order to make it look like sand and rubble.

All of this stuff was readily available from my persoanl terrain-building hoard as well as from everyday household items. The only slightly exclusive part was a small brass pipe we glued to the side of the tank, and I found that one in our tool shed — like I said, building terrain is cheap!

Deciding on our gameplan, cutting out all the pieces and glueing everything together took about three hours all in all. That seems like a relatively long time for such a small project, however you should keep in mind that we basically had to start from zero. In addition to that, once we got going, we could probably have done five of those pieces at the same time with just a little more work , had we wanted to.

Then I went and basecoated everything with spray paint from the craft store. As was to be expected, the basecoat really helped to tie all the different pieces together. Here’s what it looked like after basecoating:



I think it really reads as a piece of Ork terrain alright! And with four or five people, a box of leftover junk and a couple of small modifications, you could probably churn out a whole table full of interesting pieces like this in just one afternoon.

While this certainly wasn’t a groundbreaking project, we were filled with a sense of pride at our achievement. We had managed to come up with a plan, see it through to its completion and really nail the required look in the process. Now it only remains to be seen what the people at the FLGS think. Oh, and the thing still has to be painted, of course. But we’ll put that off until a paint scheme for the Ork table has been decided upon.

For the sake of completeness, here’s a scale shot with one of my ancient Ork boyz:

And that concludes my little discourse on why terrain you built yourself is truly your own. Let me say in closing that building this little piece was so much fun that I feel slightly tempted to start an Ork army. Before I can go through with that, that let’s quickly change the subject: A new INQ28 model is coming this Friday. Yay!

Until then, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

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4 Responses to “Reasons why you should build your own terrain, pt.3”

  1. Gotta present the other side of this argument, if I may.

    With the amount of scenery/miniature companies floating around these days, you’re sure to find something similar to what you are wanting, even if it means customising it to make it your own.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like making my own scenery too, but it’s just as much fun to buy something that already exists and customise it…

    • Oh absolutely! Especially with the amount of stunning terrain and scenery kits out there! The important thing to realise, though, is that there are multiple choices to begin with! Take GW for example: When they didn’t offer any readymade terrain, their publications were full of neat tutorials on how to build your own stuff. That kind of content has almost disappeared from WD nowadays.

      My aim with this series is not to keep people from buying terrain kits they like – far from it! But I want to show them the merits of building their own pieces from time to time, in order to exercise a pair of muscles they didn’t even realise they had.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting and rounding out the discussion 😉

  2. […] terrain is so great, we already discussed why building your own terrain is fun and cheap and why terrain you built yourself is truly your own. Today I would like to explore yet another angle and show you […]

  3. […] should know the drill: Building your own terrain is fun and cheap, terrain you built yourself is truly your own, and building your own terrain also makes for a nice change of pace whenever you’re […]

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