Reasons why you should build your own terrain, pt. 4

As part of my ongoing sermon about why building your own 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 that…

4.) Building your own terrain makes for a nice change of pace

Before we do that, though, let me make one thing clear: The point of this series is not to dissuade you from buying terrain kits! Far from it! In fact, anything that makes the battlefield look more interesting is cool in my book! As are most of the terrain kits released by GW. You couldn’t really expect to emulate the quality of that stuff without trying really hard — much harder than I am when I am building terrain, in any case.

So all that I am trying to do here is to explore an activity that used to be a cornerstone of the hobby but has somewhat waned in the last years, partly due to the proliferation of (admittedly very nice) premade terrain. It is also something that newcomers to the hobby tend to feel rather dismissive about, probably due to the fact that they tend to have enough on their plates as it is, and the prospect of having to build their own terrain from scratch can be pretty scary. But it doesn’t have to be! It’s easy, and with the recent price hike for some terrain kits and the purported importance of terrain in 6th edition 40k (honni soit, qui mal y pense, and all that), knowing how to build your own terrain has, once more, become pretty useful.

Right, with that one out of my system, let’s get back to the topic at hand:

Like I was saying, building your own terrain makes for a nice change of pace from other hobby activities. The reason for that is that building terrain allows you to paint in much broader strokes. And this goes for the actual painting as well as for everything else!

Say about painting miniatures what you will, but sometimes, it can be a bit of a chore. There are days when the prospect of painting yet another squad of World Eaters doesn’t look too inviting to me and the simple view of my trusty pot of Mechrite Red makes me want to scream. And sometimes, even painting or building an INQ28 model as a distraction just doesn’t cut it. What am I to do then? Easy: I go and build some terrain.

I previously outlined the fact that building terrain can be a very intuitive process. Granted, if you are going for a truly complex project (like a Cathedral, an Imperial city or a whole jungle), some careful planning can go a long way. But sometimes it’s enough to just grab your materials and go with the flow.

Cue exhibit A: Here’s an Imperial base I built using an interestingly shaped piece of styrofoam packaging, some foamcore, a bit of plastic grating and one or two pieces from my bitzbox. I did a small preparatory sketch, but by and large, I really played this one by ear. The fact that the styrofoam piece already looked like some kind of military installation really made things easy for me. I just added a base, a metal floor and a hangar door made from foamcore. Here’s the finished piece:


Building this thing really was a blast. As was the paintjob: When painting terrain, most of the tricks you use when painting your models still apply. You may have to adapt some of them to the slightly different circumstances, but you won’t be sailing totally uncharted seas. Many of the tricks will even work a lot better or be easier to pull off. And you can cut some corners without the whole piece looking completely horrible, something that is considerably harder to pull off with your models.

In this case, I basecoated everything with dark grey structure paint I made myself from black and white acrylic paint, a little glue and some birdsand. Then I used fairly cheap spraypaint from the craft store to lay down the base colours. And finally I added in the details with GW paints. Nice and easy.



This gave me a nice little piece of terrain. At a side length of about 10 inches, it makes for a useful centrepiece on the table in small to medium games of 40k. It’s also quite versatile: It could be used as just a LOS-blocker, as an actual fortified emplacement or even as a bunker of some sorts. I still need to paint some old Space Crusade Tarantulas to serve as optional cannons. Maybe we could play a mission with two armies in a race to take control of the installation, with the first to reach it able to use the base’s weapons to fire at the advancing foe? In any case, this piece of terrain is rather useful when fighting for control of some kind of building during our campaign, since it’s far more fluffy to actually have the prize there on the table instead of just fighting over a green meadow. Shortly afterwards, I even added a modular tower, made from foamcore, to be added to the piece whenever we were playing for control of a communications base, an orbital relais point or something of the like:


All of this took little work and proved to be really relaxing when I was quite fed-up with painting regular models.
Again, this thing certainly doesn’t look as great as a premade set from GW. But it’s very easy to prepare terrain like this as a setpiece for an upcoming event, campaign battle or what have you.

When building terrain, it’s also quite easy to be  productive. Let me present you with exhibit B, some small ruins I built while I waited for the paint to dry on a bigger project. These were made from the same materials as that very project: Just glue together some leftovers, add some small details and you’re done:



These ruins can then easily be painted in a short amount of time to give you smaller pieces of terrain or just some additional decoration for your battlefield. Take a look:



Like I said, all of this can be done using leftover materials and paint from your bigger projects. And you can easily churn out several of these smaller ruins while you are waiting for the paint to dry or glue to set on your bigger buildings. That is really great for people who – like me – have the attention span of a very small bird. No painful waiting for washes to dry without anything worthwile to do in the meantime! Instead, you are losing very little time waiting, and you are constantly getting stuff done which enormously helps motivation. Here’s a look at another little piece I did, using some leftover foamcore, and old 2nd edition plastic Space Marine and the cardboard from a loo roll:


Some basic drybrushing with Skull White makes the Space Marine actually look like a stone statue:

It may be hard to believe, but there was actually a time when these guys were the latest in plastic miniature design…

And even if you botch the job on any of those smaller pieces, it’s just some foamcore and cardboard: You won’t have ruined an expensive kit you bought!

While the previous exhibits demonstrated how building your own terrain is different from painting your models, exhibit C will focus on one of the similarities between both activities: You’ll be getting better over time.

The first ruined buildings I built for 40k were based on a simple template I drew on an A4 sheet. I would build one perfectly intact wall and then cut it apart to get pretty much all the pieces I needed for a ruined building. On my third try, though, I did get a little more adventurous. Here’s the result:



While the walls are still based on the same template, I wanted to add a more interesting interior to the building. So I built the remains of the different floors as well as a central column, still supporting a part of the roof. While this shouldn’t make too much of a change for games of 40k, at least it makes the building more interesting to look at. And the additional floors and interior walkways should make sure that the building gets just that more interesting when used in games of INQ28 or Necromunda:




So while you are building terrain, you will naturally get better at it, and the scope of your projects will benefit from that. You will feel like you are exercising a set of muscles you didn’t even realise you had.  And before long, you will want to try all kinds of crazy stuff — just like when you are getting better at painting!

So there you have it. I’ve said my part. The next time you are frustrated by having to paint the same six colours on a model over and over or whenever the next breakthrough on a model you are currently working on just isn’t happening, go build some terrain! It’ll help relax you. And I assure you, it will make for a nice change of pace.

Do you have your own experiences with building terrain or do you want to add your point of view to this series? I would love to hear from you in the comments section! Next time, I will discuss why building your own terrain is a great outlet for creativity. Until then, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

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

  1. Those are some great pieces you have there. And I agree, making your own is a nice change of pace and you can really run fast and loose with the painting.

    Ron, FTW

  2. […] 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 frustrated by another part of the hobby. If you have followed me this far, […]

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