Reasons why you should build your own terrain, pt.5

By now, you 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 frustrated by another part of the hobby. If you have followed me this far, let me present you with my final – and maybe most important – reason for submerging under heaps of foamcore, cereal boxes and spray paint in order to make your own terrain pieces:

5.) Building terrain is a great outlet for creativity!

I realised a long time ago that creativity and its expression are really crucial to me as a person. Towards thit end, most of the things I do in the tabletop hobby really follow the goal of doing something creative, whether it’s converting models, inventing background stories for them or building suitable pieces of terrain. And it’s true that building terrain lends itself very well to expressing creativity, simply because there are very few boundaries.

I have tried to show you that even your most basic household materials can be used to build your own wargaming terrain, so your own imagination is really the limit here. It’s all about coming up with an idea and seeing it through to its conclusion.

If that sounds a little too sketchy for you, I have an example of course. And a couple of pretty pictures to go with it.

I already mentioned that, some time ago, I had gotten it into my head to build a cathedral as an enormous centrepiece for my 40k battlefields. But before undertaking such a huge project, I wanted to come up with a number of ideas first. I wanted to find some visual elements that would be used to make the building more interesting and would help in actually “selling” the piece of terrain as believable. So I sat down and thought of a number of things I wanted to try out:

  • I wanted to use some kind of statue of a lost heroe of the Imperium, covered in verdigris or patina
  • I wanted to find a way of doing inscriptions to decorate my building will all the gothic and crazy mottoes we all know from the 40k background
  • I wanted to find a recipe for building devotional candles, to be placed around an icon of worship for example

So I gathered a few pieces of leftover foamcore and sat down to build a little test piece, a small devotional shrine. Here it is:


I wanted this to be usable as a piece of terrain in its own right, but it was also a way to try implementing all of the different elements I outlined above. Once again, the main construction was done with foamcore and a leftover cardboard roll.


The statue of a nameless Space Marine hero formed the center of the piece. I used an old 2nd edition Sergeant and added a few bits to make the model look more impressive. Then I experimented with a couple of paints until I found a nice way of representing patina: The model was basecoated with GW Tin Bitz (or Vallejo Tinny Tinn) and then lightly drybrushed with a lighter Bronze Tone. Afterwards, a mix of Vallejo Halcon Turquoise (or GW Hawk Turquoise) and Skull White was liberally dabbed onto the model.

Then I tried to do my own inscriptions, using alphabet noodles as a cheap and readily available resource (an idea I took from Oldschool’s very nice German terrain blog).

I used the noodles to represent one of 40k’s most iconic insriptions. Take a look:


The noodles were very easy to use and just as easily painted. I used the same recipe as for the statue. I also painted some rust stains around the different letters. Oh, and it seems a part of the inscription actually fell off. What a coincidence…

And finally I tried my hand at building some candles. I used small glass beads with a bit of wire in the middle to represent the candlewick. All I had to do was paint them:


I added some splashes of colour to represent the candles slowly melting. Again, this was very easy (if somewhat fiddly) to do and yet made for a pretty convincing result.


Building this concept piece really helped me to nail a look for my bigger buildings (like the cathedral). I learned a lot of useful techniques, even beyond the things I had wanted to try. For example, I used cardboard from a cereal package to make the flagstones – a recipe I have since used on many pieces of terrain.

But that was not really the most important thing. The most important thing was to see this whole project as an outlet for creativity: Thinking of things I wanted to do and then coming up with a cheap and easy way of doing them. And thinking up little elements that would help make my terrain more believable.

It’s true, building twenty identical ruins isn’t a great outlet for creativity — although it’s sometimes just the thing you have to do to get the necessary amount of terrain together. But you can still be creative: Think of a little something that will make each of those ruins stand out. Then think of how to make it work. Then you will truly have made something!

Of course this also goes for assembling terrain kits you buy. You could assemble them to look just like they do on the package. Or you could go the extra mile and use your creativity!


Ans while we’re at it: The actual building of terrain is not the only way to be creative. There are also many things you can do in other mediums to support your terrain. For instance, designing some Imperial propaganda posters for your terrain pieces is a quick and creative way of making your buildings look even more believable. Here’s a couple of posters I did using 40k artwork (It goes without saying that most of this artwork is courtesy of Games Workshop — I own none of it):


This one is based on an old propaganda poster from World War I. I kept the slogan and just added it on top of a picture of the Steel Legion in mid-fight. I used some Photoshop filters to make the image look more stylised and desaturated. There’s also some graffitti, probably added by cultists in order to deface this symbol of the Imperium.


And while we are on the subject of the Imperial Guard: Your terrain just won’t be the same without a generous helping of recruitment posters.


Well, sucks to be them, I guess πŸ˜‰


Again, this poster was defaced by followers of the ruinous powers (I actually did pristine versions of both posters, too). This one is playing with the fact that most Imperial citizens are probably unaware of the fact that their Emperor is now little more than a corpse…


Ahh, a true classic, this one. Oceanian propaganda appearing courtesy of Mr. George Orwell, ladies and gentlemen.

Posters like these are easily designed using Photoshop, Gimp or similar software. Then you can print them out at different sizes and use them on your terrain for some extra oomph. You can even use this to add some narrative touches, to tie your terrain into an ongoing campaign or your existing 40k force!

Here’s a propaganda poster used by Chaos Cultists I did a while ago:


It’s using the symbol of the Word Bearers’ Piercing Gaze Chapter (my Word Bearers force then. Alas, I have since turned my attention to the World Eaters, as you all know…). The idea was that the Word Bearers had managed to infiltrate a world and begun to announce the planet’s salvation (i.e. their arrival).

Here’s the same design, used as a leaflet to deface an Administratum poster:

It’s little things like these that will not only help in making your terrain better, but will also be a tremendous outlet for your creativity! Just get going, you can start small! And it won’t be long before you’re doing stuff you didn’t even realise you were capable of!

And while my own mediocre attempts may not be enough to convince you, let me just relay you to a true master of the craft: Just take a look at thenickeninja’s blog to see how using propaganda posters adds just the last bit of plausibility to your pieces (and how random pieces of junk can end up as truly spectacular wargaming terrain).

And with that, my small treatise on the joys of building your own wargaming terrain is at an end. I hope that I managed to point out the merits of this increasingly lost art to you. Of course I’ll be posting more of my own terrain projects on this blog over time. And without a doubt, most of them won’t look nearly as spectacular as the stuff published in WD. But I can assure you that all of my stuff will have been fun to build, cheap, a nice change of pace and a great outlet for creativity. And all of it will be my own (except for the original GW artwork of course, I still don’t own any of that stuff πŸ˜‰ ).

If you want to share your own experiences with building terrain, drop me a comment! And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

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2 Responses to “Reasons why you should build your own terrain, pt.5”

  1. As an amateur terrain builder, this series has been HUGELY helpful. You have really helped show how easy, helpful and inspiring it is to produce good quality terrain. I am enjoying terrain building more than the actual game play at the moment!! Keep up the great work.

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