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River Segments

When creating rivers on terrain boards you can dig down into the boards however when you plan to arrange the terrain onto a table, and want to be able to create a variety of arrangements, a different approach is necessary. The terrain in the picture below was created by Andrew 'Kishkumen' Nelson. The picture shows a river cut into segments and arranged on a painted cloth. Andrew's Battletech tower stands in the background.

River Segments

Andrew got his inspiration from a TerraGenesis project by Gary James which is described below. The crucial thing on a project like this is that the ends of the river segments should be consistent so that any segment will join neatly with any other.

River SegmentsGary James: Begin by marking out your base pieces. I taped two pencils to a ruler 7 inches apart and then drew the river onto a 2 x 4 sheet of 6mm MDF in one go, so that I could get the best use of my board. I discovered that sections which are too straight look unnatural, so I put a slight curve or kink in them all. I ended up with three strips of river marked onto the board, with a couple of small curves squeezed in here and there.

When you cut the river into sections be sure you cut through at 90 degrees to the banks and double check that the width is 7 inches at that point or your sections won't join up properly. You can make them as wide or as narrow as you like along the mid section of the river, just so long as they come back to the standard width at the joint.

River SegmentsFor the river banks, I used 15mm thick polystyrene, which allowed me enough depth to cut into them to make troughs, low bank sections and undercuts. Cut the bank to the same shape as the outside edge of the river base by cutting it out roughly, holding it in place, and running your hot wire cutter or blade along the edge of the edge of the MDF. The strips are then glued in place with PVA.

River SegmentsYour river banks should be the same profile at the joins so they will match up no matter which way around the river sections are arranged. Make one bank and use this as the profile for all your subsequent sections. Butt the new section up against your master section and draw around the bank profile. So long as the new section conforms to this profile at the joins you can do anything you like in between.

When set, the banks were covered with PVA glue and then sand. Fine gravel was added here and there. Small piles of stones were glued into the river on a few of the sections. I then painted the sand with very dilute Snakebite Leather (50/50 paint and water). When dry I drybrushed with Snakebite Leather lightened with white, and then drybrushed some Goblin Green here and there.

River SegmentsPainting the river itself wasn't as difficult as I was expecting it to be... and remember I am colour-blind, so if I can do it anyone can! I used Citadel Dark Angels Green (a dark green), Goblin Green (a sort of grassy tone), Regal Blue (a dark, strong blue) and black.

Seal the surface of your board first, otherwise the paint soaks in fast and you will struggle to blend it, by giving the river surface a coat of varnish or PVA and allow it to dry before starting to paint.

The principle of painting the river is to get a blend from greenish near the banks into blue and then dark blue/black in the centre. Place a blob of Goblin Green (lightish green), Dark Angels Green (dark) and Regal Blue on your palette (I use a washed margarine tub lid). Thin the paints a little, and then put a streak of light green along the banks, followed by a streak of Dark Angels Green, and fill in the centre with Regal Blue. Work quickly, and scrub the colours together where they join to begin to blend them. They will still look rather stripy but don't worry.

River SegmentsNow swirl each colour together with its neighbour on your palette to get some colours of in-between tone - light/dark green mixed, dark green/dark blue mixed. You should have a strip of paint going from light green to dark blue, with in-between colours where you have swirled them together. Paint these over the 'joins' between the colours on your river. Thin the paints on your palette and repeat, creating a blend from green to dark blue. Finally, make a very bark blue/black colour as a thin wash and paint in the centre, where the river would be deeper.

This isn't as difficult as it sounds - just have a go and you'll get the hang of it. Remember that on a curve a river will tend to undercut the bank on the outside, and silt up on the inside of the curve. Your river curves will look more natural if you allow more green to show through on the short bank, and have less green and a darker water colour close to the long curved bank.

I then created reeds from rope and used static grass liberally on the banks to get a more natural, lush look.

The white lily-like flowers you see here and there are from a sugarcraft shop - a shop that sells things for cake decorating. They are sold in a variety of shapes and sizes to make sugar flowers.

Finally, the water surface was varnished. Much of the water effect comes from the high gloss surface of the river. Lay the varnish on quite thickly to encourage it to dry unevenly. I used three coats to get a high gloss finish, and I rubbed the surface down with very fine sandpaper before adding the third, final coat. This cleans off any dust and grit for a smoother finish. Please note, and this is important, - I photographed my rivers outside. I must admit that much of the effect in the photograph above comes from the reflection of a real blue sky in the river surface. (See our general advice about simulating water for more information.)

River Segments River Segments

River SegmentsAndrew Nelson took a slightly different approach in that he used Envirotex resin for the water. The bases however were done in much the same way as Gary's except that Andrew used 1/8" MDF and used aquarium stones and spackle in addition to polystyrene foam and sand to created his river banks. The same care was taken at the edges to make sure that the river segments could be arranged in different combinations. Andrew also textured and painted the bed of his river before adding the resin. It is interested to note that he has used blue paint on some areas of the river bed, particularly towards the middle. Although a real river bed is unlikely to be blue, the blue colour would be reflected from the sky above and Andrew's river would proably look wrong when viewed indoors if it were not for his use of blue paint on the riverbed. (See our general advice about simulating water for more information.)

River SegmentsThe picture to the left shows the Envirotext being poured and is a good illustration of just how much of the final effect of water is down to reflections. Just look at the reflection on that wet resin!

The white polystyrene dams have packing tape on them (sticky side down) glued to the edge of the terrain piece with with epoxy. Epoxy and Envirotex stick to packing tape, but not permanently and the dams break away with little effort once the resin is cured. Note that surface tension creates a raised edge that is quite sharp and needs to be trimmed away with a sharp craft knife. If done carefully, the resultant marks should not be a problem (especially as they are at what will be an fairly obvious join between river segments) but can be improved upon by applying a further thin coat of resin or varnish to the entire river surface.

Andrew refrained from adding reeds and other similar plants on the shores because his river has to work with 28mm figures (1:43/1:48) and with Battletech (somewhere around 1:260). At Battletech scale, those harmless 28mm scale river plants become 30' tall monsters. The lichen clumps that Andrew used instead work on both scales. On 28mm they're small bushes while on Battletech scale they become short trees or clumps of large bushes.

The rocks in the section shown in this final photo were cast in plaster from a shop bought rubber mould.

River Segments

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