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Modular Terrain

by Gary James

Games Workshop were holding an open day on the 12th July 1998 at their main headquarters and my gaming club had been invited to put on some kind of participation game. We decided to make a modular terrain display, complete with castle walls, and play some games of Siege (the soon to be released supplement for Warhammer Fantasy Battle) complete with catapults, siege engines and battering rams. Of course, we would need a pre-release copy of Siege and after a bit of negotiation Games Workshop agreed to give the club a free pre-release copy of Siege. So that was it... we had one month to make 48 square feet of modular terrain.


I've said it before and I'll say it again... you must decide how you will store your terrain before you start to make it. This is especially important for modular terrain, which is notoriously difficult to store and prone to damage if not safely packed away. I discovered a local supplier of strong cardboard boxes. Initially I considered having some 2 by 4 foot storage boxes especially made, but decided it would be too expensive. So I bought some of their super-strong removal cartons - double thickness corrugated cardboard, 23 inches cubed, 3 pounds each. I got three. My plan is to stack the boards on top of each other in the boxes with polystyrene filler blocks in between. So, my terrain boards will be 22 inches square to allow us to get our fingers around them to lift them in and out.

What layout do we want? I envisaged an allied chaos horde advancing on a fortified wall. The wall would be at one end of a 6 by 8 foot layout. We had to have a river, because rivers look so good in modular terrain. This is my original sketch for the boards:

[img_c=242a.gif.404.532.Modular terrain map]

When planning the terrain I tried to get a bit of variety into the landscape without making it too difficult to cross. From a construction point of view I wanted to keep the river, for example, from cutting through too many terrain boards.

Notice that we are not trying to make interchangeable boards - they will only work in the layout for which they are constructed, with one or two exceptions such as the woods and pond boards. We will expand the system in the future by making a new 'strip' of four boards to extend east or west, or three boards to extend north or south. 'Transition boards' would allow us to switch to another terrain type - for example, sand dunes turning into beach or desert. In this way our terrain board collection will expand and we can split it up into smaller layouts.


The boards will be chipboard squares covered with 2 inch thick polystyrene (styrofoam). The river will be cut into the polystyrene down to the board beneath. The polystyrene will then be covered with wall filler (spackle) and sand, and painted. I used:

  1. Two 8 by 4 foot by 18 mm thick sheets of chipboard, pre-cut by the merchant into sixteen 22 inch squares (giving us four left over for future use).

  2. Two 8 by 4 foot by 50mm thick sheets of polystyrene, and one 8 by 4 foot by 25mm thick sheet of polystyrene.

  3. 3 litres of PVA glue

  4. 7 kg of wall filler (spackle).

  5. 2 bags of pet-shop sand (about 4kg I would guess)

  6. 1 litre of green emulsion paint (water-based household paint)

  7. 3 packets of static grass

  8. 100 pipe-cleaners

  9. A large bag of lichen

  10. About 2 feet of rope (untwisted for reeds)

  11. 1 bag of Games Workshop small gravel

  12. A handful of small round pebbles (from a pet shop)

  13. 6 pan scouring pads, a pack of Games Workshop green flock and some permanent spray adhesive for the hedges

  14. A roll of packing tape

Total cost was about 100 pounds. This is about 2 pounds per square foot, which I think is reasonable.

Getting two large sheets of polystyrene home is a different matter of course. I can reliably inform you that tying it loosely to your car roof, driving home with one arm out of the drivers window and praying is not a good plan (I tried it). I made it home...you might not! Take your craft knife and slice it up there and then, and bring it home inside your car...

With the materials bought I then negotiated for the use of a room at the club where we could leave the terrain out after stages where it needed to dry or harden off. Tomorrow we start with stage two - cutting and gluing the polystyrene to the boards, and carving out the basic landscape contours.

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