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Hobby: Making Your Own Extraordinary Landscapes

9 Minute Read
Apr 12 2018


Have you noticed that the grimdark of the far future seems to consist entirely of blown out ruins and sparse rock formations?  It doesn’t have to be that way.


I’ve been in this hobby for more than 25 years now, and I’ve seen the battle boards evolve over the years.  In many ways, the hobby in this regards is better than ever.  Games Workshop (GW) makes an assortment of really great plastic terrain kits for Warhammer 40,000; they also have several really great modular plastic battle boards, several different companies make a wide assortment of pre-printed battle mats and there numerous other hobby companies that make a wide assortment of plastic/resin terrain features/kits.  Looking back to the 90s and early 2000s, all this is amazing.  I mean, back in the day when I first got into the hobby, we really did play with stacks of books or magazines for hills, various soda cans/bottles for futuristic structures and perhaps variously colored poster paper cut into shapes to be forests, ponds or whatever.  No joke, this was a thing.  If you look back to the original Rogue Trader, you can even see these elements in the pictures they provide — though since they were the ‘professionals,’ it was dressed up a bit.

It was kinda sad.  And yet, I sometimes feel a tad nostalgic for it.  Well, I thought I did, until I really thought about it a bit.  Oh, I don’t really miss those pathetic terrain stand-ins, but rather I really miss the terrain that was show-cased in White Dwarf (WD) in those heady days.  WD back in those glory days was really something, though I freely admit it’s back on track and regaining some of its swagger nowadays (finally).  There were gaming articles, elaborate battle reports, army showcases, little games presented to play with our miniatures in new ways and lots more.  And virtually all of it featured scratch-built terrain that played to the story and magnified whatever the article was presenting.  Later, they sometimes even began to present articles on how to build this fantastic terrain.  It’s this sort of terrain I really miss.  Oh don’t get me wrong, the stuff we see from GW and say Frontline Gaming is pretty awesome, in many ways plain better than those old scratch-built pieces, but sometimes it seems so mundane.  Despite the quality, if every board at the tournament or gaming club only has these same terrain pieces, they begin to lose their luster.

Seriously bad-ass Orky terrain.

The Problem With Awesome Terrain Kits

So the way I see it, there are two significant problems with the fact that there are so many great options for terrain out there for gamers to easily access.  First, and let’s get this out of the way, these finely detailed kits are quite costly.  This is especially true for GW’s terrain pieces, though the bundling kits they’ve embraced in recent years helps a bit, but it applies to ‘more reasonably costed’ suppliers as well.  For example, filling a complete battle board with the above depicted Orky terrain is gonna run you the cost of a third or even half the standard 2,000 point army (and you still need to assemble and paint it).  And this is before the cost of the battle surface, whether it be a GW-style modular battle board or just a pre-printed neoprene battle mat.  And I feel at this point; such battle surfaces are a must.  Seriously.  How did we ever play without these?  I’m a big fan of the various neoprene battle mats in particular — they simply make the board look better so effortlessly.  Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these kits aren’t worth it — I think they are — but many gamers balk at such costs.  This is the age-old gamer hang up actually, as many, many gamers would rather just buy more miniatures.  I’ve personally succumbed to this attitude myself many a time.


Getting warmer…

The second issue I have with all these great terrain kits is quite frankly their ubiquitousness.  If you enter a GW store, all their tables feature their 40k ruined buildings.  If you attend an ITC tournament, all the tables feature the various ITC terrain kits.  And honestly, rightly so.  These companies are running the venue, and so they want to showcase their wares — who can blame them?  Nevertheless, the result of this is that we pretty much only ever see one side of the 40k universe as it pertains to battlefields.  It’s just ruins.  Always ruins.  Where are the swamps?  Where are the towering rock formations?  The large hills?  The forests?  The jungles?  Especially the jungles.  Oh, how I miss the jungles.  I mean, how are you supposed to be a real Kroot or Catachan jungle fighter if there aren’t any jungles?  These features, and so many more, are absent.  And I miss them.  Instead, we get ruin, ruin, crater, ruin.  Yeah, they look cool, but after a while, even these slide into the mundane.  Again it’s sad.  GW’s newish Deathworld terrain is a step in the right direction, but looking at it, it still needs something.  I think I’d base each piece and dress them up with more normal jungle bits, but regardless, I’d like to see them push it more.

Which brings me back to scratch-built terrain.  I think we need more of it.  When attending an event, I’m always drawn to the tables that have a little bit of this scratch-built stuff.  This is the kind of stuff that oozes character.  Even if it is technically inferior to the ubiquitous kits filling the tables all around, it often tells a small story all on its own.  It’s these tables that are easiest to remember when reminiscing about an event, and often it is these tables that evoke more exotic landscapes or terrain features.

Inspired by Bond’s The Man With the Golden Gun.

Building Your Own Terrain

So what can we do to thwart this terrible menace?  Well, build our terrain of course.  Once again, I’m not saying we should shun the awesome terrain kits available to us; I’m simply encouraging people to change it up.  Why not try building a few pieces of terrain yourself?  And if you do decide to take up the challenge, why not try something different?  Let’s bring back those towering rock formations, mighty hills, and ominous jungles.  Just no ruins.  We’ve got plenty of those available already.

I can almost hear the waves crashing on the shore.


If all this seems a bit daunting, fear not.  It’s not as hard as it seems.  Many of the materials you need can be found rather cheaply at normal hobby stores such as Michael’s or Hobby Lobby (what I use here in the western U.S.) or even many of the various dollar stores.  Things like water paints and brushes, foam board and foam blocks, cork board, lichens, and even cheap plastic trees or flock are easily attainable and a great place to start experimenting.  I recommend pet stores and any the various plastic plants available in most Fish departments for jungle ornamentation.  Once I get going on such projects, I then add embellishments of flock or other items from more traditional gaming hobby stores.  Such terrain pieces are great for dressing up with those leftover bits GW likes to add to all their kits.  Again, it’s not as hard as it looks and you get better at it the more you try.  The best part is that the materials are cheap enough that even if you make a mistake, it’s no big deal.


A jungle rock formation I was inspired to build while working on my towering island formations.

In the last couple years, I decided to remedy the situation for my own home.  Last year I really got on a kick building lots and lots of jungle terrain.  And this year I took what I learned from that experience and decided to bump it up even further by creating the towering rock formation islands board depicted above.  The inspiration for this project came from two sources.  First, I got the oceans-cape FAT mat last year for games of Man’O’War, but I thought it might be used for some sort of exotic 40k battlescape as well.  Second, since I was trying to think of fantastic landscapes to fight over in general, and I was trying to imagine one for the ocean mat, I thought of the great final scenes of the classic Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (my dad would be proud).  Those amazing island shots in that film really left an impression.  From there, it was just a matter of imagination, experimentation and lots of hours of hobby work.  All in all, I think it came out pretty nifty.


Bond did it better of course, but I gave it my best shot.

Having a Little Fun

Having put in the work, I figured it would be fun to draw up a few special rules for the special terrain on this board as well.  I mean, if you spend all that time creating really awesome and unique terrain, you owe yourself to give it a little flare on the table-top as well, right?  Just one word of caution though — don’t let such rules get out of control.  Sometimes to bring our own special vision to the table, it can be easy to get too elaborate or complex trying to get it right.  I’ve always found the best method is to try to keep it simple, brief and familiar with the rules already present in the game.  Also, try to limit the number of such special rules, perhaps one or two (tops).  If you add too many, such rules just become a burden or just get forgotten.


Hmmmm … maybe I need a crashed plane as well.


So having said all that, I thought it best to keep it simple and follow the same format as presented in the Battlefield Terrain section of the 40k Rulebook (pages 248-251).  And yeah, yeah, I know.  For those of you keeping score, I’m not a big fan of the 8th edition terrain rules, as I pontificated upon in my previous article here.  But, that is another discussion.  For this battlefield and this article, let’s stick to the rules for terrain as they appear in the rules we have.  So having settled on that, I feel that this battlefield terrain has three terrain features that deviate from the rules — towering rock formations, deep water, and surf.  For the first, towering rock formations, I think it best just to rule that they are impassible to units without the Fly keyword, and are otherwise treated as Woods (page 248).  So that leaves the deep water (the dark blue portions of the mat between the islands) and the surf (the lighter blue bases the islands are mounted on).  Mt rules for these features appear below.


The beautiful and terrible sea.

Deep Water

The churning waters between the islands of this region are deep barriers against any who are ill-prepared.

All units treat this terrain as impassible unless they have the Fly, Vehicle or Titanic keywords.

Vehicles without the Fly keyword who enter this terrain are assumed to be at least partially submerged and so receive the benefit of cover.  Such units may not advance.

Units without the Fly or Vehicle keywords that are forced to disembark in this terrain due to their transport being destroyed may do so normally, but if they cannot immediately embark upon another transport in the following turn, they are destroyed.


It’s perfectly safe.  Trust me.


The shallow waters surrounding these towering islands are continuously pounded by white waves and spray.


Infantry units that are entirely within the boundaries of the surf receive the benefit of cover.

Models without the Fly, Vehicle or Titanic keywords are slowed when charging or advancing through the surf.  If, when such a unit charges or advances, one or more models have to move through surf terrain, you must subtract 2″ from the unit’s charge or advance roll.

~So what do you think?   Do you too miss more exotic terrain, or maybe just jungles?  Are you ready to try your hand at building your own terrain pieces?  Share with us in the comments below.

Read more from Kazzigum on Slaved to Ruin

Author: Jason Peck
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