The Normandy Farmhouse, part one

As I mentioned earlier, I am building a Normandy farm house that will do double-duty on a friend’s Napoleonic wargaming table and his World War II wargaming table.  Today I had the day off and made some serious headway on the project, and I thought I’d go into some detail about how I’m building this piece of terrain.

First, I’m building it primarily out of foamcore, which for the uninitiated is 3/16″ styroam sheets sandwiched in-between paper.  It’s too bad most places sell it at 3/16″ and not 1/4″, but thems are the breaks, as the say.  Anyways, I drew a 1:1 scale blueprint on graph paper first to figure out how large it would really work out to be, calculate things like floor thickness, etc. and then with my trusty metal ruler marked out the walls on the foamcore.

Walls drawn onto foamcore

Walls drawn onto foamcore

As a small side note, my father used to be an old-school draftsman, a tradesman who drew blueprints for engineers with paper and pencil (CAD essentially ruined his career).  I think some of that rubbed off on me.

Cutting foamcore is a pain, no two ways about it.  You have to use a very sharp knife and regardless of how good a job you do measuring and cutting, it never really works out exactly right.  In any case, I cut out the walls and then used masking tape to cover the foam edges around the windows and the door.  This will give it a better appearance and protect it should I decide to use spray paint on it (the spray paint will dissolve the foam).

To glue foamcore I use a product called “Hold the Foam” which is sold in craft stores.  It’s formulated to adhere to the plastic foam better than white glue or Aileen’s.  It’s very thick so you’ll have to smear it around with your finger.  To hold the walls together while the glue dries I use straight pins nicked from my wife’s sewing box

Creating the joints

Creating the joints

Here, you can see the first floor put together.

the ground floor of the farmhouse

the ground floor of the farmhouse

Now here is where it gets a bit off the beaten path for me.  Recently I acquired two molds from A&K Studios, both part of the “tiny brick” line.  Both “A” and “K” are friends of mine, and I wanted to see how the molds worked.

The “tiny bricks” are actually 1/4″ by 1/8″ long, and actually appear to be “scale” for 28mm miniatures.  I know they include lots of them, but the single bricks don’t seem nearly as useful as the larger blocks of bricks.  They are also 1/8″ thick, which is thinner than a floor tile for Hirst Arts, so you have to be gentle removing them from the molds.  The molds themselves are of a more pliable silicone rubber than Hirst Arts, so I’m being a bit more gentle with them.

Tiny Brick molds 1 and 6

Tiny Brick molds 1 and 6

My plan is to cover the outside of the foamcore with sheets of the brick.  I can tell you now that the inaccuracies in cutting the foamcore are now become very, very apparent, and in the future I think I’ll save this technique for buildings that don’t have detailed interiors so I can just do fake windows rather than cutting real ones.

More to come.  Comments welcome.  If you by chance end up getting some A&K molds, tell them you heard about them here, okay?

What I am doing next

Sometimes, you just need the right spark to get something going.  In this case, it was my friend Tyler over at The General’s Tent.  He is starting playing WWII along with Napoleonics, and was wanting to put together terrain for his table.

Well, that’s right up my alley, so we talked and I’m going to build a Normandy farmhouse in 28mm scale.  Today I did some research on the relevant architectural styles.  Normandy farmhouses are built using the “golden ratio” which is 1.6, meaning that a farmhouse that is 10″ on wide would be 6.25″ deep.  After making a paper diagram of that, I realized that it would be really large, so I went with 8″ instead.  That works out to be exactly 5″ deep, which is much easier to manage from a construction standpoint.

My plan is to build foamcore walls and floors, then face the outside with bricks cast from Modellers Moulds and Accessories.  For the roof I’ll use Hirst Arts wood shingle mold.  The final piece will have two stories with an accessible interior.

What do I like about this, aside from the fact that I won’t have to house it?  It’s a new time period, and a new building style.  I like the challenge of making something look like the real original but still be viable for a gaming table since a scale would be three feet long.

Pondering what to do next

Having completed the ranch house, and with the last of the 40K terrain now on the worktable, my thoughts inevitably go to what to do next.

Under the “terrain” category, I have a few ideas:

  • More ruined fieldstone terrain.  I like the three pieces I did earlier this year, and thought about filling out the set with a few more pieces.
  • Over on TMP someone mentioned doing “flooded city” terrain pieces.  I have some A&K molds that would work for this.  Plus unlike the FS pieces this would actually challenge me to do something different.
  • More of the EOW sci-fi set, which I’ve basically abandoned as being too ambitious a project to complete by October 10th.

Under “miniatures”

  • Painting more Warhammer dwarfs (I have a lot of them left over)
  • Painting some of my Chainmail figures for my D&D campaign
  • Converting some plastic LotR Mordor Orcs I found in the back room into a HOTT army

Under “RPG’s” I’ll continue doing my D&D 4E campaign, but my son is distinctly interested in my starting something with him and his friends.

A Sci-fi terrain piece with LED

I’ve got a friend who loves putting LED’s in terrain, and encouraged me to build another lit terrain piece.  I realized I could do a small one without difficulty, so here it is.

Without the light

Without the light

With in the LED on the the dark

With in the LED on the the dark

Showing how the light and battery can be removed

Showing how the light and battery can be removed

I also used it as a color test for a possible scheme for my other sci-fi pieces, but I think it turned out too dark.

The LED is a simple blue LED taped to a 3V watch battery.  The windows are tinted plastic from a three-ring binder divider.  You can get four different colors together and more plastic than you’ll ever need for just a few dollars at any store that sells school supplies.

An important lesson about OSG to a new generation

First, a little backstory.  My son Mac is only nine years old, but possessing a vivid imagination fueled a lot by his father’s flights of fancy.  His exposure to D&D in almost entirely informed by The Order of the Stick, the Dragonlance movie, and kid-friendly MMORPG’s like Dragonfable or Adventure Quest.  He’s also been reading through the 3.5 and 4.0 editions of the PHB.

He’s interested in paladins, which means he’s interested in the gods of D&D.  OotS has Thor and the Twelve Gods of Azure City.  Dragonlance has their own gods.  The PHB has others still.  The whole notion is confusing to him.  In addition, I get questions like:

Which races like to fight a lot?  Do elves like to fight?  What about dragonborn?

Do half-elves like to fight if they are overcome by their human half? (A Dragonlance reference)

Do all paladins wear capes?  What about other classes?

Is Riverwind a barbarian?  Etc…

Finally I just had to silence his questions and tell him the following:

You keep asking me what D&D says about gods or races or whatever.  There’s no set answer to these questions.  It’s about your story.  You want elves to like to fight, then they like to fight.  Anyone can wear a cape because you decide what your character is like.  Gary Burlew made up all the stuff in Order of the Stick.  Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman came up with the gods and the dragonlances and even the kenders in Dragonlance.  When Pathfinder finally shows up you and I can make up our own story with whatever gods and races and whatever we want, because that’ll be our story.  The answers to these questions aren’t in the rulebooks, they are in your head.

You got to get this stuff embedded in now, while they’ll still listen to you.

Why Andaville kicked HADD’s backside

Without a doubt, “Andaville” (or “Hirstopia” as it is sometimes known) is the pre-eminent Hirst Arts “event” of 2009.  The story behind Andaville is the “Andadas” from the Hirst Arts forum essentially had an open call for terrain for his 12′ by 8′ gaming table, dubbed “Andaville”.  He had a map and an outline of all the buildings, commplete with dimensions, styles, etc.  People could volunteer to take on one or more buildings.  In return Anda would give that person lottery tickets (e.g. the ranch house got me five tickets).  The prizes ranged from new molds to gift certificates at hardware stores.  The thread for Andaville has over ten thousand hits and ninteen pages of posts.

Let’s contrast that with the Hirst Arts Design Derby, or HADD, which is hosted over at Voidgamers by a guy named Scott Spieker.  There’s little point hiding the fact that the HADD has been surrounded with a little nerdrage controversy over the past few years which tends to settle around several issues:

  1. The methodology for voting on winners
  2. The quality of the entries
  3. The lack of communication regarding things like the Special Category

In fact there are have been several unsuccessful attempts at creating a new HADD which would be sponsored by another website. I do want to say at this point that I don’t know Spieker personally and he could be working single-handedly on a cure for cancer for all I know and is probably a great guy in person.  But the HADD suffers from neglect, and since Spieker hasn’t delegated any of that authority, it falls to him.

What remains is that Andaville has totally overshadowed the HADD to the point that I wonder how many entries it will get, no doubt compounding some of the complaints about individuals swamping the categories with substandard entries.  But enough about the HADD, my point is why did Andaville succeed like wildfire?  There’s several reasons, and the community should pay attention:

  1. Clarity it terms of what the project required My ranch house had to be one story, fieldstone bricks, 6″ by 8″ with the door on the 8″ side.  Anda even specified the roof.  While some might chafe at those restrictions, the real design challenge is how to make something that stands out within those guidelines.  That, and give it some sort of character that says “ranch house,” which I’m still not sure I managed.  Short version: you had to think about what you were building.
  2. The person behind the project Spieker is notoriously uncommunicative, probably because he is looking for a cure for cancer.  Andadas is on the boards daily, answering questions, giving feedback, and generally being a cheerleader.  He was the persona behind the competition in a way that American Idol is all about Cowell and Abdul while So You Think You Can Dance just has those raving nutjobs who were probably picked up at a bus station in St. Louis.  Andaville was Andadas’ pet project as much as it was ours.
  3. Prizes, without being competitive Or more correctly, without being competitive against each other.  Every participant could gain or lose tickets based on the quality (and timeliness) of their work. But each person was basically out there to do the best they could do because it was their name, their reputation, on the line.  You half-ass this job, and people will know.  It’s about integrity and commitment as incentive, not “can I do something better than Builder X.”  There have times when that competition turned personal and nasty, and Andaville managed to avoid that.  Plus the prizes rock.

Now the downside is that Andaville is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Andadas put up literally thousands of dollars to make this work, and few people could do that, especially year after year.  But I think Andaville created the kind of situation that is good for the hobby community, and as long as we still have ideas about annual events like the HADD, people should pay attention.