Scenery for Wargaming and Role Playing

By Slim Mumford

I have now been churning out scenery for forty years and it has been suggested that I pass on some of my tips, learned from often-hard experience. I make no claim to produce diorama standard items but most of my large collection, looks passable and is robust enough to have survived many table-top actions. The beginner has to face up to many problems involved with scenery creation. Ideally he will create his own particular self-compatible style. I began as a wargamer for many years but later came to be more involved with role-playing actions. These require a somewhat different emphasises as regards scenery. The modeller starting out has several basic decisions that it is wise make right at the onset. Beginners tend to concentrate on figures, rather than the battle playing areas, so how much money and time will they have they to spare on these? Also how much space have they for storing scenery? Large solid sections of countryside look fine but take up a lot of room in storage. After some false starts I decided that I would aim to make my own scenery following these basic precepts.

1.      Not too time consuming to make.

2.      Compatible with the figures and ideally with other 'bought' (readymade) scenery.

3.      Versatile enough to be used in varied scenes and perhaps differing periods as well.

4.      Robust enough to travel to clubs, conventions etc.

5.      Not too expensive.


Open Battlefield scenery

My tabletops are painted a grass green, hopefully matching that of the polystyrene hills used, plus that of the figure bases. Obviously if one is always playing in built up areas or sandy deserts, different figure bases may be appropriate. I have used sandy coloured cloth sheets for desert and a pale blue one for sea actions. In reality the sea is rarely blue and rivers almost never are, in contrast to many war games painted streams. For freshwater surfaces I use silver or aluminium paint, dulled down with black. Large expanses of calm water can be represented by silver wrapping paper. My early stream sections were edged with raised Plasticene banks but these broke up too easily. Miliput would last better but would be too expensive for large quantities. Later I made sections that have just flat green painted banks. I use the same the same for ponds, my mud coloured country roads and tracks and ditches. These are mostly double sided, six inches long and are made from cardboard saved from cereal packets. Flat cardboard scenery of this type takes very little storage space. Roads of three inches width, tracks one and half and paths of three-quarters of an inch wide. For modern roads the grey painted card is cut straighter and for built up areas it is made with pavements glued on either side. I have river and stream sets from one inch up to nine inches wide. Specially shaped pieces are used for bends and junctions. For wider rivers I use silver wrapping paper cut in shapes to suit. I have also

Card bank sections for the shores of larger stretches of water. For roads of stone sets or cobbles I sometimes use 'dolls house' dry stone or stone wall papers. Some card based ones have garden plots painted on the reverse side. Other similar items are dry ditches, fresh dug trenches and fields with painted furrows. Corduroy cloth can be used instead for furrows and I also use green towelling for long grass areas. I have some carpet tile pieces suitable for representing standing crops. For marshes I use green clothes with reeds and rushes from different sources placed on the top. I have some irregular shapes edged with stiff paper rushes but they took a very long time to make. Plastic fish tank grass can be cut into tall marsh tufts. In fact many of the aquatic plastic plants can be used for making jungle type scenery, as can some of the greenery used with artificial flowers. The railway modeller’s Lichen makes versatile bushes and rubberised horsehair can add even more variety. I confess to also using various pine cones, mostly giant redwood for formal garden bushes. (Ideal for young Cyprus trees) For trees I rely mainly on the Games Shop types that can be bought. The better-looking ones tend to shed their 'leaves' when handled too much. Some require bases, which I make from stout card and Milliput. Palms can be made, by twisting and trimming bundles of plant ties. I added some plump seeds to simulate coconuts but beads would do as well. I have built up a collection of fallen and standing dead trees, using mainly old dead heather twigs. They can give impressively gnarled appearances. Perhaps my cheapest pieces of scenery are a large array of standing stones. These utilise the many different varieties and shapes of real rocks and pebbles. Though these can also be used for boulders, they are heavy and need flat bases. For larger rocky crags I find it easier to use expanded polystyrene. These larger crags and contour hills are carved with a heated knife. This I do out of doors at a barbecue, as the fumes from melting polystyrene are toxic. Wargames hills have flat contours so that the figures can stand on them. Whilst half inch thickness will do for 15mm hills and islands, I use one inch for my 25mm figures. Crags, very appropriate for fantasy actions, I make from thicker sheets or white goods packing segments. Many glues melt expanded polystyrene but I have found PVA craft glue and Unibond 'no more nails' usable. Most of my contoured hills are built up by placing smaller pieces loosely on top of larger ones. However gluing layers together built up my volcano and my castle motte. Some of my hills have flat edges so that they can be put at the side of the table. A few of these were made in pairs, so that two of these could be used together to make a full hill for the middle of the table. Some of my larger hill pieces have depressions in them, a feature rarely seen on the traditional wargames tabletop. They can be used as places of concealment or have a pond in them. I have also ramp pieces so that tracks and roads can rise up a hill contour. Crags need some level areas for standing the figures on. Some of my crags have carved cave entrances but I also use black painted cave entrances made of cardboard. These have bent under tabs for holding them against the crag. These are perhaps preferable to the carved ones, as they give added scenario variability. I use similar L shaped pieces to simulate developing breaches in castle walls. I even have scree pieces purporting to be of loose rock, which can be added to suitably steep sided crags.

   Rather formal hedges can be made out of cut and doubled over plastic green pot-scourers. Fences can be made, high or low from balsa strip wood or ice-lolly sticks but there are also very acceptable ready made ones in the model shops. The same with walls but I have many made using strip wood, painted or covered in brick or stone paper. Bridges have to be suitable for the various sizes of stream and river, and with the roads to go over them. If very large rivers are used, it may be advisable to make bridges in sections to allow for variable length. Whilst one wants the roadway to marry into the road sections, some simulation of rising over the water is desirable. The eventualities of wargaming and role-playing suggest that replacement broken versions of bridges are desirable. 

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It is almost a tradition that wargames buildings are slightly smaller in scale to the figures. Similarly a village may be represented by as few as five houses. In wargames fighting tends to take place around them rather than in them. In role-playing however, the interiors of buildings are often used, in theory at least. The building may be made to open up and one then has to cater for the fact that the figures have large bases attached to them, which take up space. One way round this is to make separate interior floors, perhaps a bit larger than the building they are supposed to be part off. Because of the space problem, I almost never use the large slot in plastic bases for figures, provided by Games Workshop and others. I glue on smaller bases of thick cardboard instead, using Milliput when a poor attachment area makes it necessary. Due to the needs of the Railway Modellers, many fine, mainly modern plastic 00-scale buildings can be bought. Whilst suitable for wargaming in later periods, they are expensive and sometimes over complicated. One can also make a limited range of Supa-Quick and Built-Easy 00 buildings. Whilst reasonably priced, one has to say that they are neither quick nor easy to make. Currently there are some fine resin buildings available, specifically for wargamers in 25mm and 15mm sizes. Unfortunately again their prices are prohibitive if wanted in sizeable quantities.

  When making scratch built buildings I have found it best to make them in batches rather than one at a time. Once committed, the whole batch has to be completed! When planning one may take into account any chance of making the buildings more versatile.

General Modelling Basics

First plan out your sequence of modelling. Make sure that you have adequate strong materials for the item or batch. I have accumulated large stocks not only of basics such as cardboard’s, cards, strip woods, dowelings, Milliput, glue and paints but also items that could become domes, minarets, doorways etc. Having assembled your materials and tools plan in your mind your sequence of operation. For some complicated items, it may be desirable to paint some of the parts before assembly (Ladders, fireplaces etc). Always think about how resistant to hard wear a building may be and strengthen it if necessary. When commencing construction always check marked measurements and make trial fittings before gluing. Mistakes do occur and sometimes the trial fitting may reveal some unsuspected problem. When cutting cardboard or plastic sheeting my father told me it is better to do many moderate cuts than trying to force the blade through in a oner. My natural impatience and grim experience soon taught me that he was right! When cutting Foam board it is best to do all the cutting from one side, as cuts from opposite sides may not meet. When desiring bevelled merlons for battlements plane the bevels before cutting the appetures. For painting buildings I mostly use touch up pots or tubes of emulsion mixed as desired. When painting half timbering it is always easier to roughly paint the timbers first and then the areas of plaster! Another method is to paint cereal packet cardboard strips and then glue them to the building. To be historically accurate the timbers should be blue, brown or the grey of unpainted seasoned oak. I am afraid that in my Morval Earth black timbers are much in evidence.  


Huts & Cottages These can be either circular (Ancient Briton or African) or rectangular. My first ones were circular, made from two sizes of tubes, one of which held shuttlecocks. The roofs were made from ‘Cereal Packet cardboard’ bent into a shallow cone shape. Mine had a slightly unsightly overlap but I have now found it possible to avoid this. Instead of overlapping one buts the two edges together and reinforces the join with another concealed tab of cardboard underneath. Thick paint or a dab of polyfilla will conceal the join altogether. I painted the smoke hole in the roof but it could be cut out. Rectangular huts can be made with vertical wooden rods or strips. I often use sandpaper to represent thatched roofs, coarse brown does well for those supposedly thatched with heather. The next small developments from the hut as living accommodation were the hovel and the cot. The hovel was a tent shaped building with the roof reaching almost the ground and a sub ground level floor inside. I have never got round to making any. The cot was a hut with wattle and daub or stone walls. They still had a smoke hole in the roof.

Long Houses and Cottages  

Long houses had normally two rooms, one for the people and one for the livestock. They began to have the luxury of a chimney. Having a chimney at first marked the difference between a cottage and a cot. In Britain the term cottage now means a small two-storied house whilst in America it refers to single storied ‘bungalows’.

NEW  Polystyrene shapes and supplies

Scene 1 Countryside Samples

Scene 2 Dark Ages & Medieval Village buildings

Scene 3 Medieval Town scene

Scene 4 Medieval City Buildings

Scene 5 Temples and Eastern Buildings

Scene 6 Half Timbered Buildings & Palisade defences

Scene 7 Castles & Town fortifications

How do I make castles and stone town fortifications?

How do I make a basic small town house (100mm x 50mm x 75mm high)?

How do I make a batch of Wild West town houses?

How do I make a Cathedral?

How do I make Rumanian Cottages?

How do I make Victorian Cargo Ships (or tramp steamers)?

How do I make a Manor House for Role Play games?


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