Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A Gateway and Border Tower for Dux Britanniarum

The watchtower on its hill with the gateway in the background
Although I made these at the same time as the terrain for Saga: The Crescent & The Cross (see previous article) I've put them in a separate blog post for easier reference. These buildings can of course be used as scenery for Saga: Dark Ages games but they were specifically conceived for two Dux Britanniarum scenarios - "Raiding a Wagon Train" (p.73) and "Raiding a Border Tower" (p.72).

City Gate

A wagon train approaches the gateway
This terrain item is for use in the scenario represents a Saxon raid on a wagon train which is attempting to get to safety within a nearby fortification. The scenario item required for this represents the gate of the fortification, and is a small terrain piece that sits across one table corner.

The fortification gate was designed to represent a simple wooden wall with rampart behind and earth bank in front. Its centre would be a large double door and for aesthetic appeal this would be set between two pillars looking like they were made of stone blocks.

I started by cutting a base from 3mm MDF about 1ft long and shaped so as to fit neatly across a table corner. I used kebab sticks to make the wooden wall at cut these to length, with some shorter ones going across the top of the gateway and a few more smaller ones each side of the front of the entrance, effectively put there to hold the earth bank in place. Each stick was roughly sharpened at the top with a modelling knife. I used two offcuts of wood, about 1cm square in cross section for the stone pillars and glued these in place, then glued the cut kebab sticks and set the whole aside to dry. Later, I attached  another wood offcut to the rear of the wall to form the foundation for the rampart so a few figures could be placed here to defend the fortification.

When this was thoroughly dried I used a lot of filler (mix of PVA, water, Polyfilla and builder's sand to create the earth bank and fill in the gap beneath the rampart. In hindsight paper mache or polystyrene to build this up first might have made more sense and would certainly have made the finished piece lighter!

The door was made in the same way as doors for the Saga terrain, by sticking strips of cardboard onto a piece of card and cutting to size when done. I made four doors in this way, two for each side of the gateway.

I used Milliput to texture the pillars and imprinted this with the shapes of stone blocks using the tip of a small screwdriver.

Finally I textured the top of the rampart with PVA and chinchilla dust, and the base itself as normal for my 28mm figures, using filler/PVA/sand mix and topping with a sprinkling of chinchilla dust.

When completely dry, I painted wood using a dark brown and stone in medium grey, and the top of the rampart a light sand. The earth bank and base were painted as normal for my figure bases, using Crown Cappuccino highlighted with a dry brush of Crown Brown Sugar. Finally, the whole finished piece was very lightly dry brushed with Crown Biscuit.

Once painting was completed I used some flock in patches on the earth bank to finish.

Border Tower

The watchtower, used without the hill
I intended my watchtower to match with the pre-painted resin buildings that I already have so designed it as a timber-framed building set on a raised stone foundation. Some brief research suggested that dark age watchtowers would be reasonably tall buildings preferentially located on higher ground, with a main entrance door raised above ground level for easier defence. The door would be normally reached by a ladder or wooden scaffold which could be easily removed or destroyed by the defenders if they wanted to make it more difficult for anyone attacking them. The roof could be thatched or just have a simple flat roof edged with a wooden rampart. For ease of modelling I made my watchtower with this second option with the intent that this could be removed to put figures in the building.

To give the option of the tower being sited on higher ground, I made a separate hill piece that the watchtower could be used with if desired.

 I cut a rectangular base from 3mm MDF for the watchtower, allowing some space on this for the scaffold that would reach the door. I cut a second piece about the same size as this for the top of the hill (see below) and a larger base for the hill itself, as well as a square piece of MDF to use as the base of the building's roof (cut very precisely to size - see below).

I first made the hill on which the watchtower could stand. I took the MDF piece that would be the hill top and glued this on a couple of blocks of polystyrene in the centre of the larger hill base. When this had dried, I built the basic shape of the hill around this using paper mache. Once I was happy with this I textured the hill with PVA/filler/sand mix, ensuring the top of the hill was reasonably smooth, with a few large stones set around the hill for aesthetic appeal. I tried to made a sort of obvious path up the hill to where the watchtower entrance would be. Once constructed, I painted the hill in Crown Cappuccino highlighted with Crown Brown Sugar. This was finished with some patchy areas of flock.

The main body of the watchtower was made from the box that came with a nice bottle of whisky. These are typically made of very good quality card that does not warp when wet (like beermats) and so are very good for modelling. They're also not corrugated inside so don't require filling around exposed edges. I cut this to the desired height and glued it to the watchtower's base.

I used an offcut from the whisky box to made an inset floor to use in the watchtower's upper room (I assume the watchtower only essentially has this one room and that this is reached via internal ladder within the tower). I textured this floor with paper strips to represent floorboards and a trapdoor made from strips of card, and glued it in place.

I used wooden stirring sticks (readily freely available from many coffee shops) to make the timber frame of the building. For rustic effect the sticks were each split lengthwise and I selected the most appropriate ones to put in place. I stuck these in position roughly in the same pattern as my pre-painted resin buildings. I made four windows for each side of the watchtower using cut matchsticks and small slivers of MDF, and stuck these in place. They would probably have been just as effective if made from card, to be honest.

I used filler (an air-drying modelling clay on this occasion, in fact) for the stone foundation of the building. I won't be using this material again as it shrinks significantly on drying and required repair works (though I kept a couple of the cracks that formed as they look plausibly authentic. Would have been a lot better using a thick PVA/filler mix instead, or possibly Milliput. I textured the edge of the clay when almost dry by gently tapping with the handle of a small screwdriver. The overall effect is more "Hammerite" than stone block, but is reasonably effective and this looks fine from a distance.

I made a door from card strips stuck to card, cut to shape and glued in place, and constructed a rough wooden scaffold to allow access to the door from a variety of wood offcuts from matches and coffee stirrers. After some fiddly and frustrating gluing and a reasonable amount of swearing I ended up (at last) with something that was the roughly right shape and size and looked good enough when glued in position.

I textured the walls of the building between the timber framing with a very rough plastering of PVA/filler and the base itself with PVA/filler/sand mix.

The rampart for the roof was made from cut matchsticks glued together to make an even arrangement along each edge. The MDF base for this roof fits inside the rampart edge (hence making a lip that sits neatly in place on top of the building) so must be quite precisely cut to size. The best way to do this is to build the rampart sides first, then cut the base, then glue it all together. But it's no more complicated than that and is very satisfying when constructed and sat in place. I added a trapdoor made from cardboard to its floor for added aesthetic appeal.

I painted the watchtower as follows: Vallejo Ice Yellow for building walls, quite heavily darkened with a thin black wash (after trial and error this was a reasonable match to the walls of my pre-painted buildings); a dark wood colour for the building timber and rampart, window frames, scaffold and inner building walls and floor; black for the insides of windows; mediium grey for stone foundation. All of this was then thoroughly but lightly dry-brushed with Crown Biscuit to soften colour tones and highlight edge details. The base, as usual, was painted Crown Cappuccino dry-brushed with Crown Brown Sugar.

The watchtower on its hill

Terrain for Saga: The Crescent & The Cross

Having painted two armies for Saga: The Crescent & The Cross after a couple of games it became clear that I was going to need some new terrain as green felt and western European house models don't work very convincingly with sand coloured bases and a Levantine setting. I decided that some buildings, and areas to represent woods, rocky ground, brush and marsh would be enough for my needs so set about making them.

Terrain put to good use
The base cloth that I use for Saga: The Crescent & The Cross is a sheet of light beige felt bought from a local haberdashers. It is a remarkably close colour match to the base colours I have chosen for my figures (and hence terrain) and works very well. It was also very cheap, which is never a bad thing!


There are a variety of manufacturers out there that make very nice 28mm buildings and I have previously bought some for Saga: Dark Ages rather than make them myself. This obviously saves time, and the buildings look good, but I found I have a minor problem. The rules on terrain sizes given in Saga: The Crescent & The Cross (p.107) define buildings as either "buildings" of size S to M (which for clarity I will call "small buildings"), or "large buildings" of size M to L. This unfortunately means that of the seven buildings I own, none are large enough to be large  and four are too small to even be small. More annoyingly, two of them are longer along one edge than the small building maximum size but too short along the other for the minimum. Which is a shame as they all look very realistic and reasonably sized for the game. Now I do appreciate that these rules are there to stop silly rules abuse and that in most games nobody will mind (or care) but a bit more flexibility would have been helpful. However, we are where we are and in the light of the wording of this rule I want to get any new buildings I make compliant with the rules as I understand them.

Thankfully, desert buildings are a lot easier to scratch-build than ones with timber frames and thatched roofs. Also, I've previously made a dozen or so smaller buildings for a 15mm  desert village as well, which made things easier.

To comply with pretty much any sensible interpretation of the rules, I ensured that my large buildings (I appreciate that only one is permitted; I made two in the end because I thought one of them wasn't going to work half way through the process - in the end it was fine) were at least M along each side and not more than L in any direction. In my mind that means not more than L when measured across diagonally. Not that it was necessarily the intention of the rules writer, but this interpretation means that there isn't a lot of flexibility about large building size. Essentially they will end up being between somewhere roughly between 6" x 6" and 8.5" x 8.5" . Small buildings have even less room for variation - having to be between S and M across means they will end up fairly consistently around 4" x 4" square. I'm sure it wasn't the intention of the rules writers that all small buildings would be square, but there you are. Anyway, if you go down this route, you're pretty sure to be compliant even with the toughest rules lawyer. And when all is said and done I don't think it matters much anyway as in my opinion desert buildings look fine if they are square.

Two small buildings
Unlike my 15mm buildings, I did not give these buildings removable roofs partly for aesthetic reasons and partly because you can deploy figures on top of flat roofs so there is no gaming need (at least, if using them for Saga). The buildings were constructed from 3mm foamboard stuck together with PVA glue. I cut recesses for doors which were made of cardboard strips stuck to card cut to shape, and stuck cardboard windows in place on the sides. External staircases on the large buildings were also made from foamboard. Once assembled, the buildings were covered with PVA glue and liberally sprinked with chinchilla dust to texture.

Large building #1
Buildings were painted with Crown Brown Sugar, dry brushed with Crown Biscuit (identically to my figure bases). Window opening were painted black and all woodwork in a dark brown. Details were selectively lightly washed with Windsor & Newton Peat Brown ink and then lightly dry-brushed with Crown Biscuit to provide final highlighting.

Large building #2
Area Terrain

I cut out a selection of generic bases from 3mm MDF to make terrain bases for area terrain in a variety of sizes. These would then be used  with smaller indicative bases representing different terrain types, which would be placed on top.

I made two large sized bases, roughly round between M and L across (for wood, brush, or rocky ground); two small sized bases between S and M across (for brush, rocky ground, or marsh) and two which were just over S across but between M and L in length (for brush or rocky ground). This selection of sizes would cover pretty much every need.

Bases were textured with chinchilla dust and painted Crown Brown Sugar highlighted with Crown Biscuit.


If a wood can have palm trees, this is one
I rescued some old and very tired palm trees (originally from S&A Scenics), repaired their damage and repainted their bases as area terrain bases above.


I made some small bases from a couple of MDF offcuts and stuck some tufts cut from an old doormat to them. Base was textured and painted as for area terrain.

Rocky Ground

Rocky ground
Using a few more MDF offcuts I made bases and scattered small stones on them. Again these were textured and painted as for area terrain. This really is about as simple as it gets!


Marshy ground
I'm not entirely convinced open water in desert terrain is very accurate, but it's only representative. On a couple more bases made from MDF offcuts I stuck a small piece of plastic card (to get a flat area for open water) and surrounded this with a few tufts taken from an old doormat. I textured the base around this, raising it slightly with a small amount of filler before applying chinchilla dust. I painted the open water in a murky blue which I then darkened a bit with a black wash, and painted the ground as normal for area terrain. Finally I applied a few thick coats of gloss varnish to the water and finished this off with a little flock around the water's edge.

Crop Fields

Crop fields
Finally, I cut a few rough rectangles from the remains of the doormat to give some options for different shaped crop fields.

At the same time as doing these I also completed a couple of terrain items for Dux Britanniarum but I've put these in a separate blog post for ease of reference.