Tutorial: Swamps and Craters

Swamps, Craters, and the Illusion of Depth
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Hot glue and toilet tubes to the rescue!
Hot glue and toilet tubes to the rescue!
gain we begin with our basic CD, but this time we'll make the inside of the terrain appear deeper and use some slightly different methods to build it all.

Craters are distinguished by deep, circular impressions, with lots of strewn debris and rocks scattered all around them. To replicate this, we'll need to make our interior ridges more obvious than what a thick line of caulk can achieve. We'll use another common item from the household: cardboard toilet tubes.

A single tube can provide all the crater rims we'll need. In the sample photo, I've left one at normal size but clipped the other rings so that I could contract one and expand the other. Whatever pattern of cratering you want, it's pretty easy to snip and tape the cardboard rings into place.

And Now the Craters

Planning out the swamp.
For the smaller ridges, you can apply the hot glue in layers directly onto the CD.
After deciding on placement, a glue gun is used to affix the rings in place on the CD. If you don't have a glue gun, go out and buy one at Micheals or WalMart now -- it's far, far too handy not to have one of these if you're going to be doing a lot of modeling. Not only do I use mine for terrain projects, but it's indispensable for mounting miniatures to wooden blocks or empty paint pots for painting.

In addition to mounting the rings in place, we can also use the glue gun to do some preliminary bulking up of the crater. As with the swamp, focus on bulking up the exterior ridges into slopes while leaving the interiors as vertical as possible. This is especially important for craters to maintain that illusion of depth.

For a bit of variety, I also added some smaller rings on the outside slopes as the results of secondary explosions and assorted depressions. A glue gun creates a nice smooth line, so it'll take several passes to keep the ridges from looking artificial or odd. This is the same reason I chose to use caulk for the swamp, though with a bit of extra work, there's no reason a terrain builder couldn't make the swamp with a glue gun as well.

Creating the illusion of depth.
A combination of cork bits and broken rocks is used to build up the edges on these craters.
Now the crazy fun part! Use the glue gun to mount randomly sized rocks and broken bits of cork all over the terrain. Primarily focus on building up the exterior ridges and don't worry if bits overhang the craters. When gaps appear that a rock or cork bit won't fill properly, don't be scared to fill them with a blob of hot glue instead. If the cardboard ridges are standing out too tall from the rock mass you're building up, just snip them down to a more appropriate size and shape with scissors.

A great thing about craters is that, due to their very nature, they tend to fit in with just about any sort of themed gaming table. For most tables, a few blackened holes with grey rocks scattered everywhere will look just fine. If you've got a less generic tabletop theme -- say, for example, a desert or snowy environment -- you'll want to keep this in mind so that you can match the edges of the crater terrain to the table. The craters in this example are being made to match the bases of my tyranid army (and eventually, I may convert this into the base of a hive tyrant or other tyranid monstrousity).

Feel free to add interesting tidbits that you want to appear half-buried. A rusted vehicle chassis, shattered reinforced walls, battered armour plates, skulls, or bodies are all exciting and fun things to add to the craters, and you should really only be limited by your imagination and terrain preferences.

Creating the illusion of depth.
Making sure that much of the underlying rock and cork layers peek through, we cover the craters with white glue and sand.
After you've built up a good base of rubble, it's time to add the sand. To further secure the crater slopes, mix two-parts white glue with one-part sand into a gloppy cement and apply it in any remaining gaps. The purpose of this is to make the bottom of each crater convex. You can see where I've done this in the photos, on the inside of each crater. It may not be totally necessary to do this, depending on how completely you built up the walls and slopes of your own craters, but I find it doesn't hurt since the white glue-sand mixture makes for a much sturdier set of craters.

In addition to cementing the bottom of the craters themselves, cover all the appropriate areas with white glue and add sand just as you would with any base (some miniature painters and terrain makers prefer to water the white glue down first. I think the bond is much stronger using straight white glue).

Once everything is dry, prime the piece with black. Why black and not white? For miniatures I almost always use white primer for brighter shades. Brighter shades are less important for terrain since it's a backdrop for the miniatures and is often painted in dark shades anyway (browns, dark greys, blacks, deep blues, etc). Plus giving a large piece of terrain extra coats of your base colour just to get everything covered is not fun! Black in the recesses of a terrain piece is a also lot more forgiving than seeing tiny specks of white.

The crater was then painted like the stone in my rocky terrain tutorial, and after a couple of layers of Dullcote spray, it was ready to hit the gaming table!

Cutting the template out.
The final set of craters: an Imperial Guardsman's home away from home!
Hopefully I've demonstrated in this tutorial that two completely different types of terrain can be created using very similar techinques. If you don't believe me, try making a swamp using the crater methods and compare it to the finished crater terrain! The differences are primarily one of colour and what dressings you add, but both can be quite convincing on the tabletop.


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