Monday, January 23, 2012

Blasted Planet - Volcano Terrain


I have this cool GW Battle Mat with a green side and a black side. The green side is obviously the side that is intended to be used while gaming. But, after admiring the green side for a bit I decided to flip it over.

“What a really cool Blasted Planet-looking surface!” I thought. It brought to mind gouts of black ash falling from a swirling orange sky, poisonous vapors choking all but the hardiest of life, and ground rolling a buckling beneath the feet of the opposing armies.

I then decided that the planet needed some outlandish terrain… something like one might see on an old Star Trek episode. Leaning spires of long-solidified magma, volcanoes spitting out those aforementioned choking vapors, crazy other worldly plant life…. the usual sci-fi stuff.

It also needed some fun “Blasted Planet” rules. So I came up with some simple rules that hopefully would add some twists to the game while being quick and not too annoying. I have yet to play them as of publish date, so if you use them, please let me know what you think.

The Terrain

The main feature of this table is a large volcano. The construction of which, I’ll cover in this first post.

The second post will cover the electronics, the dry ice smoke, and the rules. There are other bits of terrain for this table set-up, but knowing how to make this piece pretty much allows you to make most of the other pieces.

To make this volcano you’ll need:
  • Safety glasses and old clothes
  • Rubber gloves
  • Gap-filler, “Large Gap” type, if possible
  • A rigid base
  • A sheet of cardboard cut to fit the rigid base
  • Plastic packing tape
  • Cardboard tube, 3” diameter by 8” long (or whatever dimensions you want)
  • A workspace where you can make serious messes
I wanted some melted and sagging terrain features which led me to the use of canned construction foam (aka gap-filler). This stuff is awesome but extremely messy. It has a tendency to spit and it sticks to nearly everything. If you have the choice, pick up the cans for “large gaps.” This stuff seems to expand more as it cures and gives a nice flowing magma look. The small gap stuff will work, but it is harder to get the necessary look.

Gap Filler

Also, when you go pick up the foam, make sure the applicator straw is still attached. If it’s messy with the 6” applicator attached, imagine how messy it is without it!

Wear old clothes, safety glasses, gloves, and put a tarp over any important stuff while you’re using it. It’s best to just use it outside and away from anything of value because if this gets on the walls of your home, it’s not coming off without some sanding and repainting.

Because this stuff is sooooo sticky, it takes some front-end prep. As it cures, it tends to warp whatever it is curing to. So you’ll need a rigid base or substrate. Here I masking-taped a cardboard sheet to a piece of rigid plastic sign board. You want something stiff but disposable, hence the cardboard on top of the plastic. I want to keep the plastic, it’s my cutting board, and because I’ll be removing the cardboard from the volcano anyway, might as well go as cheap as possible.

Cardboard Sub

As I’ve said, this stuff is sticky. Once it cures, it’s really hard to get off whatever it is stuck to. With the first volcano I made I sprayed the foam directly onto the cardboard. This was fast and easy until I tried to peel the damned thing off. I literally had to remove the top layer of the corrugated cardboard to free the piece. Then I noticed it cured warped around the bottom. So, I scrapped it.

I solved this sticky problem by placing two layers of packing tape on top of the cardboard. The first layer gives the second layer something that it can be peeled away from, just like if it was being pulled off the roll. The first layer was put down long-wise and the second short-wise.  In the photo below the second layer is only half done.

Tape Applied

You don’t have to double-layer the tape, the foam doesn’t stick to it like it would a wall, cardboard, or your clothes but pulling a cured volcano from a rigid substrate in one piece will be a chore.

Use longer pieces than necessary and fold the excess ends over onto themselves rather than sticking them to anything. This gives you a tab to pull when everything is cured.

Next, the volcano needs a central shaft to simulate a magma vent. I taped an 8” long piece of 3” diameter cardboard poster tube in an upright position in the center of the substrate.

Vent On Sub

Make sure to close off the upper opening or the gap filler will just flow down into it. You don’t have to hermetically seal it, just put a couple of bits of packing tape over it to close it off.

Vent Sealed

Now that the superstructure is done, it’s time to start in with the foam. It’s best to make a ring around the base of the tube to give the upper portions something to rest on. If you don’t do this, when you spray on the foam around the top it will just keep sagging down onto the substrate and begin flowing outward. The first one of these I made ended up as an 18” diameter, 8” thick plastic cookie.

Foam 1

Remember, this stuff expands (I think by as much as 20%) so make it a bit smaller than you think it should be. Work from the bottom up and take it slow. If you have a spot that just won’t fill in, like on the side of the tube, it may help to let what you have already applied cure some before you fill in these tough gaps.

Foam 2

Also, you can sort of push the foam into place with a gloved hand, but direct contact seems to mess up the chemistry so avoid this, if possible. It looks like the bubbles pop and leave you with a very thick coating.

Foam 3

You can avoid the look of long curly feces by placing the nozzle of the applicator right up against where you want the foam to be. This gives you pillows instead of poop.

Once the coverage is completed how you like, wait an hour then push down on the top of the volcano.

This will create a nice little crater. At this point, the outside of the foam has cured somewhat and become leathery but the inside is still completely uncured so you shouldn’t have to fight much to make the crater.


Now wait another 12 hours before you handle the thing again. The inside will be wet and sticky for a loooong time, so be careful!

I waited 16 hours for mine to cure. It peeled off the tape just as expected and the inside was still goopy, which was also expected. The tape that held the tube in place tended to collect the foam in its cracks and crevices. That bit was the hardest to pull up from the substrate.


Next I ran a tongue depressor around the goopyness inside to pop the large bubbles and make some room in the base of the volcano. That extra space is for the electronics which I’ll cover in post #2. Let that dry for another 4 hours or more and then cut out the tape that held the tube in place.


Now that we have the overall shape, the inside is hollow, and the tape at the bottom of the shaft is removed it’s time to cut out the top of the magma shaft. I cut mine with an Xacto segmented knife.  One of those box cutter-like knives that you can break off the old sections to expose a new blade.  I fully extended mine so I had about 3” of thin razor sharp blade and just stabbed and sawed away until the hole was cut.

Hole Punched

As you can see, it is currently a volcano with a cardboard center. I textured the inside of the tube with what I like to call my “terrain slurry.” Basically, what my terrain slurry consists of is textured wall covering and Styrofoam chunks.  This step is also very messy and requires:
  • An old paintbrush, I think mine is 1.5” wide
  • A paper cup
  • A stirring implement (tongue depressor)
  • More gloves
  • The textured wall covering (Sur-Stik Permanent Patch 102)
  • Acrylic paint to mix in, if possible
  • Styrofoam bits
  • A workspace where you can make messes
The Sur-Stik stuff is ideal.  I’ve tried other brands and they actually put sand in the paint, which is really hard to get out of brushes.  Sur-Stik seems to put in little hunks of dried paint or some sort of soft rubber.  Makes for bigger chunks that are easier to handle than sand.

What I do is drop 2-5 tablespoons of textured wall covering into the cup and then mix in the Styrofoam, usually by hand (gloved, of course).  I also added the paint but that didn’t work out so well.  Adding the paint at this point is really easy if you are dealing with shades of grey.  Dealing with actual colors can be troublesome.

Slurry Cup

Terrain slurry can also be used for cityscapes and the tops of hills (textured wall covering and green acrylic paint only). Later I made a green slurry for some vegetation on the sides of the volcano.
Hill Top

Debris Building

Once you get a textured and colored base coat on your terrain it’s very quick and easy to dry brush on the other colors. It can take quite a bit of acrylic paint to get the color you want because the textured wall covering is pretty much chunky white paint.

From here you just paint the stuff on with the brush or smooth it on with your gloved hands. You don’t have to coat the entire inside of the tube because you need to leave room for the dry ice smoker. There is no need to be neat about it at this point because the outside still needs a coat of black spray paint.

Terrain Slurry In Tube

I tried to make the slurry the deep red I had in my mind’s eye but the acrylics wouldn’t behave so I was stuck with sort of a pinkish orange.  Which actually isn’t so bad because it reflects more of the light than a deep red would.

Post Black Paint

When spraying the outside with black paint don’t spray into the shaft, just spray across it or you will paint over all that lovely orange slurry you just applied. A little overspray around the mouth of the volcano is not a catastrophe, though.

I ended up dry brushing on some yellow and red to give the tube interior a hotter look.
After that, I dry brushed some of the upper surfaces of the volcano with a dark grey. This gave those areas an ashy look.

Green Terrain Slurry

Next, I made up a green slurry (only textured wall covering and green paint) and brushed that onto some of the upper surfaces, as well. Once the green slurry dries, dry brush it with the other vegetation colors you’ll be using.  In my case that was some acrylic burnt umber and some Vallejo olive green. 
I had some extra fish tank plants, so I stuck them on, too.

It came out pretty good. In the next post I’ll show you how to make a pulsating orange-red glow with hacked LED tea lights and a simple vessel for a dry ice vapor spout. And the extra rules, of course!

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