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Digging in

Not the largest update in the world, but I wanted to give you guys a better idea of what I’ll be working on for scenery projects. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am definitely getting pumped about making some 40k scenery, especially trenches and bunkers right now. For some reason it’s really resonating with me right now.

10 Salamanders Tactical Marines plus Librarian getting acquainted with their new bunker.

Anyway, on to the designs! I’ve made up some early pieces, just to try out a few different styles of trench construction. I think in the end I will be making about 10 pieces: a mix of some dugouts / gun pits with room for a decent squad of troops, some straights and elbows, and also some less fortified sections which are more like a barricade than a true trench. These will be smaller and offer protection from only one side. If my 40k knowledge is still up to date, it is also slightly less suicidal to defend these kinds of obstacles if the enemy is packing lots of flamers. A final advantage to these one-sided sections: they can be built thinner than the full trenches, so it’s easier to stick them on top of a hill for added versatility. Hills in 40k are great for assisting true LOS, but the extra exposure is often a major downside. Having some cover up on the high ground will be nice.

Various styles of trenches.

Some additional work was done on this group of prototypes since the photo was taken (sandbags added to the dips in the foam, etc.), but it definitely shows the variety.

Tips and Tricks

So how exactly do I go from simply feeling inspired to having some nice designs ready for the battlefield? It all starts with preparation. That means having the right tools, the right materials to work with, and the right inspiration to get the ideas flowing.

I usually start with the inspiration. Lately I have been taking a TON of scenery ideas from video games, such as the Call of Duty series. Barricades, trenches, bunkers, they’re all there just waiting to be copied. After playing a few matches to refresh my memory, paying extra attention to some of the nuances like texture work and materials, I start sketching. Nothing too advanced usually, but I like to get an idea of what I’m working on before I start picking up the tools and going for it.

Closeup of dugout, showing materials.

There are a few design principles to keep in mind when building these things. First, you need a variety in textures to make it look interesting and realistic. Just dirt and grass won’t make realistic trenches. Check out your source material, and you see a lot of metal and wood supports, not to mention the details like discarded weapons, spent shell casings, maybe even some razor wire. As you can see, I used some corrugated iron style plasticard, popsicle sticks to make some stable footing, and sandbags to build up the edges and offer some extra colors once they’re all painted. Once the bases are all fully textured with sand and mud mixtures (probably a mix of plaster and rocks/sand) I will be adding some spent shell casings, which I make by cutting up some ~1mm plastic rod and spreading around in a few groupings. I’ve done it on armies like my Raven Guard, and it’s a cool effect. Just paint brass/gold and you’re good to go.

Another important thing to keep in mind is the scale. If you build trenches so high that nobody can see out of them, they’re pretty useless. It’s also not very good if they are so narrow or small that you can’t fit a realistic squad in there. I kept a handful of 40k minis on hand when building these to ensure that they would be able to make good use of the scenery once finished. The dugout section shown here fits 6 Terminator-sized models or 15 regular infantry. The elbow section fits about 5 and 12, and the straight section is a little harder to give a good number for. It has no back edge, so you can line up a ton of models several “ranks” deep and they would all get the cover bonus. The bare section is going to have some barrels and ammo crates etc., in case you were wondering why it’s left empty right now. So the piece will be able to give cover to even more models. The entire strip will be about 12″ wide.

Scale comparison.

When you get down to table level, the trenches come up to about the waist on Terminators, with the sandbags at about chest height. Perfect 😀

A final point I’m going to make in this brief article is how to keep the shapes “organic” or natural. When building terrain, lots of people make the mistake of making tons of 90 degree cuts and making things way too flat, even and regular. This is quick and easy, but it’s not realistic. You can’t see it as much in the photos of the dugout, but on my trenches I cut the foam to be a bit rolling and uneven. This leaves some small gaps that you can build back up with sandbags. The photo at the top of the article shows off these lines best. On the elbow section, for example, there is a good sized gap for sandbags in the front, another decent spot in the corner, and a small spot for one or two sandbags on the piece that angles back at a slightly obtuse angle, maybe about 105 degrees.

Well, there you have it. A quick introduction to trenchworks. Once I build some more of these and get them sanded and finished, I’ll be sure to post a gallery. I’m also planning to build some more elaborate trenches, ie. larger sections with multiple levels etc. Sucker Punch, which came out this week, has a scene with very interesting WWI steampunk German trenches. These are very deep trenches, I’m talking like 8 feet sides with lots of wood planks supporting them and sandbags around the tops. I might do a few sections that are deep enough for models to completely hide if they want, or they can step up on a raised firing step when they are ready to fight back. That should add an interesting level of tactical flexibility to the trenches. Staying on an objective but out of LOS until some of the enemy guns have been silenced will be a good idea.

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