Unhallowed Ground

In a break from my normal tradition of posting at the weekend, this week’s post is a little early – due the fact that I shall be celebrating my birthday. Not quite a Halloween baby, but close enough…

Now, I have a feeling that this post will be rather lengthy, as not only will you be getting the start of my Halloween-themed terrain, but also an explanation as to what led to its conception, along with an insight into my thought process. So, put the kettle on and pull up a pew…

As my thoughts always turn to the macabre at this time of year, I’d already decided that I was going to finish off my supernatural protectors of the Liberty Force universe this month, as shown in my last couple of posts (Monsters Unleashed!,  All Hallow’s Evil and No Evil Shall Escape My Sight…).

However, as I thought that this would not take up the whole of October (and we all know how that panned out), I was trying to decide what else I could post, whilst continuing the theme. I then remembered I’d seen a downloadable ‘pumpkin patch’ gaming mat during one of my regular browses on the internet and decided to see whether it would be suitable.

Now, one of my main problems is that I do spend an inordinate amount of time browsing hobby stuff online, and whilst I subconsciously retain a lot of this information, I don’t always recall exactly where I saw certain things. So, it took me a good couple of hours to finally locate the product I was looking for, from my vague recollections.

AllPic Template

This is ‘The Pumpkin Field’, published by a company called Heroic Maps. This company initially started producing printable maps, marked out in inch squares, for use with the HeroQuest boardgame. The idea was that you could download and print out the maps they produced and then use this to expand your HeroQuest game, allowing your heroes to adventure in new and exciting locales.

Whilst this is still true of the products they sell, the package you get also now includes a full size JPEG image of the map concerned, both gridded and ungridded, that should you have access to a larger scale printer, you can print out full-size. There is a wide variety of terrain maps available, from Egyptian catacombs to pirate islands, and the quality of the artwork has improved significantly since their first dungeon geomorphs.

However, until the end of October they are having a Halloween sale, with several suitably themed maps being half-price, including an abandoned village, a vampire’s castle, two ghostly pirate ships (ideal for Rum ‘N’ Bones, perhaps?) and the aforementioned pumpkin field. As it was only $1.95 (or £1.62) in the sale, into my basket it went.

Now, this particular product comes both as a PDF file, allowing you to print a gridded version of the map on normal A4 or letterhead sized paper, which you then assemble, and  a file containing a full-size JPEG image of the whole map, both gridded and ungridded. As this is 20 x 20 ‘squares’, this is a 20″ square, so just under 2 feet square. What I liked about this particular map is that it comes in ‘Night’ and ‘Day’ versions, so you can have the choice of when your fearless group of adventurers venture into the pumpkin field.

So, having downloaded the file, this was transferred to a memory stick, as my intention was to take this to my friendly local professional printers and get it printed out. Having done a little bit of research, I knew that you could have your image printed not just onto a variety of papers, but also onto vinyl banner material, which seemed an ideal material for a gaming mat. So I phoned up the printers…

Having established with them that the size of the image (20″ square) would have to be printed on A1 sized material, that their printers could handle an image at 300 dpi resolution, and that it could be printed on vinyl banner material, I was told the price of this would be just over £20. Which, to be fair, given the material and finish, I didn’t think was too bad. However, being a frugal gamer, I went away to think about it…

I then decided I’d try my hand at printing the 8 pages that make up the map on my home printer, as this wouldn’t cost me anything. This led to the discovery that there’s a reason we have professional printing firms, as your standard home printer is sadly not up to printing the detailed image provided by Heroic Maps.

So, back to another printers I went, figuring that whilst a full-size image was £20 on vinyl banner material, it should surely be less than that on glossy poster paper…which just goes to show you how wrong you can be. The other printers would quite happily print my image, on A1 glossy paper, for…£20?!

Not knowing anything about large-scale printing, I’m assuming that you’re paying for the size of the image and the amount of ink it will use, rather than the material it’s printed on.

As both Mantic Games and Battle Systems both do 24″ square pre-printed gaming mats on mousepad material for between £15-£20 quid each, you can see that whilst neither of them may yet have a ‘Pumpkin Field’, I couldn’t really justify the expense.

So, having now got it into my head that I not only wanted a pumpkin patch, but I also needed one, my precious, what was I to do?

What I normally do, of course – make my own.

Carrion Crow’s Pumpkin Patch – Part One

So, as my available gaming areas are a 3′ x 2′ rectangular coffee table and a just under 4′ circular dining table, I needed something that would ideally suit both areas. As all gaming stuff MUST return to the cupboard after use, whatever I created must also be modular and easily stored. So, given the spaces concerned, 1′ square tiles would be ideal.

Now, Secret Weapon Miniatures do 12″ square injection molded plastic tiles, in several different types of terrain, but don’t sell them individually – you have to buy packs, the smallest being a 4 pack which will cost you $79.99. So, roughly $20 per tile. Still too expensive.

So, what are the cheaper alternatives? Well, Andy of Da Gobbo’s Grotto uses 2′ square artist’s canvasses for his Bushido terrain, which works very well, is relatively inexpensive and produces beautiful results. Follow the link and marvel at his dockside market board…

However, 2′ is a little large for me – I still wanted 12″ (1 foot) square modular gaming tiles. Depending on how thick you want your tiles, an inexpensive alternative is cake boards or ‘drums’, as they are known for some reason. A 12″ square cake ‘drum’ will set you back about £2.50 in Hobbycraft and £3.00 in Wilkinsons – one of those rare occasions when Hobbycraft is actually cheaper! They’re about half an inch thick, so an ideal ‘base’ for a gaming tile. However, I went even cheaper…

This is a 4 pack of self-adhesive 12″ square vinyl floor tiles from Poundland. I won’t insult your intelligence by stating how much they cost…

They come in a variety of patterns, including some nasty looking parquet flooring, but this doesn’t matter, but we’re not going to use the tops – we’re going to use the bottoms!

So, I’d decided that my ‘Pumpkin Patch’ was only going to be 12″ square – a focal point, rather than a whole playing area, so I only needed one tile. Placing this face down on my spotty wipe-clean vinyl tablecloth, I removed the backing paper. This left me with a pre-glued 12″ vinyl square, which I then proceeded to scatter a good couple of fistfuls of Builders Sand all over. Builders Sand has the advantage of not just being sand, but also little stones and pebbles, as it’s used for mixing cement, so we get a nice variegated  texture, like so…

This is very messy, so I would suggest you do it outside. As you can see from the picture above, it hasn’t given an equal covering to the whole tile and in some spots you can see the underlying grey tile through the sand. However, it has given the tile a nice texture, reminiscent of earthy ground, which was the intention. Besides, we’re going to paint it anyway.

I next took some Docrafts Chocolate Brown acrylic paint (available from The Range for £1.25 for 2oz, which is about 26ml – so twice as much paint for half the price of the GW equivalent) and squirted some into a plastic cup, I then added water until I got a thinned down paint and taking an old decorating paintbrush, painted the whole tile, so it ended up looking like this:

It now looks like a dry and dusty field. However, it was a little to light and a bit too even in colouring for me, so once this coat had dried, out came the Chocolate Brown again, which was mixed with some Docrafts Noir (yeah, I know…) and watered down even further, then liberally washed all over the tile.

This was a better colour, but still too even, so I rinsed out the brush and used it to take some of the excess paint off in random areas, until I had an area of randomly muddy ground, like so:

Now, you will probably note that there are a few lighter grey spots on the tile. This is where the small stones were knocked off during the painting stage, showing the grey of the tile beneath. I might paint over them, I might leave them – I haven’t decided yet. We shall see.

And to finish off this post, I thought I’d provide a close-up of the texture of the tile, with a suitably sized figure. This particular figure is 28mm scale, but is home-made (or should that be ‘home-baked’?).

Pretty convincing looking mud, in my opinion. There is a noticeable pattern, which I didn’t spot until I looked at the picture, but I think that’s due to the closeness of the view. From the distance at which it will be normally viewed, you probably won’t notice it, especially as they’ll be other stuff on it.

So, a 12″ square textured muddy tile (or vacant lot) which, if you take into account that I already had the sand and paint and I’ve only used one of the four tiles from the pack, has cost me 25p. Bargain!

That’s all for this week’s instalment of Carrion Crow’s Long Halloween. Join me next week, where we will hopefully see the ‘patch’ become more ‘pumpkin-y’…

Happy Halloween!

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12 thoughts on “Unhallowed Ground

    • Thanks Roger. Having a limited gaming budget does encourage inventiveness. Next week should see some greenery spring up, as you can’t have a pumpkin patch without pumpkins! And after that, cheap spooky trees…

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  1. This is fab Jez, I’ve been looking for those tiles all my gaming career! Well something like them anyway….

    Very inspirational mate and cheap as chips – lovely! I’ll be making my way to Poundland shortly as I have some ideas for ATZ tiles banging around in my head that needs addressing and as ATZ boards are made up of 9 1’x1′ sections this could be ideal.

    Thanks for the shout out!
    Andy

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    • You and me both, Andy, which is why I thought it an ideal opportunity to make a start. As it stands, the tile would also make a good ‘vacant lot’ or with just a bit of flock, a blasted moor.
      However, the other three tiles will shortly be transformed into road tiles, complete with raised pavements. And I’ve worked out that the materials cost means that each tile will cost less than a quid each. Now that’s what I call a bargain!

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    • Thanks Michael. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all – or in my case, lack of funds.
      For my patch, a combination of aquarium plants, gardening wire and suitably shaped acrylic beads should provide enough plants, although it does potentially involve melted plastic, so it could go horribly wrong.
      As for the trees, this is another tried and tested simple build. And a lot cheaper than buying GW’s trees (although they are nice).

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  2. Frugal gaming at its best, Jez. A very inspired post. I’m also eager to see what you come up with for vegetation. Spooky trees are definite must have.

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    • Thanks Bryan. Gaming on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have good looking terrain, it just means you have more money to spend on the stuff you can’t make.
      And if the vegetation comes out as well as I’ve planned, it should look pretty cool. And the trees will be just as inexpensive.

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  3. What an utterly cracking post. Sorry I (and we… meaning the Gilbert household, and attachments ) have not been active lately, we really have been busy, and this last few days, putting together ideas for a nice bumper Halloween post for… erm… well, Halloween, oh gosh that’s tomorrow!!

    Love your thought process, and love your way of writing, and love the suspense you inject, only to reveal things towards the end of your post… tease. *chuckles* Love it. Frugal gaming at its best aright. You are really inspiring this household with your ideas lately.

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    • Thanks Steve. It did seem a little quiet from your end, but apparently it’s my fault, so I can’t really complain. As for my posts, I’m glad they entertain and inspire. That’s part of the reason I do this!

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  4. Pingback: Pumpkin Patch Panic! | Carrion Crow's Buffet

  5. Pingback: The Most Sincere Pumpkin Patch… | Carrion Crow's Buffet

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