Terrain: Basing Palm Trees

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My new palm trees should soften the harsh terrain of Morkai just a tad.

About a year ago, I ordered a bag of eight-inch-tall palm trees from China. They arrived quickly, and they were of excellent quality. All they needed was a good base.

That’s what stymied me. If you look back on my initial efforts to build desert terrain, I was stumped by the color scheme for my desert sand. It was only once I’d committed to a mix of light gray, tan, and a muted butternut color—layered with drybrushing and washes of burnt sienna and black—that I was ready to turn to basing.

It wasn’t a major project, but it took a number of days, as each step required a 24-hour wait for glue or paint to dry.

I began with some resin bases from Battlefield Terrain Concepts. For individual trees, I had some circular bases about two inches in diameter. For clumps of trees, I had larger, oval bases of about four inches by six inches.

One tiny problem arose. On the bottom of each tree trunk was a half-inch-long plug, designed to be inserted into a base for additional stability. That wasn’t the problem. It was easy to drill some appropriately sized holes in each base, dab some glue on each plug, and push the plug into the newly drilled hole.

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The addition of tall grass around the base of each tree hides any gaps between the tree trunk and the sloped resin base—and also softens the abrupt transition between tree and desert sand.

The issue was that the resin bases were slightly rounded on top, with a half-inch-tall center sloping downward to the edge. (Makes sense, you want the edge of the base to somewhat blend in with whatever surface it rests upon.)

But that rounded surface didn’t mesh well with the flat bottom of the tree trunk. There was a bit of a gap where the base surface fell away from the trunk.

I considered using a flexible compound, such as Green Stuff, Apoxy Sculpt, or clay to fill in the gap. But that was more work than I wanted to do. So I came up with another solution.

First, though, I  decided to paint the base, using the mix of colors indicated above. After an initial layer of light gray, I used drybrushing and washes to create a subtle, nuanced appearance of sand that matched my basic terrain tiles.

With that done, I finally addressed those darned gaps at the base of the trees. I simply circled the offending gaps with Elmer’s Glue (PVA glue) and cut one-quarter-inch lengths of “tall grass” (green plastic fibers used for model railroad scenery) and stuck the grass into the glue.

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Palm trees add both color and vertical interest to a desert battlefield.

While real palm trees sometimes have vegetation at the base of their trunks, it’s not something that happens everywhere. So, I’m taking some artistic license by doing my trees this way. But, aesthetically, it works.  I thought the palm trees rising out of the desert base, without any surrounding vegetation, looked stark and plain. The grass actually “softens” the transition from tree to desert, and I think that’ll just seem “right” to players.

I added a little more vegetation—a few scraggly and dried out tufts of bush and grass here and there. Again, the goal was to soften the desert beneath the trees. I mean, if there’s enough water for trees, some grass would grow here and there.

My next project is a few small pools of water, just to complete the oasis effect.

I think adding this vegetation to my terrain is important. While it certainly would be realistic to have a barren, lifeless tabletop for a desert battle, I think it also would be boring. I think a small copse of palm trees will soften my desert, and in a town setting (for my skirmish gaming), a few trees here and there will greatly add a bit of character to the setting.—TheGM

The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our wargaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.

Categories: Terrain

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