The idea of adding more vegetation to my desert world of Morkai seems, to some degree, a contradiction with the image of a desert. But anyone who has visited the American Southwest understands that not all arid ecosystems are totally desolate.
My vision is that there are are villages built around the occasional oasis. Struggling but still viable desert plants eke out an existence in areas where the surface is close to underground aquifers.
Thus you will find the occasional scraggly bush or tumbleweed.
There is also a practical side of this thought process for the gamer. While you can fight the occasional battle over a barren Sahara-type desert of sand, it can get a bit dull over time. What’s more, if you want to do any skirmish gaming, you must have cover . . . or your game quickly becomes nothing more than the rolling of dice as you shoot at one another in open terrain.
That’s what led to my latest desert terrain efforts.
On good old Terra (2nd Millennium), there were a number of varieties of “low” palm and date trees. I purchased a bag of similarly looking palm trees from a Chinese firm. The trees are two-and-a-half inches tall.
I cut a bunch of one-inch-in-diameter MDF bases, sloped down the edges with a rasp, and flocked the edges with sand (leaving a round center clear for the tree bases). I then painted the bases to match my existing terrain (a mix of gray, tan, and butternut).
After gluing down the bases, I realized they needed something “more.” So, I glued tall fiber grass (model railroad flocking) around the base of each tree. As with my tall palm trees, this edging “softens” the transition between the tree and desert. I’m not sure why it makes a difference, but I’m not an artist, and as long as it works, I don’t need to understand why.
These fruit trees will serve as nice scatter terrain for my skirmish games, and bit of cover for my fighters. For larger battles, I can organize the trees into rows to represent a crop field or orchard. Putting them in a walled enclosure would add to that impression.
Scrub Brush and Dead Trees
For the most part, most desert vegetation is always struggling to survive—and some doesn’t. So, I wanted a bit of dead or dying brush. One source was my local Michaels craft story, where I was able to purchase some grayish brown lichen.
Sprinkled about the table, it makes a very passable representation of dried brush or tumbleweed.
I also found forgotten on one of my shelves a box of Woodland Scenics’ “fine leaf” dead foliage. This is actually tiny branches of a bush, sprinkled with gray-brown foam turf. The foliage is a bit fragile for a game table (some branches aren’t much thicker than that of a sewing needle), but it is highly realistic for a man-sized bush or gnarly dead tree. (See above and below for what this dead foliage looks like.)
This was a ridiculously easy project. I used a few small resin bases, drilled a hole, and carefully glued the branches into each base. We’ll see how long they hold up, but if I store them carefully, and remind players NOT to rest a tank atop them, then perhaps they’ll last a few years. At least they look good.
Update: 8/5/19—It’s only been a month, and my dead foliage is already half dead. I took it to a convention to decorate a game table, and half the stalks broke off from gentle jostling and being bounced inside into its carrying box. While I still intend to keep this dead foliage (it’s the best looking), it is incredibly fragile and I’ll never take it traveling again. It’s purely a “kid’s glove” terrain piece..
As I’ve mentioned previously in past blogs, I’m working on a few pools of water for the center of my oasis. I’ve just bought my clear resin for the water, so the pools should be done soon. One oasis will feature clear water; another will represent polluted water.
I’ve a few old mesas, made of carved insulation foam, that I’m repainting to match my new desert tiles, and I’m getting close to finishing a three-tile wadi (20-inch-by20-inch terrain tiles) to add a bit of “low” terrain to my table.
I’ve also got a bunch of walls, buildings, and scatter terrain that’ll soon be hitting the table. I’ll share photos of these projects soon.—TheGM
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our gaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.