• Mike at SBS

Making Small-Scale (3-6mm) Water Hazards

Last month I talked about making small-scale trees for my riverine battlefield table. This month, I've added some hazards that I can add to the waterscape. When I first got into naval warfare, I had an assumption that waterscapes were largely featureless, at least in terms of wargaming. But the more I study ACW naval battles the more I found that to be untrue. Not only did the characteristics of the water impact the battle, but so too did the underlying terrain, such as rocks, snags, and current or tides. There is actually a lot of terrain to include.

Most of the time, the presence of terrain in water means danger for vessels, be it rocks, shoals, sandbars, etc. So in Dawn of Iron, these add a new dimension to your decision processes and something to consider other than your opponent. The rules identify some of the major obstacles and characterizes them as navigation hazards. While these pose significant challenges on riverine battlefields, some of these are also present on the coastal waters. Tides operate a lot like currents, but they also drain or flood the map so operating around land can be tricky. There's also the ever present danger of rocks and shoals that can tear holes into the hulls of unsuspecting vessels in both environments. So several of these terrain pieces are transferable between them.

With that in mind, I identified a few critical pieces I definitely wanted to have. For starters, these included sandbars, shoals/current markers, snags (logs), and rocks. I'd like to include ship wrecks and other man-made things like lighthouses, but that's the next trench of work to get into. So let's get started and take a look at how I made this batch of navigation hazards!

Making Sandbars

I thought that I would start with the sandbars as they were a little different from the others. In many ways these were the most straight forward of the lot. Indeed these were actually repurposed from a North Africa desert terrain project that I intended to do a while back.

Above: I used 3mm MDF and cut them into small island-shaped bits. I sanded the tops so that they would take the vinyl plaster I put over the top.

Above: I added a layer of vinyl plaster to add some height and underlying definition and then covered it with some really fine sand. I sealed in the sand with a few layers of watered-down PVA to hold it into place. Finally I beveled the edges using a dremmel tool to remove the straight edges and blend it into the flat surface of the table.

Above: I used a simple Khaki-colored craft paint as the base and mixed in some white to dry-brush a few layers. I then went around the edges with a Khaki/black mix of about 50/50 to replicate the wet sand around the edges. Job done!

You could add some vegetation, rocks, or general detritus to the top if you like to spice it up a bit, but I left mine plain.


Next I'll dig into the semi-submerged obstacles. For these I wanted to use clear bases instead of painted bases so that I could transfer them from brownwater tables to blue water tables. I also have various colors of river brown fabric, so I wanted to make sure that they transferred across the different tables. You could paint the bases just as well, but I didn't want to fool around with trying to get my paint color palettes to match the fabric pattern. So clear bases it is!

Supplies List:

  • Clear Plastic

  • Cork or Small Stones (ie kitty litter)

  • Twigs & Lichen

  • A Few Squares of Toilet Paper

  • Super Glue

  • PVA Glue

  • Water

  • An Old Detail Paint Brush

  • Citadel Apothecary White Contrast Paint (Optional)

Above: For this task I needed some clear plastic. I used chunks of plastic from blister packs of various products ranging from miniatures to kitchen supplies. I have a pile of this stuff that I rescue whenever a flat piece of plastic is put in the recycling bin.

Above: I cut the plastic into peanut-shaped bases of various sizes, which I'll trim down later as needed. Other raw materials I used was cork pieces for rocks and toilet paper for the water effects. I chose cork for a few reasons. First, its light and I believe will hold fast better to the plastic than small rocks which might chip away. Second, I love working with cork as you can mold it to suit the natural-looking shape you want. Finally, it has a flat surface that you can use to help it sit better on the base.

Making Rocks

Above: There's not a lot to say about this process. As I said above, I chose cork for several reasons, but the most important is it's flat surface. Using this, its a simple matter of applying some superglue and then pushing it onto the base. You'll have a split second or two to adjust the pieces.

Above: I tried to capture a bit of the story of erosion with these, so I used some alignment and gaps to show these rocks being beaten by the sea. Thinking about the geological story of the base will add some realism to it.

Making Shoals

I wanted shoals to do two things. First, they could be used enmasse with the sandbars to represent rapids. Second I could use one or two of them on the board to do nothing other than to mark out the direction of the current or tide. So these became quite an essential terrain piece.

Above: Shoals were basically identical to the rocks, only with tiny bits instead of big jagged ones.

Above: Like with the rocks I tried to make sure they made sense geologically. Since I intended to add a water wake/tail to each rock, I made sure to space them out and ensured that they didn't line up in such a way as to interfere with each other. Less was more with these pieces.

Making Snags

Snags were an ever-present danger on all coastal and riverine waters, and the most common of these were timber and drift wood. In muddy waters it was sometimes impossible to see if a log was firmly wedged into the riverbed or just hung up on a rock or something. Nevertheless they all posed a real danger of holing a ship's hull and quickly sinking the vessel with the current pushing water inside at a fast pace.

Above: For my snags I simply used just timber pieces, but you could use all sorts of things like a solitary rock, fishing nets, old shipwreck pieces, and more. I first thought about what is causing this piece of wood to stick (if anything) and then started there adding a rock or a piece of wood jammed into the mud at a 45-degree angle. I then "pushed" other detritus into it, such as other twigs or lichen.

Above: My first batch of obstacles ready for the next phase of water effects and paint.

Water Effects

I picked up this technique to use toilet paper from this quirky but fun youtube tutorial by MarklinofSweden. I've used his method for fully painted water bases and they turned out really good, so I adapted it for use here. Rather than covering the entire base, I just did little bits up against the terrain pieces to highlight their interaction with the water.

Above: I cut the toilet paper squares into 1"/25mm squares and then tore them in half. Using the flat edge as shown here, I simulated and positioned an incoming wave.

Above: I then applied some watered down PVA glue to the toilet paper to fix it in place while I maneuvered it a bit into position.

Above: Then I applied PVA across the leading edge of the "wave", letting the gluewater soak in a bit.

Above: I then took the paint brush and pushed upwards in the gaps between the rocks to form the crest of a small wave.

Above: Then I pushed the bits into the rocks, making sure to allow the wave to curve up any rocky overhangs. You can keep working the toilet paper until it frays at the edge, which once hardened, will give you a really realistic crashing wave effect. I then repeated this process across the piece, being careful to maintain a consistent direction for all the water flows.

Above: The toilet paper will dry white in the center and semi-translucent at the edges, with is perfect and I didn't bother touching that up. The final step was to add a little streaking using the Apothecary White contrast paint from Citadel. This was perfect right out of the bottle with it's blue-grey color, but you could get the same effect from any watered down paint really. I applied a little bit right at the center of mass where the water smashes into the terrain piece. I also extended the tails where current and movement were present.

Above: All the pieces are done! One last thing I did was to use scissors to clean up the edges of the pieces and remove excess plastic.

Blue Water Applications

The next thing to do was to test them out!

Above: The pieces worked well on the blue water fabric. The glare wasn't too bad and actually showed more on the camera than in real life.

Above: I combined the rocks with the shoals pieces to create a sort of tidal effect, which worked out well. I certainly want to get a lighthouse built next!

Riverine Applications

I suspect I'll be using these on brownwater the most, so I've created a small patch with my trees to help frame up the pieces.

Above: The Shoals

Above: The Snags

Above: Rapids

Above: River Scene

Above: My little mischievous river captain... She reminds me of this fantastic quote about the Mississippi River:

“The malice of the river was like that, it was ever so impartial ...perhaps, after all, it smiled.” — Irvin Anthony, Paddleboats & Pistols

And that's it! The project was a fairly simple build, about two nights of effort, one to glue everything down and one to do all the water effects. If you do have a go with some of these I'd love to see your tables!

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