Tuesday 3 February 2015

"Dollhouse"-style Vertical Terrain?

I tend to make terrain by the quick and nasty method, so my problem is not making it, but storing it - even my small 4x4' tables of terrain take up significant amounts of space.  This is especially so of 28mm, and is a good argument in favour of 15mm, which takes a fraction (maybe 1/5th?) of the space.

Anyway, as an apartment dweller in my bachelor years, I know the solution to "not enough room" is often to go vertical.    I was looking at one of my daughter's dollhouses today and wondered "why don't we have more vertical wargames terrain?"

Usually multi-storey buildings work on a layer-cake principle (i..e lift off the roof to reveal minis on ground floor etc) but what if the building WAS the entire table?

This waist-high book cupboard (which I told my wife I was removing to "make more space in the bedroom") might make a solid framework. 28mm minis added for scale.

Obviously, it applies to more to skirmish games, but if you had removable interior "pieces" rather like a dollhouse, and a neutral interior paint scheme (grey?) it might be able to do service for a few genres - as a Resident Evil-style undergound bunker, a space station, a sealab, a Bavarian  mountain retreat.  At a pinch, it might be able to serve two scales (28mm and 15mm).

Anyway, I "liberated" small bookshelf which might make an easy start to a project.  I might remove the back wall to improve accessibility, and I'm thinking adding a few more "levels" with generous ceiling heights to allow me to reach in.  I could make the levels removable to increase configuration options.

 The cupboard is small and light enough to be easily lifted on a table so everything is eye height.

Moving between levels?  Movable elevator pieces whose location can be changed easily.  Maybe a few "portholes" or airlock doors (circular, so I can simply use a circular drill bit instead of having to faff about getting square cuts for doors)? 

The best thing is as long as the interior is relatively unmodified - it is still a cupboard. So I can actually store terrain in my terrain, yo.

Anyway, this is likely to be one of my whirlwind weekend projects (i.e. done in an afternoon, and damn the fine details) but I thought I'd air this scheme to my regulars for input before I start cutting and nailing.  I'm sure its been done before but my google-fu is too weak to find any similar projects. 

Terrible idea?  Good idea? Try it, fail, and let us learn from your bitter experience?

Any ideas or suggestions welcome (proviso: they do not require a lot of fiddly work: I am a famously lazy terrain maker).


  1. First thought:

    Your wife will kill you...

    Second thought... well, with appropriate work, painting, and detailing it could end up being quite interesting. First question: is your scenario design style taking advantage of it? It could be a nice "table" for an "assault the corporate/command/whatever building". I would suggest to add some intermediate floors (the vertical space seems a bit wasted) bur removable ones as you pointed out. Considering it will be a quite "big" project, I would say skip the generic gray and go for something you really think you like. Considering your gaming taste, I would say give it an Infinity style. I assume you can have a quite "neutral" background and then add props for building-underground-spacestation uses. It would be also nice to have an exterior side (the back wall) so you can use it as the centerpiece of a table.

    One thing... check the material, if it is cheap fiberboard be careful. We have a cupboard of cheap fiberboard at home last summer we replaced it with an Ikea metal one because it was literally rotting apart. It left a smelly and squishy paste everywhere.

  2. Could have some awesome the raid style action going on.

  3. I'm not sure. It would be a very specific bit of terrain but could be a fun, if focused, project. Lots of room to add LED lighting and other effects one normally can't do due to spacial considerations too.

    Kinda reminds me of the final sequence in I Robot where Will Smith is trying to escape from the top of the USR building while the Robots climb up from below. Would make a fun scenario!

  4. The vertical idea is good, although I'd be more tempted to go the way of magnets. There's plenty of magnetic boards out there for cheap.

  5. Couple of thoughts from somebody who has tried this sort of thing more than once...

    Part of the reason you don't see many vertical battlefields is that they really are harder to store than a table full of terrain. You can fit a full table full of trees, buildings, and nice flat rivers into a rather small box. A shoebox can sometimes give you a full (4' by 4') table of terrain, for example. A piece like that shelf? There's no way to fold it up and tuck it in a closet - it just becomes a really big piece of terrain.

    The other problem that you often run into with massive 3D pieces like this is vertical scaling. The piece in your picture looks like a four story building, but is it? if the vertical scale matches that of the figures you could stack multiple four story buildings inside that piece with room left over. Unless you're dealing with a couple of wide open Necromunda style pieces, though, you need that much head-room to allow for access to the miniatures. But that vertical exaggeration has some profound effects on your rules. Does vertical movement cost the same as horizontal? That's unworkable, because most rulesets you'd either have guys able to reach every point on a level in one turn, or they don't have enough movement to go up and down the levels? Do you treat each level and a separate area, with movement only between the levels costing a full turn of movement? That eliminates the possibility for firing up or down at figures on a different level.

    You can deal with these issues, sure. You can point to dozens of rulesets for dog fighting planes and starship rules that deal with them in rather elegant ways, and a few skirmish games have succeeded (like Necormunda and FRAG). More often than not, though? The added complexity just doesn't equate to added fun.

  6. I immediately thought of the recent Judge Dredd film, which would probably make an interesting scenario for this sort of table. And of course there's the obvious Hostage Rescue scenario, and it probably would fit reasonably well with Infinity's fluff (small, semi-covert, special op teams fighting over an office building makes sense).

    I would definitely suggest that some extra floors would be useful. I would suggest using something like these: http://www.bunnings.com.au/search/products?q=shelf+pin (they seem to be a fair bit cheaper on eBay) You just require a drill, and perhaps some super-glue (some of them have glue in sockets, which would probably work better).

    As an aside: if I was doing something like this I'd be tempted to start fresh, and make it entirely with removable floors.

    One other idea would be to make some of the detachable levels only cover half a floor or something like that. This isn't uncommon in the real world, and more importantly, as the Judge Dredd film demonstrated, it allows for some interesting multi-floor firefights.

  7. All sorts of things you can do. Intralevel walk ways, elevator shafts, interior floor plans etc.

    Might make for a cool gang or cyberpunk setup.