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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tournament Terrain

As a TO you have many responsibilities. Thankfully, you have confirmed the space for your event. You have booked enough vendor tables to cover the expenses, so all ticket sales from players go to future costs. Advance tickets are selling fast. The missions are complete. Only you wake up in a cold sweat to realize you do not have enough terrain.
How much do you need?
A 16 person RTT will have 8 tables, or 48-60 pieces of terrain. That is enough to fill half of bedroom floor. This requires a plan.
Have an overall plan for the tournament
Before you touch any piece of foam, you need a plan. Ask yourself these questions:
-          What is your ideal table look like?
-          What is the mix of terrain you want?
-          What sized footprints? 12” by 12” or 8” by 8”?
12 by 12
8 by 8
Fewer Elements to make
Larger pieces harder to store
More variation
Need more elements
Most likely have these already
Based on earlier editions
More consistent with 6th editions rules
Players will board feel cluttered at first

-          Look to other tournaments for inspiration to understand how much terrain should be on the table. Also look at the distribution of types of terrain.
o   NoVA set up – 2 hills, 2 Ruins, a center LoS blocker, and 2 smaller difficult terrain pieces that do not block LoS
o   BAO set up – 2 hills, 2 ruins, 2 woods, 2 craters, 1 center LoS blocker with 4 fences around it
o   Adepticon – place your own (add 15 mins per round)
To tackle this a TO needs to focus on the three C’s
-          Consistency
-          Clarity
-          Compact
As a TO, you want to make one ruling and have apply to all tables. All your terrain elements should be consistent enough to do this. For example, you do not want all hills are difficult terrain to climb except Table 4, which is dangerous. If you have an army of volunteers helping make terrain, this gives them a template to use.  For all you hobbyists, there will be room for creativity later
Make the features of your terrain elements so obvious any player can determine what type of terrain it is without asking a judge. Through experience, I have found if a player can find a way to rules lawyer an advantage, cut the piece of the terrain element off. So don’t be afraid to playtest terrain prior to the tournament.
Example – a stone spiral staircase with rubble on the stairs – is it a ruin or a hill?
The biggest myth about terrain is that it is expensive. Reality is terrain will cost 20% of what you pay for an army. For example, in the last White Dwarf with the Tau fighting the Tyranids, if you were to buy all the GW terrain on their table, it would run you about $150. Thanks to a one click special, you can buy either army for about $750.
Terrain takes up as much time to prepare as an army. When I did eight center LoS blockers and 16 difficult terrain pieces for the 11th company GT last year, it took me about 24 hours of work. However, it actually took three days because I had to wait for paint & glue to dry overnight.

Terrain takes up space, and storage between tournaments is a much bigger issue. Poor storage results in damaged terrain, forcing you to replace it. Know how much you store effectively before the tournament starts. You can use the terrain you do not have room for as prize support or donate to a local store. My first game store would replace terrain on their display tables quarterly just as a marketing idea get customers to come into the store.
Four Terrain Elements of the Apocalypse
Hills are one of the building blocks of strategic play in all war games. No one ever played King of Ruins. When comes to making hills for a tournament, stick the step pyramid look. I know, it is not the most natural looking thing, but the reasons why outweigh the visual appeal. The need to eliminate measuring at strange angles for vertical movement will relieve the judge of countless arguments over charge distances and objective grabs. By using straight up, straight across features, it eliminates confusion. Try to allow at least 1” of space on each step. I use a terminator base as a guide to ensure no wobbly model syndrome.
 For 12” by 12” sized hill, plan on it being about 4” high. For an 8” by 8” hill, it should be 2.5” tall. Not sure how high to make your hill, then use the ancient pyramid formula
Perimeter = height *4*pie
-          Too low – no tactical advantage
-          Too high – models can’t fit on steps

Be careful not to bunch up our layers, like in the picture to the right. While once side of the hill will have a nice slope, the other will be a rock wall of impassable terrain creating a rules nightmare.
Woods are making a comeback in 6th edition. They are easy to make en masse and offer a lot tactical decisions without a lot of confusion as to specific rules for the individual element. Hobby wise, all you need is a flat base with 3-4 clumps of trees on a separate base, again about the size of a terminator base.
The separate base for trees allows players to move the trees out of the way for assaults & movement. As an added bonus for you, it makes them easier to store. If you are playing with Mysterious Terrain, you can make bases for each of the effects from the Mysterious Terrain table.
Easiest way to make forests is to use ¼” MDF for the base of the element, can get by with 1/8” for the tree bases. If you need trees in mass quantities, check out Scenic Express website. They sell 55 trees for $55. That will give you enough for 18 clumps, or 6 woods elements. Do not waste your time with making your trees. Time is a more valuable asset than money at this stage of the game.

Not all forests need to be trees, as pictures. Crystal forests have been around since 3rd edition. Other alternatives include jungle plant bunches, bamboo trees, or columns of junk.
Ruins are a key part of the 40k landscape. Not just for the 4+ cover save, it is part of the overall look the war torn 41st Millennium. Ruins are easy to make, basically a flat base with broken wall sections.
You can use the same basing material as woods. You will also need 1/8” MDF for walls, or the black foam core, depending on your skills and tools available. The MDF walls will be more durable, but you will need a Dremel with a cutting bit to cut out your windows. If money is no object, a laser CNC machine runs for about $8,000. Black foal is a good alternative, as all you need is a sharp knife to cut it. Please save yourself the time and splurge on the black foam, which is both black on the outside with black foam on the inside. You will thank me later in the painting stages. Whatever method you use, there are plenty of ruins templates on line to cut out (great for volunteers to help with). To take consistency to the extreme, I use only four templates per project. I pick two templates, one for the North & South walls. The other two templates are for the East & West walls. This way every ruin in the tournament is a combination of the same number of windows, doors, etc and no one player is penalized for not having the ruins with more LoS than they other.
Try avoid multi floor ruins. It is one of the most misunderstood rules in the game. Even though we are not using floors, corner pieces are essential to keeping the ruins strong and durable. Make an “L” shape section to show where the floor was provides stability without providing a perch for a Longfang marine.
Difficult Ground is one the most overlooked terrain elements. It has come back to center stage now that difficult terrain greatly affects the random charge distance. Thankfully, volunteers can complete this easy project with little fear of epic screw up.
How easy? Start with a flat base. Glue rubble on it. Use the same basing materials as woods, and you can use small river rocks, sprue bits, whatever to give rough texture. Just be careful to keep the effect below the knee of a Space Marine. You would not to violate the rule of clarity, causing players to ask if the element does provide cover.
That's it for now. Next time will getting shopping and budgets.

Want to hear more about this and other 40k topics? Listen to the 11th Compnay podcast weekly on iTunes. 


  1. Excellent article. As a new TO, this is immensely helpful. I look forward to more like this!

    ~ Puck, Renegade Open

  2. Good to see the thought that has to go into setting up tournament terrain even though you guys have talked about it before. I'm more a visual person anyway.


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