Wargame Terrain: Modular Roads

I love modular terrain for a a host of reasons. You are never stuck with one look, it stores easy, you had to own less, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. Since I have modular buildings and hills, I figured why stop there?

After I built my buddy some hills, we started talking about roads. He had searched online for some roads he could purchase, but kept coming up short. I had those paved roads I had built from Wyloch’s tutorial, but unlike my sci fi games, my friend runs a D&D campaign. Paved roads just would not fit in with his game setting. So, I started to think about how to make some regular dirt roads. I searched online and found Mel the Terrain Tutor’s Youtube video on that very subject; I suggest you check him out. This post is about my journey making not one, but two sets inspired by both his post and Wyloch’s paved road design. The whole build is fairly economical. $2 for foam, $10 for two tubes of yellow miliput (I did two 40% off coupon trips to Hobby Lobby), a ball of tin foil, some mod podge, some paint (I used a spray paint to base coat them so, what? $7?), some sand,  some flock, some tufts (optional, $7 if you choose to use them), and then some sealing spray. And I guess I should mention a few hours of your life.

My paved roads served as a template. I knew I wanted these roads to keep the 6” width and have the same mix of straight and curved paths. The reason I built two sets is that the first one was going to be a test batch to see if I could do it. Good or bad, I figured I could always use some dirt roads for my games. First, I made a few 6”x12” straight roads, some 9”x9” large turns (the road itself is always 6” wide, but the square footprint is 9”x9”, just look at the photos and you’ll see what I mean), and one 12”x12” T-road which all followed Wyloch’s road design. I thought about how I wanted the roads to work on the table and I knew that I needed some more pieces; I came up with two more designs. I added some sharp 6”x6” turns (these could all be connected to form a big circular hill) and some end caps to finish roads on the board. I hated the idea that every road had to end at a table edge, it just felt so limiting. The end caps are just 6”x2”, but they make such an impact on what you can design. In my second build, I took two of the 6”x12” straight roads and chopped them in half for 6”x6” short straight roads. This little change adds a ton of build options. To be honest, even with how poorly my first batch turned out looks wise, if I could only change one thing it would be that I had made some of these small straight roads for myself.

The Plans
One of the two sheets I used for planning.

I used dollar store Redi-board for the foam, peeling the paper off. Now, I traced everything in pen and it should be noted that the foam will take on any stray marks which will show up on the build. I hid most of these with flock when able, but you can clearly see where I was not. I used my hot wire cutter to cut the foam cleanly into the shapes that I drew. I then took a blade and beveled the edges to try and give it a natural looking slope.

Batch 2 testing some set ups.

Next, I got miliput and placed long rolled up strips along the edges of each piece. Mel mentions that miliput does not shrink when it dries and this keeps your foam from warping. This is great since we are about to coat this thing in mod podge and redi-board warps very easily (especially with the paper coating removed). On my first build, I was low on miliput and skeptical, so I added a lot of rocks to weigh the foam down. When I did the build for my friend, I got two packs of miliput and only added a few rocks per his request. The miliput does indeed prevent the warping and as you can see from my batch, too many rocks is a bit overwhelming. Still, since Five Parsecs is so deadly when out of cover, I think the rocks work for my needs.

Another tip, really wet and blend the edges of the miliput to the foam. I did not do this on my first build and you can really see the impact. I can live with it, but I’m glad I fixed this for the work that I sent out the door.

Miliput Wet
Really get the edges to flatten down on the foam.

At this stage in my second build, I took a rolled up ball of tin foil and rolled it over the tops of each piece to add some texture.

After the miliput was on, I wanted to protect the foam so I could spray paint it. So, I grabbed a throw-away brush and applied some mod podge to the tops and edges of each piece. On my second build, I tossed the sand on while the mod podge was still wet. This saved me a step, but it can be a bit messy.

With the mod podge safely sealing the foam, I took the pieces outside with my respirator and spray painted them. The first batch got some Krylon brown that I had left over from my buildings. I sprayed heavy in some areas and light in others to try and get a highlight/shading effect. In the second build, I used Rust-oleum flat red matte primer and just sprayed the whole piece evenly. It was way darker, but in the end I loved the result. The mod podge on my first batch was not a full coverage and I got some melting effects. All-in-all, I think they worked in my favor since I had not textured the surface of the first batch aside from some added sand.

Melted Foam
First batch spray color and some melting between rocks. Also, note the thin and awkward looking miliput hills.
The flat red really looks good and the miliput hills are harder to spot.

For my second batch, I took the time to dry brush a light mocha onto the red. I thought the contrast would pull out the sand and texture well. I think I went too heavy though and the contrast was a bit too stark for my liking. So, I mixed up an emergency batch of brown wash and hit the dry brushed areas before they had time to fully dry. The mix became frothy and gross. I swear, I thought I had ruined the batch. So, I poured myself a stiff drink, said a few curses, and went to bed. The next day, I checked in on the roads and actually dug what I saw. Crisis averted.

After Wash
The wash really toned the dry brushing down and brought out the detail. You can see the line down the middle from when I was measuring the piece out.

I think I will one day go back and do a simple wash on my first batch to pull out more details. Washes really make a dramatic difference.

For the rocks, I hit them with grey and light mocha, then a simple wash. I think did some quick dry brush highlights with white. Nothing fancy.

Since my first batch was for me, I tried to think about how the roads in my game would look. I decided to go for a very sparing application of grass to tie in with my adobe buildings. That decision mixed with the poor miliput application makes the final result of my first batch look pretty bad. Oh well. I think if I went back and did a heavier flocking over those miliput edges and pulled the grass all the way to the edges like I do in the second batch that I could salvage it, but who has the time? I’m not too busted up over it and I would rather spend that time making other things.

Old vs New
Second batch is on the left, the first batch is on the right. The flat red base mixed with the highlight/wash combo really made a solid look. The flock all the way down to the edges also makes a huge difference.

As you may have guessed, for the second batch, I did a full flocking. I laid two strips in the middle to simulate wear from traffic, but every so often I would include a similar set of gaps on the sides. You can see this on the T-road and some straight ways. This lets you connect anther road to the side and still look like it matches. So the T-road turns into a four-way intersection!

Modular Roads Overview
I was just testing some set ups. You can see on the T-road how I designed the side to serve as a four-way road too. Some straight roads have this feature as well.

Once all the flocking was done, I added a few mountain grass tufts from Army Painter and sealed it all with a polyurethane spray.

My rock-heavy batch one.

And that is that! I am not sure how often I will break my set out, as I am fairly critical of how it turned out. Every time I look at them, I see the second batch that I made and they just feel like a downer. But, without that first batch, I never would have learned how to make the second one so much better. Anyway, I hope you find something in this post useful or inspiring. I think the build only took me three or four days to finish up.

Action Shot
Miller and Hoop head down an unknown trail.

Update on my mega build that I posted about last week: Everything is assembled and sealed. I started spray painting stuff Saturday afternoon and it is coming together really well. I think these posts have caught up with everything that I have built to date and all of the games that I have played, so I need to get moving on those ends. I do have one more post planned on just some things that I purchased to use as terrain. If I cannot make more progress before next Sunday, then I will post about those. Until next time!


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