Terrain: Part 2!
If "Part 1" was about what terrain types should be used, this Part will focus on the aspect of terrain most people are interested in: what should it look like?
Since this part of the article is concerned more by the look of Dark Age, I offer up this starting concept: within reason you can choose/make whatever terrain you think looks best and adapt the rules of Dark Age around it. Sometimes, however, this can make for a game experience that is pleasant to look at but hard to play.
Instead, I offer this challenge: first follow some of the below suggestions on what type of terrain makes the game of Dark Age easier to play, and then use your craft to see if you can make those suggestions come to life. Again, there is a lot to cover so I will dive right in. Enjoy!
Since the topic of this article is so vast, it has been split into two parts:
Part One: Will Focused on how best to select the amount of terrain and types for an optimal game of Dark Age.
Part Two: (This Part) Will explore the artistic and thematic aspects of terrain as well as how to best utilize terrain to interact with game mechanics and avoid rule issues.
Part 2: Terrain In Game Mechanics and Aesthetics
3D vs. 2D
"Some of the terrain pieces used [were] far more difficult to play on than others [or] were heavily biased towards certain factions... It's like if the NFL decided that some stadiums' fields would be flat but others would randomly have mountains or huge buildings all over." -Noah Carriveau, Immortal Tournament, 2014
Here is the dilemma. Almost all of Dark Age can technically be played with two-dimensional terrain. Two-dimensional terrain is by far the easiest way to play Dark Age. But 3D terrain just looks better.
Below is a grab bag of a few different approaches to help with this dilemma.
Playmats: More and more games and players are utilizing playmats, a 2D surface with printed artwork to imitate complex environmental surfaces that would be either difficult or intrusive to replicate using 3D objects. Playmats are an easy way to have an easy-to-play on surface that still looks good.
The “Tip Test:” Let's say you really love building stand-alone objects or sculpting 3D surfaces onto your tables. If we use the “Part 1” suggestion that only 10-20% of your table should be “Impassible,” this means you can make 10-20% of your terrain look however you want – since, other than being impassible, how it looks will have no impact on gameplay. But what about the rest?
For anything that a model can stand on – rubble, ramps, hillsides, etc. - I recommend you use the “Tip Test.” Take any 80mm base model. If you place its base down anywhere on the table, the base should not “tip” any more than between 10-20° from level. This is important for 2 reasons.
1. All of Dark Age measuring is done horizontally, regardless of where models are on a three-dimensional surface. Tilting an 80mm base eliminates approximately 1/8 of an inch of distance, which is can be significant when determining things like movement and range.
2. Many people value their models. A 20° incline should be safe enough that most models don't tip over or slide.
(note: the Stream Template is ~10°, the Spray is ~ 20°)
Levels: Levels are the only thing in Dark Age that cannot be represented by two-dimensional terrain. Levels are also one of the least-used terrain types but, I assure you, one of the most fun. So much as you make sure ladders and stairs are available to all levels, and make sure you follow the "tip test" mentioned above and the scale discussed below, levels shouldn't provide any terrain-related issues. My personal favorites for using levels is either a bridge with an underpass models can travel through, or sniping towers connected with ladders for Infiltrate range models to hang out in.
Base Size and Scale
"[Dark Age] allows you to have whatever battlefield you wish, defined the way you and your opponent feel it should be. It also forces you to discuss the terrain and its effects before the battle so that there are no assumptions or midgame conflicts over what is what." - Patrick McCabe, 2013
Base size: Here is the #1 complaint I have when looking at table and terrain setups: any time I see a bridge or a walkway or road or passage, they are very, very narrow. Remember, Dark Age uses 80mm bases. As a rule of thumb, DO NOT have any passage longer than 2” that an 80mm base cannot fit between.
Scale: Dark Age is a 32mm scale miniatures game. But because of historic scaling issues with older Dark Age models, comparisons can also be drawn between 28mm scale or, more apppriately, the “heroic 28mm scale” that many GW models use. When looking to purchase terrain, it should be fairly easy to find these scales listed or else, if you are using train terrain, “O Scale” is approx. 30mm which should work fine.
Otherwise, if building or choosing made terrain, 1” roughly equals about 3'. For sizes, roughly follow the appropriate chart:
<1” = Small
1” = Medium
2” = Large
3” = Huge
4” = Gigantic
Theme ideas for Terrain
"Samaria is a huge place that has everything from rain forest style jungles to burned out wastelands, huge cities built into the sides of mountains to swamp lands, tent cities to groups living in the remains of space ships, people and bots living in old factories to cave dwellers." - Jay Ryan, 2016
People always ask “what theme of terrain works for Dark Age?” The answer actually is remarkably simple. Just about any general type of scenery or environment imaginable is available within the Dark Age universe. Desert, Buildings, Ruins, Swamps, Lakes, Farmland, Huts, Temples, Frozen Wastelands, Villages, Caves, Crystal Fields, Alien Relics, Mountains, Volcanos. The list goes on and on.
Still, there are a few tweaks you should think about making or pieces you should consider adding to make a general theme feel more like Dark Age.
Post Apocolypse: This is a word that gets thrown around a lot so I'll simplify it. Nothing should look bright, shiny, new, cartoony or otherwise pleasant. This can be accomplished as simply as adding rust coloring to metal, overgrowth on structures, rubble or ash anywhere or as complex as washing out things to make them more dark and shadowy.
Technology: So the story goes, this planet was a place for illegal research and then (almost) everyone left, taking most their toys with them. There should be very little high-technology items sitting as-is anywhere. Now, that's not to say you can't use those neat sci fi pieces you have: just modify them a bit. Think, “if I were a dirt farmer and had to make this odd high-tech thing useful, how would I piece it together with twine and fencewire?”
Story: Otherwise, there is a lot of story in the Dark Age universe to absorb and, by comparison, a lot of different terrain that is appropriate. For best results, try to set up your boards to make a story with settings that apply to different factions. Some guidelines for these are listed below.
Forsaken: Urban and rural dwellings, including villiages and farmland, the Forsaken are going to have the nicest dwellings, the most serene settings and the most pristine technology out of all other factions. Because of this other factions are usually envious and perform attacks and raids on the outlying settlements; so burnt and ruined settings is always fitting as well.
Skarrd: One of the main villians of Dark Age, the Skarrd are mostly resigned to inhabiting the mostly-frozen wastelands of the far north. The Skarrd evolved out of the nomadic Banis people so cave dwellings or rock huts are appropriate along with the skinning racks or bone-carved structures you would associate with a very primitive people.
Outcast: Between the Skarrd and the Forsaken are the Outcast, and societally they are in the middle as well. Not good enough to belong with the civilized, but too good to fall into wantoness, I always think of the Outcast territories like the Wild West. Other nomadic connections like this can be made, so very basic dwellings and frontier-like setups work well for them.
Dragyri: Before mentioning anything else, there are two terrain ideas that are unique to the Dragyri and should be explored. The first are the crystal caves where they collect resources, so various crystal terrain and structures can be explored. Otherwise, the Dragyri are the “natives” involved with a lot of elemental beliefs, so a good comparison may be the Native Americans with a sort of tribal and ritualistic carvings, runes, and dwellings. Also, the Dragyri have Air, Ice, and Fire Castes so don't forget to add weather elements to match.
Core: This one is easy, regular or burnt out industrial complexes or otherwise fields of technological mastery and destruction. Basically build any real-world scene from The Matrix.
Brood: Another easy one, the Brood inhabit the Broodmere swamp. Forests, swamps, lakes, rivers and the mix between these. For a story recommendation, remember that the Forsaken's “Green Belt” farmland butts up against the Broodmere and that John's crusading populace has made incursions, so especially set up scenes where man and nature are coexisting or in conflict with houses in trees or inside overgrowth or otherwise cleared bits of forest or on fire.
Kukulkani: Space Aztecs. The Kukulkani don't fit well into the overall theme of Dark Age however you can make this an advantage in your Terrain building. Anything alien or technological (or even religeous like temples or alters) can be added to terrain and are, therefore, Kukulkani.
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