Amateur Hour: The Ziggurat

A warts-and-all blog describing an ongoing series of attempts to raise a Temple to Hashut.

INTRODUCTION:
This site is an amazing resource for technical and precise advice for the skilled hobbyist. With a little bit of digging, even the most experienced wargamer could expand their skillset and knowledge in a dozen different areas of the hobby.

But the level of skill and achievement on display can sometimes border on intimidating. You see the end result of sometimes decades of skill and practice, but you rarely see the missteps and failures it took to get there.

So I thought it might be nice to have a little something on here for the ham-fisted amateur like myself.

The overall point of this blog is to show two things: firstly, every project that looks good on the table first goes through many, many stages where it looks like it should go in the bin. Paint covers many sins!
Secondly, that you genuinely don’t need to be a genius or a master craftsman to make something that you like, you just need to keep trying until you make something work.

WHAT THIS IS NOT: a how-to guide, a resource for experts.

WHAT THIS IS: the tragi-comic tale of one man’s fight against his own incompetence. An opportunity for those with very limited experience in terrain building to learn from the mistakes I’m about to make - or at least, to feel a bit better about their own.

NOTES:

  1. I’ll edit in an index later,when there’s enough here to index.
  2. I have shockingly limited free time, so this project is likely to take months, not weeks.
  3. If you just want a ziggurat and your time is more valuable than your money, I’d recommend ignoring everything here and buying a print of the big castle thing from the Lost Kingdoms set.
  4. With special thanks to @Admiral , @chitzkoi , @Lord_of_Uzkulak , @MichaelX , @Oxymandias , @Reaver and probably a dozen others for answering various obvious and doubtless tiresome questions both on Discourse and Discord.
  5. If anyone has any practical advice to offer, even if it’s too late for this particular build, please drop it in the thread below. It might help the next poor sucker to start a project like this.
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This is so timely, a ziggurat appears in the sections of the story I’ve been writing recently, and now thanks to the Admiral/Vince masterclass I won’t have to extensively explain how it looks!

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THE PROJECT:
I’m currently putting together a modular battlefield with a friend of mine. 2’×2’ (610×610mm) octagons, with 10"×10" (255×255mm) Square “interest” locations to fill the gaps. So we decided that we should each make a section for defensive scenarios - some sort of fortification or strategic structure.

So I need something to defend. I know that I’m not one of those guys who can build a perfect replica of the Palace at Versailles out of matchsticks, so I need something pretty basic. So I decided to go for a ziggurat. It’s fluff-friendly, goes with the Mesopotamian theme, and it’s essentially built from a lot of basic box shapes, with some ramps and archways. Nothing too ambitious.

LIMITATIONS AND CONSTRAINTS:
The temple needs to fit on one of the board sections, and therefore cannot exceed 2’ (610mm) on any axis. Ideally, it shouldn’t really occupy the whole section, if possible, so troops can be easily deployed around it.

I’m not just building this for a diorama; I need this to be a functional battlefield object. So the minimum dimensions of some parts of the structure will be dictated by this fact. Ramps must be a minimum of 20mm wide for a single file of troops to make use of them, for example.

I don’t have a workshop full of specialist tools, and I don’t have much in the way of skill with my hands, so I’m using basic materials that require minimal skill and equipment to work with.

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PLANNING:

I’m not the most organised guy around, but even I know that it’s a good idea to have a plan for something like this, if only to work out how much in the way of materials you’ll need to get started. So I sketch out a rough idea of where I think we’re going:

Not sure how legible this is to anyone else, but it makes enough sense to me. You’ll notice a couple of changes to structure and proportion from the original ziggurat picture. This isn’t just my poor sketching, they’re intentional choices. Let me explain.

One whole level of the ziggurat has been removed, and the sizes of different levels relative to one another have been shifted. Mine is basically 3 steps high, as opposed to the four levels in the initial picture. I want a large, flat, open area on the ziggurat on which to deploy troops., ideally multiple units. To do that without increasing my maximum size for the project, sacrificing a level is the logical choice. I also didn’t want the thing to be too high; anyone who’s played Necromunda knows the pain of a prized miniature falling from terrain with an overly ambitious height.

So I have my basic outline; I could certainly avoid many problems later down the line with more careful planning, but for me, keeping up momentum on this kind of project is the most important thing, so I’ll just plow on for now and adapt as we go along.

MATERIALS:
I already have some bits and pieces lying around from the battlefield construction project:

Some florist’s foam I got to make hills with. This massive box was about £15, I think.


A big bottle of PVA glue. About £10.

Your most expendable kitchen knife.
This might be the only genuinely useful tip on the whole blog, but your life with a significant other will be much more harmonious if you don’t cover your kitchen equipment with green goo.

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THE MOCK UP:


Sometimes you can draw something that looks perfectly plausible on paper, then find once it’s in front of you in physical space, it doesn’t quite work. Here’s a case in point.

I roughly measured and cut foam with my crappy knife. I threw the pieces into place, without gluing anything, just to get a look at the thing from a few different angles and so I could line up a few models on top, to get an impression for the scale. The first thing that I noticed was that it was basically impossible for miniatures to stand on the ramps at their current angle. Every one is too steep, and the miniatures just fall over. I couldn’t tell that from the picture!

Time for the first redesign.
I did consider the option of shaping the ramps as 20mm² steps, but this idea was discarded as being far too much work, and requiring far too much precision to look good.
The obvious thing to do is to extend the length of the ramps, thus making the angle shallower. This, of course, increases the overall size of the structure, and I’m already pushing the limits of what I’d consider excessive. So I consider 2 more space-efficient options:



Option A has the advantage of having the smaller overall area and probably overall being the simpler of the two options.

Option B could potentially work too, but upon advice from the Discord I decided on Option A.

Here’s the second piece of genuinely useful advice: join the Discord. There are a lot of very clever people on there who are a goldmine of advice, and in my experience they’re very patient with stupid questions.

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WHATEVER, THAT’LL DO:
I’m getting impatient now. I’ve put probably 2 hours over 2 days into this already, and all I have are some scribbles and a lot of mess on my sofa from cutting foam.

So it’s time to commit and get building. The wooden board sections aren’t in my house, so I make a very slapdash base out of 2 pieces of A3 card, mostly because this thing is bigger than my cutting mat and I don’t want to cover my craft table with PVA.

So for those unfamiliar with florist’s foam, it’s a very soft, crumbly foam that people use to arrange flowers. The best thing about florist’s foam is how easy it is to cut to shape; you don’t even need a crappy knife really, you could cut it with a plastic ruler. The worst thing is the mess; put down a sheet or something before you start cutting it, it really creates a lot of dust.

It absorbs water like a sponge, and if you dilute it enough, it’ll absorb PVA. When it eventually dries, it becomes hard and slightly plasticky in texture, and surprisingly durable.

So I strip the thing down to the basic structure and commence to soak it in pva and water. I can’t remember the exact proportions that you’re supposed to use and at the time I was too lazy to spend 3 seconds looking it up, so I just did 1 part pva to 1 part water. So long as it’s liquid enough to be absorbed rather than just pooling on top, it’s probably fine, though I’m sure there’s an optimal mix in terms of drying time.

By far the best way to accomplish this step is to put the mixture in a spray bottle and use that, but I didn’t have one handy at the time, so I just got out a big brush and got on with it.

A few observations at this point:

  1. This thing will drink your PVA and water solution to an extent that will surprise you. I put about 3 pints (1.75 litres) into this thing in the first soak. So once you’ve coated it, it’s going to take days to dry at least. Soooo…
  2. Don’t do what I did here. Put the thing on a solid, non-flexible base, rather than some flimsy cardboard you have lying around. Because you aren’t going to want it covering you work surface for a week and preventing you from working on anything else. When I tried to move it, the whole thing fell apart because the base was flexible. No problem, I just reassembled it at the far end.
  3. The foam is fragile to begin with, and softer still once it’s wet. If you aren’t careful, you can easily leave fingerprints and dents in the surface, so try to be gentle.

    …but bear in mind that this is just to flesh out the main shape, so it really doesn’t matter too much if there are a few gouges here and there.

Once the thing is dry I’ll get an idea for how hard it has set, and if I feel like it’s still too soft, I’ll do a second coat to really harden the surface up. So unless Hashut sends me any further revelations, forcing a redesign, don’t expect any updates for a week or two.

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It’s an @Admiral “Ziggurats for Dummies” charity lecture, he’s been very patient with me.

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Nice blog mate! I wonder if you would dilute the pva with something that evaporates faster, like isopropyl alcohol or ethanol… if it would reduce drying time. Not sure if pva would be solvable in alcohol, or if the foam would react with it… but it would dry faster if Jr would work…

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Thats a good question! I honestly have no idea; although I have got quite a bit of isopropanol here, I’m also quite accident-prone, so I’m a little nervous to experiment with it in case I burn my house down or gas myself with it somehow.

Does anyone else know?

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http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/11/t/190774.aspx

Ist possible and even done for model train stuff

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I might well do that for the second coat, if I need one. It’s been 24 hours and this thing is still soaking wet. I might have used too much, or perhaps this is normal because it’s so big.

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Well… put 1.7 liter of water on a bowl and wait for it to evaporate… it takes a while :slight_smile:

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It’s fine. It gives me time to panic about exactly how I’m going to get the next stage of this monstrosity finished.

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PROJECT CREEP, PART ONE:
A brief side note.
The battlefield I’m constructing is intended for use in both 6mm and 28mm scale battles, so there are a few quirks to how it works. Some objects, like a hill or a lake, work perfectly well at either scale. The same hill in 6mm scale is simply a hill 4 or so times higher. Some objects like most buildings or trees are a little more tricky, so we’re magnetising sections of the board to make these objects swappable, with different scaled sets of each.

This was part of the appeal of a ziggurat; the structure is so basic and monumental that it scales almost like a feature of the landscape, instead of a building. The same structure viewed in a 6mm scale just goes from being a small temple to being a very grand one indeed.

So we have the main ramp at the front, newly redesigned:


Obviously the final ramps will not be made of card, nor foam (I’ll probably use wood or something) but this was the vague shape I have in mind.

So my first thought was that I could have a nice little platform at the cross junction of this ramp. It would be a handy defensive chokepoint to station troops, and it would help to make the thing look a bit more ornate.

Then, I thought it might be nice to have a small altar down here on the platform. Apparently only the high priest or king is allowed in the altar chamber at the top, and it would be nice to have somewhere for the rabble to witness Hashut’s glory.

BUT
Then I remembered that I was planning to build an Altar of Hashut at some point anyway, for use in my 9th edition WAP list:


(I include the entry here because I’m not sure whether these originate in this list or not, they certainly weren’t a thing back in the dawn of time when I used to play regularly)
SO
After a hasty redesign this platform will now be a magnetised and removable Altar to Hashut; when used in battle it will be carried or dragged in some manner yet to be decided, and a second, empty platform will replace it. As an added bonus, this also means that I can make a 3rd, 6mm scale, tiny little altar to go here for battles in this scale; I think with a few such swappable features that are of the appropriate scale it will help to cheat the eye in order to perceive the Temple as truly goliath in size.

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INCREDIBLY MINOR UPDATE:
I think I’ve ordered the wrong clay.

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Is it air drying clay? If it’s air drying it should be fine. If it needs baking in a kiln… well not so much :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ve used this cheap papermache clay for a lot of terrain (and bases of large models) for a while now. They cost 2 euros for 500 grams in the local cheap-o store. It’s advertised as stone look and when it’s dry it’s pretty light, stong and hard.

These are not mine but this is the stuff.

image

image

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To be honest I’m not sure. There are no instructions on it and it comes in an airtight resealable thing, so I’m guessing it must be air dry.

If I’ve ever used clay before, it must have been in the previous millennium, probably at school. So this is likely to be a steep learning curve.

I’ll have a little play tonight when I get in from work, and just leave the result out overnight and see what happens. If it’s still soft in the morning, I guess I needed to bake it!

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Well, I made something. We’ll leave it for a while and see what happens.

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Good design. Solid work in a difficult material. Striking looks.

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This is a very interesting project! I’ll be following this one for sure!!

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