King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Thursday, January 6, 2011

(Extended) Holiday Properties Pt. 2

Among the improvements I have been attempting to make to my Syldavia project terrain pieces are fortifications.  In my mind’s eye, Syldavia and Borduria ought to have a generous sprinkling of fortifications and walled towns built by the various powers that have held sway in these territories at one time or another during their tumultuous histories, Byzantium, Hungary, Venice and the Ottomans among others.  I’d like to be able to bring a bit of this colour to the table with some appropriate town walls and small fortifications that can help evoke the setting and serve real roles as needed in games.  It would be nice to have a siege game down the line, for example. 

Among the nicest commercial fortification models that I know of are the Hudson and Allen 25mm medieval castle (now produced by Vatican Miniatures) and Terrain Warehouse UK’s 15mm Vauban star fort, both of which are splendid models but rather large and a bit pricey.  Big tables and big budgets are needed for these!  I don’t own either and in any case I would like to build my own to measure.  They are, however, useful guides for my building plans as both make good use of a modular system composed of relatively simple elements (wall sections and towers/bastions).  My plan is to make some prototypes of similar basic wall and sections in appropriate style, which can be easily reproduced and used in a flexible fashion on the table.  This is obviously a long-term project so in the short term so I chose to make a small fortification in order to experiment with materials and methods.  Here are a couple of photos of my experimental building; it was intended to be a ravelin, which is intended to be a ravelin for a Vauban fortification but is large enough that it might be best used as a battery or bastion.  

The outer wall of the structure is made with of panels of sculpting plaster (hydrocal) that I cast myself, glued to a styrene foam core.  The panels are textured to suggest masonry; I tried to obtain a rough, irregular finish suggestive of large blocks and a stylized look.  My mould produces panels about 12cm x 10cm which I trimmed down to strips about 4.5cm tall with a Dremel cutting tool.  The panels at the vertex of the ravelin walls were trimmed to give a 13o set back from vertical, an angle that (I think) approximates the slope of Vauban-era fortification walls in the sources I had at hand (perhaps one of you knows if this is a good approximation…?).  The embrasures were also cut out of the panels with the Dremel.

Making the mould and the master was a little time consuming but not seriously so and once the mould is prepared, one can produce great numbers of blocks with ease.  The mould material (Smooth-On urethane) was fairly easy to use.  Hydrocal reproduces surface detail very well and is a strong and durable modelling material once dry.  

The deck, ramp and interior wall were made with LINKA blocks cast in hydrocal and a couple of other materials I experimented with.  These fit together quite easily (being much better designed than my panel or mould!) and give a good appearance with little effort.  One has to take some care however to fill the seams between the blocks, upon painting it is clear that I wasn’t quite careful enough. Seams, corners and the masonry on the wall top were all modelled in Milliput.

Here are a couple of photos of the finished model with its initial painting and some figures. 

I am not sold on the rough texture nor on the slope of the wall, which should be, I think, a little sharper.  The LINKA blocks might make a better surface for the outer wall. Any future ravelins I make ought to have a more acute point as well.  Based on this little experiment, master models suitable for casting wall sections and bastions (and ultimately medieval walls?) seem within reach.  Of course, all of this takes me away from figure painting and games, so it remains to be seen how much of this will be realized ; )  The model is however very solid and strong, it should prove quite durable.  

On a final note, here is a model of a battery I made way back – gasp – some 30 years ago, quite soon after I visited the Musée des plans-reliefs the first time (see post of 19 December).  I’ll not comment on the (lack of) plan but it was made of REAL masonry – small bits of gravel mortared together as I couldn’t think of another way to make it.  That was back in the day before I realised I could glue my Airifix soldiers to bases so they would stand up…  It was a real pain to build as I recall, but I recently rescued and repaired it.  I’m going to re-use it in my campaign as - you guessed it – an archaic, decaying fortification.  Even the Bordurians ought to be capable of taking such a fort!