Taking and holding trenches in Warhammer 40,000

So now that I’ve finally started work on my modular trench battlefield, I’ve been thinking, how best to take and hold trenches, or more succinctly which armies and units would be best for the task.  My goal with the battlefield is to take Warhammer 40,000 back to its World War One influences, alas I fear no amount of carving foam will stop skimmers, jump infantry, or deep striking.  To that end I think Codex Space Marine and Imperial Guard armies will do the best on this board and the mission that will go along with it.  Those armies are quite versatile and have access to skimmers with transport capeability.

But what about… Eldar and Tau they have skimmer transports?  Eldar in particular with all their specialized troops may do a pretty good job of taking entrenched positions, but holding them?  Eldar are supposedly not geared for a war of attrition.  As for the Tau, even with Kroot I’m not sure they would do a very good job at storming the trenches.  Now Orks and Tyranids, they can send waves of troops at the enemy, but digging in defensively really isn’t their forte.  Deamons are a total wild card and the specialty marine codices, which are getting a lot of love online, mainly bolster the offensive capabilities.  Lots of jump troops may gain you the enemy trenches but holding them plus your own defensive positions?  Space Wolves might do better than Blood Angels at this type of thing due to the awesomeness of Long Fangs and Grey Hunters.

While giving this all some thought I even wrote up a Codex Marine 1500 army list and looked at more obscure chapters, but since I’m trying not to buy any new minis, starting a new army, even Marines is out.  So the question then becomes what can I do with my existing armies and their rule books to make them more effective on the battlefield I’m building?

My trench table is destined for next year’s Astronomi-con Vancouver.  You could say I’m starting early, or you could say I’m starting too late for this year’s Astro…  I currently have two painted armies in my display case, the Diseased Sons and their non-Nurgle allies the Nefarious Fire plus my old, old Ork army.  The orks will see the table top again, but optimizing them for a mission isn’t a priority, just getting the units legal again is the priority.  This year I am running Chaos Space Marine at Astronomi-con Vancouver, but next year I planned to run the Servants of Decay from Imperial Armour 7.

No one seems to be using that list or building an army for it.  The regular Imperial Guard Codex is too good, most people are using it for their traitor guard too.  Not me, I like to be different and I’m not afraid of a challenge.  I made a quirky assault oriented list, knowing full well that WS2 and WS3 troops with questionable leadership doesn’t sound like an elite offensive force.  While thinking how hypothetical armies would do on a hypothetical battlefield in a hypothetical mission set 40,000 years into the future, well I decided maybe I should adjust my proposed army list.

I wrote out another list, selling back some things, adding others, but I continued to avoid the option of taking plaguemarines.  I wanted a pure traitor guard force, even though taking plaguemarines would save me money an painting time.  Plus when I looked at other army list I recognized the need for elite assault troops to gain the trenches, but for my own army I was trying to make due with Rabble and Rebel Militia.  Finally I said enough is enough, lets throw a squad of ten plaguemarines into the mix.  Plaguemarines aren’t cheap pointswise, I had to sell back Rabble and Plague Zombies, as well as eventually removing my Fast Attack and Heavy Support choices over the course of tweaking the list.

Non skimmer Fast Attack I think will just get bogged down in the mud.  Jump Infantry might work, I intend to try it with my Chaos Space Marine army, but they too could die crossing no man’s land.  Getting rid of my lone heavy support choice may seem odd, but if you’ve read the army list, the command HQ can take a pile of heavy weapons teams.  I’d already maxed out on mortars before I even thought about making my list more effective on the battlefield I’m building.  Hopefully I won’t miss one or two extra heavy weapons a turn.

The army list I ended up with has Plaguemarines leading the assault.  They are supported by Rabble and Militia men.  The Plaguemarines might be able to breach the defenses and/or tie up the enemy for a turn or two allowing the Rabble and Militia to advance.  I bought my militia squad an armored personal carrier, figuring it was worth a try.  If it gets stuck, they just get out and walk.  The plague zombies I feel will make better defensive troops.  They are Fearless and harder to kill, but they are slow.  I think they work better occupying space, though they can tar pit the enemy too, if in sufficient numbers.

Before I added in the Plaguemarines, my command squad were my best assault troops having two models with WS 4, whoo hoo! Alas they are few and they aren’t armored.  I bought them an APC too, but they may be better served getting out and hunkering down.  I now forsee using them as a counter assault force.  The leadership they potentially provide to the rest of the troops on defense necessitates them being placed centrally.

I just counted and my proposed 1500 point Servants of Decay army list with the 10 Plaguemarines, has 14 models with WS4 and 18 models with BS4.  My Rabble alone have more models than that, they are WS and BS 2, booyah!

My mortars will go in my trenches or behind them.  Massed mortar fire isn’t popular in 40K, but I’m still going to try it.  It is historically accurate and with a little luck could pin the enemy in their trenches allowing my Rabble and Militia men to advance across the battlefield.  Also to be used in a defensive role are the best troops available to a Rebel Militia commander, the Disciples of Xaphan.  These are basically veterans with superior moral and access to a wide variety of guns and equipment.  They have BS 4 unless they take a heavy weapon in which case their ability to aim magically decreases.  This is an odd quirk of the list, it is impossible to get heavy weapons with BS 4.  I think regular guard can do this, or through orders or special characters or something can improve their aim.  Regardless, even with the addition of the plaguemarines, I’m still treating my Disciples as an elite unit.  They are basically my sharp shooters.  They’ll be deployed with the best field of fire and will pick off advancing enemy infantry.

That’s about the gist of it.  Assault force of plaguemarines supported by Rabble and a few Militia men.  Doesn’t sound too intimidating, most armies should either be able to out shoot my army or out class it in close quarters fighting.  That’s the lot of traitor scum I guess.  Even sending out almost 50 models into no man’s land I’m not too confident I can take the enemy’s position.  Sending that many models to attack which is both likely necessary and historically accurate leaves my sharp shooters, my mortar, and my command HQ defending my lines, plus of course zombies.

“Using zombies to bolster your line” by Muskie McKay coming to Osprey soon.

I gave a go at making a Chaos Space Marine army list that might excel at trench warfare, but I’m going to experiment some more with it.  Astronomi-con allows the use of Imperial Armour rules so that makes things a little more interesting.  I still think Marines and Guard will be best for this mission, any one else have an opinion?

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One Down, Twenty-three to go

So it took a while, and the last wash is still drying, but the first tile in my modular trench table is finished.  Now I only have to make 23 more.  Even at one a week that is 23 weeks and that doesn’t even count all the time I spent already, especially doing research.  I scoured the internet for bits and tutorials. I bought books, I’m going to see a few movies, but basically I got it right, not historically perfect, but good enough. Almost Done

Things to improve, more grit.  I will put beach sand over most of the tile next time.  Cat liter can bunch up and not let scatter terrain sit on it very well, but beach sand, nothing I make is going to be so delicate that it can’t sit on top of beach sand.  I’ll still have the really fine sand for some spots, but their won’t be bare foam showing like on this tile.  I drybrushed it, but the grittier stuff takes the drybrush better.  I could do a heavier drybrush but I’m trying to get better at drybrushing not worse.

I wish I would have put another piece of battlefield debris by the crater I carved into the tile.  That didn’t come out as nice as the ‘bought’ craters, but it may be cover-able with scatter terrain, if not on this tile then on some other.  The other option is to put a lot more grit, maybe even some foam or cork.  I bought some scrap cork the other day, as part of my two dollar expenditure at the strange craft store on Main Street.

Awesome Paint Job Rust PigmentsThe next time won’t be done for a while.  I need to finish off my army for this years Astronomi-con Vancouver.  I think I need to paint five more guys, a couple rank and file and my HQ.  I put enough effort into this tile, hopefully I get better.  I plan to thin the Terra Cotta paint next time, this time I just put it on pretty much out it came out of the container.

One last thing I tried out was some pigments I got off of AwesomePaintJob.com, this was a bit of an impulse buy, as I already had some pigments, but I was big into trying out new techniques, and one I’ve never used much is pigments.  I also mixed into my rust mixtures, Rust Brown Ink, water and later, the Foundation Orange.  I’ve tried out a lot of new, small, one person hobby companies, after reading about them on Table Top Gaming News or elsewhere.

Down in the Trenches

The Finished Tile

One tile nears completion

I’ve finished the scatter terrain, I’ve finished the dry brushing, I long ago finished construction.  All I have left to do is some fine detail work and take some decent pictures for the fanboys.  ;-)

However since I want to get out of the house, maybe watch some World Cup, try to find a job, I’m going to quickly update this blog, as I do have a lot of new pictures to show off, and I want to write down what I did, in case anyone wants to try and duplicate it, or in case I forget what I did myself…

First of all some eye candy, this is my test model, posing behind some sandbags made by the guy who runs EllaDan.de, these are about the nicest sandbags I’ve found.  He may sell you some if you ask nice.  I painted them with GW colors, the greens are Gretchin, then a no terribly effective drybrush of Camo, followed by 1.5 washes of Gryphon Sepia.  Then I did a dry brush of Rotting Flesh which was more effective.  I painted the dirt: Scorched Earth, Snakebite Leather, and Bubonic Brown in progressively lighter drybrushes.  That’s it, quick and relatively painless.  To speed up the process skip out the Camo green and the Sepia wash.

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That above picture is on Flickr along with some of my other finished models.  The Sandbags are a bit shiny, I think they will be getting sealed with a Matte sealant.  Darren was recommending Testor’s the other day, may have to invest in some when I’m gainfully employed again…

So what else do I have to show you, why lots of browns of course.  This project requires lots of black and brown paint so I bought a bunch and chose the ones I thought would work best, lets see how I did…

Chosing the best browns

So I gathered together all the new and old browns I’d bought and chose the following, for dirt Brown Velvet followed by Raw Sienna.  These are then labeled D1 and D2 as that is the order I will drybrush them on to the rocks and sand.  The final dry brush will be GW’s Bubonic Brown as it will help the terrain match my armies bases some.  For the wood I wanted contrast with the dirt and the GW colors and ended up chosing Terra Cotta and Golden Brown.  All these craft paints are made by Delta, three are labeled Delta Ceramcoat and the third is just an older or newer style bottle.  They are 2 Fl. Oz. and available at craft stores for about two bucks a pop.

Hopefully these four bottles which are basically new and full will last the duration of this project.  The From the Warp guy is a fan of these paints, he uses them on his miniatures I believe.  They cover pretty well, I just straight drybrushed them on except the Terra Cotta…

Terra Cotta which is what I painted the planks goes on pretty orange, especially if you paint it thick.  Try to avoid putting too much of it on.  When I paint wood grain, which is the case for the foot bridge and the planks in the trenches I try to paint in the direction of the grain.  This lets the brush lines sink with the wood grain and with a black undercoat is a quick way to add detail.  Again too much Terra Cotta and this works less well.  That said wood shouldn’t all be the same uniform color, especially not in the trenches so a little darker or lighter base coat here and there shouldn’t matter.

Now things weren’t looking as nice as the footbridge I did with GW paint, but just tell yourself it is the aggregate effect that counts.  It doesn’t matter how well you highlight a given plank, the effect you want is a whole battle field.  Hold the terrain at arms length and it will start looking better, this is about how close people will get to it.  People pick up models, terrain generally just sits there.  Also tell yourself you have to paint at least 23 more tiles and that it will look better when you finish.

So after the orangy and a bit patchy coat of Terra Cotta dries I then finished off the scatter terrain and the next morning begain the drybrush fest.  First I drybrushed the scatter terrain, then I drybrushed Golden Brown on the planks.  Then the three browns mentioned above onto everything else.  I never touched anything up if a little brown goes on the wrong spot push on.Stockpile of modeling stuff

The final touch is tiny details.  Over the last few years in addition to collecting resin terrain, balsa wood, and foam, I also bought up on eBay and elsewhere random battlefield accessories.  Warhammer 40,000 is heroic 28mm so I tried both 1/35th and 1/48th scale, both kinda work.  Lots of companies make bits in 28mm too and you can just use most anything to provide that little extra detail to your terrain.

I glued these on with white glue, then painted them black.  The last step will be to paint them and assemble the tile and take a decent photo or two.  You can add the detail earlier when you are doing the grit, I’ll experiment more going forward, but basically a bayonet here, a canteen there gives the terrain more personality, I plan on adding a lot of personality to this table…

Battle Field AccessoriesMore resine bits I bought on eBay.

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Small realistic details, bucket, canteen, knife, etc.Almost finished first terrain tile.

One More Colour

Well I’m back.  Today has been a bit strange.  I did a little biking, found out quickly how fat and out of shape I am.  I also had a totally flat tire, so I got a new tube.  I also visited the art supply store, the local game store, and this weird craft store on Main Street.  I invested about another $25 into this project.  That is starting to seem like a lot of money seeing as I’m unemployed and have not received a cent in government assistance in almost three months of waiting now…

Enough of that, I still don’t sleep, at least not at night.  I worked on the terrain tile in the wee hours.  It should be done today.  The one thing I haven’t done that will take a bit of time is to go through my bitz boxes and various battlefield accesory kits I’ve acquired in the last three years while scheming up this project.  I have too much hobby stuff, I’d like to have a little less hobby stuff and a little more money right about now.

Colour Samples

Anyway I also bought a lot more paint, mostly browns, trying to better match the GW browns I use to do my basing on the Diseased Sons and the Nefarious Fire.  I generally do Scorched Earth, Snakebite Leather, and Bubonic Brown, all dry brushes, all the newest versions of those colors.  From my previous terrain and display base projects I learned that the cheap craft paint I bought didn’t match very well. I ended up using some of the GW paint, basically you can use two or three craft browns, but if you do the last drybrush of Bubonic Brown it looks alright.  I think I did better at matching the GW colors this time, thanks to the swatch I made.

Old Craft Paint

I also bought some browns that contrasted with the GW browns, generally some tan, beige type colours.  These will be for the trench lining.  I’ll use some GW browns for some things, especially detail work.  I think I’ll stick with a trifecta of Gretchin Green, Camo Green, and Rotting Flesh for the sandbags, likely with some Devlan Mud or Gryphon Sepia washes.

Everything should go quick and easy now that I got a good coat of black.  Waiting for the thick coats of black and the glue to dry is inefficient working on 12″ square tiles.  I’m going to work more on scatter terrain and models in the down time.  I have lots of stuff to paint.  I plan to build a few models soon.

New Craft Paint

One last tip, to coat the really rough grit, it is best to get a gob of paint on the tip of your brush and jab or dab it on the grit.  Trying to paint normal brush strokes doesn’t work so well and ends up knocking off some of the grit.  You can paint the really fine grain sand normally.  After the drybrush fest we’ll see if I’m full of shit or not.

Did anyone get the Rheostatics reference?

Three Layers of Grit

All Black Tile?

True Grit

I continue to plug away at the first of at least 24, twelve inch square modular trench table tiles.  A few people have noticed, probably because I told them.  ;-)  There is a thread over at the Miniature Pages where people are discussing techniques for making terrain, particularly trenches.  I of course ignore everything they say and just do things my way.  :-D

The Miniature Pages is a bit old fashioned, but I think that is the way they like it.  Hopefully they don’t completely lose my thread like Terra Genesis did…

Beach Sand applied to tile

Onward and upward.  In this installment I basically put grit in the form of sand and cat liter on to the tile.  I used regular white glue.  The first two layers of grit I just squeezed the glue on, this makes the grit thicker and works better for cat liter which is super absorbant.  After two layers of grit, I sealed it with watered down white glue.  This can take a long time to dry so mostly I just use a really thin layer of straight glue in my basing and terrain work.

After taking the photos I then put thinned white glue where I had put the ‘S’s this stands for sand.  I want my terrain to be playable and modular so I can’t have as much texture as I did on my GT display board which everyone admired.  I also think the brand of cat liter I used back then was bigger, though I also think I did like two or three coats of cat liter.  I intend to use some air dry clay, foam, and other stuff to build up no man’s land some, but mainly I need to keep it not too rough so models and scatter terrain can rest easily on it.

Tile after two layers of grit

Now I wait overnight and in the morning shake off the excess fine sand.  Once that is done I have to get serious about choosing colors for the wood, dirt, and sandbags.  I think I may use GW paint for the sandbags, but for the dirt and the wood I’ll probably use cheaper paint, which I’ll bike to the art supply store to pick up tomorrow.

Sealing grit with thined glue

Laying down more thined white glue

Applying a layer of fine grain sand

Laying the Lumber

So after carving my foam and painting it black, the next step was to line the trench sides and bottom with planks or in the miniature wargaming world, Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors.  These can be bought at most craft stores along with more precision cut pieces of balsa wood.  My trenches turned out to be just under five Popsicle sticks deep.

Timber lined trench

This tile has a removable foot bridge which used to lay flat in the trenches when not needed, but after lining both sides it doesn’t.  I’m not sure on the front lines you saw bridges across trench works much, but further from the front they were needed to send out patrols and what not.

This tile also got two little sandbag walls, made by this fella.  This gives any sentries something to hide behind or lean on.  I also allotted two surface craters to this tile, these were rather cheap and flimsy.  I don’t advocate buying craters for the most part, as they are make-able, but then again I bought lots of sandbags and they are make-able too.  I went against my golden rule of maximum modularity and glued the two craters to the tile.  They were pretty lightweight foam so I thought this was for the best.

After coating everything black once more it was time for the first texturing.  Due to cost and availability I use cat liter for this.  The problem with cat liter is it is porous so painting is a bit more work, it is also dusty which is why you need to use cheap black paint early and often.  After the glue hardens I’ll do beach sand, then probably this finer grained sand I got from somewhere years ago.  Beach sand as long as it is dry is great due to being more irregular than hobby sand.

Trench lining with Bridge

Once again I took a bunch of pictures at each step, including posing with my test guy, a technique I got from someone on the Waaagh.  I need to name my Imperial Guardsmen at some point.  The test ork is named Barry…  Oh the bridge is made by Snapdragon but he doesn’t make or sell much stuff anymore.

Painting everything blackTile with scatter terrain

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Adding texture with cat litter

Paint it Black

Yep, the most overused title in the miniature painting hobby.  This is actually really important, having made several display bases, nothing cramps your style while doing the final details like pink or white foam poking through.  So this rather large undertaking I vowed to paint it black early and paint it black often.

I’ll paint some more black on these but first I’ll probably put down the timbers inside the trenches.  After that is done I’ll do the sand.  I don’t want to sand all the flat surfaces and I can’t use as much cat liter as I did on my GT display base, it looked good but it isn’t game-able.  This table needs to game-able, that means wider than usual trenches, modularity, less than perfect fits, and lots, and lots of little pieces that can be re-arranged.

Someday I’ll get my other table’s worth of terrain here in Vancouver.  I plan to make a lip to connect the two.  I was thinking of doing a ruined village after this, something vaguely French and World War One.  I’ve also considered Spanish Adobe style buildings or even an Ork Village, but lately seeing the stuff Pardulon is producing if I ever have the money to drop on a gaming table again, plus the time and energy seeing this one is barely started, I might do a shanty town.  Maybe only a 4*4 Shanty town…

Here’s some pics.  I plan to work on just one tile at a time after this, plus I plan to work on my army for Astronomi-con Vancouver.  Note I tested the biggest GW base, the one used by Imperial Guard weapons teams, they fit in the biggest trenches.  I plan to make some machine gun nests and some of them will be big enough to accommodate these 80mm bases, but not all.  I want my table to favor lone models on a single 25 mm base.  Painting even six tiles took up my painting table, all my counter space, and my stove…

Final photo of the pink foam tiles

Painting table with tile

Counter covered with terrain tiles

Stove covered in terrain tiles