Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Space Rocks!

Yep. Been silent here lately. But it's been the deep, dark silence of space!

(Okay, not really. But it makes a good segue.)

Because my biggest current gaming obsession continues to be Star Wars: X-Wing from Fantasy Flight Games.

If you've bought the Core Rules boxed set (and if you haven't, good heavens, what galaxy have you been in?), then you know the game comes with six beautifully illustrated asteroid tokens which you punch out and scatter about your gaming space to create obstacles for your dogfights. (Nasty, annoying, frustrating obstacles, that is.)

BUT as lovely as these tokens are, something is lacking in the visual experience. Your spacefighters are sculpted and painted miniatures of high quality, mounted on posts to soar above your tabletop... and the asteroids they are crashing into are flat bits or cardboard laying flat on the surface. 2D versus 3D, and the third dimension demands to be served.


Never fear, fellow space travellers, the Force is with you. Creating a terrific alternative is cheap and easy.
Now, that's a space rock!

All you need are:

The tokens from the game.

One golf tee per token (a mix of long, medium and short will be best).

One "lava rock" per token.

A small drill and masonry bit.

Glue. (Elmer's or white craft glue is fine for this.)

Flat black primer spray paint.

Dark gray, light gray, and flat black acrylic craft paint (sold at stores like Michael's, JoAnn's, Hobby Lobby, or whatever they call craft and art stores in your arm of the galaxy.)

Some cheap small paint brushes you care nothing about.

Water (distilled water is best, but tap water should be fine if you don't have too high a mineral content on your planet).

"Lava rock" are those red bits of volcanic rock sold at do-it-yourself home improvement stores as garden decor and "grilling rocks" for gas grills. This stuff is dirt cheap, but is often sold in big bags weighing several pounds (or a few kilograms, if your droids only interpret metric units). You can either buddy up with a lot of friends, give the excess to your favorite grill cook, or surprise your sweetie with a decorative flower bed. "Honest, honey, I just wanted to do it for you."  (Alternatively, you can just ask your local supplier if they'll let you have a handful of rocks. Mine gave me around a dozen at no charge.)

STEP 1: Drill holes about the diameter of the golf tee shafts in the center of your rocks. Try not to drill all the way through. NOTE: This makes a good bit of fine, red dust, so be prepared.
TIP: Only use a masonry drill bit. The rock will destroy drill bits meant for wood. Masonry bits are cheap, and who knows— maybe you'll need to use 'em for something else.

STEP 2: Glue the golf tees into the holes in the rocks. (Just spread the glue on the tee and jam that puppy in there as tightly as you can.) Let dry.

STEP 3: Glue the "heads" of the golf tees onto the center of the asteroid tokens. Yes, this will be permanent. Suck it up, soldier! TIP: Orient the rocks to try to match the general orientation of the tokens' shapes, and be certain to center things as well as you can so the token acts as a steady base.

STEP 4: Spray the entire assembly with flat black primer paint. The rock will absorb the paint, so you may need to make several coats. Yes, you will be completely covering the illustrated image on the token with paint (Remember what I said about sucking it up?). If you can't deal with that, spray the rocks and tees assembly before gluing on the tokens. It'll look weird, but you can do it that way.
Let the paint dry.

STEP 5: Dip a paint brush in the dark gray craft paint, then wipe it off until only a small amount remains on the brush; the less you leave, the lighter and more realistic the results. Rub the brush vigorously across the lava rock. This will leave gray paint on the raised surfaces, but not in the recessed areas. This is called "dry brushing." You can be a bit more generous with the dark gray paint, as you're going to create highlights with the lighter paint next. Continue to paint until you think you have a good contrast between the high bits of the rock and the darker black elsewhere.

STEP 6: Dry brush with the light gray paint, this time with a little less vigor. The point is to add a highlight effect to the most raised parts of the rock. Note that all this dry brushing will mangle your paint brush. That's why you use a cheap one.
Let the paint dry.

STEP 7: Mix a little black craft paint with water. You want a very watery paint that is still black. Using another brush, slap this paint into any deep recesses in the rocks; it's okay if a little gets on the highlighted areas; it will mostly run off. Again, the rock my absorb this, so you may have to make more than one coat. This step is called a wash, and the point is to create a deep shadow effect in the holes in the lava rock.
Let dry.

Stand up on the bases, and you're done! (You can spray everything with a protective clear matte sealant if you wish, but it's not necessary.)
Rocks in Spaaaaaaccccceeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

This method produces gray asteroids. You can use browns and tans if you want other colors. Experiment with a lava rock before you go whole hog, to make certain you like the effect.


The treacherous asteroids of the Great Blue Nebula of Willstabul!
Note nifty new ships: The E-wing, the Z-95 Headhunters,
the TIE Defender and the TIE Phantom.
Also, one old TIE fighter that got dragged in as blaster fodder...
In the game, the same rules still apply. The area covered by the asteroid is the area of its base, not the lava rock (just as the space occupied by a spacecraft in the game is defined by its base, not the miniature). This rule makes things considerably simpler, as the maneuver templates have as much to do with determining a collision as the fighter bases do.

You don't have to be a great painter to do this, and the whole thing can be accomplished in a single afternoon.
If you want more asteroids, either get another Core Set for bases (and more ships), or trace the bases on a piece of stiff plastic or masonite and cut out with a jigsaw.

Hope you enjoy this little tutorial. Stick around for more, because next I'm gonna be dealing with monsters... the King of All Monsters, in fact!

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