We’ve been interested in interviewing Dylan for what seems like forever. As a longtime friend of SRM’s and a regular fixture in the infamous “Cinco De Necro” events thrown annually by BuffaloChicken, Dylan’s underhive terrain project is legendary in northeast hobby circles. After finally convincing him to take photos of the completed project, SRM sat down with Dylan to discuss how it came together, the challenges, and what he’s planning to do next. Be sure to scroll to the end to check out our interactive image map of the table and browse its features.
What’s your background with terrain building?
I started making terrain in the mid-90s under the tutelage of my older brother, when we built an O-scale Lionel train layout. We messed around with using fake fur that we dyed ourselves for long grass, joint compound for roads, and building truss bridges out of scale correct wooden beams. Warhammer 40,000 followed closely on the heels of that, and my train layout was soon overrun by Orks and Space Marines. I made a fair amount of terrain in the late 90s for both 40k and WHFB, among which were some Nick Davis inspired Lizardman spawning ponds, a lot of it was bigger in concept and less in execution. When Mordheim came out, I took the plastic terrain bits, meant for the card terrain, and used thin styrofoam to build ruined walls. This was some of my more successful terrain of that era, and I have designs to rebase and modernize that stuff. After taking a break from the hobby in the early aughts, I came back and started building Ork terrain, exploring a modular table based on ceiling tiles. It was…. fine, but a good lesson in thinking how terrain plays vs how it looks. Cut to a few years later and I had the idea to take the old 2nd edition card terrain, draw it in Adobe Illustrator and get it laser cut. I did this with one piece, and that was a great learning experience. I’d forgot to take into account material thickness, so while it was a simple thing to assemble, it took a lot of handwork to make something that looked decent. After that I started drawing the card Necromunda terrain from the 1995 release. I convinced my work at the time that we needed a diecutter, which I promptly exploited and cut a bunch of terrain on. After leaving that job and losing access to that cutter, I picked up a Cricut diecutter for myself and dove back into the terrain game coinciding with the release of Necromunda in 2017.
What inspired this project?
New Necromunda! I had a vision of how I wanted to play the game and what I wanted it to look like. I maintain that the gaming experience is so much better when you have good terrain.Which is why I have 4-5 tables worth of terrain…. but especially for Necromunda, you need terrain to set the stage to get that decaying, lived-in, aeons-old feel. My terrain pulls from the aesthetic of the old Forge World Zone Mortalis tiles and the newly released (then) Sector Mechanicus terrain. It wasn’t necessarily my intention, but my terrain turned into this vaguely industrial sector, a wasteland of rusted, but mostly untouched, ancient industry.
This is, to put it simply, a truly insane undertaking. At what point did you realize that this was not just an idea, but something real?
HA! I probably realized this at the start of my third season of terrain building. I had completed a 3′ x 3′ sector and was really happy with it, but I wanted to add some verticality to the board. I think every Necromunda players’ dream is to recreate the studio vertical board from 1997 (ish). I don’t think I realized fully what I was doing until the first wall was built and sat with my other terrain, changing the sense of scale, turning what had been large and imposing pieces into just another part of the hive. The two walls took me 7 months from the start of construction to when I finished painting them.
These clearly take a lot of time, effort, and care to create. How do you decide which of your ideas will make it to the workbench?
In the past, I was just trying to build out enough to make a full table of terrain to play on, and I was able to build all the ideas that I had at the time. Some of the pieces were based around a single element that I wanted to include. For example, the piece with 2 smokestacks, that came about because I wanted to use Land Raider engines somehow. Now that I have a full table, I’ve actually created a running list of terrain pieces that I want to make and I’m really trying to think about how they will play before I build them. Another huge consideration is where to store them. I’m fortunate to have a dedicated hobby and gaming space, but even with that, my terrain storage space isn’t unlimited.
What are your secret weapons here?
My Cricut. The ability to think something up, jump into Adobe Illustrator, draw it up, cut it, then assemble it, is one of the most satisfying things. It’s allowed me to replicate a single part hundreds of times, and maintain a common design language throughout my hive. Tichy Rivets. I use these on everything to get the stuff I make to blend in with the Games Workshop stuff.
What are some little details on your pieces that people might miss that you’re proud of?
I love the little reliquaries and ossuaries that I’ve started tucking in. Figuring out how to make my doors function, the old Forge World Zone Mortalis doors that slide up, and the Dark Uprising doors that slide into the walls. I’m especially proud of connecting my ventilation ducts across tiles and how I made them more playable.
How have you grown as a hobbyist over the course of this project?
My early pieces were a little more cobbled together. I’ve gotten a lot better of designing my stuff as a whole thing, so in the end it feels more like a whole thing with appropriate volume. That’s not to say that I plan everything out. I have a larger idea of what I want and let it come together as it does, but I’ve made enough terrain to see where I could get tripped up and solve those things before I get to them. An example of this is figuring out how piping travels over multiple levels or how walkways intersect. That said, a fair amount are happy accidents. It was only after both walls were built that we realized the depth of some of the platforms block line of sight in such a way that gangers on them had to be near the edge if they wanted to fire down, which of course makes them vulnerable to falling off. This created a really nice dynamic that I had really thought about. I’ve also had plenty of lessons learned mid-project that I’ve changed and used to improve it from then on. There’s nothing like realizing after you’ve built your initial wall level to realize that you actually want door openings through the wall itself… That was an interesting day drilling holes through it and attacking partially built terrain with a jigsaw.
These boards are extremely intricate and dense. What’s it like to play on them?
It changes the game immensely. Because of the height, you’re forced to think about the 3rd dimension in a way that games of Zone Mortalis and even other Sector Mechanicus boards don’t. We were lucky to get a handful of games on them before COVID forced everyone into isolation. We found that having the ability to traverse the space between terrain pieces made the games more fun, but caused players to have to make big choices. Running along the walls or across gantries, you find yourself out in the open in many cases, but there’s still many times where intervening terrain gives you cover that you wouldn’t expect. Terrain that would have previously been the top of the stack and you’d look down upon everything else, you find that you’re hiding on one side of it, using that height as cover from the even higher walls. I’ve found that our games began to happen in two places. You’d have one group of gangers duking it out on the top level, running across gantries and the top levels of the terrain, blasting at each other until enough of the enemy fell off to gain control. The other group would be on floor level, flitting from cover to cover in the shadows cast by the gantries above. Hilariously, I have a pair of large tweezers (approx. 10″ long) that we’ve had to use to extricate the occasional ganger who is too deep in cover.
How would you recommend your average hobbyist get started with terrain building? Better still, how would you recommend an experienced hobbyist get started with a hive like this?
Make sure you have the space to store it. I can’t emphasize it enough. I had to rebuild my gaming table to have enough height to store my walls… As far as the terrain itself, take the time to find real-world sources that can inspire your terrain. I collected a ton of stuff over the years and I’ve referenced it less than I should, but for me I lean on the general themes more than anything. Another thing that I can’t stress enough is to match the level of detail to the Games Workshop kits. Even if you aren’t using them, detailing your terrain to a similar level will create a world that looks right. This is the reason I’ve used over 20,000 rivets on my stuff. Getting everything detailed so that it looks like it’s real, and not just some flat pieces of plastic glue onto something is the trick. Finding how to get a realistic volume to pieces that you’re building with flat styrene can be a trick that I even struggle with still.
Construction aspects aside, one of the most important pieces of building terrain is how games will be played over it. You can make the coolest thing you can think of, but if it doesn’t play well, in a way, you’ve wasted your time. I learned this the hard way with my cargo bay. I love it and it makes a great photo backdrop, but game-wise, it’s really tough to play. There’s only two entrances and a big, open flat roof. Most of the time gangers avoid it, skittering across the roof, not wanting to get caught opening a door to find themselves in the open to a volley of gunfire. I keep an average size ganger around to check scale and placement as I build. Railings on gantries or on the edge of a platform change how they play, placement and number of ladders impact how gangers can get up and down things.
What’s next for your board?
As I mentioned, I actually have a list now. With the gang stronghold kit coming out, I have designs on building a gang hideout. I want to build a proper drinking hole, especially with the bar brawl scenario they gifted us with. I want to expand the hive dome wall so that I can have a 4-foot wide board, and I’ve got some wild ideas to incorporate in it. First up though is a larger piece that is a part of the hive pushed up from a hive quake, with a fun twist….
Where can people keep up with what you’re doing?
Instagram is the best place – @40khamslam and if you’re interested in getting into diecutting, I have a Patreon, www.patreon.com/40khamslam where I have twice-monthly drops of cut files and an option for 1-on-1 hobby consultation.
Explore the Details of Dylan’s Board
Mouseover the numbered points to get another angle of the board and more information about that element and how it was made.