Got Gas Giants?

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by Tom Verreault

Building Scale Knight Hawks Terrain


Years ago I had created a couple of planets by painting Styrofoam balls and mounting them on some two piece plastic Champaign glass bases (purchased at a combination dollar and party store). They were easy projects had I was following a tutorial I had found on the internet which primarily detailed painting the moon. These planets roughly approximated one Knight Hawks hex as the scale for Knight Hawks miniatures is one hex equals 2 inches which makes my early gas giant only slightly larger than Earth at 3 inches.

The reality is that gas giants are huge and should more properly take up 7 to 14 hexes worth of space in diameter. Also I had mused ever since making these planets how to do a gas giant with rings. One idea that had come up was using a vinyl music album as the rings and dry-brushing gray paint onto the grooves of the album to simulate the dust rings of a gas giant. On a recent trip to the craft store I spotted a new product, half Styrofoam spheres. I bought some 3 inch half spheres as a test along with a vinyl 45 record and rounded up another plastic base.

The half spheres were easily painted with acrylic craft paint and I jammed an old paint brush into the flat sides to hold the half spheres while painting them. The record was primed with flat black enamel primer then gray acrylic paint was dry-brushed onto the grooves. I had initially believe that the dry-brushing technique would give a good look for the rings like it does when used in painting chainmail armor on 25mm miniatures but alas there is not enough texture to the grooves on the record. Still, as a test of concept my first gas giant with rings looked serviceable.  It had a nice dramatic angle to the rings and this in turn suggested some effects for ships firing at targets obscured by the rings (counting the rings as a masking screen if the weapon’s fire tracks through the dust ring).

However, there were some problems. The planet sits higher than many of my star ship miniatures and there could be issues of subjectivity as to whether rings should come into play. Also the height of the model combined with the negligible weight of the base makes this mode prone to being easily tipped over.

Thinking about the problems of the first model lead to a new test of concept using only one half sphere and cutting the 45 record in half. I used a miter box and a coping saw to create a 45 degree cut of the half sphere and jammed an old paintbrush into the side with an obtuse angle for ease of painting. The record was scored with a metal tool and straight edge before being snapped in half.

The resulting gas giant sits flush on the table and perhaps better matches the 2 dimensional nature of Knight Hawks space combat.

These new gas giants are by far my favorite but they are not really to scale. However, I now knew what I wanted for a gas giant terrain piece. With a trip to the craft store and to the Goodwill store I purchase an 8 inch half sphere and a full size vinyl album. Goodwill was the only place I could find old used vinyl albums in my area as not even the dusty used book stores carry them anymore.

I should note that the 8 inch half sphere is a hollow shell (not solid like the 3 inch) and it did not fit into my miter box. To make a good cut at a good dramatic angle I stretched a piece of string from pole to pole on the half sphere and enlisted one of my kids in marking the sphere along that string with a sharpie. I used the coping saw again and endeavored to get as straight a cut as possible (it was straight enough). The vinyl album was similarly snapped in half and painted as before and the half sphere was painted in a blue and purple Jupiter like pattern. The other gas giants had been assembled with some high end modelling super glue but for this one I used hot glue.

Now I have a scale gas giant model that dominates the gaming table and impacts combat the way a real gas giant might. It provides blocking terrain that cannot be moved through (the planet itself) and hindering terrain that has an effect on combat (the rings) and possibly movement. Good war gaming terrain should have eye appeal, looking good on the table and it should have an impact on the tactics of the game. The large gas giant model does both. Also the 3 inch gas giant with rings can stand in for Terledrom in the Fromeltar system of the Star Frontiers setting since this is a habitable world with rings. So both sizes of my new gas giants are very usable in future Knight Hawks games.