The tavern is one of the most iconic staples of any fantasy role-playing game. It is the place where many adventures start and where prospective quest givers and shady informers can be found. Naturally it is also a place where our heroes end up in great a many brawls or spend the coin they earned on drink, food and rumours. Naturally a tavern can also be an excellent terrain piece for historical games. Many generals of renown made the local tavern their headquarters or lodged there for some time.
We see, the potential for a tavern in our gaming is endless, but how to go about creating a tavern?
In this first part I will cover the basics: features a tavern might have, basic construction techniques, materials needed and so on. To exemplify these I built a prototype that consists of a house front and floor only, well suited to experiment with different techniques, but also an excellent photography or gaming background when finished.
Initial considerations – design and materials
A tavern can come in many shapes and forms, but if we think of the archetype of a fantasy tavern we might end up imagining a Tudor house with a thatched roof or shingles and an inviting tavern sign dangling in the wind. This mental picture is not very different for historical settings, after all most of our fantasy worlds are based on medieval Europe. I also wanted the tavern to have a fully sculpted inside, so that it can be used in variety of settings/scenes in front of or inside a tavern. Unfortunately this doubles the work and it is also important to work accurately so that features on the outside match up with features on the inside. For instance a beam that protrudes through the wall or a foundation made of stone where stones should match up on the inner and outer walls.
We have now a basic idea and have to decide what materials to use to achieve a convincing result. I first thought of using styrofoam as a material for the house front, but I only had a sheet of 1 cm thickness, which I felt was a bit too thick, so I decided to go for foamcore instead on which I would built up all the other features.
For the wooden beams I did not use balsa or other wood strips, but rather HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) or as we often call it “Plastic Card”. This material has a clear advantage over wood: It does not bloat when painted and can also be inscribed to achieve a very fine wood grain look. Balsa or other materials tend to show too deep a grain when inscribed for our scale (1:56 or 1:48). On the plus side the natural grain of wood can be brought out using a wood stain, but then you won’t have as much control or are limited by the natural grain.
My first attempt at inscribing a piece of HIPS was quite successful and watered down acrylic paint and some washes brought out the detail quite nicely.
I decided to depict the foundation of the tavern as being made of fieldstone. This also gives you the opportunity to build a cellar later on or even use the tavern as an entry point to a dungeon module, with the fieldstone walls continuing in the basement. Once again we have here different possibilities. One could inscribe the stonework into styrofoam, but often this leads to fine fissures depending on the kind of foam you use. Air dry clay is another option, but can be brittle after it is dry and while sculpting you might get a lot of dragging and fine particles clinging to your model. Instead I went for Greenstuff. I am certain you could use Milliput as well or any other air hardening sculpting putty. If you plan to make a number of buildings you can also consider making a press mold or even silicon mold based on a field stone pattern. This way you have to do the hard work only once. For the prototype I did neither and just sculpted the stones as a one-off, as I wanted to get a feeling for how it would look before I commit to a stonework design.
Finally the spaces between the timber framing have to be filled with something that looks suitable. You could use air dry clay here, which has the advantage that you can press it into the shape you want to fill, but once again it can be brittle. An interesting method is to use stripes of double-sided bonding tape on which you apply the air dry clay. This way you avoid the eventual lifting of the clay during the drying process. Woodfiller is also an option. However, it is quite difficult to fill it in without getting it on the timber. I did try the woodfiller first, but I think I will use air dry clay in the future and glaze it with acrylic medium.
Now we have a general idea what we want and how to achieve it. Time for some detailed step-by-step instructions. If you follow these instructions you will end up with something like this:
What you need
- A piece of foamcore cut to the desired size of your house front.
- A sheet of 1mm or 0.6mm thick HIPS.
- Greenstuff or any other modelling putty to sculpt the stonework and any other details.
- Woodfiller or air dry clay to fill the voids between the timbers.
- Some HIPS / MDF scraps of a suitable thickness or any other material to provide a basis for some steps that lead to the front door of the tavern.
- A pen to indicate roughly where the timber frame , doors and windows are located.
- A sharp knife or cutter to score and cut the HIPS.
- A sculpting needle and ball tool as well as a wire brush to inscribe the HIPS.
How you do it
- First cut a piece of foamboard to size and sketch in were beams, windows, doors and the field stone base will be located.
- Cut out openings for the doors and windows with a very sharp knife. Don’t worry if it drags a bit or the window is not perfect. This will all be covered with HIPS stripes.
- Cut long stripes of HIPS (about 1mm by 3mm by 30cm) and use the wire brush to texture them on three sides (no need to texture the side you will glue down). Just move the brush along the stripe, in one direction only. Then go back in with a needle tool and add deeper grain or small blemishes. The longer the stripe the more time you safe, as you won’t have to texture each little piece separately.
- After all the beams are glued down it is also time to add window sills and frames. I did this only in one place for now on the lower left side. Naturally you will need to do this on the inside, too.
- Now it is time to fill in the space between the beams. As I mentioned above I used wood filler for this, but might go for air dry clay on cut-to-size double-sided bonding tape in the future.
- Onwards to the door. I cut a piece of HIPS to size and inscribed the planks with a needle tool. Afterwards I textured the wood with a wire brush. At first I thought I could cut the iron work out of HIPS, but that was not possible.
- Instead I used some greenstuff for the job and also fashioned some iron fittings where the tavern’s sign will be mounted and a door knob.
- Onwards to the fieldstone. We start out with a ball of modelling putty which we spread out. Using a sculpting tool we first sketch out the fieldstone pattern.
- We then proceed adding detail and use a bit of bunched up tin foil to give the stones a nice texture. Just roll it over the fieldstones.
- Next are the steps that lead to the door. Make a base for the steps of any material you have handy. I used some MDF that I had lying around. On top of this base we sculpt the fieldstone pattern and texture it.
- I was happy with the prototype so far, thus I decided to add some colour to experiment a bit how the final piece might look like.
- I painted the fieldstones in different brown and grey tones. They are not finished yet. A drybrush with a brown-grey followed by a brown wash will draw the stones together and just show subtle differences in coloration.
This is how the prototype looks in the end. Still some work to do, but it is getting there.Now we need to add more windows, fix the issue with the field stones not going all up to the first horizontal beam, clean up the paint job and complete the inside of the tavern.
I hope you found this first part interesting and got some ideas how to build your own tavern or Tudor style houses. If you have any suggestions, advise or would like to share your own creations comment below.