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Interview: Sean Patten (Iron Hands/Necromundicon)

We’ve got a really special treat for this next interview. Sean Patten’s work has been a huge inspiration for me, especially as I’ve gotten back into Mordheim. The Mordheim section he has over at his site Necromundicon is all just amazing. It’s not just about his Mordheim terrain though, as he has created scenery for everything from Mordheim to Warhammer 40k to Star Wars games! On top of all this, he’s even put together several sets of rules for games both in the Warhammer 40k setting and in the Star Wars setting. You can find the rules over at Iron Hands.

As if all of that is not enough, he’s done hand made costumes and props as well! He is truly a talented individual. I highly recommend that you all check out his site, as the few pieces that I’ve shown here are just a small portion of the amazing work that he has done.

Sean Patten's Mordheim Table

Sean Patten's Mordheim Table

Mordheim city docks

Mordheim city docks

Where are you from?
I grew up in California, but have moved a couple times since then. I’m now in the Seattle area.

What is your occupation?
I design video games, actually. It pays better than tabletop game development.

Plasma Tower

Plasma Tower

How long have you been interested in the tabletop hobby and how did you get into it?
For ever? I remember drawing dungeons on graph paper when I was like, I dunno, eight years old? I made a lot of my own little board games in high school too. I first started using models for gaming in college, when I ran a Gundam RPG that used the 1/144 scale model kits for combat. Terrain was kind of a virgin concept though, we played on the living room floor with cardboard trees and Styrofoam buildings back then.

What games do you play? What armies do you play in those games?
I primarily play my own version of 40K (more on that later). I like to have a lot of diversity in my campaigns, especially for “villains” in cooperative campaigns, so I have at least a little bit of every 40K army. I even have campaign rules that support lesser known “armies” such as Arbites and Mechanicus. I usually run smaller squads of guys, so I don’t have hundreds of every army, just enough to get their flavor in some cases.

Do you have any rituals while modeling/painting such as listening to specific music?
I usually attempt to watch shows or movies while I work, though they often end up more of a distraction. Music works well. I’m considering books on tape since I don’t have a lot of reading time these days…

What are some of your influences or where do you draw your inspiration from? Are there any books, movies, art, or other sources that have had an impact on your work? Whose work has had an impact on you and your projects?
I watch a lot of movies for visual inspiration, so even a bad movie with great visuals can be inspirational. I’m working on a spreadsheet of my favorites that I’ll post to my site some day, but a recent one I enjoyed was the Pang brothers’ horror/fantasy film “Re-Cycle”- check it out if you get a chance.

Sororita

Sororita

Aside from movies, I’ve found some great inspiration just doing simple searches on deviantart.com, conceptart.org, and the like. There’s a hell of a lot more talent out there in the world than is being tapped by companies like GW. You can even find high quality 40K fan art out there. Conceptships.org has been a great inspiration for Star Crashers too. A lot of video game developers are making more use of concept artists, so there’s a good source there too- for example, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has some fantastic concept art for terrain, especially their chaos stuff.

As far as artists go, I always liked Jes Goodwin’s art style. There’s something uniquely crisp about everything he draws. Everything reads, there’s no random noise, yet it still has strong personality. I really like his aesthetic, with solid lines, rounded corners, little notches and studs- it all looks so tangible, solid, dependable and familiar. Too bad he doesn’t have time to draw backdrops or scenery…

Imperial War Train

Imperial War Train

What is your favorite piece that you’ve done or what are you most proud of? What do you like about it?
I’m really happy with the way the Mage Knight table turned out, since it was a lot of new techniques for me and a genre I don’t normally work in. The water ended up looking surprisingly good, and I really liked all the little paths through the cliff sides. I love exploration, so my favorite terrain tends to be more about that than mass battles on a flat surface.

Filtration Tower

Filtration Tower

What is your favorite piece that someone else has done? What do you like about it?
This isn’t a proper answer to your question, but I’m really pleased with many of the PRODUCTS that are now available to gamers. Games Workshop (Cities of Death), Tehnolog/Imex/Pegasus ( Platformer and Chemical Plant), and Hirst Arts (cast your own blocks) have made terrain making so much easier and more enjoyable, for both newbies and veterans alike! Their products are of amazing quality and aesthetic design, and have made it possible for me to develop great looking terrain that anyone can emulate. So I really wanted to say a big thanks to the respective companies, for pushing those products through in a market primarily driven by miniatures sales!

What is your favorite part of the hobby? Do you prefer working with terrain or miniatures?
Terrain of course! This gets back to my love of exploration. As you might imagine, I did a lot of urban exploration as a kid, so being able to create virtual replicas of spaces I’d love to explore is very satisfying. Of course, without some well painted, evocative miniatures to move through the terrain, its not nearly as fun, right?

You’ve worked on a lot of settings from Sci-Fi to Fantasy and everything in between. What is your favorite setting?
The mix of technology and gothic architecture in the 40K setting still amazes me. It’s a hard aesthetic to capture, but very satisfying when you do. It’s also a very diverse universe, so I can get my “fantasy” out by doing Chaos scenery, and my “alien” out by doing Eldar, and of course the ramshackle mess that is Ork terrain is extremely liberating and satisfying too… It’s really not fair saying 40K, since it encompasses so many different styles! If I had to focus in, I’d say “industrial” terrain. You can never have too many rivets or pipes, I say.

Necropolis

Necropolis

What technique has given you the most trouble? Do you have any tips for someone else who might be struggling with it?
There are some materials that I still can’t get to take glue or paint to my satisfaction- mainly HDPE plastic, but metal and glass are also a nuisance. My advice: just don’t do it. If you have to use materials like metal, consider using mechanical fasteners like pop rivets or screws instead of glue. And SAND THE HECK out of anything you need to paint if it isn’t nice, hard plastic.

Bone Fortress

Bone Fortress

I also hate working with Styrofoam. I just don’t do it, really. Its hard to paint and glue, and really fragile. I feel kind of sad whenever I see it used…. For natural terrain, I recommend sound dampening board or acoustic ceiling tile, pine bark, or paper machie. Any product made out of paper can be made extremely hard and sturdy if you just put enough PVA (white) glue on it. And if you want some big boxy shapes to detail out, electrical boxes can be found as cheap as 25 cents apiece…

Are there any areas that you’d like to improve on?
Some of my best work makes use of toys or parts that I just can’t find in quantity, so I’m always looking for ways to make terrain more mass-produce-able. It’s comforting when I can bust out another copy of a piece whenever I want, or I can make a tutorial for it. Plus there’s something really satisfying about discovering a modeling use for things we see every day. Like plastic spoons…

What projects are you working on currently? What would be your dream project?
I’m making little spaceships for my latest game, Star Crashers! It’s fun to work on such a vastly different scale- you look at materials in a whole new way. Did you know you can make an entire spaceship out of parts from the Chemical Plant kit? Well now you do.

As to a dream project… I also like to make props and costumes, so I would say making a suit of Space Marine armor, one of really high quality, would be a great project. I doubt it will happen though, I don’t have vacu-forming tools at my house. Too… Many… Hobbies…

Ork Minelayer

Ork Minelayer

What tips, tricks, or advice can you share with us? Are there any special brands or materials that you use that other people might not know about?
I try to post all my discoveries on my site, but here’s a few that really shouldn’t be overlooked:

  1. Make a rivet embosser out of a 1/16” hole punch by filing off the edges of the punch. Then emboss rivets into playing cards, plastic spoons, plastic soda bottles, etc. Cut out and glue on- instant riveted panel detail!
  2. Dust your wet CA glue with Baking Soda to make it set faster.
  3. Plastic Clothes pins, VHS tapes, Electrical Boxes, and ribbed tubing are all you really need to make great terrain!
  4. Drybrushing is faster. And when painting terrain, speed is everything.
  5. Enamel (oil based) paints make the best washes, you just need to use odorless mineral spirits to thin them.

A Jungle Scene

A Jungle Scene

In addition to your amazing terrain work you have put together rules for your own games. Can you explain a little bit about what Rules Crusade is and how it differs from existing games?
Rules Crusade is my attempt at making a fast playing, squad based exploration game out of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Having started with RPGs in High School (AD&D, Gamma World, Traveler, etc), I wanted the tactile and visual satisfaction of a miniatures game but with more cooperation and exploration, and less “me vs. you” competition. I started by modifying the old Rogue Trader rules, but it was still too complex and arbitrary for my liking… And then I discovered Space Crusade, and everything changed.

Space Crusade never released in the US, but I managed to get a copy from the UK for my birthday. Milton Bradley licensed the 40K setting (complete with Space Marines, Chaos Marines, and Orks), so it had that great 40K feel, but with much simpler rules (and less die rolling, thank you!). I fell in love with the game, and played it into the ground. Then I realized, with just a few modifications, the grid-based movement could be converted over to tape measures and terrain, and a whole new game was born! The basic rules for Space Crusade received some more depth with the addition of graze and fail results for weapons, so there would be a tangible difference between a lasgun and a bolter. This change made it possible to have a Rules Crusade version of Necromunda, the first of our campaign systems. And the rest is history…

Aside from the totally different feel of a game played with Rules Crusade, it’s also nice to use a house system because you don’t have to worry about the rules changing- unless you want them to! It does make finding players tricky though. Many 40K players really like the competitive style of that game, or they don’t want to learn a new game system. But I’ve found some great players that don’t mind being a part of the game development process, so hats off to them for keeping the system alive and ensuring we have many visually and experiential rich games to come…

Shipwreck

Shipwreck

You have also put together rules for Star Wars based tabletop games. Can you explain a bit about Galactic Heroes and Star Crashers?
Galactic Heroes was created for my kids! We were already collecting the figures, so it seemed silly NOT to have a game for them to play in. I made the game incredibly simple, but it still has a lot of the elements that make Rules Crusade fun to play, such as the blips, and the concept of actions. It’s easy to over-design and make a complicated game, so I’m pleased with how fun and simple it turned out.

Star Crashers ships

Star Crashers ships

Star Crashers was also created for my kids (as a Christmas present, no less). It builds on the mechanics introduced in Galactic Heroes, and adds a bit more depth since the kids are older now (but still not ready for Rules Crusade / 40K). I’m really proud of Star Crashers, particularly the encounter blips, which give you that feeling of exploring unknown space…

Making your own Tabletop games is really fun for me. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with a clever game mechanic that totally changes the feel of the game, via just a few words on paper. Star Crashers has already gone through several revisions just in the first few weeks of play, thanks to the kids’ playtesting and suggestions.

Inside a classic Star Wars scene

Inside a classic Star Wars scene

I really like the Star Wars terrain you have put together for your games. With the difference in style, how does this compare to making the other terrain? Were there any special considerations or difficulties in adapting to the Star Wars style?
Because I was making terrain for Galactic Heroes, there was less of a burden of making things look EXACTLY accurate or exactly to scale. This made it a lot easier to bust out terrain quickly- as long as it was the right general size, shape and color, it looked right, you know? Because Star Wars is set on different planets with their own unique environments, it was fun to tackle each environment with its own challenges. Star Wars is well documented- it’s easy to find reference and identify the defining aesthetics. I already had a head start in making Star Wars props, so it was fun to apply that knowledge to terrain!

A Mutant Model conversion

A Mutant Model conversion

Finding Niubniub’s diorama graphics was a huge help for making the Death Star and Rebel Ship terrain. Mos Eiseley was a joy to paint, since you could be messy and it didn’t matter. And Endor was fun to make because I never really did woodland trees for 40K, so I got to innovate some techniques there.

What other hobbies do you have outside of tabletop gaming?
I still work on props and costumes occasionally- I try to wear my Sandtrooper at least once a year with the 501st. I also like to get outdoors with the kids, camping and exploring, playing dart guns, and taking photos. And I’m obligated to play video games because of my work, so that also competes for my time!

Anything else about yourself that you care to share?
I’ve been posting project logs to the forums recently. I avoided the forums before since I rarely have time to post, much less read, but I’ve found them to be a good source of inspiration and motivation. A shout out to the boyz at The-Waaagh.com is in order, and I’m trying to get a chaos campaign plog going over at Warseer. In fact, I need to post pictures from our last Chaos Campaign game…

Look to see more space ships for Star Crashers coming soon, and of course, I will eventually get around to making more disturbing chaos terrain pieces for our campaign as long as it keeps rolling forward.

I’d also like to thank the folks who have been purchasing terrain, as it is both a motivator for innovation, and a source of income (gotta pay for those materials and supplies somehow). My next daunting task: figuring out how to make a production version of the Wrecked Ship. I have no idea how I’ll pull it off, since it used parts from two hard to find toys and an insane amount of labor… we’ll see what comes of it!

Ember Shrine

Ember Shrine

A mine

A mine

Whew! That was a lot of pictures to fit in there. As I said above, this is really only a small sample of Sean’s work. For the rest of it, check out his site. There is so much amazing work to see it’s really mind blowing. Fantasy, 40k, Star Wars, Miniatures, Terrain… you name it, he does it! I hope you’ve all enjoyed this interview as much as I have.

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