The wild wild woods...

Few things capture the imagination of fantasy and adventuring than a good forest.
Every good adventure movie has one. I've always dreamed of developing some form of "Adventure Film Festival" NOT consisting of "hippy-esque" "look at me I climbed this peak" or "skied this slope" type movies, but of REAL adventure movies, classic, adventure and fantasy adventure at that, films and cinema. Cheezy graphics, hokey special effects, and mediocre acting and dialogue a given, but what they would all have in common is one
And that "travel" almost ALWAYS involves journeying through a forest.
Examples? The Fellowship of the Ring, the Hobbit, Legend, Krull, The Magic Sword, Clash of the Titans, Sleeping Beauty, Dragonslayer, Conan the Barbarian, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight...the list goes on and on.....

So a forest is an integral part of any fantasy adventuring landscape. The problem is that for tabletop role-playing you have about three choices when it comes to forests, maybe four:

1 - Buy pre-made trees that look like they were borrowed from Dickens's Christmas village miniature decorations. what you get is almost always bright green pipe-cleaner pines on small wooden bases with a sprinkling of crappy looking snow. they flake, they look fake, and they are in a perpetual state of winter (which depending on your campaign or imagined world, may or may not be a bad thing...Narnia comes to mind...)

2 -   Buy nicely made pre-made trees from, say Citadel Miniatures. Citadel Wood is a favorite of mine.
They look fantastic, require a bit of work, can be sued with or without foliage, giving them a "dead swamp" look, but they cost a small fortune too. $30 for three trees...$10 a tree? For three? three trees a forest doesn't make. Sorry. And at $10 a tree, I could practically afford REAL trees...not to mention the time it takes to construct the final product. I still want these, and eventually will have them. Illogical as they might be compared to the ones I will be describing here.

3-Go with "non-tree forests" using "something" to represent trees....I guess this works. But this is pretty much the same as option 3A here too: go with 2D trees, as in Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons Game tiles:
Now to be fair, and because of my  undying loyalty to anything made by Dungeons & Dragons and Wizards of the Coast, I love these. they make magnificent ground tiles over which to put REALISTIC trees...but using these as the forest itself is fine for the non-miniature focused gamer or the lazy DM.
But this brings us to option 4....

4 - Make a REAL forest yourself with a bit of time, a bit of glue, some patience,and whole lot less money. And here's how....

Glue type:
I DO NOT recommend spray glue. This is what Scenic Woodlands suggests on the back of the package, but I have never had much luck getting their clump foliage to work real well with spray glue. It just is not sticky enough. Toughen up your finger tips, because HOT GLUE is your best friend. For this, as well as MOST other RPG and War gaming scenery projects. It is tough, mold-able, shape-able, and dries fast and hard. Everything with the trees is done with hot glue. Yes, it burns when your fingers touch it, but only for a second. for amazing water features, see using hot glue mixed with other concotions for those too. It is an amazing and completely undervalued modeling material. 

Foliage & "Leaves.
"Start with a pack of Scenic Woodlands (or similar brand) woodland railroad train scenery, foliage or clump foliage. I prefer anything that says, is sold as, or marketed for "railroad scenery." 
The reason being that, for whatever purpose, this stuff is INFINITELY cheaper than if the same item is sold in gaming hobby stores or marketed for role-playing or table top war gamming. I don't know whether it is because "railroaders" tend to be more price conscious, stingy or just plain "geriatric" and refuse to pay "Citadel-esque" prices or what, but the stuff is EXACTLY the same, often the same brand, and cheaper when designed and marketed for train modeling rather than gaming. 
Go online, sign up for a few emails from Michaels, Roberts Crafts, Hobby Lobby, Joanns, etc.....get a  40% off coupon, go get it there. Save a bundle. 

Tree Trunks:
Got a yard? Live near a park? have a neighbor with weeds? Get your tree trunks there. Seriously. DO NOT fork over the money for a bag of sticks labeled "realistic tree trunks" from Woodland Scenics. They sell bags of sticks, all "fairly" straight and usually hanging right next to the clump foliage, for a ridiculous amount of money. THEY'RE STICKS?!!! Seriously? $12, for sticks? 
Just go get them from your own backyard, or the park, or your neighbors....if you have no access to sticks, you likely aren't looking real hard, or live in the Mojave, Gobi, or Sahara Deserts, in which case this is likely not a real applicable blog post for you anyways. Hold off reading until I get into "Creating Desert Terrain" next month. 
Weeds, sticks, scrap wood from the wood pile, shave, scrape, carve with a knife into "fairly" straight (or not depending on the look you want) pieces. Walla. Tree trunks. The more spines and sticky little points the better to grab that foliage, but more on that here in a second. So weeds or the tips of overgrowing shrubbery work great. Strip off old leaves, real bugs, etc of course.

Foam core. Fantastic. Poke a hole, stick in your tree trunk, glue (see gluing tips below). Let the glue overflow the hole and the trunk a bit and don't worry too much on this yet. We'll cover it up with rocks and underbrush here soon. Scrap foam core, Styrofoam, card stock, even cardboard will work well. Just make sure the diameter of the base is wide enough to aaccommodate the size of the tree you are hoping to create. Notice in the photos here the bases all have real rocks. these are for balance, weight, and to cover up the unsightly holes where the trunks are drilled into the bases pre-foliage. they look fantastic when done though too.  

Foliage and Leaves and gluing:
Apply hot glue to the stick, top, letting drip down, cover trunk and branches well, let it drip and web and pool and stick all over like a spider-web like mess. Grab a hunk of foliage, apply, and pull.
Pull gently, but pull, the remainder off. Keep pulling and re-applying to new, uncovered spots. When you have that section covered to the desired fill, apply more glue on top of the first layer of foliage, and re-apply more foliage on top. Keep stacking foliage on top of hot-glued foliage, until you have both the shape, dimension and "bulk" of foliage for each tree. 
Once your each a good stopping point, apply foliage and rocks (available from dollar stores or even grocery stores for cheap, small pottery and vase size pebbles work best) to the base. this will not only re-enforce the trunk itself and the weight of the tree, but give the base a well covered "natural" look. 

When your done, you will likely NOT have the exact shape of the tree you set out to make. The glue tends to react to the foliage and the individual shape of each branch and stick or "trunk" to create random patterns, and applying the foliage to this only heightens the sense of "natural randomness" as well. Thus each tree is completely unique and looks totally different from the next. 

This is what makes these so good! They are ALL unique, each is different. Different shapes, sizes, bends, curves, structure and general look. Not only will your tabletop role playing or war game forest have real elements like rocks and wooden trunks, but you will have the look of a real growing forest as well, with each tree different. Add in different colors and forms of foliage each time you do a set of trees, and the forest will grow and develop into one of the most beautiful pieces in your collection. 

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