Osgiliath Ruins

Construction Article - July 13th, 2005

--Neldoreth (aka revolutionary)


Ever since I saw the brief glimpses of Osgiliath in the Two Towers movie I was absolutely hooked on the idea of having an Osgiliath board. The opportunities to play fantastic games, facilitated by the skirmish format of the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battles Game, in such a place would be amazing. So I set out to produce enough terrain to put together a whole board.

Many interations were carried out. There were variations in style and construction methods. But finally I (almost) worked out all of the kinks and got down to the business of mass production. Throughout this article I will outline my current, streamlined methods for making the ruins of Osgiliath. I will try to mention the other constuction methods when I come accross areas where I have alternatives that may be of interest to some. Finally, I hope that this article will help you build your own cities in ruin and allow you to game your hearts out :)

Wonderful scenes like these make me pine for an Osgiliath board!


  • 0.5mm foamcore (black prefered)
  • Thick currogated cardboard
  • White glue (PVA glue)
  • Pins
  • Sharp hobby knife
  • Scissors
  • Thin masking tape
  • Black paint
  • White paint
  • Dark Ballast (or sand, whatever you like to call it) - preferably two sizes at least.

A quick note on supplies: Throughout my experience building ruins, I have tried to save as much time in the construction process as possible. To assure that I save time I try to use supplies that will help me, such as black foamcore instead of white.

I realized that I painted the foamcore entirely black, which took a lot of time. I managed to save much time by using all (or as much as possible) black supplies. For this reason I used coal ballast from woodland scenics instead of the brown/beige sand that GW sells for my base sand, as it is black (painting sand requires a lot of paint and time). Finally, I also realized that it was a lot easier to paint all the surfaces that were not already black before I applied the sand or coal ballast. In short, it is worth the extra few dollars to buy the black foamcore and save yourself an hour of painting/drying time.

Step One: Research

It always pays to do some research. The primary source of research should be from the movies; getting the details of Osgiliath from any other place will always be second best, as you would be taking someone's interpretation of Osgiliath and not what is actually represented in the movie. That even includes this article! Hopefully you can pick up some good construction tips from this, but when it comes to designing your Osgiliath buildings, look to the movies!

I based the design for this building loosely on the building that you can see thousands of Gondorian troops infront of when looking over Bromir's shoulder during his victory speech. It is a nice building to look at, although quite large and complex.

The building directly over Boromir's shoulder is the one that this article is loosely recreating

I found throughout my experience that larger buildings are not very practical from a gaming sense and from a storage sense. It is much better to build small parts of buildings, and then to arrange them in a way so that the parts make a whole on the battlefield. This gives you all the benefits of having a large building, but allows you to decide exactly how it will go together when you set up the board, and so you are not restricted by what you previously built (well, not as restricted). Furthermore it is a lot easier to store a few smaller pieces as opposed to a single huge one. Considering all of that, only a portion of the above building will be constructed.

So now that I have a building picked out, it is time to plan out the project. But before I get to that phase, I recommend that anyone interested in building Osgiliath ruins should peruse the scenes from The Return of the King. Take some time, take screenshots of the movie, and pick your first building carefully! But remember to pick the one that you will have the most fun building (and playing with)!

Step Two: Planning

The very first thing to do, and easily the most important thing, is to draft a plan of your building. Although this seems like the least enjoyable part of the construction, if you have no plan, or a poor plan, then key questions regarding construction will be left unanswered until it is (likely) too late to take steps to avoid problems. In the planning phase it is easy to see problems before you actually put blade to foam, potentially saving you time, energy, and materials!

My planning typically starts with a few sketches (rough sketches, I am no artist!). Those sketches are then transformed to a scaled diagram that roughly outlines the details and measurements of the terrain piece. Again I will reiterate that a good plan will mean a smooth construction process, so take some time to make one.

This is part of the design that I finalized. I also use the scale to measure and sketch
a miniature base width and height in order to keep some perspective on scales.

My plan took me about an hour to do, although I had a few sketches kicking around from about a year ago when I first thought about doing this building. It was in the basic sketching phase that I desided to do only half of the front of that building from the movie still above; as I said before, smaller pieces of terrain are a lot easier to build, store, transport, and reposition on the gaming table. I intend to (eventually) make the other half so that the two can be placed together on the gaming table to make the whole (or at least almost the whole) building seen in the movie.

I spent most of my time drafting the 'front' of the ruin. This is the right part
of the building as seen in the movie. Scale wise it is a bit smaller, but it will do.

There are some details that can be left to the construction phase, but the more info you have decided in the plan phase, the less you will have to do later. I make sure to actually draw out all of the important parts as well; for this building I drafted the front, side and top. The front and side are important for obvious reasons, but the top was done simply because the corner 'tower' part of the ruin was going to protrude about 2.5cm from the walls, so I wanted to visualize how that would work on paper before things got too tricky during construction.

I should make a note hear about floors. Adding multiple floors to your design is great, as it allows for really dynamic games with a lot of climbing and falling! The problem is that it is easy to screw them up. If you put the second floor (the first floor off the ground) to close to the ground, it will be impossible to actually get miniatures under there. I have realized the hard way that it is best to leave at least 10cm between the ground and the first floor. In this piece I plan to leave 15cm, giving me lots of room to get miniatures into the corner tower on the bottom floor. As a general rule, as you go up in floors you can reduce the required height, but at least 8-10cm is a good floor height that I like to stick with.

I also like to add pictures of miniatures (again, rough sketches will do) to keep the overall scale in perspective. This is done by using the scale of the draft to measure out the size of a 25mm base (or a 40mm, or whatever), and the height of the miniature of interest. On my front view I sketched a Gondorian Soldier, a Cave troll, and a Ring Wraith on Fell Beast; this isn't really required, but it is fun ;)

Step Three: The plans to the foamcore

The next step is to get out the ruler and transfer the plans to the foamcore. This should, of course, be transfered using the actual scale, as we will be using this to construct the final ruin. I find it useful to actually sketch out everything onto the pieces I trace, including the decorations, even though they will not be cut out. This helps me later with positioning when I add the decoration parts. Just make sure that when you do this the lines you actually want to cut are clearly marked so that you don't accidentally cut along the wrong line (as I have done in the past).

Here are the basic pieces, transferred to the foamcore and already mostly cut out.
See below for details on cutting out the windows and archways.

Cutting out windows and archways can be a pain. After fighting with myself, the foamcore, and my hobby knife, I finally figured out a way to easily cut out windows and archways with curved sides. Originally I tried to draw or trace the shape of the curved part of the window or archway onto one side of the foamcore, and then cut it out from there. The problem arose when I tried to actually cut nice curves with the wide, flat hobby knife. I ended up doing a poor job two out of three times typically. It wasn't so bad though, because I could always simply hack up the curved part to make it look like it had begun to crumble. But still, the nice curves looked best, and I needed an easier way.

Gotta love those templates! Viewed here are the only templates I used for this project.
I had used some of them for Osgiliath ruins as well! From left to right there is the
door, the archway, and the window templates.

After much chagrin I developed a method using a template. I love templates, they make my life so much easier! The trick is to trace out the window/door/archway using a template. Using a sharp hobby knife cut the straight sides and bottom of the window/door/archeway. Make sure that these cuts actually go all the way through the foamcore. Once this is done, simply cut the cardboard surface of the foamcore around the curved part. Don't bother trying to actually cut the foam underneath at all.

After tracing, make sure to cut all the carboard, including those spots that
may not have gone all the way through on the bottom.

Then, turn over the piece and you will see the bottom and the sides of the window/door/archway that were cut through. Place the template on this side using the previous cuts as a guide, and trace the parts that haven't been cut yet (typically only the curved part). Once the tracing is done, simply cut the cardboard surface of the curved part on this side. At this point you can just push the window piece out and the foam core of the foamcore will just break, leaving you with a nice curve! This method saved me so much time, especially on projects that had a lot of windows!

Of course, once all of the pieces have been cut out, it is time to go on to actual construction. Before we do that though, it is worth taking a moment to point out the unfortunate leftovers... The part of the archways, the windows, and the doors that were cut out are inevitably left over. When I first begain building these models, I (like many others) tried to use the least amount of foamcore possible to conserve it. I also tried to reduce the amount of leftovers to nothing. It was a lot of extra effort. I later realized however that this stuff was great! It gave me a great excuse to makes walls, rubble strewn areas, and various other stone barricades. It turns out though that for this project, these left overs were pressed into use much earlier than I had thought... read on for more details.

Droves of valuable foamcore wasted? No! We will find a use for it!

At this point I should also mention the ruined part of the building. Although I did design it, I cut it out pretty haphazardly. It isn't really a big deal how well you cut this out, but it makes a difference in the overall look of the piece. There are two ways to do this: the first way is that which you see here, just a smashed wall with no real pattern. The second way is to actually cut out block shapes around the edges. Personally I think the smashed version looks more smashed, whereas if you cut out block shapes it looks more like the decay of time has ruined the building as opposed to orc catapaults. A mixture of them both would do well, but for me, since cutting out blocks is a bit more effort, I just went with the smashed look. The nest thing is, before you construct the model, you should finish the smashed edges. I failed to do this for this project, but fixing it wasn't too tough.

The first thing to do when finishing the smashed walls is to cut irregular grooves in the edges. This makes it look suitable damaged. The next thing to do is smooth out any parts that are to sharp. There is a lot to be said here for style, so work with it until you find something that you like.

Step Four: Putting it together

The first thing to do here is to glue everything together. Assuming the plans were done well and all of the cutting went smoothly, the walls should go together seemlessly... Of course, in reality nothing really works seemlessly. There are some tricks to forcing things to work regardless, my favorite being the rubble method: if there is a gap, try to make it into a gap near the ground (that is, if you have a choice between the pieces not fitting along the wall, or not fitting along the ground, choose the ground) and then pile debris and rubble around it to add realism (I mean cover up the mistake!). I this example everything went okay, and no major rubble was added ;)

The first thing I did when assembling the piece was to grab some thick currogated cardboard. Nobody likes this stuff to make terrain with typically, as it tends to curve when painted or when glue it applied to it. Curves can be annoying during play. The good thing about it though is that it is really easy to work with. I have found that if you get really good stuff and if you position the wall appropriately, you can get acceptable curving! The cardboard I used was actually meant to carry rocks, so it was pretty heavy duty. Furthermore I cut it out so that there were no points that were not reinforced by walls.... but that comes later. At first I just too the entire piece of card and glued the building to the corner, putting off cutting it out until later.

The building glued together on its cardboard base. Try to remove excess glue,
as when it dries it will be noticable.

As some of you may have noticed, I neglected to deal with a major issue regarding construction: the floors. There is a good reason for this, I promise. It just turns out that every time I try to pre-design and cut out the floor it never fits well, often requiring a lot of work to get it to fit. By building the piece first, I can simply measure of trace the actual building in order to design and cut the floor. The way I did this one was simply to place the corner of the foamcore at the corner of the building and trace the floor onto the foamcore. It worked excellently, I didn't even have to trim it at all when I put it in; it just fit perfectly!

The first floor after it has been cut out. Notice the 'decay' along the broken side.

To further my point about floors that I made in the design section, I am going to make sure that this one (which is the second floor - the first floor above the ground) is 15cm off the ground. To get it into position, thanks to the shape of the corner tower, I will have to slide it down from the top. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it was a really tight fit, so glueing it was kinda tough. I ended up using the floor line (that I drew onto the foamcore) as a marker for the glue. Putting glue there as opposed to on the sides of the floor itself would assure that no glue smears would be left on the inside wall from pushing the floor all the way down.

Here is place a pin to hold the floor to the wall. You have to use
two hands really, I just needed one to hold the camera ;)

Once I had the glue on, I placed the second floor in and let it dry. If you are using good glue it will dry pretty fast and extremely hard. The foam and the card make for idea white glue bonding, so the building is very sturdy! Still, as foamcore can also curve when glue is applied, it is a good idea to pin the whole construction together. At every join stick a sewing pin through the foamcore to assure that it stays where you want it. Once the glue is dry, the pin can be removed and reused.

If you are worried about the little whole produced by the pin, try to place it only where you know it will be covered up. I planned to place border decorations on the outside walls after construction was complete, along with masking tape edges, so I put the pins there. See below for details on the masking tape edgeing and the border decorations. Pins can also help hold the construction to the base, and since you can reuse the pins after the glue is dry, don't be afraid to use them anywhere you might think they will come in handy!

The roof is in place and construction is complete.

Once the floor is in place and the glue is dry, carry out the same process to construct the roof. In my case I made the surface area of the roof a lot smaller than the second floor. This gives the building a realistic sense of decay.

Also I plan to have no way other than climbing to to get onto the roof (I plan to put stairs in from the first to the second floor). This will make for interesting game play; typically troops get up there only during deployment, unless you place an objective up there ;) It is always a lot of fun to see those heroes burn their might points to keep from falling down 10" to their untimely deaths! Also, troops die in droves getting up there too. The problem is of course that once someone gets up their, it is virtually impossible for their opponents to get up there. I don't know how many times I have managed to get a soldier all the way up the side, only to have them win the fight but hit the building instead of the enemy and plummet to their deaths on the ground below. Still, it makes for very compelling and heroic battle reports!

Step Five: Adding the details

Once the construction is done, leave the piece overnight if you can. If you are a bit too impatient to leave it that long, just try to make the the glue is fairly dry; it sucks to be adding detail bits only to have a wall fall down.

So at this point I cut the pieces of foamcore that I was planning to put around the outside top of the corner tower. Also, I cut the pieces that I was planning to put on the outside at floor level. The piece I put around the top of the tower was 2cm wide and the piece for the floor level was 1cm wide. Once they are cut, glue them into place. Although these bits seem really simple, they add a necessary style to the building that will bring it from being a collection of walls, to something more like that which you would see in Osgiliath.

Here I add the piece at floor level. I will add this all the way around the model,
with the pieces around the tower being about 1/2 a centimeter higher than
those on the walls.

Adding the strips is the quick part. Now it is time to add the stairs. This is where the extra bits left over from the windows and doorways was put to use. I cut 2.5cm (the size of a miniature base) by 1.5cm stair chunks. I needed about 15 in total to go from the second floor to the ground. I also cut a 2.5cm by 3.0cm piece to make a landing in the middle. Landings are pretty important if you want to have miniatures actually going up and down these stairs, as a lot of the time they won't have the movement to get all the way up in one turn. Typically I always let my opponent get to at least the landing, if not all the way up regardless of movement. This rule is loosely based on the 'one turn to ascend a siege ladder rule' outlined in the Siege of Gondor supplement.

Placing the stairs is quite straight forward.
Just remember to always start at the top!

Fixing the stairs to the model is pretty simple. The only thing to really watch out for is the height issue. Often the stairs won't reach to the ground exatly. In this case, starting from the top is key because it is a lot easier to cover up the gap if it is on the ground that if it it between the top stair and the target floor. Small gaps on the ground can be covered up with modeling ballast or sand, whereas larger ones can be covered up by foamcore rubble and debris.

So at this point, your building should look fairly complete. After adding a few more details you should be ready to go! The last thing to do is the brick pattern on the walls. There are a few ways to do this, and I have tried many of them, to greater or lesser success. The first way I did it was to cut out brick patterns by using a sharp hobby knife to slive out grooves in the foamcore. This was actually quite affective and produced a very nice effect. The problem was that it too hours to do. A single wall of this took longer than the whole design and construction process. I liked it but I wanted to build a whole city, so I had to find something faster.

Here is a small example of the carved stone method
for adding bricks. I didn't end up using it for
this piece due to time considerations.

Then I was reminded of the first Lord of the Rings terrain piece that I made: Helm's Deep. My Helm's Deep model is my first model, so I am not too proud of it, but I did implement a quick and easy way to do the brick patterns. Basically I took thin masking tape (1cm wide will do) and cut it into small, brick shaped strips. Then I placed these strips in semi-regular positions on the walls. This produced a nice look, and it was very much less time consuming than carving out the entire surface.

The other thing about this method is that you can add as many or as few bricks as you like. For my Helm's Deep model, I nearly covered the entire surface of the walls. For the Osgiliath buildings, I kept the walls a little more sparse, to give them a more worn, untidy feel.

Before you start placing bricks however, you should finish the corner edges of the walls. The one thing about foamcore is that at the edges you can see foam. The foam looks rather conspicuous when the building is painted, so it is a good idea to cover it up. The easiest way to cover it up is simply to glue strips of card or place masking tape on each corner. This gives the building a nice look as well, as it looks like the builders put some effort into finishing the corner edges with some raised stone. I did this using the same 1cm masking tape I used for the bricks. I took a length of it and stuck half of it over the foam edge, and then bent it so that is covered the entire corner. It is kinda hard to explain, but if you look at the below picture, it might be more obvious.

Here most of the stones and the corner tape have been added. It gives you the idea
of how it will look, just remember to paint it all black before you add the sand!

At this stage it is a good idea to cut the base down to size if you haven't already. Basically use a sharp hobby knife to trim the base to a suitable size. Check out some of the pictures below to see where I trimmed the base. One the base is trimmed, cover the corrugated edge with some pasking tape; as much as I like that corrugated look, it has no place on a battlefield in middle earth!

Here I am covering the corrugated cardboard edge on the base with masking tape.

When I was building this I totally screwed up and forgot to take my own advice! Once I added the stones on the walls with the masking tape I forgot to paint them black before I added the ballast (sand). I ended up having to paint the cream coloured masking tape stones after the sand was already on, which was a pain in the but... But it wasn't too bad. I did paint the floor before I added the flock, so it was all good there.

When adding the flock there I used a different approach on the roof, second floor, and walls of the building than on the ground floor. I did the ground floor first by adding a few pieces of stone-looking foam for rubble into strategic locations; another thing I learned about buildings is not to overdue to rubble on the floor. The second building I made I added so much interesting rubble to the floor that my miniatures couldn't stand on it. It looked great, but it wasn't really playable. I quickly devised a way to build nice rubble that a miniature could stand on. I also realized that I could still place jagged rubble on the floor as well, as long as I put it into a position that miniatures typically would not stand. Jagged debris works well on small corners that a 25mm base can't fit and under stairs that aren't high enough for a miniature to fit under. Anyway, after the stones are added, simply add a solid layer of coarse and then fine ballast (sand).

Here I am adding the ballast (sand) to the roof. I failed to paint the bricks first!

When doing the second floor and the roof, which have brick patterns on them, I try to make the ballast (sand) a bit more sparse so that the stone pattern can be seen through it. I find that it is better to add sand this way than to not add sand at all, as the sand gives the building a nice ruined feel! For an illustration of this, see the picture above. To do it, basically add the glue, spread it with a brush and lightly sprinkle the coarse and fine ballast (sand). Don't worry about the white glue all over the floor, it will typically dry clear and we are going to paint it anyway.

So once all of the ballast (sand) is on and dry, and th whole model is painted black, then we are ready to start the final painting. It is pretty important to let everything dry completely, because if you try to paint ballast (sand) where the glue hasn't dried completely, it will inevitably fall off. You will get ballast (sand) with glue and paint on it all over your floor, which is not overly fun to clear ;)

Construction of the model is now finished. It is time to paint it!

Step Six: Painting

Painting, although it can be time consuming, is the easiest part. I simply take my black and white paint and mix them to get a dark gray. It is a good idea to use large cans/tubes of paint from a art or hardware store, as those little bottles of miniature paint can get expensive ;) I them do a heavy dry brush over the entire model, being careful to leave a lot of black in the cracks and around the edges of the stonework. I do this very uniformly, as I will be highlighting it shortly.

The gray heavy dry brush has been applied. Indeed it is a very heavy dry brush.

Once the dark gray is on, I add a considerable amount of white to the mix to create a light gray. I then use this to highlight the entire model. A heavy drybrush, but not nearly as heavy as the dark gray layer. This serves to add some depth to the model, and pull out some of the detail.

Finally I take some pure white and do a pretty light drybrush over just the walls and floors, but not the base. I like to leave the base a bit darker in order to allow the building to stand out from it; with all the gray, things can look a bit drab otherwise ;) Once that is done, then you are done!

The Finished Product!

Here are some pictures of the finished model. It gives you a good perspective on what the piece will look like on the battlefield. I used this construction method to build many buildings, a bridge and a number of generic corner pieces (some of which I included images of below). I can cover a 6'x4' board with a ruined Osgiliath now, so I have finally reached my goal. It should be noted that these buildings, although based on the Lord of the Rings movies, are quite generic and can be used for science-fiction, fantasy and historical gaming quite easily!

The front of the completed building.

The back of the completed building.

Here is an example of how the building can be made into an even larger one by adding another corner piece that was built earlier.
It just shows you the versatility that this type of construction allows.

This one is huge, almost too much so. Certainly there are a lot of windows with curved tops...

Domes are a nice addition, and easily added by cutting a foam ball in half!