Building The Tower of Orthanc - Part I

One day while sitting around, a faint voice crawled over the ground. Not down the chimney, not quite like a mouse, but a booming whisper that soon shook the whole house. This tell tale heart could not be forgot.

A look in the kitchen, a look by the TV, but no source could be found for this mysterious clamor. A creak of the door, and a look in my room, where a dull glow shown through the gloom. A slab of black lay on the desk, menacing and brooding, hummed the muffled voice.

A lift of the lid, and that dark palantir opened. A dark burning eye that grabbed my innards. I saw a tower of white, with a dead white sign, it read Westin; erupt with red flame. And from that thick smoke, the Dark Lord Jamie Welling did spoke, “Build me a tower, worthy of AdeptiCon...”

That brings us at to the project at hand; the great construction of our time. With Jamie’s words echoing in stone, I warmed up my foam cutter and set to creating a tone with that great big blue foam; and the forging of the two towers.

Build me a tower, worthy of AdeptiCon...

This being the first of a series of terrain articles that will feature this dark tower and its hard journey to the brutal table tops of AdeptiCon’s Lord of the Rings tournaments. So whether you are a Rings player, first time attendee, or AdeptiCon veteran, I hope you enjoy the photos and stop by that weekend to see the tower in action.

A beautiful model of Orthanc.  Orthanc - Games Workshop Style.
I went about looking for some inspiration and only found a couple actual models of the movies tower of Orthanc. One being seen above, from, basically an awesome Weta Workshop replica, and the other a Games Workshop store model.

I quickly realized that I had two options with this project; 1) Buy a new car to fit a 5 foot tall model, or 2) make the model smaller. So with amateur Microsoft paint skills I went about shrinking Orthanc to a more manageable level.

I knew that this had to stay big in eye appeal yet still be playable for a tournament setting. So I set on a nice round number of 3 feet for the central core and side towers. The hardest part by far was achieving the tapered obelisk design. Having only a classic woodlands scenic foam cutter, I built wooden frame panels that I could then make crisp, even cuts.

I have built many terrain items over the years and have developed my own concept on the future of skirmish terrain, height. This third area of design is often sacrificed for better storage, playability, etc on the table. I believe that to keep taking terrain farther and better, this frontier of making the realism grander and larger is required. Think Warhammer 40K tables with 10 storied, half-ruined buildings or the mines of Moria with so 3-4 cave/tunnel height variations and levels for battling. Not being the biggest Star Trek fan in the world, but that awesome chess board they play on sums up my inspiration.

The tower takes shape.  Another view of the tower structure.
The base measures around seventeen inches square, while large, it will make for a fun table top setting. It can also serve as an eye blocker if your opponent is having a bad hair day.

With the core built, the next step was the most iconic part of this tower, the spires. I knew they had to be one piece each and razor sharp, no bumps or divots. Thankfully I got these squared away on a table jig saw before moving to Chicago; as well as sanding them down to nice points.

The top of Orthanc as depicted in the movie.  The top of Orthanc as depicted at AdeptiCon!
With the shrunk down version of my tower, I am able to separate it into 4 sections of 8 inch paneling to wrap my head around better. With that, this is the first 8 inches of the towers paneling and the frame work for the next section.

The base of the tower.  The entrance to Orthanc!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next time when I tackle the spiked buttresses of the higher panels. An unexpected turn might occur too, when I think about cutting off the top 16 inches for easier transportation, storing, and painting.

If you can’t wait, check out my blog, Chef of War for lots of other terrain projects.

- Jeremy Williams
Lord of the Rings Championships Tournament Organizer


  1. Looking really good, I can't wait to see the finished product!

  2. "I quickly realized that I had two options with this project; 1) Buy a new car to fit a 5 foot tall model, or 2) make the model smaller."

    There is also:
    3) make the tower in stackable segments (like many wedding cakes) so it can be transported in a more standard sized vehicle ^.~

    Looking good so far anyway.

  3. Hi guys can you help me out please. I'm thinking of making half of this for Army's on parade 2014 for GW Games day. So if you can may I have the plans to make it if there any.
    Please help me if you can as I'm a bit thick that way.
    yours stef
    may all you dice roll true.

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