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How To Build Miniature Figure Terrain

Article by Paul Nortness

Alright, you've painted a miniature or two. You have spent all that time getting the finest details to stand out, do you really want to explore a flat featureless dungeon on a piece of paper? Heck no you don't! I will show you how to construct a dungeon out of pink insulation foam that will bring your games to life. For this project, you will need paints and brushes, a hobby knife, a ruler, a hot foam cutter, a jig saw, and epoxy glue.

I am using 1 inch thick foam today. This foam can be purchased at Home Depot in the insulation section. It is very dense and perfect for projects like this. You can get an 8 foot by 2 foot length of foam for around 8 dollars.

First Things First

First thing we need to do is outline our walls and floor. I will show you how to make a basic room today, so let's measure them. We will use the Dungeons and Dragons standard of 1 inch squares for our floors. Let's make an 8 by 8 square room. Once that is measured out, we need walls. The room will require two 8 inch lengths and two 10 inch lengths. I like to make the wall 4 inches high, that gives me 3 inches of exposed wall after I attach them to the floor. So let's measure out two wall pieces of 8 by 4 inches and two wall pieces that are 10 by 4 inches. Now go back and verify all your dimensions again... measure twice cut once! Now let's go cut them out! Use the jigsaw carefully to cut the pieces out. I like to give myself a little gap between the line and my cut. That way I can sand the piece to get a more precise line. This is going to create a TON of foam dust and debris so make these cuts in your garage or outdoors and make sure you have a broom handy.

After The Cutting

Once you have cleaned up from cutting, it's time to head back to the work bench! Let's concentrate on our floor first. We need to create a grid of one inch squares. So, take a ruler and mark 1 inch increments on each side. Now make lines across the board with the ruler so you have your grid. Take your hobby knife and move it across the lines at an angle. Flip the board and go back over the lines at the opposite angle. Now your grid has grooves and should look like the photo below.

foam board for dungeon building

The Details

Once you have your grid laid out, you can add details like cracks, etc. To make a crack, just use the same process you did to make your grid with your hobby knife. Remember to move across the surface at an angle and repeat to make a groove. Another thing you can do is remove corners from tiles with the tip of your hobby knife to make it look like the tile has been broken. foam board for dungeon building 2

OK, now that our floor is completed, let's focus our attention to one of the 8 inch walls for the room. We need to have a way our adventurers can enter the room, so let's make preparations to make a door. First, let's put the wall against the floor so that the bottom inch of the wall panel sits against the side of the floor and run a fine tip Sharpie along that line. This will be our baseline. With the wall still in place, we need to mark where the door will be. This way, the tiles will line up when connecting the hall.

foam board for hall

This will be the beginning of our door. We also need to mark off an inch on each side, like so. Now, with our ruler let's make two lines straight down from our inside marks.

foam board for door foam board for door 2 foam board for door 3

Now, let's freehand draw the shape of the door from the outer marks. Once we have drawn out the door, we can cut it out using our foam cutter. A foam cutter is an odd looking tool, it has two prongs coming out from the handle and a very thin wing stretching between the prongs. When we press the button, that wire gets very very hot allowing it to glide right through the foam like a hot knife through butter. Be very careful not to touch the wire while it is hot. Don't ask me how I know. Try to make the cuts as straight as possible, especially on the bottom section, as this will be where our hall attaches later. Once we have our door cut out it's time to draw some more! With our fine tip Sharpie, draw the shapes of stones onto the wall and don't forget the doorway and the top of the otherside as they will be exposed.

foam board wall

Once we have covered all the wall like this, take the hobby knife and follow the lines we drew. As with the lines on the floor, we want to move along at an angle. Take your time and move slowly. A word of caution, because the foam is so dense it will dull your blade quickly, when you start tearing foam instead of cutting it you need a new blade. However, just because a blade is no longer sharp enough to cut foam does not mean it will not cut skin. Once complete, our wall will look like this:

foam board wall 2

Rocks and Other Things...

rock for modelling

OK, I bet you are wondering why I am showing you a picture of a big rock. Simple! We are going to use this rock to give the stones on our wall texture. Take the rock and start pressing it into the foam, if you hear a snap that's OK... cracks in your stones look cool! Make sure you get everywhere. Really mash it into the foam.

Now our wall has texture! Now fill up the paint pallet with black paint. I use Ceramcoat for this because it's cheap and covers good. Paint the entire wall black, and make sure you get in all the cracks so no pink foam is showing. You don't need to worry about the parts of the walls that will not be seen, just the parts of the wall that will be in our dungeon.

wall with rock texture wall with rock texture painted