Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am looking for ideas to make some homemade terrain for combat; I am not a great miniature painter as I usually fat-finger most of them, but I am pretty handy and know my way around my neighborhood hardware store.

My criteria are as follow:

  1. Inexpensive (I still haven't found that money tree yet),
  2. Portable (My group rotates gaming location),
  3. Cool (Naturally),
  4. Dynamic (e.g., elevation, cover, concealment, etc.),
  5. Convertable (e.g., convert an outdoor arena with a coat of paint into a cavern floor, etc.), and
  6. One Inch scale = 5 ft.

I will be DMing a Dark Sun 4E DnD game, but this question isn't necessarily system specific.

share|improve this question
This video tutorial series explains how to make dungeon tiles you can make cheaply and put together in different ways for making multiple dungeons out of a single set. – Dakeyras Mar 8 '13 at 19:50

The most portable terrain type is also the least convertible: papercraft. There are piles and piles of papercraft building, landscape, cave, etc. terrain PDFs out there, but of course whatever's printed on the terrain is what's printed.

Personally, I like papercraft because it's quick and you can generate a large amount of terrain quickly relatively cheaply, even considering the cost of printer ink. RPGNow has tonnes of papercraft PDFs—there's new stuff every time I look, such as this beautiful ruined house and this desert ruin I just noticed. In addition to being light-weight and easy to move around, some, like Fat Dragon's stuff, is designed to fold flat for even better portability.

The greatest drawback of paper model terrain is that you're limited to what's available. On the other hand, being cheap to produce, there are a lot of publishers offering paper terrain PDFs, so there's an ever-increasing variety to choose from.

For ideas for terrain to make aside from (or to mix with) papercraft models, my go-to site for inspiration has always been TerraGenesis, a forum and gallery of amazing terrain modelling work. They have a lot of how-to articles that I've found useful, and the site has been around and active for years.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for the great links. – Jeff May 3 '11 at 19:49
I would love the ease of the papercraft but our current DM has set too high of a bar with some truly excellent landscapes--one of which was a rocky caveran with a lava floor--really cool stuff. – Galieo May 3 '11 at 20:27
@Galieo Beware that trap! It's really easy to get into a situation where you don't bother making anything because it's not "great", when actually "good enough" would be plenty… – SevenSidedDie May 5 '11 at 15:05

I found a hot knife and foam board to be handy for making the basic form for buildings. In a campaign I recently ran, it worked quite well for building a ziggurat with a long staircase, and it allows you to cut the 1" squares right into the surface. But it also makes a good terrain base. Add some ground cover, pebbles, rocks, whatever is needed and paint and you're good to go for fairly cheap.

share|improve this answer
Just be sure to hot knife that stuff outside! The fumes are impressively toxic. – SevenSidedDie May 3 '11 at 14:24
Excellent advice. It can get pretty smelly. – BBlake May 3 '11 at 14:57

It ain't pretty, but for quick and dirty 3d terrain nothing I've encountered beats Construx. They're a building toy from the late 80s that never quite got as mainstream as Legos. Anyway the flat panels are almost the right size to line up with a traditional grid if you mark them with a sharpee or line them with thin black tape. Best of all, they can be purchased by the pound from eBay.

Here are some examples of terrain I've done this way: dock ( and collapsed mine ( with what's left of the mine tracks running over the whole scene for bold/stupid adventurers.

share|improve this answer
Nice! I loved that stuff, and it doesn't get any more portable or dynamic. I'll have to get some—that's perfect for sci-fi wargaming. – SevenSidedDie May 5 '11 at 16:19

Another approach: Re-purpose/Reuse

At the end of Reavers of Harkenwold there is an encounter that has a elevated loft:

Wizard's Loft

It has roughly the same dimensions as the hut + stairs from the Desert of Athas tile set (but the loft stairs are wider):

Arthas Hut

So - a color photocopy (or scan & print) - some paperboard, cutting, gluestick and some two sided sticky tape, and voilà:

The Wizards Loft 3D

We had a blast with that. [BTW, the pipe-cleaners are another Aura indicator we're trying out. So far we like it...] :-)

I've also used green spraypaint on cheap "reindeer moss" to get a great effect to drop on difficult terrain trees for exterior battles. Note the PC in the tree.:

enter image description here Storm The Castle built a maze with it and some Popsicle sticks:

Miniature Maze of Madness

share|improve this answer

A tool you'll want to become familiar with is modeling flock. This link says it will teach you to make it cheaply (looks like a fairly good website in general, too).

One technique I've seen used is to take a grape stem (cleaned of grapes), put glue on the bits where the grapes were attached, and roll the whole thing in flock. Shake it off, and you'll end up with a decent-looking tree or bush. Affix the bottom to a piece of landscape, and you're set.

Or, if you're interested in a leaf-less forest, just use the stems without flock. You'll have to trim parts of them to get the right look, depending on how cleanly the grapes came off.

share|improve this answer
Or, if you're interested in a leaf-less forest, just use the stems without flock. You'll have to trim parts of them to get the right look, depending on how cleanly the grapes came off. – Jeff May 3 '11 at 14:05

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.