3D Terrain - How did you make that?


Grand Lodge


I am trying to GM more scenarios, and one of my main downfalls is that I am a perfectionist (with possible OCD..).

I want to make sure I have everything I need and that it is PERFECT. One thing I have seen others on these boards talk about is 3D terrain. I have even seen pictures of these masterpieces on the internet.

What I want to know is, how are these made? Are you using foam or items from other game systems (Warhammer, etc)?

Also, do you do this for every PFS scenario you run or only special ones? How long do you generally spend making terrain?

Thanks in advance (TIA) for all your help!

Sovereign Court

I can imagine some people doing parts of their 3D terrain with a 3D printer, they're the new buzz! Other than that there's polystyrene, which is often used with i.e. Warhammer terrain.

I think a lot of people use foam core -- I got mine at walmart super cheap...

as for when -- I've not actually done 3-d terrain yet -- part of that being a place to store it; however, depending on when the next blakros museum scenario is (thinking the exclusive from the blurb) I'm sure I can take some time and make something work that can also be stored.

As for props ... there are cardstock crafts out there that provide things such as tables, barrels, boxes and the like depending on your level of detail orientationness (yes i made a new word).

Dark Archive

You have two options:
1. You can get a 3D Printer (costs lots of money)
2. You can use foam, and "hot piano wire."

Assuming that you use foam, you take hot piano wire (there are foam cutters out there, which are just a wire with an electrical current, which gets really hot), and you shape the terrain to your needs.

The big problem I've found with full-size terrain is it is labor intensive, and bulky.

This thread will guide you on casting bricks and they have some excellent links in there.

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Pendin Fust gave a great link to another thread where we discuss Hirst molds - that is, making bits of terrain with plaster casting. It can give you really high quality terrain, but can cost a penny as well. (I was going to say if you have the patience, but that is true for ALL 3D terrain. Patience patience patience!)

There is the fast and super inexpensive method some people call the DM-Scotty method, which uses carbdoard and more everyday laying around the house materials to great effect.

At the moment I do my 3D terrain in foam. In my opinion, the "labor intensive" aspect of it is more waiting for things to dry so you can move to the next step... but it does take time. However, I find the cost to make it to be acceptable, especially for the results I have seen. But the bulky aspect of it can be true. My large foam set pieces are often one single large piece of terrain, and thus take up a fair amount of storage space.

quick breakdown of my process to build 3d terrain out of foam:
Including setting and drying times, one scene usually takes 3-5 days.

Day 1 consists of planning what needs to be done, sketching roughs of the terrain onto foam boards, cutting out the pieces from the foam (I use a hot knife, so the cuts are clean, but you can only go so fast, and you need good ventilation as the fumes can be dangerous) (except for when I want a rougher cut, then I'll use a regular - but very sharp - knife instead), and using foam friendly adhesive, start gluing the freshly cut pieces together (some glues will eat through foam, and/or not stick properly)

The sketching out the plans part takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on how complex it is and if I want to just approximate it, or replicate perfectly to scale (I have drafting experience).

Cutting likewise takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on how complex the piece may be.

Most foam glues take 24 hours to properly dry. They may set quickly, but wont become strong until the next day (and so, we wait).

Day 2 consists of sealing everything with an acrylic gloss. This is for several reasons: 1) acts as an adhesive to bond and seal the whole thing even more, making it all extra strong. 2) protects the foam from the paint (as many paints will literally eat through/melt foam). 3) acts as a primer for the paint and helps the colors pop. The acrylic gloss takes about ... oh I don't know, 1-2 hours to cover a whole scene piece with, and (depending on how thick it is) about the same amount of time to dry.

Once I feel it's dried, I do a basic paint with spray paint. It's fast, covers large areas quickly and evenly, and as the bottles say "dries in 15 minutes, ready to handle in 1 hour".

Sometimes day 2 is nothing but dealing with the acrylic gloss and letting it dry, and painting happens on day 3.

Day 3, after any additional painting, consists of fine details. Applying flock for grass, ballast for sand and stone, turf and other such things for bushes, trees, and other various textures. This also takes a various amount of time, depending on the complexity and so forth. First you put a clear drying adhesive over the areas to be textures (mod podge, scenic cement, etc), then apply the texture, then spray with scenic cement (again) to seal the texture in. Can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours (or more for truly harrowing details). That all takes about 24 hours to dry.

Day 4+ consists of final touches, often including addition textures and realistic fake water. I use Woodland Scenic's Realistic Water and Water Effects, which takes 24 hours to dry per application.

EDIT: except for the temple and the well scenes. For the water there I used E-Z Water, which dries in minutes. It is heat activated though (and takes some times to melt from it's pellet form into a pourable liquid - which begins drying right away, so move quick!), so it has the potential to melt the foam scene a bit, and it has a yellowish tinge to it as well, so beware!

Examples of what I've made are all for the Serpent's Skull AP, so map spoilers in the following links: World Map, An Ancient Ziggurat, The Underground Temple, a side of a mountain Ritual Site (with high and low tide options), and a dinky little well made from leftover bits. (there are just a few examples)

But yeah, as you can see, they are big and not easy to store. The "world map" is actually 5 pieces, but each piece is 14" x 48", which is still larger than many people are able to store easily.

I hope this helps a bit, and - as you're already doing - if you have questions, please ask! :D


Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

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Tutorial on my site about building simple terrain out of styrofoam using a hot wire cutter

Paizo blog by me on building other terrain out of hard foam

Paizo blog on using silicone molds to cast bricks to build things

Paizo blog on sculpting and other terrain stuff

Link to my Facebook fan page tutorial about building your own hot wire foam cutter from scratch

My Facebook album of terrain/crafting/mini experiments

My Facebook album of stuff for my (stalled) Project Gnomeregan terrain bits

Part 1 and Part 2 of my (unfinished) flying castle terrain project.

Dark Archive

I show on my you-tube channel how to build 3-D terrain using hirst arts molds and custom molds...

plaster casting

here is an example...

Go to No response from deepmar module.

I have made several Dungeon sets,towers,ruins and arena terrain...

I tried foam terrain and wasn't satisfied with the amount of detail.
Paper terrain doesn't last long and is a pain.
plaster cast terrain was my choice...

But I would advise you to look at all 3 types and see what fits your budget,time and style..

Sovereign Court

Wyrd does some clip together paper terrain: http://paizo.com/store/byCompany/w/wyrdMiniatures/terraClips


Good for city / dungeon stuff.

I build 3d Terrain out of cardstock.


Shadow Lodge

Here are a few sites that I use:

Hirst Arts

Dwarven Forge

Miniature Building Authority

PSOM Miniatures

Thomarillion Miniatures


Robert Hawkshaw wrote:

Wyrd does some clip together paper terrain: http://paizo.com/store/byCompany/w/wyrdMiniatures/terraClips


Good for city / dungeon stuff.

My GM spent some cash and built a whole urban landscape for a thief campaign using this stuff, and it is pretty impressive. Of course I'd prefer for every one of my tabletop sessions to look like it stepped out of the pages of Games Workshop and Rackham catalogs, but I was sufficiently impressed with the utility and detail of these sets. And they're modular and surprisingly sturdy. You don't want to accidentally sit down on it or anything, but so far I'm surprised the edges aren't peeling back from all the clip adjustments and removals as we craft new terrain and rearrange old settings. Most impressive.

And Pegastar--never underestimate the appearance of chunks of styrofoam, properly painted. I've made some really cool terrain pieces just digging my thumbnails into leftover shipping styrofoam, and have even used the corrosive qualities of spray paint on the same to sculpt some really cool stuff. Just dig in and have fun--best way to learn is to build something simple, like a natural stone arch or something for mountain pass encounter.

google "3d miniature terrain". it can get expensive. dwarven forge is a pretty good company. dungeonstone is quite a bit cheaper and pretty good too but you have to paint it yurself

It's possible to do amazing stuff with cardstock terrain printed from PDF's, which is relatively cheap, infinitely reprintable, and often easier to store than the thicker stuff. My personal favorite source if www.fatdragongames.com
If you want to see some of the stuff I've done with it, you can check out
The Stag Lord's Fort from Kingmaker
The Shrine of Blibdoolpoolp from Shackled City
The City of Cauldron from Shackled City
The Lucky Monkey Inn from Shackled City
The Shipwreck of the Jenivere from Serpent's Skull

I could go on, but that will give you some idea of the range that's possible. Most of these took a fair bit of customizing, though!

Cleanthes, your stuff rocks! Thoroughly awesome!


This is the link to a piece I made this weekend. Mostly from free or nearly free sources. I had paint on hand as did my wife just cheap craft paint.

The base is simply a Styrofoam cooler lid. I sprayed it black with 2 in 1 plastic coat primer. Then used a coupe shades of grey and lavender for the stone.

This was an experiment. The interior of the stockade I had a green leather skirt that I decupodged down. The glue made the leather very dark most fabrics return to their normal color when the Modpodge glue dries. So it was basically black. Fortunately I have a 20 year old set of oil based pastels (oil based crayons) around. This saved me because I had no green paint. I had push pins that I pushed into surface to mark the corners of the squares for the grid.

The Stockade walls were made from 1 twig placemat that pushed into the foam.

The water spring is just an empty cereal bag which is just wax paper. I cut it to size and painted it with the blue paint. The paper gives it a bit of a sheen.

The interior building is a different type of foam I don't know what its called it is shiny and has a waxy texture. It is in a lot of electronics packaging. Again I painted it with the black primer and added some grey. The door is a square of wood vinear.

I just can't live without my grid... I dig some of the really awesome stuff done on salvaged materials though!

It does not show in the pic but I pushed pins through the floor at the corners of the grid.

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Well of tainted virtue from PFS Portal of the sacred Rune

All the rooms are individually put together, and can be mounted as the party discovers/uncovers them!

I could paint it up and do a lot of final touches, but reckon this is plenty playable for the SINGLE session it will be used for.

Pic 1

Pic 2

Pic 3

Pic 4

Thanks for the inspirations!

Some of the most ridiculous terrain I've ever seen has to be by Boreas_NL for his Mordheim (a Warhammer-based urban skirmish game) gaming table. There is page after page of buildings, terrain, statues, belltowers, a working (!) gallows and all sorts. There's even a bit of "how to" mixed in there. From the looks of it: Hirstarts molds + foamcore + wood + gluegun = huge amounts of win.

Even though this is a rather old thread, I figured I could share what I found. I came across 2 youtube channels, with a couple dudes making 3-D terrain (and even some minis of their own) using some rather simple materials.

TheDMGinfo makes a lot of his stuff from cardstock.

theDMsCraft uses all kinds of ways to make his stuff.

I am a member of the DM's Craft forum and it is an awesome resource with the most pleasant and supportive forum members I've ever encountered anywhere.

If you are wanting to make terrain on a budget, or almost for free, that forum is an ideal place to visit.

Adamantine Dragon wrote:
I am a member of the DM's Craft forum and it is an awesome resource with the most pleasant and supportive forum members I've ever encountered anywhere.

I stopped going to the DM's Craft forum because I grew tired of the constant hate for the grid users. I realize the forum owner is a militant anti-grid, but I just felt the focus on building terrain should have remained the top topic and let the Grid Issues stay low key. But it got to where I didn't want to share anything I made because of the constant banging I or other grid users received. Guess we all have different experiences.

Back on topic, there are lots of great videos on YouTube showing how to build 3D terrain. I learned a lot from just spending a few hours watching videos on there.

Here are a few not shown above yet ( Think I didn't miss them)

Diorama Waterfall

Make 3D Dungeon Terrain Tiles

Make a Game of Thrones Diorama

Yeah that put me off too.

I couldn't hear the good content over the constant NO GRID waffle.

Hmm... not sure if the anti-grid sentiment was a phase or if I've just been lucky. I play with a grid, and I use Hirst Arts blocks which are basically grids. Nobody has ever given me grief for my grid items.

I've had nothing but positive experiences and I've posted a lot of stuff.

I know the comment section of Youtube gets pretty thick sometimes but on the forums I have always used grids in the stuff I have posted and no one has ever criticized it. There is a lot of great content and a very friendly vibe.

I am glad the two of you feel it is different now, wonderful to hear. But it is hard to believe with DM Scotty and his grid bashing videos and constant pointing out how lame grids are that he has changed and is no longer trying to teach us how BadWrongFun grids are.

Back on Topic: One of the best tools I have found for 3D terrain is from DM Scotty; the hot glue gun. I have been able to make lots of stuff both from Card Stock, card board, and thing balsa using just Hot Glue and paint. Wonderful tool.

I generally don't like the hot glue gun, but I think it's a great tool for certain uses. I use it a lot for prototyping, and then use other adhesives for the final build. But that's mostly due to my clumsiness with hot glue, which results in endless spiderweb effects around virtually anything I build.

There is a contingent that does not like grid play on the DM's Craft boards, and I have seen comments from time to time about how superior gridless is to grid play, but I have always taken that as personal opinions and not as criticisms of people playing with grids. Of course it may well be that I just don't care much if someone bashes grid play and so it doesn't penetrate my general armor of indifference, where other people may react more strongly to it.

What I like about the forum is the incredibly helpful vibe I've found there. I posted some stuff on the Hirst Arts board back when I first started making stuff out of Hirst blocks and I was very surprised by the negativity of some of the comments about my work. I've never had that happen in the DM's Craft forum, everything has been positive or at least the critical comments have been made in a helpful manner.

And I've learned a LOT about how to make stuff that is cheap, useful and in some cases, quite well done. I think folks who are looking for that sort of thing should at least check it out.

A couple of hours of watching TV, red wine and cheese, and the aroma of the hot glue gun...

Quest for Perfection

Nesting Swallow




Its as much fun building the maps up as it is to run the game :)

Personally I use a lot of the Fat Dragon stuff. It's all folded cardboard but it's still really nice stuff, particularly the newer sets. The EZlock system they have been using gives you a lot of flexibility in creating dungeons and buildings.

This was their most recent one.

They do some great stuff :)

Just wish it came with grids...!

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