Posted on : 04-04-2011 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, Guest Posts, The Great Seamus
The Great Seamus comes back to us, with a fantastic article about how to build your own crazy-awesome looking terrain for D&D. Pictures included.
Make your own D&D Terrain, Made of WIN.
In my ongoing attempts to be everybody’s favorite DM, I found myself looking at the paper 2D maps used for D&D Encounters and feeling woefully inadequate. Things like cover and line of sight don’t mean as much to players or even to the DM in a lot of intense combat situations. For a while I was getting around this by incorporating some of the specialized terrain used in our FNGS Warhammer games. This left me at the mercy of what was available – surprisingly, no rocks, and only a handful of different buildings (most of which are 40K and don’t really fit in to the D&D universe). One of my “rival” DMs began printing his own 2D maps on cardstock with removable magnetic houses and stairs – cool. I felt a twinge of jealousy, since my printer doesn’t even print documents and his prints magnets . . . I WILL NOT BE ONE UPPED. THE BLOOD OF TIGERS RUNS THROUGH MY VEINS.
I set off to make my own terrain (on the cheap, we are in a recession after all). The first thing I needed was a base. Warhammer uses poly-styrene boards as a base, so I was off to Home Depot. I found a large pack of medium thick poly styrene for less than $10, which has enough in there to make enough terrain to encompass at least two whole dungeons if cut properly. Also at Home Depot I found a lot of options for flooring. The nicest looking option is ceramic tile, some of which is already split in 1” squares. This is incredibly costly, and limits creativity in that colors and patterns aren’t as varied as some of the lower budget options. I wound up picking up six pieces of vinyl flooring at $0.45 a sheet. I picked out a nice stone pattern. Also available (completely free!) are numerous smaller samples of most of their patterns, which can also be incredibly useful for smaller rooms or even for elevated terrain. Leaving Home Depot feeling considerably more masculine than I felt walking in, I traded that feeling in by heading to Michael’s for more supplies. I was able to pick up a Styrofoam cutter for less than $10, which allows me to cut and stylize my poly-styrene into any shapes desired. I also picked up some gold beads (large ornate ones and small ones), clear applied / drying Elmer’s glue, and a special gold glitter glue loaded with large flecks of gold, glitter, and metallic colored shapes. Also at Michael’s I got a bag of decorative sand and some small decorative pebbles. Judging myself prepared, I put on “Eye of the Tiger” and spread out my materials to get started.
Wanting to start small, I picked the map used in the final battle for this season of Encounters (SPOILERS), a pretty basic dragon lair – specific enough to be needed, but conventional enough that it could be used and re-used whenever desired. I cut a large piece of Styrofoam and used basic acrylic paint to paint it gray. Taking two pieces of my flooring, I used a sharpie marker to draw 1” lines horizontally and vertically, connecting them with a straight edge to form a grid that covered the whole sheet. From there, I draw the necessary borders of the cave within the grid, just as one would do on a dry-erase battlemat. I then painted all of the unused flooring the same gray color as the foam base, so the only part with the grid was the available terrain. From there, I cut a smaller portion of foam out to serve as a large platform of stone which the dragon’s hoard would rest on. I took a quick hike in the woods outside of my apartment and found five serviceable stones which would serve as boulders – they were then cleaned and painted that same shade of gray, and super glued to the vinyl. Two patches of difficult terrain were manufactured by applying some of the Elmer’s glue to the desired portions in the shapes and sprinkling the decorative sand and pebbles on top of the glue, spreading them out thinly. A small pool of water was made using blue and white paint, which was then covered with the Elmer’s glue, which when dry gives it a shiny and wavy look. To add some finishing details, the gold flecked glue and various gold beads were heaped onto the smaller piece of painted foam. Using a paint brush I spread that glue around over the edge to give it the appearance of spilling off the edge. Finally, I used a larger paint brush to spread Elmer’s glue all over the areas of the cave that were not in use, which were then also covered in the sand and pebbles to give it a rock like appearance. When all the glue as dry, I dry-brushed various shades of gray all over the pebbles and sand wherever they appeared on the map to make them blend in with the natural stonework.
The result is magnificent, and didn’t take all that long or cost that much – compared to, say, Dwarven Forge terrain, or even the requisite sets of WotC Dungeon Tiles.
Before you embark on your own terrain, a few tips from my own idiocy
- Do not use spray-on primer on poly-styrene. It corrodes the foam, smells bad, and scares the wife.
- The same goes for super glue on poly-styrene.
- A rock the size of your fist is scaled to be a boulder the size of a huge or even gargantuan creature. Simple pebbles from your neighbor’s garden will serve as good sized boulders.
- It is very hard to cut through vinyl, especially vinyl with an adhesive backside. There are a number of tools to do it, but it’s much easier to cut your foam to match the size of the tile and simply put in the portions of the tile you don’t need.
- The Styrofoam cutter is HOT. Do not touch the wire when it’s on, and do not leave it on unattended, especially with kids / pets / clumsy dungeon masters in the house. In case of clumsy DM, make sure spouse has hospital on speed dial.
- The foam is light and easy to transport, but it is delicate and can be easily broken. When transporting, do so safely and carry it with both hands on the edges of underneath from the center.