2011 25 Mar

Miniatures – Basic scratch built scenery construction

Author: Matt Categories: Uncategorized

Alrighty!  Scenery!  You either like or don’t.  Or you are ambivalent.  When it comes to D&D or roleplaying, scenery and miniatures seem to divide opinions.  The fact is, without even a grid, you aren’t going to be doing much in D&D 4E.  Luckily for me, the guys I play with like miniatures, and I like making models and scenery.  It was always my favourite part of Warhammer, a hobby I took up but never actually played.  I just liked making the cools stuff 🙂

I threw some 3D terrain down in our first game and it was a hit.  In the second encounter I had some tall rock spires which were really just for flavour and and to move fights in certain directions, but Jin (Euan) decided to use his mega acrobatics skills to start climbing them and flipping around the battlefield!  Nice.  I didn’t really design the spires to have people on top of them, but that is now a consideration for future.

So here is the basic breakdown.  You will need:

  • High density styrofoam
  • Thin MDF base (optional, but provides structural stability/weight)
  • PVA glue
  • Hot wire cutter
  • Saw (power or hand)
  • Plaster
  • Primer or flat black spray paint
  • Acrylic paint in the colours you need.  Eg, I had a rust coloured red, yellow, black and white

>>Thumbnails link to higher res photos.


1.  Glue high density Styrofoam to some thin MDF style base (or not, see below for why).  In Australia, the HD Styrofoam is blue.  In the UK I believe it is mostly pink.  I get mine from an insulation/soundproofing retailer and it is pretty cheap, maybe $30 for a big-ass sheet of it.  The base I just got from the craft section of my major hardware store.  I think they are to make placemats, but they are just the right size for gaming.

2.  Jigsaw out the size of the base you need.  You can hand saw it if you want and in fact a coping saw might be handy to make curved edges.  Styrofoam and the MDF are very easy to saw through, so don’t worry too much about not have electric power tools.  I just happened to have one and I like sawing the hell out of things.  I am a bloke, it’s my right and duty to use power tools.

3.  Turn on your hot wire cutter and start slicing up that styrofoam.  Work smoothly but try and vary the pressure and angles to create more interesting feature.  Round of edges and cut nicks and scratches to mess up the rocks.  Hot wire cutters have a limitation in that they can only cut the width of the wire and aren’t much chop to get into hard to reach places.  Solutions are: Don’t glue the Styrofoam onto the MDF first and then cut.  Cut first and then glue to the MDF.  Alternatively, look at a hot knife which lets you really get in and carve up the foam.  In Australia at least the cost for the knife is significantly higher than the cutter ($100 vs $20), so I will hold off for the moment.


4.  Mix up your plaster as per instructions and brush it loosely over your scenery. As it dries, stipple the setting plaster to give it a rough texture which will help grab paint when you are drybrushing.



5.  When the plaster has dried I mix up a thin mixture of PVA with water to lightly brush over the plaster.  I am sure you can get a better, non-water based sealant but I haven’t had a chance to check this out yet.  I do this because the plaster is quite susceptible to chipping after painting.  By gluing or sealing after plastering, you run less chance of ugly white patches showing up after your beautiful paint job chips off.

6.  Base layer with chosen colour flat spray paint.  Grey worked okay, but I am a fan of black.


7.  Reasonably thick base layer with the darkest version of your final colour.  For Dark Sun, I went with a dark orange/terracotta

8.  Dry brush a mid value orange/yellow.  I tend to do this drybrush stage in one direction.

9.  Highlight drybrushing with quite a light colour, sandy light yellow.  Do this in the opposite direction to the last coat.

Second attempt

10.  DONE

One Response to “Miniatures – Basic scratch built scenery construction”

  1. Drew (Lactose) Says:

    Dude, this is wicked, and it also looks really simple.

    I bought myself some miniature modding gear on the weekend. A packet of “green stuff” for filling in gaps, some grey Sculpty for creating rocks to stick on the base, some cutters and a metal file for modding the miniature, and a few other bits and pieces.

    Sculpty would be perfect if you ever want to make rocks or other small environmental objects. A small block is 5 bucks, and considering that the scale of a D&D miniature is 25mm you’d be able to make a heap of stuff. Just mould it like clay, throw it in the oven for 15 minutes and you’re done.

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