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Make Cheap & Easy Gaming Terrain: Fences, Ruins, Hills & Rivers

Make Cheap & Easy Gaming Terrain: Fences, Ruins, Hills & Rivers

One of the best ways to help gaming immersion, whether that’s for an RPG campaign or some head-to-head wargaming, is to have fantastic looking tabletop gaming terrain. What’s remarkable is this small upgrade is both easy and cheap to make, mostly requiring minimal materials that you could find in any kindergarten craft bin (styrofoam, white glue, cardboard, tissue paper, paint and wooden sticks).

Here are some of the easiest things you can make to dress up your table for the next gaming event.

Fences From Soap Stirrers & Toothpicks

Versatile fences can be easily made using wooden coffee stirrers, super glue and paint. Gifs of all the the steps are in the gallery below (and are linked) but it’s quite simple.

  • Step 1: Take some wooden sticks (I used soap stirrers from Michaels) and cut them to scale (about 1″ tall).
  • Step 2: Glue them into a fence-like structure with toothpicks as crossbeams. Cut excess toothpicks after glue is dry.
  • Step 3: Glue the fence to a base structure. I used a plastic base, but you can use sturdy cardboard, poster board, or corrugated plastic.
  • Step 4: Apply watered down paint or wood stain to the fence.
  • Step 5: Apply a basing material and paint (I mixed paint into some coarse pumice gel and applied it, but you can glue some sand down and paint that in a pinch.)

The best part of making these is you can do them in shorter or longer lengths and do them in large batches so you can have a small stash of fences and use them as needed. It’s a great starter project since it requires less than $5 in materials (including glue and paint) and you can make a whole lot of them quite quickly. It also helps reinforce the basics of terrain building. The keys to having great terrain is as simple as making sure the scale is right (hence why you want to use thin sticks rather than wide popsicle sticks), the pieces are finished (painted and based), and that they’re modular so they remain versatile.

You can watch the process start to finish in video here:

Hills & Streams From Styrofoam and Cardboard

Using those fundamentals and a slightly bigger budget, you can put together a lot of terrain. The same basics apply: be mindful of scale, finish all the pieces with paint and texture (static grass or sand), and make sure the pieces are modular for the best versatility.  Using $20 of materials from craft and hardware stores, you can make scenery for a 4’x6′ table in a pinch. Things to pick up: styrofoam insulation, foam core poster board, tissue paper, white glue, paint and some cutting implements.

Making fantastic hills is as easy as cutting some insulation foam into hill-like shapes and finishing them with paint and static grass (available at most hobby stores that have model train supplies.) For basic rolling hills, 1″ insulation styrofoam is the perfect scale to start. With larger pieces of styrofoam or to create a more mountainous feel to your terrain (perfect for creating cave entrances), it’s as simple as cutting the rough shape and glueing tissue paper with a watered down mixture of white glue. Paint does all the rest of the work. It’s remarkably easy to make some basic terrain features, including rivers.  Because scale is much less an issue and these terrain features tend to be modular in and of themselves, they’re the perfect place to start if you’re wanting to start down the scenery crafting path.

Ruined Building From Foam-Core Posterboard

Ruined building are some of my favorite things to make using foam core board. Three simple steps can get you fantastic looking ruins (again, gifs of the steps are linked in the gallery below):

  • Step 1: On the foam core board, draw out the design for the ruins. Remember the key about scale: try to keep doorways no wider than 1″ so the scale doesn’t look too off to start. Cut out the design using an Exacto knife or scissors.
  • Step 2: Wet the paper so it rubs/peels off the styrofoam. Try to wash off as much of the adhesive from the styrofoam as possible.
  • Step 3: Use a permanent marker or a ball point pen to draw in a brick design into the styrofoam (the pen works by compressing the styrofoam, but you risk scoring the foam too deep, whereas permanent marker in slightly melts the styrofoam.) Glue the ruins to a base. Paint the ruins, and paint and texture the base.

You can check out the full process, as well as additional ways to build ruins and rubble in this video:

Have questions? Throw them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them. If you do you craft hobby terrain? Send us links to photos in the comments below!

Featured & Blog Image Credits: Teri Litorco, Geek & Sundry Vlogs


Teri Litorco’s hobby box looks like a grade-school arts and craft box, and she’s ok with that. She’s also the author of The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming. She loves talking shop so send her questions and photos of your gaming tables via social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

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