Insulation foam has been taunting Ben for many years now…practically daring him to man up and take the plunge. His apprehension with the material is quite humorous, especially when you consider its light weight and pink color. Thankfully, a homebrewed underworld in D&D’s Pyramid of Shadows has forced his hobby hand. Let’s pop a sun rod and examine Ben’s initial foray into the mysteries of foam.
Ben first encountered the miraculous material’s properties during his early Gen Con days as a player. His DM, a pioneer in the marriage of Hirst Arts and terrain foam, builds elaborate game boards for the best four days of gaming. He teases Ben every year of the Con with new builds.</>
As usual, Ben could only admire the impressive work from afar. Pink foam is not readily available in Arizona (because of how houses are built here) and he just didn’t have a comfort factor with Hirst Arts early on.
The final foam push came when Ben had to build the first encounter for some Carrion Crawler-like creatures inside D&D’s Pyramid of Shadows. The module mentions their underground lair pretty much as an afterthought. That sorta saddened Ben. This initial combat forte could open up the adventure to all sorts of impromptu cavernous levels and hidden tunnels. So it was time to get busy craftin’.
Part 1: What Ben Made
Let’s start by showing you what Ben constructed and then conclude with all the materials and steps needed to give it a go yourself (should you get the itch).
Ben’s overarching creative direction was to build pieces that would drop clues that something had burst up from the ground, snacked on its prey and then partially buried the remains (think mad dog with a big bone).
The tinier piles are also great to swap out with some wandering monster Earth Elementals.
Burrowing monsters are definitely going to leave behind clues…abnormal entry and exit points. A large hole surrounded by dirt seemed like a fitting terrain piece. Can’t you just see a Purple Worm suddenly popping up from the ground?
Side Note: Besides the DIY methods below, TheDMsCraft has a fun, alternate tutorial on this piece (get ready to un-holster your hot glue gun).
Your Creepy Crawlers are going to need their own resting place. Ben wanted to have a spot nestled between the cavern floor and the actual room above – sorta like a damp rock ledge. Consider giving your monster a devastating ranged attack and forcing the party to scale the rock wall (like its protecting its young).
Your traditional Hirst Arts cavern walls are certainly the 3D game board staple for this type of environment but there will be times where the area underground needs to come off as especially deep and formidable. That’s where a few foam cavern walls can really come in handy. They also give you narrow ledges to climb and fight on – good ol’ levels.
Part 2: How Ben Made It
Let’s explore how we made everything you just saw. Remember, guys – Ben sets the bar for what a novice terrain maker is capable of building. If he can follow these steps, so can you.
Meet MiniWarGaming Dave
One fateful day, Ben stumbled across a most excellent tutorial from the MiniWarGaming YouTube channel. Dave showed this slick, old school trick of combing toilet paper with Polystyrene to create this crazy unearthed effect. Ben, who already was hankering to improve his cavern environment, recognized this video as a golden chance to add the effect onto his new underground 3D board. His tutorial was easy to emulate and quite affordable: a hobby win-win.
When toilet paper is combined with a 50-50 mix of Elmer’s glue and water, the dried result is a solid, rippled surface with a slew of terrain possibilities. All those random bumps are a real gold mine for your upcoming dry brush paint step.
Your final pieces quickly convey the earth has been violently dug up with big ol’ roots strewn every which way. Terrain heaven.
Before we get into your project checklist, we have to talk about the base itself. You are going to slosh your surface with a very wet, sticky mixture. At first, everything is going to seem fine. However, on the second day of the drying process, dire warping begins to creep in – panic is sure to ensue.
The warping is directly related to the size (width and height) of the earth effect. Ben’s very first piece was done on some Tempered Hardboard at Home Depot. And sure enough – he found a slight warp on his 4×2 square…although in hindsight, spraying it with a Kilz primer probably would have been wise.
His next foundation experiment was with a Hirst Arts 3×3 square mounted on traditional foam core. That choice worked surprisingly well for applying small amounts earth material.
Ben highly recommends you invest in a kit from Hot Wire Foam Factory but you can also save some money and just pick up the Router Tool from Woodland Scenics. Hot wire makes the wall cutting and shaping a snap.
The great news is many of the items on your project short list are readily available.
- Elmer’s White Glue
- Mixing cup (50% glue | 50% water)
- Popsicle stick (to stir and create indentations)
- Toilet paper (pull your squares apart ahead of time)
Ben really can’t add anything to the video that ol’ Dave didn’t already explain beautifully. Just be patient on the dry time. You’re looking at two days-ish for your watery glue-soaked material to fully cure into a solid papier-mâché material.
Enhance your piece by plopping these things down while the glue is still wet.
- Large Rocks (from the yard) or assorted stones (C1276 Coarse Brown)
- Frankensteined miniature parts (from old Mage Knight figs)
- Skulls (from molds HA #45, #70, #82 and #83)
Ben was thrilled with the MiniWarGaming reco to gussy up your new terrain with the Reaper Master Series Paint line (readily available at a great price and low shipping at TheWarStore.com). However, feel free to substitute with larger traditional hobby acrylic paint bottles as needed.
- Tanned Shadow (heavy dry brush)
- Fair Shadow (heavy dry brush)
- Polished Bone (light dry brush)
- Midnight Blue
- Rainy Gray
- Olive Green
- Pure White
- Ghost White
For each of these Reaper colors, Ben sure to mix in a drop of flow improver for every five drops of paint. It really makes a nice difference. Regardless, be mindful of a jammed paint bottle. Ben squeezed too hard on some polished bone and alas, that did not go well.
Note: Ben is hooked on those applicator bottles and encourages hobbyists to keep a PVA mixture at the ready. Pouring on that glue is soooo easy now. Once the flock dries, be sure to give it a good dose of the clear matte sealer.
Don’t overlook this step guys. It packs a big punch. Try anyone of these flock types:
- Haderbrush Scatter
- Oregen Beach Sand
- Darksoil Scatter
- Fine Grass…for moss (Bachmann Trains Ground Cover)
- Small plants (Army Painter Battlefields Summer Undergrowth)
- Fine stone mixes
A lot of these are old Skullcraft mixtures but you can easily find similar materials online or at your local train store or hobby shop.
Finally, here are a couple more online tutorials that Ben really found helpful:
With terrain at the ready, we’ll build out the very first encounter (P1: The Entrance Pit) inside the Pyramid of Shadows D&D module. Ben will show you the monsters, treasure and terrain effects for the completed game board. Roll for perception!
Questions to Ponder: Have you made your own pieces? Do you own a hot wire kit? Have you played The Pyramid of Shadows modules? What’s your favorite dirt dwelling monster? What type of underground terrain effects do you like to add to the map?