Project Spelunker: Hills Tutorial

Next up in the series of Cave terrain tutorials inspired by the Dark Sercrets campaign is hills.  There won’t be much cave specific about these hills other than their paint matching the cave theme.

While I wanted to make cool cave terrain, I also wanted to make a modular board that would allow for a great game of Warmachine.  Therefore, I went for all the standard pieces of terrain, including hills.


  • 1″ Pink insulation Styrofoam
  • 1/8″ hardboard(optional for bases)
  • Long bladed box cutter
  • Jigsaw(optional for bases)
  • Sand
  • Basecoat of latex paint(I got Baer paint from Home Depot)
  • Highlight of latex paint
  • Regular paintbrush for latex paint
  • Modeling paints for wash
  • Plastic cups
  • Hot glue gun & hot glue sticks

I already did this tutorial on Hardboard Terrain Bases.  Often I will create the base first and make the piece to fit, but in this case I wanted to be able to play around with the shape of the hill, so I made the hill itself first.

Step 1:  Determine what size of hill you want and cut out a rectangle of pink insulation foam that will contain that size using a long bladed box cutter.  I will do the warning now, box cutters are sharp.  They can and will cut you.  My month of being a boy scout taught me to always cut away from yourself.  Be careful.

For my hills, I went with 8″x8″ so I cut out a square that size out of 1″ foam.  Pink insulation foam can be purchased at home improvement stores like Home Depot and it generally comes in big 8’x4′ sheets.  I have to cut it down to size with a box cutter to get it into my car.

Step 2:  Cut out the shape of the hill itself.  I generally go for round hills, which is what I did in our example but you can make it oblong or whatever shape you want.  You can make it rounded or flat depending on what your vision for the piece is.  Play around a little, foam is pretty cheap.


Step 3:  Bevel the edge so that there is a slope to your hill.  How sharp this depends on your preference.  I prefer a very sharp slope so that models can either be placed on or off the hill, with dice to prop them up if need be.  Gentle slopes give me a false sense of security and I’ve had way more models topple off of those than sharp edged hills.  Just make cuts to the edges of your cylinder with the blade at an angle.  You don’t have to do it all in one cut.  Keep making adjustment cuts until it looks like you want.  You can even make one side more sloped than the other if you want, though that might be unfair in gameplay if you intend to have different rules on either side.


Step 4:  You could be done here if all you want is a basic hill but I want to give it a little more texture.  There are many different things that you can do which I can outline in a later post but we’ll go with a single technique here.  We’re basically going to cut wedges out of the sides of the hill to give it a rocky texture.  First, make a cut with the edge of the blade that goes about 1/8″ -1/4″ into the foam from top to bottom.  Next, make another cut at another angle that will intersect with the first cut.  If you do this correctly, a triangular prism will come out of the hill with your blade.  If it does not, you may have to increase the depth of your cuts to make them intersect.  Now do that a whole bunch more times all around the edges of the hill.  Make the wedges at all different angles so it doesn’t look like a pattern.  Make the wedges intersect with each other.  Live it up.



Step 5:  Because the cutting can change the shape of the hill, I decided to do the base after the hill was done.  Following the instructions in the Terrain Bases Article, make a base for your hill.  Trace the outline of the hill on the hardboard piece and cut it out with 1/4″ – 1/2″ of extra room around it.  You can also skip this step if you’re not digging the bases.  Of all of the terrain pieces we are making, hills need bases the least.

Step 6:  Once the base is done with all the sanding, glue the hill to the base with a hot glue gun.  Try not to get any of the glue too close to the edges as it can cause issues painting.


Step 7:  Now that construction is all done, it’s time to paint.  We’ve got 2 colors of paint, a base color and a drubrushing color.  My base color is a gross green-brown and my highlight is an off-white stone color. For the base color, mix in some sand to give the basecoat some texture so that it doesn’t look like a purely flat surface. You can use white or wood glue to glue down a layer of sand to the top of the hill and the base and let it dry before painting, but I just went with the textured paint for ease and so that the texture is consistent between the rocky and flat parts. Paint with a paintbrush you would use for painting your walls.


Step 8: Using your big brush, drybrush the whole piece. It should have enough texture to pickup the drybrush. The edges of the hills seem to not hold as much of the sand, so you get a little bit of a different look.


Step 9: With a plastic cup, add about an inch of water. Mix in a few drops each of you modeling paint brown, black and dark green and mix it up. This should give you some gross looking water that looks like the cup you wash your brushes in after painting Circle. Wash the whole piece with this mix. It should tone down some of the messiness from the drybrushing and gross it up a little bit.

When this drys, you’re done. Enjoy your fancy hills.


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