Make This Modular Bridge Terrain for $10

    

Bridges are really cool.  They have the same confining qualities as a dungeon corridor without all the claustrophobia.  A bridge has the danger of falling off.  And come on, the most epic scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy was on the cavern bridge where Gandalf took his stand.  Let’s see if we can’t get a little of that flavor here.   

First, I am by no means an expert at making terrain.  Aside from painting and modifying miniatures, my D&D arts and crafts experience is limited largely to dabbling in this and that.  So when I tell you that this terrain is easy to make, I’m saying that from the standpoint of an amateur.  I will also say that I am not the type of person to make something for my game if I think it will only get used once.  I don’t like the idea of investing more time into making something than it will get used.  So, when I come up with an idea, I try to make it as modular as possible.  If I can’t think of five or six different ways to use something, it doesn’t get made.  Those are the ideals I approached this project with.  Easy, fast, and modular.  Let’s get started.   

Your shopping list:    

  • 2 pieces of 12x6x2 styrofoam rectangles (I found it in the floral aisle of my craft store)
  • 2 pieces of basswood, 1/2 inch wide, usually 24 or 36 inches long (in the wood crafts section)
  • 1 piece of basswood, 1/8 inch square, again usually 24 or 36 inches long.
  • Black, white, and brown acrylic paint.
  • (Optional) A piece of black felt and a piece of blue felt.  They’re about the size of a sheet of paper.

All this should come to about $10, give or take.  Be sure to Google coupons for your favorite craft store before you head out!  Also, you will need the following, which I happened to have, but you may not:    

  • Crafting Miter Box & Saw (wood crafts section again.  About $15)
  • Coping saw or styrofoam cutter
  • Various paint brushes
  • Elmer’s glue

So these things bring the total to more than $10, obviously, but are items you’ll get more use out of.  Also, you could probably use the saw that comes with the mitre box to cut the styrofoam, you’d just end up with a more “angled” edge than a “curvy” one.    

Start by laying the styrofoam end to end the long way, and mark off the top 2 inches of the foam.  Then, draw a curvy line within that 2 inch section, making sure that the curve is contiguous across both blocks.  Your blocks of foam should look like this:    

  Then, cut along the lines.  Try to keep the thinner pieces intact.  Here’s what they look like when they’re done.    

    

Mix up the black and white paint to make gray, and brush the edges of the foam (both the big and small pieces you cut out).  When the gray is dry, add a little black paint to some water, and “wash” the gray edges so that you fill in all the tiny holes in the styrofoam.  Washing makes a drastic difference.  Paint the top surface brown, and wash that in black.    

    

While your foam is drying, use the mitre box to cut your 1/2 inch wide basswood into 2 1/2 inch segments.  Make as many as you want, but make sure you have an even number.  Glue them into a bridge, and then use the 1/8 inch wood to make “wheel rails.”  The rails should be 2 inches apart; I used a 2 inch length of spare wood as a spacer, seen below with the X on it.    

  

Paint the bridge brown, and use a fine sharpie or a fine paintbrush to blacken the groove between every other slat.  This will create 1 inch spaces for players to put their minis in; the bridge is also 2 inches wide, so by telling players the minis need to either be on the left or right and between black lines, you now have an effective “grid” on the bridge without having to draw squares.    

Finally, once the paint is dry, take an exacto knife and cut a grid onto the styrofoam.  It doesn’t show up too well in the pictures, but it’s evident at the table.  If you want something more defined, I’d use dots of white paint, kind of like on dungeon tiles.    

To set the piece up, lay the black felt down to simulate a bottomless pit, and span the bridge across the opening.  Put the two smaller pieces of foam on top of the bigger pieces of foam as walls .   

So that’s pretty much it, believe it or not.  Total make time: about 1 1/2 hours.  Here are a few features of this really versatile terrain:    

  • By cutting 2 inches off the top, you left 4 inches a the bottom.  Incidentally, most dungeon tiles are 4x__ or 2x__, so you can lay tiles on top of this perfectly.
  • Because you drew a contiguous line across both pieces of foam, you can lay them end to end.
  • By laying felt in the gap, you can create the illusion of a bottomless pit with black or a river with blue.

Here are a few configurations you can make, besides the cavern bridge:    

 Cave corridor or cliffside path (lay foam end to end with the walls on top) 

 
Bridge over a river gorge (Blue felt for water, no confining walls)

   

Ravine with ambush at the top    

 

Stepped hill that the PCs have to scale 

A final note: You may see in the pictures that I used something other than brown paint as a surface on the terrain.  I used flocking with styrofoam glue, and I was very unhappy with the results, mostly because of the styrofoam glue.  It didn’t dry clear, and was all… “webby.”  If you want to use flocking, I would NOT recommend styrofoam spray glue.  If I were to do it again, I would paint the foam first, then brush on watered down Elmer’s glue.  Shake on the flocking, and use a spray bottle to spray more watered down Elmers over the top of the flocking.  You can also buy rolls of premade “grass” flocking type material in the model train or diorama section of your craft store, though I feel that stuff is kind of expensive for what you get.  In the end, brown paint will do just fine. 

How would you use this terrain?

6 thoughts on “Make This Modular Bridge Terrain for $10

  1. Matthew Brenner

    I really like this tutorial – 3d terrain can add so much to a good battle. How did you cut the grid with the X-acto knife? I have used my foam cutting wand to burn a grid into the tops of my foam terrain, but it leaves a larger trough than I would rather.

    Reply
    1. Benoit Post author

      I just used a metal ruler and an exacto knife. If that doesn’t yield satisfactory results you could try:
      -The saw that came with the crafting mitre box
      -A hot craft knife (basically an exacto blade on a soldering iron; that may have been what you were using though)
      -Wiggle the exacto knife back and forth a bit while you cut to make the cut wider
      -Add a spot of white paint at grid intersections to highlight them
      Good luck!

      Reply
        1. Benoit Post author

          Yup. If none of those suggestions work for you, drop another comment, I have some more ideas.

          Reply
  2. The Id DM

    Very nice!

    I’m fortunate to have several Dwarven Forge sets, which have been compiled by other players and myself over the last couple of years, but I really enjoy seeing other terrain options. The low-cost of this is great.

    I think my favorite piece from this is the bridge. That is something I may have to put together in the future. Thanks!

    Reply

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