Basic Terrain: Easy Hills


Ok so this quick guide is to get you started off with some simple hills for your table. I make these as they are good for blocking lines of fire across the tabletop and you can choose whether or not you wish to make them passable terrain or not by a couple of simple tweaks while you build them.

You will need:
A sharp craft Knife
A marker pen
A hot wire cutter (optional)
3/4 inch thick polystyrene sheet
Thick card (or plasticard sheet)
Plaster/wall filler (optional)
Glue (PVA and Copydex)

Okay, the first step is to decide if you want to make a contoured hill or a smooth hill. Smooth hills look much nicer but it can be difficult getting models to stand on it’s surface; whereas a contoured hill looks a little less like a hill but has flat areas where you can stand your minis on (it’s also a little easier to construct). It’s purely down to personal preference and with a little thought given when building, you can make either type work just as well as the other. I’ll cover both types starting with….

A Smooth Hill

First, you need to decide how big you want your terrain piece to be. I’m going to construct a fairly small hill (more like a mound really) so I’ve measured out a piece of plasticard measuring 6″x9″. This will be the hill’s base. You can cut this to an irregular shape if you wish, but as this is just a simple hill I’m just going to round the corners off.

A 6" x 9" piece of plasticard

Next, you should measure out some rectangular pieces of polystyrene. These should be of differing sizes, the first wants to be about a half inch smaller on all sides than your base piece of plasticard, the next smaller still so it fits on top of the first. You can make your hill as tall as you like, so long as you can keep fitting smaller and smaller pieces on top.

A quick word on polystyrene…if you can get it then I recommend using high density polystyrene, especially if you don’t have a hot wire cutter. It’s easier to cut and much more durable than reglar “packing” polystyrene. If you have a wire cutter though, then it doesn’t really matter…use any old stuff.

Next, you need to draw out your hill shape on your pieces of polystyrene and cut them out. I’ve left mine pretty much rectagular in shape, much like a man made mound. Now it’s the fun part! You need to cut the sides of the polystyrene at an angle to give you your slope…this should ideally be pretty smooth. You can either do each layer individually or glue your polystyrene pieces together before cutting in your slopes (this is a good idea if you only have a knife to cut with). I had to do mine individually as I was using my hot wire cutter and how it’s arranged doesn’t leave a lot of room to maneuver when cutting. Once you have your slopes cut then glue all the pieces of polystyrene together using copydex (PVA isn’t very good for bonding polystyrene unfortunately). When that’s dried you can glue your hill to it’s base. You should have something that now looks like a very basic hill.

The beginnings of a smooth sided hill

At this point you can do one of two things (dependant on your available materials and how fast you need the terrain), you can either mix up some polyfilla and smooth it over your hill or you can seal it with paint (NOT spraypaint in a can…the propellant WILL melt your polystrene). I’m going to smooth mine over with polyfilla, this only needs to be a thin layer, just thick enough to fill in the lumps and bumps and give you a smooth slope.

Leave this to dry and then you can coat your hill with a little PVA thinned with water and sprinkle on your sand. Knock off the excess sand and allow to dry. If you plaster your hills then it’s worth remembering that this will protect the polystyrene from the propellant in spray paint, making undercoating nice and easy. You could just paint it up if you’re pushed for time or materials, I’ve got a fair bit of flock and scattergrass that needs using up so I’m going to add those on too after painting.

After adding on some texturing

After undercoating

To paint your hill simply give it a basecoat with a dark brown paint. I tend to use cheap “craft acrylic” paints for my terrain…it’s much more cost effective than using your expensive mini paints. Then simply drybrush it with successively lighter browns. If you want to add in the look of grass then you can stipple on some green or you can use tans and ochres to give the impression of sand.
So here’s my hill painted in brown and green.

Painted with greens and browns

If you really want to give your hill some life then you can glue different coloured flock on to your hill. If you have the painted sand underneath it spares the need for a good coat of flock, meaning you can use less. I’ve only got some green flock in at the minute so I’m going to use some of that on the grassy areas.  I’m also going to add on some static grass. Use this sparingly to represent larger clumps of weed and tufts of grass. Once everything is dry you can give it a quick spray of your favoured varnish (or clear acrylic spray paint works well) and your hill is ready for the tabletop.

The finished hill

Contoured Hills

I’ll keep this brief as I’ve covered most of it already with the smooth hill.

Measure out your plasticard or card and polystyrene as you would for a smooth hill. Cut them to shape as you would for a smooth hill but don’t worry about getting the edges smoothed across the whole of the hill, simply bevel them instead. Glue the pieces together using copydex and allow them to dry.

The start of a contoured hill

Mix up some plaster and give the hill a thin smooth coat. If you like you can add in some plaster where the contours meet the flatter areas to smooth it out a bit.

After applying the plaster

Glue on your sand and paint it up. Add on your flock and scatter and seal it with spray varnish. Another hill ready for the tabletop.

With texturing applied

After the undercoat

After painting

Finished contoured hill

The next tutorial will look at making rocky areas and rock spires so keep an eye out for it.



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