Making Terrain That Can Travel!


You’re not really into 40K terrain until you have to rent a U-Haul. Let’s talk about durable, easy to store and transport 40K terrain.

Factory Build

Even if you’re just building terrain for yourself or your FLGS how you store, how your terrain holds up to storage, transport and play is important. We run big narrative event and we have to transport and store a dozen custom tables of terrain. Making this work starts with planning.  Every 6×8 table’s worth of terrain has to fit into a box, a tote or bag. The best terrain like factory below fits into a tote. Totes work well because they store well. Good tote are relatively cheap and widely available. For best results, pick out what you’re going to store things in during the planning phase and while you are building keep all the finished elements in the tote, bag or box. The last thing you want to do is have everything except the one cool bit fit into the tote, because you’ll forget to put in the car. Sorry radio antenna for Godzilla City.

Factory Load

Before you start building think about how this table will break down. For the factory the base was done on 1 foot squares and the walls slotted in to the bases. The walls lock in to each other with pins made by driving the pin out of a hinge and replacing it with a paper clip. Now if you’re building terrain for your FLSG, you may not need this level of break down and storage. However you will need durability. The first rule of durability is that it is going to get broken. Learn to repair it. Repairing will actually teach you a great deal about how to make things more durable.

Pub Front

The second rule is, if it moves it breaks. Secure it or make it so it can come off. This goes for everything from doors on a building to flocking on a base. The walls for the factory are very thin MDF and they flexed when we put the first parts together which meant that they all needed to be reinforced. All the walls have wood dowels glued to them to keep them from flexing.


Last rule, use strong materials and stronger glue. I have seen some great paper terrain. However it doesn’t stand up to even move FLGS wear and tear. Plastic kits and MDF held together with Gorilla glue will stand up better.


Do you use terrain that you have to travel with? Tell me about it!

  • Master Avoghai

    Actually I think that it’s also important not to make terrain zone too big.

    Sure your cathedral and your factory are great but they aren’t easy to transport. You’ll need a biiiig box to protect them and they’ll be heavy to carry.

    I prefer make small parts that I can put together to make a big central building if I need it.
    Not only it make things easier when comes the time to transport but also give much more possibilities for table set up.

    • WineShark

      Hey, MA – Glenn here from The Narrative Guys. Good points on terrain, for sure.

      Like Dan says, the factory breaks down and packs into a tote used for under-bed storage. It’s maybe 30″x20″x8″ and takes up less space than some people’s armies. 🙂 And as almost all MDF construction, it’s not heavy, either. You can see the factory as the white-topped box in the packing photo.

      It’s also a BIG piece for a BIG game. You can see it setup here: This was a centerpiece for a narrative game where we really wanted to one-up the usual FLGS and tournament-style terrain.

      The cathedral is an example photo (not something we built or own) of one monolithic piece, which would have all the issues you describe.

      • euansmith

        That’s some cool terrain

        • Thank you.

        • Unwashed

          Dan (OP), thanks! Terrain is something that we at The Narrative Guys spend a lot of time on and we are very proud. So comments like this mean a great deal.

    • Yes, as Glenn said. This is really what we are talking about. When I start thinking about a table, I want it to have a theme. It is what I feel set apart good terrain from normal GT or FLGS terrain.

  • BeneathALeadMountain

    Terrain is an oft under prioritised part of our hobby that is full of pitfalls and difficult potential considerations. Planning is key. Oh and Gorilla Glue is awesome in all its forms and well worth it.

    • euansmith

      I think that Assault armies in 40k should be allowed to buy LoS blocking terrain (like Fortifications, but without any special rules) and be allowed to plonk it down on the table after any other terrain has gone on 😀

      • V10_Rob

        Not unreasonable. Shooty armies buy defenses to camp behind and kill you as you cross the field, ax-to-face armies should be able to field some limited cover to keep from being picked off with impunity.

        A single chunk of wall, or an artillery strike deliberately targeted on barren ground to create a deep crater, would go a long way.

        • euansmith

          I guess the option to lay down smoke would do 😀

          • One of my favorite of our tables gave everyone on the table stealth, it made for a really fun and interesting game.

      • I agree. As The Narrative Guys we think about what is the tactical challenge of the terrain. I am building a slums table for LVO 16 (see our facebook page) that is row and row of low buildings that block LOS. Armies play differently when the terrain changes, we want to make players think about the terrain and how they have to adjust to the battle field.

      • Skimask Mohawk

        Just set up a table with proper terrain 5th had a great blurb in the book that talked about the ratio of terrain they recommended; 25% of the table and LOS blockers

        • Unwashed

          For The Narrative Guys events we do more terrain than that. We evaluate a board by how much of the board is used in a game. In a normal 40K 25% terrain game we find that about 1/3 of the board is in play at one time. We upped the amount of terrain, especially LOS blocking, and we found that we can up that to 2/3rds most of the game. We like lots of little fights with key fire lanes. The comment has been made that our terrain looks more like Infinity than 40K.

      • Unwashed

        Dan (OP), for LVO we are building a slums table that is you’d love. Most of the table is a maze of low LOS blocking buildings. But it is a maze so you’ll find yourself in lots of little fights, it will take planning and timing to focus you combats. (see our facebook page for preview pictures).

    • Terrain is, as a number of pod casts have said, the third army on the table. Total agree about planning.

  • benn grimm

    Terrain is great fun to conceptualise and build, but unless you’re pretty wealthy, space soon becomes an issue. I’ve hit my storage limit for this decade, so instead of building more big ‘overground’ buildings, I’m going to start working down, into the boards, creating trenches, pits, pools of toxic goo, maybe even a tunnel or two.

    • Dave Scammell

      Don’t forget the pits of skulls!

      • LOL… I have some skull heavy terrain on the planning board, after all it is 40K.

    • I store most of our terrain in my attic and my closet. Space is a very big deal for The Narrative Guys as we have a lot of terrain. People who run GTs will tell you just storing terrain can break you.

  • euansmith

    I’m currently working on a 3’x3′ modular terrain table for skirmishes. I started work on it for Frostgrave, but I am trying to make it a really generic ruin so I can use it for a wide variety of games across multiple periods; everything from when the oceans drank Atlantis through to the grim darkness of the far distant future.

    I’ve still got a long way to go, with texturing the heck out of it and then painting it. For storage, I’m just hoping it will fit in a wardrobe.

    • WineShark

      That is looking great! And a cool concept when it comes to re-use in many systems.

    • Brush on house paint with sand mixed in can do amazing things.

    • Unwashed

      (Dan OP), that looks great! Texture is one of our secrets, finding a good looking texture that plays well, stands up and doesn’t take a long time to apply is hard. I know some products that work well if you are still looking. Let me know, heck I can even do a full post on it.

      • euansmith

        I am using filler/spackle to apply a variety of splodgy and stippled textures to the terrain. I’m still learning how to apply it to get an interesting result. Any suggestions, however, would be gratefully received.

        • Unwashed

          Woodland Scenics Mold-A-Scene Plaster C1203 is something I use a lot. It is a plaster that has pyrite in it for texture. The process takes time but the results are tough and good looking. I lay down a layer of white glue dust with the Plaster, let dry and white glue on over it. We have also used sand in house paint for really big projects. For that project I would use house paint with sand over the whole surface than come back and use C1203 on the floor, if you want a ruined look. Again awesome rough construction.

          • weeble1000

            It really depends on what kind of texture you want, but I prefer sand and wood glue. It wears like iron, although it can be heavy. But sometimes a little extra weight in a piece is a good thing.

            I use play sand and Titebond 3 glue. Titebond 3 has a thinner consistency and a longer working time. It also has a bit of a brownish tint, so if you are actually looking to model sand (desert, beach, etc.), you can get away without doing any painting because a final layer of glue will cut down that ‘out of scale play sand’ look that you don’t want.

            I apply at least two layers of sand. Paint on glue, cover liberally with sand, dry, paint on glue, cover with sand, and seal with a final layer of glue.

            That’s a nice, tough surface that also has a little bit of depth to it, so it can even take some chipping without showing damage, assuming you haven’t painted over it.

  • Remco Degooyer

    Its been a long time since I got to make terrain (life, work, kids, etc) but I’m looking forward to that part of the hobby most when my kids get older and want to play.

    Back when I did build alot of terrain – absolutely my most favorite part of the hobby next to the fluff itself – I would build static pieces either 2′ x 2′ or 1′ x 1′ or 1′ x 2′ sections that were modular squares of closed-cell styrofoam using alot of the original gothic ruins from 1997 and necromunda bulkheads.

    Storage was definitely an issue and I was fortunate as a teenager that I had a basement that was otherwise unused so I could set up a permanent gaming table with big storage shelves set up underneath it to store the terrain.

    One of the biggest pitfalls with terrain knowing when enough was enough on a specific piece without going overboard.

    Going way back in time my favorite piece of terrain I ever built was a landing pad that I had seen in a WD batrep circa 1996 / 1997 – I was very proud. It wasn’t nearly as good but it was as good as I could make it.

    • Great stuff Remco. When I started my terrain was way to static as you say. I started out with 12 inch MDF squares. That is some our hardest terrain to store and transport. We have even looking at retro fitting some of it to make it easier to store. What I have found is that details are the important bit. People will look at your table from 20 feet away, 3 feet and about 6 inches. There are thing that you can do to make a big impact at these distance (future post.. Dan).

    • Unwashed

      Great stuff Remco. When I started my terrain was way to static as you say. I started out with 12 inch MDF squares. That is some our hardest terrain to store and transport. We have even looking at retro fitting some of it to make it easier to store. What I have found is that details are the important bit. People will look at your table from 20 feet away, 3 feet and about 6 inches. There are thing that you can do to make a big impact at these distance (future post.. Dan).

      • Remco Degooyer

        Granted I rarely transported too much of my terrain but it was fairy easy to transport a 4 x 8 table’s worth of city terrain in a full size van with all the seats removed 🙂

        I don’t disagree that details are important – sorry if I didn’t explain myself better – but I would certainly say that “over-detailing” is a problem that you have to be careful of with terrain. I do define “over-detailing” as terrain so detailed that it is almost impossible to play on. Moderation of rubble piles, number of walls, placement of items, etc need to be done in a way to complement the play on it rather than hinder it. I’ve seen some great stuff that strictly regimented how troops (or vehicles) could move through it and after a handful of games on it it got boring real quick because it wasn’t conducive to continuous play. I suppose ultimately the point I have (that I am clearly meandering towards) is that terrain needs to be well thought out before doing (atleast if its going to be a modular system rather than just a free-placement item).

        • Unwashed

          We have a rule of thumb, we want a table to look cool from 30 feet away, 6 feet and 6 inches. At 30 feet big shapes are important and a nice color pallet. At 6 feet texture is what makes a big difference. For the 6 inch distance it is creating little ‘what happened here’ places that players can find and get that wow factor. What we ignore is detailing the whole board, for example you can have a 12 inch long blank wall as long as there is one spot with a skeleton and blood smear.

          We also make sure that our tables are not only modular with themselves but with each other. We combine our 8’x6′ tables into long 20’x6′ tables where the terrain will go from City to Town to Rural to Jungle on a single board. It is a great deal of fun to think about terrain at that scale.

  • doughouseman

    When you have too much terrain to fit in a 14 foot trailer – you know you have terrain.

    We have been setting 32 or more tables at Origins for more than a decade.

    Our early efforts were laughable. Much of that terrain has disappeared into the recycle bin.

    Things we have learned:
    1) Moving large amounts of terrain is a big job. We built carts that our terrain lives in – each cart holds different kinds of terrain. Each is customized to the terrain.
    2) If you are running tournaments – build lots of the same piece -that way people will not complain as much about “table” advantage
    3) Construction adhesives are your friend. So are thicker materials that will hold up to abuse.
    4) Crooked lumber, dented plywood, and other DIY store cast offs are your friend, so are “free cycle” lists – you never know what you can find.
    5) Cheap totes and bins are to be avoided, at most they last 1 convention
    6) Painting is the key to great terrain – almost anything can be pushed together to make a piece of terrain – it is the final painting that makes a HUGE difference.
    7) Edge glued plastics almost never survive – you have to have something that “tabs” together with a strong tab to make lasting terrain – the last think you want is to spend several hours at the event fixing terrain.
    8) Friends make light work of massive terrain efforts.
    9) The more modular the terrain, the more you can do with it over the years – while 1×1 or 2×1 terrain is cool for a few tables – based individual pieces offer way more options.

    If you want to see the evolution of what we have done – we will be at U-Con and Adepticon with our terrain.

    • euansmith

      All great advice.

    • Great post Doug Houseman! I really want to come to Adepticon and it would be great to see your stuff. I would love to compare notes!

    • Unwashed

      Great points all of them! I could not agree more. Doug what do you do at U-Con and Adepticon, I would love to talk more.

      • doughouseman

        At U-Con in November – running the miniature area and running 40K, Dropzone, MERCS, and other games over the 3 days. We are trying to ramp up the miniatures gaming at the con.

        At Adepticon setting up and running the open gaming area for the 2nd year in a row. We may teach some games too, while we are at it.

        • Unwashed

          That is awesome. I want to make it to Adepticon. Just have to find the time.

    • weeble1000

      In terms of ‘off the shelf’ terrain, this is why I really like the Old West buildings from Knuckleduster Miniatures.

      They aren’t as fancy-looking as lots of other terrain kits, but they are made from plywood instead of MDF, and the buildings are always constructed with tabbed walls that slot into an integral base. The buildings stand up to a lot of abuse.

      There aren’t many terrain pieces, purchased kits or DIY, that I would be comfortable punting across the living room. You could kick a Knuckleduster building across the room, pick it up, and put it right back on the table.

      I LOVE 4Ground terrain, and those pieces are SOLID for MDF. Double walled and well-designed, but they’re still MDF, and I treat all of them with kid gloves. Fine for home use, but I would’t want to do much traveling with them.

    • weeble1000

      For me, the creme de la creme of sturdy travel terrain is ‘trash terrain’ made out of smashed electronics, preferably old printers. Anything with lots of plastic housing and plastic components.

      Not only is the terrain great for ‘ambiguously scaled’ sci-fi ruins that you can use with games from 6mm up to 35mm, but with MDF bases, a hot glue gun, and sand, you can make a lot of modestly-sized, reliable, and very sturdy terrain that looks great with some texture spray paint, a little dry brushing, and a few washes in detail areas.

      It costs almost nothing to make, and takes very little time. If you want to really jazz it up, a little salting with some bits goes a long way, but of course whatever you glue on can get knocked off.

  • BonesoftheDesert

    Great ideas all.

    I use a lot of the styrofoam pieces used for packing computer/networking/etc equipment. Several make great bunkers, habs buildings, etc with little modification. Try using a can of textured spray paint (any WalMart/etc store) to get that stone/concrete look. Careful with the Rustoleum stuff, it melts Sytrofoam, but it’s great for the war-torn pieces.

    Finally, what I really like about styrofoam is that you can rip chunks out to use as debris, or rip pieces off the building-style pieces to repesent battle damage. With a little paint, it easily looks like damaged concrete/etc.

    And it’s super easy to transfer.

    My .03

    • There is also paper inserts that are very easy to customize. Also look for paper clay at your local craft store… you can do some amazing things.

    • Unwashed

      House paint mixed with sand can do amazing things. Also look at paper clay it can really help deal with awkward shapes when using styrofoampacking forms.

  • Beau S. Sutton

    I have enough for a 4×8 table that was (mostly) from Battlefield in a box. 2 woods (4 total templates and trees), 2 small and 1 large hill, and a bunch of the older, squared off buildings. Fits in a bankers box. I can see it working with some other companies, or scratch build, but the way GW terrain is constructed (particularly trees) makes it problematic to use it for transport.

    • Unwashed

      This is Dan (OP) So what I do for tree is use Woodland Scenics Ready Made Trees (Value Packs about $40US) and glue them to old CD’s. They break down nicely and the bulk of the tree comes off the base and they hold up really well. The downside is that the flock will fall off and it is kind of like glitter.

      • weeble1000

        I threw in the towel on foliage and angled my terrain collection towards environments that lack large amounts of foliage, such as deserts and badlands.

        I use tree roots as trees. Just glue them into weighty bases made from big washers. I have found, however, that you often don’t need foliage to really ‘sell’ a tree on a game table. On a diorama, sure, you really want foliage, but game tables already have very spare and highly representative ‘woods’ anyway. A few nice-looking bare trunks and a nice area terrain base are all you really need.