Monday, October 31, 2016

Terrain Tutorial: Graveyard Hills

For Halloween this year, I've put together a tutorial about building some graveyard-themed hills and crypts. The scenery also incorporates some of my Skull Forge Scenics walls and tombstones, which add a lot of detail without having to do a lot of extra work.



Materials and tools that you will need:

*Use extreme caution when working with sharp objects. Follow all safety precautions and use all recommended safety equipment.

Liquid Nails construction adhesive

Hot glue gun

Super glue

Wood filler putty

Extendable snap-off knife

Steel ruler

Hobby knife


Hole punch

Wood pencil and eraser

Modeling putty

Sculpting tools

half-round file

1-inch thick insulation foam

2-inch thick insulation foam

Sand or ballast

Waterproof wood glue

Black latex paint

Flock and static grass

25mm x 50mm cavalry bases

2mm thick PVC card

1mm thick styrene plastic card

2mm half round styrene plastic rod

1.5mm square styrene plastic rod

Assorted detail accessories (skulls, banner tops, shields, icons, swords)

1/4-inch basswood strips

1/8-inch square basswood rod

Skull Forge Scenics graveyard walls and accessories are available in my online shop:



Walls and Posts



Ruined Walls






Modeling the Crypt Covers

First, I'll walk you through building the crypt covers. These will add some extra surface deatil to the hills and can even be incorporated into battlefield objectives, as you'll see later. This is also a great use for the square cavalry bases you may have left over after round-basing your Age of Sigmar models.

Start by cutting some rectangular styrene strips to cover the slots in the base. Cut the strips 3/4-inch by 1 3/4-inch. That's slightly smaller than the top of the base, so it will have a stepped appearance.



To scallop the corners, mark a 1/8-inch square and then use a hole punch to pop out the corners.



Glue the strips to the bases, creating a mix of scalloped and square crypt covers.


Now it's time to add some surface detail. This is where your parts box comes in handy, and all those unused banner tops can be put to use. Look for some small skulls. I found that the Tomb Kings banners work best because they all have double-sided skulls on them. Some Orc and Goblin quivers also have little skulls that you can carefully slice off to use as details.

For the Tomb Kings banners, cut the hanging skulls off and carefully cut them in half. We'll use the big skulls later, and even the hanging strips can be saved to use as purity seals on your Space Marines.



Use a piece of 2mm thick PVC card for the corner squares. Place the skulls along the edge of the card and mark the width with a pencil, leaving about 1mm of space on either side of the skull icon. Use a steel ruler and a hobby knife to cut the strip, and then cut it into squares (they will be roughly 3/16 square).


Glue the skulls onto the squares. Then, mark a guide line on the top of the crypt cover about 1mm in from the edges and glue the squares into place.



In place if the skulls, you could also use gems, or any other tiny icon you like. You could also leave the corner stones blank if you prefer.

Next you can add a rail between the corner squares. Cut a length of 2mm half round styrene to fit between the squares.



Start with the long edges first, and check the fit. Err on the side of caution when cutting the strip; if it's too long you can always trim it until it fits, but if it's too short you can't add more.


Divide the strip into three equal parts.


Then, use the edge of a half round file to cut a notch at each dividing line, and carry it all the way around the curved portion to create a seam between the three sections.


Glue segmented strips onto the cover, and then cut smaller strips for the short ends. (No need to section those short pieces.)


For the lids with scalloped corners, the process id the same, but the rectangle will be shorter.


You can also use 1.5mm square styrene rod to make square rails and add some variety among your crypts.


The final step for the lids is to detail them with shields, skulls, banners, or whatever you like. I've got some of the old warrior shields and black knight swords, but you can make these more specific to your army setting with Chaos icons, Bretonnian or Empire shields. To make a sword-and-shield decoration, cut out the middle section of the sword so it will fit around the shield (it won't actually fit underneath). You may also need to file the back of the sword parts flat so they will sit flush on the surface of the crypt.


Check the placement of the items and glue the shield in place first.



Fill behind the shields with modeling putty so they look more like a single piece of sculpted stone.


Then, glue the sword parts on the crypt cover.


You can add more variation by incorporating skulls into the iconography. Use the large skulls from the banners, or cut a regular skull flat and glue it in place above the sword.


Add icons to the shields, and you're finished!


This is a great opportunity to clean out your parts bin. All those left over shields and banner bits can make an entire cemetery of crypts.


The last thing to make is a frame for the lid to fit into. Take a 1/4-inch strip of basswood and glue a 1/8-inch square strip flush with one edge.


Place one of these on each side of the cover and cut a short strip to fit between them. Make sure the cover has plenty of wiggle room, because that will tighten up once primer and paint is added. Measure and cut a square strip for the end of the frame.


Once the first end if finished, repeat the process for the opposite end and trim off the excess wood.


Now you have a frame for the crypt with a cover that will fit inside. Once the hill is finished, the cover will be removable, so don't glue it in place!


Building the Hill and Steps

This is going to be a two-tiered hill, with a top section framed by a wall, and a bottom area with steps leading up to the top. I want my hill to accommodate the mausoleum I built, so I used that as a guide when measuring out the size of the hilltop. It takes two wall sections per side; One large graveyard wall set, and one ruined wall set is enough to go all the way around. Mark the hill on a piece of 1-inch insulation foam, and cut the foam with an extendable snap-off knife and a steel ruler.

You can get the walls here: skullforgescenics.etsy.com

And you can see my tutorial for the mausoleum here: Halloween Terrain, Mausoleum



There will be a set of steps between the two front wall pillars, so the walls need to be shortened. Mark the spot to cut and score it with a knife. Then, snap the resin wall at the score mark.


You will need to trim the cut end a little so it will fit into the slot on the post.


Fit the wall sections together and cut out notches on the hill so the posts will recess a little, allowing the wall to sit flush against the edge of the foam.



Mark the area to cut away for the stairs. The small wall sections will fit in this area as well.



Once that section is cut out, it's time to cut the steps into the foam. Each step will be about 1/4-inch high. Draw a line on the edge 1/4 inch from the bottom, and another on the top slightly more than 1/4 inch.


Use a hobby knife to make the short cut on the front edge of the foam, and then use a snap-off knife to make the deeper cut on the top. Make sure your blades are fresh so you get smooth, clean cuts and don't tear the foam.


Here's the first step, cut out:


Repeat the process for the second step, measuring up 1/4-inch from the first step and a little over 1/4 inch on the top. Then, make the cuts.


Then, mark and cut the third step. The fourth step is the top of the foam.


Put the side walls in place, and then trim the sides of the steps so they fit into the gap.


Next, size up the bottom tier of the hill. Position the top tier and the crypt covers and leave a few inches around the perimeter to accommodate the steps and leave enough room for models to stand.


Cut the steps using the same process from above, but cut them along the entire length of the bottom tier. Don't worry about precisely lining up the cuts at the corners, and don't sweat it if you mess up in a few spots; we're going to chip up the stairs and corners.


Use a knife to cut away some slopes on the surface, and chip up the steps with your fingers. Pick apart the corners so they look like the stonework has crumbled away.


You can even cut away a large portion of the hillside and use a fork to scrape the surface and create a rough texture.



Once you're happy with the state of the steps, affix the top tier of the hill (including its steps) with construction adhesive. Apply the adhesive on the bottom of hill and add a few spots of hot glue. The hot glue will secure it quickly so it won't slide around while the construction adhesive dries for a permanent bond.


Now it's time to detail the individual stones of the steps. First, make some cuts with a hobby knife.


Then draw over these cuts with a wood pencil.


With the individual stones marked, press them with a pencil eraser to create some variance in the surface.


The last step is to distress the edges of the stones with a hobby knife.


Repeat the process for the steps around the bottom tier.


Then, use construction adhesive and hot glue to attach the resin wall sections and pillars.


Where the ruined sections are, cut away the foam hill so it matches the contours of the broken wall.


Attach the top stone strips on the walls and fill the gaps with wood filler putty. (Note that the pillar tops are not attached; it's easier to keep them separate for painting.)


Cut some stones into the topmost step on the bottom tier, and press in the surface of the foam so these stones are a little higher.


Adding the Crypts and Paving Stones

Place the crypt frames where you want them, and mark their positions with a pen.



Cut a recess into the surface that the frames will fit into.



Spread some construction adhesive into the recesses and press the frames into them. The frames should line up just slightly above the surface of the foam.



To make the paving stones, cut a few thin slices off of the end of the 2-inch thick foam. As with the steps, make sure you use a fresh blade to get a smooth, clean cut. The slice should be between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.


These slices will be attached to the surface to create the stonework. To avoid having all the lines between each stone being too uniform, cut a few sections that will fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and eliminate any long, straight seams. Make sure the front piece of foam lines up with the edges of the top steps. Glue these pieces in place with construction adhesive.


Once the adhesive has set, cut in the individual stones, using the same process as for the stairs. Pop out a few stones to create a walkway in disrepair.


When the adhesive securing the crypt frames is dry, use a fork to scrape out some of the foam to make a recessed grave underneath.


Once all the steps and stonework is finished, coat it all with a layer of waterproof wood glue to protect it.


Applying the Sand and Skulls

When everything else is dry, paint some wood glue onto the areas of ground and sprinkle some sand over it.



Use a mix of fine sand for the ground and coarse ballast and rocks on the crumbling areas.


When the wood glue is dry, dump off the excess sand and attach some tombstones. Place them close to the wall so they don't interfere with model placement. You can also use some strategic tombstone placement to cover the vertical line where two wall sections connect.


Add some skulls scattered around on the steps and elsewhere. If the foam has been coated with wood glue, you should be able to super glue these parts to the surface. Add a drop of super glue, put the skull in place, and then sprinkle a little sand around it. The sand will stick in the glue and lock the skull in place.


Before painting, add another layer of protection for the foam by coating it with a coat of black latex paint, thinned with a little water. Take care not to gum up any details like the skulls.


This tutorial has focused on a large, two-tiered hill, but you can also make smaller, single-tier hills framed with walls. You can go as large or small as you like. On the hills where the wall posts are unobstructed, you can even connect more graveyard walls in different combinations.


Painting and Flocking the Terrain

Spray the entire piece with Black primer and then spray the stone areas with dark grey primer.



Drybrush the stones with Formula P3 Greatcoat Grey.


Then, drybrush with P3 Bastion Grey.


Apply a final drybrush of Army Painter Ash Grey.


Pick out some individual stones with a thin glaze of GW Fang Grey, and brown ink.


With the stonework finished, carefully paint the ground with a mix of brown ink and P3 Battlefield Brown.


Then use a controlled drybrush of GW XV-88, taking care not to mess up the stones.



Then apply a final drybrush of GW Screaming Skull over the entire piece, but keep the brush very dry when going over the stones.


Finally, pick out the skulls with GW Screaming Skull and wash them with brown ink.



Paint the crypt covers and the top stones for the posts in the same manner as the steps and walls. For any metal plaques on the crypts, paint them black, drybrush with P3 Cold Steel, and then wash them with P3 Bloodstone for rust. Apply the Bloodstone wash in a few other places to add some touches of rust and vary the stonework.


Apply some wood glue and sprinkle a layer of flock in a few places.


Once that has dried, shake off the excess flock and then add more glue and cover it with static grass. 


Here's a detail of the finished piece and how the flocking turned out– Notice how some of the flock is still visible around the static grass. There are also a few spots of static grass. Some grass tufts would also work well to create a variety of surface vegetation.


And that's it! Here's the finished hill on its own and with the mausoleum on it:



The crypts are set into the surface and flat enough that models can stand on them.


And they open to reveal hidden surprises or scenario objectives.


The small hill can connect with modular Skull Forge Scenics wall pieces.




The walls can also fit into the large hill on either side of the walkway.



The new hills fit in nicely with my growing collection of graveyard scenery.



'Til next time, Happy Halloween!


  1. Best scenery tutorial ever. That's it. Amazing.

  2. Fantastic work. Could you show what latex paint your using?

    1. I use Rustoleum Panter's Touch black and Home Depot's Behr latex, mixed to match the various browns and greys.

  3. Great tutorial. Your work is always inspiring.

  4. Your tutorials always give tips to improve our terrain!

  5. Creative and amazing job, so many outstanding details (love the steps!)...Gorgeous!

  6. What an amazing tutorial, you make it look so simple. But then, you also seem to possess a lot of items I don't even know where to get them.

    1. The styrene bits and basswood are available at hobby shops, The foam and Liquid Nails are available at DIY stores like Home Depot. the resin wall parts are available through my online shop: www.skullforgescenics.etsy.com The rest of the items like banners and shields are things I've collected over the years from various GW model kits. Never throw anything away! :)

  7. There are so many brilliant and helpful elements to this tutorial.

    Thank you so much!

  8. Hi Rob, the terms 'flock' and 'static grass' are a little interchangeable here in NZ. What are the names/colours of the two that you use? Simon

    1. The colors I used were Woodland Scenics Blended Turf Flock, and the old green color GW static grass, not sure of its name). But you could use whatever would match your gaming table or models' bases.

  9. Thanks for the kind words, everyone! Glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

  10. Wow man thats not only a great tutorial for the techniques involved but to combine it with your resin stuff is brilliant. It's a perfect example of tutorial + sales pitch. If GW took notice their tables and terrain selection would be far more interesting.

  11. Excellent tutorial. I´ll try to follow your steps and try to do my owm graveyard hill to combine it with my morr´s garden. Your work is very inspirational.

  12. Awesome Tutorial. Thanks for sharing!
    Where did you get that green flock mat you are using there for pictures?

    1. The mat is an old GW gaming mat. It's essentially a green felt-like material with a surfacing of flock that matches the Woodland Scenics green blended turf.

  13. Wow you never cease to amaze Bob, great work.

  14. Impressive, amazing... Thank U for sharing! :D


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