Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dark Age Crystal Caverns

Along with the Wrath of Kings board, the guys at CMON also commissioned me to build a board for the Dark Age miniatures game. They wanted a 4' x 4' cavern filled with glowing crystals, bottomless pits, and acid pools.


I drew a lot of inspiration from the natural caverns I'd visited in the past for the shape and color of the stalagmites and columns. The table came together over the course of a few months. Here's a little peek behind the scenes...

I built a wooden frame for the base, and used insulation foam for the walls and varying levels of the floor. I cut the 2-inch foam with a jigsaw, and affixed the layers with construction adhesive.



Next, I began the arduous task of shaping the rocky floor and cavern walls. There's no real "trick" to it or special tools– just a extendable snap-off knife, a fork, and a lot of elbow grease! I laid out the crystals and added some standing columns to create lanes of fire and cover.



I scraped the walls with a fork to give them a rough texture, and to gouge out alcoves. The floor of the cavern was sliced horizontally to create steps. As I worked, I was constantly checking the spacing with model bases to make sure there was enough room for models to stand almost anywhere.


I covered the exterior of the board with thin plywood to protect the foam and give the board clean, smooth sides. On the tops of the board, I painted on a layer of Envirotex Lite to protect the top.


Some smaller columns, stalagmites, and stalactites were created with wooden dowels.




The floor was coated with a layer of wood glue, and then black latex paint to help protect the foam. Prior to the black paint, I had marked the position of the crystals and cut channels to wire the LED lighting. I covered the recessed LEDs with tape and painted right over top of it all.


The free-standing columns were kept separate for painting. The foam and the wooden dowls were covered with a layer of wood filler putty. I used clay sculpting tools to shape the putty into a surface that resembled the organic "drippy' shapes of limestone caverns.


The walls of the cavern were covered in a similar fashion, and then they were covered with wood glue, black latex, and the final painting. I don't have any photos of the painting process, but you can see (above) the grey basecoat on the columns. Over that, I applied a wash of black and then drybrushed it all with varying browns and greys. In a few places, I used light browns, and cream color to create mineral runoff and calcium deposits, very similar to real natural caves.



With the painting complete, it was time to attach the crystals. I cut through the tape, exposing the LEDs. The translucent resin crystals (provided by CMON) were attached overtop using hot glue. I tinted the glue with purple paint and matched the grey at the bottom. The organic shape of the glue really helps to blend the crystals into the texture of the surrounding cavern. I plugged in the power supply, and voila!







Some skulls and bones are scattered about the cavern. Unfortunate explorers, consumed by the denizens inhabiting the caves.






The acid pools were made by painting yellow in the center of the pit and then painting an oxidization blue into the recesses around the pit. Once dry, I filled the pool with Envirotex Lite. Normally I pass a heat gun over the resin as it's curing to remove any bubbles, but in this case I let it froth up. The bubbles really add to the caustic, corrosive appearance of the pools.


The table was on display at the CMON Expo a couple weeks ago. Dark Age shared a video of the table and some photos of the board in action on their Facebook page. You can see that here.

'Til next time!


  1. Thanks for another fascinating tutorial!

  2. I'm not a fan of the crystals, could be the colour, but the cavern itself is work of art and beautiful to behold.

  3. Amazing work, as always. The light up crystals give it a really nice effect.

  4. This is so awesome! I am working in some cavern terrain myself at the moment and may well borrow your dowel idea! Keep up the excellent work!


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