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Ableman33's Project Archive - 3D Hex Maps & More

I am often referencing past projects when writing up new ones, so I decided to make an index-style post of my projects here on TG. This way I can just add to this thread as time goes on and all future projects can link to here so that readers will always have an updated reference.

(This idea was inspired in many ways by Bugbait and his Random 40k terrain thread.)

The colored titles are clickable links to more complete articles about the making of each project.


Tropical Volcanic Island Map

(click title for link)

My first project was a single piece 3-D hex map for Battletech. It was designed to look like a tropical volcanic island. It was my first attempt at using expanded polystyrene foam and hot wire foam carving tools.

During this project I evolved a lot of the techniques I would use on later projects including melting the surface of the foam for texture and using poster board templates to guide my hotwire cutting.

Making this project into a single large board made it a rigid unchanging play surface. For future projects I switched to exactly reproducing (in format at least) the traditional paper maps used by Battletech. That way my maps would have the potential of combining in lots of different ways, even with different map sets or with any paper maps I might convert to 3-D hex ones in the future.

This board was donated to my local game store.

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Jungle Map

(click title for link)

My second project was a semi-commission. A friend of mine runs the Battletech games at a local gaming convention. He asked me to make some maps for him. He made a quick back-of-the-envelope sketch of what he was looking for and left the details up to me.

During this project I experimented with textured coatings, gluing loose piles of material in place, commercial wire trees, and using silicone caulk to simulate water.

This was also the last project I covered each map board with a full sheet of foam. After this, I used the luan plywood as my base layer. Consequently, these are the only maps that I have made that do not have the potential of being mixed up smoothly with the rest of my map projects.

It was also on this map that it was discovered while playing that the deep rounded cuts I made into some of my cliff faces caused confusion. The cliffs are supposed to block line of sight, but from the side it looks like you can shoot through some of the hexes. Players had to resort to looking straight down to resolve line-of-sight issues. For future maps I decided to try to avoid this confusion, sacrificing potential realism for ease of play.

For play purposes, these maps (especially the 4 that do not have the waterfall covered mesas) have proven to be the best ballance of tree cover, elevation, and open areas. The four non-waterfall maps are our current main go to maps for our monthly play sessions.

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Canyon Map

(click title for link)

My next 3-D hex map project was a set of canyon maps that mimicked WWI-style trenches.

During this project I experimented with ways to simulate red-brown sedimentary rock, indicating hexes on a smooth surface with shallow hot glue dunes, and making my cliff faces look realistic without digging into them so much that there was any confusion about line-of-sight blocking.

These maps proved fun to play on, but the lack of trees limits the defensive options of players so they have not been as popular.

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Mountain Map

(click title for link)

This 3-D hex map was a personal challenge. I wanted to see if I could ease back a little from my careful detail work and create a map in the time between our monthly gaming sessions. Due to a constraint on materials, I made a single map board with extensive vertical elements to give a play surface similar in area to a 4-board map set.

During this project I experimented with reinforcing large flat "bridges", using bits of plastic vines for cliff-clinging plants, and using crackle paint for texturing the foam like crumbling stone.

While this map has proven to be fun to play on, the extreme nature of its shape means that many mechs are at a severe disadvantage playing on it. As a result it does not get as much use as say my jungle maps.

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Arenas Map

(click title for link)

This 3-D hex map is currently unfinished. In it I am experimenting with modular pieces held in place with magnets.

So far I have explored a variety of ways to make magnets cling to the map base and how to represent the cover aspects of Light and Heavy Woods using technological materials.

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Rough and Ready D&D Sailing Ships

(click title for link)

For this project I wanted to quickly build some 3-D sailing ships for a D&D campaign I was running at the time. I deliberately made them in a very simplistic, almost cartoonish, style as I wanted them to be easy to navigate stages that did not take the focus away from the heroic actions of the players.

During this project I experimented with covering foam forms with printed paper textures, using thin clear plastic to allow movement over rounded surfaces, using rug canvas as netting, and indicating the playing grid with a series of small dots.

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D&D Vyking Ships

(click title for link)

For this project I wanted to create a ship that would feature in several sessions in another ongoing D&D campaign I was running, one based around the myths and legends of the Nordic world.

I used the same basic printed paper textures over foam forms as the sailing ships project, but put a little bit more detail into it. I still toned down the realism and detail to keep the heroes at the center of attention.

During this project I experimented with converting a cheap dragon figurine into a figurehead and sculpting with hot glue.

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Folding Castle

(click title for link)

This project was made for a TG competition requiring participants to make terrain that folded. This was my first competition. It was a great one with entrants and followers sharing ideas and helping each other at every turn, a model of my ideal competition. My thanks to MUMSY for managing such a wonderful experience.

This was the first time I worked with foam core and printed paper textures. During the project I experimented with lots of different folding challenges and ways of making terrain "pop-up".

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During my work I have come across a few places on the internet that were especially helpful.

Free Online Graph Paper

(click title for link)

TG Link write-up here.

This site has all sorts of customizable graph papers that can be freely created and printed out. They proved very useful for me in making my hex grids until I made my plastic templates.

Free Paper Textures

(click title for link)

TG Link write-up here (The link in the title of the write-up no longer works. The corrected address is in the comments.)

This site has hundreds of paper textures designed to easily tile and combine with each other. The artist has generously posted them for free use.

(This link is too long for TG's system to handle so you will need to cut-and-paste it into your browser to get it to work.)

TG Link write-up here. (The link is too long for TG so the full link is listed in the comments.)

This site enables you to calculate the real-world height of various commercial buildings based solely on the number of floors they have. It is also good for doing the reverse, figuring out how many floors a building of a given height would have.

Homemade Hotwire Scroll Saw Table Conversion

(click title for link)

Along the way of making these projects, I modified one of my craft tables so that it can be used as a large Hotwire Scroll Saw table at need.

By drilling holes in my table at convenient locations and extending wires from my existing hotwire power supply to to an extra cutting wire suspended from the ceiling by chains, I was able to create a 4' x 8' hotwire scroll saw table with no suspension arm to get in the way of cutting.

When not in use, the pieces are disassembled and stored out of the way allowing the table to be used normally.

This conversion has proven to be a fantastic tool that makes working with my large sheets of foam a breeze.

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Pre-Made Map Board Bases

(click title for link)

My map boards use a common base design that can be mass produced from commonly available materials. This makes it easy for all my maps to work together.

The bases are designed to resist warpage while being lightweight and providing easy-carry handles. They can also be bolted together to form large map arrays that act as a single board.

Making a bunch of these in advance makes it possible for me to go from having an idea for a new map project and then head straight into making it.

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On the sailing ships, what did you use on top of the yards to allow figures to stand there?

@ Elderac - The blue titles for each section above are clickable links to individual threads about each project with full details.

To answer your question directly, there are pieces of clear plastic on top of each yardarm that let the figures stand. The loops of rope holding the sails in place mark the one inch grid we used for gaming.

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I have a Magnetic Map Board project as part of my Arena map that is nearly complete. The boards are currently stalled at the painting stage as I try to come up with a generic base painting scheme that I can accept.

Considerations when designing 3-D Battletech maps

(click title for link)

I created a post that talks about the process I go through when designing my maps and the reasoning behind the choices I make.

While the thread uses Battletech hex maps as its focus, the general ideas can be extrapolated to most gaming systems.

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Mediterranean Island Pirate Mega Map

(click title for link)

This project was created for Reaper miniatures company's ReaperCon 2012 warlord tournament.

A large map (4' x 12') with a designated pirate theme, it was my first foray into free-form, non-hex based terrain.

I had a great deal of fun exploring terrain building outside the constraints of hexes with this project. The scale of this map, both in actual size and the scale of the units using it, allowed me to have fun creating details for players to discover that I had not been able to with my previous hex-based projects.

New techniques for me included various "carving" methods to achieve the shapes of my eroded cliffs, working with wood cladding materials to form my ship wreck, and creating accent pieces like my shark and kraken.

All the bridges, creatures, and "pirate" elements were separate pieces not attached to the map itself. This allows the map to be easily used for different eras/games. Only the ruins were a permanent part of the map.

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Magnetic Map Boards

(click title for link)

I topped 8 of my wood map bases with sheets of steel to form a surface that magnetic pieces could stick to.

While working on this project, I learned how difficult it is to remove the ceramic coating from magnetic dry erase boards (and that things would have been FAR simple if I had just glued them white side down). I also did a lot of experimentation to come up with a generic paint scheme that would work for lots of different types of maps while still being completely flat.

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Tropical Island Atoll Maps

(click title for link)

I wanted to make a set of maps that suited generic play (mostly flat clear terrain, some heavy and light woods, and some elevated small hills), but was different than the terrain we usually played on.

I decided to make a set of small tropical islands connected with level zero water (water that is so shallow it is purely cosmetic and does not affect play). The maps represent the peak of an atoll surrounded by deep water.

This was another quick map challenge, taking under three weeks from start to finish. It was my first project to take advantage of my pre-made map bases. As hoped, these pre-made bases really sped up the terrain making process, enabling me to have a map idea then just grab some bases and get started.

During this project I experimented with a new way to make smooth water using polyacrylic over paint. It worked very well and will likely become my new go-to technique for flat water. I will save using caulk for when I need 3-D shapes like waves or waterfalls.

I also tried using slightly trimmed down pre-made plastic palm trees to mark my woods hexes. These do not have wire core trunks so I will need to see how they hold up to play, storage, and transport.

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Polycrylic over paint makes great flat water.

Very nice terrain, indeed!
How did you get the hexes on the magnetic boards on top of the sand?

@ zaxxon - Thank you. Smile

To mark the grid, I used a template I made out of a sheet of clear plastic.

Clear plastic hex template

Clear plastic hex template close up

(Pictured above is my old version. It has since been replaced with one that was more precisely made out of thicker plastic and that exactly matches my typical map board size without any extra around the edges.)

A friend printed out a paper copy of my hex grid to scale on a large scale printer (24" x 31"). I then laid my plastic over the paper and used the paper as a guide to mark the hex corners on the plastic with a fine tipped permanent marker. I drilled through these corners with a narrow drill bit to make holes through the plastic. I then drew lines with a fine tipped sharpy to form the hexagons on my plastic template to make laying out projects easier.

I use this template all the time to mark hex grids on foam sheets to be cut, on poster board templates, and on maps themselves when possible. The holes in the plastic are just the right size for a fine tipped sharpy marker to fit through or a push pin to poke through to mark the surface below.

Plastic hex template in use to mark foam sheets

Plastic hex template was used to make custom poster board template to mark hexes around existing terrain.

Oh, and the magnetic maps are covered in speckled paint rather than sand. The paint lacks the sand's abrasiveness, plus the paint does not shed everywhere. Smile

Since the magnetic boards are perfectly flat, it was a simple thing to lay out my template directly on the map boards once the paint was dry. I marked the corners of the hexes through the template with a thin permanent marker, then removed the template and used a yard/meter stick to draw all the lines with a thin permanent marker.

Plastic hex grid secured to mark magnetic boards.

Plastic hex template used to mark magnetic boards, with shark to mark current row for marking.

Drawing the hex grid using marked hex corners and a straight edge.

I hope that helps answer your questions. Please feel free to let me know if you have any more.

If you click the titles of each section of the posts above, they will link you directly to separate WIP threads that give lots of details about the making of each project. Thumbs Up

Haha! Sorry but I have to laugh because it is very funny as I just see which way you took as solution - it's the same I was thinking about but I only made it half way to use Smile :

I was inspired by the cool Geohex sets that were out when I started playing Battletech back in 1989 or a bit later. I was very active in the german Mechforce and the big club that formed beside it, the Nice Dice which had close to about 2800 active members in Germany, Switzerland and I think Austria (while the Mechforce was left with 100-200 people).
We did tons of chapterfights in all parts of Germany. I was leading the Chapter Otomo of House Kurita with about 12 active players in it. Was a funny time way back and since we did not take prisoners or didn't go as prisoner ourselves, we were somewhat dreaded hehe.
Anyway, too much of tries to cheat at the table or already in those chapterfight treaties that you had to agree on, before you drive 200km with 10 people to fight for some planet heh...

In the days back I did not have the money to get Geohex and today I have the money but there is very rarely an offer and often it is not the Battlescape which has hexes, so I thought about building my own Geohex like terrain.

I am drifting away, sorry Wink

The acrylic glass plate I marked where to drill the holes. Yet, after my move from Germany to Switzerland I still do not have my benchdrill here to drill the holes. I intend to use it as a template like you did and do the Geohex like dots with my airbrush later:

Image from

One of the Geohex like tiles; not perfectly cut styrofoam with several layers of color over glued sand:

Image from

And some of those tiles with a Marauder and a Wasp or Stinger LAM for proportions:

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First - WOW! Your terrain (especially your hex terrain) is unbelievable. Shocked

Second - HOLY FACK! (see my first point). Surprised

Third - WOW AGAIN! Applause

Gamewise, there is absolutely nothing better than playing a good miniatures game on gorgeous 3D terrain with gorgeously painted minis, and in the case of Battletech, nothing is better than playing on gorgeous hex terrain.

Years ago when I played Battletech a lot, I was lucky enough to play with a guy who bought a ton of the GeoHex GeoHex terrain from Battlescape and it made the games so much more interesting and fun. I tend to think that part of the brilliance of the GeoHex terrain was that they weren't afraid to demark the hexes on the terrain... like it was actually designed with Battletech in mind. It certainly made gaming much quicker and easier.

I can't tell you how absolutely impressed I am by your Battletech terrain. I love how gorgeous it all looks. I love that you made your hexes big enough to stand a mech AND trees in. I love that you find interesting and creative ways to demark your hexes. I love that so much of your terrain is modular! I love your water effects. I love your rock face effects. I even love your shark effects. I LOVE DAMN WELL EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR TERRAIN. In fact, I'd really like to take your terrain out for a nice dinner and a movie!!! Smile

The only things about your terrain that I don't love are that A) it's your terrain as opposed to being my terrain, and B) that Battletech's wonky rules for things like DFAs and moving in water unfairly devalues the fun factor of some of the features of your incredible terrain.


It has probably been 15 years since I've played Battletech and now, as you can probably guess, all I want to do is play it... on your terrain. Sadly, Houston is a bit far from Vancouver.

Over the last week I've read the majority of your WIP project posts and generally gotten myself good and obsessed with the idea of getting back into Battletech and terrain building (which I did on a very small and limited scale back in the day). I've even started scouring Ebay for decently priced rulebooks and minis. Sadly the 20 or so minis I had years ago were "borrowed" by the same guy who had the GeoHex.

What I'm really interested in, however, is emulating your terrain building techniques.

I'm not sure that I'll actually be able to get around to building terrain - might be too many time/space constraints, but none-the-less, I've got a few questions for you.

Okay, that was a lie... I've got oodles of questions for you but I'm going to restrain myself to the most important ones.

In no particular order:

1 - Which hex project took you the longest to make? Which was the quickest.

2 - Which project was the cheapest to make? Which was the most expensive?

3 - Which tools are absolutely essential to making your hex terrain? I'd really love a list of absolute musts - everything from sharpies to clamps to toothbrushes to hot-wire cutting table.

4 - Have you got a line (that you're willing to share) on places to get great flock, trees, etc.

5 - Have people offered to buy your hex terrain pieces? Have you even contemplated a price to quote them?

6 - Do you have SketchUp object templates for things like your hex grids on hand? Would you be willing to share them? Sketching up some maps is obviously the easiest first step for me.


Here are a few random thoughts/ideas.

A - I'm not sure how interested you and your group are into playing with some of the other elements of Battletech, but it might be fun to start constructing hull down hides for tanks into some of your future Battletech terrain projects.

Hull down tank hides

B - Any thoughts on making an urban/city environment? City planning around hex grids doesn't really work well (can't have proper crossroads) but I have faith in your ability to pull it off!

C - One of the few paper maps that I played on regularly back in the day was the factory arena from the Solaris 7 box set. It was interesting in that it had a 2 building complex and each building was big enough that mechs could fight inside of them. The buildings had a bridge connecting their upper levels and one of the buildings even had a huge mech elevator that could move mechs up and down.

The Factory map
The upper "floors" of the two buildings are bigger than the lower levels. The smaller building had 3 "floors".

I think I just drooled a little at the thought seeing your version of that map in all it's 3D glory! I can even imagine you making a fully functional elevator! HA!

D) I'd love to see you try to make a fixed terrain feature along the lines of a crashed aerodyne dropship. I imagine it would look something like a modern day plane crash with a huge scar in the terrain and bits and pieces scattered everywhere.

E) Do you think it would be possible to make a huge (level 6 or higher) waterfall that had a mech-sized cave hidden in behind the base of it?

Anyway, this rather large and unorganized post is finished. Shocked

@ c quenther -

Welcome! I'm glad you have found my terrain inspiring. Smile

I'm sorry I didn't notice your comments sooner. I haven't been as active on TG recently as I would have liked, and for some reason I wasn't still subscribed to this post.

I welcome questions and ideas. For me, sharing and brainstorming are the main purpose and benefits of the TG community. I'll try to answer as many of your questions as I can.


1 - Which hex project took you the longest to make? Which was the quickest.

My Tropical Island Atoll Maps took only two and a half weeks of focused effort, but I saved a little bit of time making use of some Pre-Made Map Board Bases.

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I created my Mountain Map in just under a month start to finish so it was a close second for fastest map.

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As to which map took the most time, I'm going to limit myself to maps I actually completed. Smile With that caveat, that would be my Jungle Map. Those maps took three months to build, and then I tweaked them a bit more here and there afterward. Those maps took the longest not only because they are the largest hex-map set I made, but because they were my first real maps and I was figuring out many of the techniques that would become staples of my later maps. Those techniques became refined over time so that I was able to streamline the processes in later maps.

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2 - Which project was the cheapest to make? Which was the most expensive?

This question is a bit tricky to answer because there is a lot of overlap between my projects. For instance, when I first decided I wanted to make maps using extruded polystyrene foam panels, I bought 20 sheets to take advantage of bulk pricing. I still have about a third of that stack left.

Items like trees are similarly purchased in bulk and used for multiple projects.

Likely, the cheapest completed map project to date was my Tropical Island Atoll Maps. They used very little foam. The paint was entirely leftover dregs from other projects. I used varnish instead of caulk for the water, saving expense and didn't destroy any brushes. And the trees came from a cake decorator website and were nicely cheap.

The most expensive hex map would likely be my Jungle Map Set for several reasons. Firstly, it is the biggest map set I made so it needed the most stuff. I also wasted about $30-35 of foam adding a base layer of foam to every map, something I never did again.

Putting aside the fact that I purchased most of the tools I now use for this project, I also way over bought on materials. I still have most of the craft paint I bought for this project and likely will for years to come.

The project I thought would be the cheapest, my Magnetic Map Boards, ended up costing me a fair amount. I thought I had scored big time when I acquired a free magnetic dry erase board to cut up into pieces. That saved me about $20-25 per board which is what getting similar sheet metal cut for me would have cost. But, because I glued the metal down with the white ceramic coating facing up, I ended up blowing over $200 on various abrasives and finally an angle grinder to remove the ceramic coating. d'oh!

I also spent WAY too long trying to come up with a satisfactory paint job, and spent way too much on multiple batches of paint as a result.

If I had just glued the metal sheets down the other way and settled on a paint scheme earlier, my only cost would have been the wood frames and a couple cans of spray paint.

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Your next question may take me a bit, so I'm going to make it into its own post.

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