How to build epic 3D terrain for your TTRPG maps

Posted by Annabelle Collins on

Whether you use dungeon tiles or not in your games, I highly recommend bringing 3D elements into combat!


Bringing 3D elements into your scenery makes a huge difference to your battles. Not only does it bring visual clarity, it also makes for more exciting and immersive gameplay. 

A really cool image of a 3D D&D terrain built on different levels with stairs and bridges all made from modular realms magnetic dungeon tiles


I also find combat runs quicker and more smoothly when everyone can see what the environment they're in looks like!

Another joy of using 3D battle maps is the opportunities it opens up for tactical gameplay. Suddenly your players begin to make more use of higher ground, cover and other obstacles. 

Another cool image of modular realms D&D terrain from a different angle showing cover and height advantage in the 3D D&D battle map


So why not give it a go?  :D


Today I'm going to show you a few simple tricks for setting up 3D maps in seconds using Modular Realms magnetic dungeon tiles. 

We'll be splitting it down into 3 main 3D elements: Structures, stairs and bridges



How to build 3D structures with your dungeon tiles


Structures are very easy and quick to build and add a whole new dimension to your maps. 

The quickest way to build a structure, take one of your magnetic tiles, snap some tiles either to the bottom or around the side and put it down.


 a gif of Annabelle quickly building a platform using modular dungeon tiles. Magnets ensure tiles snap together and are strong enough for the 3D terrain to stand robustly on their own.


Another way you can do it is to snap tiles around the edges of a floor piece and then slide in another floor piece at the top. It's easy, quick and sturdy!

This is how I make my wizards towers!


A gif of Annabelle building up a 3D structure (a two story tower) out of modular magnetic dungeon tiles. You can buy my D&D terrain by going to the "buy" tab! :D


The more walls you put around each elevated piece the more supported and sturdy it will be. With Modular Realms dungeon tiles you can get surprisingly strong structures with only two sides supported, as you can see from my gif ;)  

The magnets are quite secure so if you want to be a bit ridiculous you can make incredibly tall towers!


If you start to build larger second story areas then I would recommend you use a support piece or two under the floating tiles. 

For example ...

a gif of Annabelle building a larger second floor out of her dungeon tiles, demonstrating how to use support tiles to make secure multi-story battle maps. Magnets help everything clip together and hold in position.


This keeps everything steady so you can place larger minis on the upper floor without fearing it will collapse.



How to build stairs from your terrain


You've started building 3D structures but how are your players going to get up there? Most likely they'll need some stairs! 

You can do this in a couple of ways, some childishly easy, some taking a bit more finesse.


Simple one inch stairs


The easiest way to do this of course is just to use your 1x1 tiles and stack them on top of each other, ensuring each stack is one lower than the one before it.

The stairs you build like this will be incredibly strong and each step will be exactly one inch square, perfect for tabletop gaming minis. 


Annabelle making easy D&D 1 inch stairs in seconds out of magnetic dungeon tiles. The floor tiles are stacked on top of each other and held in place securely with the magnets. The 1 inch size is just perfect for miniatures




Half moon stairs


I only learned this technique a few months ago when I was exhibiting at the UK Games Expo. A girl of about 7 was playing with the tiles and when she walked away she left a beautiful curving stair case. Blew my mind!

To make it for yourself, get some 1x1's and push them so they are diagonally offset. Do the same for the other side and then snap a 2x1 piece on between them. It really is that easy!


Gif showing how to make half moon stairs out of your magnetic modular D&D dungeon tiles



How to make a spiral staircase


Spiral staircases are also pretty easy to build. For these I use the 2x1 dungeon tiles, hold them so they are stacked and then just shift each one to a slightly off centre angle so they curve around.


A gif of Annabelle building a spiral staircase out of magnetic modular terrain tiles. Cool D&D dungeon tiles


You aren't limited to just using 2x1 pieces. Two 1x1 pieces put together can be used instead, which is super useful for if you want wooden or fancy tiled stairs.



Floating Stairs


As you might expect, floating stairs are the least structurally sound. They can hold a mini or two but you don't want to be poking them too hard. They do look cool though!


A gif of me building some floating stairs by overlapping 1x1 magnetic dungeon tiles and using support pieces as needed. You can buy my cool D&D terrain in the buy tab!


To make these, I offset 1x1 tiles parallel to each other. You want the magnet in either end to be overlapping.


A closer look at some of the 1x1 tiles overlapped with the magnet positions marked with lightning bolts


I always put a support in at the 1 inch mark, and depending on how big my stairs are and how stable I need them to be, I may put another support in.



How to make floating bridges from your tiles


Bridges can be precarious if not properly supported, but done right they can hold as many minis as you can fit one them and are one of my favourite things to make.

I can't help it, I just love the drama of having a fight occur on a bridge over lava!  >:D

They're quick to build too!


A gif showing me quickly building a bridge floating over lava made of magnetic dungeon tiles.


To have secure bridges you ideally want supports under every other tile, that way even the floating pieces will be able to hold a mini.


For example, here is me building a nice long bridge that can still hold my minis. I've used a mix of 2x1 and 1x1 tiles here for the bridge as it means I can get away with a longer distance between my supports which looks a bit more impressive ;)


A gif of Annabelle building a 60 ft bridge out of modular magnetic dungeon tiles. Supports are used to give extra strength so the bridge can hold the weight of minis



The final takeaway


So there we have it! A few easy and simple techniques for building beautiful 3D battle maps!

Put them all together and you can make something very special looking in no time at all. 

Using 3D battle maps is such a joy for me as a DM. It makes the game feel more real for both me and my players and I love how it can bring out their tactical side!

I hope you give it a go! :)

Cool D&D terrain set up to have a bridge floating over a tunnel with a big threatening werewolf on it. We're going to try and ignore the face that the photo is not focussed on the werewolf, I'm very irritated with myself about that xD


If you do, please let me know what tips and tricks you've discovered in the comments! I'd be very interested to see what other ways people use the tiles!

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  • Inspiring! Looks great!

    Matthew on

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