Recently the good people over at The Army Painter were kind enough to send us a copy of their Gamemaster Dungeons & Caverns Core Set for terrain modeling and painting. The kit is full of everything you’d need to get started building your own high quality dungeon terrain for your next TTRPG session. We decided we’d give this a try and provide a thorough and unbiased review top to bottom of the kit, its components, and the instructions that come along with it.
What’s in The Dungeons & Caverns Core Set
The Dungeons and Caverns Core Set contains everything you need to create a lot of really nice terrain pieces for your tabletop Dungeons & Dragons games.
The box includes:
- 7x 18ml Army Painter Paints
- 2x 50ml Army Painter Paints
- 3 Different Brushes
- 300 ml Dungeon & Subterrain Terrain Primer
- A Hotwire Foam Cutter
- 75ml XPS Foam Sculpting Glue
- 150ml Scenery Sand
- 1x 77 piece Self Adhesive Static Grass Tufts
- A Scenery Knife
- 1x Plastic Paint Palette
- 1x 11x28cm Sandpaper
- A 30cm Steel Ruler
- 6pcs 200x300x11mm XPS Foam Board
- 2pcs 300x400x11mm XPS Foam Board
- 1 “How to Build Dungeons & Caverns” Guide
While this kit was sent to us, what’s included in the kit makes it a very affordable set (the list price on their website is $100). If you don’t have any of these supplies already, this is one of the more comprehensive starter sets for terrain that we’ve seen. Additionally, it lays out careful instructions in the guide and provides everything you need to follow the guide in the kit.
While the set only comes with a few paints and washes, they’re picked out specifically to make the dungeon and cavern terrain crafting process as easy as possible. If you already have a lot of paints you may have some overlap in your color palette here, but you can never really have enough of these great, basic colors.
Included Item Quality
One of the things we always struggle with when it comes to terrain crafting is finding quality supplies. The Dungeons & Caverns Core Set does bridge that gap for us. Army Painter paints and terrain supplies have always been one of our favorite choices, but there weren’t great kits like this for specific things we wanted to build in the past. Let’s go through the best and worst components in this kit.
The Best Items
We’re going to talk about the guide that comes with this kit later on, but we want to start with pointing out that the advice and instruction is amazing and is easily the best thing the Army Painter provides. But it’s not so much part of the kit as it is something that enables you to use the kit more effectively, so we’ll touch on that separately.
In this set the best items for us were the paints and primers (which we already loved), the terrain sand, the grass tufts, and the quality XPS foam. We won’t spend too much time singing the praises of good paint, but high quality model paint really makes a difference. Even if you don’t use Army Painter paint, using a paint made specifically for miniatures makes it a lot easier when you’re starting out. Yes, you can get quality paint jobs done with non-mini specific paints, but only if you really know what you’re doing. If you’re a novice, you need good paint to help reduce early mistakes in the process and get a feel for what a good paint consistency should be.
We had not used the terrain sand and grass tufts from Army Painter before and we were quite impressed. These are little add ons, but they really help bring a scene together and we loved working with higher quality materials. Sure, neither of these things may seem too special on their own, but they do make a difference when you compare them to cheaper products.
Now to the star of the show, and holy cow does it shine! The XPS foam they include is great. Why are we so impressed with it? Because we’ve had terrible luck getting good quality XPS foam since… forever. Not only was the XPS foam consistent, it was also the right texture and density for this kind of fiddly terrain work. Finding good XPS foam locally is hard enough, but getting it at good quality online and delivered to your door has been next to impossible for us. Generally we defaulted to XPS foam that was thicker than we wanted and had to work to cut it down and level it out. This was a pain to do and we are so happy to be able to get good, reliable XPS foam from a vendor we already like.
The Good Items
This set also has a handful of items that are good quality, but also something that most hobby crafters will already have. For us these were the steel ruler, the cutter, the brushes and the palette.
These were all great items. The brushes were good, the ruler is rigid and perfectly lined, and the cutter is sharp. We were happy these items were all quality, but we don’t have anything amazing to say about them either. The same goes for the disposables, like the sandpaper. It’s good quality, but what can be said about sandpaper?
The Adequate Item
Lastly we want to talk about the hot wire foam cutter. It works as described, but we had mixed feelings about it. First, it does not list anywhere that we could find what batteries it takes, which was awkward at first. The contact and writes for the cutter itself are all exposed within the grip, which felt like a safety concern to us; we’re cautious about electricity and heated tools in general. The grip was okay and the width of the cutting wire was adequate.
This cutter did cut XPS foam very well. Maybe we’re just looking for a form factored tool, but we cannot argue with the results. The foam was cut well without any burns or erratic scoring marks.
I know you’re expecting something to be in this section, but honestly our only misgivings were about the hot wire foam cutter, and that’s mostly about looks and minor safety concerns. Overall, nothing in this kit was below expectation and the entire thing was very high quality, as we would expect from The Army Painter.
These are fussy little details that we do not count against the kit, but we want to bring them up in case anyone cares about this kind of stuff. Our package arrived with very good shipping care, but once we opened it we could easily see how the primers weight had pressed into the foam on the sides of some of the XPS foam. We assume this is from heavy jostling or the kit being stored on it’s side instead of flat during transit. Not a huge deal, but a thin cardboard divider would have protected the XPS foam better in transit.
Lastly, two of our paints took a lot more shaking than the others. We expect this sometimes, but I know people who are not used to model paints will just open the bottles and squeeze out some paint and be shocked when it’s super thin and imparts very little color. This is a sign of under mixing. For some reason our Cavern Highlight and Cavern Effects paints need a ton more mixing than everything else in the kit. Our resident mini expert informed me that he uses an auto shaker to solve this problem himself, but for those without a dedicated mixer it just takes a lot of bottle shaking. In the end, the paints mixed up just fine and gave us great results. But if you give this kit a try or use any mini paints, just be sure to shake them up enough that you get fully realized pigments.
Making Terrain With This Kit
We just want to be clear that we do not consider ourselves experts at making terrain. We’ve done it a dozen or so times for our games, but we didn’t previously use too much terrain in our games. This wasn’t because we didn’t want to, it was because we were not super experienced at making it and didn’t know if we could make something up to our own standards.
That’s all in the past; now we know we can make amazing looking terrain because this kit showed us just how straight forward it can be if you know what you’re doing. This is where we get to talking about the guide book that came with this kit.
The Army Painter offers this modeling and crafting guide for free. It’s the kind of thing you would find at your local hobby store alongside the materials that you would be instructed to use. They also have excellent companion videos for this content on YouTube that show off how to do even the most complex looking terrain modeling. These resources are amazing and the fact that they offer them to people for free is mind blowing. They put so much time and care into crafting these tutorials and it really shows.
The guide that came with the kit assumes you know nothing, and that’s a refreshing change. We watch a lot of modeling tutorials online and in almost every video we see they reference something somewhere else. The Army Painter skips this and presents each tutorial like it’s a step by step guide for a novice and shows you exactly what you need to do to get the same results that they did.
For our first run at this we made some cavern paths following the guide. We followed the steps as they were presented and we ended up with what we believe is some really great looking cave terrain. We like it so much that we’re going to continue building up a whole set of cavern floors, rooms, and pathways! See the progress images we have below from pieces of foam all the way to the finished cavern path. We skipped some images in the final painting process because we got in the zone a bit at the end. But rest assured, The Army Painter’s guide doesn’t skip any steps and walks you through each little detail.
Who Is the Gamemaster Dungeons & Caverns Core Set For?
If you’re new to miniatures and terrain, this is a perfect set for you. It assumes you don’t have any of the things you need to make amazing terrain for your Dungeons and Dragons games. This set might seem like a pretty standard set of terrain crafting tools, but in reality it’s a carefully chosen box of essentials that allow you to make some amazing scenes and scapes.
If we can make great looking terrain following these instructions, anyone can. And that’s super exciting for our hobby. We love looking at expertly crafted miniature dungeons, and with kits like this coupled with good advice and instruction we feel like we’ll get better miniature battlescapes in our hobby as a whole.
Who is the Gamemaster Dungeons & Caverns Core Set Not For?
If you’re already knee deep in terrain modeling supplies, this kit won’t add much to your arsenal. Like we said above, this kit is best for individuals who are just getting started and want to jump into things fast. The kit is affordable and well priced considering what you get, but only if you don’t already have the tools contained within.
All that being said, if you already have your tools, they also have booster packs of XPS foam and we cannot say enough good things about it. The Army Painter really went out of their way to ensure they were providing a great crafting foam. If you’ve had trouble sourcing XPS in the past, this is the solution to your woes.
We think this kit is a solid purchase for anyone who wants to get into terrain for their TTRPG games. We’re definitely going to be creating more terrain that we’ll be using for a long time to come. Other kits we’ve seen in the past have felt slapped together and junky, but The Army Painter really knows their stuff and they prioritize quality in their products. We’re excited to try out even more of their Gamemaster kits in the future. We think the results of our little foray into terrain modeling more than speak for themselves; we’re hooked!