Home Articles Budget DIY Dungeon Tiles – As Cheap As Possible

Budget DIY Dungeon Tiles – As Cheap As Possible

by Jae
Cheap and Easy Modular Dungeon Tiles

Dungeon tiles are the cornerstone of Dungeons and Dragons minis setups. They’re super versatile as they allow you to create multiple dungeon layouts from only a few basic pieces. They’re also fantastic at elevating you game beyond just standard battle mat use. The problem is that often fancy tiles can appear to cost a fortune.

So we took it upon ourselves to create the cheapest and easiest dungeon tiles we possibly could using as few items as possible. We’ll walk you through the whole process of making the tiles, drop some links to materials we needed to purchase, and show you how easy it is to make great 3D dungeon tiles for well under $20.

Finished 3 inch by 3 inch styrofoam dungeon tile for modular DnD and tabletop rpg battle mat setups

Materials You Need and What is on Hand

It’s always cringe-y when an article begins with “I just had these things lying around,” so we’ll identify the stuff we had laying around and also the things we had to buy, with a price comparison for those of you who really don’t have any modeling or crafting supplies at all. Don’t worry, even if you need to pick up some of the supplies, the overall dungeon tile build cost is still incredibly cheap.

What We Had Lying Around

To create our dungeon tiles we used the cheapest styrofoam we had. This came from discarded packaging materials used to ship a new desk. To shape that foam we used only a tape measure, a cheap razor knife, and a pencil. To seal the foam and make it more rigid we used a mixture of Mod Podge and black paint. For the painting process afterwards we used only black and white paint, which was mixed into various shades of grey to give a simple stone look.

List of Materials and Links

Total Cost of Materials

We had to buy the paint, the brushes, the mod podge, and the mixing container we used. Our material costs came to $35.07, but could have been much more thrifty.

If you need to buy all of these items, your total could go up to around $70. That sounds like a lot, but the unit cost of dungeon tiles is super low, since each sheet of foam allows you to create 15 3×3 tiles along with halls and door ways. (The foam we list comes in backs of 14, which means you could end up with around 210 3×3 dungeon tiles and a whole lot of door and hallway pieces to boot.)

Even if you have to buy all the supplies listed you should be able to create your dungeon tile set and and have materials left over for more hobby projects in the future. Of course, we used the cheapest materials we could find and did the work of creating our dungeon tiles with a utility knife, to show that anyone can do this project on an extremely tight budget. Crafting is one of those things that gets cheaper the more you do it, because you amass materials you’ll need to do additional projects in the future.

Potential Upgrades

If you wanted to create slightly more sophisticated tiles with sharper lines and a more stone-like appearance, you could easily upgrade to XPS foam (insulation foam) and a hot wire cutter. Both of these items would increase the price of your build significantly, but you could end up with a much more consistent result.

That being said, the steps to making your own dungeon tiles are relatively similar no matter how you go about it.

Crafting the Dungeon Tiles

The dungeon tiles follow a very simple 4-step process.

  1. Cut your foam
  2. Score your dungeon tiles and add grid lines
  3. Coat your tiles in black Mod Podge
  4. Paint your dungeon tiles

That’s the whole process! It’s so simple and quick that we made our tester tile in under an hour (and that was with lots of experimentation).

Here are the need-to-know details for each step in the process.

Step 1. Cut Your Foam Down

For a useful dungeon tile you’ll want to carve even one inch (1″) squares into the foam so that your miniatures will fit within the square. To increase the number of squares on a single tile, just measure up by one inch (for example, a 2×2 dungeon tile will measure roughly 2″ wide by 2″ tall, and will have four 1″ squares). We recommend you make a lot of smaller tiles that can be assembled into larger shapes and sizes as needed.

We planned on making 3×3 tiles that can be laid out next to each other to make any size room we need. Additionally, we also cut and crafted a bunch of 2×1 tiles that we used to indicate doorways. The images below show one of these 2×1 tiles.

Raw styrofoam piece for a 1 inch by 2 inch modular dungeon tile
A 2×1 piece of cut Styrofoam

You may also want a few larger room tiles, so we recommend you make those in 12×12 sections.

Finally cut out a variety hallway tiles from your foam. We want our tiles to be more modular so they can fit together in as many combinations as possible, so our hallway tiles measure 2×3. If you’re not as concerned about that you can use longer hallways and save some time on the cutting.

When cutting the foam, measure the size you need, score the foam with your utility knife (by pressing lightly and dragging the blade along the top surface, being careful not to cut all the way through), and then snap the foam along the score lines. Clean up rough edges with your fingers and peel any little stray bits off that didn’t break neatly. Styrofoam can be incredibly frustrating to work with as the individual beads may not cut the way you like, and you can get pitted surfaces or uneven edges. But we were going for a rough, natural stone look, so this was great for us! If we had used a hot wire cutter instead the lines would have been much cleaner and straight.

Step 2. Score Your Tiles and Add Grid Lines

Once your dungeon tiles are cut out in the shapes you like, score them lightly with the knife at 1″ increments to make your squares. (We were not super precise with this, as most of our tiles are smaller, but if you are making larger sheets we recommend you take your time and use a guide of some kind like a ruler.)

If your score lines are not straight, the tiles may not line up perfectly when you put your dungeon tiles together. Luckily to you can’t mess up that badly when going for a weathered dungeon look, so we recommend you don’t stress out about it too much. Small variations in the pattern just made your tiles look more interesting.

Cutting styrofoam dungeon tile with a utility knife
Scoring the tiles with a utility knife

After you score the foam you’re ready to create grid lines. We cut about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through the foam – which makes it very easy to break at this stage, so be careful – and used the blunt tip of our dull number 2 pencil to press grooves into the foam along the scored areas.

This leaves a slight but noticeable indentation, giving the floor the appearance of stone “tiles”.

We recommend that you press the pencil into the grooves a few times and make them deeper than you first think they need to be. The grooves in the foam will be filled in a bit when you apply Mod Podge and paint, and if you don’t make them deep enough during this step, you risk them disappearing. Here’s how deep we made our grooves.

unpainted 1 inch by 2 inch modular styrofoam dungeon tile
A 2×1 tile after pressing grooves into foam w/ a pencil

(We attempted to texture our tiles in this step by rolling crinkled up aluminum foil over the surface. This didn’t work, because the foam we were using had already been compressed and resisted minor surface modification. If you want to try texturing your tiles, you can use the foil ball method that we tried, or simply get a rock from outside and press it randomly into the foam, which will leave an impression of the rock’s surface. Just make sure you leave deep enough impressions so the tiles retain their texture after Mod Podge.

Step 3. Coat Your Tiles in Black Mod Podge

To make the black Mod Podge, simply fill a container part way with Mod Podge and add a bit of black acrylic paint. The goal is to turn the Mod Podge black, but try not to add too much paint, which will thin out the mixture and reduce the Mod Podge’s structural functionality. There’s not a specific ratio – just try to color the Mod Podge with the smallest amount of paint possible.

1 inch by 2 inch modular styrofoam dungeon tile with black Mod Podge base coat to seal and strengthen the foam
A 2×1 tile coated in Mod Podge mix

The reason we base the Styrofoam dungeon tiles in the black Mod Podge mix is two-fold. First, spray paints tend to melt foams unless they are the right type, and those paints tend to be expensive and take longer to dry. Second, the Mod Podge adds structural integrity to the foam. The hardening of this outer layer makes the tiles much more durable, seals the foam’s surface, and saves you from having to repair or touch them your tiles frequently. This is a lot like priming your miniatures before painting them.

We used dropper bottles when creating our black mix and just squeezed a little directly onto the foam, brushed it to cover the area, and repeated until the whole tile was black.

If you see lots of small holes on the surface of your dried Mod Podge mixture, you can add a second coat. In fact, the second coat will make the tiles look better, but it might also obscure a lot of the texture of your dungeon tile, which will reduce the efficacy of dry brushing effects later. If you want smoother more pristine dungeon tiles simply add additional layers of mod podge until you get the desired smoothness of the surface. We like our tiles a bit more rough so we used fewer coats.

Step 4. Paint Your Dungeon Tiles

After your black Mod Podge coat dries you’re ready to start painting your dungeon tiles. We used dirt-cheap acrylic paints for this because they let us do the whole process fast; cheap paints, in our experience, tend to dry to a rubbery consistency very quickly. This allowed us to work much faster when painting our tiles.

First, you’ll apply a base stone color. For this, mix some black and white paint until you find an even dark grey you like. Then paint a thin layer onto your tiles and be sure not to flood the cracks between the tiles.

1 inch by 2 inch modular syrofoam dungeon tile with first coat of dark grey paint
First coat

Next, mix the same grey with a little white to get a medium grey color, just a few shades up from your base coat. Using a wide brush, quickly drybrush the surface.

How to Drybrush

If you’ve never drybrushed anything before the process is simple. Load your brush with paint, then use a paper towel to wipe most of the paint off so barely any remains when you drag it across your paper towel. Then simply move your brush back and forth quickly across the surface textures of your dungeon tile. This should only leave a faint highlight of medium grey paint on the highest areas of the tiles, and leave the low levels the base dark grey color, like below.

1 inch by 2 inch modular styrofoam dungeon tile with neutral grey dray brush over base coat
First drybrush

Following the medium grey, drybrush again with white paint. This highlights the highest edges of the tiles and gives the sides of the whole tile a satisfying crisp edge.

1 inch by two inch modular styrofoam dungeon tile, finished with final dry brush highlights
Final drybrush

After that, your DIY dungeon tiles are done! Let your tiles dry and they are ready for use immediately.

Using Your Finished Dungeon Tiles

Once your tiles are finished you can use them to create just about any type of dungeon that you can think of. They don’t have to be super fancy to add great effects for your game. The most important part about these dungeon tiles is that they’re highly versatile. Depending on how you combine them, you can build all sorts of layouts for any of your TTRPG games. While they’re created using just the barest of basic materials, your DIY dungeon tiles are so universally functional that you’ll end up using them more often than almost any other type of terrain you might build.

If you want to take your tiles a step even further, you can easily press and glue neodymium magnets into the edges and make them snap together!

Dirt Cheap Dungeon Tiles Made From Scraps

While these are certainly not the prettiest dungeon tiles out there, we hope we’ve shown you an easy and effective way of creating scratch-built dungeon tiles for your games with minimal cost and effort. There’s almost nothing to making these tiles, and we were able to make them without using or buying any special equipment. You might not have scrap Styrofoam on hand, but it’s so easy to come by – and so cheap – that even if you end up buying some the price of your dungeon tiles hardly goes up at all.

We really hope you have enjoyed this foray into extreme budget crafting for DnD and hope that you’ll make your own dungeon tiles for your games and share photos of them with us!

If you’re looking for even more budget table top miniature projects, check out DnD Mini’s on a Budget. If price is no object and you’re interested in more mini madness, why not peruse our Minis Category?

As always, happy DMing!

You may also like