Wargame Terrain: Stairs

A staple of any wargame table: the staircase. I have put building these off for a long time. There is a fundamental question you must ask yourself before building staircases and that is simply: Do I go for accurate visuals (small stairs) or play-ability (these are large stairs that you can often see through and do not look in scale with the model, but will hold them at various stages)?

I chose to go with small, in-scale stairs. To me, the stairs with large gaps are a bit jarring in breaking me out of the scene of a game. I just am not willing to sacrifice the overall visual for a feature that will be used every once in a while. I’d rather have to leave the model at the base and remember where they are in climbing than risk the overall look of my table.

That said, it is personal preference. I don’t judge those who chose the other method. It is just not for me. You will see the other variety of stairs on my table though, because I did repurpose some old test builds during my big terrain build. I’m not a hypocrite, I just did not bother converting the stairs of that test piece and did not want to throw it out.

I ended up with three types of stair cases. I made two simple one story stair cases, one two story staircase (that I botched and recovered from), and one transitional stair case. All of the builds used sturdy foam board (not reddi-board), XPS foam (but you could use foam board), tac-glue (structure), hot glue (stairs), and then paint and weathering. I added graffiti to make them match my Necromunda 3D walls. This will tie the looks together and let me easily bring those walls onto the tabletop and it still look like it belongs.

Let’s begin with the simple, basic one-story staircase.

1 Building Small Stairs
You can see the inner structure of the case on the right. Note the extra support beams inside to assist the main platform. The ruler shows that I used 1/4″ rectangles to craft the stairs.

I started by knowing the top of my staircase must match the top ledge of my buildings (3″ high). That also meant that the top of the stairs would be 2 1/4″ high. I wanted the top of the stairs to hold a 40mm base, so I used one to measure that out. I believe it is about 2″ square. From there, I dropped the stairs out in 1/4″ chunks until it hit the ground. This made the stair cases about 5″ long. I cut a ton of 1/4″ rectangles (2″ long) and glued them in as stairs. This process was annoying. The best way I found was to hot glue one stair at a time in place starting from the top platform and working my way down.

I designed these stairs to be placed either straight into a building or alongside it. Note: These can be used when two buildings are next to one another in my mega structures, but the extra width of the second edge creates a gap between the top of the stairs and the other ledge. I made special inserts to combat this. I just did not photograph any at the time of this writing. You will see them eventually in the blog though. I just wanted to make a note that I thought of that issue and did address it.

The two story staircase is a tale of stubbornness, regret, innovation, and success. Measure twice…. of even preferably once. I was crafting these and just said, one story is 3″, so two is obviously 6″. And I built this piece that way. Stubbornness. Had I bothered to measure a two story building of mine, I would have recalled that my second story starts 3″ above the rooftop, not the ledge (5 1/4″ tall). Regret.

I realized my error midway through adding the stairs when the staircase was not going to line up between the second and first floor platforms. I had a decision to make, scrap it and start over or make a mid-way platform to burn some space and then figure the rest out later. I chose the second since I was already an hour plus in. Innovation.

My ultimate solution was to create a mate platform that would raise the ledge of the building up 3/4″ to meet the staircase. I have seen buildings where the staircase raises up and over the ledge rather than meeting it, so this solution felt right. I built the matching platform with a 1″ x 2″ standing platform in order to double up as a watch tower of sorts if no stairs were meeting it. Later, I discovered these towers could be linked together using my clip-on bridges (to showcase later) and form raised bridges. I was getting solutions I did not even plan for. Success.

2 Planning Large Stairs
You can see that I planned supports, but you can also use scrap if you have some that will work. I also marked the inside spot for the stairs to maintain 3/4″ cover.
3 Building Large Stairs
The basic shape of this build is that at the first floor level, the stairs hook around and allow for a lot of units to gather. This lets the piece serve as a one-story stair case, but also allows for a team to prepare to rush the second floor together. This is everything except the connecting stairs.
4 Testing the Pieces
Testing some of my other clips, that will be covered later, with my stairs. The modularity is insane. I love it. You can see the mid-way standing space in the two-story stair case here.


Finally, I really wanted something more unique. Inspiration hit me one day at work, while sitting in a meeting that I really did not need to be at. I thought, what about stairs that start on one level and cross alley-space to a completely different building. The idea was so fascinating to me that I literally knocked this piece out in one day.

You can look at the design in the image below and see what I did. That is literally my plans for this build. Two pieces of foam board and lots of stairs in between.

5 Building the Crossing Stairs
This piece had a standing platform by design this time. Also, graph paper is amazing, especially when it is in 1/4″ squares and your build easily breaks down into 1/4″ chunks. I did design an under-ledge, if you will, to make the case look better visually.


Let’s paint!


6 Painting Small
Base coat in grey, sponge on green/ black/ tan. Then sponge on grey over that to break it up. This shot is during the tan application. Afterwards, highlight edges white and add weathering to the steps and bottom of the piece.
7 Painting Large
Why the concrete look? Laziness. Remember, speed vs quality. Speed for the win! But, it does match my 3D walls. Honestly, adding filler adds width and it is a lot of work to apply, sand, paint. I have no regrets with how I approached it.


Now to make things interesting. As with my 3D Necromunda walls, I decided to surf the internet and find some graffiti to add to my terrain. Pinterest is super useful for this. I did make some original designs, but the two below are not mine.


8 Graffiti
Graffiti was then added using colored pencils. You can see that the indentation of my pen from the planning phase breaks through. It’s not too bad on this piece, but others in my big build did suffer more.


In action shots below.


9 Cross in Action
You can see I applied weathering at the bottom crack of each step.
9.1 Small in Action
I plan on getting some lights for photographing my games in another month or so. Right now, this is one overhead light… with one bulb burned out.
9.2 Large in Action
I really like the effect that the graffiti adds. It makes it feel alive. I also really like the wood stain for the weathering. The whole visual mixes with the adobe buildings really well. I was concerned that it wouldn’t.
9.3 The Small Step Up
Here is a shot of the watch tower piece that connects the two-story stair case to the buildings. I can also be used solo.


And that, as they say, is that. Really simple and fun builds. These add a ton to the game table and really, if you have buildings, you need some stairs.


5 thoughts on “Wargame Terrain: Stairs

    1. Thank you! I really enjoyed adding the graffiti. Honestly, just researching different types of graffiti was interesting and gave me a real appreciation for it general. The graffiti on my pieces is just Prismatic colored pencils applied on top of the paint. They have a very soft tip, which won’t indent the foam or scratch the craft paint surface. They don’t do a complete coverage, but I really like that effect because to me the end result looks more realistic than I think you’d otherwise get. I highly recommend giving them a go if you ever want to add graffiti to a build.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m definitely going to keep those pencils in mind when I do some terrain projects again. I agree, the result is much more real. It looks like legit graffiti.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Top piece of scenery building there. I’m also generally on the side of sensible looking stairs, although adding some convenient landings like you have here certainly helps. The graffiti finishes it off well; I keep meaning to print of a few posters to scatter around for a similar effect.

    Liked by 1 person

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