Look, I know, RPG’s – “Games of the Imagination” – I get all that. All you should need is a pen and a character sheet. But I love props, scenery, miniatures and other gaming toys. LOVE them. I think most gamers tend to be very visual people, and that’s why Dry-Erase-Grid-and-Minis is the way most groups run their game – whatever the preferred system happens to be.
But for me, that isn’t enough. Miniatures help us resolve the distracting dissonance of spatial minutiae so that we can shove our way to the story and action without interruption. I love that about them. But why not go all out with 3D terrain and dioramas to help all the players agree upon “what this inn looks like”? It might take some of the heavy lifting away from the player’s imagination and agency, that’s true – but it also strengthens the shared experience and helps to limit player confusion about what is going on and where those barrels of pitch are relative to the minotaur cultists. A clear “stage” picture can also inspire creative choices – I might not have considered swinging on a chandelier until I saw your carefully constructed toothpick chandelier hanging over the dragon’s head(s).
I always envied the “Warhammer 40k” and “Warmahordes” guys for their piles of miniatures and fancy terrain pieces. But I had to face the facts: I lacked the talent (and more importantly, the money) to scrape together the resources necessary to carve out my own 3D dungeons and structures.
Or so I thought.
My expensive yet rewarding delves into the world of Dwarven Forge terrain pieces was just not sustainable. I had enough 3D dungeon terrain to get started, but I needed more: more generic, flexible pieces as well as specific dungeon dressing. I needed longer hallways, narrower passages. I needed items that DF – for all it’s quality and awesome products – did not always have available. I needed to start a few DIY projects.
Enter the Hirst Arts Castle Molds. Silicon molds for use with common hobby plaster, you can use and re-use these to cast your own 3D dungeon components. It’s more work of course, since you are required to craft, assemble and paint your own construction materials – but that alone is incredibly rewarding.
I’m extremely amateur here in the world of table-top modeling, but wanted to share a few of the pieces I’ve been working on. This entry-level sort of stuff still looks good and is endlessly useable in your game. If you’ve been kicking around the idea of trying a few such projects I encourage you to dig in – to get terrain that looks half-way decent is not as hard as it seems.
•I started off my foray with a few simple 1×1 columns. I needed them for an upcoming session, and they turned out pretty well. A simple place to start.
•My Dwarven Forge sets were great for establishing some fancy rooms, but I found myself in need of a few long hallways as well. The challenge with 1 square wide halls is that most miniatures pop off their base on the sides (weapon hands extended, tentacles dangling, bulgy monster muscles, etc.) – making a single square width a tight fit. To make my narrow hallways more useful in play I slipped a half-tile next to the floor tiles. Technically a 1.5 inch wide hall, but infinitely more practical for the table.
•I wanted to try my hand at something a bit more complex, so next I made a 2×2 floor tile with an arcane ritual circle on it. A little sloppy, I admit, but from far back it gets the job done. A nice clean stencil would have made this turn out a lot better.
•Next I went…a little…crazy. I’d seen cool use of small lights in newer Dwarven Forge Catacomb sets and was inspired to try my hand at integrating cheap, battery powered tea-lights into minis terrain. Thus I came out with a large brazier and hearth/forge. I’ve yet to get a chance to use these in play, but I was pleased by how they turned out.
•This large room (still in progress at the time of this writing) was originally an ambitious project to recreate an old 2D dungeon map I had into fully realized 3D. It dawned on me, however, that all the narrow rooms and tight corners (as well as the fact that this single chamber alone took hours to construct) meant this was probably more time consuming than it was worth. Not to mention the difficulty of transport! Though sturdy enough for table play, these plaster models need to be treated with some care as they are rather fragile. It makes the bigger pieces more susceptible to chipping and damage. Thus I settled for having a spacious, elbow shaped chamber.
•The sacrificial altar was much more of an experiment. I had seen a few “how-to’s” on Youtube regarding budget terrain that made use of old packing material. One of the few upshots of my dayjob is that packing foam and bubble wrap are in abundance. Taking this particularly interesting piece of porous black foam, I decided to try carving it into a raised dais. The upside is that this material is malleable enough that you can slide the base of most miniatures into it – allowing minis to stand on the narrow steps I hewed into it with an exacto knife. The problem is that the sides did not take paint very well. Ultimately it would have looked better if I had chopped up the edges of the surface to give it a more worn, stone appearance.
….and in back….
All that said I was happy with how gross a quick dry-brushing job made the altar look! Drippy, disgusting, head-blood!
I’ll likely post future projects here as they get finished up. Next up is a two story guard tower: just as soon as I can figure out an easy way to get stairs/ladders working without needing to procure a new mold set….