Tag Archives: Crafting

To Give a Dwarf, (or A halfling’s guide to carving decoys).

“All dwarfs have beards and wear up to twelve layers of clothing. Gender is more or less optional.” ― Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

After what seemed a lengthy hiatus, I got the chance to run another game for my other group who are relatively new players. The occasion coincided with the birthday of one of the players, so cake and ice cream was as much a part of the festivities as dice and character sheets.

Having known of this with a respectable amount of time in advance, I decided to wait until nearly the last minute to start work on the birthday present. Yet to be fair, the inspiration hit me late in the game, so to speak. There’s always a long margin to consider in sculpting minis, especially with epoxy putty. It takes at least 4 hours before you can fiddle with green stuff without deforming it, give or take some time depending on the temperature. So each stage is likely to eat up a good part of the day. This guy took about three days to sculpt with one day in the interim where I didn’t touch it.

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I finished painting this guy with only a matter of hours before the event, which granted me some well earned sleep before I boxed him up. I managed to snap a few pics after he was done. Here hes standing on the map I made along with some of the 3D map icons I made for the session, but more on that in another post.

This figure had some new elements which took me out of my comfort zone. The axe head and the shield were made from miliput where usually I sculpt from green stuff (kneadatite). While green stuff is great for organic shapes, it’s less than stellar for shapes with hard edges. Believe it or not I used to carve weapons out of materials like wood or plastic, and to my mind, they’re still viable options as they turned out fairly decent. This time though I went with the orthodox method of making the rough shape out of miliput then sanding and carving the shapes down to what I wanted them to look like. The reason a putty like milliput works better is because it doesn’t cure rubbery. It cures hard with the consistency of ceramic which lets you drill or sand it down.
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The second issue was the cloak. I hate sculpting cloaks. They have their up sides. They cover up a lot of detail you don’t have to sculpt onto the back side of the mini, and they generally look cool. You can get a dynamic pose by having the cloak being wind tossed and so forth. But sculpting cloaks require a base piece sculpted on a greased poly bag (clear plastic bag) and then glued carefully to the mini, then having layer after layer sculpted on the base piece, and having a ton of back fill packed into the voids so the mini is one solid piece rather than a mini with a rubbery cape. The difficulty lies in the patience it requires to wait for each step to cure, and to get the folds of the cloak, robe, or cape to look right and to look smooth like hanging cloth.

Anyway, in spite of my sculpting shortfalls and learning curve, the recipient was delighted. Holkvir, the one eyed gold dwarf mercenary was its own, one of a kind, miniature.

 

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Brain Dogs

“It’s literally a brain on legs.”
-Bex Shea

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Intellect devourers are one of those rarely used monsters that come up maybe once every other campaign. They have a long pedigree that stretches back to the early years of D&D. And they straddle that fine line between the goofy and terrifying hemispheres of monsterdom.

You have to go back to 1976 to the Eldrich Wizardry supplement for the original D&D game to see the genesis of these bizarre beasts. They have enough presence in the game to make it on the 1st Edition (AD&D) Monster Manual one year later.  The backstory connects these things to Mind Flayers, or Illithids if you prefer.

It seems Garry Gygax and friends took a look at the squid faced illithids and thought “You know, these guys need a pet.” So the idea was a dark ritual where illithids transform a victim’s brain into nasty little beast that destroys people’s minds and replaces their brains in order to masquerade as their victim and lure even more tasty brains in time for illithid brunch. It’s the illithid pyramid scheme.

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Making these buggers was easier than I expected. There’s not much putty involved. It’s all in the armature. You can pretty much pump these out with a couple hours’ work. There is a couple of design options for sculpting one. Some illustrations show a brain with arms and legs sticking out of it. Some feature dog bodies with brain heads and other concepts have even weirder designs.

My first impressions come from the 2e Illustrations which type, but strangely the body or legs were depicted dark blue.

Personally, as nostalgic as I am, I dig the 5e look.

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So, with this in mind, I got the following results.

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Zombification

“Zombies no, banshees neither, but shades, spectres, and doppelgangers are OK.”
A response by “im pooping” in the Something Awful.com forums to the question “Would you have sex with a zombie or a ghost?”

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OK, I may not be the greatest sculptor around, but it feels like my skills are starting to improve, even if ever so slightly. Zombies are one of those miniatures you can never have enough of. There’s always this still silent whisper in the back of my mind saying “you should learn how to cast a mold and mass produce this stuff.” But then I wouldn’t have all these one of a kind game pieces would I? It would sort of put it in the category of “Limited Edition”, but I digress.

It has been a few months since I mixed up a batch of green stuff, so I wanted to ease back in to it with a couple of simple projects. You never just sculpt one thing unless you have incredible patience since it takes so long to cure after each new application, so I made a couple of intellect devourers on the side, which I’ll be posting here shortly.

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This poor guy is actually the first anthropomorphic (human like) mini I sculpted entirely from Green Stuff aka. Kneaditite. I love this medium, even if many don’t use it for the whole sculpt anymore. It just has the right amount of stickiness and spreads so easily. I’m able to come up with better looking proportions without as much effort, and it takes an infinite amount of detail.

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If there’s one lesson that got reinforced in this sculpt, it’s the need to make a “manikin” head or a blank head that’s a tad smaller than the finished look and letting that cure, so you can apply putty and sculpt on it without deforming the basic head shape. I think I sculpted the head and face twice before I remembered that technique.

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Now to fix a few details, get some paint on him, and base him. He’ll be all set to shamble after some players for those nice juicy brains!

 

“Have you thought of a human-skin rug? That would be so cool in certain very devious and evil lairs.”
-A posting in a Dwarven Forge forum

10440889_829995183736893_30475396273261182_n (1)So my dungeons have been looking pretty sparse lately. Sadly, these little projects are the most fiddly and time consuming so they merely trickle into my collection from the craft table. Here is a smattering of scale goodies to make my tabletop environments appear lived in.
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No crossroads or gatehouse entrance is complete without a bona-fide crow’s cage! If I had this one to do over, I’d have made the frame a “T” and put another cage on the opposite side. The main design flaw on this one is that its balance is a bit touchy, hence all the stones and gravel on the base.

I used square dowels for the frame of course, set on a metal washer with a tiny chain I picked up at a big box store in the DIY jewelry section. The cage is thin strips of cereal box cardstock painstakingly glued together in a grid and trimmed, then glued into a cylinder.

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I traced out the diameter of the bottom, and using hot glue, I applied some texture that I painted to suggest straw. Finally, I sculpted a teeny skull from Pro Create putty to glue in there. Then I glued the base to the cage. It’s worth noting that the cardstock technique for cage frames is best done with PVA or white glue, or Elmer’s glue, whatever you call it. This requires a bit of patience. At each joint, I used a little alligator clamp to bond them together. Hot glue is fast and all, but it makes for an ugly finish.

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Doors are a thing that are absolutely essential, yet I’m never satisfied with them. Over the years, I’ve used computer printouts on cardstock with plastic bases, and they’ve served me pretty well. But what keeps me up at night is the thought that there has to be an easy and cheap way of representing entrances and exits that look better than what I’m using. This prototype is my stab at that goal. This door is largely inspired by DM Scotty, but where his doors are openable, this one is static.

While I like the aesthetic, I’m agonizing over a number issues with it. Namely, compatibility with future systems, whether or not it should open, and ease and speed of production.
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As far as production goes, little is more tedious than making bookshelves. Yet no dungeon is complete without them. Monsters get bored waiting for PCs to smite them, they gotta have something to read, right?

Bookshelves and books are a pretty standard craft, and well explained elsewhere.

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And as far as pastimes goes, here’s a fun bit of furniture. It’s cool and all, but still think it’s missing something. Perhaps a better paint job. Anyway, this was a great use for some of those gear beads I found, and the shackles are pony beads of the very small variety. The rope is actually twisted wire.

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And if that’s not comfortable enough for ya, you could try out these beds. I am seriously happy with how these turned out. the down side is waiting for all that glue to dry.

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You might have seen a table like this posted among my stuff before. I picked up this trick, again, from the DM’s Craft. You can make a bunch of blank tables with table top veneers that have different settings on them without having to make a million different tables and without having to painstakingly set each table with tiny goodies.

The cups and candles are beads. The fruit and bowl and what-have-ya are made from Fimo polymer clay.

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When you’re not using your goodies, you have to store them. I can’t have enough barrels and crates. Sadly, barrels are hard to make at this scale. But I manage with dowels cut and sanded to shape with cardstock banding. the little cage is made from craft sticks and toothpicks.

This is just a start. I’ve got loads more to make and they’re not going to make themselves, so I’ll leave ya there and get crackin’!

 

Cave Tilein'(Part 1)

Hank: ” I wonder why there are no guards here?”
Eric: “Because no one is stupid enough to ever try to come here, that’s why!”-Dungeons & Dragons (the ’83 to ’85 cartoon)

 

So caves are a fairly common adventure location. In years past, I figured I had a decent solution with a full 3D modular cave tile system. Visually, they achieved the “wow factor” for most of my players, and I got a lot of use out of them. Yet they posed a few challenges that the whole 2.5D craft revolution addresses-mainly, accessibility.

Wyloch’s You Tube channel is one of my favorite crafting resources, of which I’ve gushed about before. I’ve made a few dungeon tiles in this style, so cave tiles seemed the next logical iteration and expansion.

As with the dungeon tiles, it takes a lot of patience to make these things. Thankfully, the design of the cave tiles is a bit less labor intensive. You need fewer cardboard squares, and you achieve the texture with crumpled tinfoil and hot glue rather than by sculpting foam and cutting multiple layers of card. Also, the base tiles are more uniform in dimension, which makes production smoother.

The result? I’m rather pleased with the look. They all fit together reasonably well. My innovation to the project is the addition of the occasional crystal cluster on some of the tiles.

 

For this, I used a razor saw to cut square, green plastic stir sticks, the kind used for parties, and sand the ends into points with a fine grain sand paper. That part is tricky, since the plastic is a kind of resin that likes to turn white and bead up when abraded. I glued the bits together into a cluster of three and applied them to the tiles.

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The drawbacks became more apparent over use and time. Even though I used a good quality varnish, the paint wants to flake off the aluminum as you would expect, especially if you toss these tiles into bins with any level of recklessness. Also the acrylic gems and any applique, like the crystals, glued on to the aluminum will withstand no rough handling before popping off.

In play, I found that emulating specific caves from a module, like Phandelver, is hard with any generic tile system for caves, due to the nature of caves. In this case, the two by two format was versatile enough to approximate the configurations I needed, yet was also an exercise in problem solving on the level of a jigsaw puzzle in the middle of a game. To make these tiles work, you need a substantial amount of them to depict a region of the cave complex. Finally, the weight on these are negligible, and without a non slip surface to lay them on they will shift about. I resist the pennies on the bottom solution, it would add unnecessary height and make them less compatible with my other Wyloch tiles.

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I still love these tiles. Likely, I’ll use them primarily at home, even though by weight and form factor they travel well. For a more durable solution, I’m taking a hard look at DM Scotty’s Tilescapes for something fast and easy. But that’s a subject for next time…

 

 

 

 

Dice Devourin’

“I check the bag for traps.”

 

13532911_1073230116080064_4583139045233231289_n  So I made this little monster a bit ago to house the glittering polyhedral gems of my collection in its gullet. I figured I’d make one ever since I came across a picture of this awesome project on Pinterest.

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I surmised that this kind of thing was really less complicated than it looked. The tricky bit would be the teeth. From the picture, I’d say they sewed the lip of the bag around a foam circle with the inside “teeth” exposed. This way the “head” of the bag stays rigidly open.

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Open…

I decided to sew the teeth in separately, but in practice this didn’t work out well. I was too far into the process, and they didn’t sit right, sticking out all angles. I wasn’t about to give up on the chompers though, it’s what makes the project. So, I fell back on the ol’ standby, hot glue! Yes, I glued them teeth in there. Worked out quite well actually. They’re well attached and positioned properly as well.

 

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Closed

I got some mixed feedback on this project. Folks either think it’s great, or they hate it. Here’s an instance where silences and wry looks speak volumes. But no matter, I like it anyway. Yet I have to say that in practical terms, carrying all my dice to the game location isn’t the best option. It’s easier to loose dice by dumping out a great horde when selecting the color scheme for the session. That, and it’s prodigious bulk is a down side for the DM on the go.

A colleague and I were talking and a “dwarf chest” option came up. This is something that stirs the imagination. Some plywood, some small brass hinges, some card stock, some glue and paint… yeah, that could be praiseworthy. Boxes are less portable than bags, but the table appeal could be significant if executed properly. Something to think about.

 

 

 

Out of the Abyss … and Into the Crafting: Innitial Thoughts on Running a New Campaign

“Demons huh? Those have some pretty good loot … right?”

So I picked up a copy of Out of the Abyss last month and I found it to be a pretty exciting read. Usually I’ll pick up a book, peruse it for a bit and get a sense of what’s in there and I’ll spot read bits after trying to read from cover to cover. Generally these mega adventures/campaigns, which seem to be the format for 5e, that cover 15 levels or more of play don’t exactly read like novels. The first one, Tyranny of Dragons a two-parter, is mostly driven by a string of imminent events. This wasn’t a deal breaker. Many of my campaigns in the past were, in retrospect, fairly linear, but my group was more inclined to be the reactionary type, happy to be pulled along by events. The second, Princes of the Apocalypse, is fairly praiseworthy. It gives the PCs far more latitude. The campaign constraints are still there, but I can see the narrative panning out differently in subsequent replays. This time, Out of the Abyss is a page turner.

My Impressions
Like Princes of the Apocalypse, you get that sand box feel with Out of the Abyss. Normally this means a disjointed narrative. There are certain touchstone moments built in that need to happen in order to drive the plot, but otherwise all possible outcomes happily coexist, parallel realities to be accounted for with ever expanding logic gates and “if this than that” contingencies. Usually most of these choices are rendered ultimately inconsequential by scripted events that are points of convergence for the story. There’s a bit of that in Out of the Abyss, but they include so many variables that these convergence points look less like an intersection, and more like a bottle neck. It’s set in the Underdark, which naturally constrains the player’s travel choices in the way a traditional dungeon does. Yet travel in this subterranean world can be pretty variable with arbitrary or random terrain encounters coupled with monster/NPC encounters, making each run-through a unique experience. Key locations each have a politically complex landscape that bewilder the mind with the potential story arcs. “Touchstone” events are rendered contextually dynamic based on the PCs circumstances. I know that’s all a bit abstract, but for the sake of being able to avoid a mild spoiler, I’ll foot note an example at the end.*

As much as I love D&D and running D&D games, reading adventures, let alone whole campaigns, can still be a bit of a chore. Usually I need a vested interest to keep me going. In other words, I’m about to run this story so I better know what I’m doing. Strangely, I found myself eagerly reading Out of the Abyss, even mentally tracking as many story iterations as my feeble mind could hold. It’s that good. I find myself attenuating to the weird and dreamlike vibe it’s trying to convey. The PCs are placed in world of strangeness with a constant parade of quirky NPCs to interact with, most of whom have an inclination to join or follow the party. I can see things getting pretty crowded unless the DM gets a little vicious and knocks some of these camp followers off from time to time, which adds a melancholic element to counterpoint to the whimsy since the loss of these characters would bereally felt as they are so colorful and memorable. Madness is definitely a theme throughout, and if you didn’t pick up on the dreamscape aspect early on, you get hit over the head with Alice in Wonderland simulacrums to reinforce the point.

The Plan: Brainstorming Projects for the First Chapter

Caveat! Some spoilage beyond. Be thee warned! 

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