Tag Archives: DM Scotty

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…

 

 

 

 

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Off the Grid and the Tabletop Craft Renaissance

“HUGE … tracts of land you say? Now we’re talking!”

164989_482341861835562_1308677549_nGridless gaming is one of those anxiety inducing notions. But I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while now. The power of the grid is quite seductive. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s a universal game element that’s easy to understand, and you can tell at a glance how far your character can move, how far you can attack, or whether or not foes and friends will be caught in an area effect. Truth is, we all wind up counting spaces with our fingers, or plodding our figures along one space at a time like a giant game of Parcheesi. We already start out knowing that we’re playing a game and the grid is a visual element that starkly reminds us of that. Yet we’re also telling a story … which invokes an often bandied term “immersion.”

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Roleplaying games are really hybrids. They are part game and part story. Some may be partial to one element over another, and both are essential to the equation, but I believe that most of us are looking for a seamless experience where the game and story inform each other without interfering with each other. This is ground that, I feel, is most fertile for immersion. “Immersion” is a word with a moving definition in an RPG discussion, and It’s not always a useful term. Being engrossed in the story, being caught up in a role, having a deep mental involvement in the game mechanics: these are all elements of immersion, and if they happen, then great, they happen. Yet I’m always looking for an experience that embraces all of that potential. And If I’m looking at a physical representation of the scenario, and it’s basically a grid, I find it more difficult to divorce the story–or more specifically the situation–from the game in my thinking. It becomes something more akin to chess with limited moves and tactical possibilities than what the D&D (or most any tabletop RPG you can name) can offer, which is really bound only by an agreed upon logic.

Theater of the Mind
In a sense, I’ve already been gridless. throughout the years, my games have been, more often than not, “theater of the mind” which always requires a consensus ad idem or a “meeting of the minds” so to speak. In order for it to work, everyone needs to be on the same page. Everyone also needs to be flexible thinkers and good question askers as well…
“Is there a rock handy I can throw?”
“How far away are they?”
“Is there a back way out of here?”
In this style of play, the situations can be fluid since they are negotiated, but they can be downright confusing as well. And the consequence is often a backtracking, or retconning of the narrative in light of a new understanding for fairness’ sake.

An Evolution of Solutions
A simple solution can just be a basic drawing showing the environment, features, and the positions of characters. I did that quite a bit back in the day. If you want to get more miles from a drawing, then use dice, coins, or whatever’s at hand for tokens and you can use the map for the entire encounter. But already we can envision an incremental evolution taking place here. The graph paper becomes a wet erase board. The tokens get standardized with washers and printed images. You experiment with paper standups. You buy a few miniatures, and pretty soon you’re looking for more 3D options, buying dungeon tiles, looking up how to make terrain online, and at this point, you’re hip deep in game paraphernalia with a dwindling budget and no end in sight and you’re looking for a rehab or support group to no avail.

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“Less is more.” I’ve tried to keep things re-usable as well as “hide” the grid as with these felt ground pieces with just the corners of the grid marked in.

There’s also the problem of flexibility. Chances are you will never have enough terrain to fulfill the requirements for every situation. You can mix your media, add dry erase mats to dungeon tiles, you can agree on varying scales, you can even mix 3D and 2D elements. But it’s quite likely, you’re looking for a certain aesthetic, you have personal standards for what you and your players will accept on the table (hey, I understand!) and mixing media can definitely foil a target “look.”

The trick is, to make the terrain itself be flexible. You still won’t fix every problem. Essentially, you will still be bounded by the pieces you possess to represent tactical situations unless you forgo the table top for a pure narrative temporarily. Sometimes you just have to, things come up you can’t craft or purchase beforehand.

Less is More
And sometimes less is more. You’re balancing two aspects to 3D gaming: diorama vs. game board. I see a lot of embellishment on terrain pieces sometimes. And don’t get me wrong, it has its place, but if it’s something the PCs can feasibly interact with you’re going to have to anticipate questions like…”Is there really that much gold spilling out of that chest?”
“Can I pick that skull up and take it with me?”
“Hey, one lousy spell book? It looks like there’s a bunch of ’em on that table!”
Elaboration can make a visually stunning piece, but then you have to talk about what’s “for show” and what just is. Always leave some room for imagination, and remember that figures have a space they occupy that is governed by their bases. The real world is full of sharp angles and tight spaces, your game environment can’t, for playability’s sake.

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DM Scotty sparks a terrain revolution with 2.5D.

The RPG Crafting Renaissance
Enter what I call the “RPG Craft Renaissance.” There was a serious need for tabletop solutions, especially with 4th edition, making miniatures of some kind a necessity. There already was a great war gaming community out there with how-to videos on terrain for games like Warhammer et al., but not much for games like Dungeons & Dragons in mind. There is a large amount of crossover potential and many of the skill sets and techniques apply, but table top RPGs typically require more discrete and idiomatic settings for the action, like dungeons and interiors. So along comes DM Scotty with The DM’s Craft.

It’s difficult to put to words how praiseworthy this YouTube channel and forum  is. It’s an egalitarian on ramp to easy and cheap solutions for miniatures gaming. There is a prolific amount of content there with useful ideas for any skill set and budget. Now there is a burgeoning community of RPG crafters along with a growing host of other DIY personalities, like the DMGinfo, who emphases modularity, with his own style and whimsical brand of humor. But what makes this revolutionary is the reinvention of 3D and a return to wargaming roots. The idea is to forget the walls and forget the grid.

Mr. Dungeon Master, Tear Down This Wall!
I’ve seen many a building rendered for gaming complete with furnishings and fully realized interiors. Yet when it’s only the roof that comes off the building, just try getting your fat fingers down in there to move pieces around, or even see what’s going on without standing over it, for that matter. Form and functionality collide with these cheaply made tiles. And since things are kept cheap, the crafty DM can anticipate environments beforehand and pump out new rooms, caves, or whatever. You generally don’t need full scale walls to represent the scene in a visually pleasing way. You can suggest the walls and add shadows, even indicate windows and openings, all without loosing that …yup…immersion.

And if that’s not flexible enough for you, Scotty’s “2.5 D Next” concept utilizes large spaces bound by modular walls to define rooms and interiors rather than tiles. This makes the game more travel ready and offers a quick and visually consistent solution for those extemporaneous fights. Personally, I understand the value of the “Next” method, but visually, I still prefer the tiles. Moreover, you get great advice and how-to on dungeon dressing and even some DIY figures. What’s not to love?

Circles and Grids (or lack thereof) 
The second element this renaissance espouses–gridlessness– brings us full circle. You don’t see grids on these tiles (painted tiling notwithstanding). Tapping into the strengths of a miniature wargame style of play, movement can be measured with sticks or strings, and area effects can be indicated with 3D markers. You do give up some certainty and clarity in exchange for directional freedom and more nuanced movements that don’t rely on arbitrary increments, like 5 foot spaces. Spaces don’t have to line up, so terrain placement can be organic and free-form. Uncertainty is also an element embraced by some games. Not being able to pre measure adds a human error factor that can make for a more “realistic” or at least a more “interesting” experience. Also, less clarity can mean greater agency for the GM who gets to arbitrate when “almost” is “good enough.”

Moving (Gridlessly) Forward
The cool thing about 5th edition is that the miniatures rules are optional and flexible. Ranges and effects are given in feet and radii. It’s really up to the individual group to represent or not represent the encounters tangibly, however they want to do it. Since at the moment 5e is my game, I believe I’m going to take that plunge, and what we’ll see coming up on Random Treasure is some of those crafting results.

The First Parcel of Loot: Grandfather Tree!

“…And all I got was this crummy potion and a bag of copper? I shaved my 10 foot pole for THIS!?!”

10891632_794053540664391_336231525757320486_nHey folks! If, somehow, you managed to stumble across this in your internet wanderings, I thank you for pausing a moment for consideration. I figure this might be a suitable supplement to Facebook to catalog my crafting (mis)adventures and other game related stuff. You may have already been privy to some of this “stuff” if you are an associate of mine on said social network, and if so, my hearty apologies for not blazing new trails with this post. If you’re coming over from my other shenanigans site, then welcome!  Hopefully, we’ll wrap up Season One of the Temple of Elemental Evil “actual play” recordings and, rumor has it, produce the next on YouTube?!?! If so, this “random treasure” will likely feature prominently there.

Alright! Let’s get on with it, shall we?

1010597_645043065565440_6420763520519119221_nGoing waaaay back in time to April of last year (2014) I present Mr. Big Tree!
Needs a better name you say? Well, I envisioned Grandfather Tree from the Forgotten Realms D&D setting. He hangs out in the High Forest, swaying with his bros… That is until a rapacious pack of dwarves swarm outta nowhere!

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“Eat it, Tree Boy!”

I made this guy the DM Scotty Way, that is with super cheap materials and hot glue….lots of hot glue. I probably should have had the camera ready while I was making this, but that’s the thing with extemporaneous experiments, It’s difficult to remember to document, and then it may not turn out so well. Anyway, the armature for this guy was simply made from glued together wooden dowels and tooth picks. Over this, I liberally applied the hot glue to “bulk up” the figure, covering the joints and filling out things where the wooden dowels were too thin. Then, with a smaller glue gun, I added texture to it, blending into the face which I had glued on just before. The glue is translucent and it was difficult to see what I was doing until it was painted, but I got the bark effect I was shooting for.

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I made the face from…believe it or not, Crayola air dry clay. Yeah, if you’re at all familiar with that material, you’re probably shaking your head right now. Let’s just say, it’s not optimal for this kind of stuff. Usually, you can’t squeak out this kind of detail with it, and I’d be hard pressed to do it again, but there it is. Secondly, it’s brittle. At less than a quarter inch thickness, expect it to break. Thirdly, I’ve discovered this “property” of the Crayola air dry, that over time, it tends to crumble.

I put tiny mettle beads in for the eyes. I added plastic leaves and Woodland Scenics clump foliage for canopy and the little bushes on the base. A stone from my driveway made a good accent there too. Also, I used home made sawdust flock for the mossy bits, like on his beard. 485547_644998015569945_2247534753007659404_n
Surprisingly, this figure has held up well. I’ve had it a good year now, and it’s even had a few nose-dives, and it’s still good!  I made the base out of the Crayola stuff, and I notice paint flaking off here and there. I may refashion a new base from Super Sculpey in order to preserve this. The face, thankfully, is yet pristine.

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“HOOM! Bring it on! HOOORAROOM!”