Monthly Archives: February 2014

Look out, Indy!

Sometimes you make things because you think that you need them for a specific purpose and sometimes random inspiration hit you.  During a recent visit to the local hobby shop, I saw that they had a bin full of these 2″ styrofoam balls for sale.  I recalled that I’d been reading a module a few weeks prior that involved a trap reminiscent of the Indiana Jones “rolling boulder” trap.  Now this isn’t necessarily the sort of killer trap that I’d be likely to use as part of a regular campaign, but I do have some ideas for a future one-off session as a respite from dreaded continuity.  For $.30, I figured “what the hell” and gave it a shot.


There was nothing terribly complex about my process here.  I primed with black craft paint and then drybrushed with my Pokorny Paints in a finish similar to what I use on my dungeon tiles.  One thing to note here is that the styrofoam unsurprisingly soaked up a LOT of paint and took a long time to fully dry after priming.



I didn’t want this piece to take too much of a beating over time, so I sealed using a 3:1 mix of water and PVA. (white glue)  While I was at it, I rolled it in a little bit of green static grass to give it sort of an old mossy look.  Here are my final results.

20140216-235857.jpgThrow me the idol and I’ll throw you the whip.  Oh yeah, and always turn left.

Standing stones

One of the scenes that I have planned for a future session calls for a ring of standing stones similar to Stonehenge.  This seemed easy enough to achieve, so I got cutting with the hot wire foam cutter.

I neglected to take a picutre of the planning phase, but I basically made a template for one of my stone pieces and then drew an outline for 17 more of them.  (3 pieces each * 6 standing arches in a ring)  Here are all of the pieces cut out and shaped using the foam cutter and smoothed out with sandpaper:


From there I assembled my stones using hot glue, primed with black craft paint, and painted using my standard Pokorny Paint scheme.




I then primed my hill with green craft paint and applied the same turn technique that I used on my grass terrain boards.


And here’s the final product.  When I use it I will probably dress it up a little bit with some stumps, shrubs, rocks, etc.  I was pretty happy that I could make a fairly custom piece of scenery in only a couple hours.  The stones aren’t attached to the hill, so I can always repurpose that piece as needed.


Don’t lick the hot glue and keep turning left!

MasterMaze Caverns and Narrow Corridors

I love my Dwarven Forge game tiles, but they do still have some limitations.  First, they don’t include any narrow corridor pieces which in my experience tend to be pretty important, especially if you’re running “old school” style dungeon modules.  Secondly, they’re designed to represent indoor man-made spaces and not caverns.  I’ve dressed them up using stalagmites and rocks, but sometimes it’s better to have a true cavern space to work with.

I’m sure that Dwarven Forge is going to continue to expand on their game tile line, but in the meantime I picked up a few items from their original MasterMaze line.  Many of these products are now out-of-print, but you can eventually find them on eBay if you watch carefully.  They aren’t a perfect match for my game tiles, but they’re close enough that it’s not jarring to see them side-by-side.

I currently have their Cavern Set and Narrow Passage Set.  The quality on these is extremely high.  Unfortunately, they tend to be really expensive as well.  (something that they’ve improved on greatly with the new Game Tile line)  I keep them in the original packaging because I’m a little concerned that they might break if I store them carelessly.  With the game tiles I just chuck them in a drawer and don’t even think twice about it.

Take a look at the pictures posted in my session recaps to see how I’ve incorporated these pieces into layouts using the newer game tiles.



Polystyrene and Spray Paint

No, the title of this post is *not* the name of my newly formed terrain-themed pop duo.  (although it’s tempting)

If you’ve been researching terrain at all, I’m sure that you’ve heard that advice that it’s always a bad idea to paint any kind of styrofoam.  (also known as polystyrene)  Why is that you say?  Well, let’s try it out and see what happens.  Here’s my friendly chunk of scrap polystyrene insulation.


Now here it is after a healthy coating of black spray paint.  You’ll see that the propellant in the spray paint has reacted with the styrofoam, essentially melting it.  This probably isn’t a great look for most of your terrain projects, although I could see some limited uses for creating a lava rock effect.  For the most part you’ll want to stick to the old paint brush.  You don’t need to use your fancy (read: expensive) miniature paint for these larger areas.  Cheap craft paint from the craft store will generally do just fine.20140212-081725.jpg


As I’ve stated before, I’m very much a beginner when it comes to running games using terrain.  I’ve been reading a lot of books / web pages and watching a lot of Youtube videos to figure out how to create what I want to create.  Anything that you see me create here has most likely been inspired (if not directly lifted) from somebody else who has done it before.  If I’m exactly reproducing something that someone else has done I will do my best to reference that source, but often these things are a matter of combining 3 different good ideas from other people into 1 new idea of your own.

As a starting point, here are some things that I’ve found really helpful in my efforts so far:

  • How to Make Wargames Terrain by Games Workshop – A good overall guide to creating boards, hills, water features, buildings, etc..  It seems to be out print but used copies should be readily available.
  • The Terrain Tutor – This guy has created several series of videos leading from the basics up to more complex projects.  His information on working with polystyrene has been particularly helpful and his advice is very practical.  Highly recommended.
  • TheDMGinfo – He focuses on creating what he calls “2.5D” terrain, which is mostly flat with some 3D aspects.  I don’t entirely agree with his perspective on fully 3D terrain, but he does some really neat stuff using hot glue and other basic materials.  It’s definitely worth watching his videos on effects (water, spiderwebs, fire, etc.) even if you plan on using 3D terrain.
  • Dwarvenforgevids – Run by Dwarven Forge.  I used the paint techniques in these videos for my game tiles.  I use a similar set of steps for painting other stone objects like my rock formations and stalagmites.

About Reviews

One of the things that I will do from time to time here is review various RPG products.  A few things about my reviews:

First, there is an art to doing product reviews.  There’s a certain structure and form that makes for an effective review.  I’m not well-versed in this art, so consider your expectations managed.

Secondly, reviews aren’t really my prime focus here.  I’m mostly interested in sharing the ongoing events of my campaign as well as some of the things that go into running it, like building terrain.  If I run into something that I think is cool, I will share it in the form of a brief review because I want other people to know about it.

That leads into my final point, which is that you’ll probably notice a strong bias towards reviews of things that I like.  This may make it seem like I enjoy every damn thing that I pick up, but it’s really a case of selection bias.  If a product doesn’t float my boat, I’m probably not even going to finish reading it much less spend more time writing a bad review on it.  There may be exceptions to this rule if something strikes me as extremely humorous.

Other Terrain Accessories

I’ve had a few requests to share some of the various items that I’ve purchased to supplement my game tiles.  This is a bit of a hodge podge, so I apologize in advance if it seems like a mess.

  • A few accessories came with the original Reaper Bones Kickstarter rewards.  This includes the altar, candles, throne and coffin.  Reaper sells all of those items on their site now.
  • The small wagon, weapon racks, armor racks, book stand, crystal ball, and bear skin rug all came from Mega Miniatures. (along with a wizards laboratory and blacksmith’s workshop that I have yet to assemble/paint) Unfortunately, this supplier has closed their doors but they are in the process of selling off their molds to other vendors.  Their site currently has a list of who purchased which molds so you may still be able to get some of these items.
  • The trees, logs, and stumps all came from Zuzzy Miniatures.  These came unpainted but were pretty easy to finish with a black base coat and some brown drybrushing.  Zuzzy also sells various rocks, hills, and mats that look promising but I haven’t yet purchased any more items from them.
  • Finally, the remaining items all came from various vendors on ebay.  Some of the sellers that tend to have interesting items are yansolousa, rpminiatures, keeblerorc, and dungeonmastermark .  If anyone’s interested in finding exactly where I got a specific item, leave a comment and I’ll dig through my eBay history to find it.


Stalagmites and Rock Formations

I’m one of the many people who are patiently waiting for Dwarven Forge to run their caverns Kickstarter campaign.  In the meantime, I was looking for a way to give my game tiles a more cave-like feel to them and provide some interesting obstacles for my encounters.  I recently acquired my hot wire foam cutter, so I decided to give it a go using pink insulation foam and hot glue.

Materials used:

  • Hot wire foam cutter
  • Pink insulation foam
  • Sanding block and sandpaper
  • Hot glue gun
  • Pokorny Paints from Dwarven Forge

I started by free-handing some round-ish shapes on the foam with a sharpie.  For those of us with limited artistic skills, creating representations of natural objects is very forgiving.  You rarely see perfect lines in nature.  Rocks and such have the tendency to be irregular, so a certain amount of sloppiness can actually help your cause here.


From there, I cut out my foam rounds using my hot wire foam cutter like so.


From that point I used the foam cutter to carefully shave each round down into a rough cone (be careful with your fingers here) and rounded off the rougher edges with a sanding block.


At this stage I warmed up the hot glue gun and liberally applied lines of glue leading from the top of each cone to the base.  Again, some irregularity to the pattern here is not only OK but probably desirable.


If you’re following along at home, you may be thinking at this point “Hey, this kind of looks like crap.”  Don’t worry.  The paint will turn it around if you do it right.  I made sure to give the hot glue plenty of time to dry and then primed my stalagmites with black craft paint.


Great, now it looks like crap painted black.  Don’t panic.  After giving the black paint plenty of time to completely dry, I started my drybrushing.  I largely imitated the standard Dwarven Forge paint scheme by drybrushing first with base gray, followed by a lighter drybrush of Olive Dry Brush, followed by extremely light drybrush of Stone Edge White.

Here’s the final result.  I also created a few other shapes of stones and skipped the hot glue phase to create some more generic rock formations.  The larger stalagmite in the back involved gluing two layers of polystyrene together and carving it in a similar manner to the smaller ones.  I set these up in some of the Master Maze cave tiles for this picture, but I’ve also used them with the standard game tiles and they really help dress things up.


Any questions or feedback, please leave a comment.  Have fun with your hot glue guns and keep turning left.


I had originally intended for my first session to be a standalone adventure using pregen characters.  I ended up enjoying it enough that I decided to continue where we left off rather than start over with all new player characters.  I also discovered the the series of modules I’ve been reading could easily be connected together to form a longer term story arc which will probably provide me with enough material to continue at least until the official D&D Next / 5th Edition rules are released.

This presented a few minor challenges.  One player opted to create a new character to replace their pregen.  A second player that was present during the first session was absent during the second session.  A third player that was absent for the first session was present for the second session.  This is the long boring story behind some of the character shuffling that occurred during the beginning of the session.  I wanted to keep the Eye of Night in the possession of the party since that’s the sort of seed that may prove important somewhere down the line.

I converted the enemies used in this session in a manner similar to what I did for the first session.  Kobolds were able to be tweaked pretty easily with the only real adjustments being to account for different equipment.  I adjusted the fire beetle stats to give them the ability to spray a caustic liquid as a result of the magical corruption.  I had to make up the darkmantle stats from whole cloth loosely based on the 3.5E stats.  The kobold leader was a trumped up kobold with a couple spells attached to it.

The ogre encounter was originally intended to be a combat encounter, but I wanted to reward some quick thinking and the timely use of a Charm Person spell by the players.  It turned out to be a lot of fun this way with some good role-playing as a result.  The only question now is what will happen if the group happens to run into their good pal Logbrag on the way back out of the cave system.  The stirge encounter provided to be far more difficult than I expected thanks in large part to extremely poor dice rolling on the part of the players.

I once again used a lot of my Dwarven Forge game tiles for this session.  I threw in the modular river from Pegasus Hobbies as well which I felt added a lot to the layout.  I also used a bunch of rock formations and stalagmites that I made for myself out of styrofoam insulation.  I’ll be posting those under the Terrain category pretty soon.  The game tiles are very good at representing the dimensions of a space but small pieces like the stalagmite helped to make it feel more like a cave than just another series of rectangular rooms.  I really hope that Dwarven Forge gets their caverns Kickstarter going through.  One final change in my terrain setup this time was that I purchased a large piece of felt to lay out the tiles on.  This helped prevent them from sliding around on the smooth surface of the table.  Using felt is nice, but I’m sure that any sort of heavy tablecloth would probably have the same effect.

Feel free to leave any questions or comments about this session in the comment section.  And for the love of Pete, keep to the left.

The Lost Vault of Tsathzar Rho, Part 1 – Session Recap

[Note: the cleric was still working on a name at the time of this session, hence the references to “TBD”]

Having eliminated the rodent threat to the community of Fairweather, our intrepid adventurers settled into the business of enjoying the spoils of becoming local celebrities.  Unfortunately, Bran the halfling fell ill soon after the Fairweather incident and eventually succumbed to a severe case of Rat Fever.  [DM note: Bran’s player opted to create a new PC rather than continue using a pre-gen]  Before he died, he passed on the Eye of Night into the bard Fletcher’s safe keeping.  Having exhausted the supply of free drinks in Taggart’s End, Fletcher and Trog the barbarian moved on in search of new adventures and more grateful peasants.

A few weeks later they arrived in the somewhat larger frontier town of Hadler’s Gap.  Trog celebrated their arrival by going on an unusually fierce bender and disappearing entirely.  [DM note: Trog’s player was absent for the last session]  Fletcher, having run out of both coins and companions, inquired with the local leadership about the possibility of employment.  After a few days, he was called to the home of Amzel the Sage, one of the town elders.  There he was introduced to Keaton (a human mage) and [TBD] (an elf cleric of the God of Light).  Amzel had summoned them together to ask them to investigate some strange occurrences in the area.

Over the last few months, the residents of Hadler’s Gap had noticed an unusual change in some of the area’s creatures.  It was well known to them that a community of kobolds as well as a large ogre lived in the hills to the east of town.  Other than the occasional stolen sheep or keg of beer, for the most part they lived in harmony with the town.  Lately the acts of theft and violence had begun to escalate and people were reporting that the creatures had undergone bizarre physical changes.  The reports varied from the fairly mundane (patches of red scales) to the highly unlikely (six arms, breathing fire, etc.)  The ogre had recently destroyed a wagon full of beer heading for the town, but luckily none of the guards had been hurt.  Amzel charged the adventurers with destroying the ogre, disrupting the kobold tribe, and identifying the source of the physical and behavioral changes.

Before leaving town, the party stopped briefly at the caravan office to get more information.  They were told that the ogre exhibited unusual behavior, even for an ogre.  He was talking to himself and experiencing random violent outbursts.  Despite his known affinity for beer, he opted to destroy the shipment rather than steal it like usual.  It was also noted that his skin had strange dark patches on it.

The general location of the kobolds and the ogres was well known to the townsfolk, so the party had no problem with locating a large cave leading into the nearby mountains.  As they approached, clouds gathered overhead.  The clouds rotated counter to the prevailing wind pattern and bore a slight purplish hue.  Despite this ill omen, the heroes pressed on into the cave where it was immediately obvious that they had found the lair of the ogre.  The creature was in fact at home and the party could overhear it talking to itself as they approached.  “Logbrag STRONG!  Not weak!  He not listen to voices!  Not go with you!”  As they approached they observed that the ogre’s skin had turned black and he was covered in bleeding pustules.

As the party began to converse with Logbrag, Keaton demonstrated his mastery of the enchanting arts and successfully charmed the creature.  Logbrag told them that the voices had come to him a few weeks ago and wanted to make him a slave.  After a brief and confusion conversation that was interrupted many times by the voices in Logbrag’s head, Keaton came to the conclusion that his charm spell might not hold much longer.  The group convinced Logbrag that were some good targets for smashing outside his cave and sent him on his way before things could get ugly.

Continuing further into the cave complex, the group entered a large natural cavern dotted with stalagmites and stalactites.  They fought off a flock of stirges after sacrificing a few pints of blood and moved along through a passage leading farther into the mountain.  The stirges that they killed seemed to be suffering from the same physical corruption as the ogre.  The party then entered another chamber and eliminated a nest full of massive glowing beetles without much incident before continuing on to another corridor.

Worried about more fire beetles, they dimmed their lights for a moment to see if any more glowing beetles would reveal.  This played perfectly into the hands of the darkmantle who had been seeking to ambush them from above.  When the lights came back on, [TBD] and Fletcher could only see a sphere of darkness where their companion Keaton had been a moment earlier.  Strangling sounds emerged from the darkness.  The mage was eventually able to free himself from the darkmantle’s stranglehold and defeat the creature, but it was too close of a call for his tastes.

Shortly after the darkmantle attack, the party entered a very low cramped chamber and stumbled upon a kobold skeleton grasping a small chest.  They extracted the chest from the low room and found it to be unlocked.  Inside there were numerous coins, ropes and grapping hooks, and four finely crafted dolls.  Suspecting trouble, Keaton wisely sat down to perform a detect magic ritual before proceeding.  As he conducted the ritual, the dolls animated and leaped upon the poor wizard.  They managed to get in a few good punches before being reduced to splinters.

Having exhausted all of the obvious ways forward, the party backtracked and investigated the ceilings of the previous caverns for someplace where a grappling hook might come in handy.  It wasn’t long before they found one and began climbing up into a hole of the ceiling of one of the earlier caves.  Reaching the upper corridor, the group was quickly ambushed by a group of kobold guards who were wiped out almost immediately by a burning hands spell.  The kobolds were observed to have physical corruption as well, with all of the kobolds having unusual red patches of scales covering parts of their bodies. Additionally, each one carried a gold pendant in the shape of a three-fingered hand.

The guard post turned out to be stationed next to a quickly flowing underground river.  There were many stalactites that could be used as handholds to cross the river, but it turned out to be a challenge nonetheless with the cleric nearly drowning in the process.  Eventually all three heroes managed to cross the river and found a small chest of coins (clutched in the hands of a submerged and very dead human) along the way.

After taking a quick break on the far side of the river to dry their clothes and bandage their wounds, the group continued forward down one of two passages.  Their keen eyes identified a tripwire connected to a net trap before they could set it off.  They decided to turn the tables on the trap-setter and coated the ground under the net with oil, set off the trap intentionally (by hurling the body from the river into the room), and waited for guards to arrive.  The net came down with a loud clatter and sure enough several guards arrived to investigate.  They were soon immolated in the oil.  The remaining guards, along with their trained dire rats, were also dispatched soon after.  The corridor turned out to lead to what seemed to be a training facility for the rats but did not continue further.

Heading down the only remaining passage, the party found themselves in the kobold’s main residence on this level.  The kobolds defended their home fiercely and appeared to be better equipped than the previous guards.  The leader proved to be some sort of spellcaster and severely damaged the heroes with a blast of flame as well as a series of magic missiles.  It was a difficult fight that could’ve gone either way, but the kobolds were eventually defeated.  Keaton took possession of the creature’s wand.

Several interesting items were found in the kobold leader’s chamber.  First, a rare and probably valuable (but non-magical) book written in an ancient tongue. Second, a courier bag covered in magical writings.  After some examination, Keaton and Fletcher agreed that whatever magical protections had once guarded the bag’s contents had probably been disabled.  Inside they found a piece of a broken sword wrapped in cloth and a scroll tube containing the following note:


[TBD] the cleric sensed a vague aura of evil coming from the piece of blade but nothing more specific could be learned about it.  Investigating the far end of the kobolds’ home, the group found a small raft that could be used to further explorer the underground river.  Since the area seemed secure at the moment, they decided that this would be as good of a place as any to get some rest and recuperate before continuing further into the mountain.