Category Archives: DM Corner for D&D

How to Draw RPG Maps – Part 2, Caves

Last week we started a tutorial on how to draw simple dungeon maps in the style of Dyson and other leading artists in the tabletop role-playing game (RPG).

This week we’ll be covering caves and associated natural formations to bring your tabletop games to life with a touch of professionalism!

If you want to read the part where we talk a little bit about pencils and pens etc, you can find it here!

So, onto caves and natural features!

Notes

Unlike traditional dungeons, caves don’t have an easy way of defining the typical 5 foot square in inches on the map (1-inch = 5-foot). To get around this, simply place a well-defined sheet of squares under the cave map page so you can see through to the squares.

And now the process…

One

Place your page of squares under a fresh sheet of paper – this will allow you to draw to scale. You can see in the image that I’ve drawn a rough square shape with a tunnel for access.

In the following image, I’ve modified the outline to look a little more natural by taking the edges of the squares away and redefining the roughly circular shape.

Two

The next step is to really define the outline. For this step, it’s best to use a brush pen or at least a 0.5mm pen. Remember the outline needs to stand out from the rest of the cave and its contents, as well as the dead space between other chambers. I tend to use a wobbly hand technique to apply a rough and believable cave wall for this part – don’t just make it wavey or zigzagged, add depth, create sharp bumps or points and let it look rough!

I decided to add some features to this cave section – two large natural pillars to hold up the ceiling, and a raised platform in the middle of the cave. Define these too, as they’ll be dead space or features that need demarking. You can see that I’ve filled these in using a similar method to the Dyson hatching style – series of lines which move in random directions, with each series of lines capped by another series of lines.

Note that the centre feature doesn’t have full hatching, this is because it’s a raised step or platform which players should be allowed to explore or monsters can stand on.

Three

Now for the outside hatching! I’ve decided to show you three examples of border hatching (although the third method is more fitting for water banks). The Dyson style is quite arduous but very rewarding and therapeutic to draw. The dotting method is very simple (and with a bit of practice is much faster than I originally thought).

I always draw a guiding line around the edges of the map or tile. This is so I don’t draw in too much, or go out too far with the hatching methods mentioned here.

dungeon maps cave maps fantasy maps creator consortium tutorial DnD RPG

The last method is to use a very fine pen, in this case, 0.05mm, and draw one or two broken lines around the outer edges. As mentioned earlier, this usually marks where the water begins (such as on coastal maps) but is a very quick and easy method if you’re in a rush.

I’ve included some close-up images so you can emulate the style – it only takes a little bit of practice!

dungeon maps cave maps fantasy maps creator consortium tutorial DnD RPG

dungeon maps cave maps fantasy maps creator consortium tutorial DnD RPG

Four

This final section is to add details. Details help to populate your map, making it look realistic, but also serves to add a sense of scale.

You can see from my doodles that I’ve drawn rocks of varying sizes. This was so I could determine a clean map space or a messy one, essentially providing smooth or rough terrain.

dungeon maps cave maps fantasy maps creator consortium tutorial DnD RPG

If you add features such as furniture or treasure chests you can further define the scale to let your players see just how big or small each cave is. Here are some examples of features and how simple little dots and irregular shapes can bring the cave to life!

That is pretty much it! You’ll find that with a little practice you can create some nice, clean and detailed maps in no time at all. Just take the plunge, put pencil or pen to paper and just start – no-nonsense or fussing – just get on with it and the flow will develop from there!

Next week we’ll look at some outdoor maps – a little trickier (especially since we haven’t tried this ourselves yet!)

Find us on facebook or on Twitter with the handle @FerrisWrites

Good luck!

How to Draw RPG Maps – Part 1, Dungeon Maps

(Step by Step)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tackling a growing problem in my role-playing gaming sessions – maps.

Maps can really bring your game to life, focus the players and help keep track of locations and events as the game progresses. The problem, however, is that if you’re not 100% confident of your drawing skills, you may be disinclined to draw your own or pay someone to use theirs. This is fine, but you’ll likely not get a dungeon map in the style or layout that you want.

So this is where my practice comes in: you can read the following and hopefully learn a few tricks and see just how easy it is to draw clear, atmospheric maps in a very short space of time.

I’ll be emulating some of my favourite styles, with the mind to develop my own style from the industry benchmark.

Tools

In the UK currently, it is very easy to get your hands on the tools you’ll need to draw out your own dungeon maps. Here’s a list of the pens and pencils I use, which I’ve selected for their inexpensive price tags:

  • Derwent hard pencils – a set of 5 pencils shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. There’s a huge variety out there, but frankly you can get away with a pretty standard HB, 2H and 2B set of pencils. HB is your standard pencil, 2H is a harder pencil which gives you a harder and lighter pencil line, whereas 2B is soft, giving you a darker and softer pen line.
  • I use Uni Pin fine liners for the inking of my maps – they’re pretty common and over the last ten years have dropped in price significantly. For my practice, I use different thickness of nibs: 0.5, 0.2 and 0.05 mm pens, with a brush pen for extra thick lines.
  • For practice, I bought a really cheap pad of 50 sheets of drawing pad paper, A4. If I’m sketching I got to town a purchase A5 sketchbooks, these shouldn’t cost you too much, but I like the thicker paper sheets.

All of these items are available at the Range – I was amazed that 10 fine liner pens were around £10 per pack, giving more pens than you will ever need! A4 drawing paper can cost as little as £1. Art pencils can cost a little more than regular pencils, but there’s no need to go crazy for your first time. A simple clean eraser is helpful.

So, here follows my method for quick, simple and effective dungeon maps.

Zero

To save on buying fancy pads of paper, I start by drawing the framework on a new piece of paper. Using the edges of the paper, I mark out inch wide dots to form a series of squares. You can create 1-cm lines if you want, but for the use of tabletop maps, I prefer 1-inch tiles. It’s a standard format, with 1-inch acting as a 5ft space for your players. My example is below. I’ll only really need to do this once, so its best to get it right and save the page for multiple uses in the future.

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

One

Once I’ve got this right, I can start using it to map out my err, map. I place the framework page underneath a fresh page and mark where the lines intersect with a cross. I’ll draw in the walls of the dungeon room, all in pencil. I’m going to just be using a simple square as the dungeon tile, normally you’d leave space for a door in and out, but my examples are just that, examples.

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Two

The next bit is where it starts to get a little more tricky. My first step here is to draw the outlines of the room in a thicker pen. Here I used the 0.5mm pen, but sometimes I use a brush pen for an extra thick line. So long as the pen you use is the thickest pen for your dungeon map tile, you’ll get a good edge. It needs to be thicker to stand out as the walls of your room.

Next, I switch to the 0.2mm pen and draw the lines of the stonework – this is a simple process, but you should be aware that you don’t want to draw the tiles like a literal grid. For best effect, you want to give the impression of the stonework. I do this by lightly bouncing the pen up and down on the paper as I draw the lines, creating a staggered line. It looks smarter and more realistic than if they were a simple grid.

Using the really fine pen, the 0.05mm pen, I add in some cracks randomly to the stonework and add a few lines to the edges of the room. This is purely fanciful and down to your own preference!

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Three & Four

In these images, I’ve tried to convey a bit of lighting. Dark and damp dungeons are not airy and light places, so it adds atmosphere – I added some shade or shadows. Shade and shadows can be used for different purposes here – they act as both an absence of light and potentially dirt or dust.

For tile 3 I used lines to suggest shadow, for tile 4 I used simple dots that grow in concentration the darker the shadow becomes.

I added some missing chunks of stonework, which I filled in with some hatching using the 0.05mm pen. You can see where I practised this at the side of the page. You can also add some tiny rocks and surround them with simple dots to create a messy appearance – you don’t need to explain what these are, they could be moss, fungus or just bits of stone or bone.

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Five

Next, I draw a simple border around the room, about half a centimetre, which you can see in tile 5. You’ll notice that I’ve not drawn using a rule at all in my process – I like it to look natural and a bit rough… adds to the atmosphere!

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Six

In tile 6 you can see the different border techniques that you can use to provide a bit of depth to your maps and also define what is solid rock and what is room space. These three techniques are used extensively across the internet. I’ve adapted mine from Dyson and Dark Realm Maps – both industry leaders and heavily involved in the RPG community – you should check them out on Twitter!

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

So, at the top of the tile, there is line hatching – this is just a series of lines running in the same direction, repeated and twisted to create a pleasing mess to the eye. To top it off, I just added some random singular lines, dots and small stones to give it a more natural feel. It takes quite a long time to do and easy to mess up – make sure your lines come to a stop with another oblique line for a nice finish.

On the right side of the tile is simple dotting – the closer to the wall you are the more dense the dots become. A simple method that doesn’t take too long to do, but keep in mind how many dots it takes to do a single centimetre square!

Finally on the bottom of the tile is “stone support.” You can use this method for underground dungeons or for free-standing buildings above ground. Each building block has its own shape and size but is organised in clear lines. I tend to keep some stones to the guidelines we drew in tile 5, whereas some go beyond it – I prefer to keep it even as a rule of averages: for every extra tall block, there should be a shorter block to match it.

And that is pretty much it!

I’ve included some of my own tiles which I first started a week or so ago. You can see where I’ve messed up in some places. Overall though, this method is actually quite quick and easy for a small to a medium-sized dungeon. You can keep your map to a single piece of paper or cut out your tiles to allow the players to only see them when they enter a new room.

I hope this has been informative, and we’d love to see some of your creations on our facebook page or tag us on twitter with @ FerrisWrites.

Next week I’ll go into more detail about cave dungeon maps and tiles, which can be a little more time consuming but require less initial setup.

Bye for now!

Ferris

Part 2 – Cave Maps can be found here.

GM Section: Low Fantasy Gaming – A Return to the Old Days of Gritty Dungeons & Dragons?

Last week we took a look at Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG) by Pickpocket Press. Our focus then was aspects of the game most relevant to the players around the table. This week we’re going to look at the Games Master (GM) potions of the book, namely: exploration, traps, treasure, monsters and some of the extra content not always considered in fantasy roleplaying games.

There was some criticism on the title phrase of last week’s article, mainly that Betteridge’s Law of Headlines was true (in that, when a headline generally ends in a question mark, the answer is usually ‘no’). It was interesting to learn about something new (thank you reddit user) however, in part 2, I think Betteridge’s Law of Headlines will prove false this time: it is a damn sight grittier and a return to the old style of D&D!

I wanted to know why LFG was made, so I got in contact with Stephen Grodzicki at Pickpocket Press and asked that very question, here’s the answer:

“… it all stemmed from wanting to GM a Primeval Thule campaign with 5e. But the mechanics didn’t mesh with the setting. I wanted something gritty and dangerous, with magic that was rare, dark and unpredictable. Which is pretty much the opposite of 5e’s heroic, high magic system. And LFG was the result.”

I think they nailed it on the head. So, here comes the second part of the Low Fantasy Gaming review…

The GM Section

From the outset, we’ve seen LFG adjust many of the regular or common place rules, and completely get rid of others. So far most of this has been aimed at the character makeup and  their interactions within the game. Now though, we’ll take a look at some of the content aimed specifically at the games master, and check out some of the cool mechanics included in LFG!

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Exploration is often overlooked in modern adventures. The fact that exploration in 5th edition D&D is only mentioned in the DM guide as a form of travel, consisting of a few small random encounter tables, suggests that the element of exploration is now considered secondary to most tabletop role-play gamers. Indeed, we at CC have even written about how much more exploration should be part of a standard game. We feel that strongly about it.

So, how has LFG tackled exploration?

Pretty smoothly, it seems. While it’s not mind blowing in its approach, it certainly covers all the bases. Travel speed, weather effects, then broken down into divisions of overland, underground, voyage and even flight encounters are covered. Not all of these encounters are monsters or NPC interactions. LFG covers weather change, being off-course (i.e. lost!) and some tasty little role-play events.

Our favourite is the Inspiring Tale event, where the characters are having an uneventful travel day: one of the players may wish to regale the whole gaming group with a story or song of some sort. If most of the people at the gaming table are entertained, the GM may allow one of them to advance to their next level. It’s a pretty random occurrence, requiring a one in twenty dice roll, but it’s a wonderful learning and role-playing experience which has an in game effect. We feel this is a very encouraging element to any RPG and we’re glad it’s made it into the game! Not much on the gritty side, but certainly something you would expect in an early version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Finally, there’s a table of random encounters covering 20 aerial encounters, 100 city or settlement encounters, and sets of 20 encounters for deserts, jungles, forests & woodlands, mountains and hills, oceans lakes & rivers, plains & grasslands, roads and trails, snow and ice and swamps… pretty much LFG has got you covered wherever your adventure is taking you, and it looks pretty thorough!

And since monsters do not have associated experience points, any ‘level’ of monster could be encountered (in theory). Fear not though, this is simply another challenge for the players to overcome without battle. Maybe they really should let sleeping dragons lie?

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

Hirelings are included in the game too. It’s a small section with tables to generate names, catchphrases and other personal identifying traits. There’s even some scope for pets as hirelings.

What’s new and different about LFG is that there’s a simple advancement table for hirelings. And its not simply going up in levels, instead they can advance, for example, in their ability to increase their attributes, learn a skill or gain advantage to moral checks. This keeps the distinction between player characters and NPCs and does not permit an allie as powerful as the players.

And my favorite but about hirelings… there’s a 2D6 point table dedicated entirely to payback if you mistreat your hirelings. It’s another great little story and role-play element to the game. These little touches really do add up.

I don’t think we have ever used hirelings in a game of D&D since second edition, because since third edition they always just seemed like faceless add-ons rather than an opportunity to develop and become entertaining and useful.

black and white animal pony not

Disease is pretty grim, and covers everything from Oozy Eye to Flesh Grubs. And we’re not talking about some minor afflictions that last a few hours or are passed on for a day or two. Some of these effects can last for months if they don’t get cured. Oozy Eye for example can affect one or both eyes and last for 1 to 4 months, suffering perception loss. For a game of low magic, diseases for player characters can really make a lasting impact on the gaming sessions.

Purge the Accursed is a 3rd level spell which removes a curse or disease from the target of the spell… but not right away, no, it could take up to 3 or 4 days. Otherwise, you need to find an apothecary who is familiar with the disease to cure it. Side-line adventure ideas should be boundless. And yes, pretty gritty even for early D&D editions.

As for Madness effects, well I am a great fan of madness effects in tabletop RPGs. There are 20 possible madness traits, described from the first person perspective, such as: “I keep my dear friends ear with me always. As long as I have it, I know he can still hear me.”

Messed up. Quite cool.

These madness traits can vary in severity and intensity, with another small table to help define how serious the affliction is. It could be a day or two, or last for years and there’s no direct cure: a character has to pass up or down the intensity rather than just negate the effects. Much like in real life, and this suitably gritty!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

Mass Battles, have a very good narrative feel without the need to roll thousands of dice.

This is something to be excited about. In most mass battle mechanics there’s a clunky or crunchy aspect which seems to either miss the personal role-play aspect or goes completely the other way to create a purely story driven battle. LFG manages to combine both in their mass battle chapter.

Mass battles then are broken down into two broad sets of rules; the party spotlight, where the characters are driving the story, and unit combat which details the battle field, managing, manoeuvring, fighting and moral of troops. LFG make it clear that these rules can be used separately or they can be  combined.

In the party spotlight, it is the player characters’ exploits that are defined. This is achieved by the GM throwing critical events at one or more of the characters. Critical events include a variety of situations, each with a description and resolution followed by a player character impact and a unit impact. This can only really be explained by an example:

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

Hold the Line: In this example the characters are aware that the enemy is about to break through an allied line during the intense fighting. The resolution is simple: stay in the fight for 2D6 rounds, facing cumulative 1D3 enemies each turn. The impact of this is that if the players do not succeed a friendly unit is utterly overrun and destroyed. One less friendly unit to worry about!

Now this doesn’t sound too insane for a traditional game of Dungeons & Dragons where the warrior classes are capable of smiting down a good number of enemies in a single action, even helping the less martial characters in a close shave. But in LFG, it’s much easier to get laid low. There’s one extra facet of the mass battles which ties in nicely here; sudden twists!

Sudden twists occur when the players roll a 1 or 20, with a further roll to consult the sudden twist table. The table includes positive and negative effects, such as hirelings or allies being knocked unconscious (dead weight) or the opportunity to engage an enemy champion or officer with a successful dexterity check. An element of heroic actions, or the ill-fated meeting in the melee against a terrible foe. The GM gets to decide…

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

Unit combat works almost like a nicely polished mini-game. It could easily be employed with miniatures or tokens to represent different units on the battlefield. There’s a simple turn order, starting with ranged attacks, followed by movement, melee attacks and then a resolution setup for victory points. I’ve seen corporate gaming facilities create worse systems than this.

Each method of attack is simply a roll of two dice, with some modifiers to the roll for exceptional circumstances (such as units in heavy woodlands) along with more serious options, such as resource attrition. Consulting the table determines a units effectiveness on the battlefield that turn. What I like about this is that it’s not a direct amount of damage, it’s narrative effects created with mechanical elements. Check out the table for ranged combat for units in mass battles as an example.

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

There are unit attributes and stats for the main types of units found on battlefields such as cavalry, heavy infantry and the like. There’s also an Ogre warband and a dragon for when the battle needs an extra injection of adrenaline.

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

To top it all off, the characters may reach the final encounter: the final confrontation of generals or villains. It may happen early, by chance or it could happen after days of gruelling slaughter. As it says in the text, it is the battles ultimate encounter. This is a nice little touch because it creates a sense of actual achievement rather than the GM plotting or narrating the story. By giving the GM the option to fall back on chance (well, in part at least) it can give the players a real sense of taking part in the battle.

All in all, the feeling the mass battle mechanics generate is one of energetic, nay, frantic encounters in what could potentially be a very flat large scale combat session. Some GM’s do not need help with this sort of thing, but the content is usually not included in source books, or a game system may rely on third party homebrew mechanics. LFG though get it right on the pages, no doubt inspiring newer gamers and offering veteran gamers some interesting ideas or adaptations..

Traps. Blimey, I’m just going to give an example here. There are tables to generate random traps or to give you a good idea of how traps may operate in an adventure, but nothing is as grim as the example below:

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

The Harpoon Crusher is horrific:

  • A room covered in tiles, which, if the wrong tile is stepped on triggers a series of harpoons to strike out. Now, here’s the fun bit: there are a series of rolls to judge just how unfortunate the character is – Dex save to avoid 2D6 damage, Dex save to avoid being knocked prone, a luck save will determine if your armour is snagged by the barbed harpoon or if its a body part that is snagged. We’re not done yet though!
  • The harpoons, which are attached to chains, will then hoist the character into the air, retracting at the rate of 1D6 feet per round (while other harpoons are primed and ready to fire again that round). The rate of lifting increases by 1D6 feet per round, as it gains momentum.
  • Panels surrounding the harpoon that struck the player open, and large grinders whirr to life. At 25 feet the character is dragged into the grinders and dies horribly in a spray of gore and crunching bone, forever dead and losing all of their gear too.
  • Sure, you can try to save them by breaking the chain, but it’s bloody difficult, or you could pull your friend to safety but they’ll suffer more damage and likely fall onto another panel if you haven’t triggered another harpoon yourself!
  • Helpfully, there are methods of resolving the traps (which won’t be mentioned here in case you want to find out for yourself and there’s also suggested variants should the GM wants to make the trap easier to overcome, or indeed harder!

This is just one example, others include: the Flesheater Tank (made me shiver), Snare & Roast or the Whirlpool of Reduction (yikes!).

Treasure is broken down into some nice and easy to manage tables. The most helpful I found is the table of carry loot, which is used for the treasure lining the pockets of monsters or NPCs. It’s a D100 table so there’s quite a bit of variety. There are tables for lair treasure, trinkets & curios, valuables and potions.

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

For magical items there’s a nice mechanic which may be familiar to some veteran gamers: obvious properties and discreet properties. This is a nice touch to the game and provides a bit of mystery for the players, such as “Why am I never surprised by an ambush, is it the weapon I’m carrying or the trinket I found?”

These simple but cool tables certainly bring out the questions and the sense of mystery lost in mainstream D&D games. It’s all too easy to become familiar with the same list of iconic magical items throughout the various editions of D&D, and although some of these are similar in LFG, they certainly will raise and prompt questions around the gaming table.

Monsters

From the lowliest goblin to the mightiest dragon, you’re f****d…

There’s a good variety of monsters from the lowliest goblins to the mighty dragons.

Some monsters receive the cause injuries ability, which, rather than just knocking off hit points produce lingering effects that can range from impressive scars to internal bleeding. They really do bring the game of death to life!

Off-turn attacks means player characters must consider that monsters are not always out of the game if they’ve already taken their turn. It adds a new dimension to the turn sequence and requires more tactical thinking from the players. This ability means characters cannot simply pile in if the monster has taken its turn, so it’s always going to be capable of dealing damage throughout the turn. The mental imagery of this violence is quite visceral, and combined with the added level of destruction really highlights the danger level.

Magic resistance works as a percentage, making them better or worse than the characters resistances. Quite good as it harks back to older versions old D&D but also provides more variation for creatures resistant to magic, eg, a minor resistance (10%) or a major resistance (90%).

Boss monsters are improved monsters from the typical monster type. They almost always have off-turn attacks, have greater hit points and cannot be instantly killed by major exploits from the players. They also gain re-rolls and can cause injuries on a roll of 19-20. The designer’s thoughts on this is that boss monsters should be capable of taking on the player characters by themselves.

There’s also scope for Custom & Improv Monsters as a way of creating your own monsters or perhaps making existing monsters harder or easier encounters for your player characters.

There are mainly classic monsters, such as Medusa, Merrow and the Minotaur to Wraiths and Wyverns, along with regular animals and example NPC humans, elves and dwarves. Added to these are more unique monsters to the LFG such as the Slop Gorger, as slug like monster who is surprisingly fast overland and the Urgot, remnants of cursed humanoids bloodlines

Conclusions

How does it feel?

Harder, grittier and dangerous. Excited just reading through the pages. Very much nostalgic feel to it from first viewing of the AD&D in the 90’s – my character can die so easily!

From the outset, everything is geared towards choices. The GM decides on how hard the game is going to be by selecting what options to take. And there are plenty of options for the GM to choose from (or ignore).

Is it gritty? YES.

Would I play LFG or run it as a game? (thanks for the suggestion, reddit user!)

Yes, but I think as a player I personally would get more out of it. The excitement of losing a character permanently and knowing that it could happen at any moment really gets the juices flowing. The effort of creating a character, their persona and motivations means they become more than just a literary device – will my character live to see their dreams come true? Better be careful!

As a GM, I think the game runs very smoothly. Just reading through the book makes it very clear that Pickpocket Press has put time and effort into writing something that makes sense and keeps to the style of a very dangerous adventure game. Nothing is in there without considering the impact on the speed and flow of the game. The optional rules, or indeed the ability to remove rules from the game without the whole thing breaking down is a selling point for GM’s who may like to plan a game with out too much focus on mechanics and more on story also really helps.

Value for Money

20 dollars gets you the watermarked PDF, 45 gets you the colour softback book. Current at the time of writing, you can get the deluxe version of the book for 60 dollars (down from $80). I’m a collector of RPG books, so for me the discounted Kickstarter pledge was great, and the book looks tasty and fragrant. It feels good in the hands and the pages are a nice thick feel too. That said, you could grab a couple of the $20 PDFs and have enough content for the gaming table.

That is all for LFG.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Low Fantasy Gaming, or you have some interesting ideas yourself, please drop us a comment!

Alternatively you can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Or through our Facebook Page!

Interested in how to become a great games master or dungeon master? Take a look here and here!

Maybe you want to learn more about how exploration could work in your role-play games? Check out our article here.

Ferris, CC 😉

Low Fantasy Gaming RPG – A Return to the Old Days of Gritty Dungeons & Dragons?

Part One

Like the dodgy dealer in the side-street, I’m wearing a long coat, stuffed, you believe, with all the content of some knock-off role-playing games. But when I speak, the words are not what you’re expecting…

“Wanna play some high risk D&D, do ya?”

This is Low Fantasy Gaming, and if it was a drug, it would be up there with the class A’s.

Pickpocket Press (Stephen Grodzicki and co.) successfully completed and shipped their kickstarter for Low Fantasy Gaming. For the primary backers, that meant that some of us received a link to make use of a discounted print version using DriveThruRPG. As a backer, I decided to get the hardback deluxe version and take a look!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

In this article, part 1 of 2, I’m going to look at the character creation and aspects of the game that relate mostly to the payers. Part 2 will focus on the GM section and go into detail on the various game elements introduced to widen the scope of the game and bring it to life!

Read on…

Why did I back LFG?

Mainstream Dungeons & Dragons, to some, has lost its danger element. It seems too easy to safely succeed. Clearly some of this is down to the GM’s style, but the game system itself feels designed to permit “winning.” The general feeling is that players are expected to win, with the rare exceptional circumstances. This is a huge area for debate, which won’t get covered here but it outlines why I wanted to see what LFG had to offer.

So, LFG takes D&D away from the safety of a kids animated TV show and throws it into a bloody meat grinder operated by Stephen King and the reanimated corpse of Howard Lovecraft. Frankly, no one is safe… which makes the game feel far more exciting. The tension is going to build easily when players realise their fighter is not the steaming tank of hit points, but rather a human with human weaknesses!

So what is Low Fantasy Gaming? What’s the book and its content like and how does it feel? Is it just a grittier version of Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition or is it something else? We’ve got you covered, so read on for more!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

A Note on OSR & OGL

Low Fantasy Gaming seems to be part of the old school revival (OSR) of role-play games. This revival focuses on less about keeping in line with the rules and more about full immersion into fantasy. The point of any exercise was to test the players themselves, encouraging them to test their ingenuity and creativity.

According to Wikipedia the OSR was only made possible by Wizards of the Coast introducing the Open Game Licence (OGL) way back in 2000. The OGL allowed for unofficial creative content that was in line with the traditional Dungeons & Dragons game content. The explosion of home brew rules and adventures from third parties exploded in the early 2000 because of this and is attributed to much of the long life of 3 and 3.5 editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

Low Fantasy Gaming is definetly part of the OSR, and it’s content is 99% OGL.

General Overview

Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG) is a primary source book, made up of a players handbook, a games masters guide and a monstrous manual all rolled into one. It is fully compatible with D20 system material RPG’s and with a bit of work compatible with content from Wizards of the Coast material such as Dungeons & Dragons. Saying that, why would you want to? This game is perfectly standalone and seems to have itself balanced out!

LFG is set in its own “quasi-realistic world” in which magic and monsters are present, but are not as common place as in your typical fantasy world setting. In its default setting, LFG is a game where player-characters are human and one of the 9 classes. Those classes are much less magically inclined but are still greatly inspiring.

The deluxe edition of LFG is 286 pages (from contents page to the end of the index) and covers everything from character creation, equipment, spells and magic, how to play the game and then onto the GM specific chapters, such as monsters, how to prepare adventures, traps, treasures and a whole host of other cool mechanics and ideas.

It is everything you need in one book. You just need paper, pencils and dice!

It may not be for everyone however, as the game is very much swords and a bit of sorcery, rather than the high fantasy heroics of its mainstream counterpart.

If you’re not a fan of tables you may struggle a little too. Although it’s not reliant on tables (the GM can, after all choose to ignore them), they do add a strong element to the game, particularly  if the GM likes to add a bit of chaos to the table!

The artwork is second to none too. The quality and variety of styles could be found in any professional quality gaming book. I would happily rank it right up there with Wizards of the Coast. You can find examples of the artwork throughout this article!

So what’s in the book?

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Character Creation

The first obvious change to the standard is that character attributes, those numbers which determine how strong, wise or fast your character is, have been altered. Whereas a score of 14 in an attribute would provide a bonus to a dice roll of +2, it now only provides a bonus of +1. The maximum score for an attribute for humans is set at 18, not 20. So we see a reduction of ability score bonuses and their maximum.

However, we also see the introduction of several more attributes. In “regular” D&D we have six attributes; 3 physical (strength, dexterity & constitution) and 3 mental (intelligence, wisdom and charisma). In LFG there’s a split of the wisdom attribute into Perception and Willpower and they’ve also introduced Luck as an attribute. Luck as an attribute isn’t new to role-playing games (we even have it in our own Pulp RPG beta system).

So, perception covers your characters physical wisdom, sight, hearing and observations, whereas Willpower is described as self confidence and mental fortitude. I suspect that these will either mean you must spread out your strong attribute scores or have to pick between one or the other. It does however mean you’ll likely be “OK” for at least one of them!

The Luck attribute is interesting. It is broken down into two primary functions; luck saves and luck checks. A luck save deals with direct attacks and reflects your characters adventuring expertise to avoid hazards.

The luck check is way more interesting. You can use luck checks to perform unusual actions which are situational, defined by LFG as “Major Exploits.” These are essentially like ‘get out of jail free’ cards but a bit more fun. For example, you can use your luck checks to escape from dangerous or ill-fated battles. This may seem like a role-play cop-out but the players need to explain how they will execute this tactical withdraw and there’s no guarantee it will work!

So as you can imagine, a game with this sort of narrative-enabling mechanic is going to have moments where the players decide it’s time to bug-out. The expectations are great, because in every game I’ve ever run for players, retreat never seems to be an option considered. It is a lesson that has cost them dearly, but I suspect a quick lesson for LFG gamers.

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

Races are not limited to humans, but there is very little in the way of advantages per se. Dwarves for example gain advantage on rolls associated with resisting poison and magic of all kinds (which is quite a strong benefit but a low intensity mechanic). They have some benefits in low light conditions, but are just as blind in total darkness as humans.

In opposition to this, each race gains a less desirable trait, such as gold lust and highly honorific for dwarves – they must undertake willpower checks to resist opportunities for riches (making them reckless prospectors) and similarly, a willpower if they perceive themselves to be slighted. Don’t forget, there is no single Wisdom attribute, so be prepared to pull the dwarf out of the furnace trap!

Gone are the attribute score improvements and randomly assigned bonus skills and abilities. At most, a race other than human will receive advantage rolls of some sort, but that is all. The disadvantages may seem meekly role-play ones, but they will no doubt get the characters in trouble… and in a system like this, trouble can mean death.

Character classes are a lot less magically inclined and much more martial. This does not rule out characters with magical abilities. In the place of wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, clerics and priests we have the Cultist and the Magic User. Appropriate names in modern society? Probably.

Classes include: the artificer, barbarian, bard, cultist, fighter, magic user, monk, ranger and the rogue. Some of these may seem like magically themed classes, but they are not so obviously brimming with magical powers.

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

Hit Points act much the same way as they do in other 5th Edition games but have undergone some changes: class hit-dice are half the potential maximum hit points for a higher minimum (for example, 1D5)… and since you’re only reaching level 12, you’re not due to get many more, especially when you realise that towards the upper levels, your characters bonus hit points are capped by class.

So far many of the changes are aimed at reducing numbers. In a strange way they also seem to be streamlining the game system. Compared to Dungeons & Dragons, we already begin to feel that the game is closer to a real life experience with believable heroes, compared to a heroic world with unrealistic and death defying mundanity. There’s less messing about too, which I like.

What about character Advancement and variety?

So where does the character variety and customisation appear from? They would be the Unique Features. Unique features (UF) are gained as characters advance in levels. There are 37 unique features to choose from but unlike Feats in Dungeons & Dragons, many of the UFs are tiered. This gives many more options to customise a character, where a player can dedicate their efforts into a single UF or spread out in a variety, becoming adaptable. Here’s “Iron Grit” as an example (edited so as to avoid spoilers!):

  1. Increase your hit point maximum by x per level.
  2. Whenever you suffer a critical hit, you can perform an attribute check (X) to turn it into a normal hit instead.
  3. Gain advantage (re-roll 2 dice and choose the best result) on all Dead or Mostly dead checks.

Interestingly, there are no tables of experience points to advance your character through levels 1-12. Instead, the games master is meant to decide with the players when they think they’ve earned it. This brings the game to both the players and GM: involving both sides pulls the cohesion of the game together and breaks down some of the barriers over the table. It also cuts out the farming of experience points in a desperate race to gain levels.

It worth noting too that monsters do not earn characters experience points for slaying them. This introduces the status quo element to LFG. Go to Dragontop Mountain, expect dragons. Fully grown dragons!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

The Magic System is both dangerously mysterious, and oft unpredictable!

Despite being low fantasy, there are some surprising little tricks in the magic mechanics f LFG. Firstly, anyone can “sense magic” with an appropriate Intelligence or Perception check. That’s quite cool, it means that any character can get a foreboding sense or eerie feeling about something – very flavourful!

On the down side for spellcasters, if you take damage before your turn, you simply can’t cast a spell. Quite limiting but in tune with the low fantasy setting – casting spells requires a lot of concentration, so rather than pump a stat or skill to overcome this, the option is simply taken away. Good or bad, I’m not too sure. I like the flavour, but others may see it as a little too constrictive.

Casting a spell is great though! In LFG sorcery is inherently dark and dangerous. So rather than just casting a limited number of spells per day, an extra dice roll (a D20) is required. On the roll of a 1, something bad happens when the spell is triggered (and the spell is always cast). There’s a lovely table of 100 effects for this!

And it gets better. Every time a spell is cast, the chance of rolling a dangerous effect increases by one. So if you cast 5 spells, on a D20 roll of 1-5 a dangerous effect applies. This only resets after a dangerous effect triggers or the character survives to the end of the adventure… the END OF THE ADVENTURE.

So yes… a cumulative 5% chance of things going wrong!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

Negative effects can include having ones lips fused together for upto 24 hours, aberrant terrors, demons or undead appearing nearby for several minutes or a limb turning into a giant tentacle for several days! Preserve your spells or go nuts for a touch of chaosivity!

Cultists (the divine casters if you like) don’t get away easily either. If you do not follow the tenets of your faith, or displease your god in some way, you can lose Favour. There’s a whole set of rules similar to sorcery which can hinder and play with the mind of your player character. The essence is as above; it’s all about flavour and enhancing the roleplay and excitement of the game.

So far, there are 120 spells in LFG each of which follow an easy to read and execute format. The spell names are colourful but termed in a way which makes them easy to identify. The descriptions also contain a lot of variety or variations. What I really like is that the GM often has control over how some of them work in the form of “The GM may allow a perception check to identify if something is wrong.” Essentially, it cuts out those players who are rules lawyers (that is, those who stick to the word of the rules and does not like any sort of variation or GM flavour to permit a smooth game). Empowering the GM or players in equal yet different ways. Good skills LFG!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

In Battle your character is not just a sack of hit points encased in a numbered armour class in need of being reduced. No, it’s far worse than that!

The warning signs come on pretty early – when a character is reduced to half of their maximum hit points they incur penalties as they slowly get beaten to death. Just when they thought they could lie down and wait for help, the end may be sooner than they expected.

A character that is reduced to 0 hit points is out of the fight. To add some tension, no one around the gaming table knows if they are truly dead or mostly dead (those are the actual terms used in LFG) until, and I quote “… someone turns the body over for a closer look (rummaging through pockets optional).”

No dice rolling to pass three fifty/fifty saves, no sudden burst of hit points in a ranged heal. Just quiet, excruciating death-tension.

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

Let’s assume your character survives the ordeal, you’re still not out trouble: there’s a table for injuries and setbacks. Now, I loved the old Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying injury system, with its visceral and character building effects, but it’s very crunchy and can slow down the game, reducing the tension as the GM begins rolling on several tables and calculating just how messed up a character gets. LFG gives a simple table of 17 effects, each of which can only be dealt with in a certain way… sometimes with very particular spells to help you out.

So far this RPG system feels wonderfully gritty, with a real measure of danger that goes beyond the GM simply killing of their player characters or fudging dice.

That’s the end of part 1 of our review of Low Fantasy Gaming.

Next week we’ll be looking in depth at the GM side of the game, review the cool mechanics and content, such as mass battles and the scary monsters that lurk within it’s pages!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty

You can find Pickpocket Press on twitter with @LowFantasyGamin or their website. With thanks to Stephen Grodzicki (author of Low Fantasy Gaming) for being a top bloke, and generally making us here at CC really happy with a cool RPG system, and a fancy book (we’re so happy we backed it!).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

Interested in how to become a great games master or dungeon master? Take a look here and here!

Maybe you want to learn more about how exploration could work in your role-play games? Check out our article here.

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Getting your Hands on the Materials

Over the last few weeks I’ve been offering tips, hints and advice on creating tabletop terrain for wargames such as Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 40K and Skirmish-style games such as Frostgrave. The feedback, comments and notifications I’ve received have had an underlying theme; where do you get your supplies from in the UK?

Being in the UK, many of the materials we see used online do not seem to be available to us. So, I’ve decided to create a comprehensive list of the tools, materials and where I sourced them from. This should hopefully give you a better idea of what you’re looking for and how to get hold of them.

Here goes…

Tools of the Trade

Knives, Blades & Cutting Mats

I’m not going to go into too much detail here as, chances are, you know where to buy crafting knives. The places I think do reasonably priced craft knives are places like The Range, Wilko (Wilkinson’s) and the like (some of these places are relatively new to the north-west UK). That said, some hobby and craft supply stores do tend to charge an arm and a leg for their products, so shop around. I’ve often found supermarkets can surprise you with some cheap, good quality craft knives. A couple of GBP should get you something sensible

Wilkinson’s do a good range of affordable tools, disposable knives being one of them.

The same can apply for cutting mats. I tend to get the SpaceFly brand because they’re cheap, available all over the place and come in a range of sizes and colours. The best place for cutting mats? I actually find Amazon works best. Try to avoid the rotary cutting mats – they’re thinner and not as robust. In my experience, they tend to slip about too.

Hot-wire Cutters

If you want to be cutting bricks from foam or saving yourself from buying a tonne of extra blades, then a hot wire cutter is something you should consider. There’s two thoughts I have on this; cheap is fine, expensive isn’t necessary.

I started with a cheap, basic, hand made hot wire cutter from eBay which set me back about £35. It does the job and you get what you pay for. If you’re flashing cash, you could go for the Proxxon version but in reality, you don’t need to. I upgraded recently to a hot-wire cutter made in China and sold in the UK, from eBay which set me back just over £60. It comes with an pretty accurate set of measuring points, the wire doesn’t flex too much and is held in place neatly. It also cuts faster by having a hotter wire.

Paints, Inks, Washes & Brushes

Again, there’s not much point in going into detail here. If you’re making terrain you don’t need to buy expensive paints. So long as they’re acrylic and mat finish paints, you can buy the cheapest you can find. Art shops are a good place to go, but they will stock more expensive brands, so again, try shops like Wilkinson, the Range and Hobby Craft.

The same applies for brushes. For finer detail paints or highlighting you want a medium sized and soft brush. For mass painting or large areas or slapping on paints and sealers like Mod Podge, a large coarse brush is fine. You can usually get sets with a good variety. Same rules apply; you can buy expensive or cheap, the difference is that one you will replace more frequently but that’s perfectly natural for paint brushes.

More on washes later…

Glue & Glue Guns

Mini glue guns are best. You can get them for less than £5 and the glue sticks online, especially eBay, are sold by the 100 for a couple of GBP. You can go a little more up market here if you have the budget – cheap glue guns will tend to dribble  the hot glue between uses unless you turn it off and on again (which takes time to heat up, so I tend to leave them on as I work).

With PVA glue – the price reflects the water content. Expensive means thicker and stronger, cheap means more water but likely quicker to dry and easier to paint on. Again, buy what you can afford, but for the terrain making, you can buy the cheap stuff and no one will ever know! The great thing about PVA glue is that you can thin it down with water (which for the most part, is free).

Foam, XPS & Styrofoam

The crux of this article. Let’s get something straight. In the US & Canada, XPS foam comes in pink or blue colours and is readily available in large quantities. In the UK however, it seems to be nowhere. That is because over here in the UK we call XPS foam, Styrofoam. XPS is the abbreviation for Extruded Polystyrene – it is basically a very strong, durable but craftable foam which does not bend. EPS, which is expanded polystyrene is the stuff that your electrical goods get boxed in, the white stuff which looks like it has been made out of thousands of tiny bubbles.

Styrofoam / XPS is available mostly online through eBay. I tend to use the supplier named Blue Foam, found here. Depending on the thickness and sheet size, you can get a reasonable amount of Styrofoam for less than £20. This is the material I commonly buy and use to create bricks and bases for my terrain buildings.

You could buy from a hardware or DIY store but I’ve yet to find it in an affordable or ready to use format. If you have found it, please let me know!

Foamstock, Card & Paper

Foamstock is just a piece of foam front and backed with paper. It’s used to mount photographs amongst other junior school crafts. Again, you can get it just about anywhere but the cheap stuff is fine to use and available in pound shops!

I use card recycled from postal packaging. When you buy a book from Amazon they usually turn up in a thin but sturdy card envelope. This stuff is strong and durable and ideal for detailing terrain miniatures. I use it for cutting roof tiles / shingles.

Paper. It’s just paper!

Measuring Rules

I tend to buy rulers and squares from Wilkinson’s or the Range. You may need to dig deep in store to find them. For £20 you should be able to get good quality steel rulers etc that will last you years. Not bad for a small initial outlay!

The God that is Mod Podge!

Yep, this stuff is amazing. It’s not just a fancy PVA glue. No. It is terrain divinity. It dries with more toughness and water repellent properties than PVA, because it contains resins which act as a sort of easy to use concrete. No terrain made from foam should be made without it!

The best news is that you can now buy it in UK shops readily. I first bought some online, but recently found it cheaper in the Range. Not even Hobby Craft had it in stock last time I checked!

Making Decent Wash…

You’ll notice a lot of people create their own washes for terrain. A wash is a water-thin paint that is applied liberally to a miniature which, as it dries, recedes into the recesses of the model to create shadows. It’s a miracle product!

The problem for terrain crafting is that you need a lot of it, and frankly it can be expensive (looking at you, GW)! So here’s how to make your own – keep in mind, if you buy these products you’ll be able to make litres of wash and you can modify them for varied results…

What you will need:

  • Artist Ink (black and brown usually)
  • Mat Medium (essentially colourless paint)
  • Water (deionised is best)
  • A bottle container or two
  • A smidge of washing up liquid

Now, there are literally hundreds of tutorials online to show you how to make washes, so I’m not going to repeat them here, I will however share a link to a really helpful guy who knows a bit more about painting than I do, meet Luke!

If you’d like to read on the previous articles, you can find them in the links below:

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Bombastic Buildings and Fantastic Features – Creating your Tabletop Battlefield

TABLETOP WAR-GAME TERRAIN & SCENERY: Part two, the basic steps

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

If you’re on Facebook or Twitter you can find us in these links, where we post often, so you’ll get notifications if you follow us:

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

Facebook page!

In the next few weeks I’ll be looking at making trenches, futuristic and alien terrain pieces (Mars was requested) and possibly upping my painting game!

If you think this article or related articles have been helpful, or if you want to contribute with some knowledge of your own, get in touch and leave or comment or get hold of us on Twitter or Facebook!

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

In the last few weeks I’ve gone over some of the techniques for making battlefield terrain. The focus has been on buildings and structures and this week we’re going to finish that theme off by bringing it all together. I promised some multistory buildings too. Read on to see more of the good stuff and how I achieved the beginnings of some great results!

What am I doing?

I decided to make everything so that it would fit on convenient 15 x 15 cm tiles. This was so that I could orientate the same tiles to create different looking terrain, whether I’m playing Age of Sigmar, AoS Skirmish, Frostgrave or even some Dungeons & Dragons.

Similar tiles can be used to create urban scenery in Warhammer 40,000, which I’ll cover at some point in the future.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I also upgraded my hot-wire cutter. It was a little more expensive, in the £50-60 region, but the arm doesn’t flex, the wire doesn’t bend and it heats up consistently making its ability to cut through foam much better! Alarmingly, the wire does glow bright orange, which was a little disconcerting at first!

So how did I do, what did I do, and how did I do it? Read on…

A trial run…

I decided to test my formula for creating tabletop scenery with an unsuspecting volunteer. I quickly ran down the basic steps of creating the terrain piece, introduced the volunteer to a hot glue gun and Styrofoam, hefted a tonne of miniature bricks onto the table and allowed that person to run away with their imagination. This is the outcome so far (note, it still needs painting).

 

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As you can see, it really doesn’t take much to get stuck in and have a go. Once again, there wasn’t a huge amount of planning involved in the creation of this quaint little tower – imagination provided the blueprints and away they went!

The Tile Set Blueprints

OK, so creating as many 15 x 15 cm tiles as required. To make my life easier, I got hold of some 1 cm thick black Styrofoam. It was an eBay purchase and cost me about £16 but may be cheaper in other parts of the world. Why did I buy these? It’s quite difficult to thin down thick Styrofoam on account of the wobbly nature of the hot-wire cutter.

So, not everything needs be to broken or derelict, no, there needs to be more so I’m going to build some complete structures which fit on the 15 cm tiles; watchtowers, tall walls, dead-ends, bell towers, warehouses, pig pens, shambolic defensive positions – you name it!

Because each tile is essentially 6 x 6 inches, I can fit four in a single square foot. Multiply this by four and you’ve got yourself an interchangeable, customisable and modular tabletop terrain system. I’ll go to town on some bigger open plazas with ruined columns etc in the future (to make it easier and give any missile troops a chance).

Footpaths & Plazas

From a design point of view, I’d like to build some footpaths, essentially narrow death traps that must be risked to get to different places on the map.  Here are some images of the test pieces I worked on. It can take time to get it right, so give yourself an open mind when you’re trying out ideas – you won’t put pressure on yourself and get worked up by perceived ‘failures’ at the end of your crafting session.

 

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The dirt footpaths are 5 x 15 cm. By applying a lot of pressure with some scrunched up tin foil to the centre of the Styrofoam piece, and lighter touches to the outer quarters I was able to create the impression that the path had been used for many years. I cut some 0.5 x 0.5 x 15 slithers of foam and cut them up, weathering and aging them with the foil to look like curb pieces.

In the future when I attempt larger roads, I will use the ‘crazy pathing’ idea and simply trim the pieces down to compensate for the curb. I’ll also impress the foam in places to make it look like carts had been through, wearing down the road over the years.

The roads should be at least 10 cm wide and up to 30 cm long (the extent of my purchased Styrofoam sheets) – they will look good running through the centre of the board, or alongside the boards on bigger battle arenas. Details are important here, so I need to think about how I’m going to decorate the pieces to make them believable.

It sounds easy, but it’s actually very hard to make simple open spaces and retain the feeling of interest and wonder. Because there’s likely no focal point to grab the eye, it needs to have a few extra details to keep the area ‘alive’ and quirky.

I’ve decided on a single gallows with some stakes rammed into the ground to keep people away from ‘justice’ being served…

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I added some ‘crazy pathing’ for a bit more variety, weathering the whole lot with the tin foil method. To make the pathing stones I cut foam strips 2 x 2 cm then went over the corners, freehand cutting in irregular ways. I then cut the stones from the end of the strips at 0.5 cm, creating odd and mismatched but flat stones. In hindsight, I should have cut these narrow than 0.5 cm, maybe half that again to 0.25 cm.

Texture is also important, so I’ll likely be using some of the rolling pins from Green Stuff World. An example of my trial run with these can be found in the images below…

 

 

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Ramping It Up!

Finally, I decided to have a go at the multistory building idea.

I wanted to make this bigger, but I also wanted to be able to use different parts of it at different times. To achieve this, I started with 4 tiles to make a jumbo tile and began building a wall which would interconnect. I added a ruined wall around the edges of the jumbo tile, leaving plenty of gaps and debris for cover and interesting features.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I then started to make a second story of brickwork, which I could lock or lay in place and built this up a few times. Finally, I made a third story set of brickwork, but this time to accommodate half a roof.

The roof in these pieces was made from foam board, which is light and tough. I cut out rows of packing card (the sort of thin card your Amazon books are delivered in). Each row was 2 cm high with a cut  1 cm deep every 1 cm along the row. I then just cut and hacked out pieces to create the impression of roof slates. This was time consuming, but quite rewarding. You can see some of the details in the image below.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Finally, here’s a series of images showing you how to connect together.

 

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OK, so its not complete yet (I mean, I did just complete an entire week of a UK LARP event!) So I’ll post some images next week.

That’s it for now, and the end of this miniseries for terrain and scenery. If you’ve learnt anything, or if you have some advice and tips of your own, please leave a message in the comments below.

There will be more on tabletop terrain in the future, but for now, I really want to get these pieces finished and have them lined up for some gaming!

Good luck, and have fun!

Ferris

Part One…

Part Two…

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

Facebook page!

TABLETOP WAR-GAME TERRAIN & SCENERY: Part two, the basic steps

Thinking of making your own terrain and scenery for tabletop games? Here’s our take on things, free and easy to use!

Last week we brought you an introduction into making terrain and scenery pieces to your tabletop games like Warhammer Age of Sigmar or Frostgrave. In this article you’ll find a little more detail on the early stages of modelling terrain features, with some images of the pilot projects we have currently underway.

I want to to make it clear that I didn’t plan any of these pieces – no more than just a casual thought and a pencil line went into the design, highlighting the point that planning isn’t everything for small projects like these. It can be fun and highly rewarding if you’re open to learning from the process and as Bob Ross would say, have some happy little accidents.

Our approach should hopefully mean less headaches for you and we hope you will enjoy the fruits of our labour!

Stuff We Used (But can be swapped for similar stuff)

  1. Styrofoam sheets (or polystyrene)
  2. Hot-wire Cutter (optional but very quick and smooth)
  3. Craft Knife (essential)
  4. Rolled / mushed up tin foil (optional)
  5. Hot-Glue gun (or PVA glue if you have more time)
  6. PVA Glue
  7. Mod Podge, matte (Optional but a very good sealer)
  8. Acrylic Paint (Black, Tan, Grey & White)
  9. Grass Flocking, gravel (optional)

Preparing the Base

The Styrofoam sheets were too thick, making the round bases 2 cm high, so I cut them down to 1 cm. This gave twice the number of bases I wanted – a great stockpile for future terrain pieces. I reckon these 1 cm high round bases are still sturdy, more so when we apply the various coats of paint and sealers to them. For bigger projects, I may in the future use MDF board.

However, cutting tall pieces of Styrofoam sheet proved difficult – despite my best efforts to keep the pieces upright,  there was always some flexing which caused a few uneven cuts… check out the damage!

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I got round this by using some scrunched up foil and rolling / dabbling the foam base with it. This softens edges and adds detail. Be sure to use different parts of the foil so nothing looks uniform – or just get yourself a smooth cutting jig for sheets.

Perfect Bricks Begone!

In the previous article I mentioned that the bricks I cut were too perfect. And probably too big. This time we decided to cut smaller bricks than last time – they look better and if we want to make a curved wall, smaller bricks would leave smaller gaps. If we want to add foundation stones to anything, we could still use the larger bricks in the future.

To begin with, we used our very cheap Ebay purchased hot-wire cutter to make a lot of bricks and some bases out from our Styrofoam sheets. This took a bit of time, but now that there’s a box of ready-to-use bricks, we can focus on building and crafting!

To make life easier, I cut some strips from the sheets of Styrofoam and then simply cut the ends off, 1 cm at a time. With a bit of practice I was pushing 2 strips through the hot wire at a time, creating plenty of bricks in the space of an hour.

With the brick cutting process sorted it’s time to deal with the ‘perfect brick’ problem from the previous project. The best idea the internet had offer was to put those Styrofoam bricks into a tub, throw in some real rocks then seal the lid down tightly and shake for a minute. The result was nicely weathered, pitted and rounded edges on each brick. Perfect!

Preparation

Most of the prep work here is to ensure you can start creating great looking pieces of terrain quickly. If you follow our method, we think you’ll be all set up to get stuck in any time you fancy creating!

  • Cut out many, many 1 x 1 x 2 cm bricks. Don’t worry if they’re slightly out of shape – for ruins or even fresh built walls, a little variety adds some realism to the final product. You can go bigger if you’re after chunky masonry.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

  • Weather the bricks by tossing them into a container with stones as mentioned earlier or you could mush them about a bit with some scrunched up tin foil.
  • Prepare a base – for me a 1 cm thick circular base at about 6 inches diameter (inches because most tabletop war games use inches) was fine. The size is just right for some ruined walls without being a massive piece for the tabletop.
  • Mix paints and glues. We added a healthy dose of black to our Mod Podge, created mixtures of water and PVA and even prepared our flocking for creating moss. Cheap black paint with water will create a very simple and nice shade wash to douse your piece, this will offer depth of detail before you move on to painting it properly.

Now to have a think of what to make: to begin with we marked the base with very light pencil lines. These marked out where the bricks would be placed and glued and kept the bricks to a straight line. If you’re making a curved wall, find something to match the curve you’re after – such as a Pringle tube or a cup and trace around it. It’s probably more important for curved walls to trace the lines in.

So, without further ado, here’s our basic terrain formula. We use this formula to create terrain pieces speedily. Keep in mind that it’s pretty basic, but it should give a good coverage to your materials to enhance their structural strength.

Basic Terrain Formula

Hot glue gun. Glue each brick, one at a time. Give each row a few seconds to cool and harden so you don’t squash previous layers out of line. Build upwards, making sure you alternate the corners and rows – this isn’t just aesthetic, it actually builds a stronger wall!

Water down some PVA, about 60/40 (PVA/Water) and apply it to wherever you want to add gravel. Sprinkle the gravel on and leave it to dry. Drying times will vary. Give it plenty of time as the next layer will mess it up if it isn’t properly dry.

Mod Podge layer comes next. Get it right in the cracks, thin the Mod Podge down a little to get lighter coats and ensure full coverage. You can add a dash of water to the Mod Podge to thin it down. Allow to dry until it darkens all over.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Water down some cheap black acrylic paint with water, 60/40. Apply it all over! If you’re having trouble getting it into the cracks or its not covering properly you can add a literal drop of washing up liquid. Stir it in, don’t shake it! What you’ve made is essentially a shade wash – the paint will seep into the cracks and impressions, bringing out the detail. Don’t worry if it doesn’t stick to the whole surface, it’s not meant to! Allow to dry.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Dry brush with successive layers of tans, light browns, greys.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

  • Add any details such as grass, flocking etc.
  • Once you’re happy, give it a nice layer of hard-coat and allow to dry!

That is pretty much the basic formula used to create terrain pieces. It took a few attempts and some rescues in the first 3 pieces I made up, so don’t panic if you jump forward a step or miss a step – you can always go back, and reapply layers again. The important bit is Mod Podge first!

Details, Details, Details…

Weathering Foil

To weather our bricks, we grabbed some stones from outdoors, put them in a tub with a handful of bricks, and shook them about. Alternatively, we also rolled and scrunched up some foil so that it had uneven and sharp edges. Simply foll or dash the foil against the surface of the Styrofoam and you’ll get a stippled patina that looks like weathering.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Brickwork

When using bricks like this, it pays to get the first layer glued in properly. I lined up the bricks against a light pencil line drawn into the base. This allowed me to keep the brick laying straight, it also allowed me to approach the corners of walls without too much thought: make sure that each corner brick alternates with the row below it. You can see the detail in the images below.

I like to add some random fallen bricks and gaps in the walls to add a bit of life to the ruins… in my head I imagine the story behind them too…

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Pathing Stones

For pathing stones, I cut some strips of foam 2 x 2 cm and then just cut the ends off about 0.5 cm. Sanding the corners at this point saves doing it for each individual piece later – a nail file or fine sandpaper will do.  I didn’t need a lot of these but I cut more than I required. I think it looks better if the pathing stones are at an angle from the brick work. I traced some guidelines directly onto the foam base to get an idea of where to place them.

Moss (maybe Lichen)

To add moss, mixed PVA with water (75/25) and toss in a load of flocking so there’s a mulch of thin glue and flocking. You can add dashes of colour for a varied effect. With a brush, get a gloop and dab it in the brickwork gaps, hang it from beams etc. When it dries you can always add more. If its thicker, you can make it drip from beams, where, if you’re lucky, it will harden and look like hanging moss. If you’re feeling particularly special, you could add some tiny drops of colour to the dried moss, for flower details.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Extras

I’ve had an old sprue of assorted items from the original Mordheim game which contains a chest of gold and other bits and pieces. It must be older than some of our readers. I’ll construct, paint and seal these separately, but you can always add them into the formula above to make them look part of (and more involved in) the scenery.

There are a tonne of suppliers online for bits and pieces to add to scenery. Even the expensive GW products come with optional extras on the plastic sprues which you can scatter about for extra detail – weapons, shields, skulls etc. However, if you want to get some extra bits and pieces, I’ve included a link for your perusal later on.

Try some Mantic Terrain Crates

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

What I’ve Learned this Week

  1. It’s been fun!
  2. I realised that the number of happy accidents are more common than first expected. This element of randomness and chaosivity (to quote a theatrical costumer I know) has given me ideas which I’m going to try and emulate – randomness in a brick wall makes things more interesting than a homogeneous perfection.
  3. You can always go back and change something if you make a mistake, cut out bits you don’t like and just make it look like a natural part of the decay. The process we’ve given is very forgiving!

Coming Next…

So I think I’ve mastered the basics of ruined buildings. Now, I’m going to be setting my sights a little higher by building a larger more detailed ruin. I admit, that not putting much planning into this project is going to be a challenge, but also fun and rewarding.

A simple two story, battle ready building with details is going to look cool – here’s a sneak peak!

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I’m away over the next bank holiday weekend, so I’ll get some steam rolling to bring you even more advice and tips on creating battle field terrain soon.

Good luck, and have fun!

Ferris

Part One…

Part Three…

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

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