Posts Tagged ‘HirstArts’

Hirst Arts III: Design of Modular Dungeon v1

May 14, 2011

We finally decided to pick up two Hirst Arts molds and try building a dungeon.

First up we needed to gather our supplies. And then prepare for the eventual mad construction by casting a lot of blocks. We went to a builder supply and bought dental plaster. Our experience with plaster of paris is that it’s softer and takes longer to set, which offsets the small extra cost of the dental plaster. Ours was less than $50 for a 100 lb bag. If you go to the hardware store you pay about the same amount per pound for dental plaster.

The next step is to plan out what your dungeon will look like. A modular dungeon works best, since you can change the configuration to whatever you want at the time.

The Hirst Arts website has a tutorial on how to make the dungeon pieces. You should check it out, man. What they don’t tell you is that you’ll want a base that’s more rigid and durable than cereal box card. This is because you might pick up the dungeon block by a corner, which means all the weight is supported by a few weak glue joints between blocks. Better to have the weight supported by the base. For that base, we chose 1/8″ thick plywood. You can get it from the hardware store for a tiny fraction of the price of balsa tiles at a craft store. Ours cost $4 for 24 sq feet.

The next part is line-of-sight. For us, it was very important that people sitting next to the table be able to see their figurines in the dungeon without standing up. That meant the standard 1/2″ wall height (two standard bricks high) was too much. We’re doing just one brick high (1/4″). The floor bricks are 1/8″, walls are 1/4″, and lengths are all in 1″ and occasionally 3/4″ for special pieces. So everything fits together very well!

Next we need to actually set out the floorplan.

The website tutorial has three floor bricks across for a standard hallway. That’s 3″. But if you make a hallway piece, you’ll have a wall sitting on top the outside floor bricks. So you have a center row of floor, and a pair of half-inch floor spaces on either side of it. Effectively the hallway is 2″ across. But in reality, you can’t fit two figures in it side by side. So instead we’re counting any half-bricks as non-walkable space. So a dungeon block 3″ across actually only has 1″ of walkable space, and at 25mm scale is 5′ across. This will waste some table space, but it’ll be much easier to use.

We also need intersections. We’ll need a 90-degree corner, a T, and a four-way. We’re making the rooms modular as well. That is, instead of a whole room, we have room pieces. For that purpose we need tiles that have some number of open corners. Check out this diagram:

(Note: this is actually an old unposted post that I edited to reflect what we actually did. We have a second-generation tile configuration and I like it better, but we actually did make the set described here. I’ll update this post with pictures when I take them. I’ll take pictures of the Version 2 set at the same time and make a new post about it.)

Hirst Arts II

March 7, 2010

We received our order of two Hirst Arts molds. They came with a letter from the owner giving some instructions and advice, and thanking us for the purchase.

We also picked up a lot of supplies. In total, with the molds and shipping and tools and plaster, it’s $150. But that includes enough plaster to make a lot of blocks.

The molds came in excellent condition. Despite warnings that the first few castings might come out poorly or with a lot of pits (from bubbles in the plaster), the first three sets of blocks look great.

The instructions say to pour the plaster, wait 6 minutes, scrape the excess, wait 25 minutes, then pop the blocks out. Because the basement is cool, it’s taking 10 minutes and 40 minutes respectively. Warmer areas of the place can’t be used for plaster work because it’s too messy.

The mixing, pouring, and demolding is simple but time-consuming. I haven’t had a block break yet.

One thing that surprised me was that every block is individually sculpted. That is, in the flagstone floor mold you get 10 of the one-inch square floor tiles. As far as I can tell they’re all different.

We’re using 1/4″ birch plywood from the hardware store as a base, for extra strength. The floor tiles are 1/4″, which helps with measurement. We could have used 1/4″ foam and carved it to match the flagstone walls, but I wanted strength rather than appearance – plus, carving foam is a pain. The early Hirst Arts instructions suggest using cereal box card. While easy, I don’t think it’s strong enough on large pieces.

We decided on Plaster of Paris to start with. It looks like after painting and finishing, it’ll be durable enough so long as you handle the structures as carefully as you handle your figures (so none of that *clack clack* “Look they’re fighting!” stuff). If we were going to build larger structures that require a solid foundation, we’d buy dental plaster. I have handled both now and I can attest that dental plaster is more durable than you need, and Plaster of Paris is less durable than you need.

So, I’m happy. We’re still planning what the modular dungeon is going to look like. I’ll post pictures when it’s done.

Hirst Arts

February 3, 2010

I’m considering getting some plaster molds from Hirst Arts to build dungeons, houses for town, castles, that sort of thing.

You want these things primarily to show what goes on during a fight. In other situations a visual display just isn’t necessary. Other than that, you probably only need a map of the area as a visual aid for your game. This is just one of a few possible ways to display what’s going on in a fight. Alternatives include a paper battle mat, a wet or dry erase grid mat, fold-up paper models, and just using whatever is around.

Solid Models
You can make a heck of a lot of models with bits and pieces glued together, cardboard, white glue, house paint, scrap styrofoam, and modest tools (sturdy scissors, a ruler, pencil, and a hot wire cutter for the styrofoam if you want to look professional). I’d add a clear spray sealer to that, but you can seal the model at any time so you don’t need it right away.

Or you can make something really professional looking using Hirst Arts molds. You pour plaster in and 30 minutes later little LEGO-like blocks come out. But they’re intricately detailed and quite durable if you use the right plaster. Or you can use cheap plaster and just hope you never drop the model.

The molds are expensive ($24 – 34 each), but the main cost is your time. It takes a lot of time to fill and empty those molds, and to build the models. And you’ll want to use an MDF (dense particle board) base for your models so they don’t break apart from their own weight when you pick them up. And good dental plaster can be spendy, depending. In the end, making your own models from scraps may be a cheaper choice.

You can also make segments of a dungeon and put them together as you go.

The main downside to models is that they take up space. They need to be stored, they’re difficult to transport, and they block line of sight at the table. As such they’re excellent for wargaming where everyone is standing up anyway. But for D&D, not so much.

Paper Battle Mat
These are pre-printed sheets of grid paper with backgrounds. You can use special rules for the printed scenery – such as certain squares being impassible or require extra movement to pass through.

If they’re laminated they’re a lot more durable and you can draw on them with wet-erase markers. But if they’re unlaminated you can fold or roll them up.

An alternative here is cardstock or laminated pieces that are assembled to make a battlefield. For example, you could have the first floor of a house printed up, and then when you place the paper down on the table everyone can see where the house is and what its interior looks like. Or you could use sections of dungeon hallway and rooms to construct a dungeon as the players move through it.

You can’t really use plain paper for this because the paper blows around too much. And it’s difficult to stack an upper floor on a house – you would just put the second floor behind it and everyone would need to remember that it represents the next floor up.

Dry or Wet Erase Grid Mat
This is a rolled-up vinyl mat with a grid of squares or hexagons drawn on it permanently. You use dry-erase markers (never Sharpies, and wet-erase marks are tough to get off) to draw walls or whatever on the mat. When you’re done with that area you wipe it clean and draw a new one.

It’s nice because you don’t need to carry much. The mat and a marker give you all the tools needed to present any play area. But it takes some minor artistic skill, and it does take time to draw and erase everything. And if the players split up into two very different places you have to just wing it. I tend to draw the “other scene” in another part of the mat. And everyone knows they can’t just move their figures between the two because the areas are farther apart in the game.

Paper Models
These are patterns you find online or make yourself, print out, cut, fold, and glue to make 3D models. They’re very cheap, but not durable at all, and have all the downsides of solid models. It’s possible to make paper models that you can stand figures on – so a building with a flat roof or a bridge can be a usable terrain piece.

Random Objects
A mug can become a wizard’s tower, or a few books stacked up can become a canyon wall. A few pencils lined up become a fence. You can use dice or coins for monsters. It’s easy to go crazy with this, but it’s best to limit it to important objects such as walls and barriers and pits. Trying to construct a dungeon like this is difficult but possible.

It’s effectively free. You can buy props that you like, but at that point you’d be better off just making your own solid models.

Other Notes
One downside of any model or prepared mat is that the model will limit your creativity. You will always be able to describe something that you don’t have a model for. So you either use a stand-in, which defeats the purpose of using models, or you compromise your creativity and include only things that you have a model for.

The wet-erase mat and the random object method don’t have this problem. Because you can draw or arrange anything, there’s no limitation.

That’s actually what I do. I have a wet-erase mat for drawing, and for monsters I use dice instead of figures. The players all have miniatures but I can’t possibly have enough of every monster (carried with me!) so I just don’t bother. I try to make my descriptions vivid enough to put the image in their heads.