Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Belated Arbor Day!

Holy crap, I just made a tree!! =D

This just started as a half-formed idea to put trees down on an upcoming encounter map.

If you couldn't tell, I'm liking the results. =)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Walls Progress Report

I tested out the walls at my game last night, but I forgot to take pictures.

Here is the setup, though...

(If you notice in the first picture, I didn't make enough. I counted it out a few times, so I'm not sure how I did that. It could have easily been an organizational thing, though.)

There are still stability issues, mostly due to the tabs and slots not being cut perfectly. If they fit snug together, it works out fine, but there were too many pieces were the tab was slightly too small, or the slot was slightly too big, so there was no "grip" between the pieces.

I can fix that when I coat the tiles, I think, as I intend to spray them down with a sealant, to keep them clean and intact longer. The sealant should add some "bulk" to the tabs and slots, and make the fit better.

Door are also a concern, as I failed to really factor those in to the idea of a complete dungeon. If I'm just surrounding one room with walls, it's not a problem, but as soon as I start adding a hallway beyond the room, that's where the problem starts. That came up three times in this last game. The a hallway joins three rooms, with a 2-square wide door for each room. When I slotted all the walls together, it didn't leave any slots for the doors to fit into. I "solved" the problem with two rooms, just by disconnecting one of the corners from the walls, and attaching it to the door, holding it in place...

That's not a very satisfactory solution, though. I want to come up with something where the doors will fit without that kind of compromise.

One of the players suggested using the little plastic bases you get with certain boardgames games, for holding up cardboard standees or cutouts. That's a pretty good idea. I'll make a tile for that, though, rather than getting the plastic bases. I can easily create a 2x2 floor tile with a slot cut into it, and then have the doors with a tab on the bottom of the tile, and the tab pushes into the slot on the floor tile, and the whole thing stands up (or should *fingers crossed*). Then you just remove the door when the PCs open it, and leave the floor tile in place. I like that. So, thanks for the inspiration, Charles! =)

All that said, stability is still an issue I want to deal with, hopefully without the addition of more pieces to solve the problem. I think I have a good thing going here with this tab&slot system, and I don't want to divert away from that just yet.

Oh, and as an afterthought, these walls will eventually be double-sided. I just didn't get around to doing that just yet. I haven't decided if I will make them stone on one side and wood on the other, or stone on both.

Monday, June 20, 2011

No No... the REAL Walls...

Okay, in my last post I was all like "Ooo, look at me! I'm so awesome! I'm Indiana Jones!"

I was all that!

Oh yeah!

You know it!


Yeaaaaah.... Well, don't expect to see a red line trace my movements across the globe anytime soon. heh.

See, I figured out that I wasn't so damned smart.

If I went with my idea from the last post, I'd have to make three different versions of each length of tile (1", 2", 3", 4", etc) to cover the three possibilities I saw for how the tiles would fit together.

Possibility 1:

Two outer corners.

In this case, the distance between inside edges of the slots is exactly 1", 2", 3", 4", etc, and when the corners are slotted together, this will fit around the positive spaces on the map.

Possibility 2:

Two inner corners

In this case, the slots at both ends are shifted inward by the thickness of a tile, about 1/16", to accommodate the thickness of the tiles that will be slotted in at either end, so that when the corners are slotted together, this will fit inside the negative space on the map.

Possibility 3:

An inner corner and an outer corner.

A hybrid of the two previous cases, where one slot is outside of, and one slot is inside of, the 1", 2", 3", 4", etc, and when the corners are slotted together, it acts as a transition between positive and negative space.

Now, one of the ideas I had in the last post did work. In the latter two cases, I had cut a bit off the bottom of the part that sticks out past the slot, so when the walls were slotted together, those bits would rest on top of the floor tiles. So, that was a successful idea.

However, it's all far too much work!

Three different tiles for each size, just to make sure that you have enough to accommodate all the possibilities, not to mention multiple copies of each tile, so that you have enough tiles to go around the whole map, PLUS needing to cut down the corners of each tile so that if you chance upon a time when those corners will hang into the positive space of the map, the corners will rest on the tiles without pushing the walls up and displacing the whole system. Wow. Oh, and that doesn't even take into account when you're actually using the tiles, you are going to be looking for a 1/16" difference to tell the difference between them, which might get a little frustrating, especially if you happen to be in a hurry. Too much work!

I had to think up something better. Something more standardized, but also adaptable.

So, the other day I was sitting there at my desk, waiting out the passage of a rather Epic fit my work computer was going through, and my mind turned to all of the above issues.

The first idea that came to mind was to just work with corners and half-walls. And by half-walls, I mean by length, not height. So, I would have 1/2", 1", 1-1/2", 2", etc walls, with a slot at one end, and a flat end at the other.

When constructing a dungeon, I would just put down the corners, and line the flat ends up along the edge of the floor tiles. If there was any overlap, that was fine, and any gaps could be filled by other pieces.

That wasn't too bad. It had some potential. The first problem I came up with it, though, was that it wasn't going to be as stable as the previous plan. Four tiles slotted together to form the walls of a room were going to be far more stable than eight corners pushed up against each other. A stray die could knock down a significant portion of the dungeon! So, maybe I could come up with a way to slot the flat ends together, to add some extra stability. A horizontal slot, maybe? Slotting a piece horizontally between the two piece would end up adding shelves in rooms and hallways and such, but that's not so bad. It'd almost be like dungeon dressing. What was so bad about it is that it would necessitate the creation and printing of a bunch of these horizontal slot pieces, and for cutting more thin slots in the tiles. Still too much work.

I was on the right path, though, I thought... so I set my brain a-thinkin' again, and it turned that slot idea on its side... literally. What if some of the flat ends had tabs, and some had slots, like puzzle pieces?

Hey, now I was on to something... but awww, that would still necessitate the creation of two different types of tile for each size... ones with slots and ones with tabs...

But then, even as that negative thought was sweeping across the 3D view of the tabbed/slotted together tiles I had in my head, about to obliterate that view of it from my mind, my brain pivoted one of the two pieces by 90 degrees, to show me that you could make corners out of that tab-and-slot setup.


I had to pause for a moment there. With that simple mental 90 degree turn, I completely eliminated the need to use the WotC-style vertical slots!

I could make just one type of tile for each size I needed. There would be no need for any variation (at least based upon the structure of the design). Nice!

So, upon getting home that night, I grabbed some of the tiles I'd already made, and cut them down to size, with the slots and tabs, and it worked!

As I did further tests, I thought I was going to run into the same problem again, though, since the tab/slot idea would throw an extra 1/16" thickness in at the "tab" end of any piece joining two corners, but it turns out that's not an issue. As a happy coincidence, the way that the D&D tiles are constructed (and thus the maps based upon them), the squares on the tiles are NOT exactly 1" across. If you place a miniature on one of the dungeon squares on the map below, you actually end up with a slight gab between the edge of the base and the start of the next square.

Thus, a 2" long piece, with the 1/16" thick piece slotted in at one end, fits exactly into the 2" negative space.

And at the far end of the room, the slotted together pieces, in this case, a 3" and a 2", fit perfectly along the 5" wall there, and the 1" piece slotted as a corner at the end fits perfectly around the corner of the map!

I don't think that the cavern or wilderness tiles have that same gap, but we can deal with that issue later. heh.

For now, though... yay!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Walls!!

One project I've been working on, intermittently, alongside making the tile pickup-truck and tile ship, are tile walls. There is an example of these (albeit limited) in the previous post.

I started working on this while running an online Encounters game, using the Season 3 campaign, Keep on the Borderlands. I have some 3D walls and terrain made from Castlemolds (, but due to persistent procrastination, most of the pieces were still unpainted bone-white dental stone at the time, which didn't show up very well over webcam. So, as a quick setup for one session, I grabbed a bunch of the tile walls from my Harrowing Halls D&D tilesets, and I interconnected them around the tile map I put together for the encounter. Note: I could have just used the large poster map provided in the adventure, but I decided I wanted to use the tiles instead.

The walls worked fairly well, but there was some disappointment with them. You see, the Harrowing Halls and Desert of Athas wall tiles are made exactly the same length as the floor tiles. So, when you slot them together, the edges of the wall that stick out past where the walls slot together will be flush with the edge of the tile. Thus, they won't interfere with the squares around them. So, when I slotted all these walls together around the map, they sat inside the tiles, cutting off about 1/4" of space from the squares around the edge of the map.

Well, I wanted to have the walls there, and still let my players access all the squares on the map. It wasn't really that important. It didn't ruin the encounter. I didn't have everyone complaining at me about it. Neither did I obsess over it and brood because it wasn't perfect.

I just thought it would be neat to have walls that would stand up around the outside edges of whatever tile map I laid down.

My first idea for this was to just make a bunch of the little 1/2 inch pieces that came with the Harrowing Halls set, which are used to hold up the door tiles and such. I copied a bunch of those and mounted them on chipboard. It worked quite nicely, but there was one problem.


Just slotting in these 1/2 inch supports at the ends of the wall tiles worked, but when you set them all up, it amounted to a house of cards... or a string of dominoes. One slight bump of a hand or shake of the table and a wall could easily come tumbling down and take all the rest of them with it!

So, I sat down and got to thinking about the problem, and it seemed that I needed to just make walls that would slot into each other, like the ones that come with the D&D tile sets do. That would solve the stability problem. The issue at hand was that the wall tiles, as given, were just too short. So, the obvious thing turned out to be... make them longer!

As it is, a 4x2 wall is just that, exactly 4 inches long by 2 inches tall, with slots cut about a 1/4 inch in from either end of the 4 inch length. In order to make walls that would slot together but be long enough to fit around the tiles, I would have to make them so that the same tile was exactly 4 inches long between the slots!

So, going back into Photoshop, I grabbed the scans I had of the various wall pieces, and I set to work elongating them. It wasn't difficult. The only hard part about it was maintaining some kind of consistency in the pattern of the tiles... the wood planks match up, the grey stones don't cut into each other at perfectly straight angles, the stucco patterns don't change abruptly, and the sandstone bricks match up. It takes a few seconds each, and really, I'm not even sure how noticeable it would be if I didn't do any editing at all. I just liked it looking more consistent.

Printing these out and mounting them on chipboard, I now had walls that would conform to the outside of any tile maps I laid down. Of course, on my first use of them, I ran into one small, unanticipated snag. Alright, three, actually.

The first came about because the farmhouse and guesthouse I was making the walls for were irregularly shaped.



The 5-foot wide walls that the red arrows are pointing to are the problem spots. When I produced the wall tiles for these pieces, I just followed the same plan as the others. It's a 5-foot wall, with a 5-feet = 1 inch scale, so the space between the slots should be 1 inch. Right?


The problem comes from the fact that the two wall tiles that this 1 inch piece is connecting together are positioned so that they lie outside the squares they're surrounding. The wall tiles are represented by the blue lines.

The red line on the left represents the 1" width of the square, which is the distance between the two "inner" faces of the walls (the "inner" face being the one that will rest against the outer edge of the floor tiles), and red line on the right represents the less-than-1" width between the inner face of the wall with the door, and the outer face of the wall with the window. The chipboard walls are roughly 0.05" thick, so if I want everything to line up perfectly (which would be nice), I need to shave off that much space between the slots on that 1" piece.

I feel a little like Indy in Raiders. heh.

The second problem is, if I had decided to use floor tiles instead of (or in addition to) the map, I wouldn't have been able to fit these walls perfectly around those tiles. The corners formed by the short 1 inch pieces cause a further problem. The extra bits of the 1" wall tile and the 3" wall tile with the window, when they are slotted together, intrude into the interior space of the building, and would rest on top of any floor tiles I put down in there, and mess up the alignment of the walls.

It's an easy fix, though. Some more complicated ideas took a run around my brain for a short bit before it came to me... I can just cut a bit off the bottom of the ends of each tile, the thickness of a floor tile, to allow any of those ends that might come to rest on a floor tile to do so without causing any problems.

The third problem that I ran into can be seen in this picture, taken during the encounter...

As you can see, I just grabbed a couple of the Streets of Shadow roof tiles to drop on top of the walls, not taking into account that those tiles are 8x4 and 4x4 exactly, and I made these wall tiles to fit together around those sizes. If it wasn't for the irregular shapes of the buildings (and the fact that the longer roof tile overhangs that building by an inch at either end), the roofs would have just collapsed inward! There won't always be a need for roofs to go over these tiles, but I'll probably make a few, just to be thorough.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Yo Ho. Yo Ho. It's an Astral Privateer's Life for Me...

This time, the delay since my last post has had less to do with my ADHD, and more to do with the simple lack of anything to post. :)

However, as of yesterday's D&D game, I finally have what I need.

Behold, the Bloody Bucket.

Starting with the deck plans for The Sable Drake, from WotC's D&D3.5e Stormwrack sourcebook, I used Photoshop to mold them to our needs. This was a rather drawn-out process, since to do this the way I wanted to, I first needed to remove all the added details on those deck plans (especially all the stuff contributing to difficult terrain on the main deck), so I spent a lot of time using the Clone Stamp tool.

Once I had everything cleared away so that there was only the deck planks and 1" grid lines, I started working with the decks themselves, to make them the size I wanted. After making the main deck wider, to conform to Craig's request for the size of the ship, I was dissatisfied with how it looked, since making it wider also stretched the deck-plank design wider. So, I ended up deleting all the details of that deck except for the borders of the hull, and then proceeded to use the Clone Stamp tool to add the deck planks back in, at their original width, so that they would match the decks below. I'll admit that this was an unnecessary step, and it likely would have gone unnoticed, but working on it at the time, it just looked sloppy, so I made the time investment so that I would be more satisfied with the work. I then ended up resizing the lower deck and the hold, so I gave them the same treatment.

Once the deck-plank pattern was back in place on all decks (including the Crow's Nest), I added the interior walls back in, dropped in the location of the masts, put in the features and furniture from the original plans (and added a few extra pieces), and then put in the 1" grid. Craig and I spent some time on an "off" Saturday to cut them out and mount them on chipboard.

Here is the result:

As you can see, even though the lower deck and hold are thinner and shorter than the upper deck, they are mounted on chipboard pieces that match the size of the upper deck, just to give vertical consistency to the model and improve overall stability.

After that, I set about putting the masts in place. I originally chose 7/16" diameter dowels to work with, however, once I started to look for a way to both secure the masts in place, but also allow them to be removed easily, it forced me to go down to 3/8" dowels. Once I made that switch, I was able to use 1/4" copper pipe couplings, which the 3/8" dowels fit snuggly into. I'd have liked the couplings to have been a bit longer... 2" would have been very nice, but I had to settle for the 1" long couplings that are available. There were other options available, such as buying a length of plastic pipe that would snuggly fit around the 7/16" dowels, but I didn't feel like doing a lot of pipe cutting. Using the 3/8" dowels and 1/4" couplings worked well.

I cut 3/8" holes in the Hold deck where the mast positions were indicated, then glued the Hold deck down to an extra piece of chipboard cut the same size as the other decks. That gave the whole model a smooth base, while still allowing me to have a stable base to put the couplings into. Some glue held them in place.

Then I cut similar holes in the Lower Deck and Upper Deck, adjusting those holes so that the decks would properly slide down over the couplings.

Here's everything stacked and inserted, with yardarms added and the Crow's Nest in place.

I drilled holes in the masts just under where I wanted the yardarms, and inserted smaller dowels through there, for the chipboard yardarms to rest on, to give them increased stability. A small dowel supporting a wooden disk holds the Crow's Nest in place.

Originally, I had planned for the option to raise the decks up along the masts, likely using couplings to accomplish this, so that we could manipulate miniatures on multiple decks, while allowing the decks to be lowered flat again for ease of use and storage of the model. The idea added an unnecessary (but cool) level of detail, but ultimately failed when I first noticed that the Forecastle and Quarterdeck had no connection to the masts. Oops.

Well, in talking it over with Craig, we decided that it really wasn't necessary to raise the decks up. If we needed to access the lower decks, for some kind of ship-wide combat, we would just separate the decks and lay them out side-by-side. However, it would add a level of coolness if I raised at least the Forecastle and Quarterdeck. We accomplished this in our first session of the campaign simply by inserting one of the Dungeon Tile 3D pieces from Harrowing Halls under each.

Taking those pieces home with me, I set to work in Photoshop creating 1" tall sides of those decks, and once I had it all printed out and mounted on chipboard, I changed the stairs so that they were set 1/2" up the side of the deck. We both agreed that it would be very fitting with the pirate/swashbuckler style of the campaign to have the stairs arranged like that, so that you could have a fight up and down the stairs like we see so often in the movies.

The image at the top of this post shows the final work, but here are closeups of the Forecastle and the Quarterdeck.

If you look closely, you can see that I also added a rim around the top of each piece. The same rim is around the Crow's Nest. During our first session, Josh's character, up in the Crow's Nest, was always falling off if we happened to bump a mast when moving minis around. The rim makes the mini lean in towards the middle of the piece, thus minimizing "man overboard" incidences.

You can also see that I made some ballista tiles and some bombard tiles.

I have to admit, I'm really proud of this model. It has a few rough-spots. The stairs ended up being a little bit off, and the back of the quarterdeck could have turned out better, but overall, this turned out really cool, and I had lots of fun putting it together.

I'm still tempted to make some cloth sails to go on it, but it has been rightly pointed out already that they would only serve to be another thing we catch our hands on while move minis around, so we'll make do without. :)

Related Posts:
Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 1
Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 2
Keeping My Game Afloat, Part 3
Keeping My Game Afloat, the Finalé