Monday, August 15, 2011

Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut

Recently, I took a request from a friend for a specific D&D tile model.

The project? Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut.


Now, I've known what Baba Yaga's Hut looks like for quite awhile. I'd seen the original D&D adventure years ago (in Dragon #83, above), and I've read the old folk tales about it. So, I knew what to expect when I took this on, but building this model definitely presented some challenges I hadn't dealt with yet.

The stats of the Hut called for the model to be (in a scale of 1 inch = 5 feet) a 15-foot-wide hexagon, and 15 feet tall. The first challenge to present itself was the stability of the wall tiles, which is highly dependent on the angle the wall tiles are joined at. Anything greater than 90 degrees sees a decrease in stability that bottoms-out around 135 degrees, and with the interior angles of a hexagon being 120 degrees, that meant that the walls were going to be pretty unstable if I stuck with my standard tab/slot design. There would be the benefit of this being a closed model, so all the walls would just link together, but I'd still have to take steps to make sure the thing didn't just fall apart in play.

Before working on this model, I did some tests using my standard wall tiles, matching them up to a hexagon on one of the D&D Encounters maps I was using during Season 5. This was before realizing that the Encounters map hexagon was 4 squares across, and the Hut is 3 squares across, but it did demonstrate the stability, or specifically the lack thereof.





The 4 square-across hexagon had walls that were 2" long, as seen above, but for the 3 square-across hexagon, I had to adjust that. Finding the proper size for the walls took some trial and error, but the simplest way to deal with it was just to drop a 3 inch wide hexagon into the Photoshop image of the roof, scale that hexagon properly so that the roof would overhang the edge by a bit, and then just take a measurement of each side from there. It gave me a length of just over 1.7 inches.

The Hut looks like a log cabin on the outside, so after downloading a clip art image of a log cabin wall, I created 6 different images from that, and cut multiple tabs and slots out of both sides, following the pattern of the logs.






The multiple tabs and slots definitely helped with stability, but ultimately, I needed to make the slots deeper and thus the tabs longer, in order to increase that stability, and also give the stereotypical "log cabin" corners.

I also made sure to add a tab at the top and bottom of each tile, which is something I haven't been doing so far with my wall tiles, since I would specifically be putting a roof and a floor on this model.

The next thing I tackled was the roof. Starting with the hexagonal roof I posted previously, I cut each facet out of that image, and made each of them slightly longer, using a bit of Pythagoras, and then put the image back together again. The result left a gap between the first and sixth facets, as it should, but when I printed it out and folded it along each facet edge, it turned out the roof was too steep. So, I went back to the original facets, and made them wider as well as longer. This made the gap smaller, and when I printed that out and folded it, it ultimately made the roof more shallow. It wasn't perfect, since I had the idea to make it so that figures could still stand on the roof, but I realized fairly quickly that to have figures be able to stand on the roof, it would have to be so shallow that I may as well just leave it flat. Besides, it looked really cool!






Next, to add stability to the roof, so that it wouldn't just collapse if you did put a figure on it or push on it the wrong way or push on a wall, I cut out individual pieces of chipboard and stuck them to the underside of the roof piece, so that when the roof was folded and joined together properly, the edges of the chipboard pieces would meet, and any weight or pressure put on the roof would be shared by all parts of the roof. It worked, for the most part, but I ended up making the individual chipboard pieces slightly too small, so that the gap at each fold was a bit too big. Still, it worked.

The next part of the roof was the chimney. This was fairly easy, overall, but it took some adjustments to get it just right. The main issues involved where the small size of the tiles, which made them more difficult to work with, and the fact that the part of the hut that they were slotting into was on an angle, whereas I wanted the top of the chimney to be parallel to the ground. In practice, it simply came down to cutting the pieces to what I thought would be right, then cutting them again, and again, and again, and again, until I had it how it needed to be to be right. Cutting a slot near the edge of one facet of the roof and a tab into the bottom of the chimney piece closest to the edge gave it a stability point for gluing it to the rest of the model, and using a black sharpie on the inside surfaces of the chimney, and the surface of the roof underneath where it was glued down was the finishing touch.






The floor of the model was easy. I edited the image of the log cabin wall into a three-inch-wide hexagon shape and printed that out, then cut out the same shape out of chipboard and stuck them together. I then cut slots into the middle of each facet of the hexagon so that I could slot the tabs of the walls into them, and that was that.






The real challenge, even more so than the roof, was the legs. If I haven't mentioned it already, the "Dancing" part of Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut comes about because the hut itself stands on two giant chicken legs!

My thoughts about how to do this part of the model had been percolating in my brain since I took on the project, but I started off simple, by grabbing a random image of a plastic chicken figurine off the internet. I found something appropriate, then set to work cropping and resizing it so that I had just the legs, and they would be the right size for the model. Then I set to work on the actual structure of the legs.

When I first started thinking about the model, the legs were the first thing I focused on. My immediate conclusion was that, given that these are thin chicken legs, just using flat pieces of tile was not going to work. It wasn't going to give enough stability for the model to stand up. However, if I cut slots into the leg pieces, lengthwise, and slotted two pieces together, the + shaped cross section would definitely do the job.

With that in mind, I decided to make each leg out of four pieces of chipboard. Two would be slotted together, perpendicular to each other, to form the thighs, and two would be slotted together, similarly, to form the lower legs. I made 4 images from the picture of the chicken figurine, two for each thigh and two for each lower leg, and then reversed them and printed them out.






Once I had the individual pieces assembled, I cut the slots into them, and slotted them together. I used the thigh pieces to plot out the slots that were needed in the floor of the model, and once that was done, I set to work on the biggest challenge of the model.

Since I made the thighs and lower legs separate from each other, I had to find a way to slot them together that would remain stable. I was having difficulty with this, and I started to rethink the design, to possibly make each leg out of three pieces - one long piece that would be both the thigh and lower leg, then two other pieces that would slot into that larger piece, perpendicular - but I was seeing the possibility that it wouldn't be very stable at the "knee". However, as I was exploring that possibility, I rotated the lower leg by 45 degrees, and saw that I could slot the thighs and lower legs together that way.






With the lower leg rotated 45 degrees to the thighs, not only would it would allow me to minimize the width of the slots I would need to cut in the pieces (something that is always a concern with these models), but it would make for a very stable structure.

The very last part I made was the base. I made a round "Huge" base tile, and cut small slots into it, which I could fit the tabs at the bottom of the lower legs. I added a pair of feet onto the base as well. I originally thought of making the feet 3D as well, but the logistics of that were a bit much, and I decided having them be flat would be better, simply from the perspective of having D&D miniatures "walking" around underneath the model.






With the legs and base assembled, I added the walls and the roof, wary the whole time that the model was just going to topple over, but I was pleasantly surprised by how stable it ended up being.






I've had a lot of fun working on these 3D tile pieces and models. I've made a pickup truck. I've made a sailing ship. I've even made The Big Chicken, from Marietta, GA. I have to say, this model was definitely the most challenging to build, but it was also the most fun.


PS: By the way, I should note that the Hut model is not supposed to have a door visible, even though the image from Dragon #83 does have a door there. :)


Note: To build your own model of the Hut, you can download a free pdf with the instructions and image files HERE.



Added note: if you want the chimney to be more sturdy, cut out four pieces of chipboard, one to match the length and height of each wall of the chimney. Then, when you fold the walls back-to-back, do so around the chipboard pieces.

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