DIY Area of Effect Templates

One of the greatest simplifications that 4th edition made to the game was making all areas of effect (AoEs) square. No longer did players have to take up precious game time going through all sorts of gyrations to figure out exactly which squares were affected by a fireball or cone of cold. Sure, there’s an element of simulation that is lost by making a fireball square, but in my mind, it’s a winning tradeoff.

This also makes DIY AoE templates a simple project that anyone can do. Compare this to days of yore when you needed a vise, needlenosed pliers, coated wire, a ruler, endless patience (and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting) to make a zone for your “Entangle” spell. Before I get into today’s project, let’s look at some common methods for marking off a zone or AoE on the battlemat.

Felt Tipped Markers

Pros: Lowest of the low tech. The DM usually has markers, so you don’t have to bring anything extra to the game.
Cons: Can’t move it around. Probably blends in with other things drawn on the map. Time consuming to remove when the zone goes away.

Pipe Cleaners

Pros: Pipe cleaners are cheap and easily molded into the shape you want. They come in lots of colors. You can move them around the map.
Cons: They’re fuzzy. You generally have to wrap two together to get the sized square you need. They’re incompatible with Alea Tools or anything else magnetic.

Floral Wire

You can find the specifics of using floral wire to make AoE templates in this article by Alphastream from way back in 2009.

Pros: Easier to store than pipe cleaners because you can dis-assemble them. Can get it in longer lengths than pipe cleaners. Not fuzzy.
Cons: Interact with magnets. Only comes in green (as far as I know), so there’s no immediate differentiation between zones.

Wikki Stix/Bendaroos

This is a new one, I’m guessing. This stuff is basically yarn coated with a tacky wax. It comes in all sorts of colors, and if you buy it online, you can get it in lengths up to 3 feet. That works out to a square with up to 9 inches on a side, or a burst 4. And because it’s basically yarn, you can easily cut them shorter for smaller areas. Should cover most, if not all, of your needs.
Pros: Non-magnetic. Sticks to the map, but is still easily and quickly removed without residue. Comes in many different colors. Easy to store.
Cons: Doesn’t really hold its shape as well as pipe cleaners, so if the zone moves, you’ll have to reform it somewhat.

Triangle “Corners”

These were suggested at The She DM’s blog (via the Thursday Knights podcast) I like these, and there aren’t really any Cons that I can think of. They’re portable, customizable, and create an obvious visual cue on the map. You could easily color them up in Gimp using the technique I’ve described below.

And so we come to today’s DIY project. I’ve actually done a lot of the work for you, but there are still a few steps, as well as the actual assembly, for you to do. This little project will allow you to create AoEs that act as true areas on the map with “walls” that create a definite zone.

You’re going to need THIS FILE and Gimp (which is free). Or, if you want to make Triangle “Corners,” you’ll need THIS FILE.

First, open the file, and make sure the “Background” layer is selected by clicking on it in your Layers window. If your “Layers” window isn’t showing, press Ctrl+L.

 Next, we’re going to add some random colored “noise” to the template. To do that, you’ll go to Filters > Render > Clouds > Plasma. There are other things in the Render menu that you can use, and I encourage you to try them. But today, we’re using “Plasma.”

The screen below should come up. You can just hit “OK” or you can play with the Random Seed button and the Turbulence Slider. Don’t worry, you won’t break anything. Once you hit “OK,” Gimp will work for a few seconds generating the noise.

You should now have something that looks like this:

Which is fine, if you’re making a prismatic zone of some sort. But maybe you want something a little less colorful. No problem. First, we need to Desaturate the image – that’s on the Colors menu. Desaturating will turn the Plasma noise gray. Once the noise is in grayscale, go to the Colors menu again, and choose “Colorize.”

Now we can choose a base color to get shades of. So, let’s make a zone of fire. You’ll notice that you have three options: Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. You can just play with the sliders, if that’s your style, but if you want to go straight to the color you want, try the following:

Click the Foreground color box in the toolbox window. It’s the overlapped square with a color in it on the main “Toolbox” bar. You should get a window like the one at the top of the image shown below. Notice I have circled in red the H and S sliders and values. They correspond to the Hue and Saturation sliders in the Colorize window, at the bottom of the image shown below. Find the color you like in the top box, and then copy the Hue and Saturation values to the Colorize sliders. Finally, play with the Lightness slider until you’re happy.

Using Colorize, you could make zones of blue for cold, green for acid, even dark purple for Cloud of Darkness.

To assemble:

  • You’ll need to print out two copies (for smaller bursts) or four copies (for the bigger ones.
  • Cut out the rectangles you need, and score along the midline.
  • Fold in half, and glue the two halves shut.
  • Cut out the two notches.

You’ll make each of the four sides like that, and fit them together like in the picture at the top of the article. That’s it!


5 thoughts on “DIY Area of Effect Templates

  1. @TheSheDM

    I like your template, can I make a suggestion? Squeeze in two tiny pieces that can lock onto the ends of a single long piece to make it stand alone and this template could double for creating wall effects too.

    1. Benoit Post author

      Thanks. I actually have a wall template that I was working on that does that very thing. The wall is about 2″ tall, vs. this template whose sides are 3/4″. Maybe I’ll go dig that template up and add it to the article tonight.

      (The only reason I didn’t add the wall in the first place was because walls aren’t always a straight line)

  2. OldSchoolDM

    For those that would like a variant of this with a bit more flare, WorldWorksGames has a kit that contains a decorative variant of the free-standing triangles the @TheSheDM proposed in their BATTLEPACKS: BASICS product.

    Check the pic: you’ll see fire, ice, smoke/cloud, and earthy effects that can stand as right angles. My player’s love’m – especially the mage with the staff of +1 spell effect size.

  3. Mark Drake

    Very helpful DIY article–was looking for ideas on making own space gaming templates and your article was most helpful…..thanks!


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