Dungeon Accessories: The Phantom Staircase

This article is part of an ongoing series discussing different accessories you can make for your 3D dungeon tiles.  For the rest of the series, click the “Article Series” link in the menu bar.  Please note that even if you don’t intend to make this project, we always include ideas at the end of these articles that can be integrated into adventures with or without the accessory.

Last week, I took some time to read over the module Revenge of the Iron Lich written by Sersa V over at Save vs. Death.  I haven’t played it yet, but there’s a lot to like about this adventure. I highly recommend at least checking it out if you haven’t done so already.  It certainly has a flavor all its own; it brings back the danger in a dungeon that comes from messing with dungeon objects and the environment itself, as opposed to the danger presented by the monsters living there.  And did we mention the puzzles? We look forward to the second installment of this series.

Without giving out any real spoilers, one of the cool features of the dungeon (and there are many) is the Phantom (or “Insubstantial”) Staircase.  It really sparked my imagination.  But if you were to put this dungeon together with Dwarven Forge or Hirst Arts blocks, you’d probably be stuck when you got to the Phantom Staircase.  Who makes such an accessory?  No one but us.  And now you can too!

This is another one of those projects that’s so easy, it’s a no brainer.  Even if you only use it once, the small amount of time invested is worth it.  For materials, you need a hot glue gun, several hot glue sticks (at least 4), parchment paper, and something to make the staircase out of.

  • First, I stacked some Hirst Arts blocks in a staircase pattern.  You could really use anything you like – legos, books, styrofoam blocks, etc.  The only prerequisite is that the top floor tile is of the correct height for whatever it is you’re going to use it for.  Make sure that each step is big enough to put a mini on.
  • Then, I cut a strip of parchment paper, and put creases in it to lay over the staircase.  This would keep the hot glue from drying to the blocks.  I also used a little double sided tape to keep the paper on the blocks.
  • Next, I spread a thin layer of hot glue over the whole thing.
  • Lastly, I thickened the hot glue at each 90 degree angle in the staircase, except for the top and bottom steps.  This will help strengthen the staircase and prevent sagging.  You don’t need to do the top and bottom steps because you’ll glue the staircase to floor tiles at the top and bottom. 
  • When the glue is good and dry, you’ll flip the staircase over so that the bottom step is now the top step, and all the thickened parts are underneath.  Remove the parchment paper, and glue the top and bottom step to a dungeon tile.  You could either glue it under or on top of the tile, as you prefer.  Ok, I get that you might not want to glue it to your precious Dwarven Forge (which is why I like Hirst Arts), and there may be a way around that.  I would start experimenting with removeable adhesive, such as sticky tack, double sided tape, or rubber cement.  Just know that the staircase is going to work best when both ends are well anchored.

Total make time: 30 minutes (!)

As a side note, I initially tried this with water effects.  Unfortunately, when dry, water effects is too rubbery and flexible to support a mini.  The staircase sagged under the weight of even a plastic mini.  Hot glue, when dry, is a much stiffer material, and has no problem supporting even a large metal mini:

This is a rather heavy metal mini, placed at the center of the staircase. There is minimal sagging.

I would even feel comfortable extending the staircase higher.  Time did not permit me to try this, but manipulating the finished product has me convinced that it would work.  Also, time did not permit any kind of decorative work on the staircase, but it would be easy to take the hot tip of the glue gun, a soldering iron, or a hot craft knife, and work some swirls or icicles into the stairs.  (The failed water effects really threw me a curve ball on this one)

Some ideas for using The Phantom Staircase:

  • Like anything insubstantial, there’s a 50% clause: any character starting their turn on the staircase has a 50% chance of falling through it
  • The PCs need a special item that allows them to ascend the staircase.
  • The PCs need to trigger something in another part of the dungeon to make the staircase substantial
  • The PCs need to be insubstantial themselves to ascend the staircase
  • The staircase only becomes substantial in total darkness
  • The staircase has recently appeared just outside the town gate, and no one is brave enough to investigate where it goes. (It could ascend into the sky, or down into a mysterious hole)
  • It is made of air, very hard to find, and is the only way to get to the Temple of the Four Winds

You could also use this technique to make water cascading down stairs.  You would just stop at the initial thin layer of glue, and lay the finished product over the dungeon tile staircase.  Here are some ideas for that:

  • Any character starting their turn on the staircase must save or be washed two squares back.
  • The water squares are simply difficult terrain.
  • The water is mysteriously flowing up the stairs.
  • The water has no apparent source, and no apparent draining point.  If the PCs pry up the floor tile at the source, they find an Endless Canteen (Adventurer’s Vault) or some other water-themed wondrous item.
  • Healing effects heal an extra 5 points (10 paragon, 15 epic) to any character standing in the water.

How would you use the Phantom Staircase?

4 thoughts on “Dungeon Accessories: The Phantom Staircase

  1. Jerry

    This is great! Thanks for loving our adventure enough to create things from hot glue, seriously! I know what my next weekend terrain project is!

    Reply
  2. Captain Spud

    If water effects were too flimsy, maybe try combining the two? Put down a layer of water effects first on the stairs, then make a support structure of hot glue, then flip it over and drape more water effects over the edges. Or alternately, use a piece of clear plastic– like a shard from the lid of a CD jewel case– to support the back of the stairs, again “roughing it up” with more water effects to hide the smoothness.

    Great idea overall, though. :D

    Reply
    1. Benoit Post author

      Thanks. I actually did try using hot glue to “fortify” the water effects in my first trial, and it turned out ok. It would certainly work. For me, the effort of using water effects AND hot glue wasn’t worth it – the results weren’t different enough to justify the headache and extra steps.

      A CD jewel case would also work with water effects, if you’re wanting a very clear look – not sure what you’d use to cut that kind of plastic. Scrolling saw maybe? I actually considered this type of plastic at one point in the process, but I was going to make a mold, and melt the plastic so that the staircase was all one piece. Then I came to my senses; too complicated, too many steps, molten plastic… (I may still try it, when I can find the time)

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>