Tag Archives: Hirst Arts

Hirst Arts Buyers Guide

About a year ago, when I was considering buying some sets of Dwarven Forge, I came across Sly Flourish’s Dwarven Forge Buyer’s Guide. In the article, Mike walks the new buyer through what to buy your first time around.  It seems to me that it’s time to give Hirst Arts molds similar treatment.

First things first.  Before buying, you need to decide that you are the type of person who will actually use the molds.  If the thought of spending hours casting blocks from a mold does not appeal to you, Hirst Arts (HA) is not for you.  There are several “middle of the road” 3D terrain options for people who aren’t willing to pay a premium for Dwarven Forge (DF), but are also unwilling (or unable) to cast their own blocks.  Three such options that I know of are CastleKits, Showcase Terrain, and DungeonStone.  CastleKits casts complete tile sets from HA molds, and sends them to you.  For example, if you want seven castings of one of the floor tile molds, you simply order that from their store, and they will ship the pre-cast blocks to you, ready for assembly and painting.  DungeonStone and Showcase Terrain go a step further and cast the blocks already “assembled,” and all you need to do is paint the pieces.  These two manufacturers cast their pieces out of resin (which is what DF uses).  CastleKits are more versatile, as you can make anything you would make with  HA blocks.  Just order the pieces you need.  DungeonStone and Showcase Terrain require less work.

Still want to cast your own pieces? To get started in the addiction hobby of creating your own dungeons, you’ll need about $100 which is similar to the commitment when dipping one’s pinky toe into the DF pool.  About half of that $100 will go towards casting material and other tools of the trade; future investment in HA will be substantially less than your initial cash outlay.

There are several “lines” of HA molds, so I will list two “starter” molds from some of the more popluar categories. I would definitely recommend choosing a single “line” to buy from at the start.  You can eventually branch out to other lines, but if you don’t limit yourself, the mold choices can become overwhelming. Here is a link to the molds page.  It will open in a separate window so you can browse the molds alongside this article.

Gothic (chipped) Stone
Mold 40 – Basic block mold.  I like this mold because it’s all business.  Yes, there are other Gothic molds that cast mostly blocks, but none of them have the same versatility that this one does.  No frills, but your buildings will come together quickly with this mold.
Mold 201/202/206 (choose 1) – Basic floor mold.  I like these three molds because they include triangular pieces that can be used for decorative floors, or in other surprising ways.  Which mold you choose is personal preference, but I own mold 201.

Mold 701 – Fieldstone wall mold.  This mold is just as “no nonsense” as the Gothic basic block mold.
Mold 203/206 (choose 1) – Since many people go with Fieldstone because of its similarity to Dwarven Forge, you’ll want floor tiles that also look similar.  Either of these molds fits the bill.

Mold 95 – Basic block mold.  Like its Gothic chipped stone cousin, this mold is just blocks. It’s got a great sand blasted texture; bear in mind you don’t have to paint it in a sandstone color.  It would hold up just as well with stone greys that would make it look like granite blocks.  Go with the Egyptian line if you like the look of blocks (vs. fieldstone), but the Gothic chipped stone texture doesn’t appeal to you.
Mold 290 – Egyptian floor tile mold.  I’m recommending this because it will fit the best with the wall block texture, although either of the floor tile recommendations in the Fieldstone section above would work well too, if you’re going to be painting your models gray.

Mold 81/82 (choose 1) – Cavern Walls.  In reality, you’ll probably want both of these molds if you’re doing caverns, but you can get away with just one for a while.  It basically comes down to whether you want the one with the door, or the crates and barrels.
Mold 281 – Cavern floors.  I like the non-symmetrical look of these tiles; if you’ve got Dwarven Forge cavern sets, these will fit in perfectly.

So, looking over these selections, you’ll notice that I’ve basically recommended plain vanilla wall blocks and floor tiles.  To be honest, these two molds will go a long way, and let you build out about 95% of anything you can imagine.  But eventually you’re going to want to accessorize, decorate, and personalize.  Here are recommendations for one more mold in each category.  If you have the money to start with three molds, go for one of these.

Gothic – Mold 45 – Gothic Dungeon Builder.  Of all my molds, this one is probably my favorite.  It’s far more versatile than it looks.
Fieldstone – Mold 71/80 (choose 1) – Fieldstone Accessories or Dragon’s Teeth.  You’ll probably get more mileage out of the arches and other bits in the FA mold, though the pillars and dragon heads in the DT mold are pretty cool too.
Egyptian – Mold 96 – I like the coffin and mummy included as well as the pyramid pillars.  Don’t be sucked in by the secret door piece, you won’t make enough secret doors to be worth it. (Hint: if you want a secret door in your dungeon, buying a Castle Kits casting of the appropriate secret door mold is more cost effective)
Caverns – The other wall mold.

Hopefully, I’ve given you a good starting point to dive into the immensly fun hobby of creating your own 3D terrain.  Please ask questions in the comments below, or via Twitter.  I know of several other RPG bloggers who use Hirst Arts, and if I can’t answer your question, I can point you to someone who can!

Fourthcore Team Deathmatch: The Final Model

I’m still decompressing from Gencon, so I’m not up to writing a full-on article at this point, but expect several posts about my Gencon experiences in the coming weeks.  For now, I wanted to reveal the pictures of the final Fourthcore Team Deathmatch model that I made.  This map was the championship map, where the final two teams battled it out for victory.  If you want to know more about the mechanics of this map, check out C. Steven Ross’s blog DMG p. 42 where he outlines all the features and hazards of this map that he designed.  Also, if you missed pictures of the other two models, you can find them here.

Here is the map that I was working off of.  I think I bugged Steven at least a half dozen times for clarifications about this particular map since it is so rich with special features and miscellaneous terrain pieces.  If you’ve played Revenge of the Iron Lich, you may recognize it, as the map is a condensed version of that dungeon. (Click any picture to enlarge)

And here are the pictures of the finished model.  I did not have time to set up the model and photograph it at home, so I apologize for the crappy lighting and quality.  I was working with flourescent lights and a point n shoot camera.

Overhead view of the entire map

The "floating" symbol of the heisarch I printed on a transparency. Too bad it doesn't show up well against the black tablecloth...

I "reinterpreted" the demon face to match my skill level with Sculpey. The statues are Reaper minis.

The boiling lake of mithril is water effects painted metallic (Boltgun Metal).  You know about the insubstantial staircase if you read this blog regularly.  The coffins are by Showcase Terrain; I found them on eBay by searching “Dwarven Forge Coffin,” though you can also get them through the Showcase Terrain website.

The skeleton on a throne holding the deck of mortals is an approximation using a Reaper mini.

All the metallic walls and platforms are simply cardboard spray painted silver.  The huge cube in the middle is made out of wood, and I’ll be going into detail as to how I made that in a future blog post (I didn’t get it right on the first try, and thought my process might be informative)

This map had a lot going on mechanically, and I give Steven Ross a huge kudos for being able to keep track of it all as he ran the event.  I have some more thoughts on this event, but you’ll have to listen to our podcast this week for those, as well as some other Gencon thoughts.

Have any questions about specific pieces of this map that I didn’t highlight? Ask away!

Dungeon Accessories: The Crystalline Orb

This entry is part of a series where we discuss different accessories you can make for your 3D dungeon sets. The rest of the series can be found via the “Article Series” link on the menu bar. While Hirst Arts molds generally feature prominently in these articles, there are always ideas at the end to incorporate the accessory into your campaign, even if you don’t have the actual, physical accessory to use. In short, if you’re not going to make it, just scroll to the end for adventure ideas!

I’m currently working on a super-secret Hirst Arts project for which I had to design a dungeon trigger mechanism. It had to be useable by PCs, and obvious in its function. Not wanting to go the traditional “lever” route, I came up with this dungeon accessory. While it will represent a trigger in my project, I realized that it can be a very versatile accessory, especially if you make a few of them.  So here are some very simple build instructions, with usage ideas at the end!

In case you hadn’t figured it out, the “crystalline orb” is simply a glass marble.  I found a bag of 50-ish for a couple of bucks in my local craft store’s floral aisle.  I guess some people use them in flower vases.  Boooor-ing.  Don’t worry about buying so many, I’m working on another project right now that will use quite a few of these.  You will probably have a choice of different colors; I went with classic “clear,” but use whatever you like.

You only need one piece from mold #45 – there are three to choose from that will work equally well.  I’m using the pillar; the pillar top (upside down) or the torch holder (also upside down) could also be used.  No matter which you choose, you’ll have to glue two of them back to back.

Since the marble is round, you’re going to want fast drying glue so you don’t get stuck holding it in place until the glue dries.  Epoxy, hot glue, or super glue all came to mind, though I used hot glue since it was what I had on hand.  I had some trouble getting the hot glue to hold the marble, so I roughed up the marble with some sandpaper where I was going to glue it.  Also, as a result of the poor glue bond, I decided to fill in some of the gap between the marble and pillar with more hot glue, and while I was at it, added some drips down the side.

Total build time, including letting the hot glue gun warm up, 8 minutes.  If you want to paint it, add another 2 to make it a nice round 10 minutes. 

By the way, if you are going to paint it, I would suggest doing that before attaching the orb, especially if you intend to add the hot glue drips down the sides.

Here are some ideas for using the crystalline orb in your campaign:

  • Answer the question: What is the ball made of? Glass, crystal, solidified Gelatinous Cube, air, ice, water?
  • The ball opens a door
  • It’s simly a magic orb (i.e. magic implement that a wizard could use)
  • Touching the ball traps you inside
  • The ball is made of water; drinking some of the water recharges one daily power.
  • There are three (four, five, whatever) of them, and they’re on the wrong pedestals. The PCs need to place them on the correct pedestals to progress.
  • There are four of them, one at each corner of the room. Entering the room triggers a sort of “security system” that fills the room with (energy type). This could be a trap to disable, or a skill challenge
  • Obvious suggestion: scrying device. But you can’t take it with you…
  • When touched, it acts as a portal or teleportation circle. With multiple pillars and orbs, swapping them around could affect destination.
  • Place the orb on a grid intersection; standing in one of the four adjacent squares conferrs some sort of combat benefit.  Ideas for that:
      • All attacks do radiant damage
      • Grants immunity to radiant damage
      • Minor action to touch the orb and do close burst 2 radiant damage (recharge 5/6)
  • A puzzle involving more than one orb on pillars
  • A quest to return a missing orb to its pillar

How would you use the orb?

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?

Dungeon Accessories: Lectern

This post is part of a series showing readers how to use Hirst Arts blocks to make accessories for 3D dungeons.  For the rest of the series, click the “Article Series” link on the menu bar.  If you don’t own any Hirst Arts molds, have no fear! You can skip right to the bottom for adventure ideas that do not require the actual accessory. 


“You enter a room that is completely empty, save for a lectern with an open book on it.” Such a scene, of course, sparks a myriad of questions in the player’s minds.  Added ambiance, like a sourceless beam of light illuminating the book, only serves to bring them to the edge of their seats even more.  Of course, showing them the lectern makes it that much cooler.  And let me tell you, this accessory couldn’t be easier.  I mean, so easy I almost didn’t post it, for fear of a resounding “duh” from the collective internet.  Let’s get to it. 

You will need mold 201 or 202.  I do not own 202, but I would have preferred it for this project.  You’ll need two of the long skinny floor pieces, two of the tiny triangles, one of the 1/3 rectangles, and a 1 inch square floor piece.  See the picture. 

Gather the pieces

 Glue the two triangles together, smooth sides facing in, and the skinny long pieces the same way.  Then, glue the triangles to the skinny long pieces as shown. 

Glue the triangles to the skinny rectangles

Congrats! You’re practically there.  Now, the tricksy part.  You need to stand the lectern up, and glue it to the 1″ square floor piece.  This will add a lot of stability, as well as giving it a “raised off the floor” look.  Since it’s pretty top-heavy, you’ll need to lean it against something so it doesn’t fall over while the glue is drying.  I just used another Hirst Arts block, as shown.

Once it was dry, I added the final piece to the triangular support, for the book to rest on.  The final product is pictured at the top of the post.  If you don’t want to make the lectern “raised” up on its own floor piece, you can integrate the floor piece into a 2×2 or 3×3 modular floor section, also as pictured at the top of the post.  You do cast your Hirst Arts to be modular, right?  Also, if you don’t want the triangle pieces as supports, you could also leave them off, and sand the top of the skinny rectangles at an angle.

As I said, this project couldn’t be easier.  Start to finish (not counting casting time), it came together in about 1/2 hour.  That’s counting drying time!

Some ways to use the lectern:

  • The PCs are given a quest to find a certain book. They find this lectern in the middle of a library, with a book open on it. Is that the book they’re looking for? Or, like Indiana Jones looking for the Holy Grail, is it in a more humble location?
  • When a ritual book or spell book is placed on the pedestal, rituals or spells cast from it are more powerful. (In “crunch” terms, a spellcaster is given a bonus for casting from beside the lectern)
  • The book on the lectern cannot be removed without performing an action, quest, or ritual.
  • If the book on the lectern is removed, a trap is triggered. (Who didn’t think of that one? Raise your hands… you should be ashamed.)
  • The book on the lectern acts as a “deck of many things.”  When approached, the book flips itself to a random page.  A PC reading that page pulls a card out of the deck of many things. (Yeah, I know the deck’s not out yet. It’s coming out this year though….)
  • The lectern stands alone in the middle of an empty room, with a book on it, illuminated by a sourceless light. It is completely mundane, as is the religious text on it… but the players don’t know that.

I hope I’ve sparked your imagination.  Do you have an idea for the lectern not listed here? Leave it in the comments!

DSC_0003 (2)

Dungeon Accessories: The Well & Pool

 This entry is part of a series wherein I show how to use Hirst Arts molds to make new dungeon accessories for your 3D terrain of choice.  If you don’t have any Hirst Arts molds, that’s no problem.  At the bottom of the article you’ll find a bunch of ways you can use the accessory as the centerpiece for an encounter or story arc; you don’t need the actual accessory to use the ideas.  So feel free to read the whole article, or just zip to the bottom, and get your creative juices jumpstarted!

A well or pool usually seems out of place in a dungeon, and players approach them with caution; for good reason, as you’ll see if you read some of the adventure hooks at the end of this post.  There are instructions on the Hirst Arts site (in the Tips & Tricks) on how to make water features.  I’m not going to duplicate any of them, but rather show you one of the methods I use.

Getting everything together

All you need to make a well and a pool is either floor mold 201 or 202.  If you have mold 45, you can use pieces from that mold, but it’s not necessary.  For the well, you’ll need 4 of the long thin rectangular floor pieces, and 4 of the smallest rectangular pieces.  For the pool, you’ll need 8 of the half size floor pieces, and 4 of the smallest rectangular pieces.  Is that specific enough for you? How about a picture:

You’ll also need something called Water Effects, which you can also see in the picture.  It’s basically really really thick Elmer’s glue – think “whipped cream” thick.  You could also use resin, but I don’t have any experience with it; if you want instructions for resin, you’ll have to check out the Hirst Arts site.  I will say this – resin looks like a lot more work, though the finished effect is probably more water-like.


Putting this project together is incredibly simple.  For the well, form two of the short pieces and two of the long pieces into a square.  Then, add another layer, placing the long pieces on top of the short pieces this time.  That’s it.  For the pool, glue two half size floor pieces together for each side, and use the small short pieces for the corners.  Make sure that the smooth sides of the floor pieces are facing inwards.  The pool will be fairly fragile until the water effects have set in it, so don’t go putting too much pressure on the walls.  Let everything dry overnight.

When they’re ready for the water effects, tape some parchment paper to your work surface.  This will keep the water effects from drying to your table. Hold the well (or pool) steady as you fill it with the water effects.  Then, take a toothpick and swirl it around the surface to texture it.  Be sure to get it into all the corners; it may need a little coaxing.  You can see how mine turned out below.

I will note here that the water effects took a LONG time to dry, especially on the pool.  In my dehydrator, over 48 hours.  Hey, I said it was easy, not fast.  Once the water effects was dry, I decided I wanted to have steps leading up to the pool, so I used another of the long and short skinny pieces to do that.  You can see in the pictures that the finished “water” in the pool and well has some air bubbles in it.  For now, that doesn’t bother me, but I may end up painting the surface of the water later.  If I do that, it will be a coat of blue, wash of black, and dry brush in light blue or white.

What can we use these for?

  • The water acts as a scrying device, showing the PCs a possible future, or something happening far away.
  • There is something at the bottom of the well (that they really want!) and a trap of some sort about half way down.
  • Swimming to the bottom reveals an underwater tunnel to a hidden room or cavern.
  • Drinking the water does something special: regenerates a daily power, acts as a potion of healing, or perhaps something more…sinister.
  • A monster comes out of the water and attacks
  • If you throw a coin in, something happens
  • The PCs need to figure out a way to drain it
  • Something triggers it to overflow and fill the room with water

What would you do with it?

Dungeon Accessories: The Wheel

 This entry is part of a series wherein I show how to use Hirst Arts molds to make new dungeon accessories for your 3D terrain of choice.  If you don’t have any Hirst Arts molds, that’s no problem.  At the bottom of the article you’ll find a bunch of ways you can use the accessory as the centerpiece for an encounter or story arc; you don’t need the actual accessory to use the ideas.  So feel free to read the whole article, or just zip to the bottom, and get your creative juices jumpstarted!

 I don’t remember where I got the idea for this accessory, perhaps it just popped into my head one day.  I wanted a dungeon feature that the players could interact with, something like a puzzle, a trap, and a toy all at the same time.  The wheel is what I came up with.   The finished wheel rotates on the base, so players can actually turn the wheel to where they want it.  What you put on the wheel and what it’s used for (or triggers) is completely up to you, but at the end of the article we have some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

 The only Hirst Arts mold you need for this project is #45, and you’ll have to cast it four times.  In that mold there are three pieces that fit together into what I call a “corner pillar.”  Pictured below are these three pieces.


You will also need a wooden disc.  You can get these at any craft store, usually in the wood crafts section.  The disc I’m using is 2” in diameter.  Because the disc is so large, I’m going to make the base 2 blocks high instead of 1 – otherwise, the disc would completely overshadow the base.  If you want a shorter base, I’d recommend a 1 1/2”  diameter disc so the finished product looks proportional.

 Choose any one of the three “corner pillar” pieces to be the base for the wheel.  I wanted basic, so I’m going to use the one on the left, and I need four of that same piece.  Since I’m going 2 blocks high, I’ll also use four of the ones on the right. Glue the four pieces together so that all the “pillar” sides are facing out. 

 While that’s drying, get a 1/16” drill bit, and drill a hole in the center of the wooden disc.  Then, mix up some gray paint, and paint your wooden disc the same color as your stone tiles.  You could also leave it looking like wood by staining it.  Now it’s time to make an “indicator” for your wheel.  You know, something that shows the players what the wheel is “set” to.  Wire is perfect for this; I’m going to use a paperclip for my wire, and needlenose pliers to bend it.  There are two ways to affix your indicator to the wheel.  The first is to glue the indicator to the base, making it immobile.  The second is to add a loop to one end of the indicator, so that it swings around the center axis, making it moveable.  Generally, you would add a moving indicator as a secondary indicator.  Using two indicators for the wheel allows you to add complexity to the wheel’s “setting,” and therefore add to the complexity of the puzzle.  Finally, if you don’t want to mess with bending wire, you could also have a fixed point in the room (like a pillar) act as a fixed indicator.

At any rate, if you want an indicator on the wheel, bend the paperclip into an “L” shape, making sure it fits on the base with the wheel. 

One indicator glued on, the other with a loop for the axis

Add a loop to one end if you want the indicator to be moveable.  Make sure the loop is big enough to snugly accommodate a straight piece of paperclip (which will be the wheel axis).  If you’re going to have a fixed indicator on the wheel, simply glue it to the wheel.  (You may need to prop it up with something so that it doesn’t fall off the base before the glue is dry.)

 Let everything dry overnight. 

 The next day, you’re going to take your 1/16” drill bit again, and drill a hole down the center of your base for the wheel axis.  Cut a piece of straightened paperclip (or other wire) so that it will stick out of the hole and poke out of the wheel just a tiny bit.  Get some glue on the wire, and stick it in the hole.

While that’s drying, think about what you want to paint on the wheel; symbols, colors, something else.  I’m going to paint some runes on it for the PCs to decipher.  (If you want to do runes, and aren’t sure what to use, check out our article Ancient Runes in Ancient Ruins.)  You can paint as many things as you want on it, but keep in mind the number of combinations that will be possible – especially if you’re planning on using two indicators.  I’m going to keep it fairly simple, and use four runes. 

The great thing about this setup is that you can make more than one wheel to put on the base.  It’s a very versatile and reusable dungeon accessory.

 Once everything is dry, your wheel is ready to use!

The Finished Wheel

Here are some ideas for using a wheel:

  • Paint a compass rose on it
  • Use four colors to indicate seasons – yellow=summer, brown=fall, white=winter, green=spring
  • For extra mystery, just use ticks (lines) on the wheel
  • Runes

What turning the wheel does:

  • Opens or closes certain doors in the dungeon
  • Shifts the PCs from the Shadowfell to the Feywild and back to the material plane
  • Changes the terrain in the room or dungeon
  • Sets the destination of a nearby portal
  • Awakens a monster
  • Shifts fate
  • Changes a character’s sex/personality/race/class/player

There are really too many ideas to write here.  Basically, the wheel is a complex triggering mechanism; think of it as a series of levers, but cooler.  Anything you can think of to turn on, off, up, or down can be done using the wheel.  What are some of your ideas?

Dungeon Accessories: Making and Using a Portal

This entry is part of a series wherein I show how to use Hirst Arts molds to make new dungeon accessories for your 3D terrain of choice.  If you don’t have any Hirst Arts molds, that’s no problem.  At the bottom of the article you’ll find a bunch of ways you can use the accessory as the centerpiece for an encounter or story arc; you don’t need the actual accessory to use the ideas.  So feel free to read the whole article, or just zip to the bottom, and get your creative juices jumpstarted!

 From the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide p.54:

“On Toril, magic portals link diverse places in various ways.  Most portals are simple teleportation devices that whisk travelers between distant locales, possibly even on other planes.  Others allow or limit passage based on the designer’s criteria.  All portals are created for a reason, but they often last longer than their creators, so a portal’s purpose can be lost to time.”

Ah, portals.  Nothing inspires curiosity more than a random doorway standing all alone in the middle of a room (or a field, for that matter).  At the same time, nothing inspires caution (and a bit of dread) in the same way either.  Whether your intentions are simply faster travel for your PCs or something more nefarious, every campaign could use a portal.

There are several ways to make an open doorway, from plain blocks to arches to using a completely different medium altogether (like Basswood), and the decision will largely be informed by the feel you’re going for.  A plain block doorway feels utilitarian, arches feel formal, and wood feels earthy.

I may do some other portals in the future, but we’re going to start by using Hirst Arts blocks, and following the plans laid out by Bruce Hirst himself on his own website, with a few tweaks to suit the look we want to end up with.

To start, we only need two molds – 201 and 45.  If you have a different floor mold, that’s fine, as long as it has those little tiny triangles in it.  If you’re anything like me, you probably won’t need to do any casting because you have the pieces for this lying around already.  But if you do need to cast, you only need to cast each mold three times.

First, we’re going to put together the base.  You’ll use a full sized floor square (1″x1″) and two half sized floor pieces (1/2″x1″) as well as two of the tiny triangles.  Glue them together like this:

Portal Base

While that’s drying, you’ll follow numbers 3 and 4 in the Basic Set Pieces setion from the Hirst Arts site (scroll down, you’ll see it…) to make the archway, with the following changes:

  • On either side of the pillars, you’ll use ¼” blocks, not ½”
  • There will be 2 ¾” blocks resting on top of the pillars on either side of the arch.
  • (If you’re confused by this, scroll down for a picture of the completed portal.

 Let it all dry overnight.

Next, you’ll glue the doorway to the base, and add 3 ½ size floor pieces to the top of the archway.

Finished portal

Still not painted

 Paint it, and you’re done!!  What’s that? You’re feeling like an overachiever today?  No problem, let’s take it a step farther. 

  • Make another doorway, just like the one above.
  • Get some colored cellophane.
  • Carefully glue some to the back of one of the doorways.
  • Glue the second doorway to the back of the first, so that they’re facing out in opposite directions.

This second portal has a bigger footprint in your floorplan, but the colored cellophane really conveys the idea that this isn’t any ordinary doorway.  It also encourages entry from either side, which opens up all sorts of possibilities as well.

Either way you decide to go, here are some ideas to help you come up with a way to use the portal in your campaign:

  • Read about Keyed, Restricted, and Variable portals in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, pages 54 and 55.
  • Is the portal functioning or broken?
  • Where does it lead?
  • How can the characters find out either of these things?
  • If it’s broken, is there a way to fix it?
  • If it’s broken, does it malfunction in some way, or just not function at all?
  • Who made the portal and why?
  • Do the characters need a key or password to make the portal function?
  • What happens if a character tries to enter the portal from the back?
  • Does anyone else know about the portal, or use it on a regular basis?
  • Is there something that needs to happen to trigger the portal to turn “on”?
  • Save Versus Death has this idea for a trapped portal.  Scroll down until you find “Portal of the Six Curses.”

What other things should be considered when inserting a portal into a campaign?  Have you ever used one in your campaign?