Tag Archives: runes

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?

Ancient Runes in Ancient Ruins

Just this past week Sly Flourish posted a D&D tip on Twitter suggesting the use of Strimko puzzles in adventures by simply swapping out symbols for the numbers.  That got me thinking: what to use for the symbols? 

The first, and easiest, idea that came to mind was simple shapes.  Shapes would work.  Squares, circles, triangles, stars, diamonds, hexes…. whatever.  However, in my mind, the purpose of using something other than numbers is to move away from the familiar in order to help players suspend their disbelief as they play.  Using shapes is probably too familiar to most players, and wouldn’t have the intended effect.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the need for some sort of rune, or unfamiliar symbol to really immerse your players in the world you’ve created.  So what are our options?

You could use letters from the scripts presented in the Player’s Handbook.  Pages 24 and 25 have sample alphabets in Dwarven and Elven.  Wizards also posted a Draconic font in one of the forums.  These would work great, especially if you’re adventuring in a more “recent” dungeon. Link 1 Link 2  Unfortunately, there’s no font (that I could find) that you can install on your computer.  Also, if you’re looking for something that the characters are not familiar with, these won’t do.  If you want them to come across writings so old that none of them even recognize the alphabet it’s written in, you’re going to have to find something else.

You could use the webdings font.  Ok, to be honest, I just threw that in there for a laugh.  Please don’t subject your players to webdings as they approach the ancient portal of power.

You could design your own symbols.  My symbols never turn out to my satisfaction though.  Perhaps you’re more artistic than me.  And, if you want to use the symbols more than once, you’ll run into the “it’s not a font” problem.

So what are we left with?  Well, there are actually strange and/or arcane alphabets in our world that we can co-opt for our games.  It’s just a matter of picking the right ones.

Ancient Hebrew 

This is the first one I came across.  Most people familiar with the Hebrew alphabet are familiar with the alphabet presented in the right hand column of the chart.  However, there are far more ancient scripts for the language that would fit perfectly into a D&D setting.  Fonts


If you want something that looks more like a long-lost elven script, Sanskrit is definitely the way to go.  It has the flowing, curvy style presented in the PHB, but at the same time is distinctly different.  Just be careful to use letters that look different enough to not be confusing to your players.  Many of the Middle Eastern scripts would also fill this role well; Farsi, for example.  Font


Tifinagh is an African alphabet in use today.  It’s a great one to use for an ancient dwarven script.  It has the same blocky, angled look as the PHB font, but again, is distinctly different.  I could easily see “modern” dwarven evolving from this. Font


Thanna is another good all purpose script for human or other races’ writings.  There’s nothing difinitive about it, which in my opinion, is its strength.  Telling the PCs that they’re not even sure what race of people wrote what they’re trying to read adds an air of mystery.  Font

Ok, now with that to whet your appetite, I’m going to be kind, and point you to the motherlode.  After all, you’re going to need a separate script for every single one of your dungeons, caves, and ruins, right?  Of course you are.  And I am certainly not going to duplicate a bunch of work that has already been done.  So here it is:   Omniglot.com is a treasure trove of all sorts of alphabets, both living and dead, and even some undeciphered scripts!  I’m going to go ahead and assume you know how to use google to find your own free fonts, or, in the case of the undeciphered scripts, how to use an image editor.

UPDATE: I have added a free download of 17 “rune” fonts to the downloads section.  Check it out!

Share your favorites in the comments!