Tag Archives: Table Tech

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?

How to make custom “invisible” minis

Let me begin by saying that I like  Litko tokens.  They’re neat little additions to any gaming table.  I have a baggie of Litko “bloodied” tokens in my gaming bag as I type this.  One of my favorite Litko products is the “invisible” minis set that they have.  These are basically clear plastic cutouts of character types that you use to replace your normal mini on the battlemat whenever your character is invisible or in stealth mode.  It’s an awesome idea… but it could be awesome-er.  That’s what we’re going to do today.

In my mind, the problem with the invisible minis is lack of personalization.  When I put an “invisible mini” on the table, I want it to pretty much look just like my normal mini.  Perhaps that’s overly type-A of me, but that’s where I’m at.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that Litko is likely to solve – there are too many minis out there for them to create a customized “invisible” for each and every one.  And really, for that reason, I don’t expect them to.  Guess we’re going to have to tackle this one ourselves.

Remember Shrinky Dinks?  They were flexible plastic sheets that you would color, put in the oven, and they’d shrink into a miniature hard plastic version of their former selves.  Well, what if you could make a shrinky dink of your mini?  You’d get the same effect as the Litko invisible minis, but with something that looks exactly like your normal tabletop mini.  Craft time!!


Getting the plastic

So, the first thing we need to do is get some Shrinky Dink plastic. Do they still make that stuff?  Interwebs to the rescue!  Of course they do.  And you can get blank sheets.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit pricey (in my opinion).  Fortunately, there’s an option B.

Option A (the easy option): Get some blank sheets of Shrinky Dink plastic.

Option B (the cheap option): Get some #6 plastic.  Apparently, this IS shrinky dink plastic.  It is most commonly found as clear plastic takeout containers.  You’ll know it’s #6 plastic because there will be a “6” stamped inside the little “recycle” symbol somewhere on the container.  I got mine from the grocery store salad bar by putting a single pineapple chunk into the biggest container they had. 25 cents. The checkout guy didn’t seem to care.  When I got home, I cut out all the flat areas of the container as I ate my delicious chunk of pineapple.


Tracing your mini

I buy all my minis from Reaper, so I got on their website, found their (unpainted) image of my mini, and grabbed it.  Then, I opened gimp (though any image program, even MS Paint, will do) and played around with the size of the image until it was printing out at roughly double the height of my actual mini.  Since the plastic shrinks to about half its starting size, the finished product will be something about the same size as your mini.  I printed it out and laid the image behind the plastic.  Then, using permanent marker, I traced a rough outline of the mini onto the plastic.  I wasn’t worried about details, just general outlines did the trick.  I also added a tab to the bottom to stick the mini into its base.  Make sure the tab is not as wide as the feet, otherwise, there will be nothing to stop the mini from sliding too far into the slot in the base.  Yeah, I learned that one the hard way.

Cutting it out

Use scissors.  Don’t worry too much about getting really close to your outline; you want a little buffer between the lines your drew and the actual edge of the mini.  Also, the plastic is fairly brittle, so if you cut at too sharp an angle or bend it too much, you may end up with a cracked piece of plastic.  Keep your curves and angles nice and wide.  If you need to cut out a sharp angle, cut one side with the scissors, then back them out, and cut the other side.  Don’t try to swing the scissors around inside the angle to cut your way back out.

Making the base

Either use a compass (for a circle) or make a 2 inch square for the base.  Cut a slot in the middle the same size as the tab you made when you traced the image for your mini.  I did use an Exacto knife to cut out the slot, but it was a real pain with this type of plastic.  Next time I’ll probably try using scissors, making a slot that cuts in from the edge of the base.  The slot will leave a gap in the edge of the base, and will be longer than I need it to be, but I don’t foresee any problems with that if the tab on the mini is the right size.  The other idea I’m toying with is to not cut a slot into the base until after the base has been shrunk.  The hole in the middle seems to make it shrink a little unevenly, as seen in the pictures.  I’ll probably use a drill to punch a series of holes in the shrunk base, and then filing the edges smooth.

Melt it!!


Now, the fun (and for some of you, nostalgic) part.  Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F (177 C).  When it’s all heated up, place the mini on a flat piece of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, ink side up, and put it in the oven.  The mini will shrink rather quickly (~30-90 seconds).  If it warps over and sticks to itself, you can carefully reach in with a butter knife or kabob skewer, and bend it back.  This should be obvious, but DON’T USE YOUR FINGERS!! When it’s done, you’ll see no more movement. If it looks a little warped, use the flat of a butter knife to smooth down the wavy parts while it’s still soft in the oven.  Remove it, and let it cool.

Fine tuning

The last step is to make sure the tab fits into the slot.  If it does, you’re golden.  If not, use some modeling files or a nail file to widen the opening.  You may also need to file the tab shorter so that it doesn’t stick out the bottom of the base.

Well, there you have it folks.  If you preheat your oven while you’re doing the other parts, you should be able to complete this little project in well under an hour.

Leave further tips and outcomes in the comments below – I’d love to hear how yours turns out!!

UPDATE: I’ve written a second article on how to base your invisible minis.  Check it out here.