Tag Archives: Terrain

Dungeon Accessories: Slimy & Wet Terrain

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Just last Saturday, I had to trudge out to the garage to get some stuff, and noticed that I had left some of my terrain making supplies on the bench from the Gencon Fourthcore Deathmatch models I made. One of the pieces I made used a product called “Envirotex Lite” for the pools of boiling blood. As I was boxing everything up to bring inside, I had a small brainstorm. Why couldn’t I use it to make small puddles that could be placed on terrain pieces to create areas of wetness or slime? A little paint could add some color, and in my tests with it earlier this year, it held its “puddle” shape as it dried. I decided to give it a shot. And it turned out great.

This is a super easy craft that takes less than 10 minutes to do. Here’s what you’ll need: Continue reading

Foam & Grids & A Story

Recently, I’ve been working on a few different D&D projects that have drawn me away from focusing on this blog as much as I would like to.  That leaves me with a small amount of time to actually blog.  You will eventually see the fruits of those “distractions” here, but for now, I am not at liberty to discuss anything.  However, there is one small element to one of the projects that was a real a-ha moment for me, and I thought I would share it with you.

A little history: about 8 years ago (has it really been that long??) I started dabbling in terrain.  My first effort was a sort of pit or maze made out of foam; my intention was for PCs to find themselves stuck in the pit and needing to make their way out.  One of the most vexing elements to this project way back then was how to get a grid onto the foam.  After all, you can make terrain out of foam as beautiful as you want to, but it’s rather useless for combat without any sort of grid.  What I ended up doing (I blush to think of how complex I made such a simple task) was creating a frame out of basswood and attaching eye screws as 1 inch intervals all around the frame.  Then, I wove fishing wire into the frame so that the lines created a grid, and tightened it with the eye screws until the lines were taut.  Finally, I laid down a base coat of white on the foam, put the fishing line grid on top of that, and then painted the foam brown with the fishing line grid frame still in place.  Wherever the fishing line was didn’t get brown paint, and when I lifted the frame off, I had a white grid.  Don’t worry if you can’t picture it – just trust me when I say it was a lot of work for something that merely turned out to be adequate.  I threw the grid frame and the pit terrain out long ago, so no pictures.  I will note, however, that I was ultimately happy with how the project turned out, overall.

Fast forward a few years, and I was still dabbling in terrain.  This time, I’d taken on a much larger project for a much larger audience.  The group I game with was asked to run a Battle Interactive for Living Greyhawk at a convention in Richmond, VA.  I apologize for not remembering the name of the con, but it’s not really germane to the discussion anyway.  Tyson and I volunteered to create some terrain for the high level tables, and agreed that, based upon the size requirements, foam was the way to go.  We spent many evenings holed up in my girlfriend’s (now my wife) basement, working on several hills and fields.  Again I ran into the grid problem.  I still had the fishing line frame at this point, but it was much too small for what we were doing, and therefore would have been cumbersome to use, so we scrapped that idea.  What we ultimately did was forego a grid altogether, and instead advise players to bring tape measures to the con.  I don’t know how word got out about the tape measures, I just know we didn’t put grids on the terrain.  Gridless worked out ok at the con from what I gather, though I wasn’t involved in DMing the high level tables.  It seems to me that using a tape measure to figure range seems cumbersome though, so in my mind, gridless is also a less-than-optimal solution (sorry Warhammer fans).

In the end, I was also happy with that project.  I don’t remember all the terrains we made (there were at least four), though I do remember one was a hill with a circle of Druidic standing stones at the top, from the center of which a massive oak tree that had been cut down.  That was a fun project, if a little time consuming, even for two people.  Tyson and I both have families now, so doing something on that scale again would probably be out of the question.  Either that, or we’d have to work smarter instead.

So now we’re up to present day, and again I find myself working on a fairly large project that again requires the use of foam.  This time, the foam isn’t the main building material, as in the past, but is rather the base for a model.  Still, it’s an integral part of the whole, and needs a grid on it.  Again, the grid vexes me.

At this point, I will apologize to all the readers who don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “foam.”  I know I shouldn’t make assumptions, so I will define for you what “foam” is.  Or maybe just show you a picture:

I'll bet you can't guess where I bought this...

When a terrain hobbyist talks about “foam,” they’re talking about these huge 4’x8′ sheets of siding insluation for houses.  It’s incredibly cheap, especially when compared to styrofoam that you buy at craft stores.  You can also make really big stuff with it out of one piece.  You can see I’ve already cut my piece out of that sheet there – it was 2’x2′.  I would have had to glue craft store styrofoam together to get something that size, and would have paid double for the privilege.

So there I sit, as I said, vexed by the grid.  No way I was going to make another fishing line frame, and gridless was also out of the question.  If only… there was a way to draw a grid on the foam.  Or maybe I should just, you know, try drawing a grid on the foam (this, by the way, is my a-ha moment.  Sad, I know).  So I got some light green acrylic paint, and painted up the foam.  Then, I took a T-ruler and a dark green fine point sharpie, and lightly dragged it across the surface of the painted foam.  Lo and behold, when I removed the ruler, I had a nice, crisp, dark green line on my light green base!  I mean, it looked really good, and it took seconds.

I’m not really sure what the point of this story is.  It’s not really a “how to” other than to say, “if you need to draw a grid on a piece of foam, use a ruler and a sharpie.”  It certainly wasn’t obvious to me from the start, considering all the gyrations I went through for a grid on my first project.  I guess, aside from regaling you with a story about some of my D&D crafting experiences, the takeaway is this:  sometimes, you’ll run into a project that will stump you.  Often, you’ll shoehorn a less-than-ideal solution, just to get past the obstacle and get on with life, and that’s ok.   But don’t be afraid to go back to that type of project, multiple times if need be, because eventually, the perfect solution will present itself. 

Well, either that, or “if you need to draw a line on something, try using a sharpie.”

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?

Make This Modular Bridge Terrain for $10


Bridges are really cool.  They have the same confining qualities as a dungeon corridor without all the claustrophobia.  A bridge has the danger of falling off.  And come on, the most epic scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy was on the cavern bridge where Gandalf took his stand.  Let’s see if we can’t get a little of that flavor here.   

First, I am by no means an expert at making terrain.  Aside from painting and modifying miniatures, my D&D arts and crafts experience is limited largely to dabbling in this and that.  So when I tell you that this terrain is easy to make, I’m saying that from the standpoint of an amateur.  I will also say that I am not the type of person to make something for my game if I think it will only get used once.  I don’t like the idea of investing more time into making something than it will get used.  So, when I come up with an idea, I try to make it as modular as possible.  If I can’t think of five or six different ways to use something, it doesn’t get made.  Those are the ideals I approached this project with.  Easy, fast, and modular.  Let’s get started.   

Your shopping list:    

  • 2 pieces of 12x6x2 styrofoam rectangles (I found it in the floral aisle of my craft store)
  • 2 pieces of basswood, 1/2 inch wide, usually 24 or 36 inches long (in the wood crafts section)
  • 1 piece of basswood, 1/8 inch square, again usually 24 or 36 inches long.
  • Black, white, and brown acrylic paint.
  • (Optional) A piece of black felt and a piece of blue felt.  They’re about the size of a sheet of paper.

All this should come to about $10, give or take.  Be sure to Google coupons for your favorite craft store before you head out!  Also, you will need the following, which I happened to have, but you may not:    

  • Crafting Miter Box & Saw (wood crafts section again.  About $15)
  • Coping saw or styrofoam cutter
  • Various paint brushes
  • Elmer’s glue

So these things bring the total to more than $10, obviously, but are items you’ll get more use out of.  Also, you could probably use the saw that comes with the mitre box to cut the styrofoam, you’d just end up with a more “angled” edge than a “curvy” one.    

Start by laying the styrofoam end to end the long way, and mark off the top 2 inches of the foam.  Then, draw a curvy line within that 2 inch section, making sure that the curve is contiguous across both blocks.  Your blocks of foam should look like this:    

  Then, cut along the lines.  Try to keep the thinner pieces intact.  Here’s what they look like when they’re done.    


Mix up the black and white paint to make gray, and brush the edges of the foam (both the big and small pieces you cut out).  When the gray is dry, add a little black paint to some water, and “wash” the gray edges so that you fill in all the tiny holes in the styrofoam.  Washing makes a drastic difference.  Paint the top surface brown, and wash that in black.    


While your foam is drying, use the mitre box to cut your 1/2 inch wide basswood into 2 1/2 inch segments.  Make as many as you want, but make sure you have an even number.  Glue them into a bridge, and then use the 1/8 inch wood to make “wheel rails.”  The rails should be 2 inches apart; I used a 2 inch length of spare wood as a spacer, seen below with the X on it.    


Paint the bridge brown, and use a fine sharpie or a fine paintbrush to blacken the groove between every other slat.  This will create 1 inch spaces for players to put their minis in; the bridge is also 2 inches wide, so by telling players the minis need to either be on the left or right and between black lines, you now have an effective “grid” on the bridge without having to draw squares.    

Finally, once the paint is dry, take an exacto knife and cut a grid onto the styrofoam.  It doesn’t show up too well in the pictures, but it’s evident at the table.  If you want something more defined, I’d use dots of white paint, kind of like on dungeon tiles.    

To set the piece up, lay the black felt down to simulate a bottomless pit, and span the bridge across the opening.  Put the two smaller pieces of foam on top of the bigger pieces of foam as walls .   

So that’s pretty much it, believe it or not.  Total make time: about 1 1/2 hours.  Here are a few features of this really versatile terrain:    

  • By cutting 2 inches off the top, you left 4 inches a the bottom.  Incidentally, most dungeon tiles are 4x__ or 2x__, so you can lay tiles on top of this perfectly.
  • Because you drew a contiguous line across both pieces of foam, you can lay them end to end.
  • By laying felt in the gap, you can create the illusion of a bottomless pit with black or a river with blue.

Here are a few configurations you can make, besides the cavern bridge:    

 Cave corridor or cliffside path (lay foam end to end with the walls on top) 

Bridge over a river gorge (Blue felt for water, no confining walls)


Ravine with ambush at the top    


Stepped hill that the PCs have to scale 

A final note: You may see in the pictures that I used something other than brown paint as a surface on the terrain.  I used flocking with styrofoam glue, and I was very unhappy with the results, mostly because of the styrofoam glue.  It didn’t dry clear, and was all… “webby.”  If you want to use flocking, I would NOT recommend styrofoam spray glue.  If I were to do it again, I would paint the foam first, then brush on watered down Elmer’s glue.  Shake on the flocking, and use a spray bottle to spray more watered down Elmers over the top of the flocking.  You can also buy rolls of premade “grass” flocking type material in the model train or diorama section of your craft store, though I feel that stuff is kind of expensive for what you get.  In the end, brown paint will do just fine. 

How would you use this terrain?

Seasonal Changes in Your Campaign

It has occurred to me that we often overlook an important detail in setting the stage of any given encounter for our players. I’m not sure if it’s overlooked because it’s just easier to make assumptions, or if it’s one more thing that we’d rather not describe or think about. Of course, I’m talking about the use of seasons in our adventures.

Thinking back on the adventures I’ve played in, I can think of one (that’s right, one) that used weather or seasons to set the stage. That’s not to say that there weren’t others; indeed, I can sometimes mentally check out when the read aloud text comes along, and miss some of the carefully crafted prose that helps me imagine the setting. But by and large, I think that we often just kind of assume it’s eternally “late spring” – there are leaves on the trees, the grass is green, the weather is warm (but not too warm), and the sun is shining. I also think we can do better than that. There are a lot of things we can do with seasonal settings (and their resultant weather) that can really give the PCs a sense of “hey, this is different!”

Seasons Mark the passage of time

Seasonal changes have always been one of the markers people use to measure the passage of time. It’s a concrete thing we can point to that shows time is progressing. Unless you have an actual “in-game” calendar on the wall that you mark off for the players, seasons are the best tool you have to mark time in the campaign world. Think about that for a minute. If you feel it’s important that players perceive the passage of time over the course of the campaign, the most concrete thing you can do is change the seasons on them. How can you use this directly in your setting? For starters, if the PCs have to make a rather long, uneventful journey across the continent that you just kind of skim over, perhaps you can change the seasons between the start and the finish.  How else can we use seasons?  Read on…

Weave it into your narrative text

The easiest way to mark the season for your players is to include a passing mention of it in your narrative text.  Note that you can mention the season without beating players over the head with it, and on top of that add a really cool detail to a scene.  Observe:

  • “The warhorse’s snout trails white mist in the frigid winter air as the knight reigns him in beside you. “
  • “Passers by draw their cloaks tightly around them against the frigid pelting autumn rain.”
  • “The stifiling summer air presses you with  humidity, making your pack that much more of a burden as the midday sun beats down.”
  • “The morning air is thick with mist from yesterday’s springtime downpour.  The earth smells damp with new life, and the trees lie heavy with buds that will soon be leaves.”

Seasonal Festivals

This one feeds off the whole “passage of time” idea, but takes a different angle. Every culture has some sort of seasonal festivals. Even if the holiday is not directly tied to the season it’s in, we associate certain seasons with certain holidays. All you American readers, try this: 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day. In your mind, without having to think about it, you imagined a backdrop of summer, fall, winter, and spring/summer, respectively. Your campaign world should be no different. There should be holidays that correspond to certain seasons for the characters, including (very important) a New Year’s festival. If you don’t want to describe the season ad nauseum, this can be a good alternate way to mark the time of year for the players. Just be sure that the first time you introduce a holiday to the players, it’s significant enough that they clearly remember the season associated with the holiday.

Create different terrain

4th edition has introduced the concept of “fantastic terrain.”  The thing is, fantastic terrain doesn’t need to be, well, fantastic.  It can be mundane terrain that poses a challenge to the characters moving through it.  A forest floor padded thickly will fall leaves is actually difficult to move through with any grace.  Hip deep snow, even more so.  Trying to get a bead on a target when there’s a downpour of rain stinging your eyes can also be challenging.  Of course, fantastic terrain can also be a boon to characters.  Perhaps you want to minimally boost the damage or size of some of your wizard’s ice or snow spells during a winter storm. Maybe in the fall, necrotic resistances are different in certain areas.  And, this last one isn’t a combat effect, but maybe during the spring equinox, restoration rituals are easier to perform.

Mix it Up

Of course the ideal is to combine fantstic terrain effects with narrative and story elements to really hammer home the idea that it’s not “generic comfortable season” all the time. Ideally, when you hear players recounting stories of their adventures, you want them to reference the fact that “it was winter” at some point. Then you know you’ve done your job.

Have you ever highlighted a season in your game? Can you remember an encounter you played in where the season was important?

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?