A few months ago, The She DM posted a great DIY Miniatures article on how to make tentacle miniatures. If you’ve read even a few articles on this site, you know that I love the terrain/painting/arts & crafts aspect of this hobby. So this little gem was right up my alley, and I was appropriately excited to try it out. I’m not going to go through and re-hash all the steps, but it’s basically taking this toy octopus, and mounting its tentacles. If you want all the steps, you can check out her article; I have a few comments to add, but the real point of this article is how I took this awesome idea one step further. Continue reading
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:
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?
If you liked my article “Dungeon Accessories: The Well and The Pool,” you may have run out to buy some Water Effects to make your own pool and well. Chances are, you also got a little sticker shock when you saw how much the stuff costs. And maybe, just maybe, you decided not to get it because you thought you would never find another use for it. We get that, and we’re here for you.
The idea for this project came to me when I was going through my miniatures, and found this mini I had started painting to be a Hexblade back in the v3.5 days. I thought it would make a perfect 4th edition Swordmage. For those of you not in the know, Swordmage is a defender that uses magic alongside their melee weapon. You can find them in the Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide.
The mini already looks like a mage (she’s lightly armored) and obviously has a sword, but what else could I do to really make that connection between the mini and the character? What I really wanted to do was make a threatening ball of magical energy surrounding the outstretched fist. That’s when I thought of Water Effects, and the idea grew from “magical ball of energy” to “magic connecting hand to sword.”
There was a bit of other modification that the mini required before I could start painting. I won’t go into too much detail about that since the focus of the discussion is how I used the Water Effects to make the thread of magical energy:
- I got rid of the dragonette (pseudodragon?) on her arm. I used wire cutters to clip off the bulk of it, and then used model files to file down whatever was left.
- I stripped the old paint job off because the character is a Water Genasi, and I had a different color scheme in mind. I used some spray stripper I found at the hardware store, and a toothbrush.
- The sculptor intended the miniature to be a necromancer, so she’s standing atop a pile of skulls. I used the Water Effects to cover this up as well, as pictured below:
Now, on to the real fun. Before I started painting, I needed to prep the mini by drilling a tiny hole through the end of the sword (front to back), and another about halfway through her fist (straight up from the bottom). You can kind of see the hole in the end of the sword on the left there. I did this because the “magical energy” is basically Water Effects wrapped around a piece of wire, and the holes helped support the modification when I attached it to the mini. While I believe this would work without the holes, having them makes the job much easier. I used this pin vise to drill the holes. As an aside, a pin vise is a great investment if you work with modifying minis a lot or if you ever make multi-part minis; pinning pieces together makes the bond stronger. A jeweler’s drill would do the trick too.
Then, I painted the mini. I would highly recommend completing the paint job before you attach the wire because working around the wire would be cumbersome.
When the mini was ready, I took a piece of 26 gauge wire (check your craft store, I’m going to guess the Jewelry & Beading aisle) and painted it purple. Because the Water Effects dries clear, the color of the wire really glows through the finished product. Then, I applied the Water Effects to the wire. I used a straightened paperclip to apply it, and as I did that, I kind of pulled it outward to create “peaks” for the “licks of flame” effect. If you’ve played with this stuff at all, you know what I’m talking about. I kept adding and pulling until I was happy with what it looked like, and then let it dry overnight.
To attach it to the miniature, I simply inserted the wire into the hole at the end of the sword, and covered it all with a generous amount of Water Effects. I also added some along the top edge of the blade for effect. I propped the wire in place, and let it dry for a couple of hours. Then, I repeated the process at the other end, around the fist. Finally, once everything was dry, I drybrushed it white.
A few notes about the final mini:
- Don’t judge the paint job too harshly; I was experimenting with new paints, blacklining, and a different washing technique. With all that experimentation, something was bound to go wrong. There was also a bit of finishing work I did that didn’t get photographed.
- I normally spray my finished minis with Testors Dull Coat. When I sprayed this one, it “frosted” the Water Effects. The end result was something not quite as crystal clear as what you see in the pictures. Had I known that was going to happen, I would have dull coated it before attaching the wire. If you want a frosted effect, however, that’s a great way to go.
- This was really easy to do. If you’re thinking about getting into mini modification, start with something like this.
Does this have your creative wheels spinning? How would you use the stuff?
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?