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Troy’s Crock Pot: Template terrain

What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of GMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.

We’ve had so many fine suggestions in the Stew lately about how to apply templates to your game prep. DNA Phil wrote about his goals in this regard [1]and Gnome-in-chief Martin Ralya has shared how he applies it to his Star Trek game [2].

But to be honest, I’m the game-prep fiend. I like planning out the little details — whether they come into play or not. It’s all about fleshing out the game world and the scenario. I don’t like leaving things to chance.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t also try to apply the advantages of templates to some aspect of my gaming prep. So as an exercise, I thought I would try to apply a template to an aspect of gaming prep that interests me the most, and see what I could come up with.

I decided I would see if templates could be used in the way I build gaming terrain for miniature combat. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that they could.

Templates don’t mean modular

I’ve constructed modular dungeon components before. Mostly, these are tiles and walls that can be assembled into any shape you desire. They are perfect for a dungeon crawl.

But a template application is somewhat different. This requires using interchangeable “set pieces” to a singular component. To me, the best analogy is is like set design in theater. The stage doesn’t change, just the dressing.

So, I got out my plaster and paints and created these components. The main piece is a “game board” with slots in the walls I can use to swap out the other components, such as stairs, doors, windows, and various furniture sets, such as a fireplace, an altar, a kitchen, an alcove, a balcony and a fountain.

I’ve also created other dressing components which aren’t tied to the slots, such as walls, beds, bookshelves, columns and tables.


Now, the beauty of these various pieces is I can insert these pieces into the four slots of my game board, which serves as the main floor. Really, at moment’s notice, I can create an encounter area. In less than five minutes, I created the following three encounter areas and snapped a picture of each:




Now, this template approach has advantages and disadvantages.

1. Speed. Even a modular dungeon takes time to assemble properly. But these go up very quickly.

2. Utility. Even with only four slots and a handful of pieces, I can combine them a great many ways. If you consider that stocking each combination with different monsters, then the variations increase.

3. Storage. A modular dungeon has an advantage here. By their nature all the tiles are smaller, the same size, and they can fit snuggly into storage, for either travel or retrieval. The “set pieces” are all different, so they take up more room.

4. Sameness. Despite the variety gained from the various combinations, there is a sameness to the template. It works fine for a standing structure, such as the various floors in a tower or fortress. But the “game board” doesn’t offer any surprise for exploration.

Ultimately, it’s use would depend on the type of group. Those for whom the challenge of a given encounter comes from the types of monsters and traps you use, then the shape of the landscape — the game board — matters little. Those that want to explore the twists and turns of a mad wizard’s dungeon, will be disappointed.

All in all, I think something like this — only with a sci-fi motif instead of a fantasy theme —  would be ideal for a setting such as Martin’s Star Trek game. This is like a set on a TV show. Re-arrange the pieces and the bridge can become Ten-Forward, a hallway with crew quarters or even the engine room.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: Template terrain"

#1 Comment By Ravenbow On January 19, 2011 @ 7:23 am

I really like what you have done with the molds. I like your chimney/stove as well.

I use this same concept in my games but on a smaller scale. I have ten 6×6 floors which I lay as I need them instead of a large square (as you mentioned about modular dungeons, this is merely a storage issue for me).

I like your paint scheme and incorporation of the small brick mold as your walls.

I do not recognize all of the molds used but most are from [7] if anyone else is interested. Be warned if new to the hobby, it is time consuming and addictive.

#2 Comment By samuraiko On January 19, 2011 @ 10:25 am

I love the kegs. It’s surprising how many people forget that inns would just have huge casks of beer and ale on hand for patrons.
Maybe this isn’t the space for it, but has there been any thought to doing a real review of how 3d “tiles”, whether cardboard constructions or plaster molded, can be used efficiently in the game space? Or even just a tutorial on how they can be made?

#3 Comment By steamcrow On January 19, 2011 @ 11:29 am

Great post. I too have enjoyed using wargaming terrain with my RPG gaming.

Another idea is to photograph your different setups before/after the game, so that you can add the layouts to your world notes.

That way, you can refer to past villain’s lairs, favorite pubs, and important temples to visit again.

#4 Comment By Gamerprinter On January 19, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

I have a product called Endless Terrain Battlemaps. A single set of ETB’s consist of 4 each, double side printed 11″ x 17″ full color terrain tiles – for a total of 8 tile faces. Each tile as a unique, though generic terrain layout, however all map edges are geomorphic, so you can align any map next to another and the terrain graphics match up perfectly (half trees on each corner of all maps line up).

Each tiles can placed any face up, rotated 180 degrees, flipped upsidedown. Just by arrranging four tiles in a rectangle, there are hundreds of layout combinations with just those tiles. A double set would mean thousands of combinations.

Starting sometime this week I am opening a website called FreeRPGMaps.com that will offer a full set of tiles each month following a different specific theme: woodlands, desert, arctic, jungle, etc. Each month, I plan to offer 4 bonus maps, 1 per week with a more specific terrain design offered as free downloadable PDFs. For my first set of Woodland tiles for example, the four free maps are: rocky hill, small lake, log cabin, and a burial mound. All four designs match the monthly Woodland terrain design being geomorphic with those tiles.

I plan to offer transitional tiles to allow two different terrain sets to line up – forest to desert, desert to mountains, etc.

Basic set of four tiles is one product for $19.95, however a subscription service is being offered where you pay for a basic set each month, and I will include all four bonus maps as two additional double side printed 11 x 17 maps included with the basic set (for a total of 6 double side tiles) for the same $19.95

I should be able to create up to 60 different terrain designs for 5 years worth of product.

I am also thinking of creating modern terrain sets as a separate subscription, or allow subscribers to mix sets from different lines. The modern map tiles would include: parking lot, mall, office building, etc.

Sorry to make this post like an Ad, but your topic really points at what I’m offering. It follows your Template Terrain idea – without the physical terrain pieces of yours, much more portable, fitting in less space. Heck a single 11 x 17 box could hold dozens of sets.

Anyway the site should be up and running within the next week, though I might put off start until the beginning of February, just to stay on schedule with the bonus map releases. Bonus maps are PDF downloads.

#5 Comment By Gamerprinter On January 19, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

Oh, all tiles have heavy lamination, so it will survive spills, and can be written on with marker or grease pencil – forgot to add that.

#6 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On January 20, 2011 @ 7:57 am

[8] – Glad you liked them. All the components are from HirstArts. Mostly small brick, cracked tiles, smooth bricks from the Roman temple and a handful of smaller pieces from the sci-fi molds.

samuraiko – Well, those kegs come from a dungeon dressing mold. So it’s a simple matter of pour and wait. But yeah, big barrels are a great, simple and explainable obstacle to put into any gaming encounter area.
[8] – Photographing setups for gaming notes is standard operating procedure for me. But that’s a great tip.
[8] – That’s certainly another way to go. You’re somewhat in my neck of the woods. I just may have to stop in sometime and check them out for myself.

#7 Comment By Gamerprinter On January 20, 2011 @ 11:17 am

[9] – Email me your shipping address and I’ll send you a set. Do a review or post an article and we’ll be square – you don’t want to see my messy office anyway…:)