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Troy’s Crock Pot: Building Terrain with One Tile Mold, Part 2

In the first part of this series we selected a mold for casting, assembled some 250 pieces for our dungeon tiles, planned what our modular dungeon tiles would look like and cut out mounting board pieces to fit.

Now we’re ready for the fun part — especially if you like building with Legos or Lincoln Logs or any similar toys — actually constructing our tile pieces.

1. Tile pieces, assemble!

The first bit of business is to do a dry-fit of our various pieces on the foam board cutouts. This way we know if we have enough pieces for the project, discover any that might be too flawed to use and get a feel for the construction itself.

For floor tiles, this is a simple matter of arranging them to fit on the mounting cutouts. But for more three-dimensional projects — such as doorways, stairs, a pedastal and the pool — this lets us plan out or test how the tiles are best used to build up dimension.

Planning prevents mistakes when it comes time to gluing. Here are the pieces laid out for the pedastal.

The key is to figure this all out before we start gluing. Once a piece is firmly glued on, you can only start over if there is a mistake.

My assistant for this part of the project, my 5-year-old son, Jonathan, who demonstrates dry-fitting the pieces.

What? No doors?

Over the years I’ve built a lot of doors. I obsessed over getting doors right for tile sets such as this. I’ve got molds that make wood doors, stone doors and metal doors. I’ve built closed doors and partially opened doors. I’ve constructed archways and door frames. I’ve even tried my hand at “secret doors” that slide and move. For those most part, they look pretty good.

This is what I’ve learned: Doors like those are a hassle. You have to swap out open and closed doors. Do you have a door that swings out or in? Even the “open” doors don’t allow enough room to let a mini stand in the doorway. And you can forget about moving a fig through an archway. It’s awkward and slows things down. Double doors are doubly problematic.

The solution: Don’t do it. If you need doors for, say a diorama, that’s a different matter. But any portal the players’ figs will likely pass through? Well, it’s better to build something like I did for this set, a U-shape that allows figs to be placed upon it just like any other tile. Any other depictions of the door, the materials used in its construction, the manner of its opening and hinging, are best left to a GM’s verbal description.

When it comes to game play, merely the “suggestion” of a doorway works best.

2. Get your glue on

I use Aleene’s craft glue for nearly everything I build with plaster. It’s got a stronger bond that ordinary school glues. But it’s also forgiving enough that you can fix mistakes before it dries completely.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

1) I use it pretty generously. I don’t treat it like mortar, so it’s seeping out between bricks and tiles, but speading it too thin results in a weak bond.

2) Once the glue dries, it repels craft paint. (Think about how difficult it is to add crayon to a spot of dried glue. The principle is the same).  This is important. The less the glue gets on surface pieces, the better. I find I am washing my hands frequently during the gluing process to prevent adding tacky spots to surface areas.

I believe that gluing is Jonathan’s favorite part of the process.

3. Trimming

Sometimes things don’t always line up perfectly or you need to create an oddly shaped piece, such as with a floor cut diagonally. For those times, you need a craft knife to trim accordingly.

In this house, only adults get to use the craft knife.

4. Looks good enough to use

You should now have a set of tiles you can use for your modular dungeon. And yes, you could put them into play — if you don’t mind your table getting white plaster scuffs on it. We’ll cover those bare plaster pieces in the next part.

A handsome set of floor tiles. All they need is a coat of paint.
3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: Building Terrain with One Tile Mold, Part 2"

#1 Comment By Razjah On February 15, 2012 @ 7:42 am

This series is really interesting. Even if I never make plaster molds for my games, this is a great read.

I also like your nod to ease of game play rather than just aesthetics. I know some people who build terrain and go for looks more than functionality. Trying to use some of those terrain pieces seemed like more work than it was worth.

#2 Comment By Roxysteve On February 15, 2012 @ 8:10 am

You seem to have learned the same lessons I did from my 3D Space Hulk game board.

I know this is an article about plaster molding, but I wondered if you (or anyone here) has had experience with the PDF card terrain pieces sold on various websites? There are some very nice looking pieces, but I’m not sure about the durability in an average game.

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On February 15, 2012 @ 8:26 am

[6] – I’ll be including card terrain when I follow up with an article on alternative playing surfaces.
[6] In at least one respect, game mechanics dictates how you build. D&D, which is built around 5-foot move increments, requires 10-foot wide hallways, rooms that permit 4 PCs and 2 monsters to move easily, etc. Realistically, based on true castle floorplans, for instances, halls are narrow and tight and rooms are small — all with an eye toward defending them from invasion.