Monday, September 12, 2022

Miniature Figure Scale Analysis for Makers

TLDR: a post in which I offer miniature makers/printers some useful scale guides.

Miniature figures: does scale really matter? Nah, not really ... also, of course it does. It depends on how tactically your home game is represented at the table and played. I have never really been that concerned about the scale of figures in play, but once I started messing around with 3-D printing that all changed because I started picking up STL files with no idea of the scale in which they were designed, which left me uncertain as to how to shrink or grow them, if at all, in my slicing software of choice (Chitubox as of right now).

So, I set about trying to figure out how to translate between "real life" (e.g. fictional world) measurements in feet and miniature measurements in inches and millimeters. The most common scale is something like 1" = 25mm = 3' of fictional height. Most humanoid figures at this scale are around 2" (6' fictionally) tall. But it gets more complicated because most figures take up one space (1" or 5') on a battle mat. Confusing? Yes, because 1" is both 3' in height but 5' in diameter – except it isn't. The difference is that 5' is "fighting space" not that the figure is literally 5' wide. In other words, base sizes are an approximation of how much space a creature needs in which to operate. From a mathematical standpoint, for figuring scale, base size is an afterthought. It's best to work everything else out and then choose a base size that makes sense around 1/2 of the figure height, usually.

If that's clear, then let's move on to fictional size categories in D&D. I'm not sure when this started (probably 3e but I didn't do the research), but D&D has some fairly clear categories of size from Tiny (less than 1' tall) to Gargantuan (20' tall or more). D&D also has a guide for how many spaces each of these size categories needs on the battle mat. Excellent. That makes things relatively easy.

Note that I say "tall" but sometimes the greatest dimension of a figure is length, e.g. a giant crocodile is not very tall but awfully long. I would suggest thinking in terms of greatest dimension.

Given all that, here's how the math works out for each foot of fictional height in 25mm and in 28mm.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Basically my thought process when approaching a 3D print of a mini is this.

1) Determine or decide how tall/long/wide the creature would be in the fictional world. Sometimes the answer is spelled out in a monster manual.

2) Translate that into rough mm dimensions and scale the model to suit. 

3) If the base is integral, see how close you are to one of the "stops" in the chart below and adjust if desired. If separate, print the base you need. 

Basilisk are 10' long in 1981 Moldvay/Cook D&D. 10' is roughly 3" or 80mm in length and straddles the line between Med. and Large. In the 5e Monster Manual it is listed as Medium. Ok, what do I do with that? If I print it 3" long it will probably need a 2" base (a lot of the figure being its tail). I could either find a mini with the tail wrapped around or I could just shrink the creature down so that it looks right on a 1" base. The best answer is probably a 1" base with the creature sticking out into a second space on the battle mat. But I could easily see a 2" diameter base or a 1x2" base. 

It's not always easy. :)

I hope this helps someone!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Project Grayskull Part 4 - Of Towers and Teeth!

TLDR: A continuation of my project: turning Castle Grayskull into a GM screen. Earlier posts: Project Grayskull Part 1Part 2, and Part 3

With the exterior painted it was time to tackle some engineering. Technical building isn't really my strong suit, but I can be as handy as I need to be most of the time. First I tackled the shelves using some pegboard I had around. I cut them out with a sabre saw and decided they were too thin, so I cut out two more in the same shapes and glued them together. It would have been easier, perhaps, to go get some nicer wood of the correct thickness, but I just wanted to keep moving forward. 

Since the shelves and the dice tower kind of came together at the same time, I'm going to show the piece I used for the top half of the dice tower first.  Obviously some kind of piece for joining misaligned pipes. I figured the corrugated sides and the bends I planned to put into it would work for tumbling the dice, no "baffles" necessary inside. I painted the piece gray so that it looked more in-keeping with the build. The following pictures show it in place, with the two shelves (unpainted and then painted). Note the cut-out. Also, on the top right, you can see that I made a small u-shaped shelf to hold the top of the tower.


My original idea for the bottom end of the dice tower was for the dice to free-fall into a u-bend that would shoot them out of the mouth. I used a black piece of PVC and globbed up the end with hot glue, then painted it a flesh pink just to be fun/gross. Here it is. Don't get too attached though, because it's going away.

Note the view of the inside of the drawbridge in these photos. Still just green plastic. I'll get to that below. But first, a slo-mo video of me testing out the dice tower. Please turn your sound on so you can hear the clunky tumbling of dice in slow-mo. Also note how the bottom end of the dice tower wobbles. 

Basically, I gave up on this approach because of my dissatisfaction with the instability, the gloopy-throat look (just too much), and the inelegance of the two-piece solution. Plan B involved something subtler, something that was firmly hung instead of just sitting in place, and (bonus) a separate hidden dice input for the GM!

Here is the plan A and plan B pieces side-by-side. Sharp eyes will catch the LED light tape, remote, and USB power bank in the background. That comes later. The black-pipe solution on the right is the new plan. I hot-glued the top of it to the shelf as pictured below. It works great, by the way, and is very sturdy. I keep forgetting little things I did in the process because all of this work was completed over a year ago. You I put some craft foam in the bottom of the castle as a kind of flooring. But then I ended up cutting away some of it and painting the space below the dice tower bottom all black so that it looked better from the outside when open. Looking at this makes me a little nauseous that I didn't go with black on the upper part of the tube and the shelf too. But ... "perfect is the enemy of done."

And here is what the top of the dice tower looks like from the front, with the case closed. In a later stage I add a backing piece behind the tower to hide the interior. The goal here is for players to be able to reach up and throw dice in the tower. The GM can use the top or the secret side input from behind the screen. 

Ok. Now for something fun. The inside of that drawbridge/gate/door thing. I used moldable plastic to create teeth. You just dump the pellets into a mug of boiling water and they become malleable for a few minutes. I bought this stuff, Polly Plastics, through Amazon. The front tooth and near-jaw molars were just molded a few seconds before the picture. The molars along the side near the jar are cooling into a cloudy white. When fully cool, the plastic is white and hard, as seen in the following picture.

The plastic is a bit waxy and smooth at first, and it takes a good coat of primer before it will take paint well. Oh! I almost forgot, why even do this? Well, otherwise the dice would roll right off. Note that in the dice video above I placed a bit of pipe-strap in a U shape around the tongue to get an idea of how high the dice "dam" needed to be. Even now the dice don't always lay flat on the tongue. I'm considering a bit of clear resin poured on the tongue to make it look wet and to also make it flat. Finally, I ended up putting a spot of craft foam inside the bottom bend of the black PVC to slow the dice down just a little. I mean, they really come flying out!

Here it is finished and painted. No comments from anyone who understands teeth please. I clearly don't, but I think it works, visually. I tried to roughly match the upper chompers, which look gorilla like to me. Here's a front and side view.

That was a lot to absorb, so we'll leave it there for now. Next up "finishing steps?"

Friday, September 2, 2022

Project Grayskull Part 3 - The Paint Job!

TLDR: A continuation of my Castle Grayskull turned into a GM screen project. Earlier posts can be read here: Project Grayskull Part 1 - In the RawProject Grayskull Part 2 - Planning and Prepping.

With the shell cleaned up and the eye holes drilled, it seemed like a good time to get the paint done. I started with a coat of primer. Specifically, I used Rust-Oleum 2X Satin Granite spray paint. 

This was my first mistake -- not the paint, the paint is GREAT -- the color. If I had it to do over again I would have based it flat black since most of the painting I did was dry brush, but we'll get to that. Here is Castle GRAYskull. Note the purple die. Gonna talk about that next.

The die shown is a Roll4Initiative d20. They are a little larger than normal d20s. I ended up replacing these with plastic purple gems, but I think I'm going back to the d20s. (You'll see the difference in a future post.) Thing is, these were just a little big to sit in the socket easily, so I may go with a different brand. But the idea was to rotate them so that one eye showed the blessed 20 and the other accursed 1! Like this:

You can see the light leaking out around them here. But they are just lying in the sockets; they aren't hot glued in yet. 

The next step was greens. Now I knew I was going to be using a lot of paint and the detail is good but on a much larger scale than a miniature, so I bought cheap craft acrylic paint from Michael's. The greens I colors I used were Bright Mint and Apple Tart, with a bit of Ocean Breeze. In fact, these paints account for about 90% of the work (I forgot to put the red I used on the roof - see below - in the shot). 

I did dry-brush for a lot of it, which is to say I loaded the brush, then dabbed a bunch off on a paper towel, then dragged the brush across the surface (rather than jabbing it into the cracks). I made multiple passes sometimes with one color of green, sometimes with another, and sometimes with the brush loaded with a loose mix of both (swirled or loaded one color to a side but not actually mixed). Here and there are touches of turquoise. This photo shows the base coast. The green is basically done, but the teeth, door, and some other details are simply blocked in with brown or white. I did make one pass here painting a runny black back into the cracks (remember I said I just wish I had based it black?), the gray was too soft and didn't provide enough contrast. The eye sockets were painted black for contrast and the dice have been glued in here, with lights shining behind them. (These weren't the lights I eventually used, just a cheap string of Christmas white LEDs that ran on a battery.) 

Anyway, it's already starting to look pretty cool, but just wait.

Here is the (close to) final result, exterior, after painting the rocks, the metallic bits on the door, and the (what I perceived to be) copper dome. The roof tiles were done in a brick red for contrast with the green. I also blotched some green bits in on the copper to make it look like verdigris from natural weathering. At this point I was getting hella pleased with myself. This picture was taken about 6 work hours (non-consecutive) into the project. The original matching picture is placed immediately below the painted piece for comparison.

This is honestly the first time I've looked at the pics side by side. I kind of miss that high, acid green on the original, but the overall effect of mine is clearly superior, a bit more "realistic" (if such a word even makes sense here), and kind of ghostly. It's amazing how much more of the detail you can see when it isn't literally camouflaged by random paint sprays. 

The next step involves dealing with the innards. Shelves, dice tower tube, inside of the gate, etc. Stay tuned. 


Thursday, September 1, 2022

Project Grayskull Part 2 - Planning and Prepping

TLDR: A continuation of my Castle Grayskull turned into a GM screen project. The first part can be read here: Project Grayskull Part 1 - In the Raw

Here's a quick look at my first ideation of the project, from a Moleskine I was keeping at the time. This was probably drawn around November 2020. It's a pretty solid beginning though it's clear I don't know what to do with the left half other than "storage." I was mostly thinking about the dice tower and lighting components.

My initial idea for the dice tower involved a bendy, corrugated hose, like one might find on a shop vac. Turns out those are kind of pricey and I was better off with just common PVC anyway. (I used black PVC so I didn't have to paint it, but more about the dice tower -- and my mistakes -- in a future post.)

I didn't want a plug-dependency, so from the beginning I was thinking of LED lights that could be run off a USB power bank or battery pack. From there my notions were pretty vague about what else I might want, but some earlier mock ups of cardboard shelves and such informed me I had room for either full-sized books or digest books and a shelf on the left hand side of the open screen. See pics below. 

I opted for digest-sized books, partly because the weight of multiple full-sized books seemed impractical and because I could pack more into the build if I stuck with zine-sized books. I thought about a removable shelf on the left, but given the really curvy nature of the interior, I was afraid it wouldn't stay put if I didn't glue it in. 

I mocked up these cardboard shelves in multiple stages. I didn't have one of those flexible rulers that will hold a shape, so I just kind of worked with paper and guesses until I got it right. I have sense found some images of the shelves online and think I might have used those to trace, but I would have had to scale them up to the right size before printing. 

At this point I took my first scary, irreversible step and drilled holes for the light-up gem-eyes. I drilled them at 1.75 inches in diameter. I was really afraid that the bit would catch and make a crack in the case but that didn't happen. If it had, I supposed I would have repaired it with Milliput (two-part epoxy like "green stuff" but dries faster/harder).

Next up - painting and lights (attempt #1)!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Project Grayskull Part 1 - In the Raw

When I first went to Gary Con in 2018, I saw Reid San Filippo's fabulous GM screen fashioned from a Castle Grayskull playset. Once that idea gets in your head, there's no getting it out, so I do what all "geniuses" do – I stole it. (The idea, not his GM screen.)

Though I didn't know it at the time, Reid's was still in the beginning stages of his project; he has since added a lot to it. He also did a far better job of documenting his process than I have. But I'll try to make up for it with a detailed narrative for others who want to follow.

In case you don't know anything about it, Castle Grayskull was a central icon of the He-Man toys and cartoon (c. 1982-83). The castle is a major source of power but neither He-Man nor his archenemy Skeletor live there. Which confuses me a little ... and here is where I admit I've never watched more than 10 minutes of the cartoon. 

I don't know if I would have ever acted on the idea until a friend of mine actually bought the castle for me and shipped it to me. (The shipping, as I understand it, was 2-3 times more costly than the castle!) 

Here it is in its virgin state. Well. Maybe not virgin, but rather lovingly used. All the shelves, stickers, figures, accessories, etc. were missing. In these photos I have scraped off a sticker that was in the bottom inside and washed it to remove any major surface dirt. The sticker was surprisingly hard to remove, despite using Goo-Gone and a razor blade. I wasn't fully successful.

I want to take this slow, so even though I have already nearly finished this project I'm going to write about it on a once-a-week basis for a while. Primarily because I want you to look at this thing and imagine what you might do with it! I hope you enjoy watching it be transformed.

The iconic front: case closed

The exterior: case open/drawbridge up

The interior: case open/drawbridge up. Note the brackets for shelves at the midline (both sides) and at tower level (on right).

The top: case closed. Note the awkward "holes" - you can also see them from the case closed front (above) and back (below) views.

The back: case closed. It cracks me up how the black paint was just "striped" on with no regard to the actual contour of the sculpt. I love the two shades of green though (lime and mint?). I kept/replicated those for my paint job (next post). I like to think of them as the ghosty-greens.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

HD > hp

TLDR: instead of tracking hp, make a box or circle for each HD a creature has and tick them off as the hits come in, rounding up or down to "5" per box.

Let's start with this - hit points (hp) is just a more granular way of representing hit dice (HD). In most old school games, creature HD come in d8s. An average roll on a d8 is 4.5. So 1 HD = 4.5 hp, on average. Just to make it easy, we'll round that to a ratio of 1:5.

Weapon damage varies from d4 to d10, usually. The ranges, averages look like this:

  • d4: 1-4, 2.5
  • d6: 1-6, 3.5
  • d8: 1-8, 4.5
  • d10: 1-10, 5.5
But just as aside, let's remember that initially all weapons did d6 damage, rather than variable dice damage, in D&D (1974, 3LB). In which case the average hit was around 4hp. The average of the averages here means that a "hit" is roughly equal to 4 damage, or 1:4.

One might even say that the average hit (1:4) and the average HD (1:4.5) are about the same. That's not coincidence. It's just Gygax's fancy way of amping up the meaning of hits and hit dice – of making them more granular. (Or is that less granular? I never get that right. I mean to say, more finely grained.)

Running encounters with hp is something we are all familiar with, I think. If a creature has 7 HD (32 hp), we start with 32 and whittle it away as the hits come in. Let's say the damage done to a creature by a party over the course of a few rounds goes like this: 2, 9, 4, 6, 7, 1, 10! That's a total of 39, with the final shot getting in 7 points of "overkill" damage. That's all fine and good. Basic addition/subtraction math is pretty easy. 

But why all this fine granularity? Is it for some notion of "realism" or to make things less predictable? Consider the following way of doing things, specifically as a GM tracking monster hp.

Same monster, same fight. The monster's HD are marked as bubbles like:

Monster: OOOOOOO

As the damage comes in the bubbles get marked off as follows:

  • 2: none, but maybe a dot or tick mark to show a weak hit. 
  • 9: two! (10/11*)
  • 4: one (15/15)
  • 6: one (20/21)
  • 7: one (25/28)
  • 1: none? one? This is the GM's call if their gut says they are running behind actual damage. Let's say none for argument's sake. (25/29)
  • 10!: two (35/39)
* The parentheses show damage marked in hp bubbles vs. damage actually done, by the math, in weapon strikes. 

Basically, this combat would have gone the same number of turns whether we were tracking hp or HD. And I believe, from having done this many times (tracking HD bubbles rather than hp) that the difference is negligible. Maybe sometimes it takes one more or one less hit than it would have if we were doing the math.

What is the upside? My answer is that I find it a lot more satisfying to tick off a bubble than to subtract one number from another and write down a new number. The tracking of wounds takes up a little less headspace than tracking hp does, and even the note-taking is slightly faster. Anything that makes me more fluid at the table is a big deal for me. An odd side effect is that I know exactly how much space tracking wounds is going to take in my page of prep, whereas with math I have to save margins or some other white space for recording hp and hits.

Here's a two-fight scenario I ran last Sunday from my journal. I could find you a prettier example, but I'm going to be "real" here and show you the most recent one. There's a lot going on here. Bubbles for spell-like abilities as well as HD, lots of chicken-scratches and shorthand concepts that only make sense to me, etc. But the point is I replaced at least 7 pages of a book with this two-page journal spread and it made running the session waaaaay easier for me. The other argument I might add is that it gives me a little room to pace the fight better without cheating, but that argument gets a little nuanced and might come off as fudging. It isn't like dice fudging at all, but it is a bit like squinting to get the overall effect rather than trying to see detail – a trick artists use to check their compositions. Anyway ...

This is my method; your mileage may vary of course. However, I really can't see the downside of tracking HD/Wounds over hp. 

I suppose this also begs the question, do I do the reverse? Ask players to track their HP as Levels/Wounds and deliver hits from creatures in increments (i.e. a hit of 14 damage means I say "mark off three wounds")? No, I don't do that. Players have a lot less to track and their hp means infinitely more to them than monster hp does to me.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Fantasy Genres by World-Building Perspective

TLDR: See the highlighted portion.

High fantasy is a problematic term. I was discussing Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series with an expert -- or at least someone who has read the series more than once. I am not an expert; I haven't read ANY of the books, yet. 

The discussion began with whether it was okay to read on an e-ink Kindle, and specifically whether I would miss/need maps, genealogy trees, etc. to read the book. In fact, it kind of started with whether one should just dive in and read without worrying about cataloguing the proper nouns or whether one should take notes. I kind of settled on note-taking. It seems that reading Erikson is the kind of activity where investment pays off, so I'm going to give it a go, despite the fact that I tend not to like high fantasy from the 80s forward. I find it too often riddled with non-essential proper nouns and history. 

And that is all context for the following Discord discussion in which I said something that seems kind of important to me. (I often don't know what I really think until I hear myself say it.) My conversant will be simply "JK" for anonymity. 

JK: Yeah - it’s kinda nuts how developed the world is but as I mentioned in my message it’s deffo not ‘high fantasy’

It’s maybe ‘Epic Low Fantasy’ lol

Ray Otus: "High" is a problematic term for sure. I'd say there is fantasy that is concerned with world building from the top down (global, thorough, past and present, methodic) and there is fantasy concerned with world building from the bottom up (inside out, incidental, on-the-fly, always in context). For me that distinction accounts for a lot of high vs low -- moreso than grittiness of tone or how polarized the morality of the world is.

Any time you "need" a map to read the fiction, you are dealing with top-down fantasy. Most of the old sword-and-sorcery stuff ends up having maps (e.g. Newhon) but you never really need it to read the fiction and it wasn't there from the start. Just something that came later.

JK: Totally agree!

Ray Otus: I tend to gravitate toward characters and stories over world-building, so I like the bottom up approach better for my own reading. That doesn't make it a better approach. Many people like the top-down approach more.

But I like Tolkien too, so ... lol. I'm not exclusive.

JK: I really like the way you define that distinction & Erikson’s stuff is deffo bottom up - there is a very large cast of characters & he often focuses on how the ‘meta’-forces (the Gods, the Empire etc) effect the  the ‘regular Joe’s’  & (arguably) the main focus is a low level military unit who were probably his main party in gaming terms. I’ve never read Glen Cook’s Black Company novels but many have drawn those out as an influence & he’s said as much himself

(I also love Tolkien despite being a ‘low’ guy in theory!)

Ray Otus: Cook is definitely bottom up. It's interesting you say Erikson is that way. I would have guessed top-down, but as someone who hasn't even read the first sentence I'll buy what you are selling. Hmm. This will be an interesting read for me I think.

I guess from one perspective you might call Tolkien bottom up as you don't need a map, not really, to read The Hobbit or even The Lord of the Rings. Many people talk like Tolkien had it all worked out before he published any of it, but the 1937 edition of The Hobbit would argue otherwise. I think it worked hand-in-hand: the world-building and the fiction. 

JK: Cool - let me know how you go - one final caveat - a lot of people don’t like the first book (!) but push through & enjoy it from then on (!!) I personally don’t understand that as I really enjoyed the first one from pretty much the first page but I’d be remiss to not mention this common criticism!

He even talks in the intro to the copy I have about being told to rewrite (but in characteristic fashion refusing lol)

Ray Otus: I sort of expect a hurdle. A lot of great fiction (TV series included) take a while to get attached to, but then they start yielding richness after richness.

People who bounce off of Erikson are probably not interested in being caught up in a project. And that's ok! I'm often that person.