Archive for the The Crafty DM Category

Hirst Arts – Making 3D Terrain

Posted in Hirst Arts,, Product Review, The Crafty DM, Uncategorized with tags , , on October 28, 2016 by boccobsblog

For some time now I’ve wanted to write about the Castle Molds from Hirst Arts. HA makes high-quality latex molds in the shape of medieval, Gothic, Roman, Egyptian, fantasy, and sci-fi architecture.


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You cast the molds using any number of products: plaster of Paris, hydrostone, dental plaster, resin, etc. You then take the pieces and glue them together into buildings, ruins and dungeons which can be used as 3Dterrain for table top minis games or rpgs.

Think of Hirst Arts blocks like fantasy Legos. The only thing limiting you is your imagination.


Image from


  • Cheap- The molds cost 25- 30 USD and can be used forever. The quality is on par with more expensive terrain like Dwarven Forge.
  • Limitless Possibilities – With just a few molds you can create infinite dungeons, ruins and buildings for your game.
  • Increased Game Play- Visual players will light up when you reveal your 3D gamescape. Plus having the game in three dimensions makes some aspects easiler, line of sight and area of effect. Mind’s eye theater players may scoff at 3d terrain, but overall player’s in my games seem to really enjoy seeing their fantasy world brought into 3d.
  • Several Genres Available- You can get molds for numerous historical and sci-fi setting. Also the genres can be used together to create interesting overlap.
  • Ease of Use- I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but even I can cast blocks, assemble them, and paint them into something that looks good.
  • Easy to Paint- The blocks paint up very well any even the most novice painter will see results. The blocks are very porous and show dry brushing very nicely.
  • Community of Support- Once you start into the Hirst Arts hobby there are several websites, podcasts, and videos out there to give you the support and inspiration to create amazing terrain.


  • Time Consuming- While the molds and the materials used are fairly cheap, casting blocks takes time (an hour to cast and a day to dry). And you will need to cast several times to create a building or a dungeon.
  • Fragile- If you use plaster of Paris your models will not be very strong, especially if you try to cast thin items like fences and doors.
  • Difficult to Transport- If you don’t host your game at your home, finding a way to get your models from point A to point B can be an issue. I use a copy box with sheets of bubble wrap from the post office.

If you can’t afford the majesty that is Dwarven Forge, Hirst Arts is an amazing way of creating 3D terrain for your fantasy roleplaying game. Here is an example of a dungeon that I made for FlatCon. It is a replica of The Tomb of the Sorcerer Thane, a Limitless Adventures Side Quest that I ran last weekend.


Now that you have some sweet 3D terrain, do you need some D&D quest ideas?

Puzzles in Place of Skills Checks

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, The Crafty DM with tags , , , , , , on September 12, 2011 by boccobsblog

Here are a few ideas to use in your game to replace standard dexterity and intelligence challenges. Those are really the only skills that can be taken into the real world. Handing your player a steel bar and telling them to bend it will be amusing, but result in certain failure for your player, unless you game with the Hulk. Likewise injecting your players with Anthrax as a means of switching up boring old Constitution checks will result in a decrease in players in your area.


This wooden puzzle would work great as a dexterity challenge. In place of rolling a dex check or using a dex-based skill (like open lock, balance, etc) you could have your player(s) pull blocks and set the difficulty in number of blocks removed as opposed to a simple DC/roll. The problem with this method is that Glinfor the elvish ranger has a 17 dex while, Joe the gamer does not. But it could be fun and present a new challenge at the table.

Tilt Puzzles

Remember those little plastic tilt games with silver balls inside them? They would also serve as an excellent replacement for a dexterity challenge. The tech-savor GM could use a tilt game on his/her smart phone also.


A Sudoku puzzle makes a perfect mental challenge. In a past game I used a Sudoku puzzle on a pc that wanted to read the mind of a person trained to resist mental probing. Rather than adding a couple of points to the DC of the roll, I gave the player a Sudoku puzzle to simulate the mental struggle and shifted the focus to another player to allow the mentalist time to work. It was a neat trick, but again you run into the problem of player skill vs. character skill, though with mental challenges you always draw on player knowledge so it isn’t as glaring. (For example, your wizard has a 24 int, that isn’t helping you solve that riddle). Sudoku comes in varying difficulties so they require little adaptation.


A printable maze serves as another physical representation of a mental challenge. They also work great as an alternate to rolling an int check when under the effects of a Maze spell. They can be found easily on the web in varying levels of difficulty. A maze may also work in place of a saving throw for mind-affecting spells or after a player has failed a spell and that die roll will prevent him/her from finishing the encounter.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas for changing things up at the game table and giving your visual and tactile players something to do. Using them all the time will get tedious and lose effect, but trying it once a campaign will be sure to impress your players. Remember, as the DM you’re the entertainer and you have to keep your act fresh to ensure your audience is having a good time and keeps coming back to drink your Dew and eat your Doritos.

D&D Props

Posted in D&D 3.5e DM Content, D&D 4e Content, The Crafty DM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by boccobsblog

I have been reluctant to post this article, as my groups rarely use props (beyond the letter or map). That is not to say I wouldn’t use props, I think they could add a lot given the right group. Here is a list of possible props for use with your D&D, Savage Worlds, World of Darkness or any fantasy setting.

Beggar’s cup– put a few coins in to make noise, extend the cup to a player (form them to place a coin in), and tilt it so they can see a message folded up inside

Scrolls– Spells printed on parchment and sealed with wax and a seal or a ribbon

Sand timer/ hour-glass– I have always wanted to place a massive hourglass on the timer and announce that the players have one hour to exit the dungeon

Coins– Chocolate coins, foreign coins, or if you really want to shine: Campaign Coins

Lock Picks– Maybe the players didn’t know the NPC was a rogue in disguise until they search his room

Jewelry– I found awesome junk rings and brooches at the Good Will store for next to nothing (unless you count the weird looks from the lady at the counter or the hours of mocking from my wife)

Rocks or Geodes– Tumbled rocks can be purchased at a craft store for cheap. Maybe the work as keys or a spell focus

Compass– Maybe it points to treasure, or the last owner’s killer

Weapons– Every geek has a sword or a mace from the flea market or the Renn faire. Just don’t get all hopped up on Mountain Dew and start swinging it at folks

Sealed Letters– Card shops and specialty store carry fancy envelopes and stationary fit to write an invite to Castle Ravenloft on. Maybe find someone who can knows calligraphy to write the letter for you

Leather pouches– place a number of small coins, picks, props, notes, red herrings, in there and let the players figure it all out

Game board– I think we’ve all used a chess puzzle at one point or another

Cards– Skip a combat encounter and play a few hands of Three Dragon Ante with your players in their favorite tavern and give them xp for role-playing. Maybe use poker chips or campaign coins

Tarot cards– Read your players fortune and drop hints about upcoming adventures or let the cards write the next adventure for you

Runes– Take flat rocks and paint strange symbols on them. Make custom runes from clay, Sculpy, or Fimo. Place a codex in the dungeon to decode them

Keys– Buy some old skeleton at a junk shop or antique store. Use a fine tip Sharpie or a knife point to make cryptic markings on them

Books– Take an old book from the used book store or antique shop and hollow it out, or underline certain words that make a different message

Spell book, journal, – Take a blank book and fill it with dark symbols, runes, sketches, bits of information, lies, misdirection, distress, burn, waterlog the text to make it look ancient. Check out sites on Mythos Tomes to get ideas and inspiration

Puzzle Lock– One year at Gen Con, I went through a True Dungeon Session and we had to pick a lock, rather than rolling dice, the DM had an actual puzzle lock that we had to figure out. There are several degrees of locks available on the web, some are quite challenging

Old bottles– add water, a drop of food color, a cork and you got a potion.

Wooden Puzzle– I found some wooden puzzles at Mejiers for five dollars. My players kept finding small wooden pieces, and finally a strangely shaped lock. (note: you may want to build in a secondary path or make the locked room not essential to the adventure so things don’t grind to a halt if the player’s can’t figure out the puzzle.)

Puzzle Box– Hide maps, secrets, deeds, etc in a false bottom

Wand/ Staff– Take a stick from your yard, sand off the bark with coarse grit sandpaper, then smooth with a fine grit. Add a “crystal” to the tip by gluing on a piece of rock salt or quartz. If you really want to get detailed you could add runes with a knife or a wood burning tool

Figurine– A small glass or wooden animal could serve as a figurine of wondrous power.

Globe – Find an old globe at a yard sale, junk shop or Craigslist and repaint it with your game world map.

Gems– Take plastic or glass ‘gems’ from a craft store like Michaels or Hobbylobby and use them as gems, or Ioun stones

Hit those junk, antique,  and resale shops, as well as the Renn faire and find a prop for your game. As long as you’re willing to sculpt a story around the object, anything can serve as a great prop.

Amazing resource for Call of Cthulhu players

Posted in The Crafty DM with tags , , , , , , on August 4, 2010 by boccobsblog

Propnomicon is an amazing resource for Call of Cthulhu players, and any gamer that likes to use props in their game. Along with several articles related to CoC gaming, Propnomicon has an impressive list of Mythos-related websites displayed on its main page. CoC gamers, LARPers, or any gamers that use props to enhance their role-playing experience will find something useful on this site.

Two handouts that should make your life easier

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content, D&D 4e Content, The Crafty DM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by boccobsblog

GM screens can be useful tools. They are covered in somewhat useful information, and you can use them to shield your rolls and your miniatures. That said, there are some things that a GM’s screen doesn’t cover. Have you ever been in a game where this happens? :

DM: The blacksmith, a grimy dwarf with a long scar on his face, smiles as he hands you the newly forged sword.

Player: Cool, what’s his name?

DM: Um… (looking around the room), Table…Tablemen…yeah…his name is Tablemen.

Player: Did you just look at the table and name him Tablemen?

DM: Um…roll initiative.

Sound familiar? How about this one?

DM: With a flourish of your sword, you slay the last orc in chamber. What would you like to do?

Player: We search the orcs and the chamber for treasure.

DM: Um… (scrambles for a DMG)…you find something, I’ll roll it later.

Player: But, we could find something that would be useful in the rest of the dungeon.

DM: Fine. (Game comes to a halt for the next ten minutes and any momentum is lost)

These are scenarios that I have encountered multiple times, both as a player and as a GM. In an attempt to prevent scenes like these from happening in the future I have created two handouts that should help. The first is a sheet of names for each of the standard fantasy races(26 names per gender, per race). The second is a list of treasure in order of challenge rating (three entries per CR, 1st-20th).

These handouts aren’t meant to be used during the planning phase of your adventure (you would go through the treasure and names quickly), instead reserve them for those instances when your players ask you the name of an NPC you didn’t deem important enough to warrant a name, and for those time when your players wander into an encounter you didn’t expect (and therefore didn’t roll treasure for).

I hope you find them useful. Print them out, paper clip them inside your GM screen, and never be caught off guard again.




How to Make Tokens for Any Game System

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content, D&D 4e Content, The Crafty DM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2010 by boccobsblog

It is hard to match the coolness of gaming with 3D miniatures and terrain, but miniatures can get expensive. A cheaper alternative to miniatures is 2d tokens. Tokens have two major advantages over miniatures: they are much much cheaper, and you can create a token to accurately match any creature in your game regardless of system or genre.  Best of all, tokens are very simple to make.

Materials List

Time and patience (seriously)                    Circular paper punch

Photo paper                                                       Chipboard

Glue stick                                                            Wax paper

Digital images

Step one

Select the images that you want to make tokens of. You can find anything you need by simply running a Google image search. I take my images directly from Wizards of the Coast. You have to search around (or click this link), to find them, but all the art from all the 3.0/3.5 books can be found free of charge. (That is one problem I have with 4th edition, most of the art galleries require a DDI subscription)

For player characters and NPCs, use Wizard’s PC Portrait archive. This is a virtual treasure trove of original pc artwork done by some of the best in the gaming industry.

Step two

Once you have the images that you want, paste them into a Word or Publisher document. I have seen other sites mention fancy token making software and Photoshop programs, but you don’t need any of those. Simply paste your images onto a MS Word document placing them in even lines. By double clicking the image on the page, you can adjust its size, color, etc.

For some large pictures, you may want to crop the portion that you intend to use. Again, you don’t need fancy software, your computer’s Paint program will work just fine. Make sure the image is larger than the token. For example, a tiny, small, or medium token will be a one-inch circle, so make you image 1.25 – 1.5 inches to ensure you don’t lose any part of the image when you cut it.

Also, don’t bother trying to make a fancy border around your picture, they are hard to cut out and take up valuable space.

Step three

Once you have your images arranged on a Word document, you’re ready to print them out. Use a high-grade photo paper. It costs more, but the added quality is worth the cost.

Learn from my mistakes. In the past I have tried several different paper types, sticker paper (don’t cut cleanly, and the image is grainy), various cardstocks (any images will be low quality) to name a few, photo paper is your best bet.

Step four

Once your images are printed out, you’re ready to cut. (Note: the printer ink will likely still be wet on your photo paper, so be careful and allow it an hour to dry before messing with it)

Save yourself a world of trouble and purchase a circle cutter from your local scrapbook store. They come in various sizes, and you will need a 1” punch for tiny, small, and medium, a 2” for large, a 3” for huge, a 4” inch for gargantuan, and a 6” for colossal (but you will use this one so rarely you can skip it and cut out squares if you like).

By using these punches, you will save yourself a great deal of trouble and frustration. I started out with just a 1” punch and tried to cut the larger monster into squares. The end product (regardless of the tools used), was not high quality. The circle punch will give you a perfect cut every time and look amazing.

Marvy or EKsuccess brands work well

Step five

Next, you will need to glue the circle onto a sturdier material. Some sites recommend washers, but that can get costly, take up more room and weigh a ton. Just use chipboard (thin cardboard) that you can get for next to nothing at the scrapbook store where you bought your circle punch. Punch out several chipboard circles. Glue your photo paper images onto the chipboard circles with glue and you’re nearly done.  (Note: don’t try and save time by gluing the photo paper to the chipboard and then trying to punch out the images, the photo paper/chipboard combo will be too thick and you’ll get ragged cuts)

Final step

Place your tokens on a flat, hard surface, cover with a piece of wax paper, and place several heavy books on top. Leave the tokens to dry for several hours.