Jumping in the Deep End

I’ve been thinking about getting back on the RPG wagon and running a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s been a while, a long while, and first things first, I need to refamiliarize myself with the rules and then find three to five players. So, this is not a thing that’s going to happen tomorrow or even next week… besides, Covid-19. I’ve got friends that are willing and interested in doing an online game, but I’m really itching to play in person around a table and utilize props and terrain and what-not.

On Thursday, I had the idea to create a 3d map of the Dungeons & Dragons stater set adventure, The Lost Mine of Phandelver. So I grabbed some XPS rigid foam board from the garage and started crafting the cave system that is the goblin’s Cragmaw Hideout.

map presented in the adventure

Taking inspiration from a bunch of YouTube channels doing this sort of thing–Black Magic Craft, Real Terrain Hobbies, Tabletop WitchCraft, Wylock’s Armory, TheDMsCraft, and a bunch of others–I’m jumping into this aspect of the tabletop RPG hobby. Sure, I could have started with something simple like maybe dungeon tiles, but no, I decided to start with a small cave system on a 22×30 inch board. Of course I did.

the work begins

There are a lot of stairs on that map, which meant the first thing I had to do was determine how many tiers or levels I was looking at. I started by assuming that the exterior grassy area would be my zero point and that each step up would be a half inch slice of XPS. I had two solid height markers from the adventure; the bridge is 20-feet above the stream and the slope from first cave to the one above it is 30-feet. Using a 1-inch = 5-feet scale, I was able to figure some of it out and other bits I’ll make work. The highest level sits at 7.5-inches.

roughing in the parts

I quickly decided that I wanted to go with a wall-less presentation. The caves are pretty narrow and a typical miniature figure base wouldn’t fit in a lot of the passages, but without walls they will be able to set on the passage and overhang the edges. This also has the advantage of not obstructing sight lines for the folks around the table.

progress on the structure

My initial idea was to make layers that I could remove to reveal the next part of the map, but that would involve covering up already explored areas that might still be in use. My second idea was to make the caves modular, so that I could add them to the map as they were discovered, but I decided this was more hassle than it would be worth. This is for a game that utilizes lots of imagination, the players will just have to imagine that they don’t know what the whole cave system looks like. And I’ll just add the extra bits (monsters, treasure, what-not) to each cave as they find it.

I spent a good part of yesterday catching up with friends on Discord, filling the house with toxic fumes, and working on this thing. It’s coming along. Between yesterday and this morning, I’ve put together the bones of the thing. Now I need to sculpt the foam into the slopes and transitions that will begin to hide all the individual sheets of XPS.

fumes… so many fumes…

As I post this, all of the foam has been set in place and some of it has been sculpted a bit. I used some acetone to melt the foam where the river and pond will be, all the remaining wood skewers will be stalagmites rising up from the cave floor, and I built the wooden bridge out of some stir sticks. Up next is filling some of the larger gaps, sanding and smoothing the foam, and then coating the whole thing to protect the foam.

That’s what I’ve been up to. Hope you’re keeping busy, staying safe, and keeping up the social distancing. Later.