Get into Tabletop Gaming, Even if You’re Poor

Too poor to play Warhammer 40,000? No cash for Dungeons & Dragons books? I’m going to tell you why money is less of an obstacle than you might think, and why DIY tabletop gaming might do better things for you than paying for official products ever can.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Games Workshop, Wizards of the Coast, and every other tabletop publisher that has ever taken me on a great flight of the imagination. I want you to support them. I’m a game publisher, so I know how important your hard-earned cash is to the industry. But money shouldn’t be the thing that stops you. If you really want to get into roleplaying games, wargaming, or any other tabletop gaming, then there are ways and means that require very little financial investment.

DIYHammer and the Money Paradox

When I was in high school, it wasn’t a problem for me to buy loads of metal minis for my Ork army. It was my parents’ money, really, and I probably didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I should have. Maybe because I hadn’t earned them myself or because of some fear of not being able to paint them well enough, very few of my minis ever got a lick of paint. In fact, I can only remember ever playing one full game of Warhammer 40K, and it was with another person’s army.

Fast forward twenty years and I’m a freelance writer and editor, making a little extra from RPG sales. There was no money for minis. Any month we didn’t need to cut into our savings was a great month. But I needed a hobby, a space to unwind and think. That’s when I found that my paints hadn’t dried up. I unpacked my old minis and dived back into the fascinating world that had first intrigued me all those years ago. Turns out, I’d stumbled on the cheapest hobby ever.

You’d think that the hobby would start getting expensive as soon as I needed more minis, but I found the opposite to be true. I kitbashed two Ork Deff Dreads, some Runtherds, and a Grot Oiler, all using bits I wasn’t using for anything else. Now I have a Mek Big Gun in the works, lots of bikes, and two Dakka Jets, all in various stages of completion. The more I’ve gotten into the hobby, the more resourceful I’ve become, and the less I’ve spent. The only thing I’ve bought is one box of Gretchin and a few Reaper Bones minis.

Mek-krakka Deff Dread

Okay, yes, I’ve needed to buy the occasional paint, spray can, and lots of superglue, but these costs are low and infrequent. Since getting back into it I’ve only finished one pot of Chaos Black paint.

There have been some interesting benefits from taking the kitbashing approach:

  1. I’ve become more ready to take on DIY projects, including fixing things around the house or building toys for my kids, like a Captain America shield and a PJ Masks HQ toy that I built from PVC pipe.
  2. I look at trash in a whole new way, and more of it gets upcycled instead of being thrown into a landfill somewhere.
  3. My pile of grey plastic is shrinking.
  4. I understand the art of model making much better, so I’m closer to making those custom TMNT figures I always wanted.
  5. I’m more resourceful. If I need a thing, I can probably find a way to make it, substitute something else in, or do without. And this goes far beyond miniatures. I’ve needed a new skateboard for nearly a year now, but I’ve been able to repair and maintain it because of a shift in my mentality.
  6. I have a far greater sense of ownership over my army than I ever had before.

Make Your Own

Brett Novak, who turned skateboarding videos into an art form, said in his TED talk that we romanticise that if we had more money, we’d do all these amazing things, but, in truth, there’s usually a way to do them without the money. As an example, Reiner Knizia, the best-selling board game designer, said that, when he was a kid, he often couldn’t afford the games he wanted to play. He had to make his own. That process must have taught him a lot about game design, and probably has a lot to do with how successful he is today.

So forget about money being the problem. If high prices are keeping you from tabletop gaming and the games that intrigue you, make your own. It’ll teach you a lot and give you a sense of satisfaction that money just can’t buy.


Toys as Minis, a Boost for Your Table — MM 39

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week I’m going to tell you why you should use more toys as minis.

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I figure that tabletop gamers fall into two groups; those who supplement their mini collection with toys, and those who hate the idea. If you’re in that second camp, it’s probably because you think that toys just don’t look right on the gaming table. I was one of the haters too, but I changed my mind. Here’s why!

Toys as Minis
Most of these are from Japan, but I found the bear locally.

Hidden Treasures

There’s a lot of junk out there, but search hard enough, and you just might find the perfect additions to your collection. I found that toys from Japan can be particularly good, and tend to be on the smaller side, but keeping an eye on your local cheap or second-hand toy shop will pay off eventually, especially if you’re in a biggish city.

Lots of folks online have shown off their dollar store hauls, so that’s an awesome option if you have cheap shops like that in your area. You’re most likely to find animals and mythical creatures such as dragons, but you never know what might turn up.

Two other great sources for toys for minis are your own toy collection and second-hand sales. Such sources usually have a varied collection of toys to choose from, are dirt cheap, and might surprise you with what you’ll find.

Kitbashing and Converting

If you’re ready to do some converting and kitbashing, then toys offer a veritable gold mine of options. Some hobbyists on YouTube recently did a toy monster mashup, go search it out if you’re looking for more inspiration.

Price

With some exceptions, toys are generally a lot cheaper than specifically-produced miniatures, and printing takes time. It’ll take time to find the right toys, but you can usually search while looking out for other things.

The Buying Strategy

Patience and a will to shop around are the keys to success if you’re going to use toys as minis. Buying a couple of odd-looking horses because you need horses for Friday’s game might be fine, but you’ll quickly collect a lot of ugly minis that way.

Rather, keep a list of what you want minis for and play the long game, buying only the best of the best.

Toy Traps to Avoid

Avoid buying online, unless you can find a good size comparison for the toy. Also, avoid cheap-looking plastic, as this can become brittle over time and break easily. Thin plastic is usually the biggest clue, but strange colour changes in the plastic can also give you a hint that the toy will be more hassle than it’s worth in the long run.

I hope this inspires you to start adding some toys to your mini collection. If you have more collecting tips to share, then throw them in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

Kitbashing and Scratch Building Bolts — MM 38

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week I prove just how far I’m willing to go to find the perfect kitbashing and scratch building bolts!

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When you kitbash a lot of Ork miniatures, like I do, you get a little obsessed with bolts. My Deff Dread Gundams have them, my Mek Big Gun has them, and most of the Orks I’ve kitbashed have bolts on their weapons or back plates. Even fantasy minis can use a lot of bolts for things like doors, treasure chests, armor, and flesh or iron golems.

So I’ve spent way too much time thinking about kitbashing and scratch building bolts, and here’s what I’ve found. Below are three different methods:

kitbashing and scratch building bolts

Method 1: Plastic Cylinders

The bottom row was made with discs cut from a soft plastic cylinder. This method also works with harder plastics, so look at the sprues you have, since they might have rounded sections that are perfect for making these types of bolts or nail heads.

Pros: Looks like a fat nailhead or a flattened bolt head. The neat, round shape is consistent, even if you cut them at an angle.

Cons: None really, it just takes practice cutting them thin enough.

Method 2: Bread Bag Clips

Bread bag clips are the miracle material. Cut them into thin strips, then cut these into small squares to make rough-looking boltheads, which you can see in the middle row of the image above.

Pros: Cheap and readily available.

Cons: Looks too rough for modern or futuristic applications.

Method 3: The Secret Ingredient

Clothing zip ties. They’re my secret ingredient.

Secret ingredient X
Secret ingredient X

Look closely, and you’ll see all those little bolts just waiting to be cut out and turned into amazing decorations for your next kitbashing project. The top line of our example bolts is made from these, including the loose bolt lying next to them.

Pros: Looks just like the real thing.

Cons: The soft plastic makes them really difficult to cut nicely, and I’ve not managed to do any reasonable amount of sanding on them to perfect the dome shape.

Of the three, method 2 is my go-to for Ork conversions and fantasy kitbashing, while method 1 is great for neater applications. Method 3’s going to be saved for those times I need a higher level of detail, or if I need loose bolts for my Grot Oilers.

How about you, which methods have you used, do you have another trick to teach us, or do you have a question? Pop it in the comments below.

Cruel Trinkets of the Mad Gods

Mad gods bestow cruel trinkets on those who dare ask for a boon. Here are two magical items for Dungeons & Dragons 5e that could easily prove to be both a blessing and a curse to those who dare to use them.

Thank you to Sea of Stars, who’ve inspired this post and are hosting this month’s RPG Blog Carnival.

The Headhunter’s Coin

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This silver coin has a skull depicted on one side and a pelvic bone on the other. As an action, you can designate a target creature you can see and flip the coin. Make a flat DC 11 check. If you succeed, your threat range for all attacks you make against the target increase by 2, so a roll of 18, 19, or 20 is a critical hit against the target. A roll of 18 or 19 can still miss, unlike a roll of 20, which is always a hit.
If you fail the flat check, you instead suffer a -2 penalty to your Armor Class.
The bonus or penalty lasts until the target is destroyed or until another creature attunes to the headhunter’s coin.

Cruel Trinkets
Image Credit: BlackDog1966

Deadman’s Hand

Wondrous item, unique

This mummified hand clutches four playing cards; two black aces and two black eights. A creature that handles the item becomes instantly attuned to it, and loses attunement to a random item if no free attunement slots are available.
While you are attuned to the deadman’s hand, you gain no benefit or penalty from it.
If you lose the deadman’s hand or become unattuned to it, you suffer a -2 penalty on death saving throws until you become attuned to the magical item again, or through a remove curse spell.

I hope you enjoyed these cruel trinkets. If you’ve tried them out in your game, let us know how your players got on, in the comments below. Or maybe you have some of your own nefarious magical items to share, then pop those down in the comments too.


Image Credits: darksouls1

Scratch Build Tank Tracks — Mini Monday 37

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’ll look at how to scratch build tank tracks for your Orks, Adeptus Mechanicus, or that home-made Baneblade you always wanted to make.

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Why Scratch Build Tank Tracks?

There are a lot of options when putting together a mini, especially these days. I’m making a Mek Gun, so I could buy Games Workshop’s official Warhammer 40K miniature kit, buy parts from a custom parts store, find a model to 3D print, modify a WWII field gun kit, or scratch-build it. So why choose scratch building?

  1. It takes more time to get the same sort of end result you’d expect from anything made professionally, but it’s very rewarding when you do.
  2. Scratch building will teach you so much more about kitbashing, miniature conversion, and model making because it forces you to use that squishy organ between your ears in new ways.
  3. It’s a great way to create miniatures that just don’t exist, or that are too expensive.

For me, I simply wanted to know that I could do it. I love the Grot Tanks I’ve seen the community creating, so making a tracked Big Gun seemed like a good challenge.

Let’s Build It!

Scratch Build Tank Tracks 1
Read-side view of the wheels, track base, and track plates.

Here’s my process:

  1. Use pipes to form the basic shape of the treads and hull. Use thicker pipes as the main wheels, with small wheels as the guide wheels. Glue them together with supports (that black bar in the picture above connects the top three pipes).
  2. Glue sections of pipes over and inside these pipes to build up the wheel hub’s shape. I used lots of dead pen and marker tubes for this part.
  3. Add extra detail, such as shock absorbers. See Adding Springs below.
  4. Glue strips of thick craft foam around the wheels. You can find adhesive craft foam to make this a little easier.
  5. Cut rectangles of cardboard and glue them onto the foam. My strips were about 8 mm by 5 mm, bent two-thirds of their length to hide the craft foam. Glue a few of these on, then let them dry, otherwise it gets tricky trying to stop everything moving around as you work.
Scratch Build Tank Tracks 2
View of the left side of the scratch built tank tracks.

Adding Springs

You can add shock absorbers by putting a spring over a pipe that runs between two of the pipes that form the wheels. Details like these really bring the mini together.

Scratch Build Tank Tracks Spring

Here’s the final mini, bar some extra details and the gun crew.

Mek Big Gun 1

I hope that inspires you to scratch build some of your own machines for the tabletop.

Hello, My Name is Death

Our new, poker-based tabletop RPG, Hello, My Name is Death is out now! Outdo your friends, reap souls, and become the next #OffiialGrimReaper in this zine RPG.

Hello My Name is Death

 

A Death in Spring — New Releases from RPG

It’s been a busy month at Rising Phoenix Games HQ, and we’ve got a bunch of new releases and special offers to tell you about.

Hello, My Name is Death

Our new, poker-based tabletop RPG, Hello, My Name is Death is on sale at an introductory price of $1! Outdo your friends, reap souls, and become the next #OffiialGrimReaper.

Hello, My Name is Death is a poker-based roleplaying game that uses betting for souls to influence the ultimate demise of hapless humans. Collect souls, outdo your peers, and become the next official Grim Reaper.

In Hello, My Name is Death you play immortal beings interfering in the lives of oblivious mortals. Plan, scheme, interfere in your friend’s machinations, and collaboratively create truly bizarre circumstances leading to the spectacular death of your selected victim.

What’s Inside:

  1. A device-friendly PDF
  2. A PDF for zine printing on white paper
  3. A PDF for zine printing on colored paper
  4. A printable PDF counter sheet

You can find Hello, My Name is Death on Drive Thru RPG. Get it while our introductory offer lasts.

Aurora’s Spring Catalogue is Here!

Can you feel it in the air? The crispness? The energy? The bounce in your step? It’s spring in Faerûn, and that means it’s time for another of our great sales, featuring all the things you need for the season of rebirth.

That’s right, Aurora’s Whole Realms Spring Catalogue is here!

Aurora's Whole Realms Spring Catalogue

Get ready for the changing of the seasons in Faerûn with 20% off this title if you buy it before the end of the weekend.

Manual of Masks — On Sale!

The Manual of Masks is on sale until the end of the weekend too. Get it for a neat $1!

The book includes mask-related class options, magical items, and more for your Dungeons & Dragons game.

Until next time,
Be the Hero


How to Pick Colours for Mini Painting — MM 36

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’ll talk about how to pick colours for mini painting with colour theory.

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Pick colours for your mini painting projects thoughtfully, because it’ll give you a better end result, and, like painting, it’s a skill you can improve on. Build some understanding of the theory, then use that to inform your choices and achieve the results you’re looking for.

Colour Theory

Colour theory might seem like a deep rabbit hole, which may seem intimidating, but I highly recommend you dive in. Colour theory opens up the language of colour, an understanding of how colours work together, and an understanding of the emotional responses that colours can create.

Here’s a quick look:

The colour wheel below shows the primary colours (red, blue, and yellow) and the secondary colours (orange, purple, and green). You can make the secondary colours by mixing the two primary colours nearest to the secondary colour you want to make (and that’ll cost GW some sales).

How to pick colors for your mini painting.

Analogous colours sit side-by-side on the colour wheel. They give you a simple range of colours for creating rich monochromatic (single colour) colour schemes.

Complementary colours sit opposite each other on the colour wheel, but still work well when paired together. As you can see, there’s more to the “red wunz go fasta” thing when painting Orks.

This is just scratching the surface of colour theory, and I encourage you to seek out more information.

3 Tips to Using Colour Theory

Like any theory, you need to put colour theory into practice to get a real understanding of it and make it stick. Here are three ways to help yourself implement colour theory in your miniature painting.

Limited Your Colour Scheme

I painted the mini below with two reds, two browns, black, white (mixed to make grey), and metallic paint. It is a simple mini, but restricting your range of colours forces you to get more creative. Using analogous colours for this type of painting will also give you a base colour, shading colour, and a highlight that compliments each other.

How to pick colors for your mini painting

Another way to think of it is to drop a primary colour or two. Forbid yourself from using it, and see how your colour scheme becomes much tighter.

Clash Your Colours with Purpose

If colours are not analogous or complimentary, then there’s no colour harmony; they are contrasting colours. That doesn’t mean you can’t use purple and green together, you just have to know why you’re pairing them. Think of the green Hulk with his purple shorts, or Superman with his red and blue spandex, they stand out. And sometimes standing out is exactly what you want.

A World in Black and White

Of course, real life is full of colour, but to really understand and successfully pick colours for your minis you could do worse than follow Frank Miller’s example in Sin City. Frank’s masterpiece is a master class in light and shadow, with pages in black and white and only occasional splashes of colour. You can explore this with nothing more than paper and a black pen.

As an example, here’s the cover of The Grimdark Pamphlet, which I thought was a good colour choice for a book of game options that challenges the often black and white world of most adventurers, where the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. Or was it that I didn’t want colour so I could push the idea of the colourless, grim aesthetic most associated with grimdark settings?

Grimdark Pamphlet Cover

Now, I’m not saying you need to paint a mini only black and white, but there are plenty of great paint schemes that focus on black and white, such as drow with their white hair and black armour, the Black Templars, the Blood Angels Death Company, and Goff Orks. Notice how these schemes often use a third colour to accentuate items such as weapons.

You can take this idea further to explore light, as Miniac did in his Color is for CHUMPS video. Check it out and tell him I sent you.

 

Building Ork barricades from Trash — MM 35

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’re building Ork barricades from Christmas trash.

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Ah yes, the dust has settled after the strangest Christmas and New Years’ Eve in living history, and 2021 is picking up steam. Time to make something, and what’s better than recycling that Christmas trash to make something Orky. Of course, you might already have recycled/trashed/incinerated/buried the last signs of the festive season, but you’ll always generate more waste, so let’s go!

Da orky chant - Ork barricades
“‘Er we go, ‘er we go!”

Ork Barricades

These Ork barricades are similar to the ones you can get in the Mekboy Workshop, or the barricades Games Workshop used to sell as a terrain pack, but they’re very easy to build yourself using nothing but bits of scrap cardboard and plastic.

I cut out 6-inch strips of cardboard, then glued bits of cardboard and plastic onto them. That’s basically it. We’re done.

Okay, but seriously, there are a few tricks to making this look good:

  1. Cut the cardboard and plastic sheets at angles. Bend them and add damage like cuts or bullet holes to make them look even more Orky.
  2. Stick the sheets down at angles, leaning on each other. This gives a sense of three-dimensionality to the terrain and makes it stronger. Orky things are always off-kilter.
  3. Cut out “teef” of card to decorate the terrain.
  4. Cut tiny squares of plastic to make Orky rivets. I use those little plastic tabs that hold bread bags closed. Cut them into strips, then squares, then superglue them onto your model.

Ork barricades 1

Ork barricades
A wall with “teef” to show that the boyz own it.



Painting

I used a heavy-duty red primer to make the models more resistant to wear and tear. I then painted the “metal” sections black or stippled orange onto them. I also left some unpainted. I then dabbed brown onto the orange sections with a sponge to make them look rusted. I then dry brushed the edges of the models with silver paint and put a black wash over the whole thing to finish it off. The ground was painted dark gray and dry brushed light gray.

Just be sure to let your Ork barricades dry between coats. I had to redo a bunch of dry brushing because I was getting too happy with the brush, which just blended everything together. Patience, young grasshopper, patience.

And that’s it.

Ork barricade doorways
You can even make doorways to take little junk doors.
Ork barricade doors closed
And here they are again, with the doors closed.

The best advice I can give is to give it a try. I was skeptical about how good the cardboard would look, but in the end, I was very pleased with how they turned out. The only thing I’d change is that I’d base them on tongue depressors or hardboard instead of cardboard.


RPG Leveling is Broken — Why Levels Suck

RPG leveling is broken. And yes, I’m looking at you, Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder 1 and 2.

First off, thank you to Plastic Polyhedra for hosting this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, to which this topic relates.

RPG Levelling is Broken
Image by Esteban Sayhueque

The Problem with Levels

Here’s my gripe:

In real life, but even more importantly, in stories, characters grow in ways that have nothing to do with their skills and abilities. Think of most comic book heroes. They generally have a set of skills that don’t improve during the course of their adventures, though they might get better control over their powers over time. There’s not much story in abilities. Rather, characters face personal challenges that grow their personality… their character.

Now, I get that gaining power is fun, but it’s false fun. Gaining an extra attack, just because I’ve reached level 5, doesn’t make my character stand out from other barbarians. Reaching level 15, just so I can kill level 15 monsters, isn’t real growth, it’s just gated content. Bilbo didn’t gain a new feat that enabled him to sneak past Smaug. He had a magical ring for that!

Character Building is not a GM’s Prerogative

The GM can offer chances for a player’s character to grow, but ultimately that isn’t the GM’s job. The GM’s job is to stoke the fires of the furnace that will forge the character’s character, and the player’s the blacksmith.

But the mechanics can help.

A Few Solutions

Leveling up in D&D or Pathfinder type games could, with a few rules tweaks, be more meaningful. We won’t even throw out the core rules, I promise.

Your character should change in a meaningful way during their adventures, such as gaining new flaws, changing alignment, become more set in their current alignment, developing a new phobia, or seeking to accomplish new goals.

A ton of RPG systems already implement mechanics for these. The Mouse Guard RPG and Cortex both used a system similar to 5e’s flaws, ideals, and bonds, but they change very frequently and are linked to how you gain experience. This isn’t a new idea.

Encourage your players to play to their flaws, ideals, and bonds, or to hooks linked to their alignment, and offer them experience for doing so. How much you offer them is your dial; turn up the roleplay by offering more, or turn it down and focus on traditional advancement by offering less. Then, when a character levels up, force them to refine their flaws, ideals, and bonds, or add new ones. Encourage them to be specific.

Get your players more connected to their character’s story, because feat or skill choices aren’t meaningful decisions.

Image by Ubergank

The Grimdark Pamphlet

The Grimdark Pamphlet offers new ideas and rules for taking your Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition game to darker places, where your choices matter and death is a real threat. We update the book from time to time with new rules, so your once-off purchase gets you a growing repository of rules and GMing advice. It also includes information on joining our playtest.

Grimdark Pamphlet Cover

Till next time, Be The Hero!


Why I Made All the Miniature Pallets — MM34

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week I’m talking about miniature pallets and scatter terrain.

Mini Monday Logo

I found this great miniature pallet tutorial on Terra Genesis before going on holiday. So I took my hobby knife, steel ruler, glue, and enough coffee stirrers and matchsticks to fill a veritable warehouse to the inlaws, then got crafty.

Miniature pallet for tabletop gaming.

But why make so many? Well, I’m glad you asked! (And I’m going to tell you even if you didn’t.)

Scatter Terrain

They make great scatter terrain. Keep a bunch handy to scatter around the table to make your wargame table or RPG map more interesting. I keep a bunch of model train trees for the same purpose.

Other Builds

Use them in other builds. I could add barrels and boxes onto a few, or stick the miniature pallets onto piles of rubble. They’re so versatile that you’ll easily blast through a pile of them if you regularly build terrain. It’s a little extra detail for very little extra effort.

Weirdly Modular

Stack them into towers of pallets to hide miniatures behind, build walls with them, or make bridges. If you think about all the uses people find for life-sized pallets in real life, then it’s easy to see that the possibilities for using these are endless. Because of their uniformity, this can be taken to a whole other level, just by using matchsticks between the slats to join two pallets together.

And that’s it. A slightly weird one today, I know, but I wanted to point you to Terrain Genesis’s great article and hopefully inspire you with a super easy terrain project. I hope you enjoyed it.

Our Plans for 2021

So, what’s on the cards for 2021?

I’ve got way too many terrain projects on the go, which are sure to feature here. I’ll also be putting more work into my Angels Encarmine and Goff Orks, which will feature too. Those are all a given, barring anything major that life might throw in the works (touches wood vigorously).

I’ll probably focus on getting more fantasy minis painted, drawing heavily from the minis that came in the Dungeons & Dragons Legend of Drizzt Board Game and the Dungeons & Dragons Castle Ravenloft Board Game.  That first one is 10 years old this year, but both games contain a good range of monsters that most fantasy players will want to have, even if they buy miniature incarnations of them from a different manufacturer.

So expect to see new posts, from me, every second Monday.

Have a great 2021 and I hope you build and paint awesome creations!


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