Custom Pawns

I am experimenting with making my own “pawns” compatible with Paizo’s Pathfinder Pawns line. This is an excellent line and a great supplement to Pathfinder Battles. Paizo publishes companion Pawns to their Adventure Paths, which I find extremely helpful.

A struggle I’ve had for years is the volume of monsters available at any moment with summon monster and summon nature’s ally. Because of this, these spells have never been made very prominent in my campaigns. Now I have a player running a druid wanting to use these spells. The Pathfinder Pawns: Summon Monster set is excellent and supplemented by the Bestiary set. However, the spells can require 1d4+1 monsters… up to 5 pawns. Even with multiple sets of Pawns you may not have enough. Plus, there are feats such as Superior Summoning or magic items such as the cauldron of overwhelming allies that can result in even more. I fully support purchasing Pawn sets and supporting this wonderful industry, but here’s how to supplement your purchases!

I started by reading S.W. Shinn’s post about making custom pawns. I liked the ideas he had, but cutting sheets and foam core seemed a lot of work. I remembered I have some black plastic card clips that came in the old Spelljammer: AD&D Adventures in Space boxed set that would hold paper instead of cardboard or foam core. Similar stands can be found at Amazon. So, could I make reasonable pawns out of card stock?

I started by measuring the official pawns and getting the dimensions needed:

Small – 0.8125 inches wide x 1.125 inches high
Medium – 1.125 inches wide x 1.875 inches high
Large – 1.875 inches wide x 2.4375 inches high
Huge – 2.9375 inches wide x 3.875 inches high

I then created a template in Adobe Illustrator. For those interested, here is a PDF template with Adobe Illustrator editing capabilities retained. A good source of art is the outstanding Counter Collection Digital v3.0 by Fiery Dragon. I wanted a band across the bottom where I could label each pawn. I also wanted a unique identifier between each like pawn. I initially thought numbers, but that is inconvenient if you lose one or temporarily misplace one. How about color? I decided to add a color band across the top so each pawn could be identified by color easily during the game. I then made several 8.5 x 11 sheets filled with pawns. Once I had pawns ready, I followed these steps:

1. Print two identical sheets of pawns on 110 lbs. card stock.

Printed pawns.

Printed pawns.

2. Cut the rows of each sheet flush along the bottom edge of the pawns.

Pawns cut into rows.

Pawns cut into rows.

3. Cut apart each pawn on one row flush along the right edge of the pawn, cut the matching pawn on the other sheet along the left edge. When placed back-to-back, this will give you a corner to match up for alignment.

Matching pawns trimmed on opposite edges.

Matching pawns trimmed on opposite edges.

4. Place one pawn face down on a towel and apply a gluestick on the entire surface and especially around edges and corners.
5. Attach glued pawn back-to-back with its matching pawn lining up the bottom and cut edges. Press down firmly across entire surface.

Glued using corner for alignment.

Glued using corner for alignment.

6. Set aside to let dry a few minutes.

Assembled pawns awaiting trim.

Assembled pawns awaiting trim.

7. Trim all edges.

Several finished pawns.

Several finished pawns.

The new pawns will fit in the card stock stands, but they are obviously too thin to fit in the pawn bases.

Medium pawn size comparisons.

Medium pawn size comparisons.

 

Medium and Small pawns assembled!

Medium and Small pawns assembled!

Large pawns shown with Medium miniatures.

Large pawns shown with Medium miniatures.

 

Dwarven Forge and Hirst Arts

Here’s an example of Hirst Arts floor tiles used alongside Dwarven Forge wall tiles.  The Hirst Arts tiles are mounted on standard foam core from Michael’s craft store.  The fit with the pre-made tiles is very good.

Also note the mixture of Hirst Arts and Mage Knight dungeon dressing.  The paint job on the Hirst Arts crates, barrels, pots, sacks, keg, and floor tile pieces was done by Kaliegh, and I painted the torches.

hirst_dwarven_forge_001

 

Digital Mapping for 3D Terrain

An advantage of building your own dungeon terrain is the flexibility in design, theme, and color scheme. You can readily construct terrain that fits your individual RPG campaign perfectly. Many times building your own terrain means you also build your own adventures. This leads to an interesting problem. You may have boxes of custom terrain, but you need to have a reference map to use in designing encounters as well as allowing quick setup during a game session. If you purchase pre-built terrain, it may also have digital mapping tools available. However, what do you do for your own pieces?

One of the fastest ways is to assemble terrain in advance and take photographs. This takes limited skill and works pretty well. However, sometimes photos are a bit washed out, at odd angles, or a bit unclear. It can be a challenge to get good and direct top-down photos.

If you have a modicum of skill with digital graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or even Paint, you can create your own electronic tiles to represent each of your custom pieces. It takes a bit of time, but you can craft a fine mapping set that is very reusable and can clearly allow the Game Master to prep encounters and players to help with terrain setup during the game. Anything that allows the players to help with setup and save transition time can increase your game play time!

Side-by-side of a digital floor tile and a photo of the tile.

Digital Tile vs. Photo Tile

The above image shows a comparison of a digital tile next to an actual photograph of a floor tile. The digital tile has clean right angles and consistent color and shading. The photos may distort due to angles of the lens, lighting, or position of the floor tile.

A top-down photo of some assembled terrain.

Dungeon section photograph.

Top-down map using digital tiles.

Digital tiles.

The top image shows a section of dungeon that was pre-assembled and photographed. This could be used to map out the encounter and have players assemble, but notice some sections are a bit difficult to tell what wall pieces are used. The lower image is the exact same layout using digital tiles. It is more obvious which are the same wall pieces, and the heavier black lines make it clear which size floor tiles were assembled. It can be determined from the photo, but to me it is trickier.

Another advantage of the digital tiles is the GM can assemble in advance at leisure when designing encounters. Photos require assembling the setup first. This is a better solution for the GM on-the-go.

Digital tiles do not have to be perfect or exact. They just need to clearly represent the physical terrain piece. With a little practice and experimentation, you can create tiles that look polished and professional. If you make a set of tiles with no color or texture and another set colorized, you can reuse the no color tiles later if you build another set of terrain in a different theme.

Spiked Floor Trap

When possible building a trap section for a dungeon, we like to use a design that forces the character to notice the trap, not the player. Thus, the undiscovered state should blend with the existing terrain only revealing the trap when sprung. We wanted to do something with spikes and floor tiles, but pits require a bit of suspension of disbelief in a 3D environment when dealing with terrain one level deep sitting on a solid table. For the time being, we steered clear of that hurdle and built on the concept of a floor tile that would protrude spring-loaded spikes upward when triggered and not rely upon gravity.

We wanted something versatile but visually appealing, so we decided on a 2×2 footprint for the trap. This would allow it to fit in our standard hallways as well as replace a section of room floor, as needed. Knowing that our sprung state would utilizing multiple of the triple-hole 1×1/2 tiles from Hirst Arts #44 that have a gothic stone texture, I glued together four 1×1 floor tiles from Hirst Arts Mold #201 into a 2×2 section. I did this four times so we could have a section of continuous hallway or a small room. The goal was to have a lot of “safe” floor tiles that look normal. Again, if the players see tiles they “know” are trapped, characters start suddenly searching for traps!

Once the regular floor tiles were assembled, I took eight of the triple-hole 1×1/2 tiles from Hirst Arts #44 so I could assemble a 2×2 section of floor. We wanted the spikes to be jutting out at seemingly random angles, so I first glued the tiles side-by-side in pairs into 1×1 squares. I glued these squares into a 2×2 section by rotating them 90 degrees so that the hole patterns were not all in straight rows.

Again, we wanted an appearance of randomness as well as viciousness to the sprung trap, so I cut 24 tips off of bamboo skewers in three sets of 8 different lengths. I blunted the ends by cutting about a 1/8 inch off the sharp tip and hitting it with some sandpaper. We often play with children, so we don’t want the trap actually dangerous! Since each 1×1/2 tile has three holes, I glued in one spike of each of the three lengths cut in random order and tilted at a random angle.

After it all dried, I sent it to Kaewee for painting. She put the same color scheme on all the floor tiles and did a dark wood look to the spikes. After all that dried, she added a crimson to look like fresh blood. We were quite pleased with the result!

After the assembly and painting, we could build out a dungeon section using the four normal 2×2 floor tiles. Some games that is all they are; however, when a trap is sprung, we replace one 2×2 with the protruding spikes! This keeps the players guessing. You can make it even less obvious by using more and more of the gothic pattern floor tiles so no one gets suspicious.

Spike Floor Amidst Normal Floor Tiles

Spike Floor Amidst Normal Floor Tiles

 

Spiked Floor Tile with Blood

Spiked Floor Tile with Blood

Crushing Spiked Walls

Traps in dungeon terrain can sometimes be tricky because there is usually both an undiscovered and sprung state. We envisioned a hallway that had protruding spikes on each side that could collapse together. The trigger could be anything: a pressure plate, a tripwire, a switch, and so on. We decided to use a normal wall section as the undiscovered state and special wall pieces with fixed spikes as the sprung state. See below pictures for before, during, and after triggering.

Undiscovered Trapped Hallway

Undiscovered

Spikes protruding.

Trap Triggering

Sprung trap

Sprung

I built each spiked wall using two 1×1 floor tiles from Hirst Arts Mold #201, four 1×1/2 floor tiles from Hirst Arts Mold #201, and four of the triple-hole 1×1/2 tiles from Hirst Arts Mold #44.

Assembled Tiles

Assembled Tiles

Since for this build we decided to affix the walls along the center of a 1-inch tile rather than along the edge, I knew I would need the spikes to go across a half-inch expanse to reach from one wall to the other. I took bamboo skewers and cut the sharp tips down somewhat to dull them. I then inserted one into the pre-existing hole in the tile and measured the depth. I added that to one-half inch and cut six tips for each wall. After gluing the wall tiles together, I laid them down with the holes facing up so I could glue in the bamboo spikes vertically. I arranged the spikes in alternating holes so that when two walls face each other, the spikes would fit into the opposing wall’s holes. See below pictures for spike arrangement and the effect when placed together.

Spikes Fitting Together

Spikes Fitting Together

Alternating Spikes

Alternating Spikes

The end result allows any normal 2×1 section of wall to be replaced with spikes when triggered. I really like the effect in a 2×2 hallway. Since the spiked walls are 2×1, if the floor section is removed and walls pushed together, the spiked section then blocks the hallway. It is a very nice visual and presents an interesting in game obstacle.