As we have seen with previous projects, tabletop terrain can make a game come alive. If your campaign takes you into the depths of a volcano, what better way to ramp up the excitement and sense of adventure (or.. danger…) than a table full of lava?
Today we meet JayDee Gauthier, who has created a volcano diorama for his homebrew D&D 5E campaign. He shares some of his crafting techniques, as well as references some of the other crafters who have influenced his hobby. Let’s take a look!
To Play Is Human: What kind of DIY project are you sharing with us?
JayDee Gauthier: This is a diorama of the inside of an active volcano. Some Dragonborn beast riders have made a hideout for themselves inside of it.
TPIH: What game(s) is the project/upgrade for?
JayDee: This terrain I made for my homebrew Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition campaign that I’ve been running for a bit over 2 years now.
TPIH: Why did you decide to do this project?
JayDee: A year ago I stumbled upon some crafting tutorial videos on YouTube by DM Scotty. I started binge watching them and eventually I found tutorials by Black Magic Craft and Wylock’s Armory. I’ve always been a pretty artistic person, so I decided to try my hand at it. This is my first endeavor in the world of crafting! I have never used any kind of terrain for my games (always used a battle mat that I drew on), so I wanted to bring something epic and memorable to my table!
TPIH: How long did the project take and what kinds of materials did you use?
JayDee: The project took 3 months to complete but I wasn’t working on it full time. It might be around 70-80 hours of work in total. The board itself is XPS foam board held together with white PVA glue and toothpicks.
The rocky edges were made by breaking off pieces at an angle using an X-ACTO knife. I gave the whole top surface a protective wash with watered down Mod Podge before spray painting the whole thing with a beige primer. I didn’t do the protection on the rock edges because spray paint has a chemical that melts down XPS foam and creates a volcanic looking rock texture.
I also mixed batches of slightly diluted Mod Podge with acrylics and poured it into the trench I built to mimic a lava river. I started with the darkest and went all the way to the lightest sloshing the layers around in between the colors to achieve a swirling mix of colors that looks pretty natural. After that I made a black wash that I threw it onto the lava and wiped the excess away with a damp cloth to create depth.
The rocky formations were painted black entirely and I followed that with a light sponging of a dark purple and then did a dry brush with a light grey paint. The bridge I did with hemp string and stir sticks that I got at a coffee shop. Next, I weathered the edges of the planks and glued them to the string using hot glue. The ends are large barbecue skewers.
TPIH: What is your favorite thing about crafting for games?
JayDee: I like creating dioramas that immerse my players into the action. I like having an element that lets them contemplate the battlefield and create strategies according to the layout.
TPIH: Do you have any advice for someone thinking about crafting for their games?
JayDee: My first piece of advice is to start with the beginning: make yourself a plan, an outline of some sort to follow! Even if you’re not good at drawing, having your ideas out on paper helps a lot.
Second, do some research! I must have watched close to 100 hours of “how-to” videos on crafting before I even started! Of course, that’s a bit extreme but Googling something you’re not sure how to make or finding someone with a tutorial online can help a lot. If someone has already done it, they can save you the hassle of trial and error. And my last piece of advice is: JUST DO IT! I hear a lot of people say they wish they could do stuff like this and blame their lack of experience/talent. Some people are better than others and some require more practice but you’re not doing yourself any favors by not trying it! Once. Twice. As many times as it takes! If YOU have fun doing your craft and your players appreciate your craft, then that is all that matters!
TPIH: What tabletop game is a longtime favorite of yours?
JayDee: I was introduced to D&D when I was 13 years old and I’m still playing it 18 years later! So you could say it has a sweet spot in my heart.
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Do you have a tabletop gaming project that you’ve created? Contact me with some information and photos. No project is too big/small — as long as you made it yourself and you use it when you game, it is eligible for submission! I would love to see projects for board game upgrades and accessories, RPGs, miniatures (I would love to see mini paint jobs!), terrain, dice towers, custom playmats, custom dice, or anything else you have made.